How to make your holiday travel plans without bumping into Larry Craig. Update: OMG at ORD!

Notes from the political sidelines.
Dec. 5 2007 6:48 PM

Planes, Trains, and Solicitations

How to make your holiday travel plans without bumping into Larry Craig. Update: OMG at ORD!

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Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007

** Urgent Travel Advisory **: Panic struck the nation's airways again today, as yet another major hub has been added to TSA's Not-Safe-to-Stopover list. Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver were bad enough, but now Chicago O'Hare -- the second largest airport on the planet -- is off limits. An alert Slate reader writes:

"I recently had a Larry Craig sighting at ORD. Nowhere is safe!"

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United Airlines shares are expected to plunge in after-hours trading ... 5:01 P.M.

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Travels without Larry: With the holidays fast approaching, Americans are already bracing for the high anxieties of holiday travel: missed flights, lost luggage, weather delays, and explaining to the children why that TSA agent gets to open all their presents. But this weekend's latest expose in the Idaho Statesman gives millions traveling through the nation's crowded airports a whole new worry: how to get home for the holidays without being solicited by Larry Craig.

For the savvy traveler, avoiding Craig used to be a snap. Voters in Idaho and elsewhere were horrified when he pled guilty to solicitation in the Minneapolis airport, and disgusted when he stayed in office anyway. But most travelers agreed that he couldn't have picked a better airport for us to dodge. In May – a few days before Craig's arrest – U.S. News ranked Minneapolis-St. Paul the 5th most miserable airport in America, out of 47. No one shed any tears about swearing off Northwest Airlines, and its route between Minneapolis and Washington National gets mediocre ratings.

But on Sunday, the Statesman threw a wrench into travelers' plans with the chilling account of a man who claimed that in 2006 – using the identical gestures that got himself arrested in Minneapolis – Craig solicited sex in the men's room of the Denver airport. Denver is the fifth most traveled airport in America and the 10th busiest in the world. It handled 47 million passengers in 2006, and is growing 9% a year, the fourth fastest growth rate on earth.

A traveler with no family in Minnesota or the Dakotas could go a lifetime without a layover in Minneapolis. But taking Denver off the grid is the 21st Century equivalent of pulling the golden stake out of the transcontinental railroad. Without Denver, westbound travelers face a Hobson's choice of either the inevitable delays and impossible crowds of weather-prone O'Hare, or the inconvenience of flying almost to Mexico to transfer through Dallas-Fort Worth.

The eyewitness account in the Statesman ranks with Home Alone and Plains, Trains, and Automobiles on any all-time list of travel horror stories. A 46-year-old gay man was flying from Boise to Washington, and found himself with the same itinerary as Craig and his wife Suzanne. The Statesman recounts his story in cinematic detail:

During the layover in Denver, the man said he was in a men's restroom stall when a hand came under the divider and reached toward him. The hand was palm up, as the officer in Minnesota also described, and slid toward him for two or three seconds. The man said he noticed unpolished, dark, lace-up shoes worn by the man in the next stall. He did not respond to the gesture.

"I freaked out," said the man, who was traveling with his long-time partner. "I finished my business and left."

The man said he then waited outside the men's restroom on a bench. Shortly after, a man wearing the shoes he saw in the adjacent stall exited. The man was Larry Craig.

"Those shoes came out, and I looked up, and it was like, 'Oh, my God.'"

Many of the eight men quoted in the Statesman – whom CBS dubbed "Eight Men Out" –  gave accounts so graphic, the newspaper had to post warnings about explicit descriptions in the audio clips on the website. Reporter Dan Popkey admitted to Editor & Publisher, "I don't like writing about anal sex for people who don't want to read about it over their corn flakes."

While not as graphic, the tale of the hapless traveler is potentially the most damaging, suggesting that even under his wife's nose, Craig could be a serial airport stalker. Coupled with earlier allegations that Craig had sex in the restrooms at Union Station, the Denver airport revelation underscores a growing fear that TSA may have missed the greatest threat to our transportation system: the danger of being asked for sex by Larry Craig.

