“That’s him!” says a Today show producer. All eyes focus on an old-fashioned Checker cab coming up Broadway, an odd relic in the teeming New York City traffic. It’s a bright Thursday afternoon and dozens of sign-carrying supporters are gathered at the main entrance of Columbia University. They begin clapping and whooping for their new favorite presidential candidate—a 77-year-old most of them hadn’t even heard of a week before.

NBC has taken an interest as well. A crew is on hand to film the rally for the network’s morning show and its 5.3 million viewers. “Wait! Is he driving?” wonders one of the supporters. As the Checker gets closer, the white-haired man behind the wheel waves at the crowd and smiles a broad politician’s smile. He is driving. Newsweek columnist and occasional Today correspondent Jonathan Alter is riding in the back seat, looking a little green. It turns out the two got in a fender bender on the way uptown. The Checker’s brakes went out on Madison Avenue, and Gravel rear-ended another cabbie. But, with no injuries and after consulting a mechanic, they’d pushed on.

A rough ride for Alter, but a good couple of opening paragraphs.