I went up on the fourth floor and got a wristband that allowed me to stand behind the seating area, but I was told that if I wanted him to sign a book, I would have had to stand in line over by the Art section on the far right, which meant not seeing him. So I said, "Hell, I'm not buying a hardback book anyway on puzzle-editor money" and I stood in the middle of the room---which turned out to be a little walled-off area for the press. So at the main event, they were all standing in the way. Ah well.
Here's what the crowd looked like at eleven, an hour before he showed:
Notice in that third picture that there's an empty poster stand. That's because, while we were waiting around, a guy just walked up, brazen as you please, took the "Barack Obama Will Be Signing Books Today At Noon" poster out of the display, rolled it up, and put it in his backpack. If someone had wanted to sell locks of Barack's hair, I think they could have cleaned up. Senator Obama is a guy who should have no trouble raising money for a campaign.
Anyway, we were standing around and there was a little grumbling about the crowd, the long wait, the difficulty seeing, etc. But then, come around noonish, and while the Barnes and Noble staff were announcing, for the fourth or fifth time, the policy ("He'll speak for only five minutes so he can sign everyone's book. He will only sign copies of his books. He will not sign anything else. He will not personalize signings. He will not pose for pictures..."), the woman behind the podium was interrupted by a burst of applause from several floors below. (I was next to the elevators.) It was like an avalanche---the cheers just kept getting louder and louder, and then---bam! There he was, striding to the front, waving and smiling.
(I snapped a picture, but it turned out blurry and lousy. The upshot: He's shorter than I expected, and looks really young for a man of 49.)
And he got on stage and had a standing ovation before he'd said a damn thing.
Then he began to speak, and even though he spoke only for about seven minutes, he got interrupted three times with applause. (I wrote one line I suspect we'll hear again: "We need to look at how we got where we are, and find out why our politics isn't as decent as the American people.")
I have never seen anything like it outside a rock concert. If this guy doesn't run in 2008, I'll eat my hat. I can't imagine aomeone going to event after event after event like this and not getting the idea that maybe people would vote for you. (Although this could be a skewed sample. At the Al Franken reading, someone yelled out, "Run for Senate!" and everyone cheered, and Al laughed and said, "Great. The Upper West Side of New York wants me to run in Minnesota. I'll remember that.")
He's making the circuit to promote his new book about what policies might improve America. (A book ... about policy? Before an election? Hmmmm....) Look for him in your town. But get there really early.