Chicago, Notre Dame (South Bend), Madison

The scene from Section 5, Row 34, Notre Dame Stadium; not visible: 130 decibels of cheering for the Irish!

The scene from Section 5, Row 34, Notre Dame Stadium; not visible: 130 decibels of cheering for the Irish!

I was home from Europe for a week, then headed back toward the EMBA classroom at the University of Illinois in downtown Chicago, my 10th visit there. Flew to O’Hare early on Friday, October 3, hopped on the Blue Line train, was downtown by 11, and onto an exercise bike by 11:20. Pounded out 12 miles, cleaned up, and at one met Kevin, Rick, and Amal, EMBA students from the University of Illinois who I met the previous year. I was teaching the next class later in the day, and the three wanted to bounce some ideas off me. They were an accomplished group, respectively a downtown real-estate developer, an exec of a Chinese manufacturer, and an emergency-room physician turned management consultant. They were smart, experienced, and ambitious. It was a fun lunch.

At three I met a former mentee Lora Tolar O’Riordan, once at American Airlines and now with United. It had been two years, so we had a good catch up yak. A nice sort-of-T-t-S with Jim Bonner, the security officer in the U of I’s building on Wacker Drive; I remembered his name from previous years, and he was pleased. We had a short yak. It’s good to take the time to visit with people like Jim.

Jim Bonner, annual acquaintance

Jim Bonner, annual acquaintance

At 5:15 it was time to stand and deliver, to 36 from the EMBA Class of 2014. I like older students, and this group was seriously engaged, asking lots of questions.   After class they served a buffet dinner (with beer!), and I had a good opportunity to yak some more.

Up early Saturday morning, down to the gym, then out the door on a cool but sunny morning, east to Millennium Park, passing and photographing Anish Kapoor’s fabulous sculpture “Cloud Gate,” then into a breakfast place for a huge startup meal.

Chicago is birthplace of the steel skyscraper, and they just keep building them: Trump Tower

Chicago is birthplace of the steel skyscraper, and they just keep building them: Trump Tower

 

Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate," Millennium Park

Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate,” Millennium Park

By 8:45 I was rolling south and east on the South Shore train, bound for South Bend. I had not ridden that line for 48 years, and had not traversed the heavy-industrial landscape of the southeast suburbs of Chicago and northwest Indiana for almost 40. I looked out the window and saw a lot: the ornate red-brick office building of the former Pullman railway sleeping-car factory, still splendid though long abandoned; the Ford assembly plant where Robin’s new Explorer was built; the Gary Works of U.S. Steel, long a pillar of U.S. industry and still (judging from steam and smoke) making American steel; the Burns Harbor complex of the global steel giant Arcelor Mittal (formerly the mill of Bethlehem Steel); the tiny Cool Runnings Jamaican Restaurant in Michigan City (how did they get there?); and more. Beyond the factories were corn and beans farms, some dairy operations, some tourism closer to Lake Michigan.

Arrived in my weekend destination, South Bend, Indiana, at 12:15. It was football game day at the University of Notre Dame, a signal event I had wanted to attend for years. Seven weeks earlier, Rick and Murph Dow, both alumni, invited me down. I was pumped! But also a bit reluctant, for the forecast at kickoff was cold rain. Rick, who lived in South Bend for a decade beginning in high school, picked me up at the station (one of his dad’s last jobs was teaching at the university). We headed to his brother-in-law Jason’s house, which were my digs for the night, and started meeting some of Murph’s huge extended family. Jason, his wife Kara, and daughter Eavan. Henry and Thomas, small kids belonging to I’m-not-sure-whom. We paused briefly, then walked several blocks to campus, and on the Murph’s tailgate setup, one of hundreds in parking lots. The party was in full swing, more friends to make, including Rick and Murph’s oldest child, also Rick. Ate some of Murph’s wonderful food, yakked, had a beer.

Fans and Irish True Believers: Rick and Ricky Dow, Tara, and Tom

Fans and Irish True Believers: Ricky and Rick Dow, Tara, and Tom; the latter was not in our group, but we learned that this was the 40th consecutive year that he and some pals from St. Louis drove up for a game or two.

At 2:15, 75 minutes before game time, Rick took me on a tour of campus and a chance to see the band process across the quads to the stadium. Notre Dame college spirit was something; Robin’s alma mater, USC, has it in abundance, but not quite at the level of the Irish. And there was more to come at the game. After the huge band passed, we walked most of the large campus, including the basilica, recently restored (frescoes and ceiling freshly painted), the gold-domed administration building that I recall seeing more than a half-century ago on road trips. “What’s that gold building,” I asked my dad as we whizzed along the Indiana Toll Road. “The University of Notre Dame,” he replied. “Can we go see it?” I asked. We did not, so it was special to stand below the dome.

The Main Building (dome regilded 2005!)

The Main Building (dome regilded 2005!)

Interior, Sacred Heart Basilica

Interior, Sacred Heart Basilica

Library, with the mosaic "Touchdown Jesus" (its de facto title, from the days when it was visible from the stadium)

Hesburgh Library (named for the school’s greatest president, Father Ted), with the mosaic “Touchdown Jesus” (its de facto title, from the days when it was visible from the stadium)

It was nearly game time, so we headed into the stadium.  The ticket-scanner smiled at me and said “Welcome to Notre Dame.”  He said that to every patron, but his welcome was so genuine.  I did feel welcome, abundantly so.  True to forecast, it was pelting rain, 39° F, brisk wind. Rick had foresight to bring rain gear, a full suit for him and sailor’s vinyl pants for me, which helped a lot. The yelling, cheering, clapping went on for more than three hours, helped along by the marching band. The fight song (“Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame . . .”) got us on our feet every time. The game was great, and it came down to the final 61 seconds. Notre Dame down 14-10. Fourth and goal on the 11 yard line. They moved the ball more than 50 yards in 120 seconds, but stalled. Not looking good I thought. Then quarterback Everett Golson drilled the ball to tight-end Ben Koyack in the far corner of the end zone, caught, touchdown. Pandemonium. The man in front of me grabbed and hugged me. Chaos, cheering, yelling with what was by then a hoarse voice. What a total blast.

DomerCrowd

We walked back to Jason’s house, where a party was well underway, lots of folks that didn’t want to brave the cold and wet. Met Murph’s other brother Randy and his wife Jory, Aunt Pebby, and lots more. A tight, loving family, truly wonderful people. Most were gone by 10:30.  But the Dows’ Notre Dame immersion continued.  Rick cued the classic “Irish Blessing” on the Kellys’ widescreen TV; you know the piece (“May the road rise up to meet you / may the wind be always at your back . . .”), but the video narrator was the great Father Ted Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president from 1952 to 1987, and a totally righteous person (he’s now 97).  I have no Irish ancestry, but tears came to my eyes.  Then Murph cued another touching video, “Here Come the Irish,” and at that pointed I considered myself a well and truly adopted son of Notre Dame.  I don’t think it was the beer.

Rick and Murph left, and I yakked a bit more with young Rick, Jason, and Cara, then retired to a comfy bed in the basement. It had been a very special day, and their manifold kindness was a big part of it.

Up at 6:30, out the door with Rick the elder, off to downtown South Bend, past the site of his former music bar, Vegetable Buddies, and into Le Peep for breakfast. Almost every person in the restaurant had a ND logo on some piece of clothing. Some more than one. Go Irish!

Rick dropped me back at the station at 8:45 for the 9:01 back to Chicago. Barely 21 hours in South Bend, whew, an intense experience, and an awesome one. I thanked him, hugged him and hopped on the train for morning prayers, especially of thanks for the experience, for my blessed, varied, and mobile life.

Shipping containers on a freight train in south Chicago; a few days later I learned that half of all intermodal rail traffic in the U.S. (containers) passes through Chicago

Shipping containers on a freight train in south Chicago; a few days later I learned that half of all intermodal rail traffic in the U.S. (containers) passes through Chicago

Then I cued Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” train music, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” and Pat Metheny’s “Last Train Home.” The tunes fit as we lurched west toward a city synonymous with American railways. Unlike the day before, this was an express train, and we were back in Chicago in no time. Hopped back on the Blue Line to O’Hare and snagged the last seat on an earlier flight to Madison, landing at 12:25. I was bound for my 8th annual visit to the University of Wisconsin, a total fave.

The booking at the UW-run hotel got goofed up, and the aloof clerk at the place called Union South directed me back to the Memorial Union, an historic (1928) building on the shore of Lake Mendota. The rooms are spartan, but I don’t need luxury, and the lakeside location is awesome. Took a nice nap, and at 4:30 I went for a short walk along the shoreline.

Detail, Memorial Union, University of Wisconsin; the wings caught my eye!

Detail, Memorial Union, University of Wisconsin

Heading back, a fellow my age said to me “I heard [from a phone call with Linda] that you were staying in the Memorial Union hotel; did you get a lakeview room?” That query led to a pleasant T-t-S moment with George, a 65-year-old Ohio native who teaches sailing to UW students. We covered a lot of ground in 10 or 15 minutes. Just out of college he worked in the Lorain Works of U.S. Steel, which prompted my recall of passing steel mills the previous day, and a long conversation on steelmaking, industrial process, Midwestern economic geography, and more. At one point I really wished that UW Ph.D. John Borchert (1918-2001), one of my grad-school advisors, mentors and friends, had been with me. He would have loved the dialogue.

At five, according to formula – and the Madison visit is totally formulaic – I met friends Dan and Cheryl Smith in the Rathskeller of the Memorial Union. Dan has had a long and varied career in agriculture: as a dairy farmer in northern Illinois, CEO of a progressive ag supply business, and now as a head of a division of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture that looks after business development for all the bounty that state produces. He’s had that cool job for a year, and rates it 98/100 on job satisfaction. We chatted a lot about his position, our kids, the state of the world, and more, as we tucked into a splendid Italian meal at Cento, a new place downtown. Such great people.

