Dallas and Austin, Texas, and a Memorable Flight Home

With World War II veterans aboard American Airlines' Honor Flight to Washington

With World War II veterans aboard American Airlines’ Honor Flight to Washington

Second-quarter journeys started on the first day, up early and out the door to National Airport, then nonstop to DFW.   First stop, Hertz lost and found to retrieve the raincoat Linda left a few weeks earlier (happily, I have a 100% success rate in claiming lost items from Hertz, a string going back 20 years or more). Picked up a Budget car, a brand-new, red Ford Focus, and motored to the American Airlines Credit Union for a board meeting. Serious business concluded, I met a longtime friend, Anita, for a coffee at a nearby Starbucks.   Recently laid off from AA’s ad agency, Anita had worked tirelessly on the airline’s business for 34 years. Not much justice there, but the new leaders cut the ad budget. We had a good yak about retooling. I then headed to my “hotel,” the welcoming home of Peggy and Ken Gilbert in North Dallas. Jumped on a phone call for 45 minutes, then sat down for a quick beer. They are adventurous eaters, and proposed an Afghan restaurant in Plano. Zipped off in my red car, and in no time were tucking into some very savory food and good conversation.

Up early Wednesday morning, out with Ken to walk their two big dogs, Bella and Papi (the latter an immigrant from Tonga, a souvenir from their daughter Blair’s service in the Peace Corps). Peggy headed to work, and Ken and I peeled off for a coffee with another former AA colleague, Laura Freeland. Another great catch-up yak (I hadn’t seen Laura for a couple of years). Back home for a bit of work, then to lunch at a Korean joint with Laura 2, yet another former AA colleague. Fascinating conversation, much of it focused on her efforts to get a private high school funded and built; Cristo Rey is the organization, founded by Jesuits 20 years earlier in Chicago, with a commitment to provide quality schooling for students who could otherwise not afford the tuition. Back to Ken’s for a short nap, then up to SMU’s Plano campus for my twice-yearly talk to their Graduate Marketing Certificate Program. Always a fun presentation, tag team with Prof. Dan Howard, who I have known for more than two decades. Back to Ken’s for a quick visit, then lights out.

Was up well before six on Thursday morning, a bowl of cheerios, cup of coffee, and quick chat with Ken, then out the door, pedal to the metal to DFW airport. Traffic was light, and I was at the TSA barrier by 7:10. There, a T-t-S moment that brought great sadness: the TSA were giving a FEMA officer and his dog were the third degree (don’t get me started on the silliness of a uniformed and credentialed Federal employee encountering such treatment). Admiring the dog, I quietly asked the officer about the hound’s skills. “He’s a cadaver dog,” he replied matter of factly. “We’re going up to Washington to try to find mudslide victims.” I thanked him and the dog for their service and walked away, in tears. God bless them, and the victims. Hard work, and unhappy work.

Flew to Austin, Texas, landing at 9:20, and ambled briskly to catch the 9:30 Airport Flyer bus. No doubt drivers waiting in the long taxi rank were surprised to see a suit walk past them to the bus stop, but the T-Geek always favors public transit, and $1.50 works. At 10:05 I hopped off on the east end of the University of Texas campus, right in the shadow of the massive football stadium. It was good to be back at UT after a three-year absence.

A little piece of the Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium

A little piece of the Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium

The place is huge, but with a good feel, and a many wonderful older buildings with lots of architectural detail. My jaw was slack as I admired a series of friezes just below the roofline on one, depicting the old Texas: a pack horse, burros, a cattle head, a dagger. It reminded me of a sign on an outside wall of the Texas State History Museum: “Opportunity. Identity. Land.” Not a sentence, but it clear expressed the much of the state’s ethos for decades. I miss Texas.

UT-3

UT-2

UT

At 10:45, I met my new host, Ying Zhang, a young and energetic fellow, and from 11:00 to 12:30 delivered a lecture to an undergrad marketing class.  We walked a few blocks to Mercado for a Tex-Mex lunch and a good chat about the airline business in China – Ying goes back and forth a lot, and knows a lot. Headed back to the school, worked my email, and repeated the lecture to the afternoon class. At 3:20 I said goodbye and ambled a few blocks west to the Hotel Ella, a fancy boutique place. Checked in, changed into shorts, and headed to the fitness center, only to find no bike. Ugh. So a nap was the next best thing!

Austin's tallest building; the place continues to grow rapidly

Austin’s tallest building; the place continues to grow rapidly

The Container Bar, built from, yep, shipping containers

The Container Bar, built from, yep, shipping containers

Change on Rainey Street; the temporary structures at left are offices for a high-rise condo (not visible).  The fate of the cottage at right is just about sealed.

Change on Rainey Street; the temporary structures at left are offices for a high-rise condo (not visible). The fate of the cottage at right is just about sealed.

At 5:20 one of the bellman, an affable young fellow from the Florida panhandle, drove me toward dinner in one of the hotel’s courtesy cars. A nice service, but we got caught in the serious traffic that is Austin’s worst aspect. When we got within a mile of my destination, I handed him a tip, hopped out, and walked the rest of the way, briskly. Met still another former AA buddy, John Morton, who has lived in Austin for a decade. Dinner venue was Banger’s, a popular place for beer and sausage, on the southeast edge of downtown (the street was a mix of one-story houses and little joints, and I suspect it will be gone in a few years as residential high-rises continue to sprout). We had fun catching up, plus some seriously good local microbrews. Morty kindly drove me back to the hotel and I was asleep way early.

John Morton

John Morton

Austin bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World," so it wasn't surprising to see a crooner at Banger's

Austin bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” so it wasn’t surprising to see a crooner at Banger’s

Way early, because I was up at 4:05 and in a taxi with a chatty driver from Pakistan at 4:30. No traffic at that hour, so it was a quick ride to the airport. Short flight back to DFW, a bit of work in the Admirals Club, then the most interesting flight, maybe of my entire life . . .

As I approached the gate for AA1033 to Washington, I saw a crowd, lots of people in red shirts, and flags. Moving closer, I heard most of the people singing the national anthem, and I immediately realized what it was: an Honor Flight. I stopped, put my hand on my heart, and listened to the song, whispering “land of the free, and the home of the brave.” Less than a minute later – I was still not at the gate – a former colleague from AA Flight Service recognized me, explaining that she was helping with the flight, 39 World War II veterans headed to D.C. for a weekend of recognition. Without hesitation, I handed her my First Class boarding pass and asked her to find a soldier to sit in a big seat.   She went off, and I watched the men – and a few former WACs and WAVEs – board the flight to applause and cheers.

Hero1

The memory of my dad’s war service and the lifetime of subsequent injury makes me pretty emotional in situations like that; tears started to flow, and ran many times that morning. I had already said my morning prayers, and like every morning I had give thanks to God for all who had preserved freedom and nation. Now I was face to face with them.   As I boarded, I introduced myself to Charlie Boyd, sitting in the seat I happily yielded. Across the aisle from my seat in row 9, I also thanked a fellow for his service, and several more. Word of my seat swap had spread among the volunteers, and they all thought it was some big deal, but I waved it off. How could I not do the right thing? For much of the flight I yakked with Linda, a retired nurse who volunteers for these trips in case medical care is needed – after all, 26 of the 39 were more than 90 years old. An historian of sorts rides along, capturing stories of their service, bravery, and privation. Just one example: on board was a former POW who in 1945 was starving. He somehow caught a pigeon and found a potato on the road. He plucked the bird and hit it in his sock. Periodically, the guards let the prisoners wash their socks in scalding water, and the soldier managed to “just sort of” cook a meal.

When we arrived, the regular passengers got off first. There was more ceremony at the gate, and people waiting for the departing flight and dozens of others thronged the area. I was not in a hurry, so I parked my bag in a “front row” spot and cheered and clapped one more time as the honorees came off the plane. Many sported big grins, some were in tears. We can never repay them, but we can and must remember them each day.

It was quite a morning.

The veterans got on buses, bound for the World War II Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and other hallowed places, and I hopped on the Metro to Rosslyn and the shuttle across the Potomac to Georgetown, where I delivered a lecture to incoming MBA students.

 

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To Montreal and McGill University

Bronze of James McGill, founder of the university; it was the first day of spring, but winter was still in full force!

Snowbound bronze of James McGill, founder of the university; it was the first day of spring, but winter was still in full force!

I was home for about a month, so was really looking forward to the twice-yearly visit to Montreal and teaching at McGill University.  Hopped on a handy US Airways nonstop from Washington National to Montreal.  It was my 90th visit to Canada (yep, I keep track).  Bought an $18 three-day pass on the STM, the public-transit network, and in no time was downtown, familiar after visiting lots of times over 47 years.  Familiarity brought a smile as the Metro rolled into the Peel station and I spotted the colorful glazed-tile circles that I recall from our first visit as 15-year-olds.

PeelCircles

Checked into the hotel, dropped bags, and walked down the hill for a short meeting with a couple of colleagues from IATA, the International Air Transport Association.  It was past lunchtime and I was hungry, but also due for the meeting, so instead of the usual stop at Tim Horton’s I zipped into a McDonald’s on Saint-Catherine.  This was Quebec, so by law the menu posted above the counter was entirely in French.  Big shake, small burger, done.

Classic downtown Montreal sign; in the U.S. falling ice would produce a lawsuit, but here if you're hit, or fall on a slippery sidewalk, well, that's your fault . . .

Classic downtown Montreal sign; in the U.S. falling ice would produce a lawsuit, but here if you’re hit, or fall on a slippery sidewalk, well, that’s your fault . . .

Downtown redevelopment continues; it was evident that the city planners required the developer to retain the old facade!

Downtown redevelopment continues; it was evident that the city planners required the developer to retain the old facade!

Ambled back to the hotel, did a bit of work, rode an exercise bike, then headed out for a beer and dinner.  As I’ve done on most recent visits, I scouted out another brewpub, this time Saint-Bock on Saint-Denis in the Quartier Latin.  Once again I was the oldest tippler in the place by a factor of at least 2.5, maybe 3!  But no matter.  The waitress was friendly, tapped in the pub’s wi-fi password and I read The New York Times over a glass of homemade ale.  And as I always do at least once on every visit to Canada, I raised my glass to a country where everyone enjoys the basic human right of health care.  À votre santé!

The Saint-Bock menu was mainly pub snacks and I needed a substantial meal, so ambled a block south to Les 3 Brasseurs (the three brewers), a respectable chain that also serves beer brewed on premises and adequate, filling food.  I had a bowl of cassoulet and a green salad, perfect.  On the way out, a brief T-t-S exchange with the francophone on the adjacent bar stool.  It began after I commented to the waitress that we didn’t have handheld credit-card charging devices in the U.S.; at that moment I usually note that we’re a bit backward in my homeland.  The fellow segued, in English, “The French are superior.”  I reckoned he was kidding, but perhaps partly serious. “In Quebec,” I replied, “mais oui, that’s for sure.”  “No,” he said, “in all the world.”  “Okay.  Have a nice day,” shook his hand, and hopped the 24 bus back to the hotel.  An easy day felt good after two weeks’ of teaching at Georgetown.

I've commented in previous Montreal posts about it as a very stylish place, and store windows are just one manifestation; here a map and globe store in the Latin Quarter

I’ve commented in previous Montreal posts about it as a very stylish place, and store windows are just one manifestation; here a map and globe store in the Latin Quarter

Up early Thursday morning, back to the gym, then out the door for a full day at McGill’s Desautels B-school.  First stop was a MBA breakfast organized by the student marketing association, yakking informally with about 10 diverse students then a one-hour preso on airline marketing.  After class, I sat with one of the students, Urbain Kengni, a very bright Cameroonian, and got his life story.  He grew up in a small town, son of a nurse practitioner and a teacher,  won a scholarship to university in Morocco, graduated in engineering, worked at LG in Africa and Korea, and a Moroccan consulting firm, had an internship with Bombardier, a lot of experience.  The 30 minutes I spent with Urbain reminded me of how fortunate I am to be able to see the future of global management.  Business will be in good hands when people like Urbain are leading organizations.

Urbain Kengni, McGill MBA candidate 2015

Urbain Kengni, McGill MBA candidate 2014

At 11:45 I met my longtime host, Mary Dellar, and two other McGill pals, Bob Mackalski and Alex King.  It was a way-fun lunch, with a debrief from Mary on her rather troublesome morning guest speaker (I promised to do better!), lots of storytelling, and a fair bit of conversation focused on marriage (Bob would tie the knot in 50 days) and family – Alex and his wife were expecting their 8th child.  Yeah, we joked about fertility, too!  We would have been happy to spend the afternoon in that noisy booth, but Mary and I zipped back to school and three back-to-back classes.  I was tired when I finished at 5:30.

