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Clinton Draws Long Line, Short Tempers

Not all the 1,000 fans who show up for the Pasadena book signing get to meet or see her.

June 30, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

By the time Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived at a Pasadena bookstore Sunday to autograph copies of her new book, a line of 1,000 patrons stretched around the block and emotions were running high.

As it turned out, only a few who got in line after 6:30 a.m. were able to get inside Vroman's Bookstore to meet the former First Lady and buy autographed copies of her memoir, "Living History," published by Simon & Schuster.

But although many were just excited at the chance to meet her, there were scuffles, finger-pointing, line-cutting and name-calling. Scalpers sold book vouchers -- which were used for tickets to get inside -- and a Monica Lewinsky look-alike paraded outside.

Clinton's appearance ranked among the largest book signings at Vroman's. Radio star Howard Stern drew the biggest crowd about 10 years ago with 7,000 people. But he stayed for eight hours; Clinton stayed for two.

At 11:15 a.m., Clinton strolled into Vroman's, wearing a turquoise pants suit and off-white heels. She waved to fans who shouted "Yeah Hillary! We love you!" and took a seat next to the romance novels and diaries.

One man approached Clinton and told her, "I am thrilled to be here. I've got goose bumps."

Another buyer told her, "I've been here since 3 a.m. and I would do it again." Clinton replied sweetly, "Oh, bless your heart."

Those who made Sunday's cut, mostly die-hard fans who had arrived between 3 and 6 a.m. and line-cutters, said it was worth the wait and the drama. The last person allowed inside with a voucher had arrived at 6:30 a.m., said Linda Urban, a spokeswoman for the bookstore.

Among those waiting were an 11-year-old leukemia survivor, a Wellesley graduate and a woman wearing a pink button that read "Women For Peace." As they inched toward the former First Lady, some clutched their book vouchers to their chests like thousand-dollar bills. Others stood on their tiptoes to see Clinton, peering from behind bookshelves and bodies. "We're almost there," one woman said, with clenched fists.

As they approached the book-signing table, some told Clinton she was their hero. Others asked her to run for president. Within a few seconds, they were whisked along as if they were in an assembly line. As they walked away, many glanced over their shoulders, some in tears, for a last look at the senator.

So far, more than 800,000 copies of the book have been sold nationwide, Clinton's press secretary said. The book was released on June 9, and topped the Los Angeles Times bestseller list on Sunday.

But at Vroman's, with 800 copies available and a two-book limit per person, nearly half of the crowd did not make it inside for the signing. As hours passed and the line stretched, some in the crowd that had started out like a friendly "tailgate party," as one woman described it, turned nasty. "It's a madhouse. I'm irate," said Edmund Urquiza, 37, of Burbank, who staked his spot in line at 6 a.m., but left at 1:30 p.m. without a signed copy.

At 9:15 a.m., Lois Greene, 65, of Long Beach marched over to a group in line ahead of her and accused them of allowing cuts.

"I got here at 5 a.m. It's like they got on their cell phones and called all of their friends to tell them 'we're in line, come get in line with us,' " Greene said. "It's just unfair to all of the people around the corner."

"We've all been here since 5 o'clock this morning," yelled Marguerite Adair, 52, of Lancaster, one of the accused.

"Go back in line!" one man ahead of Greene shouted, to which she replied, "Get out of line!"

The situation was even more tense as Clinton fans coped with Vroman's strict rules: All copies of "Living History" had to be purchased at Vroman's on Sunday. Those who arrived early enough to purchase books were given vouchers for the $28 book, and then sent back into another line to wait for the signing. No photographs, purses or cell phones were allowed inside, for security reasons.

One man brought a bouquet to give to the senator. Another brought a photograph of his 17-year-old daughter and her receipt of acceptance from Wellesley College, Clinton's alma mater. Others brought previously purchased copies of "Living History." But most of those items were not allowed.

"I already bought three books. Just to see her, I've got to buy two more," said Elaine Harris Wrice, 52, of Pasadena. "I wish I could have brought the ones I already own. It would have saved me $60.62."

Vroman's staff defended their rules, explaining that Clinton could sign only 800 books because she was on a strict schedule, and had to be at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles for a dedication by 3 p.m.

"I am as disappointed as they are, but we could not extend her time here," Urban said.

Vroman's staff and the Secret Service did not allow extra items, including previously purchased books, as a safety precaution, Urban said, adding that those who were angered by the restrictions had plenty of warnings beforehand through e-mails, newsletters, notes posted throughout the store and a special hotline.

Outside, the scene was chaotic. A small group of protesters, including the Lewinsky look-alike, waved signs that read "Clintons Are Trouble" and "America Can't Trust Hillary," as those in line defended her and began chanting her name.

By noon, people were pressed up against the glass doors at the front of the bookstore. Urban appeared to tell the crowd, "There are no more vouchers available," which infuriated some.

"I've been here since 7 a.m. this morning, trying to get in there," said Anteres Anderson, 23. "Now we're waiting just to try to even be able to see her."

Many who did not receive vouchers waited to put their names on a list, in case extra signed books became available. As that line opened up, crowd members rushed up, yelling, "I was the next person!"

Urban tried to calm the crowd: "Let's not hurt each other. This really isn't worth it for a book."

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