Monday morning, waiting in the lobby of Memorial Union, this suit catches the eye of a youngster with a skateboard and big backpack. You could almost see what he was thinking. “I was your age once,” I said. Walking away, he said, “and it ain’t never coming back.” Yup. Next step was breakfast with Jan Heide, one of my favorite B-school hosts, just a great guy. Up to school for back-to-back lectures to first-year MBA students. Back to the Union, change clothes, buy a $5, 24-hour pass for BCycle, the Madison bikeshare, then west on the path along Lake Mendota. Such a beautiful campus. Like most bikeshares, you need to swap cycles every 30 minutes (or incur a charge), so the afternoon was spent zipping from station to station. High point was a large chocolate malt, made in the traditional way, at the Babcock Hall Dairy Store. Not surprising that the large public university in America’s Dairyland offers degrees in dairy science, milks cows nearby, churns its own ice cream. Wow. Rode 34 miles, a good afternoon.

Only in a place like Madison would a new traffic barrier include a quote a novelist; Stegner, maybe the best chronicler of the American West, taught at UW from 1937 to 1941.

Only in a place like Madison would a new traffic barrier include a quote from a novelist; Stegner, maybe the best chronicler of the American West, taught at UW from 1937 to 1941.

I turned a corner on my bike and this was the vista: the splendid capitol of the great State of Wisconsin

I turned a corner on my bike and this was the vista: the splendid capitol of the great State of Wisconsin

Malt-Diptych

At left, my Babcock Hall helper, crafting my malt the old-fashioned way; at right, a new take on drinking and driving!

Freezer case, Babcock Hall Dairy Store

Freezer case, Babcock Hall Dairy Store

After a quick nap, back onto the BCycle and a mile south and east, back to Cento, the Italian place where we dined the night before. I arrived a bit early, so sat down at the bar and studied the beer menu, settling on Central Waters Mud Puppy Porter from Amherst, Wisconsin (I pride myself on knowing Wisconsin places, but had to look up that town; it was in the middle of the state, in an area known for wetlands, which is why their logo features a heron). Read The New York Times on my iPhone, smiling at the news of a Nobel awarded to a British-American and two Norwegian scientists for discovering “an inner GPS, in the brain,” that makes navigation possible for virtually all creatures.  So that’s what helped me get to Cento.  Smiled, too, at the Supreme Court’s decision to let stand decisions allowing gay marriage.  And was saddened by news that a black bear cub was found dead in Central Park, New York, and may have been killed by humans. Who would do such a thing?

Jan, his wife Maria, fellow prof Jean Grube, and I had a superb meal and a long chat across a lot of topics. It was the sixth time we gathered, splendid continuity. At 9:45 I said goodbye, swiped my ATM card at the BCycle stand, and rode back to the Union.

This art in the window of the Madison Public Library caught my eye after dinner: the question mark is a perfect proxy for the genius of a free public library -- a place to get answers

This art in the window of the Madison Public Library caught my eye after dinner: the question mark is a perfect proxy for the genius of a free public library — a place to get answers

The BCycle pass was for 24 hours and my first class was not until 12:15, so I hopped back in the saddle Tuesday morning, south to Lake Wingra and Lake Monona, then east through the Marquette neighborhood to the Yahara River, which links Monona and Mendota. It was a warm (50° F.) morning, and I pounded out 17 miles. Stopped at a downtown supermarket for some yogurt and a banana and headed back to my room. A good start to the day. Suited up, walked to the B-school, worked a bit, and at 11:30 met a new host, Borbala Kulcsar, a nice young Hungarian woman who replaced Jean as a lecturer in HR, then delivered a 50-minute talk to undergrads. Not enough time, and a bit of torpor in the class. At one, Jan, Borbala, and I processed, by formula, east on University Avenue to Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, a classic burger joint, for a caloric meal. Back to school, one more class, the goodbyes.

Back in my room I did some work, and at 5:30, I rode the elevator down to the Rathskeller, grabbed a glass of Zenith wheat beer, and headed out on the terrace. It was the picture of the good life in Wisconsin: sailboats cutting across Lake Mendota, puffy clouds tinged with violet on the horizon, students and profs talking earnestly. But it was a bit chilly, so I headed indoors to bring this journal up to date. I was hoping for a repeat of 2013, when about 6:45 the pep band marched through and out onto the terrace. It didn’t happen, so I finished my beer, and ambled to Chipotle on State Street for a tofu burrito (enough meat the last several days!). Back at the union, the sole elevator was busy with foodservice workers shuttling stuff to the airport, so I headed up the stairs, and was glad I did. The reading rooms on the second and third floors were superb, old school, students playing classical music on a piano, kids on their laptops. The best of college life.

Common room, Memorial Union

Common room, Memorial Union

Foyer ceiling, Memorial Union

Foyer ceiling, Memorial Union

Got to bed early, and up at 4:25. Out the door, but did not notice, until the taxi driver pointed it out, that the full moon seven hours earlier was now a crescent, and headed toward a total eclipse. The orb was fully covered, and peach in color, when our plane taxied out for takeoff from MSN. Way cool. Changed planes in Chicago, and had the dogs on leash before noon.

Wisconsin souvenirs, gift shop, Dane County Regional Airport

Wisconsin souvenirs, gift shop, Dane County Regional Airport

The Loop, downtown Chicago, a few minutes after departing O'Hae

The Loop, downtown Chicago, a few minutes after departing O’Hae

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Switzerland and Sweden, for the Start of Autumn Teaching

The Alps, on descent to Zurich Airport

The Alps, on descent to Zurich Airport

The cathedral in Uppsala, Sweden, seat of the state church

The cathedral in Uppsala, Sweden, seat of the state church

On Saturday, September 13, Robin and the girls drove me to the new McLean Metro station and I hopped on the new Silver Line to the airport (remarkably, though it opened in late July, I hadn’t mentioned it previously; way handy, 1.3 miles from home.) Flew up to New York, then across to Zurich. Descending through the cloud, a landscape of order and prosperity appeared. Switzerland. More evidence on the SBB (Swiss Railways) train northeast to St. Gallen and my 14th teaching appearance at the university there: perfectly smooth tracks; neatly stacked huge hay bales, shrink-wrapped in white plastic for outside storage in the coming fall and winter; and dozens of small manufacturers. As I have written, in a globalized manufacturing market, they are still viable, because the collective Swiss would not think of buying anything other than Swiss Made.  Only the graffiti – and it seemed that there was more of it – suggested that not all was perfect (although most of it looked quite “professional”).

Plastic-wrapped hay bales

Plastic-wrapped hay bales

A triptych of Swiss Made — expensive, but to the Swiss worth it, to support the nation: office furniture, the rubber ducky in my bathroom, and a coat rack in a university building.

I walked a couple of short blocks from the St. Gallen station to the hotel. I had emailed them to ask about an exceptional early check-in; the Swiss are a rule-bound folk, but the room was ready. It was actually a studio apartment, nicely sized and facing west, with lots of light. I quickly changed into bike shorts and my day-glo yellow jersey and hopped on the bike that my swell young host, George Guttmann, loaned me for a Sunday ride. Two options: up or down. Up was into the relatively low mountains south of town; down was north to Lake Constance, what German-speakers call the Bodensee. The former would be lots of up (and down); the latter was one long down at the start, 900 vertical feet to the lake, then flat, then, of course, a climb back up.

FallFoliage

Down I went, on a combination of bikeways and little-trafficked streets. At Rorschach, a lake resort town, I headed west along the water on bikeways. It was a picture-perfect day, and lots of people were out: on bikes, on foot, in cars. I rode west to Romanshorn, a bigger, ordinary town. At the SBB station I bought lunch (tuna sandwich, banana, yogurts = $10.24) and had a nice T-t-S with a young mother. Her four-year-old spoke to me first, and he simply couldn’t understand why I didn’t answer him! I rode back to a pleasant park in Arbon and had a late picnic lunch, then back up the hill, home by 4:10, 37 miles, a nice workout. In the room, my iPhone chirped a reminder to play “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for that day was the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s penning the lyrics to our national anthem.

A nice contrast on the edge of St. Gallen: bus stop and shelter in front of a small farm

A nice contrast on the edge of St. Gallen: bus stop and shelter in front of a small farm

Swiss still life: actually my picnic lunch!

Swiss still life: actually my picnic lunch!

Some pals spotted on the lake ride

Some pals spotted on the lake ride

Chapel on the edge of Romanshorn

Chapel on the edge of Romanshorn

Village on the shore of Lake Constance, the

Village on the shore of Lake Constance

Apples grow on trees, but the Swiss have them on something more like a vine (I saw pears growing this way, too)

Apples grow on trees, but the Swiss have them on something more like a vine (I saw pears growing this way, too)

Took a shower and short nap, and at seven hopped on the local railway, Appenzeller Bahn, for a short ride southeast from the city to Tom Staller’s Schwarzer Bären restaurant. Before entering, I looked up his name in these pages, and greeted him warmly, saying I had eaten there last September.  My bad, I didn’t notice on his website that he stopped serving dinner at seven on Sundays.  So when I arrived at 7:15, he said the kitchen was closed.  He remarked that they had served a wedding party of 80 people the night before, until 3 AM, and he was worn out.  The train back to St. Gallen would not arrive for another 25 minutes, so he offered a beer on the house.  I was grateful, and sat down.  An elderly couple a few tables away were just finishing up their meal.  A few minutes later, Tom appeared and said yes he would be able to serve me dinner after all.  Hooray! Asked for a small mixed salad, followed by bratwurst and French fries. The salad was truly mixed, with lots of yummy vegetables, and the main course came with an enormous mound of fries (reminding me of a train-platform advertisement I saw earlier in the day for the Swiss potato growers; they promised lots of recipes at www.kartoffel.ch).