Back at the Holiday Inn, I put my head down for 15 minutes, then ambled out the door and back east a kilometer for another brewpub visit, to Le Cheval Blanc, then to a fried haddock dinner at yet another micro, L’Amère a Boire, where the vibe was friendlier than the White Horse.  At dinner, I added up the teaching: in the past 19 days I had taught for 50 hours.  A lot.

Montreal streets were filled with campaign signs, in this case one on wheels, for the provincial elections on April 7

Montreal streets were filled with campaign signs, in this case one on wheels, for the provincial elections on April 7

Back to the gym Friday morning, then a few blocks to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association clubhouse on Peel for a caloric breakfast with Bob Mackalski.  We had a great yak.  He’s a seriously bright and very experienced fellow, just finished his Ph.D. at McGill, does a lot of consulting.  Before Bob arrived, I admired artifacts and art in the lobby – the place clearly has a lot of history.

MAAA Triptych: a curling trophy; detail from a photo of the 1890 golden jubilee of the the Montreal Snow Shoe Club; stained glass of a member with an old club symbol, "the old blue toque"

MAAA Triptych: a curling trophy; detail from a photo of the 1890 golden jubilee of the the Montreal Snow Shoe Club; stained glass of a member with an old club symbol, “the old blue toque”

At 11:45 I met my longtime host, Mary Dellar, and two other McGill pals, Bob Mackalski and Alex King.  It was a way-fun lunch, with a debrief from Mary on her rather troublesome morning guest speaker (I promised to do better!), lots of storytelling, and a fair bit of conversation focused on marriage (Bob would tie the knot in 50 days) and family – Alex and his wife were expecting their 8th child.  Yeah, we joked about fertility, too!  We would have been happy to spend the afternoon in that noisy booth, but Mary and I zipped back to school and three back-to-back classes.  I was tired when I finished at 5:30

Back at the Holiday Inn, I worked a bit, put my head down for 15 minutes, then ambled out the door and back east a kilometer for another brewpub visit, to Le Cheval Blanc, then to a fried haddock dinner at yet another micro, L’Amère a Boire, where the vibe was friendlier than the White Horse.  At dinner, I added up the teaching: in the past 19 days I had taught for 50 hours.  A lot.

Back to the gym Friday morning, then a few blocks to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association clubhouse on Peel for a caloric breakfast with Bob Mackalski.  We had a great yak.  He’s a seriously bright and very experienced fellow, just finished his Ph.D. at McGill, does a lot of consulting.  Before Bob arrived, I admired artifacts and art in the lobby – the place clearly has a lot of history.

MAAA Triptych: a curling trophy; detail from a photo of the 1890 golden jubilee of the the Montreal Snow Shoe Club; stained glass of a member with an old club symbol, "the old blue toque"

MAAA Triptych: a curling trophy; detail from a photo of the 1890 golden jubilee of the the Montreal Snow Shoe Club; stained glass of a member with an old club symbol, “the old blue toque”

Walked back to the hotel, worked a bit, caught the STM 747 bus back to the airport, and flew, again nonstop, home to Washington.  I never tire of Canada.  That was the end of travel for the quarter, smaller in volume than in the past (in the first quarter of 2007 I flew 46,000 miles, this one 10,000) but still rich in experiences and opportunities.

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First Overseas Trip of 2014: Germany, France, England

Detail, Paris Opera roofline; the city is filled with these gilded statues

Detail, Paris Opera roofline; the city is filled with these gilded statues

The weather forecast called for a big snowstorm on the day I was to leave for my first overseas teaching, Thursday, February 13, so I moved the trip forward a day.  I was headed for Frankfurt, and American flies there only from DFW; rather than a huge, lengthy backtrack, I rode the bus to Dulles and checked in for a nonstop Lufthansa flight, flying standby.  Because paying customers also decided to fly out early, I barely made it onto the flight, a middle seat on a packed 747. I told the Lufthansa duty manager, Mr. Koch, that I had been flying standby for nearly 50 years, and was always happy to take any seat.

The scene deep in economy class,  Lufthansa 747-8, on arrival in Frankfurt

The scene deep in economy class, Lufthansa 747-8, on arrival in Frankfurt

On board, 34E turned out to be a good chair.  Mary, next to me, was on her way to Israel with a tour group from church.  It was her first trip overseas (“I’ve barely been out of Virginia”); she was really excited, and maybe a little apprehensive, so it became my job to help allay any concerns.  We chatted for more than two hours, a long and nice T-t-S.  In a middle seat next to a squirmy five-year-old meant I didn’t sleep more than an hour, but the flight was very fast. At FRA, I picked up my suitcase and ambled through the huge airport basement to the supermarket I found two months earlier, for a pound of yogurt, then to a bench to eat and work my email.  Bought a ticket to Wiesbaden, 18 miles west, and hopped on the S9 suburban train.

The railway station, Wiesbaden; red sandstone was a common building material in the western and southwestern parts of Germany

The railway station, Wiesbaden; red sandstone was a common building material in the western and southwestern parts of Germany

Had I known earlier that I’d have a free day (my teaching was not until the evening of the next day), I might have gone further afield, like down to Stuttgart for a tour of the Mercedes factory, but Wiesbaden was also a place I’ve always wanted to see.  It’s a mid-size city, and the capital of the state of Hesse.  I stuffed my suitcase in a locker at the train station, and set off for a look.  First thing I noticed were lots of balconies on the 19th and early 20th Century apartment buildings; it seemed distinctly Wiesbaden – I had not seen them in other German cities.  They typically projected from the building façade, and were covered.  Some were stone, some made of wood, and a few were wrought iron, reminiscent of New Orleans.  Way cool.

Wiesbaden apartment with wonderful balconies

Wiesbaden apartment with wonderful balconies

A splendid example of the Wiesbaden balcony

A splendid example of the Wiesbaden balcony

The station was a mile south of the historic core, with a couple of splendid old churches, including the brick Marktkirch (Lutheran).  It was ten o’clock, and bells pealed, “the sound of Europe,” as I have long observed.  An older lady, stooped, with a cane, was walking her small dog, who also seemed aged.  She was speaking to him, tenderly, in German.  It was one of so many little vignettes that remind me how fortunate I am to live a mobile life, to see so much of humanity arrayed in so many places.

Early 20th Century prosperity, Wiesbaden

Early 20th Century prosperity, Wiesbaden

Terracotta detail, Marktkirch, Wiesbaden

Terracotta detail, Marktkirch, Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden literally means “baths in the meadow,” and I knew it was a historic spa town, so a visit to a public bath seemed in order.  Some quick online research two days earlier pointed toward the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, a restored spa built 1910-13 in the Jugendstil.  I forgot to pack a swimsuit, so I asked the kindly attendant if I could wear my bike shorts; after a fairly long explanation, she finally said, “there are lots of naked people,” to which I replied, fine, I’m good with that (and have long been).

The Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme

The Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme

Inside, the baths were way cool, well, hot actually.  First stop was a small soaking pool, water temperature of about 130° F.  Then into a large coldwater pool at 50°, bracing.  Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.  Then to a whirlpool with warm but not hot water.  The attendant was quite correct: people in what Americans euphemistically call their “birthday suits”; all shapes and sizes, both genders, no one a bit self-conscious, which was really nice.  Last stop: a sauna, where at 11:00 an attendant ladled a mint and lemon mixture onto the hot stones, fanning the aromatic steam each time with a towel; after the third the heat was prickly on my back.  Showered, got dressed, departed.  What a great, and authentically local, activity.  I ambled a few blocks east to the original spa, the Kurhaus, for lunch at Käfer’s, an old-school bistro.  Pricey, but again authentically Wiesbaden.  Tucked into a huge lunch of venison goulash, winter vegetables, and a curious (and filling) pretzel terrine.  After a tiny dinner and breakfast, the repast was tonic. And transacted entirely in German.

Former cashier window, Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme

Former cashier window, Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme

The cold-water pool at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme; photo from Wikimedia (when I was there, bathers were not wrapped in towels!)

The cold-water pool at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme; photo from Wikimedia (when I was there, bathers were not wrapped in towels!)

This was an "oops, touched the shutter by mistake" photo, but I've long wanted to show the distinctive radial pattern of European paving bricks!

This was an “oops, touched the shutter by mistake” photo, but I’ve long wanted to show the distinctive radial pattern of European paving bricks!

It was pouring rain when I left the restaurant, and the mile walk back to the station was unpleasant, but part of being a tourist on foot.  Grabbed my suitcase, rolled onto the 1:32 train to Höchst and a connecting train “up the hill” to Königstein im Taunus, and my third appearance at the executive MBA program of Deutsche Post DHL.  I sprang for a $10 cab ride to the Siegfried Vögele Institute, housed (as I’ve noted before) in a former psychiatric clinic that Dr. Kohnstamm opened in 1905.  First step after check-in was a nap, not too long nor too short, but much needed after almost zero sleep on the flight.  Did a bit of work, then to the gym for an hour of pedaling.

The "skyline" of Königstein im Taunus, with the old fortress atop the town

The “skyline” of Königstein im Taunus, with the old fortress atop the town

At seven I met my host Patrick Rath, a wonderful young Ph.D. student at the University of Kassel.  Patrick manages the EMBA program.  We had a beer in the institute bar, then walked ten minutes to a Spanish restaurant for a leisurely tapas dinner and a great yak.  Though I’ve only seen him three times, Patrick has become a good friend.  The full stomach and some nice Spanish wine put me into a deep, eight-hour sleep.

Up at seven Friday morning and to breakfast; some of the students had arrived, though most drive to class in the morning.  At nine Patrick introduced me to the class, though my job was to deliver a dinner speech, as I did in December.  Headed back to the gym, then did a bit of work, then joined the students for lunch.

The view from the SVI classroom, Königstein

The view from the SVI classroom, Königstein

Königstein is a seriously affluent place, and this huge residence is a good example

Königstein is a seriously affluent place, and this huge residence is a good example

Lids atop a glass recycling receptacle, Königstein

Lids atop a glass recycling receptacle, Königstein

High point of the day was a visit to the institute’s research lab and an introduction to eye-tracking technology, which Deutsche Post DHL adopted early, as a means to demonstrate the value of direct marketing with paper.  Karsten and Laura from the lab explained the process, and let me try out the process, using a PC screen rather than a paper mailing (two infrared cameras beneath the monitor tracked the movement of my corneas and pupils as I surfed a website.  Their boss, Christian, showed up toward the end, and we continued the discussion.  Fascinating stuff.  Patrick and I then hopped in his car and drove a few kilometers east to a scenic overlook with a great view of the Frankfurt skyline in the distance, an old castle and village in the foreground.  We stopped for coffee and cake and another good yak.

The view from the Taunus Hills: Frankfurt in the distance, castles and villages in the middle ground

The view from the Taunus Hills: Frankfurt in the distance, castles and villages in the middle ground

At seven, it was finally time to stand and deliver, or in this case sit and deliver, a dinner speech to 15 EMBA students nearly done with their degree.  It was my customary informal talk on leadership and effective management.  Good dialogue, but many of the students were tired from a very full day of classes. After the talk, Patrick and I continued our wide-ranging dialogue, and I especially appreciated his view, as a young German, on the interwar years and the rise of Hitler.  He has become a good friend.

Saturday morning, Patrick drove me to the bahnhof and we parted.  I hopped on the 8:01 suburban train to Frankfurt, and by my good luck sat down across from a couple about my age, Ulrich and Dagmar.  He greeted me by saying in German, then English, “You’re too friendly to be from Königstein,” apparently a dig at the self-centeredness of the affluent population.  That launched a 40-minute yak across a variety of topics.  Ulrich was an engineer, now a strategy consultant, working mainly in manufacturing production.  We talked about the history of the Kohnstamm clinic, and he told me that back then the doctor and others were into more than just psychiatric therapy, inquiring into larger questions about the composition of our mind and soul.

My friendly seatmate on the HLB suburban train into Frankfurt: "Throw away the PowerPoint . . ."

Ulrich, my friendly seatmate on the HLB suburban train into Frankfurt: “Throw away the PowerPoint . . .”

