julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

The Things We Do For Love

It’s true what they say: love makes you do crazy things. 

For some, it’s standing outside a window lifting a boombox over their head while it blares Peter Gabriel lyrics. For others, it’s diving into a pit of quick sand with nothing but a vine from a tree as their lifeline to save the woman of their dreams (after duking it out with some serious rodents of unusual size, mind you). For me, it was standing in line for six and a half hours to meet my blogosphere hero, the Pioneer Woman. 

The Pioneer Woman - Ree Drummond

Two years ago, I didn’t even know what a blog was. Then one day, by chance, I stumbled across thepioneerwoman.com, and I was immediately fascinated by Ree Drummond’s city-girl-turned-country-girl life story. But her site wasn’t just recounting the miscellaneous adventures of life on a ranch with her husband and kids (whom she affectionately refers to as Marlboro Man and her Punks, respectively). Her site was also educational, with a section about photography where she would share photoshop tips and tricks; homeschooling where she shared resources and ideas; and recipes. RECIPES, I say!! The images she posted were incredible, and I found myself coming back for more. Every day. I was hooked. Long story short, it was the Pioneer Woman who inspired me to create my own blog and to give serious cooking the ol’ college try. (Follow her recipe for brisket. You won’t be sorry.) 

So when I read on her website a few weeks ago that she would be coming to Dallas for a book signing (oh, did I forget to mention? She’s written three books with more on the way.), I was PUMPED. I marked my calendar – Valentine’s Day at 6:00 at a local bookstore. I couldn’t wait. 

Before Monday night, I had never been to a book signing, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew PW had a huge following, so I figured I’d have to wait in a long line – probably a couple of hours, anyway. But the good news was that she was coming on Valentine’s Day, so that would probably keep some people at home. I was feeling pretty confident when I showed up, her cookbook under one arm and a small token of my undying gratitude under the other…but I immediately began to question my reasoning when I couldn’t find a single available parking space in the entire shopping center. Hm. Maybe there would be a bigger crowd than I thought.

I walked in through the double doors to see a throng of women (and a handful of supportive men) milling around a section of the store. I could see a small stage set up with a table and a backdrop and microphone…and then there she was. The Pioneer Woman herself, in the flesh! It’s always kind of weird to see someone in person who you’ve only seen in photos or on TV. I became a little star struck and watched in awe as she discussed important matters with the bookstore staff, staring in disbelief that this was the same Pioneer Woman who had taken on Bobby Flay in a Thanksgiving throwdown on TV; who wrote the very cookbook I held in my hands; whose writings and photos I looked at every day. I was mere feet away from greatness.

The crowd was unbelievable, but full of really nice people.

I couldn’t really tell where the line began, so I joined what looked like an organized mass of people and waited patiently. Soon a helpful lady beside me said, “Did you get a wrist band?” I blinked at her. “A wrist band?” I repeated. “Yes, you need to get a wrist band from the cashier at the front,” she told me, holding up her own wrist to reveal a neon green band on her arm. “Then they’ll call us in groups by color.” Oh. That made sense. I thanked her and went to retrieve my band. “You’re in group five,” the cashier told me as he handed me a hot pink paper bracelet. Five? That didn’t sound so bad. (What I didn’t know then, and would come to find out much later, was that each group consisted of 100 people. *gulp*)

Group 5, here we come!

I milled around for a bit, listening to all the excitement in the room as women gathered near the stage in eager anticipation for the event to start. As I stood there, I became part of a conversation among some women about the wrist bands. “I got here at 11 this morning to get mine,” one lady was saying. While the younger woman near her frowned and blurted out, “Hey, that’s not fair!” all I could think was, “Ooh, why didn’t I think of that??” 

Lesson #1: When going to a book signing, show up early in the day to get your wrist band and avoid a long line later. 

Ree takes time to answer a few questions.

It was at about this time that my husband arrived. Yes, my husband. Arrived to a book signing. Of the Pioneer Woman. For six and a half hours. You see, that’s HIS crazy love…for me. We were there just in time for a question/answer session to begin with PW, and while I couldn’t get very close, I got a pretty good view from the back of the room and could hear the guest of honor answer some questions about life on the ranch. She received a big round of applause when she announced her plans to release a new cookbook next year (to follow her first success, the one I had brought for her to sign). But my ears really perked up when she explained that another of her books (the real-life love story of her romance with Marlboro Man) was being eyeballed by the movie producers of – are you ready for this?? – Julie&Julia!! (Uh, can someone say FATE?? Hey, Ree, if you want to work on a joint project, I’d be happy to toss around some ideas over a big plate of that brisket…) She answered a few more questions, and then – THEN – much to the delight of her camera-weilding audience, she had her whole family join her on stage for some photos.

And then the epic signing of the books began. 

Marlboro Man and the Punks pose for some pictures.

Obviously we had some time to kill while the first group lined up, so we wandered around the store for a bit, only to realize that Marlboro Man and the Punks were hanging out in the center of the store for photos and autographs. Ben convinced me to jump in the line, although I felt kind of silly asking for a photograph with someone else’s family. At least, I felt kind of silly for about five minutes, and then I got over it and joined the other star-struck women in line. As I got closer, I reached into my purse for a pen…only to realize I had switched purses for the night and had forgotten to pack any kind of writing utensil. 

Lesson #2: Don’t go to a book signing without a pen. 