As is the tradition, on Monday morning I walked to the stunning Baroque abbey church (the monastery dates to 720) for morning prayers and whispered words of thanks to the huge wooden angel in the ceiling that I’ve addressed on every visit for 14 years. Then up the hill to the university. At ten I met George, who asked me if I could give the lecture at 12:30 instead of the scheduled 10:15; he admitted to a very un-Swiss mix-up, apologized, but I waved it off, did a bit more work, then gave the talk to 25 Masters’ students in Prof. Reinecke’s class. It was another sunny day, perfect for a walk back down the hill, a stop to get a light lunch, and back to the room. As my head hit the pillow for a short nap, recess began at the elementary school across Kesslerstrasse, with the usual noisy commotion, but the sounds of young life and fun didn’t keep me awake. Did a bit more work, and at seven walked a couple of blocks west to Gartenhaus, a simple, spotless, family-run place.  Not a place where you’d expect free wi-fi, but there it was! A dozen older ladies, grandmothers likely, we’re sitting at two of the long tables that filled the place; it looked like a regular gathering, and they were having fun.

In the abbey church

In the abbey church

The university is above town, and the fastest way down is on a series of stairways

The university is above town, and the fastest way down is on a series of stairways

A trio of solid Swiss buildings on the short walk home from Gartenhaus

A trio of solid Swiss buildings on the short walk home from Gartenhaus

The university is growing, and the two lectures in Prof. Ruigrok’s classes Tuesday were in separate buildings downtown. In between, Winfried, George, and I had our now-traditional big lunch at Wienerberg, adjacent to campus (we drove up the hill). Class 1 was MBA students, and the late-afternoon group was younger kids doing a post-baccalaureate Masters of Management. Both groups were lively, and it was a good day in the classroom.

Stairway, St. Gallen Business School

Stairway, St. Gallen Business School

St. Gallen MBA class

St. Gallen MBA class

José and Naomi, from Costa Rica and Argentina, in the St. Gallen afternoon class

José and Naomi, from Costa Rica and Argentina, in the St. Gallen afternoon class

The SBB name their newest trainsets; this one carried a good one

Dinner was at Zum Goldenen Leuen, a small place in the old town that has not always exuded a friendly vibe, but it was cheery that night.  Most patrons were outside, enjoying the last of a sunny and warm day.  I opted for indoors, wood-paneled and cozy.  Ordered a dark beer that owner Walter Tobler makes nearby, and reflected on another successful trip to Switzerland.  The teaching was great, the weather was superb, the hosts totally hospitable.  A good beginning to the autumn term. At 8:00, through the open front door, I could hear what I have long described as “the sound of Europe”: church bells pealing right times.  All was well in the Swiss Confederation! Had a light meal nicely complemented with Walter’s “Mexican Ale,” with a bit of sweetness and citrus-like hops.

NAZ-Dinner

Speaking of bratwurst: the intensely democratic Swiss will hold a referendum on equalizing the value-added tax on takeaway and restaurant meals.  No sausage discrimination!

Speaking of bratwurst: the intensely democratic Swiss will hold a referendum on equalizing the value-added tax on takeaway and restaurant meals. No sausage discrimination!

Out the door Wednesday and onto the 7:48 train back to Zurich Airport. At 8:45 I met Gieri Hinnen, a young Swiss Ph.D. student at St. Gallen who works for Swiss International Air Lines. We had a quick, Starbucks-fueled yak about the airline business, his new son, and some cool ideas he had for a new business. At 10:30 I got aboard a SAS flight to Stockholm, back to Sweden, another favorite place (well, maybe they’re all favorites!). Breaking through the cloud on approach to Arlanda Airport, I smiled at the familiar landscape of forest, field, and water. Grabbed lunch at 7-Eleven in Terminal 4 and flew SAS on to Umeå, my 19th visit there. Landed on another clear, warm day – four in a row. In the bag claim, I spotted friends who I didn’t know were on my flight: Guy Pfeffermann, Devi Gnyawali, and Håkan Olofsson. France, Nepal, Sweden, USA, a good mix for the International Advisory Board at the Umeå School of Business and Economics. Into a cab for the short ride downtown and the comfy Uman Hotel. The receptionist handed me two keys, for the room and for one of USBE’s bikes (delivered earlier in the day by my young friend Marcus).

Like the previous Sunday, I was on the cycle in no time, riding east on Kungsgatan to the bike shop with free air, topping up both tires, then east to the long lake called Nydala.  It had been three years since I rode around it, so I circled twice. Places you frequently visit – in this case almost annually since 1994 (and was last in Umeå five months earlier) – often seem to stay the same.  Of course they don’t, and I began to focus on all the new buildings.  The city is clearly growing, notwithstanding the shrinking of an old-economy fixture, a Volvo truck plant west of town.  Returned along the river, past a wonderful new set of apartments right on the water (well, not quite: the bike and pedestrian path is closest to the riverbank) in the district called Öbacka. At seven, USBE dean Lars Hassel welcomed the board, four of us from the flight plus Marian Geldner from Warsaw School of Economics. A good start and a nice dinner.

On the eastern shore of Nydala; this is a perfect photo metaphor for the clean north of Sweden

On the eastern shore of Nydala; this is a perfect photo metaphor for the clean north of Sweden

Suited up Thursday morning, rode the bike up the hill for a full day of IAB meetings on its 15th anniversary.  Great discussions in sessions and at lunch.  It’s an interesting group, academics, practitioners, and Guy – a former World Bank economist who now heads the Global Business School Network – and me in between.  Swedish elections held four days earlier were a topic at mealtime. We finished at four, down the hill, changed into bike shorts, then over to my favorite Bölesholmarna, a small island in the river. It’s just a few blocks upstream from downtown, but is totally country. Rode around six times (each circuit is 1.4 miles). Early on, a good T-t-S: a couple was walking their West Highland terrier, a pooch like our Henry.  I waved when I passed them the first time, and stopped the second: “You probably don’t remember me . . .”  But of course they did, recalling that we met on that same island a year earlier. I petted Queso (a curious name) and rode on. That night we had an IAB anniversary dinner at Köksbaren, a fancy new-cuisine place, lots of laughs with members of the USBE Business Advisory Board (locals), and department heads from the school, people who have become good friends.

Pretty but poisonous

Pretty but poisonous

National elections were held a few days before I arrived, and varied campaign ads were still in view

National elections were held a few days before I arrived, and varied campaign ads were still in view

Friday was busy. First stop, Frukostclubben, the Umeå Marketing Association breakfast club. The association’s director, Nils Paulsson, welcomed me and a big group, about 75, heard my talk on real-world leadership. Rode up the hill for a morning IAB session, then down the hill in former dean Lars Lindbergh’s Volvo to one of Umeå’s three Rotary clubs.  I spoke at one years ago, when Linda briefly belonged to one in Richardson, Texas: notalottatime!  Delivered my general talk on financial challenges in the airline business in 20 minutes, two questions, done, whew.

Breakfast at the Umeå Marketing Association

Breakfast at the Umeå Marketing Association

The crowd forming for the HHUS Drink and Learn

The crowd forming for the HHUS Drink and Learn

Back at school I did 90 minutes of consulting work, then it was time to stand and deliver the day’s third talk, to HHUS, the business-students’ association. Time for “Drink and Learn” at the ePuben, their bar in the student union. We had done it twice before, an informal end-of-week seminar with beer. HHUS leader Marcus told me there was a waiting list, which added to my few stomach butterflies – I was giving a talk for the first time, a case study of cross-cultural management success in the jet-engine-building joint venture of GE Aviation and the French company Snecma. It went well, and I stayed on for almost an hour more, answering questions and enjoying a local microbrew. Down the hill one more time, an early dinner at the hotel buffet, then out with the boys for a couple of pints and some laughs and storytelling at Lotta’s, a pub I know well.

Up at six Saturday morning for a quick ride over to and around Bölesholmarna, then out the door in Lars’ car, with Guy, Marian, and Prof. Håkan Boter, north and west to Granö Beckasin, an outdoor-activity center. Lars arranged a morning of fishing. We caught nothing in a stocked pond, but Lars, who was well-experienced outside, reeled in three nice perch in the nearby river. I did remember, more or less, how to cast the rod. Afterward, Marian headed into the woods, where harvesting was much more successful – he knew wild mushrooms, and filled two large bags. We ate lunch and headed back. Time for a nap.

Lake-Triptych

Marian Geldner and some of his "catch"

Marian Geldner and some of his “catch”

At 5:20 I hopped on the bike and rode downriver four miles for dinner at the Paulssons. Nils, wife Carolina, and young boys Johan (11), Petter (6), and Olle (almost 5), welcomed me back, my third time in the wonderful traditional house they built themselves. We had a good visit and a fine meal, covering lots of topics, including news that Carolina won a competition to write a Swedish cookbook focused on sustainability. First course was carpaccio, from a nearby farmer’s steer, then baked cod fresh off the boat from Iceland. A wonderful evening with special people.

A curious shed in the middle of the river near the Paulssons' house

A curious shed in the middle of the river near the Paulssons’ house

The Paulsson boys on Nils' Triumph

The Paulsson boys on Nils’ Triumph

A superb cook, Carolina Paulsson

A superb cook, Carolina Paulsson

Out on the bike one more time Sunday morning, north on the riverside trail. At eleven, as I always do when in town, I headed to the Stadskyrka for my annual Swedish lesson, via the hymns. The teenage choir livened things up (“Can’t nobody do me like Jesus” were words from one tune). I think Luther, who believed that good music was central to successful worship, would have approved of the liturgy. The preacher had her sermon notes on an iPad. After church, I rode a bit more around town, admiring the outstanding renovation of an old hotel, then back to the hotel for an hour of work.

