Ben Stein's Diary

On the Road Again and Again and Again

Not bad except for the horror show in Philadelphia. Happily, there was Mr. Ostrander.

By 11.21.11

Send to Kindle

Saturday
Back in L.A. at my desk in my office. This has been an incredibly tiring few weeks of travel. Just mind-boggling. In the past three weeks I have been to New York City twice or maybe three times (I've lost track), to D.C. three times, to Philadelphia, to Miami, to Amelia Island, to Chicago, to Vegas two or three times. It has been a whirlwind.

My brave wifey has come with me everywhere, even though she has had a flu. She gamely packs and keeps me company. She stays in the hotel room and sleeps day after day, but she is amazingly disciplined and when it's time to go, there she is, all packed and ready. I attribute that to her war hero, West Point grad father.

The trips went well with one big exception that I will get to in a moment.

Usually, the worst parts of the trip are getting up early for network talk shows. I have to be there usually at 7:30 eastern, which means I have to be up at 6 eastern, which is 3 a.m., the middle of the night my time.

I dislike doing that, but I do it pretty much without complaint. The people at those morning shows are so cheery and up beat that they make being there actually fun.

I did have one terrifying incident when I got sick from a cheeseburger I had at a diner near Fox and almost lost it in the limo on the way to an interview. But by a great mercy, I found a restroom and was saved.

The worst travel part came when my wife and I arrived at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Philadelphia, which has now won my nomination for the most stupidly run hotel in the world.

When one enters the lobby of this horror movie, one is greeted by deafeningly loud rock music. It is a jarring slap for the weary traveler. Then we had a desk clerk whose contempt for our reservations was limitless. She did not have the right rooms, did not give a damn, and just was so unhelpful that it made my head spin.

Our rooms smelled of cigar smoke. They overlooked the plaza where the Occupy Philadelphia (a comical idea in and of itself) encampment was, and the constant sound of drumbeats went on for hours. Finally, we got the night manager, who manfully tried to help us. But then we were socked with the most horrifyingly awful and expensive room service I have ever had. It was like serving vomit from snakes to paying guests.

I know Ritz-Carlton is a part of Marriott and I am a small stockholder in Marriott (very small). Usually, Marriott knows what they are doing. Not this time. This hotel needs a LOT of work.

There were some glorious moments. Twice, we got to go to Easton, Maryland, and eat crab cakes at my very favorite restaurant in the eastern U.S., maybe anywhere, the Tidewater Inn. On the last visit, my wife felt too ill to get up from the table, but Bob Noah, our driver, and I went for a brief walk around old Easton as the autumn winds were blowing maple leaves at us. Easton's old part is nearly perfect and the air had the perfect Chesapeake Fall tang. I just love the Eastern Sho'.

Just a few hundred feet from old Easton are the modern fast food places on Route 50. But the blocks around the Tidewater Inn are a miracle of preservation. Forty years ago, on Friday nights, there was ballroom dancing -- foxtrot, jitterbug, cha-cha -- in a ballroom at the Tidewater Inn. Wifey and I used to go for that dancing. Very civilized. Autres temps, autres moeurs, as they say. Long time passing.

The worst part of the trip was watching on TV the dissection of Herman Cain by the media. Now, please understand. I do not think Mr. Cain is even remotely close to being qualified to be President. He is a smart guy and a likeable guy, but the Presidency is way out of his league. And I mean, way, way, way out.

But the idea that he would be disqualified because of sex harassment allegations from long ago (or even recently) just makes no sense. Anyone can file any kind of charge. All it takes is a lawyer and a few sheets of paper. As Catherine the Great wrote to Voltaire, paper is smooth and yielding. You can write anything you wish upon it. I have seen the most astoundingly untrue allegations leveled at the most unlikely people in sex harassment cases. Trial lawyers are often fine people. But they can also be extortionists and publicity hounds. The fact that they submit a complaint means zero to me. Proven misconduct would be something else.

Moreover, as I have written in many instances, sex harassment cases are sometimes political footballs. The Democrats cheer like madmen for Bill Clinton, who is the only President proven to have had sex with a young woman not his wife in the Oval Office. Just the mention of the greatest woman chaser of any President, John F. Kennedy, sends Democrats into trances. But if an allegation of any wrongdoing is made against a Republican, then it's time for the show trials and the Lubyanka.

Of course, we want all our men in public life to respect women. Of course we want all our men generally to respect women. But a charge is not the same as a truth. And a trial lawyer is not the most unquestionable of sources. And let's admit that politics is everywhere. 

We all want women to be protected. We do not want the laws protecting women to be used for political smears and for extortion. When I was at Yale Law School, the women's group used to put a sign on certain ads they deemed objectionable. The poster said simply, "This insults women." To take laws designed to protect women and use them for political and financial extortion insults women, says my wife, and I agree.

Anyway, I am home now. Someone just walked by on the street outside our house smoking super strong marijuana and I feel light headed so I guess I will lie down with my Julie.

Sunday
The Steins were not always sufficiently important and (falsely) thought to be rich enough to attract the attention of the publicity hound/trial lawyers of this world.

My paternal grandfather was an assembly line worker, then a skilled tool and die maker, at Ford Motor, then at GE. He was unemployed for most of the Great Depression. My father entered the best small college in America, Williams College, in the fall of 1931 pretty much without a dime. Talk about tough times.

But my father was greatly helped at Williams by a slightly older Williams man named Taylor Ostrander. Mr. Ostrander, also an economist, helped my father get little jobs and enter essay contests where he won small but meaningful prizes.

When my father graduated, in 1935 (at age 19), Mr. Ostrander helped him get a fellowship and a part-time job at the graduate school of economics at the University of Chicago, where Mr. Ostrander was pursuing his distinguished Ph.D. Years ago, I found the letter that Mr. Ostrander had written to the authorities at Chicago about my Pop. It was filled with glowing testimony to his intelligence, diligence, and integrity. It was the respectful letter of a great friend.

When Pop left the University of Chicago in 1937 or 1938 to find work in Washington, D.C. to support my mother and himself, Taylor Ostrander had already gone there and gotten a good job at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. He got my father a job there, too, in extremely tough times. These were blessings indeed.

I really do not know what the trajectory of my father's life would have been without Taylor Ostrander. I am sure he would have accomplished plenty. But Mr. Ostrander's help to my father and mother in times of unique stringency was life saving.

My parents stayed in touch with Mr. Ostrander for the rest of their lives, and never mentioned his name without tearing up.

For his part, Taylor Ostrander had a distinguished career in public and private service, in the military, and in international organizations. For many years he was a high official of American Metal Climax (now called AMAX).

Then Mr. Ostrander retired to his beloved Williamstown, Mass. I had the great pleasure (honor, really) of meeting him many times there. The last time was when I spoke at Williams about eight years ago. Even though he was in his 90s, he was there in the audience, as lively as a cat, smiling and laughing. When a group of students serenaded me afterwards with my father's favorite Williams hymn ("The mountains, the mountains, we greet them with a song…") Mr. Ostrander joined in lustily.

Now comes word through the e-mail that this great man, and great, great friend, has died of pneumonia at 101. God bless his soul. We Steins will never forget you. They don't make them like Taylor Ostrander any more. There is nothing at all more precious than a friend.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
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.