They turned up in droves - and rain slickers - yesterday morning, snaking along Main street in Vineyard Haven for a chance to shake hands with the man whose name many wished were appearing on the ballot this November.
Former President Bill Clinton signed nearly 900 copies of his memoir, My Life, at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Monday. The store was prepared to hand out 1,000 tickets to customers but ran out of books along the way.
Mr. Clinton appeared relaxed and in good humor, in a hot pink polo shirt and red laced sneakers, his hair gone all white, as he greeted fans with a handshake and perhaps an anecdote. It was "hello dear," to women of a certain age and "hi there kids" to the littles whose faces didn't reach the table.
First in line was Jarrett Washington, who arrived at the bookstore at 10:30 Sunday night and camped on the sidewalk in the rain to earn his spot. Number One, as his compatriots in line came to call him after spending several hours together, is spending the summer cleaning cars for Hertz.
"It was awesome," he said of his moment of face time with Mr. Clinton. "He did a wonderful job, keeping the economy steady and then some," said Mr. Washington, dressed in a black sweatsuit. He hadn't read the 1,008-page book he had the former president sign, but said he was "willing to."
Mary Stanley, 56, got in line with her niece, Sheila Allen, at 3:45 in the morning. "The first time I ever voted was for him," she said. "I wish I could vote for him again. Other than Martin Luther King Jr., Clinton is the man."
Shaun McCarron was visiting the Island from San Diego, Calif. He was set to return home yesterday but changed his ticket when he heard about the signing. He hadn't slept the night before, but a "couple of Red Bulls," a caffeine-packed energy drink, had him in good spirits as he neared the front of the line.
Polite store staffers kept the proceedings orderly, ushering visitors in the door, through the gantlet of security wands and bag checks, up the stairs and along a wall of bookshelves to the table in back where the author, flanked by a staffer and watched over unobtrusively by a few Secret Service agents, smiled back at them.
One customer, here from Switzerland and visiting his girlfriend, was so elated about the booksigning that he managed to make it through the line twice. "He loves cheese fondue," said the man. "Clinton told me about a place he'd been to in Switzerland."
Mr. Clinton signed books, postcards, tickets, even the backs of Islanders Sue Tonry and Marie Vautour, clad in Kerry for President T-shirts. Along the way he amiably fielded questions both personal and political.
"I have started running again," he answered one woman.
"You should run the Chilmark Road Race!" she told him.
He paused for a break an hour and half in for a Diet Coke and invited members of the Island media out of the makeshift press pen for a chat.
"I started the book early in 2002. I wanted to write it while [the presidency] was still fresh in my mind," Mr. Clinton said of his turn as memoirist.
Mr. Clinton said he began by reading every presidential memoir published, and decided that among his contributions to the genre would be a closer sense of proximity.
"I wanted to give people a feel for what it's like to be the president. Usually it's told in the third person. I wanted to give a history of America through my life."
Mr. Clinton said he worked on the book a few hours a day on Vineyard visits while his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea were out together.
Returning as a published writer to the Island, where he and his family have vacationed since the early days of his presidency, seems a comfortable transition for Mr. Clinton.
He counts Island literati like Rose Styron and Linda Fairstein as friends. "Rose said she liked the book," he said. "And Linda gave me the galleys to her next book to read."
In a brief but energetic conversation, Mr. Clinton touched on topics ranging from presidential history to the Bill of Rights to his plans for the afternoon, which included giving his nephew a tour of the down-Island towns.
On the subject of political infighting, he quipped: "You should read what Adams said about Jefferson."
Mr. Clinton spoke quickly, displaying a prodigious ability to recall and synthesize information. He disarms his audience with an off-the-cuff delivery that wraps complex ideas in everyday language.
He said he has begun to make a list of stories that didn't make the book, keeping a notebook of ideas which he'll consider spinning out into books on foreign and domestic policy.
Asked about the coming election, Mr. Clinton said he is "very optimistic" and that John Kerry will win the presidency "more likely than not. Our side always wins - the Union," he said, skirting party politics by taking a longer view.
"We cycle from periods of isolationism to great conflict to community," he said. "It's been like that for all of human history."
Then it was back to his waiting visitors. Children stepped up with their parents' books in hand, nervous as they approached and giggling as they scurried off.
The soft swing of Duke Ellington played on the store speakers.
"Glad to meet you," Mr. Clinton said, pen in hand. "Oh yes, I know Mississippi. Which town are you from?"