There's nothing like traveling abroad to make you appreciate the comforts of home, virtually all of which are the direct result of well-planned, -implemented, and -maintained infrastructure. For which I can say only: God bless America.

I was forcefully reminded of this during a recent vacation in Mexico. It is not my intention to denigrate this beautiful country, birthplace of the most advanced American civilization before Christopher Columbus showed up. Forget what you've heard about ripping out the hearts of human sacrifices. OK, it's true; but the Mayans were honoring their enemies. (It was a form of reverence.)

They also realized Venus was a planet and not a star; engineered the inverted-V corbel arch to build those stair-step pyramids you see in photos of Central America; recorded their activities with a written language rather than passing things down orally; figured out that running water through an ever-narrowing series of aqueducts would create enough pressure to make a pretty fountain; and — last, but oh-so-far from least — introduced the world to chocolate.

I learned all of this because I was sick, temporarily incapacitated by failing to use bottled instead of tap water to brush my teeth. That gave me time to read Shane Mountjoy's The Lost World of the Maya, a library book my friend brought along. I could hear her yukking it up at dinner with a fun couple from Long Island as I lay on my hotel bed trying to interpret ominous intestinal rumblings.

I tell you what: I'd support a federal program to send every American almost anywhere else in the world at least once in his or her lifetime to make them forever grateful for:

  • strong, hot showers;
  • roads that don't bang the top of your head against the roof of the car;
  • garbage cans in public places;
  • toilets that do the job in one flush;
  • refrigerators that are bigger than a bread box;
  • thermostats you can crank as high as you want in winter;
  • road signs that make sense;
  • and (my personal favorite) ice whenever and wherever you need it in whatever quantity you desire.

I realize that ice is a luxury item that requires an inordinant amount of electricity. But I can't help it: I like my creature comforts. Which is why my next vacation will be in the United States.