We talked about teaching, formal and informal, and his most memorable line was “Throw away the PowerPoint . . . and just listen to me.”  He was justifiably critical of most management consultants; “tell the BCG [Boston Consulting Group] MBAs to go to Slovakia and figure out how to make things . . .”  He had spent a lot of time thinking about how to foster teamwork, “to create joy in working together.”  They were headed to Dresden, to attend a concert in the Frauenkirche to commemorate the anniversary of the Allied firebombing, 15 February 1945.  Whew.

I would have liked to chat with them for hours, but at Frankfurt we parted, and I headed to track 1 for the 9:01 ICE to Paris.  I half expected to see Madeline, her fellow students, and several nuns board the train.  That did not happen.  Instead, Juliette, 8, Alexander, 4, and their mom sat down in the other three seats around the table in car 22.   The mom seemed really worried that the kids were going to disturb me, but I kept reassuring her; 15 minutes into the ride, I showed her pictures of Dylan and Carson on my iPhone, explained that we all lived in the same house, and that I rather liked noise.  That helped, but she still seemed guarded for the rest of the ride.  Alexander was into dinosaurs in a major way; his sister worked on a sticker book, much like Dylan would.

Alexandre, 4, my seatmate on the ICE to Paris

Alexandre, 4, my seatmate on the ICE to Paris

On the platform at Saarbrücken, a little girl in a puffy down jacket ran past our window, arms outstretched; I craned my neck and saw her target: a grandfather just like me.  And I smiled to celebrate mobility, the great business of getting people together.

We arrived Paris two minutes early, and I headed to the Metro, where hordes of tourists queued for tickets.  Despite the touchscreen machines that offered step-by-step guidance in six languages, each transaction took ages, and I was reminded of critics who claim that tourists often leave their brains at home.  I strive to be patient, but was wondering “how hard could it be?”  Fortunately, a turf war between ticket touts (there’s a little money to be made on arbitrage; the touts buy 10 tickets for 13€ and sell each at the single-ride price of 1.70) provided some diversion.  Finally got my tickets, peeled off to line 4, then line 3, and in no time was in my digs for the night, a room in an Airbnb apartment in a superb central location, 2 blocks from the famous Opera.  The host’s son, Stephan, was home and showed me around.  The whole place was eclectic, with decorations and doodads from all over the world, but was clean, and the wi-fi was fast.  I couldn’t ask for more.

Paris Opera, just around the corner from my apartment

Paris Opera, just around the corner from my apartment

The plan was to get a day pass for Paris’ bike-sharing service, Velíb, but the machine at the closest station did not accept my magnetic-stripe debit card (you may know that Europe has a much more secure “Chip and PIN” card; indeed, the mag-stripe weakness has been in the news in the U.S. lately, after the big Target store e-fraud).  I tried another station a block away, then gave up, hopped on the RER suburban train to the Arc de Triomphe, and a long stroll back to the apartment.  Down the Champs-Elysees, past the fancy stores, some of which are a more brand showcase, not an actual place to buy stuff.  I was again struck by the volumes of tourists, especially Asians; on my last visit, eight hours on a sunny Sunday in April 2010 (passing through, enroute from the U.S. to Strasbourg), I had toured the city on a rented bicycle, and didn’t see the throng that you see on foot.

Did a little window shopping, then grabbed a late lunch at the Marks & Spencer food hall: sandwich, chips, mango-orange juice, and ate it on a park bench adjacent to where Thomas Jefferson lived when he was minister of state to France.  I learned that from one of the ubiquitous wall plaques (even street signs identify and describe the person for whom the road is named).  As I observed four years earlier, the appeal of Paris is really all the visual markers: the grand gold statues on bridges, the signal upward poke of the Eiffel Tower, and more.

Posing for the camera, Arc de Triomphe

Posing for the camera, Arc de Triomphe

Jefferson lived here; I loved reading this plaque, especially now that I am a proud Virginian!

Jefferson lived here; I loved reading this plaque, especially now that I am a proud Virginian!

Where Jefferson lived; it was hard to tell if it was the same building, but I suspect it may have been.

Where Jefferson lived; it was hard to tell if it was the same building, but I suspect it may have been.

Continuing east, I phoned Linda from Tuilieres Garden, in part for an update on the USA-Russia hockey game that was by my reckoning nearly over.  She texted me 20 minutes later (I was back in my room) that the USA won in a shootout.  Woo hoo!  When I returned, I met my host Antonella, who introduced me to her friend who was about to celebrate her birthday.  The two said that it might be a bit noisy in the evening, but I waved my hand and noted I sleep through lots.  They invited me to the party.

Seine

As regular readers know, I love the ordinary landscape, and this hardware store, just a few hundred feet from my accommodation, seemed pretty swell

As regular readers know, I love the ordinary landscape, and this hardware store, just a few hundred feet from my accommodation, seemed pretty swell

New construction in Paris, redevelopment of a former market square in the second arrondisement

New construction in Paris, redevelopment of a former market square in the second arrondisement

At five, I met a couple of old American Airlines chums, Jacques Alonso, who led the sales team in France for many years, and Olga Jacob, who worked in her native Belgium until she replaced Jacques when he retired a few years earlier.  We got caught up on life and yakked about the business.  It’s always fun to reconnect with AA people, more so overseas pals.  At 6:30 I peeled off and headed to dinner at a place I had not visited in almost two decades (in the mid-1990s, when I worked on AA’s international planning team, I went to Paris a lot), the Ambassade d’Auvergne, with rustic cooking from the Auvergne, a region in central France.  It says a lot that a place is unchanged; indeed, it opened in 1967.  I tucked into a huge meal, vegetable soup, then duck breast served with aligot, a specialty of the Auvergne, mashed potatoes with garlic and white cheese.  Dessert was a trio of custards each infused with floral essence.  Yum!

Quatre-September station, Paris Metro

Quatre-September station, Paris Metro

Scenes from Saturday-night dinner, Ambassade d'Auvergne; the vegetable soup was superb, as was the entire experience!

Scenes from Saturday-night dinner, Ambassade d’Auvergne; the vegetable soup was superb, as was the entire experience!

When I returned, the party was on, fairly sedate, everyone gathered in a large conversational circle.  An hour later, the music started, and laughing.  It was a bit noisy, but it was the sound of happiness and fun, and I decided I could live with that – or sleep with that.

I almost never oversleep, but that Sunday I awoke at 8:05.  Yow, late!  Showered, packed, and had an idea: went on the Internet and bought a Velíb day ticket.  Voilá!  Walked a block to the station, poked a few buttons, and in no time was “woo-hooing” as I rode south on Avenue de l’Opéra.  Stopped for light breakfast fixings at a mini-market, crossed the Seine, and parked at a station a block from my destination, the Musee d’Orsay, the art museum that opened in the mid-1980s in a former railway station.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had as great a museum visit as that day, simply colossal.  The collection is vast, and the supply of works by famed French impressionists seems limitless.  But they also showcased less known artists like Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). There were wonderful themed rooms, such as “Decorative Arts of the Second Empire.” And excellent interpretive panels (in English) throughout; as a former museum guy (the Science Museum of Minnesota, 1979-83), I deeply appreciate clear text explanation.

Paris skyline, with the Basilica of Sacre Coeur atop the hill

Paris skyline, with the Basilica of Sacre Coeur atop the hill

I abided the "no photos" rule at the Musee d'Orsay, but since there was no sign at this vantage, I snapped a pic of the magnificent main hall of this former railway station

I abided the “no photos” rule at the Musee d’Orsay, but since there was no sign at this vantage, I snapped a pic of the magnificent main hall of this former railway station

Some of the rooms showcased the donations of a family, such as Max and Rosy Kaganovitch, and a theoretical physicist, Philippe Mayer (1925-2007); he was a huge donor, and a patriot,  interrupting his studies at Harvard to join the Free French Forces, becoming part of the army that landed in Provence and helped liberate his homeland.  In addition to admiring a lot of art, I learned quite a bit, for example the idea that much of Gauguin’s work was planar, lacking in perspective.  It was a way cool three hours.

This is a photo of a postcard of Monet's La Gare Saint-Lazare (1877); the card cost me 1.10€, enabling me to show you a splendid example from the collection and respect the "no photo"rule.  Although in the digital era that rule seems increasingly irrelevant, I did feel a little superior to those who were snapping pics every time a guard was not looking!

This is a photo of a postcard of Monet’s La Gare Saint-Lazare (1877); the card cost me 1.10€, enabling me to show you a splendid example from the collection and respect the “no photo”rule. Although in the digital era that rule seems increasingly irrelevant, I did feel a little superior to those who were snapping pics every time a guard was not looking!

I grabbed another bike (rides less than 30 minutes are free, so you’re always thinking about where to park and re-start the clock), and rode around the Left Bank, past the faculty of medicine, then east on Blvd. St. Germain, a little scary.  Paused for lunch on another street bench, then more Left Bank exploration (including a cruise past SciencesPo, one of France’s premier schools) before crossing the Seine and heading back home.  It was the most transport utility, and the most fun, you can get for $2.33!

I'm not sure this is an ordinary landscape, but I don't think many tourists would snap a picture like this; it caught my eye because this was the seat of many medical breakthroughs in the past 300 years

I’m not sure this is an ordinary landscape, but I don’t think many tourists would snap a picture like this; it caught my eye because this was the seat of many medical breakthroughs in the past 300 years

Inspired by the visit to the Musee d'Orsay: a still life, park bench, Blvd. St. Germain

Inspired by the visit to the Musee d’Orsay: a still life, park bench, Blvd. St. Germain

The Cathedral of Notre Dame

The Cathedral of Notre Dame

I dropped the key, picked up my suitcase and headed by Metro to Gare du Nord and the 3:46 TGV, fast, 125 miles north to Lille, almost on the Belgian border.  At Lille I hopped on the Metro and rode six miles north to the suburb of Croix, then walked a mile to my second visit to EDHEC Business School.  Conveniently, they have a simple hotel right on campus.  I washed my face, unpacked a bit, and headed back into the city.  Most restaurants are closed on Sunday, but by searching online I found a handful, and headed to l’Estaminet, a traditional brasserie in a very fancy hotel.  Had a big bottle of brown beer from Maredsous, a Benedictine abbey 100 miles east in Belgium, a creamy seafood bisque, and a traditional French Flemish dish called Potjevleesch, a terrine of pork, rabbit, and chicken, served cold with crispy frites and onions.  Really good, and unusual.  Rode home, clocked out.  What a day!

Grand Place, Lille

Grand Place, Lille

Benedictine monks produce this fine brown beer at the Maredsous Abbey, Belgium

Benedictine monks produce this fine brown beer at the Maredsous Abbey, Belgium

Monday morning I brought this journal up to date in the EDHEC library, a much more agreeable space than the hotel room, which was comfortable but solitary (and utterly void of color – only black, white, and gray).  At one, I met my host Joëlle Vanhamme, who I’ve known for about a decade, from when she taught at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.  We ate a quick lunch and at two it was show time.  Delivered a three-hour lecture to Master’s of Marketing students, half French and half international.  Said goodbye at five, headed back to the room, did a bit of work, and went “downtown” for dinner, to Brasserie la Paix, an old-school eatery specializing in seafood.  The three-course menu was great value for 22€ (about $30), and all from the sea: six Creuses oysters from Normandy to start, then another French Flemish specialty, waterzooi aux poisons, three varieties of fish, turnips, carrots, and other vegetables in a smooth velouté sauce.  For dessert, tarte au fromage blanc, literally a white-cheese tart, but the filling was sweet, light, and airy.  It was a fine meal.  Headed back to the hotel, read, and clocked out.

Student housing, EDHEC

Student housing, EDHEC

Monday-night dinner: Waterzooi aux Poissons, and Tarte au Fromage Blanc -- note the lovely decoration on the latter

Monday-night dinner: Waterzooi aux Poissons, and Tarte au Fromage Blanc — note the lovely decoration on the latter

Up early, out the door, into town again, to the TGV train station, ­Gare Lille Europe, and onto the 8:36 Eurostar to London,  zoom, then under the English Channel, then zoom again, and in London before nine (with an hour gain – it’s not that fast).  Walked across Euston Road from St. Pancras Station to my favorite foreign exchange office in all the world.  And I’ve seen a lot.  This place is before old-school: the rates are posted outside in chalk.  Inside, an older fellow sits behind glass and logs the transactions on a paper ledger.  And he gives the best rates in town.  Then onto the Tube two stops to Holborn and south to my 15th visit to the London School of Economics.

