Many days in the life, from Fresno to Spartanburg.
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HERE I AM IN SPARTANBURG, South Carolina. I know this area of the world a bit because our son, the redoubtable Tommy, used to go to school near here in Clinton, South Carolina. At Presbyterian College, if you recall. There is a huge BMW plant here and lots of other automotive and high-tech entities. Naturally, they are all suffering right about now. Still, my hotel is charming. I arrived here after a long drive from the Charlotte airport in a fancy but low-slung BMW sedan. We stopped at the Waffle House in Blacksburg, South Carolina. A very drunken black man said to me there, “You Ben Stein, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You Jewish, right?”
“Right,” I said.
“And I’m black,” he said, and went back to his meal. I wasn’t quite sure of the point, but he had a likable quality anyway.
In my hotel lobby was a group of young black men. They came over to me for photos and autographs. They were, as it turned out, a “step dancing” team from a predominantly black college called Johnson Smith. I actually had heard of it because I have been a donor to the United Negro College Fund for many, many years. Now it seems, these young men had just been in a step competition and had come in second. Two of them showed me their steps. They were amazingly good. Just fantastic. And they were so happy that I videotaped them and applauded that I was deeply touched. I could not do that kind of thing in a billion years.
I went to my room and watched a strange Spanish movie about a crazed Spanish policeman who falls in love with a beautiful prostitute, and falls so in love with her that he leads his mentally retarded brother to be killed and then acts retarded himself so the prostitute will fall in love with him as she had with his retarded brother. It was a VERY dark movie but somehow moved right along and left me thinking. The human animal is extremely far from perfect. And believe me, I am in that VERY far from perfect group. You cannot quite imagine how far.
But anyway, just remember I never claimed to be anything but a highly flawed being.
A SUPER-INTERESTING DAY. I went on a tour of a breast cancer detection center at the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. It was named for Drs. Josey and Bearden, two fine fellows who did major work to help out with breast cancer in the greater Spartanburg area. It was given with the help of some kind local donors, including a couple named Gibbs, whose wife greeted me very cheerily, and the absent but very charming Mr. Roger Milliken, about whom more later.
The center was super advanced and showed a lot of kindness and thought and I learned a lot about breast cancer. I also learned that both Drs. Josey and Bearden had families who had been in South Carolina since the 1760s and ancestors who had been doctors in the Civil War. Very impressive.
Then a rest, and then a reception with pooh-bahs and others connected with the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. A good-looking, very polite, and pleasant group. Not a bad-acting fellow among them. One of the attendees was Roger Milliken. Now, get this: Roger Milliken is the patriarch of an extremely important family that owns a huge textile entity called Milliken & Company. Mr. Milliken is about 90. Courtly, handsome, intelligent.
About 53 years ago, my socially prominent and lovely friends the Sculls took me from Maryland up to Maine to see a beautiful area called Mount Desert Island and Northeast Harbor. They brought me to the home of an old pal of Mr. Scull, the self-same Roger Milliken. He was then about 35 and looked like the embodiment of a perfect gentleman. His home was magnificent, with stunning views and gorgeous carpets. (Milliken makes carpets, but I think these were oriental carpets, though I may be mistaken.) Is that a small world or what?
I gave a speech after the reception and it went well. I forgot to tell you I also posed for photos. That is standard.
Anyway, I really, really liked Spartanburg. I think I have told you before how much I like South Carolina and how genteel the people there are. Back to my room but way too tired to watch my Spanish mystery story again.
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