On my many business trips across the United States, I had both the pleasure and misfortune to meet many famous people along the way. Some were surprisingly nice, different than their public persona. This included both Robert Duvall and Don Rickles. Some were a big disappointment, like George Burns, and Richard Chamberlain. Some were best avoided, for the big crowds they drew, like John Belushi, Jerry Garcia, and Linda Evans. But the most interesting encounters were with Muhammed Ali and George H.W. Bush.
An interesting thing about meeting famous people is that generally, I don’t realize who they are because they do not look like their photos or TV appearances. In Robert Duvall’s case, I did not know it was him until the Flight Attendant mentioned something to me after we landed. We talked for most of the 5 hour flight from SFO to Washington DC Dulles. He just introduced himself as Bob, and we talked about ordinary things like sports, politics, and families.
There are some people that I would still like to talk to or meet. They include: Elvis (is he still alive?), Jimmy Carter, Senator Daniel Inouye, Tiger Woods, Bob Costas, and Chelsea Handler.
I was in Miami Beach at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel for a convention of the American Public Health Association. I was also looking forward to meeting up with several classmates from grad school, like my friend, Ken, the future Surgeon General of the U.S. While the meetings were informative, we enjoyed the many amenities of the hotel, like their spa, tennis courts, beachside cabanas, and huge pool. And the many night spots and restaurants on Miami Beach. Most nights we ended up at a club called the Largo. Our best meal was at the original location of Joe’s Stone Crabs.
After sneaking out early one morning for some tennis, I was walking back through the lobby, covered in perspiration from the heavy fall humidity of Miami. As I walked through the lobby, I see a good looking, muscular man approach me in gray, sweat covered sweats clothes. When he got closer, he thought he knew me, I think. Our eyes met, and we exchanged greetings. We talked about the hotel amenities, such as where to work out and to jog. I asked if he wanted to play tennis, but he politely declined.
As people walked by, they stared at us in disbelief. After about 15 minutes of small talk, and toweling off together, I realized it was The Man, himself. He was not as tall as I expected, but he was a good looking guy, with a “pretty face” as he used to say in TV interviews with Howard Cosell. He said Howie was a pussycat, and their TV stuff was all a show.
I started asking about his workouts, and if he planned to box again. His voice grew quiet, and he said he was working out again to make a comeback once his court case was settled. The guys I hung out with at the meeting did not believe me!!!! They gave me all the old clichés, like you think us black guys look the same, etc. So, I set out to prove them wrong. However, he was not registered under his name or his former name. It will be a memory that is completely mine.
The meeting with GHWB 41 was much different. I ran into him at the ATT Golf Tournament at Pebble Beach a few years after his Presidency. He was a favorite of my son, so we decided to ask him for an autograph. It became much more shortly. He started talking to us with three Secret Service men around us. They told us we could not get closer than 3 feet to him.
As we continued talking, more people began to recognize him, and started encircling him. The 3 SS men formed a ring around him, and repeated the order, two at a time, no close than 3 feet!!!!! Why we got to stay near was curious to us. Then it came to me. He asked to borrow my son’s pen (a black Sharpie) to sign autographs. So, they placed us just next to and behind #41, as he continued talking to us, and signed another hundred or so autographs. When he tried to return the pen, we told him to keep it. Talk about grateful, you would think we just handed him 100 electoral votes.
Even though I really did not agree with his politics, he turned out to be one of the nicest people we have ever met. He asked about both of us, such as where we lived. He knew we were Japanese, and that we were lifelong Californians. And most of all, he knew we loved golf as much as he did. By the way, Dan Quayle walked by, and nobody paid attention to him.
What did they have in common? They spoke directly to me, made good eye contact, and did not seem impressed by their place in the universe. They talked to me about ordinary things. They did not try to impress me or my son. Both were dressed in an ordinary way. Both knew how to smile and turn on the charm when they met people.
There were plenty of others who I met, such as Willie Mays, Chris Evert, Dan Rather, David Brinkley, Pancho Gonzalez, Richard Chamberlain, Hubert Humphrey, Kirk Douglas, and Tip O’Neill. But none compared to Ali and #41.