My host for ten years, Sir Geoffrey Owen, retired last year, and luckily I found a new host, Om Narasimhan, who I knew from the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota.  Met Om at 10:45, we chatted a bit, then walked a block to another older building that the fast-growing LSE acquired and renovated, adjacent to a large park, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  Delivered a lecture to a very diverse group of students.  By pure coincidence, I found out a day earlier that Sir Geoffrey would be at the LSE for an interview, so he, another prof from the past David De Meza, and I had lunch and a good yak.  We covered a lot of subjects mostly related to Britain, including possible Scottish independence (the referendum is later in 2014), Margaret Thatcher’s biography (that I read recently), the UK and the EU, and more.  Good exercise for the mind.

The former Land Registry building, now a LSE classroom, Lincoln's Inn Fields

The former Land Registry building, now a LSE classroom, Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Geoffrey and David departed, and I did a bit of work, then zipped across town for a quick meeting with my friends at Stratajet, a start-up company, then out to my digs.  My young friends Caroline and Scott Sage kindly invited me back to their home in northwest London, and I was glad to accept.  Changed clothes and did a bit of work.  Scott was home from work by 5:30, but we worked a bit longer before repairing to the nearby gastropub, The Parlour, for a couple of pints, a big dinner (huge meat pie, wonderful), and a great yak across a lot of subjects.  Caroline was out with a friend, and returned just before I clocked out.  A long day.

Up at 6:30 Wednesday morning, bowl of Caroline’s homemade granola, and out the door.  First stop was coffee with another former AA colleague, Matthew Hall, now the #2 person at London City Airport, the close-in field.  We had a fast but deep yak; he has a keen mind, and we covered a bunch of industry topics in short order.  He peeled off and I headed to try to find granddaughter Carson an Olaf costume (from the animated movie Frozen), but the Disney store on Oxford Street was sold out of her size.  Drat!  Headed to a Starbucks to work for an hour or so, then walked south.

Ironwork, Liverpool Street Station

Ironwork, Liverpool Street Station

Spring is coming!  Daffodils, St. James Square

Spring is coming! Daffodils, St. James Square

It was time for the sixth annual lunch with my friend David Holmes, a career transport man, with the UK Ministry of Transport for 32 years, then British Airways – where I met him – for 8 years. David is another excellent window on Britain, and our 2.5 hour lunch in the posh Royal Automobile Club dining room, covered a wide range of topics.  High points were his personal experiences with Mrs. Thatcher (I knew he was senior, but didn’t know he was so senior that he was in many meetings with her during her government), a vigorous discussion of the disappointments of U.S. and U.K. foreign policy – we agreed that if we were in charge, the world would be better!   In between were a quite sumptuous lunch and some red wine.  Lunch with David has become a splendid tradition that I look forward to each year.  After that fun, what I wanted was a nap, but there was one more teaching gig on the trip, my tenth visit to London Business School.  I headed to the school early, sat in the reception area, did some work, and brought this journal current.

Basement workshop, Savile Row

Basement workshop, Savile Row

At 6:30, I met my host, Amanda Madureira, from the Marketing Club at LBS.  It had been almost a decade since the club function was in the evening, and turnout was about 20, smaller than the usual lunchtime gigs, but the group was friendly and engaged.  I introduced myself to about half the audience before we started, students from Hong Kong, India, Russia (“I don’t like Putin’s games” was, I recall, the second sentence from her, a reference to the Olympics underway in Sochi), France.  I spoke for an hour, answered questions for 20 minutes, then we repaired to a function room for drinks, snacks, and more chatter.  There were a couple of aspiring airline geeks in the room, and we continued the dialogue.  At 9:20 I peeled off, and as I walked back to the Tube I again marveled at my good fortune, of being able to see and speak with the future of global business.  Indeed a privilege.

A committed London Underground employee at the Kensal Green station prepares an inspiring message each morning; as a long believer in humanizing mass transport, I salute her!

A committed London Underground employee at the Kensal Green station prepares an inspiring message each morning; as a long believer in humanizing mass transport, I salute her!

Scott and Caroline were not yet home, but arrived a few minutes later, for a brief chat, then another hard sleep.  Up at 6:30, worked a bit, yakked with Scott, said goodbye, and headed to Heathrow for a flight to New York and on to Washington.  I had Henry and MacKenzie on leashes by 6 p.m.

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Florida, Briefly

Dawn, Coral Springs, Florida

Dawn, Coral Springs, Florida

Travels began on Wednesday, January 22.  I hadn’t been on an airplane for more than a month, and although it was a quick work trip, I was still excited.  Took the Metro to Washington National and flew in late afternoon south to West Palm Beach, Florida.  Before we boarded, I noticed a young man standing by a counter, holding a white plastic bag that I see fairly often in airports, a bag that read “International Organisation for Migration.”  The IOM is an independent NGO founded after World War II to resettle people who literally cannot go home.  I looked at the fellow, wondered about his story, and prayed that he was on his way to a safer, better place.  It was, I thought, another example of the transformative power of the jet airplane.

The refugee is behind the pole, with the orange backpack

The refugee is behind the pole, with the orange backpack

It was 15° F. in D.C., and 38 degrees warmer in Florida, which meant people were traipsing around in down vests and gloves – it’s all relative.  Picked up a rental car, pedal to the metal south on I-95, then west to Coral Springs.  I missed my exit, but zipped back around to the dinner venue I found on the Yelp website.  Spiky Ty’s was a Chinese-owned place in a strip mall, with something Asian for everyone.  I tucked into a Thai curry and a beer.

At the table next to me was a family of four, two teenage daughters, having a good conversation.  When they got up to leave, it was time for the first Talking-to-Strangers of the new year.  I told the older girl I liked her hoodie, navy with the name “Georgetown” in white, adding that I taught there.  “You teach there,” said her dad, “that’s cool.  We visited the campus last summer, what a place.”  I agreed, and the conversation unfolded.  Though his daughter had just started high school, he wanted her to see “an old campus, a place with history.”  We had a nice chat.  When I got to the hotel, I pinged the editor of American Way, the American Airlines inflight magazine; Adam and I have become friends over the past several years, and he has commissioned three stories.  Would you be interested, I wrote, in an essay on the joy of talking to strangers?  He answered immediately and enthusiastically, and I got an assignment.  Cool!

Was up at 6:15 the next morning, down to the hotel gym for a ride on an exercise bike.  When I finished the eight miles, I walked out to the pool.  The soft gurgling of waves from a swimmer met with the soft rustling of palm fronds, silhouetted against the dawn sky.  Sometimes I wonder if I should record those audio vignettes and post them here, in addition to photos and words.

I showered, dressed, and motored a few blocks to a Publix supermarket for breakfast fixings, and to Dunkin’ Donuts for a large coffee.  When I promise consulting clients that I’m careful with expenses, that’s what I’m talking about!  And it was just the right amount of food.

Breakfast

At 8:45 I met a new consulting client.  She and I worked at American years back, and when she took a new job in aviation supply, I reached out, both to congratulate her and offer my B2B marketing expertise, which was the purpose of the visit.  We had a good yak, then I met a few more people from the company, ate lunch, and departed.  It will be an interesting assignment.

I had plenty of time before my flight, delayed to 7:35, so I drove over to say hello to a friend who lived in Boca Raton.  Rang the doorbell on Sugar Plum Drive, but the lady who answered told me that Jim and Michelle had relocated to Mount Dora, in Central Florida, 14 months earlier.  I thanked her, got back in the car, Googled, and called Jim from in front of his old house.  We had a good yak, but Mount Dora was three hours away, so I said I’d see him on a future trip.  Drove north on I-95, dropped the car, and flew home.  A long, good day.

Sugar Plum Drive, Boca Raton; this is quintessential middle-class Florida, a scene that has attracted people south for more than a century

Sugar Plum Drive, Boca Raton; this is quintessential middle-class Florida, a scene that has attracted people south for more than a century

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A Short Personal History of Sledding

Dylan, a true sledder

Dylan, a true sledder

It snowed a few days ago, just enough to enable kids to go sledding.  So, naturally, granddaughters Dylan and Carson bundled up, and we headed out.  Tryouts were on a five-foot hill on our side yard, but soon I towed then down the street to a neighbor’s yard, with a much better hill.  Trudging down Bridle Path Lane got me thinking about the joy of the slope.

My earliest memories of sledding were on the big hill at the Edina Country Club, about three blocks from our house.  Minnesota winters were reliable in the 1950s, so there was never a shortage of snow from about the first week in December through the end of February or perhaps even to mid-March.

Getting to the hill required crossing some busy streets, so it was too far to go on our own when we were really young.  Because our father was a traveling salesman, gone Monday to Friday most weeks of the year, sledding was a weekend affair.  So on Saturdays or Sundays (or if we were lucky both), dad, brother Jim, and I would drag the toboggan, Jim’s Flexible Flyer sled, and my Silver Streak sled down 50th St. toward the big hill.  My dad wanted to instill a certain bravery, and never believed in coddling, so we would take the toboggan down all together, at what seemed like breakneck speeds.

By the time we were nine or 10, we could go to the hill by ourselves, but about that time I also started playing fair bit of hockey, at the rink at the end of Arden Avenue, a few blocks from home.  And a few years later, we took up a different version of down-the-hill, when we began to ski.

Not long after skiing began, we returned to the sled, discovering an even more thrilling — and certainly more dangerous — form, when we would rope Ward Brehm’s toboggan to the back of his mother’s Dodge station wagon.  It was the year before Ward got his drivers license, but no matter!  There were some thrilling sorties on that motor-driven toboggan.  The one I most vividly remember was when we reached a high speed of 46 miles an hour (velocity later reported by Ward) on Woodcrest Drive.  It was a typical suburban street, meaning that it was not straight, and as the toboggan arced further away from a straight line behind the car (not unlike the waterskier pulled outward and over the boat wake), Ward’s younger brother Stephen, who was captaining the sled, barked “Bailout, bailout.”  We rolled off the toboggan, along the icy street like human hockey pucks.  And just in time: two seconds later the toboggan rammed a fire hydrant, and was instantly reduced to splinters.  Almost 50 years later, I can remember that episode like it was yesterday.

A couple of years after that, the 1968 Winter  Olympics inspired us to build a crude version of a luge run, not coincidentally on a 40-foot hill above the Arden hockey rink mentioned above — “not coincidentally” because Ward (are you seeing a pattern here?) had a fire-hydrant wrench and access to the hoses used to flood the rinks.  The run became instantly popular, and was the site of countless injuries over its two- or three-week life, including the last concussion sustained by your scribe.

Between then and now, there really hasn’t been much sledding.  Going down a hill on snow meant skiing.  I do clearly remember, about 20 years ago, a fun afternoon spent on inner tubes, sailing downhill with friend Mark Miller in Egan Minnesota.  Tubing on snow is a wonderful experience, because the ride is so smooth.   So we fast forward to two days of sledding with Carson and Dylan, who likes it way more than her younger sister.  And the like is so elemental: the joy of gravity.

We’re hoping for more snow this winter!

The two sledders after a fast glide

The two sledders after a fast glide

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Europe: England, Switzerland, Germany, England again, Ireland — A Long Journey

The Ha'penny Bridge on the River Liffey

The Ha’penny Bridge on the River Liffey, Dublin

On November 30, after hanging Christmas lights outdoors (“bigger ‘n’ better than ever,” I said) and helping assemble the (artificial but perfect) Christmas tree, Linda drove me to the Metro and the last teaching trip of the year, an ambitious one, 7 European schools in 12 days.  I was a little worried about a 60-minute connection at JFK, so I hopped on the 2:00 US Airways Shuttle to LaGuardia, right on time, then the new Q70 express bus to the Jackson Heights subway station.  For more than 25 years, the T-Geek had slogged on the very pokey Q33 to and from the train, and this new service was awesome, 10 minutes.  Of course I could have taken a shuttle van to Kennedy for $13, but I needed to get in practice – the forthcoming trip had a lot of public transit and trains.  It was great to be in Jackson Heights, albeit briefly.  It is perhaps the most multicultural place I’ve ever seen; I’m sure if you look up “polyglot” in the dictionary, you’ll see a street scene from there.  Hopped on the E train two stops, then the (pokey) Q10 bus to JFK.  On the train and bus, I was almost the only Anglo; another virtue of public transit, as I have written often, is that it’s a great leveler, a window upon the America that most people in the middle class and above never see.

