Ben Stein's Diary

Before Sunset

Our monthly Diarist's print magazine installment.

By From the October 2011 issue

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FRIDAY
I awakened about noon at the fabulous Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Last night I gave a short talk and then a longer speech to investors and depositors at a bank with the great name of Integrity. My speech was about the economy and how screwed up both GOP and Democratic politicians have left it. I also talked about how well-chosen investments in public but small capitalization stocks (not penny stocks; well run companies) had done over long years.

The audience was intelligent and friendly. Afterward, I had dinner with my pal JW his wife and my pal Dave and their colleague Gary. It was a delicious meal on a veranda overlooking the lake at the Broadmoor. My wife was too tired to join us, but we had a good time anyway.

I stayed up far too late, which has become a real problem for me. So, this morning, even with sleeping late, I am tired. I dragged myself out of bed, dragged my wife out of bed, and we had a fine lunch at the Broadmoor. It was some kind of cheeseburger that just tasted amazingly good.

Then, into our car for a ride to the Denver airport. I like taking cars for trips of less than four hours instead of short hop flights. I sleep in the car and it's relaxing to not have to go through security. This time, I also wanted to stop at the Chik-fil-A in Castle Rock. The owner is a pal and the chicken sandwich is heavenly.

Our driver, a severe-looking woman, had other plans. She did not know how to find the Chik-fil-A (which is well marked on the exit sign). She also "never eat[s] processed food or foods at restaurants..." Finally, her tight work schedule that day would not allow a 10-minute stop for food for me.

I was angry. I had allowed four hours for a two-hour trip exactly so I could stop. I am a super good customer of their company. And I dislike being condescended to about food.

However, I just went back to sleep. I am trying not to make mountains out of molehills because a woman in D.C. told me that was something Jews did that really annoyed her. (She's a transgender, by the way. It takes all kinds. I dislike having her judge me…on the other hand, she's probably right. The fact that she is transgender does not disqualify her opinions.)

Anyway, we got to the airport and got our Southwest tickets to Spokane. I was stunned at how much they cost. I guess SW was once the low cost carrier but isn't any longer. What happened?

We got some McDonald's food at the C concourse. Meat. Processed. At a restaurant. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. Many people came by for photos. A staggeringly beautiful young Ethiopian woman waited on me at Mickey D's. As far as I could tell, almost everyone working there was Ethiopian.

Query: How come they can get jobs and Americans can't? Is it because maybe they are better motivated than some Americans? Come to think of it, a great many of the staff at the Broadmoor were from Mexico or the Caribbean or Africa. Are there no Americans who will take these jobs? If not, why do we pay them unemployment insurance? If there is so much unemployment, why do we have to go to Nigeria and Jamaica to find willing workers? I am obviously missing something here.

At the gate, we met a group of Army Reservists just back from 10 months in Afghanistan. They were young and charming and amazingly hung over. They were all from the Spokane area. I asked one of them, a medic with a bomb disposal unit, what the Afghans were like.

"They like to squat and stare at you all day," he said. "I used to pick out the ones who were going to try to kill me. But I didn't do anything to them. Not until they started shooting at me."

The flight was delayed, which I foolishly had thought never happened on SW. But when we got to Spokane, at almost midnight, the scene was magnificent, like a glorious World War II movie. The six soldiers on the flight came out in a group, and a column of veterans with many flags stood forming a guard around them. A large crowd erupted in cheers and applause and--this part brings me to tears--a wife ran so fast into the arms of the first returning soldier that she almost knocked him down and then his tiny daughter leapt into his arms and the crowd cheered and cheered.

A Baptist minister and I joined in a prayer of thanksgiving to God for bringing these men back alive and well.

There is a lot of patriotism still in this country. A helluva lot. Plenty of gratitude, too.

By the way, a soldier who sat next to us on SW said the food in Afghanistan on his base is superb. On Sundays they get steak and lobster. Pretty good. They deserve it.

My wife and I were all teary until we got into our rented Caddy and headed out of the airport. Ooops. The government is doing work on the highway and many lanes were constricted to one. It was one of the worst traffic jams I have ever seen in Spokane--after midnight. I was really furious, especially because I did not see one single solitary workman.

Long ago, Joan Didion wrote a piece on Caltrans, the road repair entity in California. She wanted to find out why they scheduled work so as to cause such terrible traffic jams. She went down to the headquarters of Caltrans and asked about it, and what they basically answered was, "We don't give a damn about what happens to the motorists. We do what's easiest for us as bureaucrats."

So there you have it. The best of the government -- the soldiers doing their brave duty. The worst of government -- the bureaucrats screwing up our lives by just doing what's easiest for them.

