Atlanta, Too Briefly

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Broad Street at mid-day; the place had young energy, diversity, and an agreeable scale, contrasting markedly with the verticality of the rest of downtown

Was up at dawn on Friday, May 19, dogs on leash for quick walk, then out the door for National Airport and my first visit to Atlanta since 2000.   Delta Air Lines’ main hub, the largest connecting complex in the world, was even bigger, and I was reminded of a great aphorism that actually predates the rise of U.S. hub-and-spoke airline networks: Southerners say that when you die, you might go to heaven or you might go to hell, but either way, you’ll probably fly through Atlanta!

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I had not taken a good look at the downtown in 30 years, so I hopped on their MARTA subway was in the city in under 20 minutes.  Hopped off at the MARTA “hub,” the Five Points station, and headed up to the street.  Jack Chapman, an Atlanta friend of our son Jack, had given me some recommendations on things to see.  He’s in commercial real estate, and presciently knew of my interest in the built environment (or else our Jack clued him in), so the tour was long on interesting older commercial buildings.

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The Eiseman Brothers’ clothing store (1900) was razed to make way for the Five Points subway station, but they presered this wonderful facade — a nice welcome to downtown

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The new football stadium for Atlanta

It was a quick trip, so I had a gym bag and backpack, but they were heavy enough to want to park them for a couple of hours.  Admiring the former head office of the old Citizens and Southern Bank (now part of Bank of America), I noticed two things: it was on the National Register of Historic Places, and it now housed the business school of Georgia State University.  I ambled in, took the elevator to the Marketing Department on the 13th floor, and introduced myself: “Good morning. My mother always told me there’s no harm in asking . . .”  In no time, Ms. Sharon walked me to the back room, and locked up my stuff.  Thanking her profusely, I promised to return by two.

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Outside and lobby views of the former Citizens & Southern Bank

It was so nice to be back in The South, where strangers on the street look you in the eye and say “hello” or “good morning,” no matter their color or yours.  An hour later, when I was taking a photograph of the historic Candler Building, a USPS truck driver smiled at me and said “That’s the prettiest building in Atlanta.”  Although such a place is fertile ground for Talking to Strangers, I did not connect.  I did, however, have a great look around downtown and a splendid lunch of pho at Dua on Broad Street.  Grabbed my stuff and headed to my actual destination, Emory University.  The Five Points MARTA station was closed (police on scene), as was the next one north, Peachtree Center, so I walked on to Civic Center and hopped the train north, then the #6 bus east to the campus and my digs at the school’s conference center and hotel.

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The Candler Building, once Atlanta’s tallest; Asa Candler was one of the founders of The Coca-Cola Company

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The Flatiron Building

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John Portman’s Hyatt Regency Hotel; back in the day, it was an architectual statement; today, not so much

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Belting it out in the midday sun

My roommate, longtime airline lawyer Gary Doernhoefer, was already in our room, working away, so I headed to the gym for some biking.  He was still on calls when I returned, but soon was free, and we yakked for about 90 minutes, catching up and prepping for a panel discussion the next day.  We were there at the request of our long host at Northwestern University, Anne Coughlan, who had organized a small conference on teaching distribution and sales strategy; our role was to discuss a cool multimedia case study of airline distribution, on which we three collaborated in 2015-16.

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Kudzu, “the plant that ate the South,” near the hotel; it is an invasive and highly aggressive species

At 6:15, Gary and I headed down to meet the attendees.  Had some nice chats, got caught up with Anne, and enjoyed a fine buffet dinner.  A couple of hours later, about half of the group headed to Wisteria Lanes, a bowling alley right in the conference center (how cool was that?).  I hadn’t bowled in more than a decade, and my arthritic knees made for a bumpy roll of the ball, but it didn’t matter – we were all pretty bad and we all had a lot of fun.

Saturday morning we tucked into breakfast, then convened at nine.  Anne, Gary, and I presented for an hour, I listened a bit more, then ambled back to the bus stop, the MARTA train, and flights home via Charlotte.  A long run for a short slide, as the saying goes, but it was well worth it.

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The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) campus is adjacent to Emory University

 

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St. Paul, Minnesota, and Montreal, Quebec

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Original oil painting of former Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy at the Montreal Athletic Association

The first day of May started inauspiciously.  The plan was a nonstop to Minneapolis/St. Paul arriving in time for lunch with nephew Evan Kail, then coffee with longtime friend Mike Davis.  But tooth #8 had other plans; the pain started a day earlier, and was accelerating.  At first I thought “ride it out,” but by 7:45 I was in the car to the dentist that installed a new bridge less than a year earlier.  Nope, they said, not our problem, so they called a nearby endodontist who could squeeze me in that morning.  Good luck.  And that clinic was wonderful, very professional.  I was out their door at 11:50, after a successful root canal.  Drove home, took the dogs for a pee, and set off for the bus stop.  At non-rush hours I have to walk about 0.8 mile, and did that in under 10 minutes, just before the #721 bus pulled up.  Caught the Metro to the airport and departed Washington at three.  Oh, yeah, in between I managed to write an 800-word op-ed for a client.

