Friday, February 13, 2009

Jimmy and Me

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This evening is the kickoff of the President's Day weekend, and what better way to spend it than hobnobbing with one of our five living U.S. Presidents. Jimmy Carter, my absolute favorite ex-President, was at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, signing copies of his latest book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land. I ordered two copies by phone early in the week, one for each of my grandsons, and showed up at the appointed time tonight to have them signed.

I had visions of waiting in line with a hundred or so other people and being able to chat with President Carter while he leisurely signed books for Boone Macy and Sebastian Files, both personalized, of course. I fully intended to tell him how much I appreciated all that he has done for the poor, at home and abroad, and to thank him for continually showing America's better face to the rest of the world.

The reality of the evening was two lines of people packed two-and-three abreast stretching for blocks in two directions. I had to work my way, very slowly, through the left line to pick up my vouchers (book tickets), and then get in the right line where I worked my way, very slowly, to the front door of the bookstore. Once inside the store I had to show the vouchers three times as the line snaked up to the place where President Carter was indeed signing copies of his book. We were herded past the President, who looked up and smiled between books as he automatically scribbled his name. Our line was about three feet in front of Jimmy Carter. We were warned not to take pictures as we walked past, but I, of course, did anyway. Then we were handed our books from a pile that he had already signed. Those with cameras were then shunted off to the side where they could try to get a picture by shooting through the line that was walking past.

It was a book-signing factory.

The highlight of the evening was getting to see President Carter. He is eighteen days older than my father, and looks almost as frail. Rosalyn was not in evidence, which surprised me because you never see one without the other. The President was as personable as he could be, given the circumstances - smiling and making eye contact between books.

But the evening had other highlights as well, and I managed to enjoy it all. First off, I got lost on the way over to Tempe and wound up pulling into a Circle K to buy a soda and get directions. A lady panhandler hit me up for spare change as I was going in, telling me that her three children had no food. I promised her that I would catch her on the way out - and I did - giving her three bananas that I purchased inside.

Security at the event was interesting. There was a squad of local police on the other side of McClintock Drive - a busy thoroughfare. At least one policeman was on top of the bookstore and occasionally peeked over, much to the entertainment of the crowd. Several police and Secret Service were inside of the bookstore, but President Carter appeared to be fairly vulnerable despite all of the "protection." Everyone was pulling cameras out of their pockets and purses and snapping pictures. Security was nowhere nearly as tight as it is at Skyharbor Airport.

I stood in line next to a young man from England (the town where Wedgewood Pottery is made). He had come to the University of Arizona twelve years ago on a scholarship, and stayed after graduating to work in the computer industry. He hadn't pre-purchased a copy of the book, and learned, after being in line for an hour, that the bookstore had sold out of the Carter books.

There was a troupe of entertainers working the lines: a man on stilts, face-painters, and a balloon artist. A wonderful Black lady and her second grade daughter were in line behind me. The balloon artist made a sceptre of balloons for the little girl, which got me to calling her "princess." It was a liberal group, and we quickly got around to discussing Obama. I asked the lady if she had seen Obama in Phoenix last February, and she responded that she had not, but she had been to the Inauguration. Then she pulled out her Blackberry and showed everyone nearby a photo of her and her daughter with a very relaxed Obama. She had been at a hotel where he was vacationing while he was in the Senate. She had asked Michelle Obama to take the picture - and described her as being very courteous.

Another diversion was a group of war protesters holding signs and singing out next to the boulevard. One lady brought her sign up to the line and began talking to us about the war. A police woman on a bicycle came up and told her that protestors with signs had to stand out by the road. Several people were working the lines handing out pamphlets for various causes.

It was a fun evening, with more than a passing feel of the sixties!

My history with Presidents: I saw Tricky Dick Nixon and Pat in Springfield, MO, while I was in college. That was before he became President. I also saw Reagan on two occasions before he became President, as well as Obama one time prior to his election. I saw George H.W. Bush at a Fourth of July parade in Marshfield, MO, while he was President.

And...Barack Obama will be in Phoenix next Wednesday selling the stimulus, but specifics for that visit have not been announced as of yet. Watch for me on the evening news!

To cap off a nice evening, I pulled through El Pollo Loco on the way home and bought a box of the world's best chicken! All in all, it was a very good evening.

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