Ben Stein's Diary

On Winter Tour

Beware of scary situations.

By 2.6.12

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Tuesday
What a nightmare day this has been. I awakened in a beautiful hotel room at the Hyatt in one of my favorite cities, San Antonio. Outside, a light rain was falling. I had my breakfast and dressed and went down to give a speech to a huge number of electrical distribution people. I sat in a green room with some of the other players. One was a speechwriter, actually, and we talked about electricity. I said, "Electricity makes us into gods. It gives us power earlier generations could not have imagined."

The speechwriter, a pleasant fellow named Moriseau, said, pithily, "And the god-machine is the grid. It has to produce exactly as much electricity as is wanted and needed. It cannot store more than a trivial amount. As the grid gets smarter, it gets to be even more god-like."

That's about the wisest comment I have ever heard in a green room. I was damned impressed.

I gave my speech to good response. I talked about how I was born November 25, 1944, and how much things have changed. After the speech, I wandered about the exhibit hall and posed for photos. Some thoughtful fellow came up to me and said, "Hey, I was born exactly twenty-five years after you. Are you what I'm going to look like in twenty-five years?" He had an evil smirk on his fat face.

"No, no," I said. "You'll look a lot better."

Then, off to the airport for a 41 minute flight to DFW and then to fly thence to DCA. When we got on the plane, an MD Super 80, the pilot said there was a line of bad weather and we would have to detour around it. No problem. It would add fifteen minutes to the flight time.

After about an hour in the air, the pilot said the line of weather had been a lot bigger than they had expected and they had to detour so far that they had almost run out of fuel and had to make an emergency landing to refuel in Abilene.

Five hours later we were still on the ground in Abilene. The problem? Even though it's an American Airlines Eagle hub, there was no one in Abilene who knew how to refuel an MD-80. Plus the fuel gauge was broken so they had to use a stick to figure out how much gasoline was in the wing. And they didn't have a stick.

So, I asked the captain how it was that they did not have enough fuel for an hour and a half flight. He looked deeply pained. "Nowadays, on short flights, we fly with only a little fuel on board so we won't weigh much and burn up more fuel. Plus with more fuel, the plane is harder to stop on landing and brakes get used up faster." He looked thoroughly embarrassed.

We finally made it to DFW. A kindly Egyptian man with a cart took me to my gate and I got on just in time to take my fourth replacement flight. I was so tired I could barely think. Plus the man next to me was as drunk as a skunk and also had a vicious cough. I put on my Bob Dylan "Hard Rain" disc and slept.

A very different story in D.C. My fabulous driver, Bob Noah, greeted me at DCA with groceries -- a necessity since the powers that be closed the Watergate Safeway.

I made Bob and me ham sandwiches -- my spécialité de la maison. I used Pepperidge Farm bread, honey ham, mayonnaise, and a bit of butter.

Dee-lish.

I visited with Bob for a while, then watched my favorite channel, "The Military Channel," for a while. The show was about a tank battle in Iraq. Wow, the U.S. Army armored warriors are amazing. Just amazing. They just ripped up Saddam's tanks.

"It was 1990s technology against 1970s technology," said a U.S. Army officer. "They didn't stand a chance."

I sure hope we keep that edge, no matter what it costs.

Then, I watched an episode of The World at War about Hitler and Stalin's invasion of Poland and how magnificently the Poles fought back and the incredible bravery of Warsaw. I really admire the Polish people. Brave, brave men and women.

Then, to sleep. Yeah, sleep. The world's best thing. Sleep.

I occasionally woke up and looked across the Potomac at the lights of Northern Virginia. Haunting. That room at The Watergate has many memories for me.

At about 5 in the morning, I turned on Fox News to see that once in a lifetime rains had hit San Antonio. If I had stayed there even a few hours later, I would never have gotten out. Scary. (Decades ago, when I was an editorial writer and columnist at the Wall Street Journal editorial page under Bob Bartley and George Melloan, I had a copy editor, a chain-smoking Irishman named Jack Cooper. He made me crazy with his unnecessary edits and changed meanings of columns, but he was a humorous fellow. I once asked him what word appeared most in my columns. He said, "Scary," followed closely by "weird." I miss him. He died a long time ago. I also miss Bob Bartley. He and I differed on almost every subject, but he was a great man. A genuinely great man.)

Thursday
A long drive in Bob Noah's Town Car from D.C. to Ewing, New Jersey, to speak at the College of New Jersey. It was once called Trenton State Teachers' College but now it teaches many subjects. We went up Route 95 through Maryland, my native state.

As always, we stopped for crabcakes at Phillips Crab House at the Maryland House. Always delicious. A middle-aged man came over to me and beamed at me.

"Thank you for sharing your gifts," he said. "They brighten up many peoples' days."

"That's very kind of you," I said. "What's your name?"

"Just Jimmy from Philadelphia," he said. "My ministry is at the Ronald McDonald House. The kids there love you."

I was very touched.

Ewing looks a little care worn but the campus of TCNJ was charming. Bob and I had dinner with the top dogs of the College Republicans, a very likeable group. I sat next to an adorable tiny little freshman named Jacqueline. She reminded me very much of a woman I used to know in D.C. named Penny Pennella. Penny was a super nice girl. I wonder what happened to her. I haven't seen her in forty years. Still, she was a nice girl. I wish I could find out what happened to all of the people I used to know.

The speech went well. But TCNJ has an unusual feature. It has a program for "special ed" and that brought a number of mentally challenged students to my speech. It was kind of hard to think what they could get out of a college education but then I thought, "Hey, I bet they are here for the students of special ed to work with."

Great idea. But the special ed kids asked a lot of questions I couldn't quite follow. I am going to have to find out more about that program.

Back to the Watergate. We stopped at another roadside restaurant, an immense place with a lot of students. They were all cheery. What a lively place Route 95 is, even late at night. I slept most of the way back though. Sleeping in the back of Bob's car is an incredible, unbelievable pleasure. I feel like a baby being rocked in his parents' arms.

So much of life is about whether or not one's parents took care of one. And yet it's so hard for the parents to know what the right thing to do is. Well, we are all rocked in God's arms if we want to be.

Maybe even if we don't want to be.

Monday
Back in L.A. Now, this is pitiful. I am hobbling around like the old man I am. I fell because one of my wife's cats tripped me and the fall contused my right knee. The pain when I walk or swim is cruel. I had an MRI today and confirmed the injury. By the way, I loved being in that MRI tube with all of the loud noise. I don't know why, but I loved it.

Then Alex and I drove down to the desert. Why not? We made fantastic time because we didn't start until 9 PM. No traffic at all. For a while we were going 120. I swam in my pool when we got there but my knee hurt so much I could barely get out of the pool. Scary. Weird.

I took my immense quantities of fiber and watched very old episodes of Perry Mason and The Untouchables on ME-TV. They are great drama. Nothing high tech, but great insights into human nature. How I loved Perry Mason. I wish he were my lawyer.

My life has changed a lot lately: limping pitifully, in litigation, it's not what I precisely wanted it to be right now. But I pray a lot -- constantly -- and it will all work out.

I am reading Anne Applebaum's book about the Gulag. To think that EVEN NOW in Hollywood, the horrid people in Hollywood who were on Stalin's side are considered heroes -- it's amazing. Unbelievable. Stupid, stupid people.

But wow, am I grateful to live in America. I have nothing to complain about. It's all glittering and wonderful in my life, sitting outside for a moment watching jet contrails in the moonlight in a free country. I think I'll have some more fiber. What the heck. Fiber all around!

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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.