HOUSTON—Hundreds waited for several hours Wednesday morning outside the River Oaks Barnes & Noble for a brief encounter with President George W. Bush, a signature for their copy of his 481-page memoir, and a chance to have a reaction like Connie Carter from Katy.
"He’s an awesome man," she said, clutching her autographed copy. "It was an experience of a lifetime."
"Wonderful. Terrific," added Fred Pool. "It was an honor to get to shake his hand."
Lines began forming outside the bookstore before 5 a.m. Each person was pre-approved to enter the store by the wristband they waited for in a previous line over the weekend. On the second floor, in a setting ringed by extensive security, Secret Service agents and local law enforcement, the president spent about 10 seconds with each person, offering his signature, a smile, and an occasional handshake. It was enough to make some fans, like Elizabeth Rose, break into tears.
"I’m emotional," she said, beginning to tear up a full 30 minutes after she met Mr. Bush.
"I mean he was a wonderful president," she said connecting the president’s triumphs over personal demons with the similar battles in her own life.
About a dozen protesters made their view of the president known, too. Holding banners, signs and a cardboard cutout of Mr. Bush at which they threw shoes to represent deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were kept off bookstore property by Houston police. Instead, they shouted from the sidewalks of West Gray.
"Bush is a war criminal. He’s a mass murderer," one protester yelled, while another held a life-sized parody of the book, mocking the president with the title "Derision Points."
"It’s so sad. It really is," Bridgett Minkowitz, a South African immigrant who was there to get her book signed, said of the protesters. "But I think it’s also what makes America great though. That everybody has free speech."
Sara Teller, a teenager from Sugar Land who skipped school to meet Mr. Bush, summed up the experience this way:
"He will probably meet thousands of people, but I think that changed my life just meeting him today."