Non-Technical News: Lessons from Benihana and Brandon Roy

Yesterday was a big day in our household.  In addition to our two resident mothers, we also commemorated our eldest son's sixteenth birthday.  Earlier in the week, after a delicate negotiation, we agreed on a blended celebration dinner at the Benihana restaurant in downtown Seattle.  In addition to being the most fun I've had in awhile, the occasion offered myriad object lessons on improving one's reputation, regardless of its current state.

The day started with an early call for a baseball game for my sons.  Yes, a 9:00am start on Mothers' Day.  The scheduler for our Little League happens to be both a parent on our boys' team and a fellow Microsoft blogger, Eric Brechner.  I very much enjoy my conversations with Eric (even if he didn't schedule two other teams for the early Mothers' Day slot) and the other parents during the game.  Our early Mothers' Day in Bellevue included a conversation with another parent through the dugout fence regarding issues he was having with Microsoft Word (of which both Eric and I are mere consumers).  These sorts of things happen all the time; to publicly acknowledge one's employment with Microsoft to friends and acquaintances is to establish oneself as their new best option for software support.  It's a well-known "perk" of Microsoft employment, and passed with nothing more than a rueful smile between us.

After a wonderful day of Little League baseball, all order of present-opening, and early devouring of a candle-laden ice cream cake, we headed into Seattle for our 8 o'clock dinner.  The entire experience was absolutely extraordinary.  Even on a busy Mothers' Day, the staff was courteous and attentive.  The food was, as usual, first rate; my grandson, one of the pickiest eaters on the planet, devoured his meal with great gusto.  Every chef working last night participated in a raucous birthday serenade for my son, who actually thought for a couple of seconds that the crowd was massing for someone else (never underestimate the joy that surprising a teenage son brings to the life of a parent, especially when one's reputation for arranging such spectacles in restaurants is well-established in the family).

At one point, I looked around the table and saw every other member of my family smiling at the same time.  I'm still searching my memory for the last time I saw that.  It was at that moment I knew that the dinner was worth whatever it would ultimately cost.

If this was the extent of the day's gifts, it would've been a great day (although it probably wouldn't have provoked a blog post).  As they say on late-night television, "but wait, there's more."

When we arrived, the restaurant was abuzz with the news that Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Brandon Roy of the Portland TrailBlazers were dining in a private VIP room.  All three boys has their eyes wide at this news, but the VIP area was portrayed as inaccessible, so we sat down to enjoy our dinner as previously described.

Part of the reason for this reaction is that we teach our children to be respectful of celebrities in public places.  When I lived in Los Angeles, I saw a fair number of celebrities out and about.  One of my most vivid memories in this regard was a brief airport encounter with Jonathan Frakes, who was then playing Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I took a short cut behind a ticket counter, out of sight of the main terminal, and found him there, obviously hiding from the crowd.  Our eyes met and there was panic in his as he saw me recognize him.  Without breaking stride, I said, "I enjoy your work," and kept walking.  He replied with a "thank you" that sounded equally about my compliment and the fact that I wasn't slowing down to engage with him further.

Most of last night's reaction, I must admit, comes from the fact that I don't really pay that much attention to the NBA.  Between referees suspected of fixing games and players accused of behaving badly, it's never been my cup of tea.  I generally take interest sometime during the penultimate playoff series in late May.  The ongoing hijacking of our local franchise is also something of an impediment to commitment.

At the conclusion of our meal, my grandson announced his intention to "go look for Kobe Bryant and Brandon Roy."  We urged him to be polite, and sent him off with his uncles and mother in tow, figuring that security in the restaurant would thwart these interlopers far short of their intended goal.


Here's the story I got.  With both my sons urging him to let the man eat his dinner (thus making their father and mother very proud), my grandson went in search of his quarry.

While out to a private Mothers' Day dinner with his mother and his girlfriend, Mr. Roy saw my grandson peeking around the doorway and generously called him into the room.  He then even more graciously allowed my daughter into the room to take a photograph of the two of them together:

Alex with Brandon Roy

Talk about capping off a night!  It turns out that we walked into the restaurant with Mr. Roy and didn't even realize it.

I took my family to Benihana because I wanted a perfect night for them, and Benihana has always been my "go-to" restaurant in such situations.  Even though there were VIPs in the restaurant, even though it was a busy holiday, the staff went out of its way to give our family a wonderful set of memories.

As a result of the events after dinner, Brandon Roy has a new fan in me.  I'm not going to go out and buy season tickets tomorrow in Seattle, Portland, or Oklahoma City, but I got irrefutable evidence last night that there's at least one good guy in the NBA.  By being nice -- by being beyond nice to my grandson, Mr. Roy made a connection with me, and we had no contact whatsoever other than a brief and utterly unremarkable sharing of a restaurant foyer.

Remember that parent who asked me about Microsoft Word in the dugout?  If he'd seen me at dinner and asked his question then, would I have been as considerate as Mr. Roy was to my grandson?  I hope so..  I hope so..

In today's media-drenched society, it's easy to forget that reputations and connections are built one interaction at a time.  I don't know if Benihana advertises or not.  I was hooked the first time I went there, I go as often as I can, and they've never disappointed me.

The NBA as an entity still has a bad reputation with me, but as of last night, there's a new point of inflection for my family and me.  While a great many things will have to change for me to be an NBA fan, I am absolutely a Brandon Roy fan.  That's Brandon Roy, the man.  I will also, incidentally, be a fan of Brandon Roy, the basketball player.  I will watch the remainder of his career with interest, and I will smile when I hear he does well, because it will be a case of good things happening to a good person.

Smart people don't miss chances like these, whether at the ballpark, working on a holiday, or eating out with family.

Winners, somehow, always look the same.

Happy Birthday, Zach.  You're growing into a remarkable man, and I'm very proud to be part of that.

Happy Mothers' Day, Gale, Crystal, and Gina Roy of Seattle (you've got to love a world where you can do "research" by typing "Brandon Roy's mother" into a search engine).  All three of you are obviously doing a great job.  You have much to be proud of.


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