In 1984 I got to have lunch with this fascinating person in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.
As an added treat, Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neil, was eating at the table next to us, and our host kindly walked us over to meet him.
Today, our airport, Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International, is named after our gracious host.
Mineta has been a public servant for much of his life, and at no time was his service more important than during the attacks on 9/11, when he served as Secretary of Transportation, and gave the unprecedented order to ground all commercial flights (4,546 in total) for the first time in U.S. history.
When the FAA acting deputy administrator said that he would bring them down at the pilots’ discretion, Mineta replied, “Get those goddamn planes down!”
Of the many topics we discussed during our visit with Mr. Mineta, I remember only one: My dad proudly sharing that I enjoyed illustrating people. Subsequently, Mineta’s chief of staff asked if I would be willing to illustrate a small portrait of the Representative for an impending fundraiser. I nervously agreed.
How could I say no to someone who dedicated his life to public service, despite having a history which included Japanese Internment Camps?
Two months later, a handful of fundraising invitations arrived in the mail with my illustration on the cover. The inside panel read: Cover illustration done by Rigo Chacon, Jr., San Jose, California.
I am not sharing this for self-praise; I‘m sharing this because occasionally I have an overwhelming feeling of appreciation for the places I’ve been blessed to visit, and the people I’ve been privileged to meet.
After days of sightseeing, a few places stand out: the Vietnam Memorial, Mt. Vernon, and having lunch and touring the grounds with Mr. Mineta — including being able to stand where the President delivers the State of the Union.
During our flight home from D.C., while I reminisced about the trip, I remember listening to the Neil Diamond & Barbra Streisand classic “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” It reminded me of the City’s celebrated cherry blossoms, which are gone almost as soon as they arrive.
And it also reminded me of a trip that was short on days, but thanks to Mr. Mineta, long on memory.