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On the Road Again

A long, hot humid summer -- new excerpts from Ben Stein's Diary.

By 8.29.06

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This installment of "Ben Stein's Diary" ran in the July/August 2006 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe, click here.

FRIDAY
Here I am in Boca Raton, Florida. Wifey and I flew in to Miami last night. It was hot. It was very hot. Humid, too. Too many Democrats talking. The driver took us up to Boca, as we call it, on that maddeningly busy freeway. Then we had trouble at the front desk of the Boca Raton Resort and Racquet Club, but it was quickly straightened out and we went to our room. Wonderful stuff overlooking the ocean. Wait, no, it's not the ocean. It's the Intracoastal Waterway. Anyway, it's water. And there are boats and that's nice.

We had a modest dinner. I can't remember what it was so it must have been very modest. Maybe just eggs, and then we watched Walk the Line together.

I have always been a huge fan of Johnny Cash, so I liked it. Plus, my wife's family is from Arkansas, so I feel as if I have a bond with the Man in Black, since he was also from Arkansas. Most of the movie is about as slow as watching paint dry, but I love the songs. And I just adore Reese Witherspoon, who steals every scene she's in as June Carter Cash. She is not just good, but great. I hear tell she sang those songs her own self and that's no small thing.

Joaquin Phoenix is great, too, especially the great look of concentration on his face when he's singing "Folsom Prison Blues" for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Plus I also loved one scene at a motel where the swimming pool is just a perfect light blue. Swimming pools are one of my favorite sights. I have one in Beverly Hills and one in Rancho Mirage, and I look at them a lot when they're lit up at night. Something tells me, "'Come in,' she said, 'I'll give you shelter from the storm,'" as my hero, Bob Dylan, has sung into my ears so many thousands of times. Watch for that scene at a little Southern motel with the night-lit swimming pool. It reminds me of when my high school senior trip took a bus ride to New Orleans and stayed at little motels with little blue-lit swimming pools, and Ms. Jean Dorsett fell in love with me, but I didn't know it. It is an evocative scene. But the whole movie is totally stolen, hook, line, and sinker, by the woman who plays Johnny Cash's bitch first wife. Wow. Can she act, or what? She should give lessons. She was amazingly mean and cruel. I think I'll look up her name right now as I'm writing this. No, I think I'll have Wlady do it. She's one of the stars of Big Love on HBO, which I have not seen, but I'll bet she's good. [Her name is Ginnifer Goodwin -- ed.]

Anyway, we ordered popcorn from room service, and it was brought to us by an amazingly hirsute Haitian woman. Plus, it cost $30. Well, who cares? It's only money.

By the way, I once sat across the aisle from Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash on a flight from LAX to New York City. He was super friendly and told me how much he liked me in Ferris Bueller. I told him I worshipped him. What is it about music? Really, what is it about music that gets to us so powerfully? Interestingly enough, I spend most of my day listening to music, but my sister and my mother spend or spent much less time if any. Plus, I don't think my sister ever got into country music or rock and roll. It's my obsession. What's that all about? There is so much of life I don't understand and so little I do understand.

Well, more popcorn, huge doses of Fibercon, then off to sleep. I wound up loving that movie a lot even though it was slow. But be warned, do not watch when Johnny's brother is near the saw.

SATURDAY
Up in the morning and off to school. Yep, I am here working. That's all I ever do. Work. Work, work, work. I am here speaking at the graduation of a fine little school called Lynn University. Right here in Boca. Everyone is extremely pleasant, especially the beautiful Ms. Lynn, whose late husband was a principal donor to the school. What a story she had: famous Norwegian swimmer mother. Czech diplomat father. Travels and travails around Europe and Canada. Then she met and married the fabulously successful Mr. Lynn of Boca, an insurance magnate, and next thing she knew, she was in Florida. She is still lovely and could not be more charming. Like all of us, she is lucky to be in America. I sat next to her after my speech and we hit it off famously. We both looked at the shoes of the kids graduating. An interesting mixture, from high heels to thongs. But who am I, a tennis shoe playing fool, to complain?

At the ceremony was Irving R. Levine, former economics correspondent for NBC and an old pal of my Pop's. He was as friendly as could be and it was a pleasure to see him.

After a modest lunch, I went back to the hotel and slept for about four hours. It is not easy to travel coast to coast and then get up early to work. But I happily do it to feed my family. That's what grownups do. And I love meeting new people. Mr. and Mrs. Ross, who run Lynn, were so amazingly hospitable I could hardly believe it.

There are a great number of very kind people in this nation, and that's the truth.

Wifey and I went for a long walk along the Intracoastal, had a modest dinner, and went to bed early. That's its own kind of pleasure.

SUNDAY
Up again to fly to Charleston, South Carolina. I haven't been there since 1950 when my little family stopped there in our two-tone green Chevrolet sedan to sleep on our way to Miami Beach. I have no memory of it at all except my mother complaining about how greasy the food was. The trip up was easy, although I am getting to really dislike small commuter planes. Too cramped. Too claustrophobic. Bathrooms way too small.

Still, the Charleston airport was charming, with many beautiful girls. On our way to our destination, Kiawah Island, we stopped at a Waffle House, my favorite restaurant. We had waffles (or I had a waffle) served by a stunningly beautiful young woman named Nicole. She told me she wanted to be a pediatrician but had no plans to go to college. Hmmm. Sounds a lot like a certain tow-headed son of mine. In the booth ten feet from us two good old boys were smoking, and saying "Bueller, Bueller." Fame is everywhere.

