I have never been accused of being a shy person. My friends would say that I’m outspoken and the word “wallflower” isn’t one that I would use if someone were to ask me to describe my personality. I think that the ability to communicate effectively is a characteristic that provides you with the self-confidence needed to succeed both professionally and socially. It is a trait that I am teaching my children to help prepare them and provide them with the confidence that they will need as they grow older. So, when a situation comes up where an action leaves me at a loss for words, it’s truly a moment to remember. And when that moment occurs as it did during this past weekend, a weekend that was already full of life memories, it is truly special.
If you’ve read my blog, you know that we’re basketball fans. This past weekend, the Final Four for college basketball took place in North Texas (i.e. Dallas). One of my good friends has lived in Dallas for about 20 years so when I found out that the tournament would end there, I made arrangements to visit him and take part in the festivities. I decided to make this trip a big part of Cam’s Christmas gift from us last year, promising him that he would get to go to his first Final Four. As most 12 year old boys would be, he was beyond excited.
As March got closer on the calendar, our anticipation levels kept growing. When the tournament started a couple of weeks back, the thought that we would be in Dallas for the last weekend of games made me absolutely giddy. But I also had a nagging thought in the back of my mind that wouldn’t go away. It’s a thought that was not even on the radar when we started planning this trip a year ago. Logistically, how was I going feed Cam during that long Saturday of back to back games? Given all of the fan experience activities, commute to and from the stadium, back to back sixty minute games and inevitable traffic, we were looking at over ten hours of basketball excitement. Again, exciting but daunting.
As we have learned over these past seven months, pre-planning makes our lives so much easier when it comes to taking care of our Celiac teen. About a month ago, It was with these past experiences in mind that I pulled up the web site for AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys and this year’s Final Four. I wanted to start looking for gluten-free concessions. I planned on packing some safe snacks but I still wanted to find Cam something substantial to eat during our long day. If you are unfamiliar with AT&T Stadium, it is a monstrous place. (Note: The stadium really is phenomenal. I highly recommend visiting and taking a tour of it if you are in the Dallas area.) The games that we went to had a record 77,144 people in attendance. With it’s size and state-of-the-art facilities, I was sure that they would have some gluten-free options available. Looking on the site map, I was able to pull up the concession locations inside the stadium but didn’t find any that listed gluten-free offerings. As I continued to search, I found a way to contact the stadium food services provider and made a decision that changed this experience from being great to being mind-boggling. I made the decision to send an e-mail.
It was a simple message. Basically, all I did was ask in my e-mail if any of the concession areas in the stadium had gluten-free options. Since it was a general e-mail address, I didn’t have high expectations for a response but I was hoping to hear something before our scheduled trip (again, this was four weeks before we even set foot in Dallas). Boy, was I ever wrong. Within an hour, I received a return e-mail from the Director of Food Services for the stadium. He let me know that there were healthy stations positioned in various locations on the main concourse area that had gluten free sandwiches and several “farmer’s market” type stands that carried fruits and vegetables. I immediately thanked him for his quick response and asked him whether or not these sandwiches were prepared in a dedicated area to avoid cross-contamination (the ultimate evil). Again, a quick response was received that assured me that the sandwiches were prepared in a separate location. Sensing that I was a concerned parent, the director said that he would pass my information along to his assistant, Tina Griffith, and have her reach out to me to discuss any other concerns that I may have. I was extremely moved by his gesture and thanked him, figuring that the concession information that he provided to me was the extent of what they could offer and Tina’s e-mail address could be used as a reference with any other questions. Again, I misjudged.
Thirty minutes after this last e-mail, I received a call from a number that I didn’t recognize. My phone told me that the number was based out of Ft. Worth, Texas. Answering the call, I had the honor of speaking with Tina Griffith for the first time. Tina didn’t have to call me. An e-mail to introduce herself would have been above and beyond in my mind given the information that I had already received. But she did so much more. We discussed Cam’s condition and what challenges we are faced with when attending events such as the Final Four. Tina revealed that her daughter also has an auto-immune condition and, as a parent, she understood that all that I wanted to do was care for my son. Tina asked about Cam’s taste preferences and said that they could make him up a ham sandwich and have it waiting for us for when we arrived at the stadium. She even asked me where our seats were going to be located so she could have his meal delivered directly to us. This was the first time that I couldn’t find anything to say. Stumbling to find a response, I finally was able to thank Tina and let her know that this wouldn’t be necessary. She wouldn’t accept my refusal. She provided me her e-mail and work number to contact her once I found out where our seats would be located and we agreed that I could come and find her once we arrived in the stadium.
Tina’s actions could have stopped there and I would have been forever grateful. But what happened when Final Four weekend finally arrived will be forever remembered. I sent Tina an e-mail on the Friday before the games, letting her know our seat location and asking where would be the best place that I could meet her. I did not hear back from her but remembered that she did provide me with her phone number and that she had asked that I call her with any questions. On Saturday morning, I did just that. Tina answered my call, welcomed me to Dallas and asked what our plans were for the game. I told her our estimated arrival time and our tentative itinerary once we were there. She provided me with her cell phone number and asked that I call her when we were in the stadium and she would find us. I thanked her again (not knowing that when the day was over I would never be able to thank her enough). When my friend, Cam and I arrived at the stadium, we needed to pick up our tickets at will call. On our walk from the car to the will call booth, my phone rang. It was Tina. She was worried that she had given me a wrong cell phone number and called to provide me with the correct one to use. About an hour later, when we started our entry into the stadium, I received a text. It was Tina. She wanted to make sure that we were able to pick up our will call tickets and that our pre-game was going smoothly. Again, I was at a loss for words. Who does this? This is a lady that I had never met before. I had spoken with her once prior to this weekend and here she was, giving us the VIP treatment on a day that she had to be extremely busy with other things. I was in awe of her generosity. Generosity that was just beginning.
We arrived in our seats about an hour before the first game. Knowing that Tina was busy, I gave her a call and asked her where we could meet. She let me know that she would grab Cam’s “bag” and be in our section in ten minutes. Bag? This was only supposed to be a sandwich. How big did they make ham sandwiches in Texas? She called again when she arrived and we met in the concourse area behind our seats. Tina’s smile was bigger than the stadium itself. She greeted my friend and I and, most importantly, welcomed Cam. She opened an orange drawstring bag that contained Cam’s sandwich, doubly wrapped with a note written on the container saying “Do Not Touch. Gluten Free”. My concerns about cross-contamination were gone. But that wasn’t all. The bag also contained gluten-free sunflower seeds, two bananas, three oranges, a nectarine and a bag of cut carrots. All safe for Cam to snack on during the games. I think all I was able to muster was “wow”. We spoke for about three minutes (we could have spoken much more but again, she was a little busy). Reaching for my wallet, I asked her what I could provide her for this awesome amount of food and snacks. Tina flashed her Texas-sized smile again and said, “This one is on us”. I don’t remember what I said. I think that I rehashed the thank you to her that I had provided a multitude of times already but, honestly, I was just trying to say something to hold back my tears. Out of 77,00 people, Tina Griffith took the time and made sure that the game was special for one, single person. My 12 year old boy.
In the world that we live in today, we don’t take enough time to stop and be grateful for what we have. Blessings present themselves to us daily and, sadly, we often take them for granted. The ideas of customer service and providing the best customer experience is lost in the instant gratifications provided to us by the distractions of technology. The world needs more people like Tina Griffith. Someone who shows that giving is better than receiving. Someone who puts others concerns above her own. Someone who leaves you at a loss for words.