The Care, Feeding, and Habitat of the Traveling Press

Editor’s note: For two days this week, Campaign Desk’s Liz Cox Barrett joined Senator John Edwards’ traveling press corps as they accompanied the vice presidential candidate by plane and bus from New York City to Pittsburgh to New Jersey to West Virginia to Washington, D.C. Here is her second report.

Needier than NASCAR drivers, but, mercifully, lower maintenance than NBA stars.

This is how Cookie, one of two flight attendants serving the press corps on the Edwards campaign plane this week, described her charges. In its normal life, the Champion Air B727-200 that the Kerry-Edwards campaign has hired and decorated with its “Real Deal” logo shuttles professional and college athletes to and from games, and transports tourists to destinations like Cancun and Cozumel.

“NASCAR guys are easiest,” Cookie said, as she fingered the collection of network news pins that decorated her navy Champion Air vest. “They’re just pizza and beer guys.” The NBA players? “They’re kind of spoiled” and extremely hungry, Cookie said, often requiring two meals in a sitting. Cookie declined to dish on the behavioral shortcomings of the dozen or so reporters — representing all five television networks and newspapers ranging from the New York Times and Washington Post to the Charlotte Observer and Dallas Morning News — seated in the rear section of the 54-person capacity charter plane. (Senator Edwards and staff sit in first class, Secret Service in business class, and press in economy). “They’ve been real nice and fun,” she said, despite the fact that they are not served alcohol on any of the flights. (Cookie’s colleague, Elaine, who has been on the campaign trail far longer than Cookie, was even more circumspect when asked whether the press was high- or low-maintenance. “What are you doing when you write this stuff down?” she asked.)

From “wheels up” to “wheels down,” Cookie and Elaine cruised up and down the seven-row aisle offering an impressive selection of victuals. During a lunchtime flight from Pittsburgh to Newark, New Jersey on Tuesday, Elaine first presented a pungent platter of cold crab legs and boiled shrimp while Cookie trailed with a container of cocktail sauce. Before the Washington Post’s Matthew Mosk had finished chewing a shrimp, along came Elaine with an elaborate tray of sandwiches. Cookie soon reappeared with, appropriately, a long plate of cookies (“I skipped the cheese and veggie course,” she explained, “because these are better.”). Elaine then swept down the aisle with a tub of candy bars rivaling the selection of any good newsstand. And Cookie made the final food offering of the day, a gum basket, which was also presented to the Secret Service one section up. Soon the scent of Big Red (popular with the Secret Service) overtook the lingering seafood odor.

As Cookie and Elaine moved efficiently up and down the aisle, fetching a reporter’s balled-up napkin here and empty Diet Coke can there, the press corps’ decor fluttered in their wake. (Reporters have papered the overhead luggage bins with postcards from the states they have visited to date: “HI Y’ALL From South Carolina!”; “YES! There really is a Kalamazoo!” “Wisconsin UBETCHA I visited America’s Dairyland”; and, most recently, “In New Jersey there’s a Legend …”

After “wheels down” in Newark on Tuesday, Cookie gave reporters a perky “see you tomorrow morning” as they filed off the plane. And she offered Campaign Desk a bit of heartfelt advice: “Don’t ever bother eating off the plane.”

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.