Ben Stein's Diary

Making the LAX-JAX Connection

Another installment of America's number one Diary.

By From the June 2010 issue

Ugh. A terrible travel day. After a long delay, my flight to DFW to connect with one to Orlando was abruptly canceled. My crafty travel agent got me on another one via SLC to Orlando on Delta. But I did not have an aisle seat and I get nutty, totally paranoid claustrophobic if I am on a long flight and not on the aisle.

Luckily for me, three incredibly kind people, Gentiles, of course, traded places with me so I could sit on the aisle and not against the bulkhead. That's sort of the punch line of almost all of my experiences out there in middle America: your ordinary American is incredibly kind and nice. I would say especially your ordinary middle-class or upper-middle-class Midwestern, and above all, southeastern American Americans are just the most polite people on the planet.

I got to Orlando after midnight, had a driver whose fuel tank light was flashing empty, who refused to stop and buy gasoline even if I paid for it, and then got to my hotel within the gates of Disney World.

There were tired but pleasant people waiting for me. They showed me to an immense, prison-like room, slowly brought me the most tasteless room service I have ever had, and I went to sleep. I was awakened by a malfunctioning refrigerator. Luckily there was another bedroom in my suite, and I slept maybe four hours there before rising to give my speech, which I loved doing, tired or not.

After my speech, I slept for an hour, then went down the hall to film an interview with my old pal and shipmate, Chuck Colson. Chuck was a powerful corporate lawyer, then a high official in the Nixon White House. He had been a Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine) and he was legendarily tough and devoted. He got caught in Watergate and was sent to prison for seven months.

He emerged a new man, devoted not to Nixon but to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to prisoners. He started the Prison Fellowship, and at one time was making more than 300 visits a year to prisoners. His message was that while the world and "the system" might tell a prisoner he was dirt, to God, he was of infinite worth.

The Prison Fellowship has worked amazingly well. Recidivism rates for prisoners in his program are drastically lower than for prisoners generally.

Anyway, Chuck and my late parents were great pals. I really only got to know him very recently. He's doing a documentary about ethical issues connected with the meltdown of 2007-2009, and he had a crew there in Orlando to film me. It was a lot of fun except for one makeup woman who wanted to pluck a hair on my chin. I told her men don't do that and she was scaring me. Other than that, the interview went well and I will be eager to see the results.

After that, I packed my miserable belongings and went to Orlando airport, probably the worst airport in America. It is just way too small for the number of flyers and TSA never has enough lines open. But I had a guide who helped me with my luggage so soon I was through, waiting for my flight to DCA.

I had a simply horrifyingly bad hamburger at the Wendy's at the US Air gates. If anyone from Wendy's reads this (I am a small stockholder), please do something about that Wendy's. The food is so bad it's terrifying.

Off to DCA, my favorite airport, to rendezvous with my big wifey, who is flying in from LAX. (How do you like all of these abbreviations for airports?) I slept almost all of the way. I had a stunningly beautiful young woman sitting next to me. She is a photographer and her photos of water-scapes near D.C. were miraculous. Then to my apartment at the Watergate for a haircut and a nap. Then to pick up my wife. We met and then met with our pal Russ Ferguson for dinner at Charlie Palmer's steak house on Capitol Hill. We had a table with a fabulous view of the Capitol. Breathtaking. The food was good and the service was fabulous. Not just great. Fabulous.

Then, to bed in our hooches at the Watergate. In my hooch, I have a shower that generates considerable steam. That helps my always sore lungs. I slept like a baby.

Our capable driver and friend, Bob Noah, appeared with a car and drove us down to Virginia. We stopped at a Super Target in Manassas or somewhere near there. I smelled fried chicken and bought a few pieces at the Super Target delicatessen. They were astoundingly good. Just amazingly tasty and crisp. I offered some to Bob. He went crazy for it. You have to try that chicken. It is as good as any fried chicken I have ever had, and it was virtually free. Congratulations, Target.

Then, hurtling through the Shenandoah Valley to Lynchburg to have dinner with my pals Jerry Falwell, Jr. and his beautiful wife, Becki. I love this part of Virginia. The trees are starting to bloom and the sky is a light blue and I can sleep while Bob drives.

The Falwells were fun, as always. They introduced me to a group of young people who were running for city council in Lynchburg. One of these young people was head of a pro-Israel student group that had just gotten recognition from Benjamin Netanyahu at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee meetings a couple of weeks ago. I thanked them profusely.

Notice that the kids were students at Liberty University. The largest Evangelical Christian university in the world. Naturally, they were not from Yale or Harvard. Deeply impressive. I will say to my dying day, the basic Christian in this country is the salt of the earth and the best friend we Jews have ever had.

