In the Spotlight

News & Features
Reporter's Notebook - November 2, 1999
By Martin Kaste
Part of MPR Online's "Jesse in Japan" coverage

Somewhere over the Bering Strait

THE OTHER PASSENGERS on this plane can't believe how many of us there are. By "us" I mean the media, the "Rats in the Basement," the 18 political reporters and cameramen (at last count) who have boarded this particular 747 solely because it contains a big guy who'd rather not talk to us, if it can be helped. He's up there in Business Class right now, safely out of sight behind the curtain, and the only real evidence we have that he's on the plane at all is the presence of his spokesman, his security detail, and at least one commissioner, all sitting back here in frugal Coach with us.

(One Ventura staffer feels compelled to tell us that they have a "note from the doctor" to justify the governor's Business Class accommodations. None of us asked. I doubt any one of us would begrudge him his Business Class seat. After all, he's the governor - and a big man with a bad back, to boot. The fact that his staff seems worried we'd make a stink over something like that reveals just how petty our relationship with the governor has become. In both directions.)

Anyway, the other passengers can't believe this many of us are crossing the Pacific with Ventura. A flight attendant asks me, "Is this what your job is? You just follow him around and wait for him to say something?" I want to say, "No, of course not, there's a lot more to it than that." But I look around at my 17 colleagues, dozing or eating or madly massaging their temples to stave off the onset of Asiatic jetlag, and I have to admit, "Yeah, that's about it."

During a recent speech in St Paul, the governor stopped in the middle of a self-deprecating comment and glowered at us, the "Rats in the Basement," standing in our usual pack off to the side of the stage. We paused in our note-taking and glowered back.

"Look at 'em, writing it all down. 'Oh boy, he's in trouble now,' they're saying."

He looked at us a moment longer, and then turned back to the audience. "They're expecting me to make a big blunder in Japan," he said (approximately - I was too transfixed to write this part down). "They expect me to say something crazy around the polite Japanese. But they're going to be disappointed. I'm going to be good."

We'll see, governor.