Arrived in my native Minnesota at 5:15, in spitting rain just above freezing.  Picked up a rental car and zipped into Minneapolis.  Things got a lot better when I arrived at the Black Forest Inn, a German restaurant and bar I have frequented for 46 years, 6 years after German immigrant Erich Christ opened the place (he’s still in the kitchen almost every day).  We started tippling there in the summer of ’71 because they didn’t ask we 19-year-olds for ID.  Seven years later, we got engaged there.  The place is woven into me.

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Scenes from a favorite place: the view from our table, and (R) the table where Linda and I were engaged

Ten minutes after I sat down, long friend Bob Woehrle and wife Paula arrived, and we had a fabulous couple of hours, mostly talking about books, as well as a fine dinner.  My tooth was still sensitive, so a trio of soft foods, Königsberger Klops (German meatball), spaetzle, and red cabbage were just the ticket.  Drove back to their house in Roseville and clocked out.  A long day.

Up at six Tuesday morning, cup of coffee, bowl of cereal, short yak, then out the door, south across St. Paul for my debut at the University of St. Thomas, a small Catholic institution not far from where we lived 1978-87.  Met host Jon Seltzer, like me a Minnesotan retired from a long and varied corporate career, and delivered back-to-back talks on airline alliances to undergrads.  At noon we hopped in the rental car and motored a mile east to the Green Mill Inn, a pizza joint and tavern we frequented through the years (I remembered walking there with Robin and Jack in their double stroller).  I hadn’t been there in nearly a decade, but the place was unchanged.  Had a pasta lunch and a great yak with Jon, dropped him back at St. Thomas, and motored to the airport.

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The view from our St. Thomas classroom

Plan A was to fly standby on a Delta nonstop to my next teaching, at McGill University in Montreal, but the flight departed full, so I reverted to Plan B, American to Philadelphia and north to Canada.  We took off from MSP to the northwest, and I saw lakes: Harriet, Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and on the western horizon the huge Lake Minnetonka.  I thought to myself, as I did several times earlier that day, that Minnesota will always be home.  It was a feeling identical to what I read an hour later in a novel about a woman returning to her native Iran after years in California: “The rush of sentiment that her girlhood home aroused in her was reassuring and soft.”

Another superb example of the public art program at Philadelphia Airport; this is “Frosted Pink Lipstick,” multimedia, by Jesse Harrod

Arrived Montreal about 10:15, hopped the express city bus into town, then the Metro two stops and a short walk to the hotel.  Head hit pillow 11:45 and the sleep was so deep that I was vaguely disoriented at 7:15 Wednesday morning.  But the morning mission quickly came into sharp focus, and I was out the door and north on Sherbrooke for stop 1, breakfast with McGill prof and friend Bob Mackalski at the historic Montreal Athletic Association – today known as Club Sportif MAA – a storied sports institution (the club won the Stanley Cup before the NHL existed).  We had a great yak and a solid breakfast, my tooth feeling much better.

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Montreal is a well-known for outstanding public art; these painted moose are all over downtown

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On the way to breakfast, I spotted this totem pole in front of the Montreal Museum of Art; totem poles are the work of First Nations from coastal British Columbia, in western Canada.  This was the work of a young artist whose story is here

Stop 2 was a case-study presentation to 30 students from McGill’s MBA in Japan program, a course I knew because I taught in Tokyo a decade earlier (Jack came along, and I remember it as a truly colossal trip).  Except for two Canadians, an American, and a Dutch fellow, the class was entirely Japanese, older, bright, accomplished.  They were a pleasure.  After the talk we had an early lunch, listed to the dean, then walked across town to The Vatican.  Wait, what?  Well, if you enjoy ice hockey, it was a lot like approaching St. Peter’s Square, for in front of us was the marvelous Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, or the Habs are they are known locally.