Recycled Swedish Army building north of the center; Sweden's last battle was fought near here in 1809

Recycled Swedish Army building north of the center; Sweden’s last battle was fought near here in 1809

My Swedish lesson book -- the hymnal

My Swedish lesson book — the hymnal

Locally-carved chairs in the beautifully refubished Stora Hotellet

Locally-carved chairs in the beautifully refurbished Stora Hotellet

Cruise-ship syndrome, the laziness that comes from people taking really good care of you while travelling, set in on Sunday afternoon. Four days with everything organized. Now back onto a do-it-yourself trip. The syndrome abated after flying 300 miles south to Stockholm, when I got off the airport bus, the Flygbuss, at St. Eriksplan in a steady rain. After a week of sun, the cold and wet snapped me back. “I can do this,” I said, and set off decisively for my lodging. In ten minutes I was a bit wet but happy to meet Ewa Rogala, my Airbnb host for the next two nights. Her apartment in a splendid 19th Century building was perfect, her welcome warm. My room was off the kitchen, clearly the cook’s quarters back in the day.

I unpacked, visited a bit with Ewa, then headed back out for dinner. I like Swedish cooking, but after four days I needed some spice; a few hours earlier I Googled a bit, and found Ethiostar, an Ethiopian restaurant four blocks north. Perfect! About four-fifths of the clientele were African, a good sign. I asked the friendly waiter to dial up the spice (“I lived a long time in Texas, a land of hot peppers,” I explained). After a big, late breakfast, I didn’t need lunch, but I was hungry at eight, and the meal, especially the spongy bread called injera that doubles as fork and knife, filled me up. Walked back, worked my email and visited with Ewa, then clocked out with the balcony door open.

Monday morning, time to stand and deliver. Out the door, onto Kungstensgatan, feeling like I lived there, like a local, which is another of the great benefits of Airbnb. Walked a few blocks north to the Stockholm School of Economics, my ninth visit, and met host Hans Kjellberg, a swell guy, and some of his colleagues. At 10:15 I delivered a lecture on airline alliances in a wood-paneled room that was once part of the library, on the southwest corner of the school. Students were bright and engaged. At noon it was pelting rain, and Hans suggested a place close by, in this case Indian food right across the street. I worked my email and consulting for a few hours, delivered another talk from 3:15 to 5:00, said goodbye to Hans, and walked home.

Living like a local: my Airbnb digs on Kungstensgatan

Living like a local: my Airbnb digs on Kungstensgatan

SSE classroom

SSE classroom

Changed clothes and walked a mile or so toward the center, to Stureplan and the splendid old-school seafood restaurant called Sturehof.  It was in this place in 1924 that two enterprising Swedes founded Volvo. Sat at the bar for a beer and at seven met another longtime SSE friend, Anders Liljenberg. We had a splendid meal: herring (hewing to tradition, he ordered schnapps with the fish), followed by a main course of Arctic char (called röding in Swedish).  We had a long conversation across lots of topics: politics, economics, the school, life.  A great evening.

Tuesday morning, easy start.  Ewa left early, for a trip to Edinburgh, so I paddled around the apartment in my pajamas.  Dressed and walked a block to the ICA supermarket (to me, a wander through a big food store overseas is as interesting as a museum).  Admired the huge herring department; spotted bottles of Stubb’s barbeque sauce from Austin, Texas (the equivalent of $7 a bottle and I’m sure worth every penny); and bought bread and yogurt for breakfast.  Took a short walk up the observatory hill, full of lots of nursery-school students, most in day-glo yellow vests, not unlike my bike jersey.

In the ICA Herring Department

In the ICA Herring Department

The view from Observatory Hill; Stockholm has lots of green space

The view from Observatory Hill; Stockholm has lots of green space

Waiting for my 10:30 pickup, I spotted a young woman across the street, struggling with some giant IKEA bookshelves, so I ambled over and offered help.  “Are you sure?” she asked.  “Yes,” I replied, “I’m old but strong.” We quickly moved the shelves into her office, and launched a nice T-t-S.  She was a magazine publisher, niche stuff. Yakking with her, I didn’t notice that my mentee Peter Gabrielson had parked and was waiting. Hopped in his compact Land Rover and motored a few miles north to SAS’ headquarters to deliver a seminar on trends in the airline business.  Peter heads the product development team, and before the talk he showed me SAS’ new business class seat and gave a short tour of an impressive building, beautifully sited amid woods and water. After the talk we had lunch with one of his colleagues, Cristina, then Peter drove me to the nearby train station at Solna.

SAS Headquarters, a wonderfully airy building a few miles from downtown Stockholm

SAS Headquarters, a wonderfully airy building a few miles from downtown Stockholm

Scandinavia's largest mall under construction in suburban Solna; the Swedish economy is powering forward, confounding critics of its social democracy

Scandinavia’s largest mall under construction in suburban Solna; the Swedish economy is powering forward, confounding critics of its social democracy

Hopped on a brand-new suburban train north to Arlanda Airport, then northwest to Uppsala, historic university city and seat of the Swedish (Lutheran) Church.  My ticket included a ride on the local bus, so zipped two miles more to a stop close to my next Airbnb “home,” with Carlos Teixeira.

I found Lings Väg 46 quickly, but I wasn’t certain it was the right place. A tradesman was working on concrete right in front of a second-floor outside entrance.  I asked about #46, and he waved me on.  I walked for several blocks, consulting the map on my iPhone.  A map at the entrance to the subdevelopment proved my first navigation was correct, so I growled and walked back to #46. The cement guy was gone, but the keys were in the mailbox as Carlos promised. Unlocked, walked in, found my bedroom, unpacked, then spotted a welcome note.  He had a bicycle for me!  Woo hoo!

The view from my room in Carlos' apartmenr

The view from my room in Carlos’ apartmenr

Changed clothes and hopped on the bike.  Unfortunately, the seat was way too low, making my posture like a circus bear, but the tires held air, so it was all good. Rode into town, quickly remembering the basic layout of the city from my last visit in 2008. Uppsala was home to some smart people, like Celsius and Linnaeus. Rode to his garden, pausing to marvel at a wonderful 1935 bronze sculpture of the taxonomist. Then south to the business school, locating the venue for the next-morning’s talk to the business-students’ association.

Linneaus-2

Rolled a few blocks to the huge brick cathedral, the Domkyrka, which was surrounded with police. Sweden is a relaxed place, so I wondered what was up. Inside, a young church official explained that it was the opening mass of the clerical year, and that King Carl and Queen Silvia were in the front row. Whoa! I sat for a few minutes, listening to the children’s choir. Rode back to #46. Carlos arrived at 5:15 and we hit it off immediately. His parents, from the Portuguese island of Madeira, emigrated to Capetown, where he grew up. Moved to London, met and married a Swede, and landed in Uppsala. He was divorced, but his three kids spent every other week with him (and he rented the room the other weeks).

My SSE host, Hans Kjellberg, pulled up at six, on the edge of Carlos’ neighborhood, in his prize, a red 1963 Ford Thunderbird convertible. With the top down. The ride to his house, several miles south in the hamlet of Berga, was a bit cold, but totally awesome. The big-ass V8 rumbled, the suspension lumbered – and that’s the right word, for the ride was like a land yacht. Totally way cool. He pulled the car into the garage and we walked into the traditional-style house. I thought it was 150 years old, but in fact it was a manufactured structure built in 2002 (turns out that most new Swedish houses are prefab, built in blocks and assembled on site).

TBird-Triptych

In the kitchen was wife Mia, cooking dinner. And what a repast it was. Roast moose from the previous autumn (Hans was headed for the 2014 hunt a couple of weeks hence), lean and flavorful. Sauteed mushrooms that they picked recently. Hans and Mia both come from the country, about 100 miles north of Uppsala. Although highly educated, they are country people, folks who know a lot about the natural world. Their daughter Linnea, who just began at Uppsala University, and teenage son Pelle, joined us for dinner. Dessert was ostkaka, which translates as cheesecake, but this dish was different: slices of a semi-soft cheese baked in cream, topped with homemade cloudberry jam. Naturally, they picked the orange-yellow fruit themselves. For the second time in three days, I was welcomed into a Swedish home. And for that I was so lucky.

Ostkaka

Ostkaka

Because Sweden arrests people who drive with even a trace of alcohol in their blood, Hans called a taxi. The ride home reminded me why I avoid them: the meter rose from a start of 43 kronor to 62 ($8.50) before we left the driveway – the elderly driver had trouble punching my destination into his GPS, then waited for several cars to pass before backing out of the driveway and into a rural road. The ride ran to 38 bucks, but the evening with the Kjellbergs was stupendous.

Airbnb host Carlos at the juicer

Airbnb host Carlos at the juicer

Carlos’ Airbnb offer included breakfast, so Wednesday morning I tucked into a big bowl of muesli, a double espresso, and some splendid homemade high-vitamin juice, his specialty with carrots, beets, spinach, apple (for sweetness), fresh ginger. Outstanding. We adjusted the bike seat upward, and I took off for Ekonomerna, the student association. They had their own building, an old pink house called Borgen.   A warm welcome, the leadership talk for the second time in a week. Students again hung around, asking questions, seeking advice. I worked for a bit in the B-school, and at 11:45 met my new host, Sabine Persson, and my former host, Mikael Gidhagen. We walked briskly to a tiny Thai place for a buffet lunch, then back to a 1:15 lecture.

