She’s 10 minutes late and Chris Miller is waiting for an elevator to open.
An elevator carrying Charlotte Flair – the back-breaking, arm-twisting, butt-kicking daughter of Ric Flair, arguably the greatest professional wrestler of all time. Ten minutes ago, she was supposed to sign his book and pose with him for a photo.
Now fifteen minutes.
It wasn’t the six-hour trip by car from Great Falls, Montana that made the wait excruciating, or the two hours camped in front of Auntie’s Bookstore. It wasn’t the additional two hours standing on the second-floor walkway, a long line of people at his rear. It was the gap between when she was supposed to be here, but wasn’t.
“I heard a ding,” Miller said, lowering his phone as a bookstore employee walked nonchallantly out of the elevator and into the fray of dozens of readied lenses. To Miller’s left stood his brother Lance Johnson and his best friend, Jeffrey Taylor, the Charlotte Flair super-fan of the group.
“I might look calm, but I’m freaking out right now,” Taylor said.
Then it happened, the moment catching them off-guard. While talking to fellow line-mates, sharing stories of their love of wrestling, the doors opened and it was her. It was really her.
“Woo!” the crowd shouted, the excitement traveling back through the line, snaking its way downstairs as people craned their necks to see Charlotte “Nature Girl” Flair emerge.
“Hey guys,” she said, her facing beaming a confidence that said this wasn’t the first time she’s kept a room full of fans waiting – sometimes hours – to see her.
“Hi,” Miller said back as he approached, book in hand.
Since signing with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 2015, Flair has been met with open arms by scores of die-hards. She quickly won the WWE Divas Championship, and the next year was crowned WWE’s Raw Women’s Champion. In October 2016, her match against Sasha Banks was the first featuring women to headline a WWE pay-per-view event.
Even in the Lilac City, far away from the major media-market draws of New York, Los Angeles or Seattle, Flair was able to coax hundreds of fans into entering a bookstore on a Sunday afternoon for the release and signing of her new book while NFL football played in TVs far away.
Titled “Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte,” the book is a memoir of the father-daughter duo’s rise to fame and the troubled relationship that accompanied it. After the signing, she would join her fellow wrestlers at the Spokane Arena a few hours later for a live WWE event.
“Now that’s good,” Taylor said nervously after posing for a photo with the wrestler. “I’m trying to hold the tears back.”
Eddie Ramey and his family, including six children, were decked out in WWE swag, some featuring The New Day – a wrestling tag team known for creating the fictitious “Booty-Os” cereal as part of their wrestling persona. Ramey and his 12-year-old son, also named Eddie, catch every WWE event that comes through Spokane, and they had no intention of missing the evening show.
“Front row too,” the older Eddie said. “It’s a tradition now. My dad passed away so now it’s me and him.”
The Ramey family purchased four books for Flair to sign. As they approached, the younger Eddie, with his bright blue “Booty-Os” shirt and a rainbow unicorn horn jutting out from his forehead, moseyed behind the table next to Flair, whose biceps were larger than his neck. He extended his fingers, making a peace sign. Flair followed his lead.
“Smile,” his father said, snapping the photo.
Others extended two more fingers, tucking thumb into palm – the sign of the Four Horsemen, a wrestling stable consisting of her father and wrestling legends Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard.
Before making it to the front of the line, where Flair was waiting, Ramey explained where his love of professional wrestling comes from: a family tradition spanning multiple generations. And while each fan has a favorite “era” – Attitude, Ruthless Aggression, The Golden Age etc. – a case could be made that the father’s favorite is whichever one he’s spending with his kids.
“I’ve been showing him the stuff I was into,” he said. “I want him to share in it.”