A few days ago, I was packing my bags in a lovely hotel room in the pretty little town of Appleton, Wisc.
The desk clerk had gone out to the Walgreen's to buy me some orange marmalade for my toast. The students who were my hosts while I spoke at Lawrence University had just taken me for a midnight visit to the grave of the late Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.
I was marveling at several things: First, like Blanche Dubois, we travelers depend on the kindness of strangers. And, wow, do I see a lot of kindness! Airline flight attendants who cheer me up when I am getting claustrophobia. Room service waiters who go to a lot of trouble to get my herbal tea right. Passengers who change seats with me to let me sit on the aisle.
There is a heck of a lot of sweetness in this great big loveable lug of a nation.
Second, I was remembering how Joe McCarthy was such a terror in my childhood. Some people loved him, some loathed him, but he was a force of nature. There has never been a Senator even remotely like him since.
Now, he's under a modest stone in a small cemetery on the banks of the Fox River in Central Wisconsin. This is how it all ends, I thought, so why get too excited if I miss my plane?
Then, on the TV, came an amazing image: Senator Barack Obama giving a speech at a college in Selma, Ala. And what do you think is the name of the college where Barack Obama was giving his talk? George C. Wallace Community College.
That's right, named for the late ultra-segregationist, white supremacist governor of Alabama who famously said, "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" when he was sworn in in the early '60s.
Now, George Wallace — who later in life pleaded with the blacks for forgiveness, and got it from many — is also under a stone, and Barack Obama is running hard for president at his namesake college.
Dear Lord, is this a great country or what?