Breakfast time at the Uppsala business-students association

Breakfast time at the Uppsala business-students association

Rode home, changed clothes. At six I rode back to town, with a little detour along the Fyris, the river that runs through Uppsala. I circled the cathedral, admiring its scale and its role as design model for countless smaller Lutheran churches in the U.S. I locked the bike by the river (the town is so full of cycles that you sometimes have to search for a parking place!), and talked my way into the pub of the Norrlands Nation, one of a number of “nations” that are distinctive to Uppsala University, a sort-of mix between college dorm and fraternity – a way for youngsters to belong.  The guard in the courtyard said the pub was only open to those in the tribe, but when I explained I was a guest lecturer he waved me in, adding that I “was very welcome tonight.” Nice! There was a long line at the bar. I asked the barmaid for a beer from “nearby” (there’s a microbrewery in town, but I forgot the name).  Her colleague proffered a bottle of St. Eriks, a distinctive rauchbier, smoky and a bit sweet, from a tiny brewery adjacent to Arlanda Airport. Sat at a bench with students and brought this journal up to date. Had another beer and a garlic-infused burger, and rode home.

Thursday morning, back to rain, and Carlos kindly drove me back to the railway station. Hopped on the #801 bus to Arlanda and onto my first flight on Norwegian, a fast-growing low-cost airline. Their success was quickly apparent: smiles and welcome from cabin crew, a PA from the captain that genuinely thanked us, spotless cabin, free wi-fi, wowie. One other cool aspect of the carrier: local heroes are painted on their tailfins. Originally Norwegians like composer Grieg and skater Sonja Henie, as they’ve grown across Scandinavia they’ve added Linnaeus, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and 120 more. Way cool.

Norwegian-Diptych

I was bound for Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city (a million people), 240 miles west-southwest. Landed in sunshine, whoopee, and hopped on the Flygbuss into town. I’ve always liked second cities, smaller places, and took an immediate like to Göteborg. My third Airbnb of the week was less than 2,000 feet from the bus stop, just west, in the old neighborhood called Nordstaden. Veronika’s flat was in a building from the 1880s, originally a factory. I trudged to the top floor, had a nice yak with my host, put on coat and tie, and walked less than a mile to my first visit to the business school at Gothenburg University. Passed wonderful old buildings, warehouses and other signs of a vigorous port. Lots of leafy parkland. The grittiness that comes with being a port. More cultural diversity than other cities in the kingdom. In short, a great city.

Scenes from the Port of Gothenburg

Scenes from the Port of Gothenburg

Bridge over the "outer moat"

Bridge over the “outer moat”

The view from my Airbnb home

The view from my Airbnb home

Ate a late lunch in the student cafeteria, and at three met my young host, Oscar Sellhed. The GU visit was a late, unexpected addition; he emailed me nine days earlier, when I was in St. Gallen, said he heard I was headed to Sweden and asked if I could “stop by.” Why not, I thought, so we made it happen. Met his advisor, Robert Orbelin, and at four delivered my leadership talk to 25 students. At 5:30, six of them and I walked a couple of blocks to Haga, the pleasant, car-free old town for an early dinner at Hemma Hos. Walked home at dusk, along the water, then into Nordstaden. The long blast of a ship’s horn reverberated through the narrow street, a splendid last sound. I was asleep by 8:40, because the homeward journey the next day would begin at 4:30.

At Gothenburg Business School

At Gothenburg Business School

Another thing to like about Gothenburg: they still have a network of tram lines

Another thing to like about Gothenburg: they still have a network of tram lines

Out the door, back to the bus, out to Landvetter Airport. I was flying standby on SAS to London, and my friend Peter said the flight was full but I would likely get a seat. And I did, prompting a little victory whoop and dance on the jetbridge. Landed Heathrow before eight, onto the Silver Bird at 9:45, home by way of Miami. Landed at National Airport at 7:00. Linda flew in at 9:00, so I waited for her and we rode home together. It was good to be home.

Volvo, though now a Chinese company, makes cars near Gothenburg; this plug-in hybrid was on display at the airport

Volvo, though now a Chinese company, makes cars near Gothenburg; this plug-in hybrid was on display at the airport

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The End of Summer in the Heart of Texas

Under the big Texas sky: U.S. Highway 87 east of Eden

Under the big Texas sky: U.S. Highway 87 east of Eden

The fourth and final customary August trip began on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. Robin dropped me at National Airport and I flew to DFW, then on to Lubbock. Met Jack at 3:00 outside the terminal, hopped in his blue Subaru. A buddy of his, Wes, was in the back seat, and was riding with us part of the way, to pick up his now-fixed car in San Angelo – five days earlier it had broken down. In no time we three were chirping like magpies. Wes works in the same treatment facility, the Ranch at Dove Tree, as Jack. We stopped briefly in Post, Texas (regular readers know that although I understand that it’s not necessary to add the state name, I always hew to local custom), to pick up shakes and malts at Holly’s, a traditional drive-in with car hops. Total quality – we like Dairy Queen, but Holly’s was a step up.

Holly's Drive-in, Post, Texas

Holly’s Drive-in, Post, Texas

 

Wes with his fixed VW

Wes with his fixed VW

We arrived San Angelo about six, found the car-repair shop, said goodbye to Wes, and headed east 85 miles to Brady, Texas, home of the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off. I’ve been judging since 1991, 24 consecutive years, and Jack was headed for his 7th competition. The big Texas sky was full of little storm cells, and it was a fascinating array of cloud and light. We arrived Brady, checked into the hotel, and made fast for – where else? – a nearby barbeque called The Spread. No goat that night, but some splendid smoked turkey, jalapeño sausage, and sides. Mandy, one of the owners, remembered us from 2013, and we had a nice chat. I was full, but needed some exercise, so pounded out some miles on a bike at the hotel, then clocked out.

Cloud-1

Up at six Saturday morning, back to the gym, then out to the kickoff event, the judges’ brunch in Melvin, Texas, population 189, 18 miles west of Brady. It was so great to be back with a bunch of good ole boys (and, this year, five women judges), long friends all the way back 20+ years, people like Jim Stewart of Lubbock, Kinnan Goleman from Austin, and my original Brady host, Kim King. We ate well that morning, listened to the guidance for rookie judges, and headed out. Most of the group headed to Richards Park on the edge of town, site of the event, but I stopped briefly at the West Sweden Cemetery, halfway back to Brady. I first visited a decade earlier. The ground was overgrown, but the headstones told some stories: of a settlement that seemed to have begun in the last decades of the 19th Century; and mainly of the brevity and unpredictability of life back then – lots of infant mortality, and plenty of lives ended after just a few decades.

A couple of views of a little place: Melvin, Texas

A couple of views of a little place: Melvin, Texas

 

West Sweden Cemetery

West Sweden Cemetery

I arrived at the cook-off just before 11, and ambled around, admiring cooking rigs and encampments of varied design and comfort. Paused to visit with a couple of teams. Lots of the people who attend or participate in the cook-off have a family connection to this little town of 5,500, folks like Frank Brawley from Houston, Texas, grandson of Houston O. Brawley, who long operated a dairy farm just west of Brady. Back at the shady judging site, I yakked with veteran judge Eddie Sandoval, part Comanche, part Hispanic, and a total character; with John Johnson of Lubbock, Texas; with some rookies, including Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly (now there’s a job!); and with Paul McCallum, a fellow judge from the 1990s who had returned after years away. Paul grew up on a station in far western New South Wales, Australia, and is another interesting fellow.

TeamDiptych

Happy competitors; the team at right proudly displayed trophies from previous cook-offs, winning handsomely in the Best Showmanship category

Eddie Sandoval

Eddie Sandoval

 

Your scribe and Aussie judge Paul McCallum

Your scribe and Aussie judge Paul McCallum

At two it was time to stand and deliver, or in this case to chew. First event was “mystery meat” judging, and this year it was rabbit, one of my favorites. There were some truly wonderful samples, moist, tender. The mystery meat judging, now in its fifth or sixth year, is a bit more permissive, and there was some creativity in sauces and preparation. At three, and already feeling a bit full from 40+ rabbit chunks, we began the main event. I was captain of table two, and we four (including Jack) were a good crew, disciplined, fair-minded, and sober (well, mostly; some of us were enjoying a Coors or two). It’s a lot of work, but we got through it in about an hour, with a high degree of unanimity in our 1-to-7 scoring. No sevens, no ones, and a lot of twos and threes. Jack and I agreed that the best of the rabbit was tastier than the best of the goat. But we kept that view to ourselves!

Heart of Texas princesses

Heart of Texas princesses

 

Some "plated theater" in the Mystery Meat competition: rabbit dressed up as armadillo!

Some “plated theater” in the mystery meat competition: rabbit dressed up as armadillo (you might have to look at it for a bit, but you’ll see the armored critter sculpted in tortilla!)

We hung out for a bit longer, but were in the car and pointed northwest by 4:45, happy to keep tradition alive in the Heart of Texas. It is an awesome experience, and I am so glad that it’s an indispensible end to summer not just for me, but for our son. When I’m gone, Jack will carry on the Britton judging tradition. And perhaps his son.

Your scribe and son

Your scribe and son

The ride back to Lubbock was fast. We paused at Sweetwater, Texas, for a Dairy Queen shake, and were home by 8:45. Took showers, tuned in some football, and were asleep around ten.

