The Omni Dallas Hotel was the scene of a near-perfect storm on Friday, October 28, with Family Gateway holding its “Stronger Together Breakfast” in the Trinity Ballroom followed by the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas’ “2022 Women of Distinction Luncheon” at 11:30 a.m. If all things went according to plan, the changing of the guard would go unhindered.
But things nearly got off to a rough start for the breakfast, thanks to a stoppage in the hotel driveway. Unlike previous valet challenges of the season, this one wasn’t due to the parking staff.
Taking her place at the podium on the stage in the ballroom, Family Gateway’s Chief Development Officer Ruthie Umberger notified guests that cars in the driveway were backed up. It seems someone had taken their car key with them. Like people scrambling for their cellphones in church to make sure theirs hadn’t gone off when one was heard in a nearby pew, the early-morning crowd reached into their pockets and purses to make sure their keys weren’t the culprit.
Ah, but that was not to be the only driveway challenge of the day. More about that later, though.
To streamline the breakfast operation, a seated breakfast was replaced by a taco and fruit buffet in the reception lobby. While guests like Breakfast Honorary Co-Chairs Selwyn Razor and Rich Moses, Joyce Goss, City Councilperson Paul Ridley, Cynt Marshall and Joel Williams III took their plates of goodies to the ballroom, keynote speaker Chris “The Pursuit of Happyness” Gardner waited his turn in a side conference room. When he spotted Family Gateway Board Chair Gary Moor in suit and tie, the towering Chris in shirt sleeves laughed that it had been two years since he had worn a tie. Gary admitted that he had had trouble tying his that morning.
Before taking his place on stage, Family Gateway President/CEO Ellen Magnis presented the Annette G. Strauss Community Service Award to Shannon Reed, and Event Co-Chair/Booker T. Washington grad Quincy Roberts sang “Happy Birthday” to his mother Audry and Dallas City Councilperson Cara Mendelsohn.
Just after 9, Chris took his place on stage telling the crowd he was “glad to see real people for the first time in three years.”
He then surprised some by admitting that life could be as lethal as drugs and alcohol. This thought took root for Chris when he was 21, single and in San Francisco making $7,500 a year. Then he met a woman, had a child with her and was making double his previous salary.
Now he was selling medical products hauling in $85,000 a year. He felt like “the NBC peacock.”
Then one day Chris saw a guy driving in a fantasy car in the parking lot, and he offered his parking space to the fella if he would just tell Chris what he did. The driver was a stockbroker making $85,000 a month. Chris decided by hanging out with stockbrokers perhaps some of that magic would rub off on him. What he hadn’t counted on was the number of parking tickets he started collecting.
His persistence paid off and he got a chance to be part of a training program at a major brokerage house. However, the first day he showed up for training, he learned that the man who had made the offer had been fired the day before and nobody had heard of Chris. Now he had no job, no promised training and his lady friend was leaving.
Oh, and those parking tickets had amounted to $1,400 in fines. He was handcuffed and put in a cell with a rapist and an arsonist. When asked by his cellmates what he was in for, Chris said, “I’m here for murder and I’ll kill you.”
He ended up at San Jacinto State Penitentiary for ten days, and all he could think of was his son. Upon his release, he went home to discover his girlfriend and son had left with everything “except the dust.”
Wearing only what he had on when he was arrested, he went to his job interview in blue denim bell bottoms and a “Members Only” jacket.
When he described why he had shown up like that, the interviewer sympathized, telling Chris that he himself had been divorced three times.
The good news was that Chris landed a spot in the non-paying training program. The not-so-good news was the morning his ex- showed up and handed Chris their toddler son. The problem: Chris’ boarding house didn’t allow children.
Chris and his son were now homeless. But he persevered in the training program and became a top producer and eventually a self-made millionaire, entrepreneur, best-selling author and motivational speaker.
As he wound up his talk, Chris shared his belief in the Power of One. It seems that after Katrina hit New Orleans, he saw one man mowing grass with a push mower. It wasn’t his yard. It was his neighbor’s, but the man knew his neighbor would be coming home. A year later Chris went by the house and saw the man playing dominoes under a shade tree with the neighbor who had come home.
He finished right at 9:30, reminding the guests, “The cavalry is not coming. Because we are the cavalry.”
As for the valet conundrum mentioned earlier, it took place as guests headed to the driveway to fetch their cars. On the way most folks passed a woman at a table with a sign about paying for tickets. Alas, hardly anyone noticed the woman, the table or the sign. Evidently, they had taken it for granted that the valet parking had been complimentary. Only upon arriving at the driveway were they confronted with the cold reality. Hapless attendants could only tell the guests they had to go back and validate their parking stubs. Some accepted their situation begrudgingly; others appeared more vocal about their discontent. But even then it wasn’t all a breeze. One eagle-eyed guest who had spied the table and paid before heading downstairs waited 45 minutes for her/his car. Even then s/he had to show a photo of her/his car and its license plate to get it retrieved. Adding to the driveway kerfuffle of ruffled departing guests was the arrival of the Girl Scouts group to set up for the day’s luncheon.
In hindsight, it might have been wiser to have made an announcement from the stage that guests would need to pay for their parking as they left, and to have had more than one innocuous table with a single staffer. Or, better yet to have had the parking underwritten.