The Day I Met President Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter and popbuff blogger Ruchel Freibrun

I never thought in my wildest dreams I would have the opportunity to meet the 39th President of the United States. I even had a friendly little chat with him. It all started when I heard Jimmy Carter was doing a book signing event in Pasadena on July 30th. I immediately marked it down on my Google calendar. President Carter’s latest book is titled “A Full Life Reflections at Ninety“. The President appeared for the book signing at the Vroman’s  Bookstore.

President Jimmy Carter book signing event at Vromans Bookstore Pasadena

President Jimmy Carter book signing event at Vromans Bookstore Pasadena

When I was growing up in the Philippines we had to memorize the names of important presidents in current events of the time. And it was President Jimmy Carter that stood out, not because his name was easy to remember but America was in the news with such events as Egypt–Israel treaty, the Moscow Olympic Boycott and the Iran hostage crisis. I was in the 2nd to 5th grade during his presidency.

President Jimmy Carter with his book A Full Life Reflections at Ninety

I was the first member of the press to arrive at Vroman’s bookstore. I was told to be there at around 4:00 pm, so I left at 12 noon from home. The commute from Orange County to Pasadena is about an hour but with traffic it can be two and a half so I didn’t want to take a chance. Yes.. that was four hours before the press event and six hours before the actual book signing. I arrived at three pm and picked up my book from the will call booth.  I joined the long line and noticed a lot of “men in black” suits. These guys were the President’s secret service detail. I’ve never been to any event that had high security. It was kinda of nerve-racking but exciting at the same time.

President Jimmy Carter at Southern California

As 4 pm approached, I saw more and more press and we were told to wait by the cafe. We waited by the cafe and moved again outside of the bookstore. In fact, it was not only the press that were sent outside, the employees and customers as well. Despite the heat, people were taking selfies and keeping themselves entertained.

President Jimmy Carter signs his latest book

Finally, we heard a signal from the promotional director. The first batch that were sent inside were employees, the second batch were the press and the third batch were the customers. As we got in, we had to leave our bags with security and they screened us with metal detectors taken straight out of what looked like a TSA airport check in.

The press still had to wait for another half hour and President Carter arrived and headed to the book signing desk. He was dressed in a gray suit with light blue Oxford shirt. He was remarkably informal and took off his jacket before he started signing books.

President Carter with the press

President Carter with the press

At 90, he still looked charming, very sharp and smiled a lot. It was a little unusual this time because the bookstore let the customers have their books signed without even having the President talk to the press first. But later on, it was totally understandable because there was such a long line from inside the building to the street. I heard that around 1500 books were sold that day. They sold completely out. President Carter was more than a rock star and people were patiently waiting to see the 2002 Nobel Peace Winner. There were kids, millennials, baby boomers, you name it.

President Carter and his latest book

So while the fans were getting their books signed, the press just kept on clicking their cameras. After, a number of people, the President said, “hold on” and walked his way to the press. He answered a couple of questions from different media outlets but the highlight of my day was when I shouted “Mr. President, I have one quick question for you. ” I got his attention and he walked towards me. I started to feel nervous at the same time giddy. My inner voice was saying, “I can not believe I am talking to the former President of the United States, what a big honor.” So I started to get my phone quickly and started recording. I asked, “So Mr. President, what are the challenges in writing your latest book?” And he replied, “Well, I wanted to remember everything that happened early in my life and particularly the navy …… so I checked all my records to make sure it’s accurate. And then, I kept a detailed diary when I was in the White House and I didn’t have a problem with that. I have a lot of records. But the main thing is remembering my navy days which I have never written about before.”

President Carter in Pasadena

After the press part, some of us bought the book and wanted to have it signed, so we had to wait again and went to the line.. but not for long. After he signed my book, I left the bookstore and asked one of the attendees who was still waiting in the line about the book signing event. Her name is Gayle from Rancho Cucamonga. She said, “It’s been pretty well organized. It’s been warm standing out here for two hours but apparently it’s moving quickly now. ”

I was really blown away as I was approaching my parking spot and viewed the line. The line wrapped around the block as if a big movie premiere just kicked off. After all, he was the former President of the United States and people want to interact with an important figure in our nation’s history.

Attendees at President Carter's book signing

Attendees at President Carter’s book signing

The line at President Carter's book signing

 

 

Vroman's Bookstore staff

Vroman’s Bookstore staff

Here’s a little video about my chat with President Carter

 

Special thanks to

  • Melanie Wagner Lewek for taking the photo while I was interviewing President Carter
  • Jennifer Ramos from Vroman’s Bookstore and
  • Julia Prosser
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