Ben Stein's Diary

Late July

Sandpoint, Idaho, was never more glorious than this past summer.

By From the September 2011 issue

Send to Kindle

Friday
My wife, my pal Phil DeMuth, and I flew up to Spokane from LAX today. Our travel agent couldn't get us on our usual Alaska Airlines seats so she put us on Southwest instead. Frankly, I was looking forward to it because while the Southwest planes are packed, the flight attendants are usually so funny and cheery to be around that I leave the planes feeling great.

Ooops. Not today. The flight attendants on the first leg, from LAX to Oakland, were fairly pleasant but the ones on the flight from Oakland to Spokane were way off the beam. One, a tall, thin, older woman, accused us of getting on the plane impermissibly (how would we, could we, even have done that?) and then wanted to know if we were too old and weak to be in an exit row. Not in a polite or humorous way at all. That same woman bumped into me hard in my aisle seat over and over again as she was passing out peanuts. Somehow, no one else did. She had it in for me. The flight attendant near the cockpit was just as surly in her own way. I don't know why. Lots of mocking comments on my TV appearances by those two. I didn't get on this plane for this kind of treatment.

I know it's not the end of the world. Life goes on. It is just that Southwest has a big rep for ultra-good flight attendants and these might need some refresher courses. That's all. I have higher expectations of Southwest than I should have had. I still love them, though.

The Hertz counter clerk at GEG (Spokane) was super polite, as always, and a snack bar at the Ramada Inn next to the airport was clean and friendly. The bartender served me Diet RC Cola, a truly rare soft drink. I mention this because these little things--a smile here, a chuckle there, a hearty thanks--make all the difference in daily life. They make an immense difference on a travel day.

My old econ prof, the late, truly great C. Lowell Harriss, used to point out that a smile cost nothing, literally zero, yet conferred immense value. Why can't more people smile? I just don't get it. That one little smile I never got from that rude woman on Southwest would have made all the difference. Smiles just make all the difference everywhere.

Well, maybe not all the difference…as we headed toward Sandpoint, Phil read on his iPhone about the terrorism in Norway. What a horrible, unbelievably awful story. Was it just one lone killer with mental illness? How did he get a fully automatic assault rifle in Norway? How did he get a police uniform? How did he know how to make a huge bomb?

I have read many articles explaining the connections between the Oklahoma City bombers and al Qaeda. No government agencies seem to have followed up on these connections forcefully. Why not?

This horror show in Norway sounds like a similar situation: outwardly a homegrown terrorist, but possibly a captive of a foreign terrorist group. Anyway, it is a horrible, horrible story.

Then, on my fabulous, mind-bogglingly wonderful Sirius XM, we heard a report from Ethiopia on the BBC World Service about child brides in Ethiopia. They have some scary traditions there, including having brides as young as FIVE! Apparently brides in their preteens are not even unusual. This is crazy. What do they think they're doing?

Then, one story after another about the budget and debt crisis. This is a potential catastrophe in the making. Over the last decade, I blame the supply-siders for getting us into this mess with the false promises of lowered taxes increasing revenue. But for right now, I blame Mr. Obama, who is president and has still not submitted a detailed budget plan to get us out from under. Where is the leadership he promised? "Yes, we can." Yes, we can what? Drive the country into the ditch? I guess that's what he meant.

There is a memorable conversation in The Great Gatsby in which the notorious lady golfer and reputed golf course cheater, Jordan Baker, a friend of the ultra-rich Tom and Daisy Buchanan, says, "I hate careless people. It takes two to make an accident." Something like that. Not a precise quote. But anyway, here we have two extremely careless entities--the supply-siders and Mr. Obama--and we are about to have a really bad accident. Where did the grown-ups all disappear to? When did we last have a government of grown-ups? It has been a long, long time.

My researcher, Liz Heyman, recently went to the Nixon Library for me to gather material on RN's behavior during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Now, this was some fine research and some fine data. RN stroking the Arabs so carefully, showing such firmness and yet lack of provocation to the Soviets, keeping Israel alive without starting a world war and meanwhile using the war as a chance to get closer to Egypt (which worked fantastically well and someone at the CIA should get a medal for what they accomplished in that arena). There were a pair of men, RN and Henry A. Kissinger, with brilliant, adult ideas on running a country and building a peace that would--and did--last for a generation.

