Probably the last great moment for Cody’s Books was when Bill Clinton came to Berkeley to sign copies of his just-released autobiography. I forget the date. 2004? And I forget the title of the tome. Something very original like “My Life.” The thing was something like 900 pages. I couldn’t imagine anybody actually reading the thing.
But a HUGE crowd showed up for the event. We were all thrilled that a major celebrity and actual historical figure like Bill Clinton was visiting our humble little burg.
I was stationed at my usual spot on Telegraph and Haste. And I immediately spotted Bill Clinton when he made his entrance. He was a block away. But you couldn’t miss him. He had the white hair that shown like a spotlight. And this unmistakeable aura and glow. A lot of celebrities are actually “smaller than life” when you actually meet them. Not Bill Clinton. He had that unmistakable star power. That you can see from a block away. As soon as he stepped out of his limo he was surrounded by a mob of fans. He was like the center of a hurricane as he waded his way through the crowd.
My friend Danny — who is a savvy motherfucker — figured out in advance exactly which side entrance of Cody’s Books Clinton would likely enter on arrival. And stationed himself there. Which is how he got this great shot of him and Clinton right before he disappeared into Cody’s Books.
The line of people waiting to get their books signed stretched all the way down Haste Street. And down the next block. And up the next block. It was a HUGE crowd of people.
Somebody actually offered me 50 bucks if I would wait on line with their book and get it signed. And as much as I was intrigued at the once in a lifetime chance to look Bill Clinton in the eyes. I passed (I HATE waiting in lines).
So a huge crowd of us are milling around outside Cody’s Books as Clinton is inside signing books. We’re all waiting around hoping for a brush with greatness. But after about four hours they announce the event is over. Clinton has to move on to his next scheduled event at some other bookstore. So everybody outside is disappointed. There are still hundreds of people waiting outside hoping to get their books signed.
But then suddenly out of the blue Bill Clinton comes walking out of the front door of Cody’s Books. And we’re all in a state of shock. THERE HE IS! It’s actually Bill Clinton himself walking amongst us. Walking amongst the crowd. And he looks just like Bill Clinton. So it’s a surreal moment. But a totally joyous moment. Because we all realize we’re getting a once in a lifetime moment to breath in the same air as Bill Clinton.
Clinton is methodically working his way through the crowd. Quickly signing as many books as he can. And it’s one of those “above and beyond the call of duty” moments. He knows all these people have been waiting and hoping to get his autograph. So he’s trying to accommodate as many as possible before he’s whisked away in his limousine. But you can also tell Clinton is loving it too. He’s lapping it up. That he can’t get enough of being in the midst of this adoring crowd of people. The whole thing is like this big love-fest .
And Andy Ross — the much maligned owner of Cody’s Books — was right by his side. In his best suit and tie. Escorting The President Of The United States through the crowd. Andy Ross was one of Berkeley’s favorite villains at this point. But you can tell this is his one last shining moment (Cody’s Books would go bankrupt two years later).
It was hard to get a good look at Clinton as he was milling through the crowd. But I happened to have one of my folding chairs from my vending table. So I climbed up on it so I could get a good look at Clinton. This black guy that was standing next to me asked if he could climb up on the chair to get a good look, too. And I said “Sure” and I held the chair steady so it didn’t get knocked over by the crowd as he gazed at Bill Clinton in the flesh. And he had a big smile on his face. And it struck me that there were a lot of black people at the event and Clinton was one of the few white people that black people actually liked.
And then I looked up and noticed all the Secret Service agents that were on the roof of the apartment building across the street from Cody’s. Keeping an eagle’s eye on the crowd. As Clinton made his way through the throng. And they no doubt had their fingers on the triggers of their guns in case anybody did anything weird. And I reminded myself not to make any sudden movements.
And then Clinton got in his limo and was gone.
And we all felt joyous and thrilled and buzzed. It was a bit of an extra kick than the usual afternoon on Telegraph Avenue. Seeing Bill Clinton hanging out on the corner of Telegraph & Haste.