When I arrive at the rear of the aircraft, it’s there in 18-B, just as promised: “Romano-Wewsweek.” I will note that I was assigned to the second-to-last row, not the last. I will also note that there is no one assigned to the row behind me. The fewer obstacles between me and the toilet, the better. That’s what I always say.
There are, of course, several benefits to flying aboard MittAir. For starters, you can work in transit. Since I cover both parties, I try to hop from one candidate to the next as frequently as possible; that means I’ll typically travel by rental car, speeding across, say, South Carolina from stop to stop. It’s considerably easier, I’ve found, to blog aboard a plane—as I’m doing right now—than at the wheel of a Chevy Impala. Also, I can eat, which is nearly impossible when I’m in roadhog mode; by the time I conduct interviews, write a post, upload photos and program my GPS, the candidate’s caravan is already halfway to the next stop (with the chauffeured press corps happily tapping away in their seats). I’m usually reduced to slaloming around oblivious commuters at 90 mph while checking the rearview every three seconds or so for cops. Plus there's none of that "tray tables stowed and seatbacks in their upright and locked positions" baloney on a charter plane. No one even tells you to turn off your BlackBerry.
That said, paying $1,600 for the privilege of hopping from airplane hangar to airplane hangar to hear Romney repeat the same 20 minutes of “Washington is Broken” patter can get a little tiresome. When you’re part of the caravan, you’re stuck in the bubble. You only have a few minutes to talk to voters, which is typically my favorite part of the job. And when something actually happens—today, for example, a rival campaign is reportedly conducting robocalls that accuse Romney of planning to re-open relations with Fidel Castro, a big no-no in heavily Cuban South Florida—you only really see one side of the story. After the last rally, in Panama City, Romney state chairman Al Cardenes staged a hasty media avail to rebut the claims and all but accuse McCain of making the calls. The embeds swarmed and zipped dispatches back to their editors. But to be honest, I had a hard time grasping the bigger picture in the few seconds I had before reboarding the plane. And it's tough to learn more when you're connecting to the Internet through AT&T's glacial cellular network.
But I guess that’s not really the point. The folks from ABC, NBC, CBS, the New York Times and AP—young, hardy, skeptical types who, unlike me, go for weeks on the trail without returning home—are the eyes and ears of their news organizations, deployed to transmit the who, what, where, when and why back to their nerve centers in New York and D.C. You'll hear them say "What day is it today?" one moment, and gush about how they love the ins and out of a single campaign the next. Not sure I’d want to trade places with them—or that they’d want to trade with me.
Still, I’m enjoying the ride. And the enchiladas.