Betty White is a national treasure.
My 16-year-old daughter has loved Betty ever since she stole “The Proposal” from Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Thanks to that movie, a whole new generation fell in love with the sweet and salty persona that have made her America’s grandmother.
As a child of the 1960s, I was already a fan. Betty White has been a TV presence since the beginning of commercial television. I grew up watching her on Password and the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and then as a young adult, enjoyed her turn on The Golden Girls. I even got to witness her work ethic, humor and grace first-hand during the 1980s when I worked at the Tonight Show. (The words “We booked Betty White for the sketch” would bring a smile to the jaded faces of the staff and crew – we all knew that for at least one night, the jokes would hit their mark and our boss would be happy. Which made all of us happy, too.)
But I was as surprised as you were when Ms. White became an icon for our nation’s youth.
My daughter keeps a list of celebrities she has come in contact with (after all, this is Los Angeles!) and ones she’d like to meet. Betty White was at the top of the latter.
On Friday, I received an email from the Grove shopping center, notifying me that Betty White would be signing her photo book, “My Life at the Zoo,” at the Barnes and Noble there. When I mentioned it to Megan, she begged me to take her — even though this is her finals week and it would cut into her study time. She assured me it was all under control.
“I really want to meet her,” she said.
What could I say? After all, it’s Chanukah.
Great Customer Service at Barnes and Noble for The Betty White Book Signing
So yesterday morning, I pulled up the email and followed the “more information” link to get the details (i.e., what time to be there). That’s when I learned that this would be a wristbanded event, and that wristbands were being distributed at 9:00 AM.
It was already 11:00. Could they have given out all the wristbands already? And even if I wanted to, did it make sense to drive to the Grove twice in one day?
So I called the store. I explained the situation: that my daughter was a huge Betty White fan, but we live way out in the Valley and she doesn’t finish school until 3:00 and it would take us at least an hour to get there. Would there even be wristbands left by then?
“Probably not,” the sales associate said. “But let me check with the event staff.”
She put me on hold for what seemed like just a second. “Given your situation, they’ll put a couple of wristbands aside for you.”
I don’t know what that says about the world we live in, but the fact that she asked, that she didn’t just end the call, that she was able to solve my simple problem with a simple solution — well, it made my heart soar. Granted, we aren’t talking about an author of Mick Jagger or Martha Stewart celebrity — but it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced customer service like this. Kudos to Barnes and Noble at The Grove.
They didn’t even ask me to pre-purchase Betty White’s book. But since I was going to have to do so anyway, we finished the sale over the phone. The woman assured me that the book and wristband would be waiting for us that afternoon behind the checkout stand.
“Did you get the name of the store employee you talked to?” my husband asked.
No. I figured her shift would be over by the time we got there, so what’s the point?
“Don’t be surprised if it’s not there,” he said.
The Book Signing
I spent much of yesterday preparing for our trip to The Grove. I packed up her laptop, just in case she needed it to study for her exams. I figured we would leave immediately after school and make use of the wi-fi in the bookstore’s cafe. And since her camera takes nicer pictures than mine, I charged it up for her. The store said that photos would be allowed from behind the rope line. I wanted to get one.
The associate I spoke with that morning was good as gold: our book and wristband were indeed waiting for us. I asked when we needed to get in the line.
“You should be back by 6:00. She’s really popular.”
Megan did not need the laptop or cafe wi-fi to study for her exam in calculus, so we grabbed an early dinner at one of the center’s restaurants and got back in plenty of time for the line. Her wristband displayed a large “C,” so we were directed to wait with the rest of that group on the store’s second level.
There was also an “A,” “B” and “D” group, as well as a stand-by line, who were told they would get a chance to meet the star if she was up to staying past the allotted time.
The folks there ranged in age from quite elderly people on down to young hipsters with assorted tattoos and piercings. I sat beside a woman who runs a business selling animal portraits in the style of Leonardo da Vinci. She had brought one to give the famed animal lover. It did look amazingly like something da Vinci might have sketched.
By 7:00, the store was pretty crowded with Christmas shoppers as well as Betty fans. The actual book signing was taking place on the level above ours. This particular Barnes and Noble holds celebrity book signing events ALL THE TIME and so I should not have been surprised at how efficient they are at it. It only took a half hour to get to the head of the line.
And there she was. We had been told that she would not personalize any of the autographs, but that did not equate to her being unfriendly. You could hear that recognizable voice as she greeted each and every person who had waited to see her. She looked exactly the way she looks on television (which means she looks pretty damned great — hard to believe she’s turning 91 years old).
I moved to the area behind the rope line. I wanted to get a shot of her signing Megan’s book. And since their encounter took a total of about 30 seconds, I needed to do it fast.
But I had never used her camera before. I did not get the camera on until their encounter was finished and then I could not locate the zoom. And so when push came to shove, I could not even snap a picture.
That’s because I somehow managed to set the camera on video mode. So I unknowingly shot this (including my disappointed exclamations that I didn’t get the shot):
So I don’t get any prizes for photojournalism on this one. But I did get to drive home with one very satisfied teenager, who got to meet one of her favorite celebrities and even has something to show for it.
And she got an A on that calculus final.
Nothing to disclose on this one! No money or product was awarded me in exchange for this post.