Wind turbines are breeding like rabbits in West Texas; right now there's 12,755 megawatts installed -- the equivalent of about 15 nuclear power plants

Speaking of rabbits (see above!), wind turbines are breeding like them in West Texas; right now there’s 12,755 megawatts installed — the equivalent of about 15 nuclear power plants.  This scene was 20 miles south of Sweetwater

Mesa south of Post, Texas

Mesa south of Post, Texas

We were up at seven Sunday morning, Jack over to the gym, and me out on his Trek mountain bike, north to the huge Texas Tech campus, past the big new stadium, remembering that the Lone Star State is a windy place. Sixteen miles was plenty that morning, back for a shower and over to Jack’s favorite coffee place, J&B. Sat outdoors, enjoying a jolt and a good chat. Headed to the car wash, then to an early Asian lunch at Pei Wei. Passed the afternoon lazily, watching golf and yakking, then drove to dinner at Chuy’s, a favorite Tex-Mex chain.

They love the Texas Tech Red Raiders all over Lubbock, no less in this bit of front yard decor on 3rd Street

They love the Texas Tech Red Raiders all over Lubbock, no less in this bit of front yard decor on 3rd Street

Chile rellenos, Chuy's

Chile rellenos, Chuy’s

Jack had to work Labor Day, so he departed with a hug at 6:25. I waited until first light at seven, then took the Trek back out, feeling stronger than the day before, back toward the Tech campus, north into some neighborhoods. After 14 miles I stopped at Starbucks on University Avenue for a big coffee and a donut, then east on Glenna Goodacre Ave., named for a prominent contemporary sculptor. The area had been redeveloped in the last several years, and on earlier trips I had seen a lot of walk-up apartments for students, but further east were some wonderful two-unit and single family homes in Western farmhouse and craftsman styles, a very agreeable neighborhood.

Early-morning scene at the Ranching Heritage Center; the depot was from Ropes, Texas, the locomotive from the former Fort Worth & Denver Railway

Early-morning scene at the Ranching Heritage Center; the depot was from Ropes, Texas, the locomotive from the former Fort Worth & Denver Railway

 

Wonderful old-but-new farmhouse right in town (no outhouse in the back!)

Wonderful old-but-new farmhouse right in town (no outhouse in the back!)

Back to the house, shower, change, and at ten I met Samantha Kelly, one of Jack’s friends, who kindly agreed to drive me to the airport. Sam is a second-year law student at Tech, and we hit it off instantly, chirping at high speed in the car, at J&B for a second day in a row, and on out to the airport. I have long been partial to women lawyers, and those aspiring to be, and Sam was a quality example. I look forward to getting to know her better on future trips.

Sam Kelly

Sam Kelly

It was Labor Day, and I thanked the people who served me for working on a holiday. Halfway from Lubbock to Dallas, one of the flight attendants who I thanked when I boarded sat down next to me and offered a handful of cookies and packaged snacks. “You’re the only person who thanked us,” she said, and we had a nice chat. I told her I worked for American for 22 years, asked about her work and family. It was a nice T-t-S moment. On the flight back to Washington, I thanked all the flight attendants, and one of them replied, “I’m just grateful to have a job.” A good attitude, for sure.

By eight that night I was home, on the night before the first day of school. Summer was over, and it was a wonderful season.

Staying cool at the cook-off

Staying cool at the cook-off

Going home

Going home

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Minnesota State Fair and “Up North”

Concession stand, Minnesota State Fair

Concession stand, Minnesota State Fair

On Thursday morning, August 21, way, way before first light, Linda drove me to National Airport and I flew west to Chicago, arriving just after 7:00 in rain and storm. Hopped on a connecting American Eagle flight north to Minnesota – time for the third recurrent trip of the month, to the Minnesota State Fair – but things derailed, to change transport metaphors. After taxiing around O’Hare for an hour, we returned to the gate and the flight canceled, because of bad weather northwest of us. I was on standby for the next flight, at noon, and I whooped noisily when the gate agent called my name, hopped on, and took off. The plan was to spend the afternoon at the fair with pals Rick Dow (my amigo from SABF in Argentina) and high-school buddy Bob Woehrle. But with a 2:30 arrival we scrubbed that mission, opting for an early start Friday morning. Unhappily, Bob had other plans, so it would be just Rick and me.

I picked up a Hertz car and headed to a Dairy Queen in suburban Richfield for a late liquid lunch, an enormous chocolate malt, then headed to Southdale, a shopping mall. Say what? Rob in a mall? I didn’t buy anything; it was a pure nostalgia trip, back to a place we frequented when we were young. Indeed, we were there the day it opened in July 1956, my mom, brother, and I, admiring what was the first indoor shopping center in the nation. Any mall 58 years old will have gone through waves of renovation, and I was curious: were the two large, abstract brass trees still in the center atrium. Indeed they were, as was a huge, 1950s-style wall clock. Way cool!

The original brass trees, Southdale Center, Edina, Minnesota

The original brass trees, Southdale Center, Edina, Minnesota

I motored around my hometown, Edina, an affluent place (and looking more so in recent years), and by 4:30 was in the driveway of Murph and Rick Dow’s cool Edina home. They lived in Minnesota for some years, raised their three kids there, but for more than a decade lived in an analogous suburb of Chicago. Murph opened the door and it was so great to see her – I see Rick quite a bit, but for her it had been eight years. Rick was running errands, so Murph and I sat in the kitchen and got caught up. It was great fun.

An hour later, we were sitting on their deck enjoying a drink and some really fine hors d’oeuvres that Murph made. An hour after that we were tucking into a seriously large and delicious salmon dinner and an Oregon pinot noir. And a lot of great conversation, some focused on the outstanding folk art that Rick collected on his many trips through the South. After dessert I was plumb wore out, and was asleep not long after nine.

BedroomView

Up early, fair time. I was so excited. Said goodbye to Murph, and Rick and I motored around traffic, only to get stuck in a massive jam waiting to park at the fair (I made a silly decision to divert from my usual parking area; won’t do that again). But we were in the gates by eight, and made fast for a sit-down breakfast. The fair is filled with on-a-stick-food, but we wanted a traditional start, and found the old-school (“Since 1937”) dining hall of the Robbinsdale Order of the Eastern Star. Robbinsdale is a Minneapolis suburb, and the OES is the women’s part of the Masons; on the napkin holders at table was a short description of their good work, and Rick and I felt good about the meal and their charity. Volunteerism at its best.

4H

Regular readers know that my fair visits – haven’t missed one since the mid-1980s and I guess I’ve been nearly 50 times – are formulaic. Five or six stops and were done. So we ambled up to stop one, the fine arts exhibition, where for nearly 30 years we’ve bought wonderful art. We got there early, and had a nice yak on a bench in front about Rick’s mom and dad and other kin; he’s a great storyteller, and it was a pleasant wait. At 9:00 we headed in, and I was again reminded that it pays to get to the show the first or second day, because I found an absolutely outstanding oil, entitled “Making Concessions,” by Jennifer Horton. Sold! Rick also bought art, a way-cool photograph.

A rather poor photograph of Jennifer Horton's oil painting "Making Concessions"

A portion of Jennifer Horton’s oil painting “Making Concessions”

On our way to stop two, the Creative Activities building, we paused and had a nice chat with Bob, a 92-year-old former small-town newspaper publisher (Rick shares my zeal for Talking to Strangers) staffing the small Minnesota Newspaper Museum, then walked through the 4-H building. As it is every year, the diverse stuff on view in Creative Activities was eye-popping. Layer cakes, cookies, knitwear, woven rugs, woodworking, stuff by men, by women, by kids. The aggregate hours spent making all of it were close to infinity, or so it seemed. As always, people were demonstrating their skill, and I chatted with a young woman who taught herself bobbin weaving.

Bob Shaw, lifetime newspaperman

Bob Shaw, lifetime newspaperman

Craft-1

Bobbin weaver

 

From whimsy to serious composition in the Creative Activities building (the oeuvre at left are crocheted hamsters)

From whimsy to serious composition in the Creative Activities building (the oeuvre at left are crocheted hamsters)

The Homel Company, makers of Spam canned pork shoulder, dispatched a couple of ambassadors to promote in advance of judging the best Spam recipe of 2014

The Homel Company, makers of Spam canned pork shoulder, dispatched a couple of ambassadors to promote in advance of judging the best Spam recipe of 2014

Stop three was the Horticulture Building, a splendid WPA-era building with six or eight wings showcasing all sorts of stuff. Crop art for starters, then flowers, then something I had not seen in all my years at the fair: an exhibit of the Minnesota Mycological Society, mushroom people. Two true-believer volunteers explained and answered questions, and one of the pair wase delighted to meet a couple of curious souls. Like a sea-siren, the Minnesota Craft Brewers’ Guild beckoned, with its opportunity to sample from dozens of small producers. It was only 10:30, but the opportunity could not be passed, so we shared two “flights” of four small glasses. There were some weak brews, but some splendid stuff, too, especially from the up-and-coming (and curiously named) Surly Brewing Co. More T-t-S while we tippled.

Specimens at the Minnesota Mycological Society exhibit

Specimens at the Minnesota Mycological Society exhibit

Cottage Grove Strawberry Festival ambassadors

Cottage Grove Strawberry Festival ambassadors

State Fair police, keeping order

State Fair police, keeping order

Final stop, for more than 90 minutes, were the animal barns. For the first 4 days of the 12-day fair the 4-H kids hold forth, and they were all great fun. We began with chickens, ducks, and geese, then rabbits, then into the sheep barn, where judging of the large, solid Columbia breed was underway (for a city guy, I know my animals). We watched the final winnowing, saluted the blue-ribbon winner, and moved on. By ritual, I paused at the table where visitors can help themselves to newly-shorn fleece and picked up a chunk, squeezing it for the lanolin that protects the beasts in rain and snow, and smelling the earth in the fiber. Domestic animals are such a gift, and the chance to see, touch, smell, and hear them each year is a true blessing, and a nice reminder that long before the supermarket there are families willing to endure a lot of uncertainty and hardship to bring forth food and fiber.

