To meet her: Get a bracelet marking your place in a long line snaking through the store and out onto the sidewalk. (Savvier attendees showed up first thing in the morning to get low-numbered bracelets.) Your ticket, of course, is the book, which you must buy and cannot buy more than four of.
For a picture: Get an officially sanctioned photo taken by Palin's photographer which you can then access online.
What you can get signed: "S. Palin," in green ink on the book's title page.
That's the complete menu. If you are a reporter who drove from New York who wants a picture of Palin signing books, there are barricades to prevent you from getting your picture. There are burly staffers who, no, won't make an exception for reporters who would like to get a picture and, no, won't take the reporter's camera and take a picture for them. To talk to Palin or even get a glimpse of Palin, you have to be willing to invest time and money in Palin. It is as efficient as a slaughterhouse: people are tagged and wend their way in, vanish from sight, and then reemerge — albeit in one piece and very happy.
The refrain from those who met Palin (who the Associated Press reports was wearing a custom sweatshirt telling readers that said "It's OK to wish me a Merry Christmas!") was this: She was so nice. She was so nice, Rob from Bethlehem told me. She was so nice, Dick and Mary Kay from a small town two-and-a-half hours away said. She was so nice, insisted a group of four women from Wyomissing (Ashley, Melissa, Courtney, and Debbie). "We were expecting her to be nice," one of them said, "but you just never know." Another: "I just didn't know she'd take so much time, because there were so many people." The first (maybe? I lost track): "Wanted to know our names." Another, talking over both: "Really personable." Two high school students in field hockey jackets said Palin was "very nice," and that the experience was "really neat." "She made it seem like it was an honor to meet you."
When people came out with their signed books, passing the line of people waiting outside on the cold sidewalk, the refrain shifted slightly: It's worth it. Dick and Mary Kay were telling me how they 1) were pleased that Todd Palin was there, too, 2) felt an "instant bond" with the former governor, and 3) told the Palins that they were taking a trip to Alaska on the strength of Sarah's TLC reality show. A man came walking out past us and the line. "It's worth it!," he yelled, and again, "It's worth it!" The line nodded appreciatively.
No one I spoke would have needed to be convinced. There was no indifference among those who turned up for the book-signing, which, of course not, why wait in line to meet Sarah Palin if you don't care about her. But this wasn't just fandom. It was respect and admiration. Multiple people told me that they wanted to meet Palin because she was an historical figure. "Who knows if you'll ever get to meet someone that made a run for the VP, this close and personal," one mother told me, explaining why she brought her 12- and 15-year-old daughters to the store. (Asked if they were excited to be there, the teens seemed sorrrrt of excited.) Everyone in line I spoke with was a Sarah Palin fan; everyone I spoke with had voted for her in 2008. What they appreciated most about the former governor varied: her faith, her conservative values, both. That she decided to come to Eastern Pennsylvania was not an opportunity to be missed. One family, a young mother and father and their toddler trumped us all for symbolism: they'd come to Bethlehem from nearby Nazareth.