My alarm goes off at 2:56 am, and 4 minutes later my friend Kellie calls.
“Hello?” I wipe the sleep out of my eyes.
“Hey girlfriend. Are you here?” She sounds both bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
“Um,” I glance around the hotel room. “Not exactly. Haven’t even taken a shower yet.”
“Oh! Well there’s a crowd here already.
I sat up. They are only taking the first 500 people in line! “Okay! I better get my butt moving! See you in a few!”
I jump out of bed, shower, get myself dressed, triple-check my press kit, grab my handheld “misting fan” and water (it was going to be 95 degrees out), and ran out the door. I arrived to find out that you couldn’t pull into the Kohl’s parking lot - it was blocked off with yellow tape - but you could pull across a 6-lane highway and park there. I look towards the parking area and see about 300 people waiting at the corner, chomping at the bit to get into line.
I rushed to find a parking spot, gathered up my bag, and headed toward the mob. Suddenly, I hear someone yell something about the line opening up and someone else yell, “Run!” and before I know it, I am in the midst of what I can only describe as a “stiletto stampede.” Now, when I say stampede, I mean STAMPEDE. If you have ever seen Nature on PBS, you’ll be familiar with the scene of a group of buffalo or gazelles charging across the plains - a lovely, powerful sight to be sure - but sometimes there is a feeble or young one that gets trampled in the chaos, which is not so good. Now, imagine that - but instead of gazelles, think a pack of very determined Oprah fans in heels and dress shoes slinging bags and purses and whatever else is attached to them.
Not wanting to be the one to be trampled, I keep to the outside and move in a full sprint in my cute black and white plaid 9 West heels. As I am running, I see a shoe fly, then some hair, then curlers, and finally someone’s skirt (I don’t know whether she was wearing it or not at the time). Suddenly, I am giggling like a fool as I keep on running all the way to the back of the lot.
During the sprint I end up being joined by an older Caucasian man (I will call him “Del” to protect the guilty), who, as I will find out soon enough, is a competitive eater, has tried out for countless reality shows, and believes himself to be witty. And, in small doses, he absolutely is. However, as you will see, I get a big, fat, melty, grande chalupa-sized platter of him, and that is not so funny.
The pack finally comes to a halt by a yellow tape that runs the length of the parking lot and looks for all the world like crime scene tape (as it turns out, it’s a pretty accurate analogy). The survival instinct that kept me to the left of the main crowd ends up being the right instinct for more than just arriving without heel marks on my back. A “producer” (a 25 year old hourly worker in a yellow “OWN Show” t-shirt), climbs up on a chair and starts yelling at the main crowd that the “line goes to the left, people!”
Hey! I was already left! I dig in my heels and lower a shoulder to not be pushed over as a swarm of sleep-deprived full-figured divas start fighting to get a place in line. The chaos slowly forms into a disorganized queue and I take a deep breath of relief. “Okay,” I thought, “I made it!”
I look up and realize that I am almost at the front of the line. The “producer” then climbs on his chair and starts yelling into the megaphone that we are now going to be standing in this position - on the asphalt in heels, in my case - for 2 hours, when they will start handing out wrist bands.
I look over at Del and smile. “Hey! We made it!” I say brightly.
I will regret this moment for the next 2 hours.
Del starts talking and doesn’t stop for the entire time we are in line. He tells me that he is a world-ranked competitive eater - apparently put down enough hot dogs in one sitting to win a beach vacation for the whole family - and knows the famous “Black Widow” - a very tiny oriental woman who puts away sickening amounts of food and wins eating contests all over the world.
Without missing a beat or taking a breath, he moves on to tell me that he has tried out for Survivor 8 times (almost made it one of those times), was up for some “Neighbor Next Door” reality show but the neighbors wouldn’t sign the release, and has, in total, tried out for over 35 reality shows - including attempting to become the Lottery Spokesman for Georgia. “Anything for a million dollars!” he says with a grin.
He casually mentions that he has been through 8 jobs in the past two years, “You know, with the economy and all that,” and is now an ad salesman.
Throughout this monologue, he throws in one-liners and puns like it’s going to be his last day on Earth and must use up everything corny that he knows before he takes his last breath. One woman in front of me, an elegant, tall, slender African-American woman, turns around and tells Del, “You do know that this is not an audition for Comedy Central, right?” Her voice drips with sarcasm. Del is undaunted.