Being the kind of man he is, Ben left me in line while he ran to the cashier to purchase a pen and returned with a selection of ball point and Sharpie. What a guy! I had MM sign my cookbook and pose for a quick photo, then I waited to visit with the Punks and have them sign my book as well. While they were very polite and friendly, they weren’t as chatty as I thought they might be, and so my visions of getting some good quotes from them didn’t quite work out. But no matter, it was still a good meeting.

Marlboro Man is the first to sign my book.

Then, all that was left to do was to meet PW herself. So we waited. And we waited. And waited. And finally we walked down to a nearby pizza place and had some dinner. And then we went back to the store and waited. And then we walked over to a nearby McDonald’s and had an ice cream cone. And then we waited. We waited in the bookstore. We waited in the car. We stood, we leaned, we sat. Hours passed. People bailed. We did not. Three hours turned into four, and I questioned our sanity, but Ben wouldn’t let me leave. We were in it for the long haul. 

Lesson #3: Wear comfortable shoes. 

It was about 11:00 when they called our color and we actually got in line – which wrapped around the perimeter of the store. As we fell into place, we looked behind us and realized that we were three people from the end, which struck me as kind of funny for some reason. But then again, this was also the point in the night where I became a little punch drunk. What can I say? Five hours of anticipation is a lot for a person to handle. 

Dear Ree: Please adopt me. I could be one of your Punks...I fit right in!

Part of the fun was listening to the stories of the people in line around us. One man from Virginia was in town on business. His wife had mentioned this event to him, saying, “You’re going to be in Dallas on Valentine’s Day? You know, you could get my cookbook signed…” He had pretended not to hear her, but later looked up the info online and had come to surprise her. He hadn’t counted on a six-hour wait, especially after putting in overtime hours on his job, but I have to hand it to him – he stuck it out. Another man was there for his sister; the lady behind me had come from a long day of school and tutoring just because she’d never been to a book signing before. (She eventually called a friend to come keep her company.) 

Lesson #4: Bring something to occupy your time, because you’re going to have a lot of it.

Ben and I began finding different ways to entertain ourselves. We picked up some trivia books off the nearby shelves and quizzed each other; we judged books by their covers; we people watched; we discussed how I was ever going to make this up to Ben (I think I’m on the hook for a six-hour Marx Brothers/Three Stooges marathon), and the whole time, I could hear the Pioneer Woman greeting each guest as if it was the first person she’d seen all night. She signed books, posed for pictures, held babies, and smiled graciously throughout the event. Out of boredom, we used Ben’s stopwatch and found that she spent, on average, about a minute with each person who came to her table. 

It was as we were rounding the final bend in the line at the six hour mark when Ben and I decided we may as well be the last ones in line. If nothing else, maybe I could sneak a few more seconds of her time. So we wandered back, casually looking at books on shelves so as not to seem obvious, and struck up a conversation with the bookstore staff – who, I have to say, were real troopers the whole night. It was here we learned that the Pioneer Woman is among the top five most popular book signers that the store hosts, ranking up there with President George W. Bush and his wife Laura. We also learned that when PW comes to town, there are no rules – no cut-off for how many people can get a wrist band, no limitations on how long she’ll stay. In fact, it’s her policy to stay as long as it takes to sign the very last book that comes through that door. I was blown away. She really is as great as she seems. 

Totally. And completely. Awesome.

And then, there we were. Next in line. I watched as the two ladies in front of us walked up to the table to have their books signed, and then she – yes, PW herself – looked over at us and announced, “The last man standing!” It was my turn. At this point, things are kind of a blur. I remember walking up to her table and saying, “Are you as happy to see me as I am to see you?” to which she laughed and answered, “I think we’re both glad to see each other for a myriad of reasons.” She thanked us for waiting and signed my book (asking, “Should I sign with the rest of my family? That way I can say we’re all on the same page!” bah-dum-pah!) and we took a picture together. A lady in her entourage came up and put her arm around me and announced, “We saved the best for last!” (Didja hear that?? The best for last!) She was kind and personable and gracious and concerned about whether we’d had to pay for a babysitter (see? Always thinking of others!) and commended Ben for being such a trooper. And to be honest, I couldn’t think of anything very profound to say, other than, “I’ve waited two years to meet you. What’s another six hours?” But the thing is, everything I wanted to say I wrote in a card, which I gave her along with a shirt quoting Julia Child. So hopefully, she’ll know how inspirational she is, to me and others, without my having to say much at all. After all, doesn’t waiting in line for six and a half hours kind of speak volumes in and of itself?

Then, a minute later, it was over. Ben and I were walking outside and the staff was locking the doors behind us. And I was happy. And exhausted. And my husband, my loyal sidekick who bought me a pen and documented the entire evening through photos and video and stood by me for six and a half loooooong hours, beamed proudly at me.

Lesson #5: Marry someone who will stand by you for six and a half hours…or six and a half decades. You won’t regret it.

We had done it. We had met the Pioneer Woman. I opened my book to the inside cover and saw in big beautiful Sharpie marker script, “Love to Jessica!  -Ree D”

Two nights ago, Ree Drummond spent her Valentine’s Day sitting at a table in a warm, crowded bookstore from 6:00 at night to 1:00 in the morning while a total of 650 people asked her to sign around 2,000 books before waking up a few hours later to make the drive back to her ranch in Oklahoma. See? It’s true.

Love makes you do crazy things.

Thanks, Ree! I love you more'n my luggage!

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