Ben Stein's Diary

At War and at Peace

Reeling from another viewing of The World at War.

By From the April 2012 issue

Vegas, baby. My wife and I are here to speak to the Western Petroleum Marketers Association. These are people who own chains of gas stations and convenience stores all over the western USA. Also present are the men and women who supply fuel pumps, signs, food, immense, glittering gasoline transport trucks—works of art, really. The event is at the Mirage, a wonderful hotel. Last night, I wandered around the exhibit hall for quite some time and found myself in front of a display of Noble Roman's Pizza. I took two pieces. Rarely if ever have I tasted anything so good.

"Hunger is the best sauce," as the Latin saying goes, and I was starving. Still, that was amazingly good pizza. I had just flown in, along with my bride of some 44 years, and the last food I had was yummy pistachios that morning after speaking to the pistachio growers in San Diego. Wifey and I had stayed at the Manchester Hyatt in San Diego right on the harbor, facing an immense aircraft carrier and many pleasure craft. That was some astonishing view.

Anyway, this morning, the day after the pistachio growers and the aircraft carrier, I had to awaken at 6 a.m., very early for me, make many notes on my speech, then go down to the breakfast with the directors of the Western Petroleum Marketers Association. Their wives were in the room as well. I went up to each person in the room, introduced myself, asked where they were from and how business was, and enjoyed it all thoroughly.

I am a born meeter and greeter. I think I have told you how George Corley Wallace, as a four year old, would meet visitors to his childhood hometown, Clio, Alabama, at the train station. If I have this right, he would come up to them and say, "I'm George Wallace, Junior, and if I can do anything for you while you're here in Clio, just let me know." I could easily imagine doing that right now. My son is also amazingly good at that kind of interaction. He learned it from me and at Cardigan Mountain School (one of the finest institutions of learning on this earth)—how to greet men and women politely—and it stayed with him.

I, your humble servant, spoke to about 400 people and had a great time with them. Really, the ordinary citizen, especially the ordinary small town citizen and businessman in this country, is just the salt of the earth. They are outgoing, cheerful, and warm.

The gas station and convenience store businesses are apparently doing not just well in the western U.S. but very well indeed. There are a lot of small businesses in this country that are flourishing. These people have three generations working in the business at once, just as the pistachio farmers do. It's a great business. Why get out of it?

I wish I had a family business to pass on to my son, but in a way I do. He could help me with research on my books. Maybe I will try to get him to do that. ("Good luck, Pop.")

Anyway, after the speech, I was breathtakingly tired, so I went back to my room and slept. I made a mistake about the time of the flight and got up way earlier than I needed to. Like a dope, I made my wife pack and we had a long time to vamp before the airplane boarded. I felt extremely tired and I felt very, very stupid.

We sat in some comfy chairs at the United Club at McCarran though and soon I was asleep. Listening to "Idiot Wind," Bob Dylan's masterful rant about the horrors of gossip and malice.

It's extremely apropos for my life right now because just a few days ago, someone was telling me what a bad person I am and how I wasn't the kind of "choir boy" Republican that I told people I was.

That actually made me laugh. As I have told my beloved Spectator readers over and over again, I make no claim at all to being a good person. A wildly generous person—yes. To the point of suicide. But a good, non-sinful person? Not in the slightest little bit. I am a 24-karat, wretched sinner. I have committed so many sinful acts it is impossible to even keep count for a few days. There is almost no sin I have not committed. But I do claim this little bit of light: I have confessed my sins and asked God for His blessings and forgiveness. And I do believe He will forgive me if I confess and acknowledge Him.

But as to my claiming to be a particularly good person? Never. Not in a million years.

The flight home was uneventful. I slept like a baby.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.