Rooster

4-H member from Hubbard County with her Australorp rooster

4-H member from Hubbard County with her Australorp rooster

4-H member awaiting the judge's decision on the best Columbia sheep

4-H member awaiting the judge’s decision on the best Columbia sheep

In the cattle barn, kids were hosing down their beasts in the “shower stalls,” and in the aisles they were prettying their best, spray-painting hooves, drying, trimming, shining. Time was running out, so we zipped quickly through the hog barn, admiring the sow with a litter of 12, then heading out. Rick had a call at 1:00, so we hugged and parted. I grabbed a corn dog, then headed to the car. It was one of the better fair visits ever, I think largely because Rick and I are so simpatico and share a lot of values.

Heifer

4H-4

In no time I was zipping northwest on Interstate 94, then U.S. Highway 10, then Minnesota Highway 25, through Foley, Buckman, Pierz, and Genola. Past Brainerd, and onto Crow Wing County 3 through Crosslake to my pal-since-1963 Tim McGlynn’s cabin on Big Trout Lake. Got there at 4:30, hugs and smiles. I missed him in 2013, so it was great to be back. We yakked a bit, then I jumped in the lake to clean off the road dirt. Grabbed a beer on the dock, yakked some more, then hopped in his boat and motored a mile east to a big dinner of walleye, a wonderful Up North fish, at a local lodge.

Sunset, Big Trout Lake, Crow Wing County, Minnesota

Sunset, Big Trout Lake, Crow Wing County, Minnesota

I woke Saturday to the cry of the loon, one of my favorite. It is the sound of the North Woods. Had a cup of coffee and more chatter, then borrowed one of Tim’s cool mountain bikes for a ride into Crosslake and breakfast with George Rasmusson, a former colleague from Republic Airlines and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. We had a great meal and a better yak, laughing hard. It had been three years. To keep busy, he’s become an excursion boat captain on Pelican Lake, and had some great stories from that job, and the airline biz before that. He’s a character.

George Rasmusson

George Rasmusson

Rode back to the cabin, hopped in Tim’s new, scaled-down motorhome (his house in the winter, which he spends out west, skiing and snowboarding), and headed north and west to look at a building lot he’s considering. He wants to downsize to a summer-only place, in a quieter location. The lake district in central Minnesota was always pretty built-up, and the retirement of baby boomers is making it more so.

Tim McGlynn and son Charlie

Tim McGlynn and son Charlie

At three we got back in the boat and headed through a chain of lakes to Bill and Sally Terry’s cabin, picked up four passengers, and headed to Moonlite Bay to listen to the Elements, a rock band of older guys and one of their kids. Way fun. Drank beer, met old pals, danced a bit (my knees felt in for days), carried on like we were young again. Not! At 6:30 we motored home, washed up, and headed by car to the Terrys for dinner – it’s a traditional annual event, and it’s always big fun, with plenty to eat and drink. I had to be up early the next day, so we were home by 11.

I planned to take a bike ride at dawn Sunday, but a storm came through at four, so I packed up, had a cup of coffee, hugged Tim, and headed back to the Twin Cities in driving rain. I took a different, more interesting route home, skirting the shore of the vast Mille Lacs Lake, third largest in a state of big lakes. It was still stormy, and the water looked angry. It was a cool sight. Stopped for breakfast at a small-town café, K-Bob’s in Princeton, then headed into town. I had just a bit of extra time, to I parked at Lexington and University and hopped on the new Green Line light rail, riding seven stops west to Stadium Village, in the shadow of the new University of Minnesota football field. Nice system, and well-planned new development along the line, on a street long in need of fresh blood.

GreenLine-2

Green Line train at the new U of M stadium, and new transit-oriented development along University Avenue

At 11, I met another decades-long pal, Bob Woehrle, for a cup of coffee near our old house in St. Paul. Had a great catch-up yak, plenty of laughs, then zipped back to the airport and flew home.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Sunrise, Willet Pond

Sunrise, Willet Pond

Descending into Charleston, the view below was emerald. It rains a lot in South Carolina, and with the powerful sun trees grow quickly; the pine plantations below destined to become paper of all kinds. Linda, Robin, Dylan, and Carson picked me up in a rented minivan and we made fast for one of my favorite restaurants in the South, the Hominy Grill. When we turned off the freeway onto a local street, I smiled broadly, for here was an authentic landscape in that historic town. A young black man rode by on a bicycle, grocery bags hanging from the handlebars; leafy trees crowned the road, and flowering shrubs on the verges below; clapboard homes built 150 years earlier lined the streets on both sides; and deep potholes invited us to slow down.

Flower

In no time we were toasting our good fortune, me with a local pale ale. Tucked into a vegetable plate, shared dessert, and left the Hominy in a good spot. Drove to Kiawah at dusk, unpacked, and slept hard. Rose before dawn and hopped on a rented bike; they’re clunkers, but after four previous vacations on the island I knew them well, and was happy to be on a two-wheeler after days on foot in Argentina.

Vegetable plate, Hominy Grill, Charleston

Vegetable plate, Hominy Grill, Charleston

Riding east toward the end of the island, I got thinking about new places and familiar ones. Although I like to discover the former – like Jakarta several weeks earlier, what a cool experience – returning to well-trod paths is also good. I thought about childhood vacations, when for almost a decade we returned to the same rustic resort in northern Minnesota. The ladies all like Kiawah, and I do, too.

Cheers in the Sanctuary bar

Cheers in the Sanctuary bar

Carson at the beach

Carson at the beach

 

Dylan at the pool

Dylan at the pool

The days fell into a rhythm: biking 15 or more miles before breakfast, out to admire the green and especially the remarkable fauna, principally water birds and a lot of alligators (at a distance). We alternated between a fun, kid-oriented swimming pool and the lovely wide beach, the latter walking distance from our villa. Nap after lunch, a beer on the porch with a good book, out to dinner, and more reading before bed. The days passed quickly. It was fun to be with Carson and Dylan, who love the place.

Early morning on the wetlands on the east end of the island

Early morning on the wetlands on the east end of the island

The view from our bedroom

The view from our bedroom

Kiawah teems with wildlife: deer, water birds, and lots of alligators; Dylan, Carson, and I were fascinated by this guy, who climbed out of the pond to warm up his cold-blooded body

Kiawah teems with wildlife: deer, water birds, and lots of alligators; Dylan, Carson, and I were fascinated by this guy, who climbed out of the pond to warm up his cold-blooded body

We flew home on Sunday, August 17, and it was good to be home after 12 days.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Buenos Aires and the South American Business Forum

The baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), Buenos Aires

The baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), Buenos Aires

On the way home from Indonesia, I was feeling about a quart low, and indeed I contracted shingles, sort of like chicken pox for older adults. Didn’t have anything to do with tropical pathogens, the doctor said stress often triggers the onset (well, yeah, like getting your phone stolen, leaving your passport at the hotel, etc.!). It’s uncomfortable, to me not debilitating, but persistent.

Persistence meant I still had some symptoms when I departed Tuesday, August 5 for Buenos Aires and my seventh appearance at the South American Business Forum. But the show must go on, especially at that student-run conference where I have become something of a senior leader and proud cheerleader. The journey south had a few complications that were not my doing. The Washington-New York flight was severely delayed, which would have meant missing my connection to B.A. I was rebooked on another flight that was also late. The original schedule gave me almost three hours at JFK. I arrived 9:40, waited five minutes for my gate-checked bag, and walked as fast as I could across American’s big Terminal 8. As I dashed, I heard them paging me to go to gate 8 “for immediate departure,” to which I responded “I’m coming, I’m coming” (I’ve never been paged as a tardy passenger). At the top of an escalator a man asked if I was Robert Britton, and escorted me to the gate. I was on the Silver Bird 10 minutes before departure time, and they closed the door right behind me. Whew, that was close.

Arrived into winter in the Southern Hemisphere, met one of the conference volunteers, Lucas Diaz, and my sidekick Rick Dow (see earlier posts, a longtime friend and marketing genius), who was making his second SABF appearance. Hopped in Lucas’ car and were soon yakking across a bunch of topics, not least what sounded like an awesome presentation Rick would give the next day. It was a pleasure to be in B.A., a place that has become familiar. Rick and I checked into the hotel, changed money, and headed to lunch at one of the city’s cool bares notables, the Bar Britanico in the San Telmo neighborhood just south of downtown. We spent a couple of hours yakking, ate a good meal, had a beer.

Rick Dow at the Bar Britanico

Rick Dow at the Bar Britanico

We then headed to a high-rise that has long been the site of the first day plenary, met some of the conference organizers, and tested Rick’s presentation. At six, we walked a few blocks south to the compact campus of ITBA, the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology, the SABF host institution, and plunged into the first forum event, a noisy and lively “tea party.” Organizers asked the roughly 100 participants (50 from Argentina, 25 from elsewhere in Latin America, and 25 from other places) to bring some nonperishable food from their homelands, so we were able to tuck into geitost (caramelized goat cheese from Norway), savory crackers from Paraguay, the sweet cookie from Argentina called an alfajon, and lots more. Taste was great, but better was the exuberance of the youngsters. We met Kulani and Mokgohloe, two women medical students from South Africa, Daniel from Venezuela, Ariadne from Ukraine, and many more.

