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Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2003 / 5 Teves, 5764

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Flying high with Howard Dean

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | ABOARD THE DEAN PLANE — We are high above the frozen farmland of the Midwest when Dawn asks me what I want for breakfast the next day.

Dawn is the flight attendant on Howard Dean's campaign plane, a 16-seat Gulfstream, which is far too luxurious for the former Vermont governor who wears the same suit day after day and admits that he lets his clothes "ferment" in his closet before putting them on.

The plane has green leather seats, wood paneling, a couch and a carpeted floor. It also has Dawn, who is unfailingly helpful, cheerful and pleasant — in other words unlike most of the flight attendants one finds on commercial flights these days. (Where do they get these commercial flight attendants? In prison? And, if so, do they come from the guard or prisoner populations?)

"What would you like for breakfast tomorrow?" Dawn asks me again.

I am flummoxed. A chocolate doughnut and a Pepsi is what I want to ask for, but I am too embarrassed to tell this to Dawn for fear she will think less of me.

What kind of person has a doughnut and Pepsi for breakfast? I can hear my mother ask.

Me! I always shouted back.

Ha! she would say. Who are you?

Good question. Probably only one presidential candidate in history had doughnuts for his breakfast — and for his lunch and dinner — and that was John McCain, the last candidate who also spent virtually all his time with reporters.

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He would climb on his campaign bus, walk to the back where the reporters eagerly waited and spend the next 12 hours or so with them. No candidate does this today. They spend their time in the front of the bus or the front of the plane with their staffs.

I once asked McCain why he spent all his time with reporters instead of his staffers.

"I like reporters," he said.

(And now you know why he never became president.)

Howard Dean's Gulfstream is too small to allow much separation between the press and him. There are no separate compartments. He sits in the first row up front, facing backwards so he can easily see all the reporters sitting just two rows away from him.

Even though there are no Secret Service agents yet to shoot us if we get too near the candidate, by unwritten law no reporter approaches Dean on his plane without asking the press secretary first, even though Dean is approximately six feet away from us and there are more reporters than staff and we could easily rush him.

Dean occasionally comes back and chats with reporters — he even plays Oh Hell with them, a card game apparently chosen because few people besides him understand the rules — he does hold press availabilities on the ground and he gives one-on-one interviews. So the press doesn't really complain if he wants to sit up there on his plane and read newspapers and talk to his staff and think great thoughts.

Besides, we have Dawn. Who is waiting patiently for my breakfast order.

"I'll have what the others are having," I mumble to her.

"But you can have anything," she says.

I draw a blank. I panic. I try to think of something breakfasty that will impress Dawn.

"Uh, eggs?" I say.

"Sure," she says. "How do you want them?"

I should never have said eggs! Now I have to answer more questions. I should have said kippers or gruel.

"Uh, how can I get the eggs?" I ask. Duh. What an idiotic question. Dawn must think I am a fool.

"Well, you can have them anyway you want," she says. "Scrambled?"

I try to redeem myself. "An omelet!" I say. "I'll have an omelet." Ha! That ought to impress her.

"Sure," she says. "What kind?"

Oh, lord. What have I gotten myself into?

"Uh, with cheese," I say. I think I saw a person eat a cheese omelet in a restaurant once and it looked very exotic.

"Fine," Dawn says. "Anything else in the omelet?"

You can have more than one thing in an omelet? Who knew? This must be how the other half lives.

"Uh, just cheese," I say.

"Great," she says. "Now — what do you want for lunch?"

Maybe next time I'll just stick with the doughnuts.

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