Chris and I promised ourselves last year that we would take time off from work and attend the Virginia Festival of the Book, and here we are. After a pleasant car ride filled with great girl chat that bounced from topic to topic as effortlessly as changing the radio station, we arrived at the cabin in time to drop off our stuff and head to the Festival. And not just because we wanted to—I actually was on a mission.
Perusing the schedule a few weeks ago, Chris said that she wanted to see the author of Three Cups of Tea. A few days later at work, the director of communications said she was going to try and get Greg Mortenson as one of our main speakers at our annual convention. A light bulb went off in my head. I told her to put me together a packet of information, and I would try to put it in Mortenson’s hands while I was at the Festival.
Here’s the thing. I had no idea whether this was going to be a book signing or not. If it was, all I had to do was get in line, and I knew I would have at least a minute or two of his time. If it wasn’t, I had no idea what I was going to do. I had visions of getting arrested as a stalker because I approached him in the parking lot after his appearance.
Luckily, it didn’t come to that, but things didn’t start off too well. He was on the schedule to appear at UVA’s Culbreth Theater at 6:00 p.m. Tickets would not be given out until 5:00. We tried to time it to get there right at 5:00. The traffic was ghastly getting onto and through campus, so when we got close, Chris hopped out to get in line, and I went to park the car. By the time I found a space in the garage, Chris called to say that the tickets were all gone.
I said something unladylike, and then I heard Chris say something like “Yes, I would—thank you!” “Did you just get tickets?” “No, I got one ticket from some guy who had an extra. I’m going to stand around and look pitiful and see if I can get another.” I locked up the car and scooted down three flights of stairs, crossed the street, all the while keeping an eye out for someone trying to unload a ticket.
I get to the theater and find Chris. No luck on the other ticket, and we realize that there are lots of people standing around looking mighty unhappy because they don’t have tickets. Chris and I decide to split up—she’ll go hear his talk, assess the effect of his message on the audience, and report back on how inspirational a speaker he is. I was relieved to see that it was, in fact, also going to be a book signing. Having been to many a book signing, I knew the drill. While everyone else was standing around grumbling that they didn’t have tickets. I headed straight for the signing table and got in line.
Let me just say, I was FIRST in line. This is important. I’ve never been first in line for a book signing—I’m usually number 68 or thereabouts. First is a big deal, particularly in this case. I’ll be able to explain why my association is interested in him and why he should be interested in us before he’s talked to many other people. He’ll be as receptive as he is going to be.
So far, so good. I’m in line—I have my books. I’m ready. Unfortunately, I have to wait in this line for two hours. At this point, the talk doesn’t start for a half hour. I figure he’ll talk for an hour (he actually talked for ninety minutes—a real bonus for those inside the theater, not so much for us dogged few in the queue.
Slowly, I’ve been joined by others in the line. At least 100 people have been turned away because there are no more tickets. Despite this fact, they are hanging around, hoping that circumstances may change and they’ll be allowed in. People have come from quite a distance just for this event, and they have to turn around and head home that same night. They don’t want to have made the trip for nothing.
The Festival volunteers have it tough—they have to break the bad news to folks who really don’t want to hear it. I, on the other hand, am okay. I’ll get to do what I set out to do, but I can really sense the disappointment of the folks around me.
After forty-five minutes in line, one of the volunteers comes up and says that we have to move the line outdoors (mercifully, it’s a lovely evening) because two other events at the theater will make the lobby too crowded. She implies that we can mosey outside and line up there if we like. As first in line, I say louder than I normally speak, “You mean we’ll move the line but maintain the same order, right?” She looked at me as if to say, “What’s the big deal?” Obviously, she’s never been first in line! I wasn’t about to give that up. When she moved the sign outside, I followed her and everyone else followed me. It could have gotten pretty ugly if things were handled differently.
We lined up outdoors and began to chat to one another. The woman behind me had driven from Richmond, she has been to the Festival before. She wasn’t thrilled about missing his talk, but she knew that these things happen. The two women behind her were from Burke—they both worked at the same elementary school. One of them works to raise money to build schools on tribal lands in India. From India herself originally, she was very disappointed not to see Mortenson speak and more importantly to speak to him. I assured her that the best place to speak to him would be at the book signing.
While the frat house next to the theater blared “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down” (The Band’s version, not Joan Baez), we waited…and we waited…and we waited. The extra 30 minutes he spoke seemed particularly long for those of us standing outside. I had fallen rollerblading with my daughter the weekend before, so my right leg really wasn’t too happy with my waiting around.
Finally, we hear applause from inside the theater, the volunteers let us in, and we head down the hall to get our books signed. Now, I’ve been standing there all of this time—you would think that I would have my little spiel ready to go. I really don’t want to babble when I get up there. As I walk down the hall, my mind goes blank. “What am I supposed to say?” I ask myself a little desperately.
Now all I can think is “Geez, I’m first! Who wants to be first?” But then I take a deep breath, gather my thoughts, and walk across the room where I’m greeted very graciously by Mortenson. I actually say what I came to say without babbling, he takes the folder of information, and expresses interest. Whew!
I leave with signed books for Chris and me, step outside, and meet Chris coming up the stairs. She says the presentation was amazing. The Festival is off to a great start!