Careful travelers need to take matters into their own hands. In that spirit, here's a handy Travelers' Guide to Avoiding Larry Craig this holiday season:

Tip #1: Drive wherever possible. Holiday travelers in and around Washington, D.C. need to beware: Craig has most of the exits covered. With Union Station just two blocks from Senate office buildings, train travel is out. Craig lives on a houseboat in the Potomac, so the waterways are blocked, too. Reagan National, the nearest airport, is practically a second home for members of Congress from faraway places. While driving poses its own hazards, especially in the winter, the risk of a Craig sighting is zero.

Possible downsides: this time of year, the 2300-mile drive to Boise could take a week; for best results, avoid the Garden State Parkway.

Tip #2: If you must fly, don't drink. If you've already booked tickets through Minneapolis or Denver and can't get your money back, don't despair. Veteran travelers will remember that in the early days after 9/11, the FAA banned passengers from leaving their seats within 30 minutes of takeoff or landing in D.C. Based on that experience, some experts believe it is theoretically possible to complete the entire 7-hour journey from one coast to the other, including stopover, without ever going near a single bathroom. Unpleasant as that sounds, the alternative is worse.

Note for future travel: Now that Craig stands accused in Denver as well as Minneapolis, cancel your trip to watch both parties honor him at their 2008 conventions.

Tip #3: There's no place like home. Travel is not for everyone. Thanks to modern technology, such as a video camera on your laptop, you can see your family as much as you like with absolutely no chance of running into Larry Craig. A travel advisory is in effect for residents of Idaho and D.C. Ironically, Boise may be the safest place to be: Craig told the Statesman earlier this year that if he ever went cruising, he wouldn't do it in Boise, Idaho.

Tip #4: If you decide to travel, some risks are better than others. All holiday travel is a gamble, but with careful planning, you can reduce the odds of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately, new airline reservation search engines like Kayak and Orbitz allow you to sort flights not just by price, but by another important factor: length of stopover.

For instance, at first glance, United's best deals from D.C. to Boise involve changing planes at O'Hare – which has no reported Craig sightings despite being the second busiest airport in the world. But look again: Saving a few hundred dollars doesn't sound like such a good deal when it means a layover that could stretch to three hours. Consider a lower-risk option – Delta through Salt Lake.

Best bet: Give yourself some peace of mind this holiday season, and pay a little more for a shorter layover. Your luggage maynot make it, but no one will ever have to read about it in the Statesman. ... 6:48 P.M. (link)

Friday, Nov. 30, 2007

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Mike Huckabee

No Weigh: With Mike Huckabee suddenly a serious threat to win the Republican nomination, it's time to ask a pressing question: Do we really want another president whose biggest fear is getting fat?

By all accounts, Gov. Huckabee is funny, compassionate, and sincere in his conservative convictions. Many of his Republican rivals try to hide the skeletons in their closet, from illegal immigrants in their yards to shady billing records in their love nests. Huckabee doesn't run from the ominous figure in his past, which is about as far from a skeleton as you could get. Instead, the governor has gone out of his way to boast about what's in his closet: a rack of suits that no longer fit.

Huckabee has been widely praised, and justly so, for shedding 110 pounds and for speaking out against childhood obesity—a worthy cause that others, including Bill Clinton and Bill Richardson, have led as well. Huckabee's book, Quit Digging Your Own Grave With a Knife and Fork, put him on the political map. Until recent weeks, the only thing most people knew about Mike Huckabee is that he used to be obese. In a country obsessed with his losing weight, he makes the most of it: He's a bigger man because he's smaller than he used to be.

Huckabee's triumph over his own imperfections makes him a refreshing alternative to Romney, who comes across as too perfect, and Giuliani, whose campaign slogan is nobody's perfect and who has done altogether too well in staying on message. Weight loss has some policy benefits, too. At a time when Republicans don't have much else to say to Americans about health care, Huck offers his own story as a do-it-yourself substitute for a credible health-care plan.

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