CBC News
Waiting for Bill
Dan Brown, CBC News Online | August 5, 2004

Clinton stretches his leg while autographing copies of his book. (CP PHOTO/Frank Gunn)
Clinton stretches his leg while autographing copies of his book. (CP PHOTO/Frank Gunn)
When Bill Clinton rolled into Toronto on Thursday to promote his memoir, the event gave Canadians an opportunity to do what Canadians do best: line up in an orderly fashion.

According to Indigo, the chain that sponsored the signing at its downtown location, people began gathering at 4 p.m. on Wednesday to secure a spot in line. Those at the head of the queue, the diehard Clinton fans, camped out overnight on the sidewalk outside the store, outfitted for the long wait with sleeping bags and lawn chairs.

But what was an apparent recipe for chaos – well over 1,000 bored people concentrated in a single place – turned out to be a logistical dream.

There was very little pushing and shoving. Tempers did not flare. Everyone remained calm. Everyone remained � Canadian. It was a book signing, after all.

"This could be Margaret Atwood, for goodness sake," Jo-Ann DeLuca said of the guest of honour as she pointed to the mass of polite people who had come to meet the former president.

Clinton was originally scheduled to arrive at 11 a.m. As of 10:08, DeLuca was the very last person in the line, which snaked up and down several cramped city blocks adjacent to the Indigo outlet.

A Clinton supporter when she lived in New York in the 1990s, DeLuca has not yet had a chance to read My Life, which runs a hefty 957 pages.

"No, I haven't read it," echoed her husband, Sanjay Ahooja. "I don't even know if I can lift the book."

The couple gave themselves a 20 per cent chance of making it to the front of the line. Clinton's arrangement with Indigo committed him to signing at least 1,000 books, and the first 1,000 people in line sported bright orange wristbands. There were hundreds more in line, all clutching copies of the book. Ahooja said he had heard a rumour that additional wristbands might be distributed later.

Of course, to sign even 1,000 books in one sitting is a remarkable feat. "He's very, very efficient," noted Sorya Gaulin, the head of Indigo's pubic relations department. Gaulin says signing books is as much a science for Clinton as an art: he can sign books at a rate of one every 11 seconds.

Gaulin was among the cluster of Indigo staffers and security people at the head of the queue. This is where Clinton's Secret Service detail had set up two white tents to serve as checkpoints to screen people when they passed into the store. A DJ to one side kept the crowd pumped up, spinning records like Brick House by The Commodores. Signs outlining the "Event Protocol" were posted at the doors of the tents. The most important rule for interacting with a former president: arrive early.

Clinton at a downtown Toronto bookstore as part of his book-signing tour, Aug. 5, 2004
As for the obvious question – did people line up because they like the book or because they like the man? – Gaulin supplied an answer that would have done the Arkansas politician proud. "I think it's both, frankly," she said. "I think the man is the book."

One person in the crowd who knows a lot about book signings is Rebecca Caldwell, the publishing correspondent for the Globe And Mail. While Thursday's event didn't measure up to the standard set by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, who once filled Toronto's Skydome with young readers, it still impressed her.

"For a book signing, it's off the scale, it's all the way to 11," she said of Clinton's appearance.

As the hour of Clinton's arrival approached, Caldwell moved inside the store to its upper level, which remained open for the duration of the signing. People lined up three and four thick behind the upstairs railing to try to catch a glimpse of Clinton below. A few minutes before noon, a cheer went up when he was spotted, but it was virtually impossible to see anything other than security guards searching the fortunate few who were allowed to meet the former occupant of the White House.

One of the curious onlookers upstairs was Natasha Pike. The St. John's native was in Toronto for her upcoming wedding, and hadn't been aware that Clinton was going to be making an appearance. Instead, she went to the store hoping to buy some items for her bridal party.

"I'm just here to get tissue paper but it wasn't the right day to come down," she said. "You'd think we were in the United States today."

Pike has no strong feelings for Clinton. But she did note that it seems to her that the more unpopular George W. Bush becomes, the less tarnish there is on Clinton's reputation. She had no plans to read his book, saying the fact that so many had lined up does not enter into her thinking.

"It has no effect on me whatsoever," she said bluntly.

Tammy Starr displays her copy of 'My Life'
Tammy Starr displays her copy of 'My Life'
Outside the store, however, Tammy Starr was as star-struck as Pike was unimpressed. Starr, who had been the 17th person in line by virtue of winning a contest put on by Indigo for its repeat customers, proudly displayed her copy of My Life with Clinton's signature on the title page in blue ink.

According to Starr, Clinton is poised and handsome in person. "He looks less tired than he does on TV," she said, saying he is the kind of person who can make one individual in a crowd of thousands feel they have been singled out for his attention.

"He just knows how to make you feel special," she added.

Clinton's trip to Canada, it seems, did nothing to dispel the public perception of his personal magnetism. And being an hour late certainly didn't diminish his reputation for never being able to show up on time, either.



Print this page

Send a comment

Indepth Index