Saturday, May 26, 2007

May 26, 2007
Woke up this morning to rain and lightning. Drove down to Winterset in a light drizzle at seven A.M. Really socked in. Stopped at the John Wayne Birth Home to check on the planned, noontime unveiling of the John Wayne statue where I was scheduled to give my remarks. Just like yesterday, the place was jammed with people. The poor besieged staff didin't want to let me in the back, but I insisted on talking to someone about the speech. Were they going to go on with it, in spite of the rain and the lightning?

One of the head honchos came out and told me yes they were going ahead rain or shine. I asked if they planned on having a tarp or something covering the stage, considering the live microphones and he said no. I said, "Well, I came down here to be close to John Wayne, but I don't know if I want to be that close."

He laughed, but seemed confident in what the day had to offer. I dropped off two boxes of True Wests, caught breakfast at the Starlight Cafe (bacon and eggs, coffee and milk, $7.33, left her $10 cash), and fought my way out to the fairgrounds, bumper to bumper all the way. Still raining. Someone estimated 40,000 were in town for the weekend's events which included concerts by Michael Martin Murphy and Riders of the Purple Sage.

Drove out to the fairgrounds and tried to set up in the assigned tent. Wind blowing, hardly anyone there. Gave away probably a half box of mags. Rather discouraging. Realized from yesterday's encounter with the guy from Ohio that a whole bunch of guys had big budgets to spend. The first guy I met spent $700 on John Wayne memorabilia. I started asking as soon as I met someone. Well, how much have you spent, or how much is your budget?" The guys would hedge, but the wives would roll their eyes when the total was too low. The spending was all over the board, with one guy claiming he had a $1,000 budget to spend. Another guy said he only spent $300, but he admitted he already owned most of the stuff anyway. Most confessed their wives think they're nuts, and almost all have an entire room or basement dedicated to John Wayne.

Left the fairgrounds with about two boxes of mags spread out on the table and fought my way back to the birth house at about 11:35 for the noontime dedication. A huge crowd had gathered at the old service station on the corner, where Ethan Wayne was scheduled to demolish a corner of the old building to dedicate the beginning of the new museum. Had to park about three blocks away. There must have been 1,500 or 3,000 people gathered there (I'm not good at estimating). People were pouring in from everywhere. I took a panorama with my digital and will run it next week. It looked like Woodstock to me, or should that be Waynestock? Ha.

I fought my way to the back stage area and heard the MC ask if I was there. I pushed my way forward (there was no security or cordoned off area, it was all civilians everywhere, fighting for space). The sky cleared slightly. They had a big PA and the statue was covered in white cloth. The MC asked me to keep it short, five minutes or less. There were several other politicos in front of me. I suddenly got very nervous. Down front were all the celebrities who worked with John Wayne and his family and TV cameras everywhere. My mind was reeling with every single thing that could go wrong. Why do I get myself into these things? What if they start booing? What if I pass out? The usual, ridiculous thoughts I never seem to get away from, no matter how many times I do this.

I went over to a sound truck to sit down on the tailgate (which was wet, but I didn't care). I felt faint. I suddenly didn't know what I would say. My heart was beating clear up into my neck area. A young kid looked over his father's shoulder at me like I was a goonball freak. He was so right. He had me pegged.

I heard my name, I fought my way through the crowd and took the microphone. I boomed out my opening line, "When I was a lad growing up in Swea City, Iowa. . ." and, I was fine. Got a couple decent laughs, edited myself as much as I could and cut to the chase, and the punchline. Jumped off the stage and the MC thanked me profusely (I think he was shocked at how brief I managed to be). Numerous people pressed forward to request a photo with me. I had survived. I had lived, and of course, for the rest of the day thought of all the things I could have said, that would have been better. Ha. What a goober-headed nutjob I am.

Dropped off another box of mags, then fought my way back out to the fairgrounds. Had to go up a back street, to avoid the crush, parked in a culdesac, walked across a muddy field to get to my tent. All the mags I had left were gone. Broke out two more boxes and they just flew out of the tent. Everyone wanted me to sign the issues, and everyone wanted to know what town in Iowa I was from, because they heard me on the square. And no one had heard of Swea City. Ha. That was fun. All the mags were gone by two, packed up, drove out of town, went the backway to Des Moines, stopped at Skip's, a restaurant Mike Richard's had recommended when Mike Melrose and were through here several years ago. Had a nice salmon caesar salad and two glasses of cabernet ($22 biz account).

A very successful weekend. These are our people! And I got about 1,000 magazines into the hands of people who care about John Wayne and the West. Very encouraging. Now if I can only do 5,000 more of these, we'll be in good shape.

"Our problem was the opposite from 'Field of Dreams.' We had people coming, and we thought, 'maybe we should build it.'"
—Dave E. Trask, the former director of the Winterset Chamber of Commerce when (1980) they spearheaded the drive to buy the house John Wayne was born in.

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