We ate at the Shoe Factory. The food was good and the people in the room looked respectable. Near us was a prosperous-looking foursome. The older man was the retired CEO of the local -- very large -- power utility. He looked straight out of Central Casting to play a Southern utility executive. Square shooter but takes no guff.

Almost everyone in the restaurant wanted a photo with me. That was cute.

Then, back into the car for our ride back to D.C. We stopped at a medium-sized supermarket to buy some bottled water (what other kind would we buy on a car trip?). There was a thin, attractive woman holding about 15 items in her hands.

"Why didn't you get a cart?" I asked her.

"I just came in for one item and then I saw more I wanted," she said cheerily.

I did not pursue it but it seemed sad.

We stopped at an immense red gasoline station. Four black men in a small car lit up enormous joints and sucked on them before heading out onto the highway. A bit frightening.

Then, back to the Watergate and to sleep.

Off to the Holocaust Museum to see a new exhibit about Nazi propaganda. The place was packed. The whole town is packed, in fact, because it's cherry blossom time. There are families, couples, school groups. PACKED.

The exhibit was disappointing except for a few items. I am already familiar with the generalities and many of the specifics of anti-Semitic propaganda from the Nazis. They showed the Jews as monstrous, blood-sucking, lecherous subhuman creatures. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to see the photos of the specific powerful Weimar Jews the Nazis were after. "Press Jew So and So." "Jew Banker So and So." They all look like just any respectable Jewish person now. They all look a lot like me. And poof, they were gone under horrible circumstances.

The exhibit also showed how Jews were after the ultimate goal of controlling all of Europe in cahoots with Stalin and Churchill. Of course, Stalin was a vicious anti-Semite and eventually planned to kill the Jews of the Soviet Union, even in the 1950s, and that just makes it all the more frightening.

I wish some smart person would do a serious explanation of why so many people hate and fear Jews. Not in America, where, I hope, Americans realize Jews are just as lazy and pitiful as the rest of the society (to paraphrase my old boss, Richard M. Nixon ). But in Europe. Now, I can see why the Arabs hate Jews. The Jews took this miserable dump called Palestine and made it a powerhouse. So, that's just envy. But why would important, powerful people hate Jews?

Well, anyway, there was a beautiful young girl constantly hounding me for photos of her and me at the museum, which is fine, except that she had a bad cough and I am positive I am going to get sick.

Basically, I think the exhibit was pretty elementary. Still, good for beginners in the subject.
Then, off to the National Gallery of Art to see the amazing Chester Dale collection of Renoirs, Picassos, Monets, and other masters.

This is my third visit and I like it a lot. I am bound to say, though, that I consider Monet so superior to any other painter of the era that I would have rather seen all Monets. His Houses of Parliament and Cathedral at Rouen are hauntingly beautiful.

Then, a modest lunch at the cafeteria of the museum. I had a brownie, but what a brownie. Rich and delicious.

Then rest time.

Dinner at a Vietnamese place in Georgetown called Miss Saigon. The party was Alex, Russ Ferguson, Aram Bakshian, genius writer and marching comrade from the Nixon days. We had to wait almost an hour because the crowds in D.C. were so immense but we finally got fed. The Hanoi pork was perfect. The rest only so-so. For dessert we went down to the Georgetown waterfront for a chocolate milkshake. DEE-LICIOUS. Really yummy. Then back to the Watergate for a nice sleep.

It is Easter. A lovely day. We went to dinner with Russ and Bob Noah at a restaurant called the Blue Duck Tavern at 24th and M. The food was spectacular. I had short ribs and they were amazing. We sat next to a post-operative transsexual and "her" husband. I could tell she was not a natural-born woman because she was being so respectful to her husband. No real woman would do that. When "she" stood up it was obvious.

In the middle of the meal, I started sneezing maybe 30 times in a row. Uh-oh. Onset of a sickness. I sat outside so as not to disturb my fellow gourmets with my discomfort. A huge black man from Ghana came over and wanted my autograph.

It was a nice day.

In the night though, I started to feel really ill and exhausted.

This is bad. I bid farewell to my big wifey and I headed for the Reagan airport. By this time, I felt horrible. I dragged my fat old self through the TSA section and waited for my flight. I felt like death. I got to the plane and went right to sleep. Then, after landing at JAX, I got off the plane and went to the Waffle House, where three amazingly slow women -- all highly cheerful -- waited on me.

It was great how good those waffles tasted. But by the time I got to my hotel, a Hilton Homewood Suites, I thought I would die.