Bob had organized a tour of the arena, and I was reveling in it.  Our tour leader, Gabriel, filled us with facts – the 4-centimeter-thick ice is made once a year in early summer, built in layers; there’s a seven year waiting list for season tickets; every game has been sold out since 2004; the press gallery way, way above the rink is the biggest in the NHL, holding 300.  Along the way, I saluted the memory of a junior high and high school friend, Bill Nyrop, who went from our neighborhood rink on Arden Avenue to the Habs, playing on three Stanley Cup teams in the 1970s (sadly, Bill died in 1995 at age 43).  Before, during, and after the tour I yakked with students.  Here are some scenes:

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Peeled off at 2:45, back to the hotel for a bit of work, then out the door for a ride on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare system.  I head west to the pleasant inner suburb of Westmount and a bit further, then reversed course, most of the time on dedicated bike lanes separated from the busy Maisonneuve Blvd.  It was rush hour, and a surprising number of people were returning home by bike.  Cool!

At 5:15, I ambled into McLean’s Pub on Peel Street for a Cing à Sept (literally Five to Seven, a distinctively Quebec phrase) with the MBA class and some local McGill MBA students, both part-time and full-time.  It was sorta like speed dating: in less than two hours I spoke with more than a dozen bright young people: Sasha, a Serbian-Canadian whose parents took the family away a year before civil war in the early 1990s; Scott, a Quebecois whose mom worked in the Air Canada real estate department for 38 years; Nishant from India, who studied at Virginia Tech before McGill; Chris from Philadelphia; Mai from Tokyo, who worked for Nissan in brand management and who lived in San Francisco as a young child; and several of the other Japanese students.  The chat with Mai was interesting and at the end a bit troubling, after she told me “my grandparents were at Hiroshima and got bombed.”  Whew.  But she was so matter of fact, smiling, as if to say “stuff happens.”  She told me both grandparents were healthy throughout their long lives, and grandma is still alive.  Whew, again.

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Old frame, new wheels

 

At seven, I hopped back on the Bixi, east on the Maisonneuve bikeway to the Latin Quarter and one of my favorite places, Saint-Houblon (literally St. Hops, as in the beer flavorant), a bar with a dozen craft beers from Quebec and some simple but refined cooking.  I sat at one of the large communal tables in the center of the main floor.  Across from me, four young people were chatting and I overheard them wondering about “loonies and toonies” (Canadian for their $1 and $2 coins).  It was a T-t-S opening, and I jumped in.

They were lawyers from the U.S. in Montreal for a meeting of the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association.  One from South Dakota (with her non-lawyer boyfriend), one from Hawaii, one from, well, I forget.  Beth from Sioux Falls was closest to me, and we chatted a lot across a bunch of topics, of course including Linda’s work and career.  It was a wonderful half-hour.  After they left, I walked over and said hello to the young fellow who was my waiter on my last visit six months earlier.  He remembered me. “Yes.  You were sitting on the same stool . . . You are a teacher, non?”  As on my previous visits, I looked around and quickly concluded that I was the oldest person in the house by at least 30 years.  I enjoyed a couple of beers and tucked into a wonderful plate of rabbit meatballs on homemade spinach pasta.  By the end of the meal, I was plumb wore out: it would be hard to imagine a day when I experienced more human interaction.  But I had to ride a mile or so home, so I did.

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More public art, and in this case participative: 21 Swings, described as “an exercise in musical cooperation; read the story here

Thursday was well and truly a day off.  I could have taken morning flights home, but I am slowly learning not to rush off (it’s taken awhile!).  So I donned bike shorts and some warm layers on top (it was 40° F) and hopped on a Bixi, coasting down the hill and headed for Ile-des-Soeurs (Nuns’ Island) in the St. Lawrence.  Unhappily, access to the island was limited to way-busy streets choked with trucks and cars, so I pointed the bike toward the wonderful bikeways that line both sides of the historic Lachine Canal.  A much more pleasant ride north and east to Old Montreal, up the hill, and back to the hotel, stopping for breakfast at – where else – Tim Horton’s.  The line was long, but as I waited I conjured the thought I have every time I’m in Tim’s: every single one of the Canadians in the place have health insurance, recognized as a basic human right (coincidentally, later that day, “my” House of Representatives voted to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, which wasn’t even close to Canada’s model of universal coverage).

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External stairways are a distinct feature of Montreal row houses; more on the phenomenon here

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Old Montreal is full of wonderful buildings like this

I showered, changed clothes, worked a bit, and still had plenty of time before I needed to head to the airport, so I hopped on the Bixi again, retracing my earlier route and going a bit further along the canal.  It had warmed up, and lots of people were out strolling and cycling.  At noon I grabbed my suitcase and ambled down St.-Mathieu to lunch at Pho Nguyen, a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall.  Tucked into a small bowl of pho, grilled chicken, salad, yum!  Jumped on the #747 bus to the airport, flew to Philadelphia, then home.  A great trip.

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Five days after posting this entry, the Montreal Gazette published my essay on 50 years of travel to that city; you can read it here.

