Monday, December 7, 2009

Rogues and Mavericks - Meeting Sarah Palin, the new Pegge Parker

Several days ago, Lisa Pelto, the CEO of Concierge Marketing said, "John, Sarah Palin is coming to Sioux City next Sunday for a book signing. Are you interested in going to see her and check out what a big book signing would entail?" I said, “Why not, even if we don't get to see her, we can talk to all the people who will be in line. Who knows, we may even get hlucky and see her (Hlucky is the name of my publishing company which publishes the memoirs of my family, which I call "ego trips.")

So, it was a plan. On a very cold Sunday morning, Lisa picked me up at 4:00 a.m. and after stopping for a very large cup of hot gas station coffee, we drove the 90 miles north to Sioux City. We arrived at 5:50 a.m. at the Barnes & Noble bookstore located in the Southern Hills Shopping Center of Sioux City, and joined the several hundred bundled people waiting for the 6 a.m. start of the distribution of the first-come, first-served tickets.

We were divided into brackets of 100 people. Lisa and I were in the "C" bracket so we knew there were at least 200 ahead of us, but it looked promising that we would at least get in the door. We stood in line outside for an hour and a half, stamping our feet and waving our arms to keep warm. At several intervals, courteous Barnes & Noble employees encouraged us by saying that we would soon be allowed into the mall where it was warm. They did a great job of communicating to the throng, which made the wait more pleasant, for certain, as did our newest friends.

At 7:00 a.m. we were brought in single file and positioned along the walls of the mall entry hall – much nicer, as it was brightly lit and WARM, with restrooms available. Soon we were given wristbands and told that if we used the buddy system we could leave the line. We were free to go to our cars to leave blankets and extra clothing in our cars. Some of our fellow "waiters" who had arrived the evening before were able to leave and check out of their hotels, run errands, etc.

As the minutes and hours went by, we soon were meeting and talking to our neighbors, and by 11:00 a.m. it was a fantastic "block party" with neighbors exchanging stories of why they were there, where they had come from - Omaha, Des Moines, Cleveland, and all over Iowa. We had such a great time, I suggested planning a reunion the following year. Soon, newsmen and women, television cameras and reporters arrived to record the pictures of the lines and interview random Sarah supporters.

I was greeted by a friend who was the videographer (they used to be called cameramen and women) for ABC News. ABC's Jesus Ayala and my friend interviewed me and asked why I was there and what I thought about Sarah Palin.(I said she was a very bright and friendly, good looking mother of five, with a very bright future – although I said I thought it was too early to be thinking about 2012.) ABC was only one of a number of national media present. Carl Cameron of the Fox News network was walking about the mall and talking with everyone. He and I chatted for about 10 minutes about Pakistan and what is happening in the region (I was there during the partition of India and Pakistan. I thought it was interesting that he had a line of people asking for his autograph and it was almost like a Fox News booksigning. Evidently, most of the people there to see Sarah were also viewers of the Fox network. We also talked to reporters from the BBC and CBS, as well as the local Sioux City television stations, newspapers and bloggers -- all very friendly and professional.

The signing was originally to begin at noon, but her plane from Washington was delayed by weather and it was after 1:30 that she arrived. At the time, the line wound throughout the store with lines of people in and around the shelves, and we were within the last 10 people allowed inside the store, leaving another 200 people outside of the store lined up from the entrance of Barnes and Noble to the Mall doors several hundred feet away.

About 1:30, the customer relations manager approached us and asked for Lisa, who had called two weeks prior to see if it was true that we would have to stand outside for six hours in the cold. (Up until we arrived at 5:50 a.m., that was the case.) She said they had arranged special accommodations for me, up in the front area. She explained that we would be “taken into the stream” after the people who had been camped outside since 10:00 p.m. the night before. We were happy they didn't put us before them, as they had endured a very cold night. She whisked us up with our books and away from our new friends (by that point in the day, it felt like we were leaving our beloved brethren behind to fend for themselves in the vast open sea), and took us past the people lined up among the aisles and sat us right in front of the black curtain that was to contain the booksigning and keep the press in check. (I heard later that our new friends were through the line 25 minutes later.)

