For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved horror everything. Movies, books, basically anything I could get my hands on. As such, my love for Stephen King started at a very young age.
I can’t remember how old I was, but I’m guessing it was around 8 or 9 and tucked into mine and my brother’s Easter baskets were paperback copies of Christine and Carrie. We tore through them, traded, and did it all over again. Since that day, I rarely go for more than a few months without reading something by Mr. King.
Seeing him, hearing him speak, has always been something I knew I needed to do. As my husband put it, he’s my Elvis. It has been on my ‘life’ list for well over twenty years now. He has gone on book tours over the years, but between University, work, and life I’ve never been able to make it happen. Finally, dates aligned and and I was one of 650 lucky people to get tickets to an event which sold out in less than 15 minutes. I bought a plane ticket to the middle of nowhere (says the girl from Saskatchewan) and I was on my way to Omaha, Nebraska.
The event was general seating so I knew I would need to wait in line for the better part of a day if I wanted to get in anywhere near the front. So, six hours before my idol was set to take the stage, I lined up outside of the venue. There were seven people in line already, four others who showed up shortly after me, and we all made quick friends. We spent the afternoon looking at pictures of baby animals, taking photos for ‘the’ Facebook, and talking about all things Stephen King. We bonded quickly over our shared love of Mr. King and their company made the long wait an enjoyable one.
The afternoon sun was harsh. It was a humid 43C and unfortunately for us, there wasn’t a patch of shade anywhere in sight. A few hours into our wait, just as we were all beginning to feel delirious from the heat, the sky dropped buckets of rain. It was coming down sideways and in a matter of seconds we were drenched. I had puddles in my shoes and the only thing we could do was laugh. The clouds parted after a few minutes and we compared sunburns as the hours flew by. Before we knew it, we were finally invited inside the building.
When those doors opened I felt the same feeling I do walking up to the ticket takers at Disneyland. Actually, that’s a lie, because I was more than Disneyland excited. I had reached a new level of excitement I didn’t even know existed. Me and my new crew claimed the front row as we had claimed the front of the line and fidgeted through the final hour countdown.
Finally, (and I even have goosebumps typing this) Stephen King was announced and walked out from behind the black curtain wearing a red Nebraska Huskers t-shirt, jeans, black runners, and three pens in the right front pocket of his pants. The second he rounded the corner, the tears began to fall from my eyes (I’m tearing up again, ugh). I couldn’t help it. That moment, was something I had dreamed about for my entire life. I don’t even think I realized just how badly I wanted to see him until he was right there, six feet from my face.
Naturally, he made fun of people who say seeing him is on their ‘bucket’ list. I call mine a ‘life’ list though, so I’ve decided it’s different, and surely he would agree if he heard my story.
His talk was casual and about his genuine intrigue with Nebraska. He walked the stage, telling stories about driving through Nebraska and the things its never-ending expanse inspired. He talked about his Mom, his childhood, and Bruce Springsteen (great story, if you’re interested to hear the funny details, let me know and I’ll fill you in!). About how he found a horror novel atop a box of his father’s possessions and it ‘opened a box’ within him. He expressed his lifelong love of horror movies and novels and laughed about dragging his kids to the type movies where you aren’t cheering for the characters to live, but rather for the “fucked up ways they’re slaughtered”. He opened up about some of his novels, his favorite fan encounters including numerous cases of mistaken identity, and the three very different ‘Steve’s’. He instilled a fear of back seats, shower curtains, and poor cell reception in the audience, and after every macabre statement, he would finish with “but of course I would say that”.
Toward the end of the night he sat on the front of the stage, quite literally four feet in front of my nose, and answered questions from the crowd. He told stories and took a few side-streets with his answers, exactly like one would expect from Stephen King. He thanked the crowd for putting his children through college, smiled for his fans one last time, and disappeared behind the black curtain again.
I laughed and cried and my entire body tingled with a numb happiness throughout his entire talk. It was everything I could have hoped for and then some.
Being the first ones into the event, meant we were also the last ones to get out. As the line slowly moved forward, we heard excited screams from lucky fans who received a signed copy of his new novel, End of Watch. 400 books were signed prior to the event to be distributed at random as we were all leaving. I was the last person out of the event. They cut my wristband, handed me a book, but I was terrified to open it. The security guards watched over my shoulder as I cracked the spine. I looked at the first page, then the second, third… nothing. The security guard took it from my hands and pointed to the title page. “That’s where he signed them”, his finger on autograph-free paper. My heart sank. Ultimately, I got what I came for, to see Stephen King, but I wanted that signed book SO badly!
Aside from staff, security, and volunteers, I was the lone fan standing among the piles of clipped wrist bands. There were two more, possibly signed, books sitting on the table. I asked if it might be possible to purchase those two books in the hopes that one of them might be signed. Understandably, they weren’t unable to do that. I dropped my head and shuffled out of the building.
My new friends were all waiting for me outside, a few of which were lucky enough to get a signed copy! They asked if I ended up with an autographed one and I nearly burst into tears again, telling them that I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Just as I’m saying this, Rob, a man who met me that afternoon in the lineup handed me his book. His signed book. I looked at the book, up at him, back at the book, and started sobbing. He gave me his signed Stephen King book. Seriously people, this restored my faith in humanity; there truly are still wonderful people out there. That morning we were complete strangers, and here he was, handing me a signed Stephen King novel. It was the most kind and generous gesture and my emotional self collapsed into a puddle of tears and ‘thank yous’. I looked around our group and half of them were crying too!
Fast forward to the morning after the event; I wake up to a private message from The Bookworm, the independent bookstore who hosted the event. They said they had heard through the grapevine I might have walked away with a signed book after all, but if I hadn’t, to please give them a call, they wanted to talk. I told them the entire story about Rob’s kind gesture and thanked them profusely for thinking of me! I don’t think I’ve ever met a store with such exceptional customer service and kind hearts. It made me cry, again. I stopped by their store again before leaving town and when I walked in, the staff recognized me right away and made me feel like a regular loyal customer, it was amazing. For anyone in the Omaha area reading this, PLEASE shop at The Bookworm for all of your bookish needs, they treat their customers like royalty.
I went to this event, expecting to see Stephen King speak. What I actually got was so much more. These are the type of life experience I live for. This entire trip was a life highlight for me and I’ve made some incredible new friends who I know I’ll still be talking to for many years to come.
I’m currently on my final flight home after a whirlwind three days and my eyes are brimming with tears again. I’m just exploding with happiness; I’m so grateful this entire experience and feel incredibly fortunate for everything that has happened to me in the last few days, but of course I would say that.