Sandy • A jovial former President George W. Bush arrived early, stayed late and signed some 1,800 copies of his new book Friday for admirers thrilled with their brush with the former commander in chief.
"It was worth the wait," said a beaming Ruth Ellis of Sandy. "He said, 'How are you, darlin'?' I said, 'Great.' He couldn't have been nicer."
Many camped overnight in the windy parking lot to secure a chance for just five to 10 seconds of face time with the former president just enough time to exchange a few words and, in a few cases, shake hands with the man who won his two largest margins of victory here.
Officials say between 900 and 950 people got to quickly meet Bush and have him sign copies of his new memoir, Decision Points. Most had two books each.
One of those books, apparently, was put on the online auction block even before it was signed. Other people were starting bids at $100 to $120 for their copies of the book. Copies from signings in other states were going for $300 or more.
The two-term Republican, wearing a blue shirt and brown sports coat, smiled and shook hands with fans in a cordoned-off area of the sprawling Costco warehouse store.
Robert Holewinski had met Bush twice before after returning from tours in Iraq as a member of the 3rd Infantry, which led the way into Iraq. This time, however, he got to bring his 11-year-old son, Andre.
"It really makes it special," Holewinski said.
Andre was properly awed.
"I don't want to wash my hand again," the boy said.
Matt Bell, an 18-year-old Brigham Young University student soon to leave on an LDS mission, was just as impressed.
"I thanked him for everything he's done," Bell said of the former president. "I told him I kept him in my prayers."
Bell said he asked for a hug, and Bush said "sure" and stood up and embraced the young man.
Leslie Clark, of Alpine, was at the book signing at the request of her son, a Marine who works for the National Security Agency and who is soon to leave for a tour in Afghanistan.
"He was so sweet," she said of Bush. "[My son] said tell [the president] I'm proud of him. I told him my son has never lost confidence in him as commander-in-chief."
Ray Matthews waited in line for seven hours to deliver a very different message to the former president.
When Matthews reached the front of the line, he asked Bush: "Would you sign it, 'I lied'?"
Matthews said he wanted Bush to own up to claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and other misdeeds leading up to the Iraq War. Matthews said Bush gave him a stern grimace and put his head down, signed the book and slid it to the right. Matthews asked him again, "Does your book say why you lied to the American people?" and Bush didn't look up, and the Secret Service ushered him out.
"I thought it was important that George Bush heard at least from one person in the state of Utah that challenged him on that particular issue," Matthews said. "I felt it was my moral responsibility to challenge him on behalf of so many who died and suffered."
Bush arrived to Utah from California, where he taped his appearance on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" Thursday night. He did an interview with CNBC's Larry Kudlow on Friday morning before arriving at the Costco about a half-hour early. He sounded upbeat, greeting those on hand with a "How ya doin'?"
He stayed another 20 minutes past his scheduled departure before leaving through the back, waving to a cluster of fans who hooted and snapped pictures as he piled into a gray SUV and rolled out with his entourage. Bush was headed to Dallas on Friday evening.
Several hundred people who arrived in line Friday afternoon were turned away.
By comparison, when Sarah Palin signed books at a Salt Lake City Costco last December, she signed books for all 830 people in line and left early.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who was scheduled to fly from a governor's conference in San Diego to another in Colorado Springs, changed plans so he could be in town. He and several members of his family met briefly with the former president.
Not everyone who came out was adoring. Justin Thuet, wearing a T-shirt that said "Global Disaster, National Disgrace," said he went to the Costco with his mother because "she wanted to see his dumb a."
"I just wanted to see for myself," said Kendra Thuet. "I couldn't imagine a president appearing at Costco of all places. I just think it's insane."
The Thuets never did get a glimpse of Bush, who was signing books behind a curtain and visible only to those who had passed through security.
Outside the store, a small group of protesters with signs lined the sidewalk. Most were alleging that the Bush family was behind the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
And Gary Mesker, who said he is a military veteran, insisted Bush should be charged with war crimes for the U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"George Bush and the truth have never been in the same room together," he said. "He still needs to be tried."
Earlier in the day, people who had lined up more than 24 hours earlier talked about what a chance to meet the former president meant to them.
Steve Horrocks of Draper said he felt like he had just won the lottery when he received the last in a group of wristbands that guaranteed he would get Bush to autograph a copy of the book.
"I'm relieved," he said. Wearing a Navy sweatshirt as a former sailor, Horrocks added, "I like Bush. He always took care of the troops. I admire his character, honesty and integrity."
Wendy Webster, of Ogden, said she was willing to sit out in the cold and wind all night for the chance to meet Bush.
"I love the Bush family," she said, wrapped in blankets and a sleeping bag. "He was president during a tough time. But he did what he thought was right."
At least she was near propane heaters that Costco placed out during the night and some portable toilets. Lines for them had 20 or more people waiting at times in the morning.