The line of about 1,000 people wound from the exercise equipment section to the power tool shelves, as shoppers at the Costco in Pentagon City waited patiently for Barbara Walters to autograph her tell-all book, Audition. They had braved a cold, rainy Friday afternoon to be there.
It was hardly her first visit to Greater Alexandria. Back in the 1990s, she had spent many a weekend in Old Town, visiting Sen. John Warner at Alexandria House, the penthouse he owned before moving to Belle Haven five years ago.
On many Sunday mornings, Old Towners would spy Warner and Walters, heads buried in the Sunday New York Times, at the legendary Royal Restaurant at 734 N. Saint Asaphs Street. Before that, back in the 1970s and ’80s, she had often visited “Atoka,” Warners sprawling horse farm in Upperville, during her long romance with the former Navy secretary and United States Senator.
I remember how beautiful Virginia was, Walters told the Alexandria Times, before bing whisked off to the next stop on her book tour. I am sorry I am seeing it today in the rain.
The Costco at Pentagon City was the only Costco Walters had chosen for her 30-stop national book tour. In the past year, the 170,000 square foot mecca of warehouse retailing has hosted former President Bill Clinton, who caused an even bigger frenzy at the store in October when thousands lined up to have him sign his new book, Giving.
Former President Jimmy Carter was in a week later for a book signing, and Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Tom Brokaw conducted book signings there in past years.
Democratic politicians appear to score the most visitors, said warehouse manager John Rohr. But I think Hillary sold a few more of her books than Bill. Either way, President Clinton caused a real frenzy. It was almost cult-like.
As Walters patiently signed books and chit chattered with every eager fan who approached her at a desk set out on a red carpet, embassy chefs, social doyennes and cooks from high-end restaurants hustled by, often looking frazzled and desperate for that missing ingredient to the menu or party. “It seems like everyone comes in here in a frenzy, Rohr said.
While Bill Clinton attracted more visitors than Walters, store employees still agreed that her turnout was higher than most. Whats more, on this Friday before Mothers Day, many shoppers had three or more copies in their carts. Are you buying this for Mothers Day? Walters accordingly asked them, before adding her signature, and a drawing a heart beside the recipients name.
Susanne Seidman of Alexandria bought books for her late mothers sister, her mother-in-law, her friend, her friends mother and herself, with a total of five As she waited, she fed Pepperidge Farm Cheese Goldfish to her own children, Lilly, 5 and Teddy, who insisted that he was almost two.
Seidmans own mother, Susan Day, had died the previous October. She was especially touched, she said, when she told Walters the story, and her eyes welled up.
Mickie Bouma of Alexandria was purchasing two copies for friends, one for herself and one as a door prize for the Alexandria Professional Womens Networking Group. The owner of a commercial insurance agency, Bouma praised Walters. She is such a trailblazer,” Bouma said. “She did what other women could not, and opened doors for them.
Seidman said she had tried, without success, to interest her daughter in the fact that Walters had been the first woman TV news anchor. But Sophie Adelman, at 19, was well aware of Walters influence on her own career choices.
Adelman, who majors in international studies and minors in writing, is a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis. She’s also hoping to be a journalist, and Walters complied when asked to pose for a picture with her. She is a household name where I grew up, and she is one of the people I admire.
Barbara Walters has enjoyed a career that any newsperson might envy, with high-profile interviews with newsmakers ranging from Fidel Castro to Monica Lewinsky to Cher.
Now in her 70s, she has attracted a new generation of fans on her TV talk program, “The View.” Wheeling 18-month-old Jocelyn in a stroller, Jessica Peers of Arlington was with a group of young mothers who had come to Costco together. She is a regular viewer of The View.
Describing herself as a political Internet consultant, Sandy Marks of Del Ray said she dreams of joining the controversial cast. I had a long chat with her, she said. I told her she should call me if she ever needs the opposite of Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the shows conservative voice.
Shoppers struck up conversations with each other while waiting in the long line. Explaining his own cartful of books, Larry Evans said, Some are going to England. This prompted Lee Bridgewater, Sr., of Alexandria to call out, I spent some time in Portsmouth with NATO. It was beautiful there.
Bridgewater had come to Costco to buy groceries for a cookout, And I looked up and saw Barbara Walters was there! He purchased one copy as a gift for his wife Adrienne and another for his own enjoyment.
One woman seemed to express the entire crowds feelings when she said, I just wanted to let her know that shes had a fantastic career.
Excerpts from Audition
On the Today show, I was assigned to interview John Warner when he chaired the Bicentennial Committee . He remembered me, he later said, as brisk and attractive. I remember him as having great hair and being rather pompous. Still, when he asked if I would have lunch, I said okay.
The house [in Upperville] was only partially decorated. John had a splendid study with a fireplace and a huge desk. Upstairs, the master bedroom also had a fireplace and was decorated in a lovely paisley. The interior designer was Billy Baldwin, one of the most famous decorators in America.
John and I began to see each other again, this time quite seriously.