Oct 26, 2009


It WAS a dark and stormy night. But I’m not going to say that.

It was a Chicago night in late October. The cold rain made the roads slick and slowed everyone down. It was getting dark around five-thirty already and the menacing clouds made the sky even darker.

We were on a mission. The destination: the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. The tools we had: a 1989 Dodge Caravan with a broken transmission. The countown: 57 minutes and counting. We were determined to see Sherman Alexie.

Sherman Alexie, one of our great Native American writers, has a remarkable biography. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation near Spokane, Washington. Learned to read by age three and had read The Grapes of Wrath by age five. He received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction for his collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, published in 1993. Since then, he’s been writing brilliant works of both fiction and nonfiction, inspiring Native Americans and the rest of us to work for our dreams. To not be afraid to dream.

"If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing." — Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)

"Imagination is the politics of dreams; imagination turns every word into a bottle rocket. . . . Imagine every day is Independence Day and save us from traveling the river changed; save us from hitchhiking the long road home. Imagine an escape. Imagine that your own shadow on the wall is a perfect door. Imagine a song stronger than penicillin. Imagine a spring with water that mends broken bones. Imagine a drum which wraps itself around your heart. Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace." — Sherman Alexie (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven)

So now you understand why we would fight traffic to get downtown during rush hour. As anyone who lives in Chicago knows, getting from A to B can be quite an adventure. Having a car sometimes makes the travel easier. Sometimes not.

David picked me up from work at five sharp and we hit the road. Traffic was crawling along slowly, but the reading and interview didn’t begin until six so I thought we had plenty of time.
It took us almost an hour to get downtown and onto Michigan avenue, where we sat in traffic for ten minutes before turning off to find a parking lot. We found parking fairly easy for $10. It was six o’clock so we walked fast, huddling until my big clear umbrella.

The Harold Washington Library is huge and beautiful. We found the doors and made our way to where it looked like people were collecting. We were then told that the room was filled to capacity and they weren’t letting anyone else in to see Sherman Alexie.

Heartbroken, we wondered what to do. The “man in charge” told us that we could come back in an hour for the book signing. So we decided to get a cheap meal at the Dairy Queen and come back. Sometimes there’s nothing like greasy fries and soft serve ice cream to mend the heart.

We walked back to the library, chilled and damp by the time we reached our destination. We wandered a bit, trying to find the exclusive room. We followed the flow of traffic going in the opposite direction and found ourselves in a large, theater-like auditorium. I was amazed that this room had been filled to capacity. I spotted several groups of teenagers and students. We stood in a weaving line, leading up to the front where Sherman Alexie was sitting at a small table. We could see him smiling and taking pictures with his fans.

Apparently, everyone had been given a ticket with a number on it so that you had to get in line in numerical order. It took us about fifteen confusing minutes to figure this out. We didn’t have a number because we hadn’t been able to get in. We were accosted by librarians for not standing in the right order and I was afraid that they might call security. Worried that we were making a scene, I was about to abort the mission. David held fast though and, overhearing our predicament, a teenager gave us his number.

When we finally reached the front, I shook Mr. Alexie’s hand and told him what a pleasure it was to meet him. He was charming and funny even after a recorded hour-long interview and signing books for half an hour. We told him our story and he said he was sorry we were “outted.” He then wrote, “Sorry you were outted” and his signature in my copy of Reservation Blues.

I walked away on clouds. I had just met and spoken with a man of greatness. Maybe some of it rubbed off on me.

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