I rested for a while, then went to the extremely spartan hotel dining room, where I waited forever for a fairly tasty meal of some kind of hamburger I really enjoyed and some chicken that was not so good.

Back to my room to watch the Duke-Butler game. What an exciting game and how brave a show the Butler team put on. They came so amazingly close to winning with that final shot, but in my mind, they did not lose.

I awoke in the middle of the night with a searing pain in my throat and none of my pink amoxicillin suspension medicine for that condition. I drank tons of tea, because the room had a tea maker, but I felt terrible.

By miracles of prayer, though, I managed to get some sleep. The suite had two bedrooms and one of them was quiet and I could sleep in it.

Still, feeling sick and ill away from home is a bad, bad situation.

Miracle. I awakened feeling tired, but not too bad. I felt as if I had sweated out whatever that girl at the Holocaust Museum gave me.

I got myself out of bed and was driven by a young driver over to the beneficiary of my speech to come later, the Wolfson Children's Hospital. Now, this is a great place. State-of-the-art treatments for children regardless of race or economic status. It was originally endowed by an immigrant named Mr. Wolfson who came from Lithuania with nothing and made a fortune in the scrap metal business.

My hosts showed me around the cancer ward. I met several incredibly sweet little kids, emaciated, with wires and tubes coming in and out of them. They were magnificent. I met a doctor in charge of the epilepsy center who talked to me about how ObamaCare will cause the hospital headaches and how they will need more private donations than ever.

The kids, though, were magnificent. Just superstars. The nurses and doctors were and are stars, too. There is a problem with all of the pollen here, which is making me feel drowsy, but it's fine. It isn't cancer.

I left in a state of great emotional uplift. For one thing, I was humbled by the courage of the cancer victims. For another, I was energized by the work of the volunteers of the Women's Board, who had brought me there, and who raise a lot of money for that hospital and those kids. For another, Jacksonville is just a friendly, happy little city.

Out there in America, Americans are doing a heck of a lot right. There is amazing good-heartedness in America. It's not all Goldman Sachs. There are tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of people devoted to doing good.

I offer the Wolfson Children's Hospital as Exhibit A.

It is now a few weeks later. I am in a small town outside the country music center of Branson, Missouri. Why am I here? To speak at College of the Ozarks. And what, you may ask, is College of the Ozarks? It is a place that has got it all right.

This is a work college. The students must show financial need. Then, if admitted, they must take a full load of classes, and then they must work at least 15 hours per week in a campus job, like at the student center or the student dairy farm or the student beef farm. Then, they get their school with no tuition. If they work through the summer, there is no charge for room and board.

This is an idea I had never heard of before. It is brilliant. It teaches young Americans what they most need to know, a work ethic. It teaches them how to stop sulking and playing video games, and get to work. The result is that the kids leave school knowing how to live.

CofO also teaches patriotism in a deep way. They don't teach kids to hate America, as so many schools do today. Instead, they teach kids to honor this country and especially the men and women who fight for us. They take trips to World War II battlefields with brave veterans. They go to Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima and Okinawa and even to Nijmegen to see where American blood was spilled to save this great nation and then they bring the veterans to CofO to be honored and cheered.

Plus, they teach respect and humility before God. That is probably the most important.

This is a great place. Green and leafy and lovely buildings. I like it a lot.

I had a wonderful time there. I had a fine lunch before my speech with Lynn Kellogg and her husband, Vietnam war hero John Simpers. Lynn and I marched together in the pro-life wars long, long ago. She is justly famous for singing "Easy to Be Hard," the show-stopping number in Hair -- in the original Broadway cast. Now she works in good causes and prays and sings in Omaha, Arkansas. She had read in TAS that I had lost my Seiko watch and she bought me a new one. No one has ever done anything like that for me before. I was moved to tears.

These are great people.

Now I am in New York. I have been here for a couple of days doing publicity for Phil DeMuth's and my new book about investing. The book sells extremely well when I am on TV, but not so well otherwise. But it was on the N.Y. Times and WSJ best-seller lists this week, so that's good.

Anyway, I am just about to leave at JFK and what should I smell but delicious hot dogs. I ducked into a little deli and got the best hot dog I have ever had. I hate eating animals, but boy, do they taste good. I wish I could be a better person.

As I settled into my seat on the flight, kindly assisted by two lovely women from American Airlines, I had a thought. There have been maybe 20 billion humans alive ever on this earth. I am one of the most blessed of any of them.

I am truly humbled. I watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, my favorite show, on the digi player, and fell into a peaceful sleep. Thank you, God

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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.