Twenty Hours in Line for a Fleeting Few Seconds With Hillary

Hillary Clinton addresses the crowd at her book signing in New York City on Tuesday Zach Schonfeld

Sean Brennan spent last night on the cold pavement of 17th Street in Manhattan, though he is not homeless.

The 41-year-old from Queens simply wanted to be first in line at Barnes & Noble to meet a popular, Washington-based political memoirist named Hillary Clinton, whose new book, Hard Choices, was published Tuesday after her 11-year absence from literary life.

So he arrived at 2:30 p.m. Monday for a signing scheduled to start the following morning at 11. That’s more than a 20-hour wait for what would likely turn out to be 10 seconds with Clinton—or maybe less.

“I brought a chair, I brought snacks,” Brennan told Newsweek, shrugging off the fact that he was the first in a line that stretched blocks uptown by early Tuesday morning. “I have a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton. She’s not running for anything yet. She’s written a really great book, and we should support it.”

But book tours and presidential campaigns look pretty much the same when you squint from a comfortable distance, and the “Ready for Hillary” pins flashing throughout the Union Square store suggested that many of Clinton's fans had the same idea.

“I think we need her to run,” Brennan said. “We have a lot going on in our government that is disgusting. We have Tea Party obstructionists who aren’t allowing anything to be finished in the House of Representatives. We need somebody who will come in and put their foot down and say, ‘Can we please stop this?’”

Several spots behind him stood a small group of New York University students, who described sleeping on the sidewalk as “surprisingly comfortable” and said they hoped to tell Clinton that she’s an inspiration for women. (They were also grateful for the unidentified woman who delivered them drinks from a nearby bar last night.) Nearby in line was David Sir, an actor from the Czech Republic who had arrived in the United States just three days ago.

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“I just want to one day be able to show my kids that I got a book that was signed by the president of the United States,” Sir said.

Sir—along with an increasingly grumpy media contingent roped off from the signing table—enjoyed a front-row view when the former secretary of state streamed past shelves packed with her own book shortly after 11.

Cheers filled the store, and Clinton briefly addressed the crowd before commencing with the signing.

“It’s really about the hard choices everybody has to make in life and particularly the hard choices I made during four years as secretary of state,” she said of her book. “It’s written for anybody who wants to think about and learn about what is happening in the world today—why America matters and why the world matters to America.

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“We have a lot of hard choices ahead of us in our country to make it as great and strong as it should be,” she added, without any mention of the 2016 presidential election.

Soon the infinite stream of photo ops began, and the media corner was advised to vacate the scene and rejoin the throngs of admirers and cameramen still crowding around the 17th Street entrance. A single square of the sidewalk glistened with Clinton’s likeness suspended in an American flag.

Across the street, two men stood apart from the crowd, where they held up a hand-scrawled sign that blared “BENGHAZI, Libya” and listed the names of four Americans killed in the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate. They had arrived separately but joined forces, hoping to ask Clinton about Benghazi as she arrived for the event, they said.

DSC07077 Across the street, two men stood apart from the crowd, where they held up a hand-scrawled sign that blared “BENGHAZI, Libya” and listed the names of four Americans killed in the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate. Zach Schonfeld

“I’m not on line for the book,” Robert Reardon, the retired corporate bond broker standing next to the sign, assured me, though this was evident from his position across the street from where the signing was taking place. “I already have toilet paper.”

His plans were foiled when the author bypassed the main store entrance on her way to the event.

“She sneaked in the back door to get here,” he fumed. “She’s probably going to sneak out the roof to get out.”