That time I flew with Rod Blagojevich on his way to federal prison in Colorado

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich talks to media the airport in Chicago. ( Special to the Post | Joshua Berman)

With Rod Blagojevich on the plane from Chicago to Denver — and a federal prison

By Joshua Berman
Special to the Denver Post

 This morning I shared an American Eagle commuter flight from Chicago to Denver with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

He was not coming for the spring skiing.

Blagojevich was, in fact, traveling to Colorado to serve 14 years in a minimum-security federal penitentiary in Littleton after being found guilty last year of numerous counts of corruption. He begins his sentence today.

Inside Chicago’s O-Hare Airport, Blagojevich caused quite a stir when he emerged from security and sat down to put his shoes back on. He stood up, wearing a sport jacket, his signature coif bobbing slowly through a growing crowd of local media and fellow travelers, all with upraised cameras.

Joshua Berman

Joshua Berman (THE DENVER POST | Cyrus McCrimmon)

The ex-governor interrupted his cross-country perp walk to pose with anyone who wanted a photo. Most Chicagoans fondly wished him well, and he smiled warmly and told them, “Thank you, thank you.”

He did not wear handcuffs or any other restraints and was accompanied by a couple of Chicago police officers and a couple of plainclothes “companions.” Then he got on board and the rest of us followed.

It was a small plane without business class, and I took my assigned seat two rows in front of him, coincidentally ending up in the middle of the Chicago press corps.

The captain had announced earlier that filming on board was prohibited without American Airlines corporate approval, but 15 minutes into the flight, there were four cameras out, shooting inflight B-roll of the governor, so I snapped a few shots as well.

Suddenly, the flight attendant, a small wiry woman, came rushing down the aisle and laid into us about the no-filming rule.

“Don’t make me come back here again!” she said, treating us like middle school students. “Do we understand each other?”

I could see the Channel 2 guys biting their cheeks to keep from laughing.

“I said, ‘Do we understand each other?!’ ”

“Yes, ma’am,” they answered, and then giggled when she turned around.

Former Illinois Rod Blagojevich on the airplane from Chicago to Denver.

Former Illinois Rod Blagojevich on the airplane from Chicago to Denver. ( Special to the Post | Joshua Berman)

The ex-governor turned to the reporters. I thought he was also going to read them the riot act but instead he said good-naturedly, “So you guys staying with me all day or what?”

They laughed and told him they had teams waiting in Denver and they had no idea what was kind of circus it was going to be. Blagojevich was obviously used to being mobbed and filmed wherever he went. Every step of his journey from his Chicago doorstep in the dark of night to his new home in Littleton, he was scrutinized and recorded on all the major networks.

I tried to settle in and read, but instead I found myself eavesdropping and stealing glances at a man who this morning said goodbye to his family for 14 years.

“My heart goes out to you,” said the Fox News cameraman. “I have two kids also and can’t even imagine.”

“Yeah? How old are your kids?” said Blagojevich.

They chitchatted about families and Chicago neighborhoods, as if they were just two random travelers.

“Do you ski?” asked the cameramen, a little cruelly, I thought.

“Patti introduced me to it,” Blagojevich said, and then explained that he never had time to get into it.

“It’s expensive, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said the cameraman, “I’m not sure how much lift tickets are these days.”

I couldn’t resist. I turned around and chimed in.

“It’s up to $116 for a day in Vail,” I said, making eye contact with the man who’d been convicted of trying to sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

He nodded thoughtfully, then as we began our descent, he turned and watched the approaching mountains through the airplane window.

Welcome to Colorado, Governor. Have a very nice stay.

Joshua Berman is an Out West columnist for the Denver Post. This article originally appeared in The Denver Post on 15 March, 2012.

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