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Rod's Last Ride: Blagojevich takes flight to Colorado

Thursday, March 15, 2012
An SUV carrying Rod Blagojevich travels a Colorado highway en route to federal prison. An SUV carrying Rod Blagojevich travels past the entrance to the federal prison where he will serve his sentence. Blagojevich on the plane to Colorado. Blagojevich takes pictures at OHare Blagojevich plane leaves OHare gate

The road to prison may have been first class, lined with starlets and a fortune in scams and schemes, but the flight to prison was anything but First Class for Rod Blagojevich.

The ex-Illinois governor's departure from Illinois, on what will likely be his final plane ride for more than a decade, was in coach. The back of the plane. Three rows from the rear bathroom.

Blagojevich drew 16-D. He was seated next to two of his attorneys and me.

The lawyers, who couldn't keep him out of this predicament, Aaron Goldstein and Shelly Sorosky, are in 16 C and B.

I am in 16 A, merely an observer of this continental odyssey with the emphasis on odd.

Referring to me being one of his three seat mates on the flight to prison, Blagojevich pronounced: "Politics make strange bedfellows."

Mr. Blagojevich, dressed in a black golf shirt and jeans, has the right side window seat. As the commuter jet began to roll down the runway to the west, he peered outside. While the state he once ran disappeared beneath O'Hare's morning haze, Blagojevich nervously fidgeted with his nose and mouth and occasionally closed his eyes.

At our cruising altitude though he quickly resumed an almost non-stop chatter with his seat mates and other passengers. The subjects were mostly light and good natured-from pro sports to movies.

Once, while discussing the future of NFL superstar quarterback Peyton Manning, Blagojevich joked, "Maybe he'll join me in Denver."

The Denver Broncos are one of the franchises Manning is reportedly considering, but they are not a prison team, which is the only place Illinois' fallen governor might be joined.

He had brought a single book along for the ride but didn't crack it open. The book was "King David," and Blagojevich seemed to take homage in comparing their predicaments.

As you might expect, there was some gallows humor, even though Blagojevich is not serving a death sentence. When the flight attendant reprimanded ABC7 crack cameraman Pat Keating for taking some video of the prison-bound politician (against American Airlines "policy" she said,) Blagojevich laughed.

The flight attendant admonished us to refrain from taking video in flight or "the captain will have to put down the plane for security." Sorosky joked that the pilots name is "Zagel," referring to Judge James Zagel who presided over the trial and sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in prison.

At one point as Mr. Blagojevich held court at 36,000 feet, he bellowed "in the good old days when I was governor..." and then launched into a story that was less memorable than the set-up line.

When the drink cart came through, Blagojevich chose orange juice on the rocks. No alcohol. Surprising as he has tried to get into the prison treatment program for alcohol abuse and residual vodka breath wouldn't seem to hurt his cause.

Always a master of trivia, especially things involving Hollywood and Illinois, we discussed a movie that Judge Zagel once appeared in.

The film "The Music Box" was shot in Chicago. Zagel, an aspiring actor, played a Cook County judge. We couldn't remember the female lead.

"Jessica Lange," Blagojevich quickly chimed in, as if he was playing the "Jeopardy!" bonus round.

Midway through the flight, he produced a file folder with a few papers and a calendar. He made entries on various dates. But the calendar didn't stretch to 2026, the year he would get out of prison if he served the entire term.

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