A fellow passenger on the Q10 bus to Kennedy Airport

A fellow passenger on the Q10 bus to Kennedy Airport

At Kennedy, I parked myself in the Admirals Club, grabbed a beer, and did a little work.  I checked the flight I originally booked, and was happy that I came earlier, because it was way late, and I might not have made the connection.  No stress!  As I waited to hop on the big AA Silver Bird to London, the first Talking-to-Strangers moment of the trip: I noticed a fellow with a Maersk cap and the ship line’s distinctive star logo on his backpack.  I approached him and asked if he knew Captain Phillips, the commander of the Maersk cargo ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia in 2009 (and the title of a recent film starring Tom Hanks).  Indeed he did, and we had a good yak about the hazards of the open seas.  He was a maintenance engineer, headed to Oman to fix a ship.  We finished the chat by agreeing that in this digital world people seem to think everything is borne on 1s and 0s; he had a great summary for that: “people have no idea how the bananas get on the table.”

Arrived London just after seven, grabbed a shower in the arrivals lounge, and a leisurely breakfast there (when we lived in Texas, the flight east was 8 or 9 hours, which allowed a better sleep, so it made sense to skip the morning meal on board).  Read the newspaper on my iPhone, and at nine ambled through tunnels to the Tube and the slow but cheap ride into central London.  Got off at St. Paul’s and wandered south, across the Thames on the Millennium Bridge, then back into the vast cathedral for the 11:30 service, directly beneath the dome.  My first visit was in December 1993, so I had the good fortune of worshiping there for 20 years.  I explained to the wardsmen that I was enroute, and they welcomed me and my rolling suitcase.  I got a good seat, a few rows from the front, and but 20 feet from the choir, which consisted of about 30 young boys and 20 men.  There were lots of celebrants, a familiar liturgy, and a splendid sermon on death from the Dean, Rev. Ison, then communion.  A good start to advent.

St. Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

Gate, City of London

Gate, City of London

I walked across the City of London, the historic and financial center, through alleys and past smaller churches also designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666.  Hopped onto a slow train at Liverpool St. Station north to Cambridge, my favorite overseas teaching venue.  The sun came out halfway there, and though I visit Europe every December, I’m always amazed by how low it is in the southern sky.

A big part of what makes Cambridge a fave is always (with only 2 exceptions in 16 visits) staying in Sidney Sussex College.  I’d be happy with a tiny garret, but the porter assigned me a large and very comfortable guest room.  Ate a sandwich, took a nap, relaxed.  At 6:15, I joined the second worship of the day – it’s probably impossible for people of faith to overdo that, and the Advent carol service was spectacular.  As I have written, Sunday evenings at college hew to formula, and after worship we processed to the old library for drinks and chatter.  Had a nice visit with a fellow who tutored the choir, and learned a lot about singing in Cambridge colleges.  Headed to dinner, two-word blessing in Latin, and into a caloric meal and wonderful chat with a Sidney alumnus (class of 1968) and his wife.  Leszak was the son of Poles who immigrated to England after World War II.  They were working people, and did everything to support their child’s education.  It obviously paid off!  We also yakked with David Skinner, the college’s director of music, a fascinating and accomplished guy.  Bach was a topic, as was David’s penchant for rare books (Chaucer from the 1530s, whoa).  After the meal, the same short blessing, and we processed to the comfortable for port, claret, cheese, and chocolates.  And more great banter, including two veterinarians holding forth on donkey weddings.  Truly a liberal education in a single evening, and among the best evidence for why Cambridge is my favorite place to teach.

David Jagger, one of the vets, his wife Joyce, the other vet, Colin Roberts (a Sidney fellow), and some others joined me for breakfast at high table (I normally am the only one there at 8:15), and I had a chance to learn about the Jagger’s big farm in Shropshire.  By the end, I asked if I could come visit and work, invoking my farm-labor experience on David and Katherine Kelly’s Wisconsin dairy farm four decades earlier.  “I still think I’d be pretty good with a pitchfork,” I declared, “and I’m happy to clean the barn.”  They were ready to set a date!

Summoning bell, dining hall, Sidney Sussex College

Summoning bell, dining hall, Sidney Sussex College

The Full English (heart-attack) breakfast at Sidney Sussex; not every day, but in moderation!

The Full English (heart-attack) breakfast at Sidney Sussex; not every day, but in moderation!

Just after nine I walked to the Judge Business School, pausing as I usually do at St. Botolph’s parish church for prayers.  Worked the morning, got on a call at noon, ate some lunch, and 2:30 met my host for that day, Vincent Mak.  He was curious about airline revenue management, so I stepped him through one of my presentations.  Lectured to his M.Phil. students from four to six, then had a drinks-and-snacks reception with the students until seven – it’s always fun to yak informally, to find out about their interests, background, dreams.  Vincent, a colleague named Nektarios, and I then walked down the street to dinner at Loch Fyne, a favorite seafood restaurant.

There's always something to photograph in the window of the Cambridge University Press bookshop!

There’s always something to photograph in the window of the Cambridge University Press bookshop!

The view from "my office," a table in the common room of the Judge Business School

The view from “my office,” a table in the common room of the Judge Business School

Was up early Tuesday morning, brisk walk to the station, and onto an 8:00 train west to Leicester.  A few minutes before arriving I fell into a nice T-t-S with a farm couple (twice in two days!)  I wished I had started chatting with them when they boarded, 15 minutes earlier, but we managed to cover some ground.  I mentioned I was headed to teach at Loughborough University, adding that my host earlier informed me that the teaching staff (though not him) would be on strike.  “We never go on strike,” said the missus, “we’re farmers!”  To which I replied, “God bless you and your good work.  It was a nice moment.

I changed trains at Leicester, heading north 8 miles to Loughborough.  The university is one of England’s newer schools.  Met my host Tim Ryley at 10:30 for a chat, did some work, grabbed a quick lunch, and from 1:00 to 1:50 delivered a quick lecture.  Loughborough offers an air transport B.Sc. degree within their engineering department, so the students had some familiarity with the topic.  Tim peeled off to class, I headed back to the railway station and onto the 3:20 express south to Luton Airport.  Checked in, grabbed a couple of sandwiches and a salad in the Marks & Spencer shop, enjoyed my “picnic dinner” on a row of chairs in the arrivals hall, and flew to Geneva.

Appropriate art in Dr. Ryley's office, the work of his young daughter

Appropriate art in Dr. Ryley’s office, the work of his young daughter

On the Loughborough campus

On the Loughborough campus

Brush Electrical Machines factory, Loughborough; some of the industrial strength of the English Midlands has been hollowed out, but many viable companies remain

Brush Electrical Machines factory, Loughborough; some of the industrial strength of the English Midlands has been hollowed out, but many viable companies remain

The flight made me growl.  EasyJet was great – cheap, friendly, almost punctual – but my fellow travelers’ incivility getting on and off the plane was truly awful.  The Brits had lost their vaunted reputation for orderly queuing, and the Continentals were worse.  Almost to pushing and shoving to get off the plane, and for what advantage?  There was a long line at immigration, and only two inspectors.  I was glad to collect my suitcase and amble across the terminal to the train station, and hop on a nearly-empty Swiss Federal Railways train to Lausanne, bound for my debut at HEC, the business school of the University of Lausanne.  Arrived 10:45, walked two blocks to my hotel, worked my email, and clocked out.

Interior, Hotel Victoria, Lausanne

Interior, Hotel Victoria, Lausanne

Wednesday morning was free, so after breakfast I hopped on the Metro and rode down to the port on Lac Leman, Lake Geneva, ambling past ferries that would take you across to Evian, France, in 35 minutes, or to other places and a nice old castle, now a hotel.  On the promenade, one of two identical small white dogs came right up to me.  I stroked his chin.  The owner told me it was unusual for the dogs, who were brothers, to approach strangers.  “But they can sense good people,” I replied.  Yes, she said, they can tell.  Hopped back on the train and rode north to a stop near the Cathedral and the Old Town.  Walked around the big church (was surprised to see it was the Reformed church, Protestant), then down the hill and through the historic marketplace.  A nice little sortie; here are some scenes:

On the lake

On the lake

Lakeside chateau, part of which is now a hotel

Lakeside chateau, part of which is now a hotel

Old Town

Old Town, Lausanne

Old Town, Lausanne

Old Town, Lausanne

Lausanne's biggest church (Protestant, not Catholic)

Lausanne’s biggest church (Protestant, not Catholic)

A pair of gargoyles in the Old Town

A pair of gargoyles in the Old Town

Bakery window, Old Town

Bakery window, Old Town

The vacuum cleaner, whether a big one like this or a small one for interiors, plays a big part in Swiss life -- it's way clean, perhaps too clean!

The vacuum cleaner, whether a big one like this or a small one for interiors, plays a big part in Swiss life — it’s way clean, perhaps too clean!

Back at the hotel, I started growling again.  I understand – but do not like – four-star hotels that charge for wi-fi access in the room.  This place offered “free” Internet in the lobby, which in that case meant I had to connect the LAN cable from the desktop into my laptop.  After waiting for another fellow to finish his work (would two PCs be asking too much?), I repeated what I had done the night before; the short cable required wedging myself between a wall and a desk, and hunching over.  Swiss rigidity in more ways than one.  The scene reminded me of a Greek colleague who had emailed me about his recent experience in the country:

After some months here, I think that these guys program even the exact time of going to the toilet (and the time spent inside, too). The most irritating part though is that they could even charge you for the air you breathe, if they could estimate it!

More evidence: at 10:45, 15 minutes after the closing hour for breakfast, a Dutch fellow asked the receptionist if he could get a cup of coffee or tea.  “No,” she replied, “I’m sorry.”  How hard would it have been to fetch him a cup?  Grrrrrrrr.  When I checked out, the friendly receptionist, also from the Americas, asked how my stay was, and I replied, “not that good.”  She was surprised by my candor, but understood my dissatisfaction.

At 11:30, I met my longtime friend Omar Merlo, who teaches at Imperial College, London, but does a ton of guest lecturing, and we rode the Metro west to the “Unil” campus, a set of modern buildings in a semi-rural setting – wait, maybe just rural, given sheep and cattle grazing in the middle of the campus!  We grabbed a quick lunch, and from 1:15 to 3:00 I delivered my debut lecture to a small class.  Peeled off, and hopped back on the Metro to the main station, where I saw something very unusual: the train information display showed most trains on the main line to Geneva either canceled or late, by as much as 45 minutes.  At the bottom of the board, I could translate (from French) the cause: a train hit a person between the two cities.  Yikes!  We arrived Geneva Airport about 30 minutes late, messing up my try for a 5:10 Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.  Next flight, 6:20.

Sheep may safely graze . . . on the Unil campus

Sheep may safely graze . . . on the Unil campus

A most unusual sight: delays and cancellations on the Swiss Federal Railways; the locals were clucking in disapproval

A most unusual sight: delays and cancellations on the Swiss Federal Railways; the locals were clucking in disapproval

After clearing security, I approached the podium at gate A9, identified myself as a standby to a kindly and clearly experienced Swiss Air Lines supervisor.  Two minutes later, 55 minutes before departure, she came over to me and said “I already have a seat for you.”  “It’s Christmas,” I replied.  “Yes,” she said, “it’s Christmas before it’s Christmas.”  Woo hoo, and I briefly thought I’d do my “made it on the flight standby dance and whoop,” but I did not.  But it was good to make the flight, because the schedule for the rest of that day required some precision.

The Lufthansa flight was about 35 minutes late, which messed up my idea for a sit-down dinner in the airport.  I grabbed a salad and seeded pretzel and ate it in the airport train station, then hopped on the 9:09 ICE (express) train north to Münster, for my 13th visit there.  We departed right on time, and I opened a couple of celebratory beers.  Three schools down, five to go.  More delays (it was not an on-time day), and we arrived at 12:25 am, 30 minutes late.  A traveler in a U.S. city might be concerned about walking 1.2 miles from the station that late, but Münster is a safe place, so I set out, walking briskly toward Coerdeplatz 20.  It was my first stay at an Airbnb for eight months.  My young host, Svenja, and her two cats, Findus and Momo, greeted me and got me settled in.  Lights out at one, really late by my grandpa standards.

