Monday, June 4, 2012

At Least I Didn't Get Arrested

World Book Night
World Book Night (Photo credit: danbruell)
My plan: I was going to go to this wonderful site I picked and put up the wonderful signs I made and hand out the wonderful free book I picked for World Book Night, and enter into some wonderful discussions with people about reading and about my book o' choice.

It was going to be... wait for it... wonderful.
See, from the moment I heard about World Book Night, I wanted to be involved. Somebody would give me 20 free books, that I would take out into the public, proselytizing the Joy of Reading, while others throughout the US, UK, and Ireland were doing the same thing, on the same night?

It would be like the good ol' days when I lived in a religious cult. (True story. Someday I will share.) Despite years of near starvation, sleep deprivation, dubious theology, and attempted male asshattery, many good things did come from my time in a religious cult. I learned:
  • I was not the only shy person who loathed the idea of going out in public and approaching strangers with a Message. 
  • Despite my fears, I could do it anyway. I could even do it well.
  • People I approached were generally as much or more scared of me than I was of them.
  • Smiles are always a good thing.
  • Rejection is survivable. 
  • There's no going home until you've passed out all your tracts, er, books.
  • Security personnel headed in your direction never bodes well.

Preparation: I signed up, way ahead of time, and secured my book of choice, The Hunger Games. Wonderful! I figured as close as it was to the movie being released, it would be an easier job to interest light or non-readers in a book with a movie tie-in. (I'm altruistic, but no longer masochistic.)

I made some cute little posters to put up.

I dressed in comfortable but not sloppy clothes, and donned my Book Giver Pin.  Decided my nifty bottlecap earrings would be the closest thing to coordinating with the World Book Night moon theme.

Loaded my posters, some masking tape to put them up, my WBN box (20 books are surprisingly heavy, FYI), and my neatly groomed and decorated self into the car, heading for my location of choice. Parked in the lot, stashed my purse in the trunk, and headed for the entrance of the North Hollywood (California) Metro Station.

SoCal isn't as well-connected via public transportation as it could (should) be, but we do have our hotspots, and North Hollywood is one of them. Each Metro station has individual, unique artwork and themes. NoHo's is Kaleidoscope Dreams.

There are even Metro station tours you can take, with special attention to the art. NoHo itself is very strong on encouraging The Arts - visual, music, theatre. I've been there for plays, poetry readings, indie music performances, art gallery shows... Perfect place for a little love of literacy, right?

So anyway, I dig the NoHo Arts District in general, and thought the Metro Station would be a yes,  wonderful place to give away my World Book Night books. People commuting to work via train would be delighted to get something to read, right?

Took the escalator down, and began taping up my signs to let people know what was up. Guy came over to help me.

At first I felt a little nervous, he seemed a little... strange, but he was polite, enthusiastic about the importance of books though he confessed he hadn't read anything in a while, wanted a copy of The Hunger Games, helped me tape up the signs which did not want to stick.

Then he began explaining about how he had the cure to cancer and AIDS, only nobody would believe him. "You know, of course, that the government really doesn't want a cure for AIDS..."


Nice & Deluded departed after a few minutes, a good thing as he was scaring away my regular customers. Most of whom looked at me like I had two heads. One was happy to take a book after she found out it wasn't a Bible, lol! (Good thing she hadn't met my earlier self.)

My joy did not last long. As I was struggling to get my signs to stay up, I became aware of a snotty female voice announcing over the crappy PA system, "You there, in the lobby. <crackle crackle feedback> You are not allowed to post any signs without the written consent of the Los Angeles Metro system."

I felt humiliated, like I was caught passing notes in class. H'okay, fine. Silly things didn't want to stay up, anyway. So I took down the smaller signs, and leaned the bigger one against the post. Continued offering books to the people headed to the trains, or coming from it, had given out about 8-10 or so, when Ms. Bitchy Attitude starts scolding me over the PA again, "Unless you <crackle hiss crackle> Los Angeles Metro <crackle pop> vacate the premises immediately. <crackle feedback crackle> private property trespassing <crackle> subject to arrest."

108/365 - World Book Night
108/365 - World Book Night (Photo credit: danbruell)
Chagrined and embarrassed - how was it that with all my preparation and planning, it never even crossed my mind that I would need a permit to give away free books at the subway station? I glanced up as I was gathering my box o'books, posters & masking tape, and two tall security guards stood on either side, ready to escort me out, lest my free books and I make further trouble.

Am I the only one who experiences serious heart palpitations and anxiety when surrounded by uniforms when caught doing something "wrong"?

(Actually, the guys were quite nice. Carried my posters. Asked a lot of questions about World Book Night and what I was doing, were quite apologetic about having to make sure I left the premises. They also showed me where I could stand, topside, so I could still give out books without officially being on Metro property.)

Even topside, it didn't take much longer to find takers for the rest of the books, though now I had to compete with a dreadlocked guy handing out brochures about Inner Peace. I just staked out a small portion of the area and prayed Ms. Bitchy wouldn't sicc the topside security guards on me if I accidentally stepped over the line.

North Hollywood is the northern terminus of th...
North Hollywood is the northern terminus of the Red Line in the San Fernando Valley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I did find takers for all my books, in a fairly short period of time. In retrospect, the location wasn't as wonderful as I thought it would be, both because of the whole trespassing-possible arrest thing, and because people coming and going were mostly in a hurry. Going into the station, they were headed to shows or night shifts; coming out they were mostly flogged after a long day of work. So I didn't get into the "books are wonderful" conversations I'd hoped to find, not much more than 2-3 minutes spent with each person to see if they were a light rather than avid reader, before they wanted to jet off.

The ideal place to approach people would have been on the subway platform itself, or perhaps on an actual train. Which I will consider, for next year (once I research the permit thing).

Aftermath: I do, definitely want to do this again, and think I'll be better prepared for World Book Night next year. I will never love approaching strangers, even in an excellent cause; I'm still more a shy bookworm at heart. And I don't ever want to see guys in uniform approaching me again, unless they're carrying a boombox and strutting their stuff.

But it could've been worse. At least I didn't get arrested.

Sign up here for the World Book Night Mailing List and you too can get in on the fun, in 2013.
(Or at least let me know if you'd be willing to bail me out.)
Your thoughts?

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