Summer and Smoke - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Summer and Smoke


Oooh. Close to the end of summer and it’s smoky up here in Sandpoint, Idaho. There are brush fires burning east of us near Spokane. The smoke is blown over our perfect Lake Pendoreille, covers it up for a time, and then the wind shifts and we have a clear view west for miles. But in the middle of the day, the wind can shift several times and we are in a smoky cloud and then on a clear mountain top on a space ship.

I’ve been thinking about the many kind people I run into in Sandpoint on a daily basis. The waiters and waitresses at the Trinity Restaurant at the Edgewater Hotel are uniformly cheerful and fast and hard working. Just to see them brightens my day. The staff at Bottle Bay, that tiny gem of a ‘resort,’ really just a bar and a few rented rooms about ten miles east of here, struggle to make me a perfect burger and the waves lap at the power boats a few feet away. The power of kindness. That’s real energy.

At the Safeway, I am haunted by a sight I saw a month ago and will never forget: a burly middle-aged man was pushing a shopping cart down the dairy aisle. His daughter — as I assume she was — was also pushing. Suddenly, she leapt in the air and did a kind of scissoring dance move with a wide smile on her face. She was about 14, I would say, and her father nodded in appreciation. When I came to the checkout line, they were right behind me and the daughter did another dance move, lifting both legs off the air until they were almost parallel with the floor. Then she settled back to earth like an osprey landing in her nest, with marvelous, careless grace.

The father and the checkout clerk and I all applauded. It turned out that the dancer was indeed (as I had guessed) a young ballerina. Her father was a hockey coach. They live in Edmonton, Alberta. I am sure I will never see them again.

But the girl was so happy and her father was so proud that it touched me as human emotions at their finest. It was a kind scene in this kind small town up in the Selkirks, where there are no New York Times for sale in the entire county. Even her ballet lift and her father’s smile of happiness with his child had a shining light in them. They were giving the world a gift.

Likewise, I was in Fort Worth, Texas, very recently, to speak to a group of people connected with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. That’s the same line that runs just next to our condos here. My wife and I have immense affection for it. Their trains roar by here about fifty times each day and their noise and vibrating energy are the backgrounds and bulwarks of our lives. O brave new world, that has railroads in it. That power reassures me that the world is working in some orderly way.

I am the tiniest imaginable stockholder in that rail line through my electron-microscopically infinitesimal holding in its parent, Berkshire Hathaway. I feel a certain proprietary pride in that power. The power of gigantic locomotives carrying coal and oil and the other staffs of life through the mighty nation — a part of it is mine and I love it.

I am thinking especially about that because when I spoke to the BNSF men and women, I met Matt Rose, the head of BNSF and several of his top lieutenants. After the speech, Matt Rose, the head of BNSF, took me to the cavernous control room of BNSF. It is as space age as any place I have ever been, with boxcar-sized displays of whatever BNSF trains are doing to that moment in economic and physical terms.

Then, Mr. Rose spoke to me about a project that his wife, Lisa, and he had begun some years ago called the Gatehouse. As I think about it, Lisa Rose founded it and Matt uses his great organizational and management skills to run it, along with other talented people who help run it.

It’s a community of 96 apartments in an area between Dallas and Fort Worth known as Grapevine. It is a refuge for women in trouble, fleeing abusive relationships of all kinds, with or without children, women who have been beaten with words or blows or in other ways and have no place to be sheltered.

They are given bright, comfortable places to live for periods up to two and a half years. They are fed, mentored, given emotional support, taught skills, and — as one might say — put up on their feet in a difficult world. (You can read about it online, of course.) It’s run by donations from kind and able men and women. It’s not under government control. In fact, it is not at all supported by the government.

It’s a community that runs off the power of love, the power of kindness, connected in some important way by the power of economic enterprise. It’s a happy dance move of kindness in an unforgiving world. I’ll help them out and maybe I will feel some tiny connection with its power of kindness, as I do with BNSF’s power of locomotion.

Ben Stein
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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.
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