I glance around for help and realize that everyone around has turned their backs on us - and when Del tries to engage them in conversation, they play deaf. Softy that I am, I feel bad for him - he seems like a truly nice guy and clearly has no idea he is driving me or anyone else crazy.
I see my friend Kellie ahead of me in the line and wave like a madwoman until I get her attention. Her boyfriend Cliff holds her place in line while she comes back to give me a hug and chat for a moment. We both agree that is the craziest thing we have ever seen, and to make the point, she tells me that during the stampede her DVDs fell and rolled out in the road. Cliff, she says, is determined to go back out on the highway to find them. She wanders back to her spot, looking fabulous in a long, pink gown, and I go back to trying to not let Del get to me.
He starts battering me with questions, “Where ya from? What’s your show idea? What’s your pitch going to be? Have you ever been on reality TV?”
This man clearly means well, so I respond to each question as nicely and calmly as I can muster.
Trying to distract myself from Del for a moment, I begin to look around me. There is “Eunice,” an African-American woman from Louisiana who still has curlers in her hair and a scarf tied around her head, and her friend, a very large African-American woman who is continuously bumping into me, seemingly on purpose. I get a sense that she is trying to intimidate me, but it’s more annoying than anything else.
Then, there is a tiny African-American girl with a cute pixie cut and a very shy demeanor. We’ll call her “Shy Girl” for now, but don’t forget her - in a moment she becomes truly unforgettable.
In front of her is a 6 foot tall, 280 pound African-American woman who is very pretty, but for who-knows-what-reason has decided to wear a tank top with spaghetti straps. Now, if you are at all a well-endowed woman, you will immediately recognize the problem with this arrangement - that is a lot to ask of spaghetti straps and a shelf bra. I wonder briefly if it’s going to hold when I notice a tattoo on the back of her upper arm. I cringe, immediately imagining how painful that must have been. I look closer, straining to see what it says. “TEARS ARE JUST WEAKNESS LEAVING THE BODY.”
Okay...no issues there, I think to myself. I try to discreetly get a picture of this but she turns around and looks at me. As I felt strongly that I did not want my own weakness to be leaving the body by way of her fists, I put my camera away.
Del is still yapping away at me, and I am kicking myself for my innate friendliness. Why do I always have to be nice to everyone?? It’s a sickness, I tell you. A sickness!
Suddenly, there is a nice young man coming up the line handing out coupons for his sandwich shop. I take one, thank him, and tell him that I am impressed with his initiative to be out there at 4 in the morning. He smiles and thanks me.
Del, on the other hand, decides to try to sell him an ad. “Hey, is this your business?” It is. “Do you have advertising in the newspaper yet?” He doesn’t. “Oh, well great - let me give you my card - do you have a card?” He doesn’t - or, more likely, he does, but is desperately trying to get away clean from this encounter. However, Del has clearly been trained to not take no for an answer. “That’s okay! Here...” He searches for a pen and finds one. “Give me your name and number. And what day is good for you to meet with me?” The poor, stunned sandwich guy stumbles for an answer and finally manages to say that he doesn’t know his schedule just then. “No problem!” Del says brightly, “I will call you first thing Monday morning.”
And then it dawns on me who Del reminds me of: Del Griffith, the lovable but annoying salesman in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, played by the wonderful John Candy. I also realize that this would make me Steve Martin’s character, Neil Page - a man who tries desperately to hold on to his sanity while dealing with Del. If you have seen the movie, you’ll know that this does not bode well for me. I am just hoping that no one says, “Gobble, gobble, gobble!” I just might lose it, Neil Page-style.
Seemingly to prove me right, just as I start to look over my application and notes, Del starts up talking about how, if nothing else, he’ll get an ad sale out of this, and that will make the whole experience worth it. “You just never know when you will meet the next great sale! Everyone’s a prospect!” he says cheerily.
Immediately I imagine the scene in the movie where Neil is trying to read an article and asks for quiet, when Del responds, “You know, nothing grinds my gears worse than some chowderhead that doesn't know when to keep his big trap shut. If you catch me running off with my mouth, just give me a poke on the chubbs.”
This makes me giggle, but not really feel much better. After all, it is always fun to watch someone in a crazy, annoying situation, it is not as much fun to BE that person.
Stay tuned for Part 3: It goes from bad to worse...