Why doesn't RN ever get the credit he deserves for giving mankind that greatest of all gifts--the gift of peace? Kissinger is still alive. He should get a lot more praise than he gets. Nixon and Kissinger. The peacemakers.

Anyway, we drove through the night to glorious Sandpoint, moved into our home up here, and I watched a funny Will Ferrell movie called Semi-Pro for an hour. I cannot always be serious.

Late at night I heard Mr. Buffett's trains shaking my windows and rattling my walls, for the times they are a-changing. How I love Sandpoint. I love it, love it, love it. My haven.

Saturday
SHOPPING. My wife was not feeling well, so Phil and I went to buy furniture for my new condo up here. I hate furniture shopping so I do it really, really fast. I have full confidence in Sandpoint Furniture, the local store, to have great beds at great prices, so I just lay on three beds, found the one I liked best, and bought it.

Then, across the street to the local J.C. Penney to buy linens. As I looked at pillowcases, two adorable little girls were studying super high-heeled shoes with platforms. It was so cute. The heels were almost as tall as the girls. It was like a setting for a Norman Rockwell painting. The girls got all excited when they heard me talking to the saleswoman and presented me with two wrinkled scraps of paper to autograph.

I noticed that one of the girls had a really professional eye makeup job on her little face. "Hold on," I wanted to say to her. "You don't need to grow up so fast. You spend a lot of time being old and only a little time being young. Enjoy it."

I have to be honest here. I think that one of the characters in one of the best movies ever made, The Last Picture Show, said something like that. It's not original with me. By the way, Midland, where we just buried the immortal Barbara Duke, reminds me of The Last Picture Show. I find Texas extremely evocative everywhere, but West Texas is magical. I feel as if I could have been a stronger man there, though that's probably wrong.

Then off to a sport shop to buy a bike for Phil. He is not happy with the used miserable bike I lend him, so he wants his own bike, and why not? We found him one he loved, made conversation with a lady biker who was riding the Selkirk Loop, a biking train I consider immensely trying, and then went back to home.

Rest, and then a rapid trip on my mighty Cobalt across the top of the lake to Bottle Bay. It was too crowded and I didn't really enjoy it. Back to rest and watch Will Ferrell, shower, and then to bed. I don't feel well.

Sunday
WOW, THIS IS A HOT DAY. Phil talked me into an insanely long bike ride along a bike path paralleling Highway 2 and then we rode through the leafy west side where Tommy and I used to rent a home all summer long. We passed a shaded yard where a mom played with her small daughter. The daughter had flaming red hair. Her hair and the leaves and the grass and the swing set were a perfect tableau. The mother seemed so utterly at ease talking to me about the hair colors in her family. It all looked so wonderfully safe, I felt I had to take a picture, to try to capture it. To shroud it in amber.

Far, far from Capitol Hill. Far from Kandahar. Far from Oslo.

Then a nap and then a ride up to Priest Lake. I stopped in Priest River at my new favorite store, Mitchell's, and bought tea. That store has ultra-friendly people. So does the Safeway in Sandpoint. The people are the main attraction here. Why are the people here so friendly? Why are they so totally, utterly different from the scared, scary suspicious, cagey people in Beverly Hills? Why? Why are they so incomparably more friendly than the customers at the Watergate Safeway? (N.B. The clerks at the Watergate Safeway are perfect.)

We got up to Hill's Resort, took the Thompson out on the lake with the help of my pal and first mate, Tim Farmin, and raced north. It was incredibly beautiful. Pristine mountains, calm, balmy water and air, very little wake, and the smell of barbecuing spare ribs in the distance calling us into port. That Thompson is too small, though. I think I may need a new boat--a new, used, bigger boat--to keep at Priest. That's my fantasy, anyway.

I have a lot of fantasies when I am in North Idaho. 

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.