It took an hour to get through the traffic and zip along to Coeur d'Alene, and thence up Highway 95 to glorious Sandpoint. By the time we got to town, it was two a.m. Alex was suffering from sore throat pain so we went to the Dairy Depot and bought her three huckleberry milkshakes. It was amazing to behold the parade of beer buyers trying to beat the two a.m. cut-off point. Back at our little condo, Mr. Buffett's trains went roaring by. The news on TV was all about a hurricane approaching D.C. and New York. I am worried about Wlady, Bob, Russ, Chris DeMuth, Bob Noah, my niece, her family, my super great sister and her family. Worried about them all. I lay in bed for a long time listening to the trains. I love it here in Idaho. But then I love everywhere in America. Not equally, though.

SATURDAY
I slept very late, again. This is getting to be a curse--staying up late and sleeping late.

I kept thinking about something terribly upsetting that I had seen on C-Span a couple of days ago. The Congressional Black Caucus was having a meeting to discuss the recession and black people. The moderator of the panel of black legislators in Congress asked my neighbor, Rep. Maxine Waters, what she would tell black poor people to do in the recession.

Now, let me tell you first of all that I have a complex relation with Rep. Waters. She and I argued vigorously long years ago about mandatory cross-town busing in Los Angeles. She was for it. I was against it. I said it would wreck the schools. Despite the wishes of the voters, judges forced busing down the city's throat. The schools are a shadow of their former selves. Was it because of busing? I would say "partly" but not entirely. So I have been unhappy about Ms. Waters for some years.

On the other hand, she stood up to Goldman Sachs at many hearings and would often be the only one in the room to take them to task and I admire her for that.

However, at this C-Span event, as noted, she was asked what she would tell poor black people in the recession (or the slow recovery) to do to help themselves. Her suggestion was to organize themselves and demand that government save them and give them money and jobs. (I am paraphrasing here…this was the gist of Rep. Waters' suggestions, not her exact words.)

I found her disturbing. My idea of a good answer would be, (1) Acquire useful skills like math or languages or plumbing or anything people need, (2) Learn and execute great work habits so that when employers are hiring, they will want you, (3) Save your money and spend carefully so you will have a reserve, (4) Limit your number of dependents to what you can actually afford to support without handouts.

But Mrs. Waters basically said, "Use your votes to make the other guy pay for your life." At least that's how I heard it and maybe I am wrong. But her suggestions to me were just more welfare dependence, less self-respect, less self-support. Just for me, I think many Americans are not comfortable with Ms. Waters. We want an America at work--not an America on the dole.

However, maybe I am wrong about all of this. In any event, I have control only over me. And little
enough of that.

After a restless night, I dragged my old self out of bed, ate my breakfast, shaved, got dressed, went out for a bike ride. It is too damned hot here. Way, way too hot. This is Idaho and we are at about 2500 feet, but it is too hot today. I am really hot. Plus, there seems to be a convention of Samoan martial arts people on the beach here. Their children keep running in front of my bike and it's making me nervous. Why are we having a convention of Samoans here anyway? I like Samoans. They are incredibly brave. But this park is too small for so many of them and I don't want to collide with their kids.

Today is my father's birthday. I think about him constantly. What would he think of my life and my fantastic wastefulness? Actually, he would have some criticism and some praise and then he would want to talk about himself. Just the same as anyone else. My sister said I should act sensibly in honor of him. I am not sure I have any good sense left. My sister got all of the good sense. I got the anarchy. Just kidding. I miss my Pop something fierce, though. If yours is alive, be grateful every instant.

SUNDAY
Again, I stayed up way too late, and went out for a bike ride.

Again, too damned hot. I gave up and went to the Safeway. I now feel as if I am bidding against the entire People's Republic of China for everything I want to eat. The government says there is no inflation. Have they been shopping recently? Grocery prices are insane.

Back to our condo. I am having a great time reading a book about oil in Alaska, Crude Awakening by Amanda Coyne and Tony Hopfinger. It is beautifully written and meticulously researched. It's scary how much sudden wealth changes things.

Then, time to meet up with our pals Tim and Penny Farmin for a ride across the lake to Ivano's Del Lago at Hope, Idaho, for supper. It is still too hot. But the Cobalt did its job perfectly, and I parked it without crashing, so I am happy.

At the restaurant, I noticed that almost every diner had gray or white hair. They also all looked amazingly happy and cheerful. They were making conversation, listening to 1940s and 1930s classics played by a local trio, and looking at the stupefyingly glorious reddish orange sunset. These are men and women who have paid their dues--retired teachers, retired cops, retired small businessmen. Now, they are savoring the sunset in many ways.

My wife had rigatoni. I had some processed food. There I was--gray-haired with other gray-haired people. And the people looked so happy it brought tears to my old, processed food eyes. These people have known work and struggle--and now they know gratitude. That is something no government handout can give you. You cannot organize to make government give you self-respect.

I had a processed chocolate brownie for dessert, and then we got into the Cobalt and headed home in the twilight. What a glorious, magical evening with the fading evening light on the glassy water. Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear God. Thank you for the men and women whose suffering makes this possible. Thank you, God, for your servants who help this man and his family be so happy. And please tell my Pop I said hello.

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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.