Ben Stein's Diary

Standing the Heat

Back home again in Sandpoint, a world away from Cairo.

By 7.5.13

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Sandpoint, Idaho
We flew up here a few days ago. An uneventful journey aside from our flight to Seattle having an hour’s delay on takeoff. The pilot merrily told us all that it had to do with a minor part. He told me later that it was a part that told him if the airplane was about to stall and crash. Ha-ha. What a joker.

We were on Alaska Airlines and I am bound to say that the three flight attendants we had were as helpful and pleasant as any flight attendants I have ever had. Just wonderfully generous with their time and with guiding me on a few basics of my new “smart phone.” It is an Android and seems to be about as frustrating to use as any device I have ever encountered. But the flight attendants were quite knowledgeable and little by little I am learning one millionth of what the phone can do.

I find it endlessly fascinating that one smart phone now has as much computing power as the entire Strategic Air Command had in 1980, or so I am told.

But what a relationship killer the phone is. We are all looking down at our phones instead of talking to the people around us. Maddening and I am the worst culprit.

Anyway, when we first got to Sandpoint three days ago, the heat was overwhelming... 96 degrees and broiling sun. It was painful. I took my trusty Cannondale out for a ride the first afternoon and I truly thought I would die. I mean, I felt literally as if I was about to die. I kept having to get off the bike and sit on a picnic table and rest. How will my family deal with all of our real estate if I suddenly die?

Even when I was just walking I thought I would simply die of heart failure from the heat. Luckily, our home here has great a/c, so when I got home, I could rest. I just would lie down in what we call the Buffett Room because it overlooks the rail line of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The trains were going by only sporadically, though. Tim, our genius engineer, boatman, pal, told us that fewer trains run in very hot weather because the rail tracks get softer and wider and there is greater possibility of derailment. Phil DeMuth is a genius and probably knew that, too.

Last night, the air was distinctly cooler. We took the mighty Cobalt across the lake to one of the world’s great restaurants, Ivano’s del Lago, in Hope. We had a magnificent meal, served by magnificently slender and laughing waitresses and bus girls. Those beautiful girls floating around the table like butterflies are a great thrill for me. I admire thin people very much because I have no restraint about food at all and I could never be on my feet for hours at a time. But the waitresses (and one lone waiter) all smile and smile and are endlessly cheerful and bring me food and it’s just swell.

All of us diners, Tim, Alex, and I, were exhausted by the end of the day, so we rode back to the marina in silence. Dusk had settled in and the yellow lights of the docks were a welcome sight for us weary sailors. Fiberglass ships on the water, very free, and yet I get a bit nervous on the water at night. I am happy to get the boat back to its home.

That night, I watched Perry Mason on Me-TV, one of my favorite channels. What a great show and how wonderfully polished all of the gems in that necklace are.

Today, I got up early for me -- 8.30 -- and got myself out the door for the Sandpoint 4th of July Parade. There was a huge crowd. The marchers were good but by far the best was a dancing school where the girls did cartwheels on pavement. Pretty brave. There was also a good float advertising the local production of The Wizard of Oz. I plan to see it tomorrow night.

Then, I saw something that made my heart race: a man had two perfect Weimaraners -- chocolate and gray. Those are such exquisitely tuned instruments of God’s orchestra it puts me in awe just to see them. They are utterly unselfconscious of their perfection. A well-shaped sporting breed -- there is a shining gem of creation.

Then, lunch, then a long, long nap. Then a ride around City Beach Park where I ran into a lovely girl I had met last summer in the park. I had taken a photo of her on swings. She and I talked and she told me she was moving to Half Moon Bay in Northern California along with her mother. Broke my heart to think she won’t be up here any longer, even though I have only spoken to her for maybe five minutes, all told. I think her name is Kendall but I don’t really remember.

She is going to be a senior in high school and wants to be a lawyer because she did well in a mock trial in her high school last year.

Then, back home for more napping and train sounds. Then, off to dinner at Trinity Café at the Edgewater Hotel. This is a truly fine restaurant with a great view of the lake. All around us were families assembling for the fireworks. On either side of us were friendly people -- firefighters, retired law enforcement, teachers, engineers -- the salt of the earth.

We had a simply stunning bus girl named Bella, age 15, who works every day she can. I am impressed. There are still many Americans who want to work. There seem to be particularly a lot of them in Sandpoint. Maybe that’s rural America generally. Maybe I get a biased sample in the other direction from making my main residence in Beverly Hills.

I got many e-mails while I was eating asking me what I thought about Egypt and the coup against Morsi. I feel a bit bad for Morsi. The Egyptian economy is in shambles. That’s not his fault. It was in a mess under Mubarak, too. It’s always been a mess. It was wildly unrealistic, comical really, for the Egyptian demonstrators to think they could reorganize that economy in a year. Or even in five years.

How do they fix it? One, the Egyptians are an intelligent people. But they need men and women there with entrepreneurial skills and education and drive. They expelled almost all of the Jews (99.99 per cent) after Israel beat them in two wars. Maybe they should invite the Jews back in. Jews are good at business, to put it mildly. Maybe they should invite the Taiwanese in. And the Indians. Maybe people more interested in making money than in rhetoric would help. Egypt badly needs people to make it into a manufacturing powerhouse and it could have these. But it cannot be both a petri dish for racial and religious hatred and a manufacturing power. Let’s think about it. The Arabs are smart and hard working. But they don’t think about getting businesses started and running them without baksheesh. A work ethic and the rule of law and an absence of militant sectarianism might help.

But at this point, Egypt is a vast welfare state at the breast of international lenders and donors. That is not going to work forever.

Of course, nothing works forever.

So many people quote my famous father’s bon mot about how, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” But they rarely notice the next sentence: “And if we only do the things we can do forever, we won’t do very much.”

Good luck to the Egyptians. But I don’t see how the military can do much about the economy.

We watched the fireworks, which were great, and now I am getting ready for bed. I am so tired but so happy to be in Sandpoint. I really cannot afford my home here much longer. It is way bigger and more expensive than I should have. But I cannot bear to stop loving this town, where the people are so cheerful and say to me each summer, “Welcome home.” I guess I could rent but the real estate market here is basically moribund, or so I am told.

Stop complaining, you idiot, I keep saying to myself. Your problems are first world problems.

The fireworks -- again -- were brilliant and when I mosey around Sandpoint, it feels like home. Except that I miss my Julie Good Girl so much I could just die. I am fully addicted to hound dogs. Just a full-on dog-o-phile. Hopeless. I guess I am hopeless in many ways. Good night.

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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.