I’ve actually done pretty well meeting actors from Series I admire – I’ve got the autograph of every original Star Trek cast member with one exception (dear DeForest Kelley passed before I started doing conventions). When it comes to horror, I’ve met just about everyone… Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, Leatherface, the tall man, Candyman – icons like Lance Henriksen, Felissa Rose, George Romero, scream queens and monsters and directors.
Still there’s always one personality that has always alluded me – and that’s Bruce Campbell. There’s no good reason for it, we just seem to keep missing each other – like at Horrorhound a few years ago when the ticketing system messed me up and I missed my chance? I’ve got a bunch of stories just as arbitrary. Of course, as his popularity has grown, so have his fees. He’s one of those guys where I actually understand the higher charges – if you didn’t have a higher price to discourage some of the punters, he’d be at his signings forever. Still, as it grew to $40 and then $80 at wizard world (A con I won’t attend because they create and encourage exactly this type of inflation) it was becoming increasingly clear that I probably wasn’t ever going to get a chance to meet him. When it was announced he was doing a book signing in Westlake, a suburb in my own backyard and a mere 15 minutes drive away, it should have been a no-brainer right? Still I struggled with deciding whether or not to attend – the crowds, the hassle, it promised to be a circus and almost trying to be more trouble than it was worth. After turning the discision over and over in my head for a month and a half, I bought my copy of the book friday afternoon and on Sunday night set my alarm for 6 o’clock.
The store opened at nine, and promised to start handing out wristbands when it did. The number on the band would correspond to your place in line later that evening at 7pm. After getting dressed and ready for work, then picking up my breakfast and coffee I arrived at Crocker Park at about quarter till seven AM and surveyed the landscape. I never expected to be the first one in line sitting at the door, but I was hoping I wouldn’t be at the end of a huge mass of people. There were about a dozen folks assembled in a queue that went several feet from the entrance and past the second window of the store. I sat down my folding chair and announced to the two men chatting at the end that I knew I hadn’t been crazy to show up this early! They happily agreed with me and introduced themselves as Marcus and Chris. I spent the next two hours hanging out, talking filmmaking and conventions and practical fx and where to go seeing old movies in Cleveland. Around 7:45 I spotted my friend Michael and his lovely bright Pam walking down the sidewalk and wave them over… Make sure his head with a smile.
“Why am I completely not surprised to see you here?” he asked.
Turns out it wasn’t their first time seeing Bruce. Pam mentioned to me “There was this one time I was helping out at Vul-Con…”
“Oh my God, I was THERE!” I exclaimed in shock. “Only I didn’t know he was only appearing on Saturday! I worked weekends then and didn’t make it untill Sunday! I was PISSED.” We all laughed hoping it would turn out better this time.
By the time the store opened at nine, the line stretched down the block, A sea of black T-shirts curling around the corner where a trendy restaurant sat. One of the workers came out of the bookstore, handing out small lattes – a welcome change from the acrid black coffee in my thermos. We filtered into the store, and the manager warned us to not all get on the escalator at once (or it would stop). This isn’t a admonishment that you hear often, on the other hand you also don’t often see a couple hundred people swarming into such a small space as soon as the door is open. They usered us throgh the queue quickly, checking books and peering at recipts to make sure that the volume had indeed been purchased through Barnes and Nobel, then passing out bright orange wristbands with numbers printed in sharpie. I discovered I was number 16 in line, a low number that I can hardly complain about considering my friend Mark and Johnny ended up with number 371 in line. By the time I exited the shop, the upstairs line wrapped around the balcony twice.
I sat at work, listening to commentary tracks from the Evil Dead movies and occasionally glancing over at the Facebook thread for the signing, watching with sort of helpless fascination as people Who had valid directions or gotten there early enough vexed and complained. Not even high school levels of drama, junior high at best. I was particuarly amused by the ones screaming “Well I’m just not going to go now because it was such a mess!” Cool. Smaller crowds and more Bruce for me. We all win!
6 o’clock rolled around, and I swung by Trader Joe’s to make a dinner out of their free samples (really good orange chicken) then take my place in line. My friend Jerry was at the head of the line so I drafted him to take photos for me after he would get his signatures.(No personal photos or posing was allowed, but that didn’t deter me). The same crew from this morning was around and the familiar faces waved me into my place in line.
The more compressed line inside (as opposed to the way we had spread apart outside) got us together to see people I hadn’t talked to in the morning as one person showed us his mounted laserdiscs he was getting signed and another whipped out his hand made book of the dead. Two young women joined us and regaled us with their lament over losing a cell phone when a house survey ended up actually being a drug deal (and I thought I had a rough day!). We stood trying not to freak out (“It’s actually going to happen this time!” I assured myself) and discussing what we wanted to talk about.
“I’m just afraid I’m going to fanboy out,” one guy told us. “Like I’ll just lean over and say ‘smell my beard….’ “.
“I’d like to get video if you do that,” I replied.
Overhead the speaker blasted static, a booming noise that coalesced into the dulcet tones of the King. Bruce himself went over the rules for the evening, and assured us that he was going to stick around to make sure we all got our items signed.
“Items to be signed should be legitimate. DVDs, posters, photographs. Don’t bring me your Hello kitty phone case to sign. That kind of stuff freaks people out!”
He continued on the subject of candids.
“Now I know we can’t stop you yahoos from taking photos so we’re not even going to try! But we’re not going to help you either…we’re not going to stop or pose…so if you want to take a blurry photo of the top of my head while I’m signing something… go for it!”
That was prophetic. My photos did indeed turn out blurry. Curse you Campbell!
The line moved swiftly and I was at the head of it. Still, I got a moment to speak to Bruce and considering how fast they were moving along, he never made me feel rushed or ignored. It was cool to find him to be so friendly – even for a moment.
Jerry walked me out as he handed me my phone back and I stopped outside the store one more time for a chat with new friends. Marcus was swapping stories with a young woman whose husband had come out to get her wristband that morning since she worked day shift and he was working nights. Everyone was genuinely happy and that’s really one of the best parts of the thing – the sense of community. While it revolved around the event, the meeting was a minuet or so. It was the hours before and after, hanging out with new faces and old that really made this affair so special.
Great night – new book to read and my Evil Dead 2 poster is finally finished!