Feb. 26, 2001: I have just returned from a tour of Australia and New Zealand.

didn’t want to go, but as is usual in my household we took a vote. The final tally was 1-1 — I lost.

If you are planning to go Down Under, let me warn you, it is a long way from here. To get there, you must cross the international dateline. In Australia, it is always tomorrow, which excited me because I figured that while I was there I would know the latest news before it ever happened. For example, If Sam Nunn and Ted Turner and their Nuclear Threat initiative were successful in disarming Barbados, I would know first. If the Rainbow Coalition named Jesse Jackson ”Father of the Year,” I would know that, too. If Bill Clinton insisted that he really didn’t mean to pardon Marc Rich but in the last-minute rush to pardon Charles Manson, the Chicago Black Sox and Judas Iscariot, somebody sneaked Rich’s name in the pile, I would have had knowledge of that long before anyone else, except maybe Hillary.

Alas, my theory didn’t pan out. Even though it is tomorrow in Australia, they think it is today. Therefore, the only news I heard was how their cricket team can’t seem to beat India — doesn’t that take your breath away? — and how the Labor Party is about to take power from the ruling Liberal Party, or maybe it is the other way around.

I did learn a few things. My tour group hailed from both coasts and every place in between, and I found that good people live all across this country. We had more in common than we had differences. Politicians need to break free of the Beltway and talk to regular folks like these and discover what they are thinking instead of being held captive by special-interest groups. The education would do politicians some good.

I learned to appreciate the environment more after seeing New Zealand, which is perhaps the most beautiful country on Earth. The U.S. probably looked like New Zealand before we discovered strip malls, parking lots and fast food. The only thing more impressive than the landscape was the people. They are genuinely nice. We need to import them over here to teach us how to deal with customers.

Regrettably, after two weeks of spectacular scenery, great food and wonderful camaraderie, it was time to cross the international dateline and return to the real today. I came home to find nothing had changed while I was gone. Our natural gas bills are still higher than the gross national product of the Czech Republic, and the legislature and the Public Service Commission are scrambling to cover their backsides over this debacle. Frankly, it bothers me that the PSC has entrusted its chairmanship to a guy named Bubba McDonald. I have always been uncomfortable giving a lot of responsibility to anybody named Fats, Hoss or Bubba.

But I really knew it was business as usual when we arrived in Los Angeles and prepared to board Delta Air Lines for the trip home. Our tour of Australia and New Zealand had required us to fly seven different times on either Air New Zealand or Ansett Australian Airlines. Each flight was near perfect, on time with friendly personnel and edible food. Quite a contrast to the surly Delta flight attendant we endured en route to L.A., but nothing compared to the return trip. Our first flight was canceled, and the next flight was an hour and a half late leaving. (Some of the delay was the result of Delta having sold four tickets to two seats on an otherwise full fight.)

I think Bubba and the guys handling natural gas deregulation are beyond help, but I have the perfect solution for Delta. Arthur Blank has announced his retirement as CEO of Home Depot. He has a lot of money and now he will have a lot of free time. Perhaps we can prevail on him to buy Delta and instill some of Home Depot culture in the airline — low prices and a strong customer orientation. Besides, I think the pilots would look great in those orange aprons.

It’s nice to be home.