Jewish World Review April 4, 2005 / 24 Adar II 5765

Paul Greenberg

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Lost en route | I'm on a plane to Dallas with a girls' swim team that just competed in a meet at Little Rock. All that lean muscle, all those strong teeth and ready smiles. All that youth. They're going home and I'm going out to talk with scholars at the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford. Young America acts, Old America thinks. Or at least pontificates.

After being stuffed into that little seat/cage in economy class, any passenger would be ready, more than ready, to stretch his legs between flights.

I decide to walk — well, half-walk, half-ride the moving sidewalk, and climb up and down various stairs to get from Terminal B to C. I wind up hiking from Dallas to what must be Fort Worth. No wonder they call it DFW.

This exercise business isn't all it's cracked up to be. Because, after all that, I still don't have youth, gleaming teeth, lean muscle and a steady backstroke. Or a ready smile — except when I think of the swim team

At Gate C4, waiting for the flight to San Jose, all faces seem to look up. They are calm but expectant as they gaze prayerfully at the never-failing g-d who answers with infotainment 24/7. The television screens, banks of them, flash the same ever-morphing picture, too fleeting to be called a graven image. But they draw the same enraptured adoration.

What ever happened to the unchanging test pattern that used to flicker on old black-and-white television sets when the stations weren't broadcasting? It offered solace, expectation, white noise, a certain peace and stability, an assurance that nothing was changing. Now there is no such thing as dead air time. Which is a great loss. And one reason we must travel a couple of thousand miles to think.

Up above, Wolf Blitzer is replicated a dozen times on a dozen hanging screens, alternating with celebrities, catastrophes, news that isn't news . . . whatever today's vanity of vanities may be.

Travel is disorienting, they say. They have a point, but in a way it is orienting. It turns the traveler toward true East, away from the flickering images all about, and sends him back to first things just to get away from all the mental turbulence on the surface of things. He's hurried along a kind of human conveyor belt, waiting to be reassembled at his destination. With familiar surroundings swept away, he can now burrow into his own thoughts.

To fortify myself for the long flight west, I order a steamed milk and a peanut butter cookie. No caffeine. I'm planning to nap all the way. Sure beats the wagon train west. The two young women behind the counter at Freshens Yogurt are dark but comely, as it says in the Song of Songs, and both are wearing the same exotic costume and colorful headdress. Middle Eastern? West African? East Indian? Pure American, like Kwanzaa?

Thomas Sowell, the scholar who did a whole book on how different ethnic groups specialize in different trades in America, could probably explain it. The early immigrants find work, and then introduce later ones to the same trade. It's still going on.

I didn't ask the young ladies where they're from. They get enough dumb questions from total strangers. ("Do you have pistachio?") And they already look sufficiently bored. I would be, too, taking orders all day. But the questions hover. For example: Why the umlaut in Freshens? To give it a quality, Danish sound like Haagen-Dazs? Was there ever a Mr. or Ms. Freshens or is it just a made-up name?

I let it pass. The mysteries of the universe are many. And the only thing that stays the same is man's infinite curiosity. Or on some days and in some places, like a busy airport full of people, his infinite incuriosity.

En route, the random observations keep coming, much like bulky suitcases and strangely shaped carrying cases clunking onto the baggage carousel, jostling the others already there, being carried 'round and 'round till they disappear. Imagine being paid to just write down those miscellaneous thoughts in the newspaper. It's a wonderful world.

At the San Jose airport, I'm no longer a package being delivered but have to get my rental car and find my own way to Stanford University 30 miles down, or rather up, Highway 101. Within minutes, I've blundered into the long-term parking lot, and have to pay a dollar to get out. I've got to be the only driver in the world who gets lost before he's out of the parking lot. Yep, I'm definitely myself again: lost.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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