That sign that shows where the line starts? It's about 50 feet into the store, just past the customer service desk; Tebow was signing autographs in electronics, about 100 feet from the back wall of the store. So, yeah: Long, long line. But if you think that video shows the enormity of the crowd, you really need to see the picture I've stashed after the jump.
This picture comes from Tebow's co-author, Nathan Whitaker:
But I also wanted to share the stories a couple of readers sent in about their experiences at the signing, to counter the sunshine and roses feel of those pictures and video.
This first one is from Ashley Pitisci, who described herself as a "bound and determined Florida fan who will NEVER return to Walmart," and explained that her husband and son went through a lot:
Just read your article and have to write…especially since my husband and son are in the picture of your article.
My husband and I (both UF graduates and avid Gators) learned of Tim’s appearance at Wal-Mart late last week and called Wal-Mart to find out their procedure for the book signing since we would be driving 4 hours and staying in a hotel room just to have this opportunity. Our son is 10 years old and we did not want to disappoint him by telling him the purpose of the trip to Gainesville and then not be able to "deliver" on his chance to have Tim sign his book. My husband and I both called Wal-Mart twice to ensure they were giving out the same information to each caller and lo and behold, between our 4 phone calls, we received 4 different stories.
Whenever we asked to speak with a manager, we were told one was unavailable (no doubt) and when I mentioned we had been given different stories on their procedure, I was told "well, I guess it just keeps changing then." Once I was told there were only going to be 600 books sold, beginning at midnight, and once you had your receipt that showed you bought the book there, you could come back (later? No one said when) to wait in line for the signing at 6pm. Another time I was told wrist bands would be handed out to have the book signed and the first 600 people in line (which would be allowed to form at midnight) would be granted a wrist band to then come back later, buy the book, and wait for his signing. Another story was that the first 600 people in line (starting at midnight) could buy two copies of the book and come back later for the 6 p.m. signing but the receipt had to show the purchase was made from that Wal-Mart.
Choices, choices. Did we wait until early Thursday morning to get on the road, get to Gainesville by 10 am and hope 600 people had not bought the book? We decided that wasn’t good enough and my husband and son got in the car last night, drove 2 hours to Gainesville, got there by 8pm and began waiting in line to buy the book (oh, I forgot to mention we had already purchased one at Sams Club prior to knowing all this…) which Wal-Mart was releasing at midnight. I suppose all hell broke loose at some point once the poor souls in that line (the same one you took a picture of) were told Wal-Mart decided to sell more than 600 copies and although your receipt had to come from that Wal-Mart, that did NOT guarantee a signing since the first 600 people with a receipt were going to be allowed in.
I’m wondering this (as I sit in the comfort of my home in Tampa and my husband and son are now back at Wal-Mart after leaving there at 1am, deciding to sleep in the hotel and come BACK to Wal-Mart this morning….) is it 600 books that will be signed? Is it the first 600 people in line that will get signatures (which would mean a possible 1200 books signed by Tim)? Wal-Mart isn’t even keeping track of how many people are in line…..ridiculous.
Our son is craving a burrito from Burrito Brothers and instead of losing his possible spot in line (of how many????? Who knows?), he and my husband are going to park themselves once again at Wal-Mart so that they can hope they get Tim Tebow’s signature. I swear, after all that effort, if they come home with no signature and no Tim Tebow sighting, I know there will be very disappointed Gator fans no matter what the age.
Ashley later emailed to say that Walmart finally did provide differentiating wristbands on Thursday morning. But that may have been a bit late.
And then there was Anthony Rodriguez, who emailed to share his friend's heartbreaking story:
Hey, I read your article online and thought I would relay my friend's story to you.
My friend Alyssa Rodgers — who is from Jacksonville, and whose family grew up good friends with the Tebows — heard about the book and signing. So she called Walmart to ask how it was all gonna go so she could plan accordingly. She asked the lady on the phone (and was told) that all she had to do was come to Walmart and be one of the first 600 people to get the book, and that there were only 600. Also, Alyssa specifically asked the lady about being being guaranteed a signed book if she was one of the first 600. The woman on the phone told her that she would. So she went to Walmart a little before 9 p.m. on June 8th to wait in line. She was one of the first 40 people there waiting for the book (I showed up around 10 p.m. to wait with her).
When she asked around about what she talked about on the phone, she found out that, first of all, there would be more than 600 books. Secondly, one of the women there (possibly the manager) said that they were not guaranteed a signed book just by getting one of the first 600. This made my friend Alyssa very, very upset. I'm not that mad because I don't care that much, but I am furious that they would treat my friend Alyssa like that. Alyssa told me that the manager was extremely rude to her. Now usually I wouldn't do anything about this, but because I care so much for my friend I felt like I had to tell someone and email you since I read your article.
Just a little background information about my friend Alyssa: she is handicapped and has been in a wheelchair since about the age of four. She has a very rare condition that made her bones and joints all distorted, so she is constantly in pain all the time. What's worse is that because she has had such a hard life she is very sensitive. If only the people who treated her wrong knew the things that she had to go through just to even get to Walmart, then I think they would have possibly done things differently.
It's extremely difficult for her to even get out of her wheelchair, which is what she has to do anytime she wants to go drive anywhere. Also, she drives in a handicapped van that hasn't been working properly for years. The ramp always gets stuck and never closes all the way so sometimes we spend 20 minutes putting it down and up until it finally closes. Another huge problem is her wheelchair. This thing has not been working right for almost a year now. It's been breaking so much in the past year so she has been taking it to the repair shop to get it fixed. She's done this about four times now and each place says they fixed it, but the problem never goes away. She used to be able to go around town to school and stuff for about three days before it needed to be charged. But now she can barely go to St. Augustine (a church which is five minutes away from her apartment) and back before it's flashing red and about to die. This is only just a few of the things that she has to deal with on a daily basis. So the fact that she even got the courage to leave her apartment, get in her van, and drive all the way to Walmart in order to wait three hours was huge! She doesn't like to leave her apartment because she is scared she is going to get stranded all by herself.
Now that I think back on the whole situation with the book signing, it's not even that huge of a deal. But more importantly I wish there was something I could do to help Alyssa get a better wheelchair. Her family doesn't have that much money and she herself can barely afford to buy groceries and pay rent sometimes. Anyways, sorry for the long message, but I had to let someone know her story with this book signing.
That, right there? That's awful work by Walmart's customer service staff, for one. But Anthony's looking to make some good come of it. I emailed him about the outcome of Alyssa's trip, and he told me this:
No, she did not stay because it would not have been possible for her to do so in the condition that she was in at that time. After I wrote this email, I started a group on Facebook just inviting all of my friends to donate money to help her get a new chair and we've already got $650.
That sounds like a good friend helping a friend out, and it's very much in the spirit of Tebow. I encourage you to donate if you can, but I'm also going to send this to Tebow and his PR people and see what we can do.
Because what would Tebow do, right?