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.