We fell in line before 8 a.m. with hopes to meet the tan man with the tall white hair. Years of watching television told us to go in bold colors for this taping of The Price Is Right and a hokey but genuine saying for Bob Barker. "Childhood Dreams Do Come True" read our neon green T-shirts with iron-on, velvet pink letters.
Barker had recently announced his impending retirement, and the five-hour-long row of folks that swooped around the show's southern California locale, The Grove, teemed with talk about what people would say to Barker if given the chance. There were thank yous and I love yous and proclamations about pets. I felt confident I could wing it; after all, earlier in the week, I'd introduced myself to Delbert, my estranged grandfather.
My cousin and I, both North Carolina natives, had decided to seek him out after she'd moved west for an internship. Delbert lived in a quiet, tree-lined outpost at the foot of Mount Hood. During our three-hour drive to see him, we planned what we might ask, knowing little about him beyond our grandmother's seldom tales. This was Delbert of the greyhounds and gamecocks, an excellent better who never missed a race or fight. "But you can't ask him about fighting cocks on our first visit, can you?" my cousin chided.
Delbert was tall with blue eyes like ours. He had a gentle voice that made him more suited for a dog at his feet than at sport on a track. But he still loved a game, so we settled into poker at his kitchen table with a brown bag of popcorn and a slew of questions—from how to play a round to how we'd lived our lives. Conversation came easy.
The evening recalled days spent at my grandmother's apartment, where a deck of cards meant Go Fish paired with ice cream and cobbler. From her TV came The Price Is Right, featuring Plinko and Hole in One ... or Two, the putt-putt game in which Bob Barker gave players an extra chance to win. Bob seemed generous like that, and my grandmother adored him. When my cousin and I went west in search of family, it felt only right that we try to meet him, too.
But back in Los Angeles, the hurdle lay in a group interview led by a perky CBS page. "Emily, what do you like to do?" he asked, making his way down a line. I had no idea. "Sometimes I paint," I managed.
"Next," he interrupted, moving on to my cousin. Her words flew forth at the pitch and speed of a tape on fast forward. There were mentions of work and Seattle. The page slid to someone else, and we were scooted into the studio. Inside, people jumped by their plush red chairs and clapped and hollered though nothing was happening. The giant wheel stood still on center stage. Contestant Row was empty, and Bob was nowhere yet to be seen. I sank into my seat and glanced at my cousin.
"I hope my name's not called," she confided.
Primary colors blazed on the set as if we'd sat inside a rainbow. It was more of a dizzying nightmare than the dream for which we'd hoped. I preferred the quiet of my grandfather's kitchen.
When the show began, I hopped to my feet and waved my arms above my head, hoping he would see.
The Price Is Right comes to Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium Tuesday, Oct. 23. Bob Barker retired in 2007.