Bernie Sanders wants to make a joke. Pretty good joke, he thinks. He is slumped in a window seat in coach on a plane parked at Chicago O’Hare. He has about an hour in transit to get the joke into his next speech. Before deplaning, he pulls his hair forward, but only on the left, the side one may call Bernie, as opposed to the more combed right hemisphere–Senator Sanders. Off the plane. The selfie requests start. O.K., but quickly. O.K., why not, sure. Ooh, was that a Macaroni Grill? Anyone want to go in on a pizza with him? Sausage pizza, O.K. Then selfies with the kitchen staff. Good people. Hardworking people. His people.
His speech for tonight is ready, but Sanders wants to scrap the planned opening for his pretty good joke. Does Terrel–Terrel Champion, his body man, who has mastered the art of knowing when to talk to the Senator and when to leave him be–have the printer? Of course. Last-minute checks about tonight. RSVPs? Good shape–better than early 2015, when barely anyone knew him. A woman at the gate wants a selfie, but Sanders is fixated on the printout of the joke. “Onnnnnnnnne minuuuuuute,” he barks. He loves The People. People can be trickier.
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This appears in the June 17, 2019 issue of TIME.