Up at first light, which in northern Germany in December is 7:45. Svenja had left for work, so I had the place to myself (well, und zwei katzen).  I had a free morning, which was tonic – no need to rush off to a train station, airport, or classroom.  Ambled out the door and was reminded of why Airbnb is such a cool idea: sure, it’s great to save money (Svenja’s room was one-third the cost of the usual hotel in town), but staying in a neighborhood makes you feel like a local.  So this local walked a block to the bakery, ordered, in German, a large coffee, a hard roll, and an Adventstern, a star-shaped pastry studded with raisins and filled with almond paste. Yum!

Breakfast

Breakfast

At 11, I followed the path beside the stream that runs through the center of the city to the university – specifically the Marketing Centrum.  My longtime host Manfred was in New Zealand, but I was welcomed by several of his Ph.D. students.  Did a bit of work, and at 12:30 we headed to lunch at an agreeable Italian place, ravioli filled with salmon, and a really delicious alcohol-free honey beer from Pinkus, the local brewery.  Good chatter with new friends about their research, their visits to the U.S., my travels.  From 2:15 to 3:45 I gave a seminar on leadership, well received, with lots of the candid conversation I value.  It’s a great joy to share my experience.  Worked a bit more, then headed to Mackenbrock, where I stop each year to buy an small, German-made Christmas ornament – always a little angel.  By 4:30 it was dark and the wind was howling and the rain was going sideways; we were on the edge of a bad storm that caused damage and injuries in Britain and farther north in Germany.

Streamside trail in the middle of Münster

Streamside trail in the middle of Münster

Wonderful gabled commercial buildings on Münster's historic shopping street

Wonderful gabled commercial buildings on Münster’s historic shopping street

It was good to be back in Svenja’s cozy apartment.  I greeted the cats, took a nice nap, and at 7:30 headed out.  My young host Christine picked me up and we headed across town to the A2 bar and kaminabend, a fireside chat with ten undergraduates from the center’s Circle of Excellence program.  I had presented my “ten pieces of advice for graduating students” several times before, but this group was particularly engaged – we stayed until about ten, with a light supper of baked potato.  I chatted for quite awhile with a second-generation airline person, a young woman who worked for Air Berlin for a couple of years, the daughter and niece of Lufthansa flight attendants; it’s always fun to swap notes on the business, especially the fun parts like almost-free mobility.

My travel angels were smiling on me the next morning, because they signaled that I should check train status on the Deutsche Bahn app on my iPhone (yes, the Transport Geek has them for German and Swiss trains); good thing I did, because the local train that would take me from Münster 20 miles south to Hamm and a connecting express was running 15 minutes late and I would have missed the connection.  Whew!  Dressed quickly, hopped on a local bus to the station, grabbed a coffee, and got an earlier train to Hamm, which gave me an hour layover.

The short ride started with a remembrance prayer and meditation: it was 20 years ago that day, December 6, that my friend Jack Sheppard died.  Jack loved Germany, and I felt his smiling presence as we cruised past Westphalian farms.  I remembered the sadness I felt when Linda called me in London with the news, the grief at his wake and funeral.  And I remembered a signal moment in my life: as the hearse bearing his remains headed west on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, growing smaller until it disappeared on the horizon, I had a thought that has changed my life for two decades now: we control varying amounts of our lives, but what we don’t control is how much time God gives us on Earth.  That thought is what propelled me out of American Airlines at age 55, and into a worklife of freedom and independence, time that I control.  It has had its challenges, but it has been an outstanding ride.  I mourned Jack’s loss every day – every single day – for several years, but from it came positive change.  I think Jack would approve.

I opened The New York Times app and at the top was news of Nelson Mandela’s death.  More reflection; though less personal, his life also offered many lessons, the greatest of which was neatly summarized in the paper:

The question most often asked about Mr. Mandela was how, after whites had systematically humiliated his people, tortured and murdered many of his friends, and cast him into prison for 27 years, he could be so evidently free of spite.

At Hamm, I grabbed another Adventstern pastry, hard roll, and pint of milk, and continued reading the obituary.  Fascinating, a life well lived.  My mind went back to a Sunday morning in February 1990; I had just returned from church, and Linda was watching a morning talk program that was interrupted to show footage of Mr. Mandela leaving the prison on Robben Island, where he stayed for 27 years.  Rest in peace, Madiba; you were an awesome force for good.  Just one more message from him: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I got on another ICE express, riding a couple of hours south to Kassel, in the far northeast of the state of Hessia, and met my young University of Kassel host Patrick Rath.  The original plan was lunch with one of the senior marketing professors, but his schedule changed, so we had a bit of time, and used it to drive south and up a hill to a statue of Hercules and a great view of the city, including a palace that was summer home of Kaiser Wilhelm II, German emperor until November 1918.

The view from above Kassel

The view from above Kassel

Drove back to the uni, worked a bit, and at 1:15 headed to the Mensa, the student cafeteria, for lunch and more chatter.  Though I had only met Patrick once before, we had become solid email pen pals.  At three we got back in the car and headed south to Königstein, a spa town now a very affluent suburb 14 miles from Frankfurt, site of the Siegfried Vögele Institute, the training and education arm of the firm Deutsche Post DHL (the Germans, always bright, figured out years ago that privatizing the postal service was a good idea).

Another "my office" view, actually from Patrick's office in Kassel

Another “my office” view, actually from Patrick’s office in Kassel

On the (relatively new) campus of the University of Kassel

On the (relatively new) campus of the University of Kassel

A two-hour drive gives you lots of time to talk, and we covered a lot of topics.  But the most interesting thread was about his family.  Patrick grew up in Rostock, in the former GDR. He said that because his family was active in the (Lutheran) church, the state had some suspicions about them (he later told me that he knows the current president of Germany, Joachim Gauck, a Lutheran pastor with whom I was, as a fellow believer, familiar with).  He was eight when the Berlin Wall came down.  His father was an engineer, and had worked for the government building company.  Within a year of the big change, he had been hired by a West German firm, a good job, and a new car to replace their 27-year-old Trabant. His father went on to build a successful construction-supply business.  These stories just fascinate me.  I also enjoyed learning about his grandpa, who lived through the Depression, the Nazis, the Soviets.  He just kept on.  We also had a lively chat about whether the NSA spying on its citizens was much different from the East German Secret Police (the Stasi).  Yes, a different degree – by some estimates, 1 in every 50 East Germans was a Stasi informant – but is the NSA doing the right thing?

We arrived at the conference center at five. Light snow covered the fir trees (and the parking lot, a bit slippery).  Checked in, worked my email, got a nap.  At seven, we joined a small group of Deutsche Post DHL managers (the firm was paying for an executive MBA).  I won their trust early, by telling them how much I admired their country.  “What do you like about Germany,” one man asked.  “Many things,” I replied, “Let’s start with your more human approach to keeping people working during recessions.  In my country, we simply lay them off.  Here, you try to be flexible, offering part-time work so that workers can at least earn some money.  And there’s more . . .”

We tucked into a traditional Advent dinner of roast duck, red cabbage, and dumplings, with apple strudel for dessert.  After the meal, I gave a shorter version of my “ten things” leadership talk, with lots of great questions and discussion afterward.  I felt very much at home with the group, but I left them at ten.

Black-and-white reproductions of works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a former patient at the clinic; the Nazis banned his art as "retrograde"

Black-and-white reproductions of works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a former patient at the clinic; the Nazis banned his art as “retrograde”

Up at 6:30 for a quick walk through the building, which a century ago was a psychiatric clinic catering to influential clients in the arts.  Ate breakfast, said good-bye, and took a short taxi ride to the station, a local train to Frankfurt’s always-teeming Hauptbahnhof, and the ICE express to Berlin.  I had booked the ticket way early, and got a great deal on a first class seat, which was nice.  In the last six or seven minutes of a four-hour train ride I had a wonderful, but far too short, T-t-S with a German couple about my age – wish I had started the chat earlier.   The missus had family in Utica, New York, who emigrated from the ashes of World War II.  We talked about the many changes in Berlin in our lifetimes.  Mister told me he had lived in Berlin as a young man, 1972 to 1979, which was when I visited the first time, and experienced firsthand the tension of the Cold War.

Hewing to Advent tradition, at 1:45 I met, for the sixth consecutive year, my young German friend Michael Beckmann at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof.  Son Niklas, now almost five, was with him.  Herr B. and I are fellow Transport Geeks, and we had a T-Geek weekend planned.  After hanging out on the platform for awhile, we dropped my suitcase in his trunk and ambled across the big lawn that is west of the Reichstag, seat of the German parliament.  This resident of Washington, D.C., was struck by the relaxed atmosphere.  Here was a democratic republic that felt comfortable enough to allow private car parking within a few hundred meters of the building.  No armed guards, no tension.  Precisely the vibe that an advanced republic should exude.

Niklas is a budding T-Geek, and wanted to ride a double-decker bus, so we hopped on route #100 and rode west through the big green Tierpark, past a bunch of embassies and the zoo, and down the main shopping street of the former West Berlin, the Kurfürstendamm.  I didn’t eat lunch on the train, so grabbed a smoked salmon bagel sandwich, and we hopped on the S-Bahn (suburban train) east to Alexanderplatz, the heart of the former East Berlin.  We grabbed a glühwein, the hot spiced wine popular at Christmastime and ambled around for awhile, then hopped on a tram; Michael works for Bombardier, the Canadian multinational that builds planes and trains (including trams), which helps explain him as T-Geek, but like me he has long been interested in all forms of transport.  It was starting to get dark, so we hopped a train back to the main station and drove home.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the Kurfürstendamm; the church was badly damaged in a 1943 bombing, and the partial ruin has always been a powerful image

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the Kurfürstendamm; the church was badly damaged in a 1943 bombing, and the partial ruin has always been a powerful image

Who's supporting who? Dad and son skating at a Christmas market near the Alexanderplatz

Who’s supporting who? Dad and son skating at a Christmas market near the Alexanderplatz

It was great to see wife Susan and daughter Annika, who would turn two the next day.  It was dinnertime for the kids, so we headed out to bow again to tradition, dinner at Zur Krumme Linden, a splendid rustic inn.  The kids were wiggly, but we still had a fun dinner.  I often tell my German friends and hosts, with some pride, that 41 years of travel in their country has enabled me to read a menu, and I assumed that brathering was baked or pan-fried herring.  Well, sort of: cooked, but then pickled and chilled.  It was good, but a bit different, and a good reminder to  notch down the cockiness!  We headed home, yakked a bit, and clocked out early, because Sunday was going to be a long one.

And it was, but it was a lot of fun.  Way fun.  A blast.  We were up just after six and out the door, west and south to the railways station in Spandau, where we hopped on a steam-drawn train.  Elsa, the locomotive, will turn 70 in 2014.  She was built for the Nazi Wehrmacht, intended to facilitate fast invasions, and converted by the East German line, the Deutsche Reichsbahn.  The coaches were a mix of ages; Michael had booked seats in the most modern “wagon” (as they call rolling stock in Europe), with efficient heating.  We arced clockwise around the capital, then headed southeast.  This was the former East Germany, and you could still tell from subtle hints in the landscape.  Just before noon we arrived in Lübbenau, a small tourist town in the Spreewald, the forest near the headwaters of the same River Spree that winds through Berlin.  Michael wanted to get still pictures and video of the steam engine turning around for the return trip, and we hung out on the platform until about one.  We yakked for awhile with one of the train conductors; Holger was an affable guy, a volunteer (as were all of the train staff from the organization that translates at Berlin Friends of the Steam Locomotive).  His day job was with the Deutsche Bahn, in the regulatory and compliance part of their P.R. department.  I told him I understood his Monday to Friday headaches, having worked in transport P.R. in my career.  We laughed about it.

