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It's Reunion Time

Posted By Kevin R. Johnson, Sep 24, 2009

I am excited to see our alumni this weekend at the upcoming King Hall reunion for the classes of '69, '74, '79, '84, '89, '94, '99, and '04.  (Reunion information here:  It's a timely coincidence that Professor Clay Tanaka recently had a column published in the Davis Enterprise about reuniting with old classmates.  Specifically, a family friend's classmate named Barry Obama.

Some class reunions bring extra tension
By Clay Tanaka for the Davis Enterprise
September 23, 2009

It wasn't even a boast, more like a mere comment.  But like all such things, the statement, intended to be quickly forgotten, eventually took a life of its own.

The story, like all good tales, actually starts many years ago, when my little sister, Babs, was in college.  One of her first, and best friends, was Bobbie Kam (Bobbie's real surname was shortened to 'Kam' since no one from the mainland could pronounce it).  Bobbie was a short, slightly round, native Hawaiian, always full of fun and good cheer. Bobbie Kam never attempted to lose her Hawaiian 'pidgin' English she acquired growing up and perfected at Punahou High School.  She was always modest and usually was never prone to hyperbole.

Even after Babs and Bobbie Kam graduated from college, they remained close and communicated often. Bobbie eventually returned home and began a career with United Airlines back in Honolulu.  She started out as a cargo handler and because of her industrious nature and personality, quickly rose to a supervisory position.

Sometime in late 2005, Bobbie noticed that one of her high school classmates, who had gone on to become a United States senator, was being considered as the Democratic candidate for president of the United States.  Naturally, one day at lunch with some co-workers, Bobbie Kam casually mentioned, 'Barry and I, we tight Brah,' 'We da-kine, Ohana li-dat' (translation: I know Barry, we were close friends in high school.)  Sometimes, things you say, without considering the consequences, are unfortunately remembered by your friends forever.

Fast-forward to December 2008, Barack H. Obama, is the president-elect of the United States.  Literally everyone in the islands is delighted that the favorite son is returning home... well, almost everyone.  Bobbie Kam is besieged with phone call, e-mails and personal requests that 'since she knows the president, can she introduce (me, my kids, my husband, my cousin, my dog, etc.).'

It occurs to Bobbie, in no short order, that perhaps 'Barry' won't remember her.  After all, who was she in high school... just another person in a sea of Hawaiian faces.  When Bobbie attempts to extricate herself from this potential mess, the 'Bobbie/Barry story' begins to expand exponentially.

Bobbie's supervisor informs her that since 'she is best friends with the president and a United Airlines supervisor' she should be the first to greet the president's plane at the United Airlines' dignitary gate.

'Oh boy, why in the name of all good sense did I open my mouth,' thinks Bobbie.  Bobbie considers a multitude of options: moving, quitting her job, calling in sick, committing a felony in order to be incarcerated, etc.

Undaunted, on the big day, United Airlines positions Bobbie at the head of the dignitary line to greet the new president.  The cliché 'sweating bullets' is not inappropriate for poor Bobbie.  After considering the many options, Bobbie decides to simply accept her fate, and hopes that at best, President Obama will be quickly whisked by the greeting crowd and Bobbie's moment of shame will pass, soon to be forgotten.

The president's plane lands and he exits with his family, making an unfortunate excruciatingly slow walk, shaking hands and waving to all the well-wishers.  Bobbie, hoping to become invisible or to shrink to microscopic size, begins to hyperventilate, 'Good lord, what am I going to do... oh no, the president is turning my way.'

Barry Obama, Punahou High School classmate, Harvard law graduate, United States senator, president-elect, and genuine dude, looks right at her and immediately smiles and declares 'Bobbie Kam, how are you?!  It's great to see you... I want you to meet my wife, Michelle.'

If you listened hard enough, you could hear the Hallelujah chorus.  I doubt that Bobbie's feet were touching the ground.  To say that President Obama was the star of the day overlooks the pride Bobbie's friends and co-workers felt for this kind and humble lady.

Politics aside, say what you will, Barry Obama is a good friend, someone who knows that remembering where you came from is often just as important as where you are going.

About the author: Clay Tanaka, his wife Chris, and his daughter Kiki are longtime Davis residents.  Son Kenny is off to college at S.F. State.  Clay is a professor at UC Davis School of Law and a part-time chauffeur, golfer and plumber.