Now, on to the actual big event. Everyone was told earlier that coats, bags, purses, cameras or cell phones were strictly prohibited; only what was “on your person” with a maximum of two books would be permitted. Sarah would be inside the enclosure of the store with black curtains. Each book was marked with a little green sticker with the person's initials and either a 1 or a 2. Thus, when a person enters, they hand their books to the aide who passes them down the line until they are opened to the page and passed to Sarah who shakes hands with the fan and then signs her name (not necessarily lining them up with their owners at that moment). The book is then to be passed down the line to an area where they match up the owners with those books.

When she arrived there was a loud cheer and rhythmic chants of “Sarah, Sarah,” and the anticipation from the crowd and the bookstore staff was palpable. We could see the action through the black curtains prior to her appearance -- the security, the staff, the quick straightening of a few of the books that served as her backdrop. Then the flurry of her arrival, items and people finding their place with quick efficiency and order. Then only seconds later, the first 50 or so people were hurried through the line to have only seconds to shake her hand and say a pleasantry or two. Mrs. Palin greeted each person with a sparkling smile and very little conversation other than “Hi. Glad to meet you. What’s your name?”

Soon, a representative from the bookstore told us it was time for me and Lisa to enter the curtained area, and they gracefully spliced us into the line. We dutifully handed over our books as instructed and when I was before Sarah, I told her that I had come because my late wife, Pegge Parker, was an “early Sarah.” I went on to tell her that Pegge had been a reporter on the Fairbanks Daily News Miner during World War II and that she had been a star reporter in Washington. I continued that after Alaska, Pegge moved on to become a foreign correspondent in China. I also added that she had married an American Vice Consul, Douglas Mackiernan, who was actually a CIA agent using the diplomatic office as a cover.

(Lisa told me later that while I was talking to her, Sarah laid her pen down in the book, which must have been a signal to the store personnel and security that she was okay with this because they let me talk and did not try to hurry me along. Lisa said that she had observed other people that had stopped to talk for a few more seconds than allowed, and that they had guided them politely away from the table.) I went on to briefly explain to Sarah that Mackiernan had been killed at the Tibetan border while exiting to safety, and his was the first star on the Wall of Honor at the CIA Headquarters. She seemed very interested and asked if she could personalize the book to Pegge; and then offered her condolences when I told her it was too late, that Pegge left us a year ago. I also told her I had left with her staff the book of Pegge’s life “The Slow Boat to China”, and asked her to read the chapter on Pegge’s time in Alaska. We shook hands again, and I left. Lisa, who was right behind me, listened to what I had said and she, I trust, will confirm the above remembrance. After the signing, we were shuffled into a holding area where the wristbands were cut off. (I had hoped to keep one for a souvenir but they were insistent that the bands be destroyed.)

As we were driving out of the parking lot we spotted Sarah's beautiful and brightly colored bus and dutifully had our pictures taken in front of it.

By 2:10, after over 10 hours of driving and waiting, sitting and talking, interviewing and running, we were in the car and we headed for home. At the halfway point the snow began to whirl over the highway, but we both agreed that we had “hlucked out.” We had experienced a big major celebrity booksigning, made many new friends, and I had talked to Sarah Palin and told her about my book. And, Lisa adds, for future reference, we gained some valuable hints on how to conduct my big booksignings and those of her stable of authors. ;-)

Lisa added the following comments: Ms. Palin must be pretty special, since John not only met, but became friends with, the likes of Ghandi, Nehru, Kennedy, Batista, Peron, the Dahli Lama, and countless other world leaders and celebrities. If Sarah gets any inkling of how special that moment in her life truly was, then it will have been worth the trip, the waiting and the exhaustion yesterday.

In a few days, we’ll be able to post pictures that the publisher shot during our moments at the booksigning with Mrs. Palin.

To view more photos of the book signing, click here.