Flying Commercial

On May 6, 1982, Donna was on United Airlines flight 911 [ironic flight number] from New York to Chicago’s O’Hare Field after her grandfather’s funeral.  In those days, anyone could wander out to the arrival gate – to welcome friends and loved ones. So I parked in the lot and hoofed out to the gate.  The flight was due to arrive at 10:09 pm but was running late. It finally arrived at 10:40 pm.

Waiting in the gate area, I noticed a few “suits” standing around. Whispering into little walkie talkies. I figured they were there to make sure I didn’t get rambunctious when I saw Donna. The plane docked.  The walkway door opened and people began streaming out. And then there was Donna. . . .

She came up to me and said “you won’t believe who’s on the flight.” I said “Donald Trump?” [just kidding].  And she said “No – Gerald Ford.” And indeed as we started walking toward the baggage claim, I looked back and out from the gangway popped the 38th President of the United States. Surrounded by a fast-walking security “diamond” of Secret Service.   Well. . . .

Some of you know of my interest in autographs and manuscripts so I asked Donna for her ticket. And I slowed down – positioning myself to be in the center of the security diamond as it advanced.   Suddenly I was caught up on the edge of the diamond.  I was one Agent away from number 38.  “Mister President” I offered.  “May I have your autograph?”  He had papers under his arm and he responded “kinda tough with my arms full” – and I handed him my ticket and a pen.  He slowed, put the ticket on his papers, scribbled his name and I exited the “diamond.”  Zing!

I remember the story of Harry and Bess Truman.  When they left the White House, they took a train back to Independence, MO.  And the two lived on Harry’s $112.56 per month Army pension.  Without Secret Service protection.  I am keenly aware that we’re in a different world.  But it would sure be nice if our current leaders – and their spouses – could be safe.  And economical.  Taking the train like Harry.  Or flying commercial like Jerry.       

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