It has been an unremarkable day on the campaign trail. Reporters have tried their best Monday to ask George W. Bush a question that will stick, but all they've been able to extract is that if the Texas governor gets elected, Buddy's successor as White House pet will be a cat named Ernie.
All day, Bush has been his reanimated, post-South Carolina self, speaking at top volume, with dramatic pauses inserted to give his stump speech the cadence of an amateur preacher's. He has lumbered through Michigan, shaking hands at Bob's Big Boy and a local truck stop. He has kissed babies and signed autographs.
But it's only now that I realize how little he likes all of it.
Bush is sitting in the front seat of an airplane. We're preparing for takeoff from Grand Rapids for the short flight to Detroit. In each of his hands, he holds an orange. On his face is the smile of a 5-year-old.
We've always known that Bush is a sports fan. He was head cheerleader in college; he talks baseball on the stump. And long before he became governor of Texas, he had an obvious taste for head-to-head competition. As he prepares to play "roll the oranges down the aisle," it's obvious that games give Bush more immediate pleasure than anything else in the world.
The goal of this particular game is simple. Bush, riding shotgun, waits for takeoff. Once the plane is tilting at a 45-degree angle, the governor tosses an orange down the aisle, trying to roll it all the way to the back.
Now, as for the rest of the day, Bush is the sole participant. We are all spectators.
The orange smacks a reporter -- only four rows back from Bush -- in the leg. The press corps lets out a collective moan, disappointed that the governor has missed his target. He hurls the other orange, and this one falls short of its goal too, instead hitting a bag that's protruding slightly into the aisle.
"Whose bag is that?" Bush screams, like a kid accusing another kid on the playground of cheating. "Move the bag!"
The oranges are rolled back to the front of the plane. Bush tries again, but the orange caroms off a few seats and lands at my feet. Again, the reporters moan.
He tries again. This time an orange makes it halfway down the aisle, and there are cheers of encouragement and anticipation.
Again, again, again.
Are we bonding, governor?
Finally, one of the oranges hits its mark -- the bathroom door at the back of the plane. A playground cheer erupts from the crowd.
Bush raises his arms, triumphant. Game over. Back to business as usual.