Canzano: There's always something to see
All you have to do is look.
My old friend Robert Hatchett had a brown Chevrolet truck. He drove it every day to his job working as a valet in the parking garage on the corner of SW Jefferson Street and Fifth Ave in downtown Portland.
I’d pull into the three-level garage.
Hatchett’s truck would already be parked in the first stall, sparkling clean. When it was slow, you’d find Robert with a cloth rag in his hand, polishing the fender or running his fingertips over the hood.
“You watch,” he’d tell me on Trail Blazers game days, “they’re going to win tonight.”
Hatchett spent 31 years working in that garage. He beat cancer and never complained. Nobody who parked there knew the valet had endured a painful abdominal surgery. Not until someone saw him sitting down one day and asked, “What’s with the stool Robert?”
He pointed to his stomach.
Then, a few of us regulars gathered around him, listening, while he explained, “I’ve been through some stuff. Three surgeries. I’ve lost a lot of weight.”
Robert grew up in Louisiana, rooting for New Orleans sports teams. He joined the Navy, becoming a Petty Officer, Class E-4. Hatchett pulled into a Portland shipyard decades ago, peered out at the skyline of the city from the deck of the ship, and decided that he was home.
Not long after, he met his wife, Dorothy.
Said Robert: “She was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
They had a son. Then came grandchildren, including a grandson named Taurus. Robert adored the kid. I know because I slipped Robert a pair of tickets to a late-season Blazers-Lakers game once. He rushed to the telephone to call Dorothy.
“I’m going to surprise Taurus,” he said.
That season was going nowhere. Fans were tuned out. The Blazers were already eliminated from contention. But to Robert and his grandson, the event might as well have been Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
When the arena opened, they were among the first through the doors. I wandered over to their seats in Section 121 during warm-ups and snapped a photo of the grandfather sitting with his grandson. I shook the kid’s hand. Then, Robert turned to his grandson and introduced me.
“This is John,” he said. “He’s my friend.”
I think about Robert every February. He loved the NBA trade deadline. He was perpetually hopeful and came away from every transaction believing his team got a little better. In Robert’s eyes, the Blazers were always just a couple of good moves away from contending again.
“You can't abandon your team now,” he’d say. “Not when they're losin’. Not ever, really.”
I was especially happy for my friend late in 2015. Robert, 65, announced: “I’m retiring at the end of the year.” We talked for a while in the garage about his decision. He’d spend more time with his family. He’d focus on his health. There was a trip to Louisiana planned, too.
I brought Robert a retirement card on his final day of work. I put my phone number in it. I told him to call me, we’d get lunch. I shook his hand and wished him well.
Six weeks later, Robert died.
He was buried in February of 2016. The church service started at 11 a.m., just an hour before the NBA’s trade deadline that season.
I keep thinking about my old friend. He was a good man who lived a good life. He loved his family, served his country, and made the world a little better every day. And that game he attended with his grandson was a treat.
Not just for a first grader and his grandfather, but for me, too.
From across the way, I watched the two of them eat, laugh and talk. I was very close with my grandpa as well. He used to surprise me with San Francisco Giants tickets. We drove to Candlestick Park to see a day game a couple times when I was a kid. I suppose I saw some of my own relationship in Robert and Taurus that evening.
The Blazers lost. Kobe Bryant scored 47 points. Portland was on its way to a 33-49 record that season. It was a mess, right? Meaningless game, right? Except, all I really remember from that night were two unforgettable smiles.
I talked with Robert and his grandson for a few minutes before tip. Then, I left them alone. As I walked off, I heard the grandfather lean in to the first grader beside him and explain: “There’s a lot to see here. All you gotta do is look.”
Ain’t it the truth.
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Damn it John.........ok, I'm done tearing up now. But......isn't this story what sports are really about and what they can do? Thanks for the reminder....especially after this year's trade deadline. Perspective correction accepted.
I had friends that worked as bellman/valet's at a couple of hotels downtown in the late 90's. I was with them in that garage on a day that I will always remember. It had an old fashioned elevator with exposed scissor style doors. That elevator stopped between floor and we were stuck. That was until a nice man slipped us a Leatherman and a screwdriver. We MacGuyvered our way out. We thanked him, returned the tools and he chuckled at the way we shimmied out of that old elevator. I never forgot that man, and until today I didn't know who he was.
I can't believe how big and how small this world is.
Thank you John.