When I find out Neil Gaiman is going to be in Fort Collins signing copies of Trigger Warning, I debate whether to go. Standing in line for anything is a serious commitment, and I know there are going to be a lot of people turning out for Neil. I finally decide to go. Because sometimes it helps to get closer to what’s possible in this world.
I get there an hour early, figuring I’ll be back in line a ways, but I can’t really get there earlier. I don’t expect to be six blocks back in a line that’s been forming since 11 a.m. It reminds me of when my sister and I tried to see then-candidate Obama at CSU, and the line formed faster than we could walk to the end. This time, a woman at the corner between blocks four and five meets my eye and we share a laugh over the length of the line.
Finally I find the end, and fall in behind a young man who reminds me of brothers I knew 30 years ago, one of whom gave me a ring once, and died too young. Neither of the brothers had such an impressive number of facial and ear piercings as my fellow Gaiman fan, though. It’s hard not to count them. I strike up a conversation with him, and he’s very personable. (Because my fellow Gaiman fans didn’t know I’d write this, I’ll assign them initials here. My first friend I’ll call R.)
R and I soon open our conversation to include the man behind me, who picked up his books from Old Firehouse earlier in the day and then went to do other things, and now regrets not waiting in the line sooner. He’s closer to me in age than R is. This fellow has gray in his beard, and I learn his name hours into our wait. (He can go by K.)
The line doesn’t move, but the day is beautiful, with sun (though we’re in the shade of a building) and a temperature in the 60s. Above us is the pure Colorado sky. Our conversation expands to include the two young women behind us. They are friends, and one reminds me of someone, but I can’t place it. (She’s A, her friend is M.)
In hour two, we’re up to block four. The breeze has kicked in and we’re still in the shade. To the rescue, volunteers from Old Firehouse show up bearing hot cocoa and hothands packs. What they have are thermal cups with cocoa and a stirrer in them, and a carafe of hot water to pour on the spot. Very clever. I haven’t brought my jacket and am a little cool, but dairy is not my friend, so I ask if next time she comes back, the cheerful volunteer could bring an empty cup and I could just have hot water. She remembers, and finds me again very soon. I’m very grateful.
My line companions and I trade suggestions for reading, and discuss what brought us to Gaiman’s work (for the two men, it was Sandman, for the women, it was his novels). I learn that the woman ahead of us has a medical condition where she faints when she smells smoke, and for a while I can’t help but imagine what a challenge that would be. In block five, we’re in an alley, and a car honks to make people move so it can pass. I watch the driver of the car exchange loud words with a man in line. The cop who has been walking the line makes sure it doesn’t escalate into more. This is the only uneasy moment in our long wait.
The line slows the closer we get. In hour two or three, we’ve come half the distance, generally surging forward ten feet or so and then waiting five to ten minutes to move again. By hour two, we estimate we’ll be in the building by six. By six, it’s looking more like eight. By eight, we’re nearing despair, but can’t imagine that it’s going to be two more hours. If I’d known earlier that our wait would be seven hours total, I might have bailed. But then I wouldn’t find out, in hour five, that K is Kevin Hearne, author of The Iron Druid Chronicles and an upcoming Guest of Honor at MileHiCon this fall. I love that he’s there, incognito, as a fan. It makes me want to read all of his books.
Kevin’s stealth brings about the highlight moment within our temporary community. Once we get in the store, he points out his books on the shelf, and then goes to get the first one in the series to show to A behind him, who’s curious about his work. As he brings it over to the line, the young woman ahead of me says, “Oh, I love that series.” I point to Kevin and say, “He’s the author.” She staggers back, eyes wide, and almost starts crying. She’s shaking as she says to us, “You didn’t see me touch that poster when we came in.” The poster is a blowup of the cover of Kevin’s book, signed. She gets an autograph, and he takes a selfie with her. Best author moment ever.
Then, almost seven hours in, I learn A & M have a creative writing club at their university. A tells us about a book she’s planning to write about her experiences abroad this summer. I gave her my card, encouraging her to let me know when her work is in the world. That prompts the discussion that her club is looking for speakers. Now I’m looking forward to visiting them and sharing my love of writing.
Finally, the moment we’ve all gathered for. Neil Gaiman! He’s flanked by assistants who pass our books to him as we arrive for our half-minute of connection. He looks tired, but is gracious to each and every one of us, thanking us for waiting in line. I tell him we’ve made new friends, and he said that’s what he likes to hear. We wait for our little group to finish and then say good-bye to each other, though it seems likely that some of us will cross paths again one day.
Heartfelt thanks to Neil Gaiman, for letting us all constellate around you for a time, for staying until you’d signed books for everyone in line (an 11-hour marathon that makes us all appreciate you even more), and for championing art in all its forms. My world is richer because of you, your work, and your fans.