Davis in Takeoff Mode

Times Staff Writer

The midafternoon flight from Sacramento to Burbank was late for its scheduled departure Monday, so Gray Davis, who often kept others waiting when he was governor, sat on the tarmac waiting for his ride into political exile.

The flight would take just an hour, but the departure from Sacramento would be his transition from public life to a private one.

Immediately after the inaugural ceremonies for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ended, Davis walked back into the Capitol, then slipped out the south entrance.

Accompanied by his wife, Sharon; his two-member California Highway Patrol security detail; and an aide, he climbed into his official limousine and headed for Sacramento International Airport.

After waiting about 30 minutes in his limousine, Davis was allowed to board Southwest Airlines Flight 439 first, using the service stairs from the tarmac -- a privilege he will lose as a former governor.

Davis and his wife, regular passengers on Southwest Airlines, took their customary place four rows from the front, with Davis slipping into a window seat.

More than a dozen passengers stopped as they boarded, to offer encouragement and praise. A woman wearing a red, white and blue Republican elephant pin politely asked Davis if he would sign her inaugural program. "Sure," Davis cheerfully replied, making small talk with the woman as he dutifully put his autograph on a piece of California political history.

A well-tanned, silver-haired man paused at Davis' seat, stuck out his hand and said: "Congratulations. You've been a real gentleman through this process."

"You looked great up there today," another passenger said softly to the Davises. "That must have been really hard for you."

"We're doing fine," Sharon David replied. They were brave words that only hinted at the wrenching emotions the former governor and his wife have endured as the triumph of last November's reelection gave way to the humiliation of the Oct. 7 recall.

During an interview on the flight, Davis and his wife talked about the life that lies ahead.

"I'm kind of excited about moving on," Davis said.

He said that this week he'll begin returning some of the calls inquiring about his plans.

"We've had a chance to grieve," said Davis, sipping a cup of fizzy water with a slice of lime. "Now it's time to move on."

He said he has a rough plan for the future: "The first thing I want to do is put together a foundation, but right now it's just an idea in my head."

Davis said his aim would be to advance some of the public education and environmental initiatives he championed as governor, "to hold everyone accountable for continued progress."

No longer looking to the next election -- at least not for the immediate future -- Davis has already begun to discover the world that passed him by while he focused on advancing his political career. The Davises are discussing travel plans.

"My choice is a cruise," said Sharon Davis. "You know, we've been married 20 years and we've never been on a cruise."

Davis offered only praise for the new governor and his wife. He applauded the bipartisan cabinet Schwarzenegger has assembled but said the test would be whether the Legislature, deeply divided between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, reciprocates in spirit.

"Governing California is always a big challenge," Davis said. "Any governor needs a few good breaks, along with good appointments and good instincts. He's got good instincts and he's made good appointments. If he gets a few breaks, he'll be successful."

In his last night as governor, Davis said, he wrote a note to Schwarzenegger, offering final words of advice. Sharon Davis typed the letter on a personal computer at the couple's official Sacramento residence, and Davis handed the letter to Schwarzenegger on Monday morning before the inauguration.

Upon landing in Burbank about 3:45 p.m., the Davises exited the plane with the other passengers. A CHP-chauffeured limousine whisked them away to their condo in West Hollywood.

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