Annika and Niklas Beckmann, keeping busy on the train

Annika and Niklas Beckmann, keeping busy on the train

SteamTrain

LokoDiptych

With my new T-Geek friend Holger

With my new T-Geek friend Holger

Dockside ticket seller

Canal-boat ticket seller in a splendid old uniform

We walked a half-mile into town.  I was hungry, and grabbed a great bowl of pea soup and bread; Michael and Susan had pickled herring roll-ups.  Canals criss-cross the Spreewald, and about two we hopped on a curious conveyance, a 35-seat flat-bottom boat that a boatman propelled by pushing a long pole on the bottom – it was a longer version of the punts that ply the River Cam in Cambridge.  A young boy dressed as a forest sprite, stood in the middle of the boat and told of local legends.  We rolled gently along, past brick and half-timbered houses (there were few or no roads, so the mailboxes were on the canal), and in 30 minutes arrived in a little village, Lehde, were we hopped off, then ambled through an open-air museum.  This was a landscape unlike anything I had ever seen, and it was really pleasant:

Window-2

Cottage

CanalHouse

The region was well known for its pickles, and we sampled some, very crunchy.  As a supporter of quality food and of the integrity of place, I was glad to see that Spreewald pickle producers had secured the EU’s Geographical Indication (like Champagne and Parma hams).  We climbed back on a flatboat, this one guided by a woman; we learned that the boat company was a cooperative founded in 1853, way cool.  It was getting dark when we arrived back in the small harbor at Lübbenau.  Walked back to the train, got settled in, and enjoyed a couple (well, okay, three) of one of my favorite German black beers (Schwarzbier).  We arrived back in Spandau a little after seven, loaded the stuff and kids into the car, and headed home, tired but happy.  My pants were dirty, and Susan kindly let me use her washer and dryer while we looked at Michael’s many pictures from the day.  Just before bed, we sampled some Spreewald pickles and a few slices of Susan’s homemade bread, a perfect end to a good day.  Much of what made the day interesting was reflecting on all the change in this part of the world over the past 75 years.  I feel fortunate to have been around for two-thirds of that era.

The Sprewald's famous pickles

The Spreewald’s famous pickles

Geese

Scenes from the former East Germany: sculpture of diligent students, and a bit of street art, figure and words playing on the fact that it was impossible to get bananas during the Soviet era

Scenes from the former East Germany: sculpture of diligent students, and a bit of street art, figure and words playing on the fact that it was impossible to get bananas during the Soviet era

Was up even earlier Monday, after five, and out the door at six, into town.  Michael dropped me at the main station, then drove south to the Bombardier factory in Bautzen, near the Czech border.  I grabbed a big Starbucks and a pastry, and hopped on the 6:49 ICE to Hannover.    After a pleasant hour or so in the DB Lounge in Hannover (like two days earlier, I splurged for a first class ticket, which is quite inexpensive if you book early), I boarded another ICE south through Kassel and Frankfurt – there was a nice sense of déjà vu, having been in those places three days earlier.  I was bound for my second visit to KIT, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in the city of the same name, way across Germany – almost 500 miles southwest of Berlin.   Rolling through a landscape of rolling hills, pleasant old villages, and cities, it was a good time to think about and celebrate this prosperous, sensible, and civilized country.  Germany seems like an easy target for critics, but this observer sees it much differently, and have for decades.  They do many, many things right.

This was the same path as 2012, and like then I had a nice lunch in the dining car before and just after Frankfurt.  Enjoyed a second dish of grünkohl (two nights earlier at the Linde I asked for a side dish of the kale cooked with pork fat and bacon, German soul food).  Arrived Karlsruhe a bit late, hopped on the tram, and was checked in at the university guest house and connected to eduroam in a flash.  What’s eduroam?  A worldwide wi-fi service for academics – my Georgetown email address and ID enabled me to access it.  It’s a great system.  I unpacked, ironed my suit trousers, and went for a walk on a clear and relatively warm day.  A break from the gloom was most welcome.  Ambled around the palace of the onetime Duke of Baden, then past the German Constitutional Court, and around the center.  Hopped back on a tram, then headed back for a nap.

A portion of the historic Baden castle, Karlsruhe

A portion of the historic Baden castle, Karlsruhe

Detail, art school, Karlsruhe

Detail, art school, Karlsruhe

At six I met my KIT host, Martin Klarmann.  Though I had visited a year earlier, I did not meet him because he had emergency surgery the day I arrived.  Yikes!  We hopped in a taxi and headed to a fancy restaurant, Anders auf dem Turmburg, atop a hill overlooking the city.  Martin proved to be a very interesting fellow, and we had a splendid dinner – a cream of chestnut soup with a small piece of quail, and a main course of duck breast, red cabbage, and dumplings – traditional German food, but refined.  Conversation was equally good, across all sorts of topics, including German and U.S. politics (the former are a lot more interesting), sport, family.  He’s from Hamburg, so I said some nice things about his wonderful hometown.

Was out the door Tuesday morning at nine, into more sunshine.  Met Martin and walked across campus to the same classroom we used in 2012, in a wonderful old building.  Martin shares my interest in the built environment, and offered a running commentary on styles and ages of the buildings, from the 1850s to a couple that are under construction.   Delivered a lecture to undergraduates, then walked to a new classroom and spoke to Masters’ students.  Six doctoral students joined us for a filling lunch (lentils, wieners, spätzle; I’m gonna need a lot of carrots and celery when I get home).  Walked back to school, grabbed my suitcase, and Martin escorted me to the tram stop, where I said goodbye, hopped on, and rode back to the main station.  Caught a French TGV to Frankfurt, and walked three blocks to the Holiday Inn Express on Elbestrasse.

After working a bit, I headed out, planning on a couple of beers and a light dinner.  I don’t know Frankfurt well, but found what was described as an agreeable bar near the hotel.  It was in fact disagreeable, so I drank a small beer and headed out, south across the River Main, where I found an agreeable, broad footpath on the south bank, with a sensational view of the highrise skyline.  In the Sachsenhausen district there are a number of cozy restaurants that specialize in ebbelwei, apple wine.  I discovered last year that it’s not my, er, cup of tea, but they also serve beer.  I was headed for another place I found online, and inadvertently entered its competitor next door, which was friendly and local, but didn’t quite fit.  So I headed next door to the Dauth-Schneider, which had a mix of Germans and tourists, livelier.  I ordered a dark beer and surveyed the scene.  What seemed like half the population of China filed out.  Eight Japanese bantered at the next table, and next to me were two young Germans.  And I was in luck: the daily menu offered grünkohl, and despite the big lunch seven hours earlier I had to have a third helping of German soul food before leaving ­Deutschland.  Yum!  Ambled back to the hotel and head hit pillow early.

Frankfurt's highrise skyline, more of the New World than the old

Frankfurt’s highrise skyline, more of the New World than the old

The third helping of grünkohl in a week

The third helping of grünkohl in a week

Was up before five and at the airport an hour later.  All was normal until British Airways canceled the flight.  The trip had gone like clockwork for 11 days, and Wednesday truly unraveled.  The plan was to have breakfast with a colleague of my young friend Scott Sage, then deliver two talks at New York University’s London program (organized through City University and longtime host Vince Mitchell).  I was rebooked on a Lufthansa flight at 8:20, so 8:30 breakfast was, well, toast.  I headed across to Terminal 1 – delayed by a police “lockdown,” just to add to the day – reentered Germany, and ate some breakfast.  Then comes news that the 8:20 LH rocket was delayed to 10:40, which meant the noon lecture was toast.  We boarded the flight, only to hear the captain say we’d sit for 40 minutes before takeoff clearance.  At 11:30 he brought more bad news, an hour delay, which meant the 2:00 lecture was burnt toast.  Ugh.

We finally took off and zipped west.  It was clear above the North Sea, and I could see the Rhine Delta and, a bit north, the port Hoek van Holland.  I chuckled, because months earlier when planning that part of the trip I considered taking the train north from Karlsruhe to Hoek (eight hours or so), the book a small stateroom on the Stena Line ferry to Harwich, England; the cost was about the same as the flight, and I woulda arrived in time for the two lectures.  Sigh.

City of London highrises poking through the cloud

City of London highrises poking through the cloud

On descent to Heathrow could see the fog that slowed things down, but also patches of blue sky.  Walked briskly through the airport and onto the Tube (at this point I wasn’t in a hurry, so no need for a pricier ride on the Heathrow Express train).  At 3:15 I met my young entrepreneurial friend Jonathan Nicol for a very encouraging update on his business, then walked a block north on Buckingham Gate – almost to the queen’s house – to the office of my young friend and long mentee Scott Sage (described in many previous accounts).  He had stuff to do before leaving work, so he set me up in a conference room with wi-fi, and I worked for a couple of hours.  At six we hopped in a taxi for a rush-hour slog home – Scott had a big box that he didn’t want to schlep on the Tube, but it was a long, slow ride.

Earlier in 2013, Scott and his new wife Caroline bought their first house, but when Scott opened the door it looked very different from the “starter home” that we or our friends bought three decades ago.  Whew, it was posh, all redone inside, and very comfortable.  Scott showed me to the guest bedroom on the third floor, bath adjacent.  Changed clothes and ambled around the corner to The Parlour, a gastropub in a former workingman’s saloon.  Waiting for us was Scott’s friend Kawika, a really interesting fellow American who I first met in November 2008.  The two met while working for the British Venture Capital Association; Scott now is a partner in a VC firm, and Kawika has a cool job in a social capital organization, a disruptive new approach to funding charities and helping them succeed.  We had no trouble making conversation.  Caroline soon joined us for a lively dinner.  Big fun, but I was plumb wore out by 9:30.

Pember Road, the Sages' new address

Pember Road, the Sages’ new address

Scott and Caroline Sage

Scott and Caroline Sage

Up before seven on Thursday morning, down for a chat with Scott and Caroline, a bowl of homemade muesli, and a coffee.  They left for work (Scott by bike, which was way cool), I worked a bit, and at ten headed into the city, then northwest to Milton Keynes for lunch with Martin Cunnison, my old client when I was consulting (2010-12) for his startup inflight entertainment company.  I arrived MK early, and went for a walk through the center of this planned city that is a direct descendent of the “garden city” movement that the British invented a century ago, a new approach to town planning.

Evidence of a new town: a provisional changing and showering facility for people who bicycle to the center of Milton Keynes

Evidence of a new town: a provisional changing and showering facility for people who bicycle to the center of Milton Keynes

Martin arrived at the railway station at 12:45, speeding around the corner in his black Mini Cooper.  We repaired to a nearby restaurant and started to catch up – I last saw him only six months earlier, but his business was advancing by leaps and bounds, and it was fun to listen to him narrate progress.  Tucking into a shared appetizer, his mobile rang.  It was his swell wife Tara, and he handed me the phone to say hello.  It was great to hear her voice, but would have been more fun to see her smiling face.  Then, presto, Martin suggested she join us, and in 15 she did, with a big hug.  We had a nice lunch and a great chat.  They are good people.

Tara and Martin Cunnison

Tara and Martin Cunnison

I walked back to the station and hopped on the 3:06 back to London, then on the Tube to Oxford Circus.  Waded through waves of Christmas shoppers on Oxford Street and into John Lewis, a wonderful department store for a quick look and a pee.  Then headed south on side streets, including Savile Row, the celebrated home of haberdashers, where windows on the basement level workshops enabled one to see true handsewing endure.  Indeed, those side streets are ideal for witnessing the sort of specialty retailing that can only prosper in a place like London, a thought I expressed to a friendly English woman who shared my admiration for the rare maps in a shop window.

LondonRetail

Seamster

Leather craftsman, Savile Row

I zipped into St. James Church in Piccadilly, a Wren design from 1684 and a welcome 20-minute thanksgiving respite from noise and busyness.

Fabio and Tim

Fabio and Tim

Refreshed, I nipped into the Three Crowns on Babmaes Street and at 5:10 met Tim Letheren, one of my former students at Cambridge; 30 minutes later another Judge graduate, Fabio Scappaticci, arrived; they were three years apart, but both had worked for the same ad agency after getting their MBAs.  We had a great time, talking serious stuff and jolly stuff.  At seven, we split, Fabio and me heading south to Lambeth, linking up with Louis-Philippe LaRocque, who I met at Judge in May.  I introduced the boys to Raj Dawood and some of the best curry in London at Hot Stuff.  We had a colossal meal, not quite as fiery as I’d like, but nice.  Home for a quick word with Scott, and off to sleep.

Up early again, 5-something, quietly down the stairs and out the door for the Tube and Heathrow Express. Flew to Dublin for the last teaching of 2013, at Dublin City University.  I was due at the school at two, so had a bit of time to look around the center.  Bought a Dublin Bus day ticket and hopped on Bus 41C for the center.  I missed breakfast, so grabbed a tuna sandwich and a pint of milk and ate on O’Connell Street, right below a statue of Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91), a nice reminder of that island’s long struggle to be free.  Walked across the River Liffey, then west a few blocks to the Ha’penny Bridge and back to the bus stop.  Arrived at DCU about 1:20, and was hungry again, so headed to the student cafeteria – a nice bit of symmetry, lunches on campuses on two consecutive Fridays.  Fish and chips and steamed carrots, filling.

