February 16th, 2012
And wonder of wonders, the very first store I passed on my way to Security – Hudson Books – had The Story of Beautiful Girl front and center! I went up to the bookseller staffing the counter, introduced myself, and asked if I could sign all 15 copies on display. He burst into a huge smile and said he’d be thrilled! He then told me that all the other bookstores in the airport were run by the Hudson Group. He explained where each was located, and said the booksellers at each would be just as delighted to see me as he was. Then he took some photos.
And I ran.
I ran because I hadn’t planned to stop off at four bookstores (the one outside Security, and the others inside) before my flight. But how could I pass up this opportunity? Especially once I learned that airport bookstores go through a high volume of books, airport customers usually prefer paperbacks, signed books (not all that common in airport bookstores) are very attractive to readers on the run – and my book was their featured title for the month! That meant it would remain in one of the most prominent spots, and if, at the end of the month, it was selling well, it would stay there. (Yes, publishers arrange for this, but rarely, I learned, for paperbacks.)
So I ran to the stores in Terminal A, B, and C. I met the booksellers, I signed, I ran. They said, “When authors come through on book tour, the people bringing them rarely include airport bookstores when they sign stock.” The booksellers all beamed when I said I was an author. Some of them even took photos of me with their iPhone!
I got to my gate in the nick of time, and collapsed into my seat, sweating from my run.
When I landed in Chicago, I decided to be a little more methodical. I found my way to a bookstore, and learned that all the bookstores in O’Hare are run by Hudson Books, but in a relationship with a local independent, Barbara’s Books. So they’re all named Barbara’s Books, and they all have a friendly, independent bookstore feel. I asked the bookseller at that first store if there was an efficient way for me to sign the books throughout the airport. Smiling away, he gave me the number of the manager, Shannon.
Shannon was delighted – though not able to break free from what she was doing. Could I return to the airport in the evening? (It was about 3:30 PM when I called her.) I said, “How can I get back through Security?” She said, “Just call me, and I’ll come and let you in the employee entrance.”
Readers of The House On Teacher’s Lane know how much I like airports. (The banner photo for this blog was taken in Detroit International.) So what could be better than having the chance to learn more about the hidden corridors and inner workings of one of the largest airports in the country?
I took the shuttle to my hotel, dumped my stuff, and then returned to the airport at the appointed time. Shannon met me outside one of the terminals. Then she said, “Follow me,” and led me down an obscure, narrow corridor to a back door. I still had to pass through Security, but with no bags, and no line, it was over in the blink of an eye.
We emerged into a well-traveled section of the airport where I’ve been hundreds of times. It was like emerging from a secret panel into a familiar drawing room, except it was full of people, none of whom noticed that we’d just appeared.
Shannon then led me to several stores in the airport. Despite having spent a great deal of time in O’Hare over the years, it felt new as I followed my guide. She told me about dining in “that restaurant right over there” with Madeleine Albright, when she’d come to sign books. She told me about doing an unadvertised book signing with Jane Lynch of Glee, who signed a few hundred books. She told me, “You can see everything in an airport.” At that very moment, a Hasidic man ran by with his suitcase, and she said, “You can see a Hasidic man run by with a suitcase.”
We finished up in what she said was the highest volume airport bookstore in the country. I signed the books, then posed for this photo with Josh, one of the booksellers.
Then Shannon and Josh walked me outside the airport, but in a way that eliminated the usual exits. I was inside, and suddenly I was out. They pointed to a down escalator, and told me how to make my way back to the hotel shuttle. I said goodbye reluctantly. Then I followed their instructions, and soon I was climbing aboard the shuttle to the Hyatt.
Tomorrow would be another media escort, and another event. But as I rode back to the hotel, I smiled with a deep satisfaction. My book tour will be keeping me in front of the public. Yet it’s also giving me the chance to step behind the scenes and walk through back passageways and see so much that I’d never even noticed before.