It was years ago, Phoenix in August, temperature on the tarmac above 127 degrees, and I was ready to get out of the desert if I had to hitchhike. Crowding onto the plane, I was pleased to find I'd snagged a bulkhead seat up front--but it was already occupied by a tall guy in a serious suit with dark shades on his face.
"Excuse me," I said, showing him my stub, "but I think you have my seat." Shades didn't even look at me. I stood there awkwardly and let the hordes jostle past me.
Finally, a flight attendant sidled up and whispered that I'd been upgraded. The reason: Former V.P. Gerald Ford was now occupying the first-class seat opposite me, and Shades had his back from my bulkhead position.
The wine was good, the AC swathed us all in a fog of gratitude, and the retired chief exec had a long nap en route to Palm Springs. Shades never acknowledged my existence, even as he bumped past me to get the commander-in-chief briskly off the plane and down to his waiting limo.
A close encounter with my tax dollars in action.