Going to Kansas City — when I was 64. Excerpts from Ben’s monthly diary.
Nightmare of travel. I started out this afternoon in Little Rock, Arkansas. I spoke last night in Conway, very near Little Rock, at a fabulous place called the University of Central Arkansas. It was a perfect event, with friendly locals at a dinner with the president of the university at his home. Then I gave a speech and signed autographs and it was all a lot of fun.
I went back to my wonderful hotel, the Capital, as good a hotel as there is on the planet, and rendezvoused with my wife, who had been dining with her extended family, all Arkansans. We had a late-night snack and then off to sleep and then I went to the airport.
That was when the nightmare began. There was a modest rain, and somehow that made the airplanes late. This was a problem because my travel called for me to fly to Dallas, then double back to fly to Kansas City. My speech was early in the morning so if I missed my connection in Dallas, I would miss the speech, to an important group, the American Society of Civil Engineers.
I got scared and decided to get a car and driver to take me to KC. On the map it didn’t look that bad. I figured it would take six or seven hours. I called the limo company and they said they had a highly experienced driver who knew the route in the dark.
I waited an hour and there in the luggage claim area of the airport appeared a rumpled man in livery who happily told me he would be my driver. He walked uncertainly towards his beat-up-looking Lincoln Town Car and off we went. I asked him several times if he were sure he knew the way.
“What are you?” he asked. “Jew? Greek? Italian?”
“I’m Jewish, as you well know,” I said. “Do you know the way to Kansas City?”
“Of course,” he said.
Okay. I’ll make this short and sweet. He didn’t know the way. He was the most race-conscious person I ever met. Almost at once he started baiting me about being Jewish. He told me repeatedly about the superiority of black religious practice. It was as if I had Al Sharpton in the car with me. He got lost in the dark in the hills and hollers of Northern Arkansas. He took us 40 miles out of our way. His car only had one headlight and the brakes were pitiful. He had no GPS. HE HAD NO IDEA OF HOW TO GET TO KANSAS CITY. He had a pitiful map he had stitched together from Google and kept taking his eyes off the road to read it or try to read it.
He made fun of my hero, Martin Luther King, Jr. He belittled and mocked my history of demonstrating for civil rights for blacks and my free legal work for them in New Haven.
For the last four hours of the nine-hour trip, he preached at me in his imitation of a black preacher—his preacher—about my iniquitous ways and how I was destined for damnation.
It was only by constant prayer and by the miracle of my little built-in GPS in my Verizon Voyager that I got through the night. Only because of the Verizon GPS were we able to find my hotel, the fantastic Marriott in downtown KC.
Still, because he had worked so hard, if so fecklessly, I gave him an immense tip and paid for a room for him at my hotel. He never thanked me. Wow, was I glad to get to my room, where the thoughtful ASCE people had set out a tea maker and herbal tea and honey. For a long time, I was too jacked up to sleep.
That man, taking me through the night, promising he knew the way, lying about all of it….well, you can guess who he reminded me of. I won’t even say it.
I hasten to add that these are just my opinions and I am sure the man has many good points and many faithful friends and fans. And his emphasis on defining everyone and everything in terms of race was what really bothered me the most, naturally. Well, good luck to him anyway.
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