The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rhodes Scholars
Tom Smith

don't go into politics so much any more.

Which gives me a chance to tell this true story.  In 1978 I was flying from Chicago or Pittsburgh or somewhere to Ithaca, NY on Allegheny Airlines (now part of US Air and then justly known as Agony Airlines).  I was sitting next to some businessman sort who inquired why I was going to Ithaca and I explained I was a senior at Cornell University.  What did I want to do when I grew up, he asked.  Well, I said, I thought I might want go to law school and then return to my native state of Idaho and go into politics, I said.  I could run for Congress and then after that for the U.S. Senate.  And once a US Senator, who knows, I might become Secretary of State or something like that one day.  The businessman jeered. Ridiculous he said.  Who did I think I was, some sort of Rhodes Scholar? I was able to reply, quite truthfully, that in fact, I was just returning from Seattle, where I was very pleased to have been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and would be "going up" as I had learned to say, the next year to the ancient university of Oxford, where I would be, as he had suggested, a Rhodes Scholar. As the song says, life may never again be so sweet in Independence, Indiana.  That is to say, boy did that ever shut him up.  But unfortunately, in life you only get one of these moments.

I never did make it back to Idaho.  When I took LWJ, then a cute, young person of blondness (and still cute I hasten to add) from a prosperous suburb of NYC, to show her how nice Boise could be of a Christmas season, a cold temperature inversion had moved in, dropping the mercury to a brisk 25 below zero.  There was an ice fog as well, that uniquely pestilential atmospheric phenomenon where moisture and smoke combine into suspended toxic ice crystals that are impossible to breathe without coughing.  She met with the founder of the local endocrinological institution, who turned out to be a diabetic cowboy who did not think women should be doctors, by gum.  He is now in a better place, and so are we. Then unfortunately she decided to go shopping.  Let's just say in those days Boise was a long way from midtown.  You'd have a lot more luck looking for a two-man saw than a dress. Boise has now become a much more livable city by those of us with elevated tastes. But by all accounts, being a Congressman really sucks.

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Tom Smith


This post scores at least 9 on the anecdotometer.

Posted by: Jonathan | Nov 23, 2009 7:56:47 PM

Great Story.

Regard -- Cliff

Posted by: C R Krieger | Nov 23, 2009 8:01:17 PM

Awesome story, really TRUE...

Posted by: DUI Houston | Nov 24, 2009 2:11:21 AM

You mean your wife didn't think the downtown Sears was enough shopping? I think that and the old Bon Marche would have been the big places at the time. Long into my youth long drives to Salt Lake city(!) for shopping, mostly at Nordstroms, were still common. As for politics, if you could have managed to get elected it would have been good for the state. But the electorate in Idaho are not too keen on fancy educations. (I'm pretty sure that Crapo doesn't draw much attention to the fact he went to Harvard. 'Ol Butch's background is much more respected.) It would have been a shame, though, that you likely would have been beaten out by someone like Butch who, despite a few odd virtues, is not too smart. I guess, though, that if you want to be successful in Idaho politics then marrying into the Simplot family is probably a smarter move than studying at Oxford.

Posted by: Matt | Nov 24, 2009 4:33:35 AM

I'm not sure there were any Simplot girls my age. Also, given the dad, I'm not sure it would have been a good bargain. I have heard Idaho Republicans are still not very keen on Catholics after all these years and many Catholics in Idaho are still Democrats.

Yep, it was the Bon Marche which was a pretty good store all things considered I thought but LWJ was not that impressed. Dinner at the Olive Garden, ditto.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Nov 24, 2009 9:14:20 AM

Reminds me of the first time I flew into Idaho Falls to meet my inlaws. The ambient temperature was 40(f) below zero. I couldn't breathe without it hurting my lungs. The dryness made my nose bleed. We're still in California.

We are having serious discussions about eventually leaving the Golden State due to the colossal financial mismanagement of the state, however. Idaho is the logical destination. But I still am not looking forward to the dry cold.

BTW, I understand it rarely gets 40 below there -- I was just lucky that year!

Corkie the Dog

Posted by: Corkie the Dog | Nov 24, 2009 10:19:19 AM

Yes, cold that severe is quite rate, as I tried to tell LWJ, who was unconvinced.

Idaho has changed a lot in the last 30 years, and almost all for the better if you ask me. Still plenty of outdoor opportunities, but a lot more in terms of shopping, housing stock, places to eat, etc. People used to complain about how expensive housing had gotten, but that's probably not so true now.

The trick with winters is getting out of the gloomy basins and up into the high country where you can ski, snowmobile, etc etc.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Nov 24, 2009 12:55:24 PM

My morning paper tells me that the Rhodes Trust is hoping that you former beneficiaries will pony up a million bucks each to help it out. Have you received your begging letter yet?

Posted by: dearieme | Nov 25, 2009 4:37:09 AM