As the bus drew out of Madrid, on the road to a meeting at a bullring four hours drive away, Felipe Gonzalez was thinking aloud about the changes the Socialist Party he heads would make should it win Spain's national elections on Oct. 28 -- "when we are in power," as he put it.
"One of the first things will be a hot line, 20 telephone lines for Spaniards to ring the Moncloa," the prime minister's residence, said the 40-year-old Spanish Socialist leader. "That's new and it costs nothing."
When the bus reached Zamora, a small, conservative agricultural town on the northern edge of the central plateau, 7,000 people were waiting in the bullring as night fell and the temperature began to drop.
Gonzalez tried his idea out on his audience, a mix of jean-clad youths, white-collar parents with young children and elderly peasants, the women in black and the men in brown corduroy. "The hot line will be like 'Directo, Directo,' " a popular phone-in program on Spanish radio, he said, "but you'll be ringing the Moncloa and things will get done." The response was immediate and the meeting came alive.
Gonzalez, a good orator even on an indifferent day, was in full flow: "There will be no more jobs for the boys. No more public companies run by the brother-in-law, by the cousin, by the friend of the cousin and the friend of the friend." The applause grew within the bullring and on the sand arena where people had packed up against the speakers' platform.
He pumped his right arm up and down as he made his points. He warmed up to a central campaign theme: "Do you know the child of a peasant has 23 times fewer chances of getting to university than my son because I'm a lawyer and live in a city?" he asked his audience.
It is straight populist talk: a direct line to the people, an end to a corrupt and slovenly administration, equality or at least equal opportunity. There is next to no socialist doctrine. The meetings end on a ringing note: "Spain deserves something better, we're going to make Spain work, all of us, shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow."
The speech had few variations as the Socialist leader's bus wound its way through Spain. The tour took him through more than 10,000 miles to 50 large meetings in 26 campaigning days.
Thursday and Friday were a maze of changing sceneries from the northern coast to the flat, baked lands of Castille. In Oviedo, capital of the Asturias coal-mining region, Gonzalez filled, as expected, the 20,000-capacity soccer stadium.
The suprise came as he moved to Leon for an 11 p.m. rally in a crammed basketball ground. Leon is Catholic, conservative grain country and on previous election campaigns Gonzalez had drawn far smaller crowds.
The triumphal progress continued through the plateau. In Zamora's bullring the crowd doubled the turnout at a simultaneous meeting held by the leader of the conservative Popular Alliance Party, the main rivals to the Socialists. In Salamanca, another 11 p.m. stadium meeting, huge video screens had to be found for crowds to watch Gonzalez from the street.
In the bus Gonzalez sat mostly alone working on papers. There were no aides, just a personal secretary and a doctor who fed him throat lozenges and shrugged his shoulders in despair when Gonzalez lit up cigars sent to him by Fidel Castro.
His flair for speaking and undoubted charm and warmth among crowds big or small contrast with a self-imposed detachment and a need for privacy during the long bus rides. It is as if he is awed with the responsibility thrust upon him. When the bus stops, police hold back the throng yelling, "presidente, presidente."
The polls all indicate that Gonzalez will win and he expects that he will. He appears to be pondering on "change" that will mean a lot and cost little.
The expectations he is raising are considerable and his room for maneuver is limited. Military right-wing plotting preys on his mind, but he prefers not to talk about it. "We'll act with authority when in power, the military understands that," he said and then turned to discuss "hot lines."