Splendid detail, commercial building, Dublin

Splendid detail, commercial building, Dublin

I walked across campus to the business school, where I had a nice T-t-S chat with Vincent, finishing his Master’s in eCommerce.  “Staying in Ireland after you graduate?” I asked.  He replied probably not, no, likely to head to the Gulf.  It was the same answer I remember hearing in a pub by Trinity College in 1987, engineering students headed there or Australia after finishing.  In the years between Ireland created lots of high-skill, high-knowledge jobs. We yakked about his good experiences in Boston and New York, and some other topics, and I wished him a good life.

It may not be practical (given how few locals speak only Irish), but bilingual road signs splendidly show pride in place

It may not be practical (given how few locals speak only Irish), but bilingual road signs splendidly show pride in place

At two, I met Ruth Mattimoe, an accounting prof and co-director of the aviation management program.  We headed to the school café for a coffee, she introduced me to a table of faculty, and the next 45 minutes became an informal seminar on the airline business.  From three to four, I delivered the final talk of the year to a very engaged class, all from the aviation program.  The dean of the engineering school sat in.  It was a good way to end another great year in the classroom.  By the numbers: 27 schools in 8 countries, more than 2000 students and 105 contact hours.  As I’ve experienced in prior Decembers, there was mixed sense as we walked to Ruth’s car, sure satisfaction for a good year but a vague unhinged feeling at the end.

Ending a year of teaching on a high note: seldom to I encounter students who willingly line the front row, but at DCU I did!

Ending a year of teaching on a high note: seldom to I encounter students who willingly line the front row, but at DCU I did!

But about 90 minutes later, there was nothing but pure joy, as I met my longtime airline friend Maurice Coleman at the entrance to the venerable Trinity College.  Maurice and I worked a bit together back when the oneworld airline alliance was forming.  He was a longtime Aer Lingus exec, and always a splendid interpreter of his island home.  Dinner was an hour off, and we wanted a drink, so off we went to Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street (in business since 1792).  You couldn’t have found a more authentic Irish pub: packed, jabbering everywhere, lots of laughs.  By pure luck two lads were leaving the back bar, and they ceded their stools to us.  In between getting caught up with our lives, we did what you do in those places, talking and laughing with total strangers.  In Ireland you engage, and isn’t that a great thing?  It’s T-t-S squared!

The scene at Mulligan's

The scene at Mulligan’s

Maurice and I covered a lot of topics, including the state of the Irish economy.  He pointed out that there still was plenty of woe following the big collapse of 2008, but that there were good signs, too: modest growth and some good jobs created, including one for his daughter, who finished at University College Dublin in psychology; she’s working for Accenture, and loves it.

Dinner at an Italian place, Dunne & Crescenzi, was yummy, but it really was an interlude in an abbreviated pub crawl (if I were flying out later the next day, we could have visited a couple more).  Maurice, a native Dubliner, knew all the real places, and we passed on two that were way too crowded before squeezing through the crowd at McDaid’s of Harry Street, where again, miraculously, two stools appeared.  What fortune we had, aye, the luck of the Irish.  The pubs presented a perfect way to end a great, if long trip, and I wore a smile the whole evening.  Those places were the real deal.

Maurice kindly walked me back across the Liffey to the 41C bus stop, explaining a bit of Dublin geography as we walked.  He knows a lot about the city.  We said goodbye, and I headed back to the hotel, then to Kennedy Airport the next morning.  The Silver Bird that brought me home, a Boeing 757, was the 73rd public transport vehicle I rode on the trip (yep, I kept track), one of many planes, trains, buses, and even a couple of old flatboats in Germany.  We landed JFK in snow, and outbound flights were canceled, but, mercifully, my ride home took off, and I was back in Virginia a little after seven.  It was great to be home – the trip was wonderful, but long.

The end of autumn

The end of autumn, Milton Keynes

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Three Quick Trips: Dallas, Philadelphia, Dallas

On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, a place that changed my life

On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, a place that changed my life

On Friday morning, November 8, Linda and I flew to Dallas, to attend the wedding of a long pal of Jack’s, Brad Ciesielski (Jack was best man).  I keep wanting to write “home to Dallas,” and as I have written before, going there as a visitor still seems odd.  In any event, we landed about noon, hopped in a tiny but zippy Mazda 2, and headed toward the Big D.  My friend Ken Gilbert responded to an email sent just before takeoff, and by pure luck he was having lunch that day with Nisha Pasha, another long friend from American Airlines.  So Linda dropped me at the Basmati Grill, a little Indian-Pakistani place in a strip mall in Irving, where I greeted my pals.  What a delight.  Karma!  We had a great visit (I was not hungry, but Nisha offered me some naan and a spoon or two of very spicy chickpeas.  We dropped her back at AA headquarters and Ken kindly delivered me to the very fancy Palomar Hotel, just across Central Expressway from Jack’s alma mater, SMU.  Changed into shorts and pounded out 25 miles on an exercise bike.  At six we drove a mile west to the rehearsal dinner.  It was fun to see old neighbors and friends, and some of Jack’s long pals (Brad and he go back to preschool, 1988).  Brad’s mom Julie is from Kansas, and we dined with some of her longest friends.

I was up early Saturday morning, down the street to Kroger for a parking-lot breakfast (two yogurts, a banana, and a donut), then Linda dropped me at a familiar place, the warehouse of the Dallas Ramp Project.  I had not built a wheelchair ramp for 13 months, but nothing had changed: the same cast of characters, great camaraderie, and the chance to make a difference in someone’s life.  I hopped in Hans Voorn’s car and we set off across town, to a trailer park in far southeast Dallas.  With the help of a bunch of volunteers from Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen (a mile from our former home), we built a 36 foot ramp for James.  When we shook his hand at the end of the build we were reminded of the joy of direct action.  It was so nice to be back at work.  We were in Dallas for a big event, but that morning was a big event, too.

The ramp team with finished product

The ramp team with finished product

This one is entitled "Ramp Still Life"

This one is entitled “Ramp Still Life”

Hans dropped me at the hotel about one.  Its luxury was a vivid contrast with the trailer park, always a humbling place.  Ambled across Mockingbird for some lunch, then back to the gym, a short nap, and over to church for the vows.  Conveniently, the reception was in our hotel, and we had a big time.  Sunday morning we were all up early, hugged Jack (our roommate for the weekend), drove to DFW, and flew home.   I miss Texas.

Two of my favorite wedding revelers

Two of my favorite wedding revelers

A week later, on Monday morning, November 18, I walked 400 feet to the bus stop, then the Metro, then Amtrak north to Philadelphia. Arrived at noon, clear and warm.  Ambled west on Market Street, through the Drexel campus, stopping for a seriously good lunch of noodles, tofu, and vegetables.  Walked south to the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  Thirty years ago last summer, that place changed my life for the better, and a smiled as I walked up Locust Walk.  I was lucky to be admitted to the postdoc business program that I attended in 1983; there were 240 applicants for 40 places, and initially I was on a waiting list.  When I got word that I cleared the list, I was in a hotel room in Colorado, and still clearly remember levitating toward the ceiling, like a helium balloon.  Back on earth, on a fine autumn day 30 years on, I wondered: at an elite university like Penn, how many students viewed it as an life-changer, a remarkable opportunity for which they are – like I still am – hugely grateful, and how many saw it more like an entitlement, the natural progression from affluent family to private school or an elite public school, to ivy institution?  A useful musing a week before Thanksgiving.

Another still life: lunch at Market 16 Noodle Bar

Another still life: lunch at Market 16 Noodle Bar

I stopped in the student computing center at the Wharton (business) School, and they got me “wired” to the wireless network, so I could do some work.  At three, I met Adam Grant, a professor of management and author of a very cool new book, Give and Take; the premise, which immediately intrigued me when I read a profile of him and his research six months ago, is that people who give freely of themselves do better personally and professionally.  Adam and I had corresponded a bit and it was great to meet him in person.  We bounced a few ideas around, and met a colleague with similar interests.  It was a wonderful reminder of why academies are such cool places – the world of ideas is an exciting place to be.

The Wharton School has a remarkable collection of art throughout its several buildings; here is a portion of Yoko Haru's untitled 1983 work

The Wharton School has a remarkable collection of art throughout its several buildings; here is a portion of Yoko Haru’s untitled 1983 work

Between 4:00 and 5:15, I met a Jaeyoun and Esther, a couple of Adam’s students who are interested in the airline business and who I agreed to introduce to contacts in the industry (one told me she had received an offer).  Worked my e-mail a bit, and at six knocked on the door of my long Wharton host Americus Reed.  Way cool to see him again!  First order of business was to meet a couple of undergraduates who were working on some marketing research; we helped them refine their plan for focus groups.  It’s always fun to be able to add value quickly.  An hour later we were in the car, rolling toward Society Hill (downtown, on the Delaware River), with Americus’ swell wife Veronica.  We started catching up on family and work and stuff in the year since I was last with them.  Whoosh, we rolled right past the Liberty Bell, shining in the night.  Let freedom ring!  We had a swell dinner at an Italian restaurant, then drove west to their house.

The Reed house is like a museum, full of all sorts of cool artifacts, like this machine

The Reed house is like a museum, full of all sorts of cool artifacts, like this machine

Tuesday morning, out the door with Prof. Reed, onto the bus a few stops to the UPenn campus, then into the Wharton School for three back-to-back lectures, with lunch after #2.  Was just great to be there, and to be with Americus.  Had time, barely, for one more quick meeting, with friend Pat Rose, who 30 years ago was one of the organizers of the postdoctoral program we attended.  We’ve kept in touch, and I try to see her, even if briefly, each time I visit.  It was a quick yak; at 3:55 she walked me to the trolley, which got me to 30th Street Station (just) in time for the 4:30 train home.

Home for six nights, and on Monday the 25th left the house as I did the week before, bus then Metro, but headed to the airport not the train station.  Flew to DFW for the second time in a fortnight, landing with the thermometer hovering just above freezing.   But the runways were dry, and in no time I was piloting a zippy Ford Fiesta northeast toward Richardson, Texas, where we lived for almost 20 years.  At 1:00 I met my pal Roger Tremblay, a longtime advertising-sales exec and total good guy, at Spring Creek Barbeque, a favorite for a couple of decades.  We tucked into a nice lunch and a great yak across a bunch of topics.  He peeled off, and I drove over to the Gilberts in North Dallas; Ken, a longtime AA colleague (often mentioned in these pages) and Peggy are just swell people.  We had a brief chat, and I got back in the car and headed south to Southern Methodist University and a twice-yearly talk on service quality that Prof. Dan Howard and I have been doing for almost two decades.  Check and done, as Robin used to say, and at 9:45 I headed back to the Gilberts.  I was worn out, but not too tired to pass up the offer of a seasonal India Pale Ale and some chatter, both with Ken and their two big dogs, Papi (who daughter Blair rescued a couple of years earlier from Tonga, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer), and Bella, a sweet and slightly timid German Shepherd rescued from South Dallas.  Nice to have hounds at foot.

Was up at 6:15 Tuesday morning for a yak and cup of coffee with Peggy (Ken was out for a two-mile run with the dogs).  We covered a lot of topics, including Thanksgiving plans (and the outline of a recipe for green beans).  I mentioned the cozy electric blanket on my bed, and that led to her telling me that she and her beloved slept in a full bed (“my electric blanket is Ken”).  I was surprised about the small bed, to which she replied, “Well, it’s the bed my great-grandfather was born in, in Egypt, Mississippi, in 1886, and that’s why I’m here . . .”  It’s exactly those kind of moments that make me so grateful for the hospitality of friends.  Just wonderful.

A little after eight, Ken and I motored separately to Cindy’s Deli on Forest Lane for a seriously caloric breakfast (any morning repast with biscuits and gravy puts one on a good start) and a long yak, mostly on airline and consulting topics – in retirement, we both do some work in the business.  At 9:30 I said goodbye, peeled off, and flew home.  Another trip to Texas, and several opportunities to tell myself how much I miss it.  We’re settling into Virginia, but the Lone Star State continues to pull at me.

Like the Reeds' house the week before, the Gilbert residence is filled with cool stuff from their travels, including a lot of awesome folk art, like these birds from Mexico

Like the Reeds’ house the week before, the Gilbert residence is filled with cool stuff from their travels, including a lot of awesome folk art, like these birds from Mexico

. . . And a lot of books, always the sign of a curious household

. . . And a lot of books, always the sign of a curious household

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