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Queueing for Gaiman

Started: 2015-02-21 17:35:47

Submitted: 2015-02-21 21:20:35

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator waits in line to see Neil Gaiman

Sometime last fall rock-star author Neil Gaiman and his publisher sponsored a contest to see which local bookstore could sell the most copies of his last book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and the winner would get Gaiman to show up for a signing event to promote his newest book, Trigger Warning, a collection of short fiction. I was only vaguely aware of the contest at the time, and I already had a copy of the book so I didn't feel compelled to participate, but it turned out that a bookstore in Fort Collins, Old Firehouse Books, won the contest.

I've seen Neil Gaiman on several of his prior appearances to the greater Boulder area, first at The Tattered Cover in 2005 (which was a traditional talk-and-book-signing event), and again at a Boulder Bookstore-sponsored event at a local church in 2008 where Gaiman gave a long talk and did not personally meet people in the line but provided pre-signed books for purchase.

I was somewhat ambivalent about the prospect of driving all the way up to Fort Collins to stand in a long line to spend a minute standing, dumbfounded, in front of Neil Gaiman, while he signed my copies of his books. Kiesa was enthusiastic, so I decided I'd tag along. The event was scheduled to start at 16:00 on Friday afternoon, 6 February. Kiesa arranged for my mother to pick Calvin up after school. I took the afternoon off work. We departed Boulder a little after 14:00, and I ended up working on the drive up to Fort Collins, tethered to Kiesa's phone so I could look at a crash that came in immediately before I left work.

By the time we made it to Fort Collins and parked, it was 15:30 and the line in front of the book store was stretching down the wall in the adjacent parking lot,

Queue for Neil Gaiman outside Old Firehouse Books
Queue for Neil Gaiman outside Old Firehouse Books

down the alley behind the store, around the corner on the sidewalk, and down the sidewalk around another corner.

Queue for Neil Gaiman
Queue for Neil Gaiman

The bookstore was prepared for a crowd; signs taped to buildings showed where the queue was supposed to go; bookstore employees distributed fliers explaining how the whole thing was supposed to work; and a police officer or two walked the sidewalk to make sure everything stayed orderly. Just walking to the end of the line seemed exhausting enough, and then we started waiting.

The end of the queue for Neil Gaiman
The end of the queue for Neil Gaiman

The line began moving presently, as the signing officially began at 16:00 and the bookstore opened its doors to allow people inside. We shuffled forward, and when we turned the first corner after standing in line for an hour I began to feel optimistic about the speed of the line and our progress so far.

Jaeger at the end of the queue for Neil Gaiman
Jaeger at the end of the queue for Neil Gaiman

My optimism waned over the next hour as we barely moved along the sidewalk. When the sun started to go down I realized I'd made a tragic mistake by forgetting to bring any sort of jacket or outerwear. When we left Boulder it was an unseasonably warm 70 degrees, and I'd just finished running at lunchtime, so I was not feeling the need to bring a coat. I ducked out of line to find something warm to do and ended up at Starbucks around the corner.

I returned to line after half an hour and found that Kiesa had moved only a few dozen meters down the alley. We waited a while longer and eventually crossed a perpendicular alley so that we were, at length, adjacent to the same block of buildings that held the bookstore and the rock-star author. A bookstore employee came by handing out pages from a day-by-day calendar to mark our place in line if we wanted to step out of line to take a break. (One of the women immediately in front of me noted that she got the September 11 page, and was not quite sure what to make of that omen.) The line contracted, as some people took them up on the offer and stepped out of line.

By this point it was after 19:00 and it was clear we weren't going to get out of line in time for a reasonable supper. I stepped out of line again to find supper, and noted the lack of easy take-out food in the immediate area, though there did seem to be ample choice for proper sit-down dining, especially if one had planned in advance with a reservation. I eventually walked a half-mile to Chipotle, picked up a pair of burritos, and returned to find that Kiesa had barely advanced along the bookstore's exterior wall.

Queue for Neil Gaiman outside Old Firehouse Books
Queue for Neil Gaiman outside Old Firehouse Books

We ate in line, and Kiesa ducked out to visit Starbucks herself. The line crept along; by 21:30 we turned the corner from the parking lot onto the sidewalk and could, at long last, actually see the front door of the bookstore. It took another half-hour to work our way the remaining ten meters along the front of the store. (At one point one of the book store employees mentioned Gaiman had taken a short break for supper; he may be a rock-star author but he's not super-human.) We stood on the threshold of the door, trying to gather as much warmth as I could from the store's heater. I could see the line snaking its way inside the store, past the table holding our pre-ordered books and back to the cash registers, then deeper into the store to wherever the author himself held court.

When we finally stepped across the threshold into the store, one of the employees spotted us and started apologizing, then pulled us out of line to pick up our pre-ordered books (we bought one copy of Trigger Warning each so we could both get our stack of other books signed). It wasn't immediately clear why she was apologizing, but it eventually emerged that it was because Kiesa was pregnant; I guess they must have been pulling obviously-pregnant women out of line, though that wasn't immediately obvious to us. I told Kiesa to "look pregnant" but apparently it wasn't enough. Kiesa mentioned this and said we'd remember that next time, and our new guide quipped that it would come in handy next time they had a two-thousand-person signing.

Our bookstore employee/guide took us back out the front door and around the alley to the back exit where Gaiman was signing. She inserted us into the line, bypassing at least half an hour of waiting inside (judging from the timestamps on the official photos). Kiesa got one book, Fortunately, The Milk signed for Calvin. I smiled as Neil Gaiman signed my books, thanked him, and smiled for the photo. It was 22:30; we'd been in line for seven hours, and he'd been signing for almost as long.

Kiesa and Jaeger with Neil Gaiman at Old Firehouse Books
Kiesa and Jaeger with Neil Gaiman at Old Firehouse Books
Jaeger with Neil Gaiman at Old Firehouse Books
Jaeger with Neil Gaiman at Old Firehouse Books

We left the bookstore thrilled that it was all over, and happy to have had the opportunity to see Neil Gaiman.

Kiesa's parallel account of the signing event is Hugos, Au Pairs, Babies, and Neil Gaiman.

You always learn more from someone whom you disagree with.
- Dr. Shepherd, 23 August 1999