SABF's kickoff tea party

SABF’s kickoff tea party

Next stop was dinner with long friends Martín Siniawski and his partner Valeria Luna, and Juan Trouilh and his girlfriend Barbara. The two guys were part of the SABF founding team, and we’ve become close through the years. Dinner was at Caseros, a delightful restaurant Juan’s cousin owns (unhappily, she wasn’t there). We shared wonderful appetizers, ceviche and grilled sweetbreads, then I tucked into a ribeye steak. I am not a big red-meat eater, but when I’m in Argentina I really appreciate the superior flavor and texture of grass-fed beef, so much better than the grain-pumped feedlot animals in my native land. Yum! The day ended just after 11, with me as cheerleader, addressing the SABF organizing team on the eve of the conference. I got ‘em fired up!

Next morning the conference began, a full day of plenary, six speakers, including Rick’s stupendous preso. Met lots more students, including Artem from Russia, Menzi from South Africa, Thijs from the Netherlands, and more. As good as the sessions were, the chatter during coffee breaks, lunch, and dinner may have been better. So many remarkable life stories, like from Aslan, born in Iran but now a proud Oklahoman. The day sped by, as did the next one, Friday. I moderated a student presentation in the morning, continued yakking. Rick and I left a bit early, grabbed a short nap, then returned to a group dinner.

SABF

Before dinner, we ambled across the street to an agreeable neighborhood restaurant, El Establo, for a beer. It’s got a great local feel. I thought I knew Rick pretty well, but he told me lots of new stories, of him living in Paris as a teenager, and more color on his first real job, selling pool chemicals in the Southeast. Just one colorful story: he loves music (his first job – not a real one, he says – was owning and running a live-music bar, Vegetable Buddies, in South Bend, Indiana), so often on his selling trips he’d check out various music venues in the Carolinas, Georgia, etc. That included breaking into a closed, old hotel in Macon, Georgia, to “commune” with the spirit of Little Richard, one of the black musicians who hugely influenced rock and roll; Rick knew that Little Richard had been a dishwasher in the hotel. I could listen to his stories for hours!

On Saturday morning,we started a bit later, so the Transport Geek hopped on the subway for a short ride; the now-privatized system is old and in need of investment (judging by the Japanese characters on windows, my train began life across the Pacific).  Stations have wonderful old art, mosaics, paintings, and tiles.

Subte

Tile art, Buenos Aires subway

Tile art, Buenos Aires subway

The city is filled with these contrasts of old and new -- it's one of the things that makes B.A. so cool

The city is filled with these contrasts of old and new — it’s one of the things that makes B.A. so cool

We did a cool group activity that morning, basically an hour of dance with a wonderful and inspiring moderator. My big job, for the third time, was to summarize and close the conference that afternoon, a task I have come to relish, for it gives me the opportunity for a full measure of inspiration. I also was able to meet and thank parents of six or seven organizers, which was lovely, and pose for countless pictures with the youngsters. It was sorta rock-star treatment, and I kept telling them that I was getting far more than I gave. Once again, a colossal conference. I am just so happy to be associated with the group. They are like family.

At 6:30 Rick and I met a former organizer, Josue, now a management consultant, for a beer and a good yak. He still wants to get into the airline business, and Rick (a former VP at Northwest Airlines) and I dispensed some advice. The airline theme continued at 8:15, when we met Christoff Poppe, the Argentine country manager for United Airlines. I met Christoff when he was a MBA student at Kellogg a few years back, and we reconnected earlier in the year. Three airline guys, two former and one current, made for a lively dinner at Al Carbon, a steak place around the corner from our hotel. We covered a lot of topics, including our industry, Argentine economics and politics, and lots more. Really fun. And another steak.

I was plumb wore out, but we promised students we’d show at the end-of-conference party, so at 11:30 Rick and I hopped in a cab and motored west to the Palermo neighborhood and the Liv night club. A night club! I don’t think I had been in such a place for at least 25 years. It was lively, the kids were having big fun, but it was way too noisy for this old guy. Still, we moved around, getting into digital snapshots, hugging and one-cheek-kissing almost everyone (Rick and I do like the Latin way). On the way out, I ran into another old SABF hand, Agustín DiLuciano, a telecoms engineer who told me he’s spending more and more time as an artist – a good thing, because he has huge talent.

A sample of Agustín's talent

A sample of Agustin’s talent; you can see more at http://www.facebook.com/dilucious

 

 

But we weren’t done. Nope. At 1:45, we left the club and headed to La Catedral, a tango club that Juan Trouilh told us about. It was exactly as he described: dumpy, funky, but totally local and totally memorable: I will long remember ordinary Porteños (as locals are known) moving around the dance floor, filled with energy, and a lot of passion. The tango is such a cool dance. We left just before three, and I felt pretty local. I’m an early-to-bed guy, and have been for decades, but lately I have discovered – perhaps better late than never – that if I stay up late from time to time I’m not gonna die! So 4.5 hours of sleep was better than zero. And, oh, did we have fun.

Tango2

Up Sunday morning, packed my bag, and met Rick for breakfast at 9:30. We hopped in a taxi and headed to Recoleta, pausing to admire the baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), then into the huge cemetery where Eva Peron and lots of others are buried. It’s a fascinating place, with elaborate burial vaults and structures, some in poor repair.

Altar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Altar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

FatherFahy

Rev. Fahy’s grave, however, is in fine shape!

Man and friend, Recoleta park

Man and friend, Recoleta park

Flower power, Recoleta park

Flower power, Recoleta park

The latter are a sort of metaphor for the local economy, which has been on a down slope for more than seven decades. As I have written in these pages after previous visits, Argentina 110 years ago was as rich as the United States, but the decline began with the election of Juan Peron in the 1940s. His populist approach, with lots of state intervention (and ample corruption) has become entrenched, and has destabilized an economy with enormous resources and potential. The collectivist urge has actually engendered an absence of togetherness, and the evidence is plainly visible on the street (for example, in disrepair and dog turds on the sidewalk).

The fawning praise for Juan is everywhere

The fawning praise for Juan is everywhere

You must feel invincible if you brand a government ministry with an image of Eva Peron, the former first lady

You must feel invincible if you brand a government ministry with an image of Eva Peron, the former first lady

We walked the rows and rows of the cemetery, then headed into the nearby park, filled with what seemed like an oversupply of artists and craft vendors. Hopped in a cab for a (to us) late lunch with Martín and Vale, at a sensational local parrilla (barbecue), more steak, some spicy chorizo, and more. After the meal, we walked a few blocks to their high-rise apartment and rode up to the 31st floor for stunning views of the city. Had a coffee and a short yak in their apartment, then headed out for another amble around Palermo.

True amigos: Martín Siniawski and Valeria Luna

True amigos: Martín Siniawski and Valeria Luna

The view from Martin's and Vale's apartment

The view from Martín’s and Vale’s apartment

Rick shares my delight in spending time in ordinary landscapes, so the hour or more walking the streets of an interesting neighborhood was to both of us a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Some scenes from the neighborhood:

PaintedDetail

Modern apartments are replacing these two- and three-story traditional houses

Modern apartments are replacing these two- and three-story traditional houses

The replacement structure (to the above); note the stylish variant on burglar bars

The replacement structure (to the above); note the stylish variant on burglar bars

Bookstore window

Bookstore window

In a city filled with annoying spray-painted graffiti, we very much liked this transitory paper and foil version!

In a city filled with annoying spray-painted graffiti, we very much liked this transitory paper and foil version!

We hopped in a taxi back to the hotel, I said goodbye to Rick, and hopped in a private car (I planned to take the bus, but the SABF, always hospitable, organized a nice ride). The driver spoke no English, so it was the perfect moment to thank Don Miguel, my first Spanish teacher, way back to 1960 (I actually murmured a “Gracias, Don Miguel” the night before in the steakhouse, where I ordered all courses in Spanish). The driver was my age, a friendly fellow, and we exchanged basics – my job, my family, his family. He explained that he was in his second marriage, and had children aged 6 to 40. It was a fun ride, a nice variant on Talking to Stangers. Flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, arriving early Monday morning. I was headed to family vacation in South Carolina, and had a seven-hour layover, so I took a welcome shower, worked a bit, and at 1:50 flew to Charleston.

A welcoming sight: the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 777, Buenos Aires

A welcoming sight: the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 777, Buenos Aires

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Reflection on Flight, In the Wake of Tragedy

OneworldJet

All of us who work in the airline business have made it easy: the ability to traverse our nation, or perhaps the whole world, in just hours.  I did it just last week, flying nearly halfway around the world, to Indonesia.  Our mission is simple to understand: we work hard each day to bring the people of the world together, safely, reliably, and at a fair price.   Many of us who have worked in the business for our entire lives see it as a calling, something noble.  We are pilloried for a late flight, a cancellation, or a lost bag, but we shrug off the criticism, because we believe in what we do.

So when terrorists strike, as they did a few days ago, bringing down a magnificent flying machine cruising from Europe to Southeast Asia, it is deeply upsetting.  Perhaps we should pause and give thanks that this is the first such crime since September 11, 2001. But that gives us no comfort.  Instead, we find ourselves weeping at the photos and stories of the victims profiled in today’s New York Times. 

The grief must surely be enormous in The Netherlands, a nation I have long admired and frequently visited.  It’s a relatively small place, which means proportionally, the impact there was greater than in the U.S. on September 11 (it would be the equivalent of about 3,800 deaths in the U.S.).

This morning, I rode my bike to Washington National Airport, 16 miles.  I wanted to get close to our business, to remind myself of what we do.  I dismounted just north of the end of the runway and watched a few takeoffs and a landing.  Routine.  Seemingly easy, though to us quite complex.  We’ve gotten very good at it, but the tragedy in Ukraine reminds us that there are some in the world who would exploit this noble and capable business to advance their own twisted agenda, sacrificing innocents and trying to scare us.  But we will not be frightened, because to show fear is to give those thugs what they want.  And we will not do that.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized