SANDY — Former President George W. Bush kissed, hugged, flirted and shook hands Friday with an adoring crowd of supporters who'd waited hours — even overnight — for a chance to meet him.
Bush arrived early for his scheduled two-hour book signing at the Costco here and left late with a wave to a small crowd gathered in the parking lot after he had autographed more than 2,000 copies of his new memoir, "Decision Points."
The warehouse store customers who'd stood in line since as early as 8 a.m. Thursday all had smiles on their faces after meeting the president. He was seated at a table draped with a Costco banner set up in a secured area.
"I asked, 'Could I get a hug?' He said, 'You sure can' and he got up and gave me a hug," an amazed Matt Bell said. "I told him I kept him in my prayers and he said he was very grateful."
Bell, a Brigham Young University student from France majoring in international relations, said he shouted as he was leaving, "Go Rangers." And Bush, who once owned the Texas team defeated in the World Series, responded, "Go Rangers. So close."
Maggie Graham of Layton was one of several in the long line that snaked around the building who wore Texas Rangers gear. She said the former president eyed her team shirt and said, "way to go."
The legal secretary was even more pleased that Bush gave her a firm handshake. "I got the 'W' shake — a good, firm, honest handshake, just like the man," she said.
Another woman had her hand kissed by the former president, while others were treated to flirtatious banter.
"I was so pumped. I walked in there and saw him and I said, 'Oh my gosh, it was worth the wait,' " a flushed Ruth Ellis of Orem said. "He was so personable …. He said, 'How are you, darlin'.' "
Ellis, who taught piano for years, said her husband will be jealous he didn't come along.
Not all of the moments Bush shared with Utahns during his few hours in the state were so lighthearted.
Robert Holewinski, who was among the first soldiers to reach Baghdad in 2003, showed his former commander-in-chief a citation he received for his service and said he was glad to have served under him.
"He said, 'You guys did your job well,' " Holewinski said. "For me, it helps piece part of my life together. For me, going to war changed my life." He said he has suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and getting the chance to see Bush helped ease his pain.
Holewinski's son, Andre, 11, who'd skipped his sixth-grade classes as Pony Express Elementary in Eagle Mountain to be by his dad's side, clutched his autographed book and told reporters he, too, wants to be president someday.
Bush told him he looked "like a nice, fine young man," Andre said. "I felt like I was almost famous." He said he felt inspired by both Lincoln and Bush. "I've looked up to them and I want to be like them," Andre said.
Taylor and Emily Morgan brought along their 7-month-old baby, Chase, to the book signing. "That's what it's all about," Emily said the former president told them, smiling at Chase. "Having a baby."
Even those fans who lined up shortly before Bush left at 3:30 p.m. and had virtually no chance of seeing him were still thrilled at his visit.
"I have a lot of respect for him, for what he did on 9/11. He didn't just sit around," said Roxanne Duennebeil, a business owner from Draper. She was planning to buy Bush's book even if she didn't get in to see him.
A number of prominent Utah Republicans didn't have to stand in line to see Bush, including Gov. Gary Herbert, who changed his travel plans to see the former president.
Herbert flew in from San Diego and met briefly with Bush at Costco before heading back to the airport for a flight to Colorado Springs to attend a National Governors Association meeting.50 comments on this story
A couple of protesters stood as close to the warehouse store grounds as they could, while across the Salt Lake Valley, about 70 protesters joined former Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson in Pioneer Park at midday to denounce what they described as the Bush administration's role in torturing military prisoners.
Anderson, who has since founded High Road for Human Rights, questioned how the president could "come here and sign books at Costco bragging about him saying, 'Damn right,' when he was asked should we go forward with torture."
Contributing: Steve Fidel