Our driver was a graduate of the Citadel and told us hair-raising stories of hazing. Really scary. He was now driving a sedan while awaiting a job in the government. I think he wants to be a spook. He seemed like a nice fellow. He drove us assiduously to our destination. Kiawah is a barrier island about ten miles long, carefully cultivated, loaded with golf courses and the homes of the exploiting class, dense jungle, and then a spectacular hotel called the Sanctuary.

My hosts from the Royal Bank of Canada took wifey and me to our rooms. They were AMAZING. Huge, well furnished, overlooking the ocean with surf rolling in endlessly. Spectacular. Maybe the most elegant rooms I have ever been in. The closest competitor would be the Breakers in Palm Beach. But the Sanctuary is Really Deluxe. I shudder to think what our rooms cost. Well, probably not that much actually compared with the other costs our host had to bear. We had room service, which was also good (I had salmon) and then we watched the first few minutes of a movie called The New Land by Terrence Malick. What a disaster. We had to shut it off after a few minutes. Too creepy and way, way, way too pretentious. What happened to him after Badlands?

I stayed up and watched a documentary about the Xingu Indians of the Amazon. They were cute. They don't spend a lot of time studying or working, but then they seem fairly happy. There was a lot of nudity in that show, but it was sort of unpleasant. I'll have to think about why.

I went out on the deck and watched the moon over the waves. An immense mosquito bit me and made me crazy with itching but luckily I had some anti-itch cream so I survived.

Wifey was up all night being sick to her stomach. Why? Probably worrying about our son.

MONDAY
A quiet day writing my column for the New York Times, and then swimming in the Sanctuary's Infinity Pool overlooking the ocean. Then lots of cookies and tea, and then off to speak to the traders of the Royal Bank of Canada and some of their clients. It was surprising how many of them I knew. Again, everyone was super pleasant.

I sat next to the head of the company's trading division, a handsome man named Mark. He told me what his division did, and it was interesting indeed. Nerve wracking, though. I sometimes wish I had gone to work on Wall Street but I am nowhere near tough enough, plus I hate getting up early. No, I think the Almighty got me to where I am supposed to be.

The speaker for the next day is Tom Ridge and he came and sat with us. What a gracious, intelligent, decent man. I wish he'd run for president. I liked him a lot. (Wait. I forgot. I'm running for president.)

TUESDAY
A ghastly trip on a small commuter plane from Charleston to LGA. The plane had the tiniest lavatory I have ever seen or tried to use. It made me crazy. That plane is way too small for a two- and-a-half hour flight, as it turned out to be. Plus, I felt very nutty, almost panicky, when I landed and they would not let us off for 15 minutes. Then we had to have a bus take us to the terminal. Again, yuck. No more commuter planes. That's it. Naturally, my wife was totally calm.

Then a ride in a town car to the apartment of our dear friends, the married couple Justin Feldman and Linda Alice Fairstein. He's a retired lawyer and she's a former DA and now a successful writer. Justin just had a porcine aortic valve implant that has saved his life. Aren't pigs great? I think it must be a typo in the Talmud that tells us Jews to stay away from them. Justin is 86 years old and has behaved with ultra super courage in the face of this illness. I am really impressed.

I left my wife with the Feldman-Fairsteins and went off to the Essex House to my usual room. Then dinner with my food faddist friend Wendy. Naturally, she mainly wanted to talk about food.

I had to get to bed early because tomorrow, Lords, is a busy day. That's a Shakespeare quote.

WEDNESDAY
What a day. Many, many TV shows and radio interviews, starting early in the morning on Fox and Friends. I went down to the Wall Street Journal and met my pal, Dan Henninger, who writes a masterful column for the Friday edition. Then I went to see Rich Rescigno, a high pooh bah at Barron's, and we had a nice natter. I miss Bob Bartley a lot, though. He was a great guy and major force for human dignity. He was taken from us far, far, far too young.

Then a super blowup at a TV network over scheduling a segment for little me. It's complicated, but it was an ugly situation and then I just got over it and did my thing even though I was being mistreated. What happens to me is not terribly important. It all worked out, but it made me glad that I don't work in live TV everyday. Waaay too much stress. I like what I'm doing, where everyone is nice to me all the time even though I have to travel all of the time.

FRIDAY
Guess where I am now. Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of my favorite places, the Amway Grand Hotel. I spent the night before talking about the auto industry with people from the labor unions. They made a damned good point: everyone talks about how badly the unions have gouged the automakers. But the automakers agreed to all of the contracts. Management signed off on those deals that are now killing the industry. Why doesn't anyone blame management?

Well, actually I guess a lot of people do.

Anyway, up very early this morning for another speech, this time to a large assembly of credit union officials. They were a great audience. Truly great, really super. One of the best ever. We talked about how much we hate the obscene executive compensation that's going on and how my hero, Bush, has turned a blind eye to it.

We talked a lot about how much we love our troops and our police and firemen and even our teachers. Two standing ovations. That's me bragging.

Afterwards, many women came up to me and told me they would want me to be president even though they were Democrats. I wonder if Karl Rove knows what a thing he could have here....

Then, a long, long drive to Detroit and a flight to Dallas. A middle-aged woman at the Detroit airport asked me if I would marry her. She said she wanted a rich husband so she would not have to work. I told her I was happily married plus I was not rich. She didn't look happy.

In Dallas, I had dinner with a woman whose ex-boyfriend had just given away his German short-haired pointer. He needs shooting.

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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.