Saturday, November 21, 2009


The moment I saw the article on the front page of the Grand Rapids Press that Sarah Palin('s team) had chosen to kick off her book signing tour at the Barnes & Noble down the street from us, I knew I would head to the hootenanny to observe the fun. I worked during the day on Wednesday, so Brian and I didn't head to the mall until the extravaganza had started, but people had been camped out OVERNIGHT to get wristbands to wait in line to see her. There were a few rows of parking lot blocked off, a slew of media including TV vans with satellites, and most prominent of all, the tour bus, its sides covered with the picture from her book cover, way larger than life. It's like she's a rock star!

And really, isn't she though? What would Madison, Jefferson and Adams make of such a spectacle as this, masquerading as politics? I've been thinking about the early presidents a lot because I am reading a bio of each president, in order, to see where we went wrong. (I'm on Monroe.) Well, speaking of presidents, the most astonishing thing to me about the legions of Sarah Palin fans is how many of them seem to suffer from the delusion that she should be the next president.

The line of fans filled the inner corridor of the mall, snaking its way past the stores, and then back the other way, a few people wide. Stanchions were everywhere. B&N employees let a certain number of wristbanded people at a time up the escalator and took their bags/coats/belongings, which were reclaimed after having the book signed. Sarah herself sat behind a curtain-like screen, blocked from view by the masses. No one without a wristband was allowed upstairs. After getting the autograph, the fans reclaimed their checked bag/coat and came down the other escalator. Police and mall cops stood around. Fans stood around. And I stood around, loving it all.

I mean, president? Really? A lot of people wore buttons that said "Palin 2012," although not the majority. Part of me wants to ask these people what on earth makes them think she should be the president - after quitting her job in which she held an executive office mid-term. But maybe they would just make me sad, like the bubbly girl around age 18 who came down the signing-exit escalator with her friends, glowing. "She's, like, seriously, so genuinely sweet," the girl was emphasizing. "She's literally so nice. I would totally vote for her if she runs for president." It gets better, though. The girl continued, "I mean, I don't usually do that, I don't vote for women in like high positions, but I would vote for her."

I don't want to blame the heavily Christian aspect of the community of Grand Rapids for raising a girl to say something so insipid, but what else can I blame? What sort of position, do tell, is too "high" for women, ordinarily? Is student council president ok? Church youth group? But nothing too high? And what precisely makes Sarah Palin transcend it, this foolish rule of yours?

There were other fascinating people coming down the stairs. That's where I spent a lot of time hanging out, drinking my latte and sipping magazines, to watch the afterglow. A bunch of people wore "Tea Party of West Michigan" t-shirts or sweatshirts, which had some "common sense" rules for government on the back. Because there were so many people decked out in Palin and other related attire, a woman who walked by in Obama/Biden shirt and hat stood out. "Hey, there's one of our people," I said to Brian. The Obama/Biden fan heard me and turned around, offering up her hand for a high five, which I returned. "Are you just here to watch the spectacle, too?" I asked. She said yes, and told me she was thinking of moving some of the Palin book to the humor section. I laughed, and we went our separate ways.

Of course, this whole exchange took place in front of a bunch of devotees in line. I guess Brian saw the looks on their faces more than I did -- I was just talking with the woman for a second and then moved on. Apparently the Palin fans were shocked, or mad, while watching us. But they were trapped in their line of followers, and I was moving freely along.

I did notice as we walked around observing the hundreds in line that there was far more Michigan (as in University of) gear than Michigan State. I mentioned this to Brian, proud of his Spartan school for not being as widely represented. He then introduced me to the concept of the "Walmart Wovlerines," a subset of society whose name immediately tells me so much, and also makes me eager to learn more about them.

Naturally there were a few "heroes" present. By that I mean people in uniform of course! At the very end, when she stopped signing at 9, the event was winding down, but a lot of people were still hanging around to watch Palin exit. I noticed one reporter with notepad talking to a hero in a blue uniform about how they had let her in -- even though it was the 9 o'clock cut-off and the signing was over, and no one else was to be let up the stairs -- because she was wearing a uniform. Gag!

Sure enough, we got to watch Sarah stride away, out from behind her signing curtain toward her exit behind another screen, taking a moment in between to wave at the masses assembled below. They clapped. I loved watching them. They were so happy to have had a moment with their hero. I enthusiastically support that. I love devotion, being a fan, and heck, I love book signings. But wow, do I want these people to explain to me what it is about this woman that inspires in them thoughts of "reclaiming America." I remain fascinated by this, and I saw no indication of getting an answer any time soon from these huddled masses.

Outside, another throng thronged by the tour bus, waiting for one last glimpse. Brian and I were headed to a movie at our down-the-street theater, conveniently located about eighteen seconds from the Barnes & Noble entrance, resulting in a perfect evening plan for us. We looked at the crowd and I saw that someone had actually brought a flag. Not a little hand-held flapping plastic-like flag, but a big ol' star-spangled banner, held high on a mast, like you would carry marching at the front of a regiment or something. It waved above the heads of the crowd in the glare of the media lights. When Palin left the building to get on her tour bus, a cheer erupted. Brian and I walked into the Celebration Cinema, where I got an unexpected popcorn coupon. That was another highlight of the evening.

I love that I fortuitously was in Grand Rapids for her book tour debut. Sarah herself I find totally innocuous, just as I did during the 2008 campaign, when people were freaking out trying to get me to SEE that she is DANGEROUS why can't you SEE THAT LINDA oh my gawwwwwwwwd! Whatever, Sarah Palin. But who are these people that flock to her? They mystify me so.

The next night, we went to a 9:30 showing of The Men Who Stare at Goats (awesome) and then when we exited that, watched for a few minutes the assembled hordes who were there for the midnight showing of Twilight II. Basically, this week has provided a lot of free entertainment in the form of other people camping out to be entertained. It's so derivative, and I love it. Turns out the werewolf from Twilight is, unlike me, From Around Here, so there is actually a western Michigan connection and a reason to feature him in newspaper articles about how the local Hudsonville boy has found big success as an actor in the terrible films.

It's so great that things like this can bring us together as a nation.

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