 

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New housing in new and recycled buildings along Lachine Canal

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Just a piece of the growing skyline; when I snapped this pic, I remembered my common refrain for U.S. conservatives: they don’t seem to have trouble keeping the lights on in this social democracy . . .

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And the last word: your scribe at the dais in the Canadiens’ press conference venue!

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Philadelphia and London

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The view from my room at London Business School

Second-quarter travel began April 3, with a short flight to Philadelphia.  Standing on the airport rail platform waiting for the train into the city, a young Cornell student asked about fare payment.  Philadelphia’s SEPTA public-transit system is still in the 19th Century, cash only, no ticket machines, and while she was asking about nearby ATM machines, I remembered the Venmo app I now had on my iPhone (thanks to Jack and Robin), another one of the cool new ways to send and receive money.  I offered to front her $8 in cash and she could pay me back via Venmo.  A few minutes later, she said she was having trouble with the app, so after we got on the train I gave her my business card and said email me and I’d send an address for the eight bucks.  She didn’t look like a scammer – Indian-American electrical engineering student at Cornell – but, well, I got taken for a ride.  That’ll happen to trusting folk.

I hopped off at University City station and ambled a few blocks north, across the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus, to my digs.  In four or five previous appearances in Prof. Americus Reed’s MBA branding classes, he welcomed me to a comfy basement room in his house, but this time he had budget he needed to spend, so I checked in at the Inn at Penn, a quite posh place.  Met Americus for dinner and a good catch-up.  He’s a way-interesting guy, with a full schedule of research, consulting, and teaching, the kind of guy who can get along with four hours of sleep.  Whew.  Toward the end of the dinner, conversation turned to the new administration in Washington, and Professor Reed said that he found the current national situation sad; sad, too, he said to see the U.S. brand diminished in the world.  Yep.

Up early Tuesday morning, literally across the hall to the hotel gym, breakfast, then a nice amble around campus, through the place that changed my life when I joined a summer Wharton postdoc program in 1983.  I still remember the call from Linda, telling me I had cleared the waiting list; I was in a Colorado hotel room, and I felt like a helium balloon, floating upward.

I taught a morning class, and at noon we ambled a couple of blocks to the White Dog Café and lunch with Pat Rose, one of the people who 34 years earlier admitted me to Penn.  We’ve stayed in touch through the years, and it was great to catch up with her.  Hustled back, taught an afternoon class, worked a bit in Americus’ office, then peeled off.  At four, I met one of my Penn classmates, Jim Cohen, with whom I reconnected a year earlier.  The rain had stopped, and we sat on the patio of The New Deck Tavern, opened 1933, and covered a bunch of topics (I especially liked the discussion of algorithms for self-driving cars, and how to write code to make ethical decisions).  Jim was within weeks of retiring, and as he described it, “the universe just realigned” with him securing a great gig, playing slide guitar in a Linda Ronstadt tribute band.  Jim then he broke into harmony: “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.”  Wonderful!

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Jim Cohen, Wharton classmate, successful business owner, and professional slide guitarist

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Philly is much more vertical nowadays; below, scenes from the Penn campus

I was headed back to the airport by train, and on the way to the U City station I detoured to a walkway bordered with memorable quotations about women at Penn, including this: “My mother, a 1930 Penn grad, remembers being chased out of class by a male professor who shouted at her “I don’t teach women.”  We’re progressing, albeit slowly sometimes.  I then detoured to the statue of Benjamin Franklin, founder of the university in 1740; on the plaque was a quote from his colleague Washington, who described Ben: “Venerated for benevolence, admired for talents, esteemed for patriotism, beloved for philanthropy.”

Flew to London Heathrow, hopped on the express train and the Tube, and in no time was in South London for a meeting with the founder of Entrepreneur First, a very cool company that helps start-ups start up.  I met Matt Clifford two months earlier at a conference in Oxford, and it turned out that my young London pal Scott Sage knows him, so we three gathered for a chat.  Their offices were in the former Peek Freans biscuit (cookie) factory in Bermondsey, a nice bit of recycling.  The yak was simply fascinating, ranging cross a bunch of topics that aimed toward the future.  When we left, I told Scott that I’d relish a conversation like that every morning, to keep our minds fresh and open.

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The low hum of brainpower at Entrepreneur First

Scott and I walked to the Tube, and rode across town to Baker Street.  He headed to a conference and I walked a few blocks to London Business School for my annual visit to Europe’s best.  Like 2016, they offered a modest room in a sort-of-dorm adjacent to the school, but this year it was truly a room with a view, a gorgeous window framing Regents Park.  I changed clothes, washed my face, took a 20-minute nap, and headed out for an afternoon on London’s great bike share system.  Did several loops around Regents Park, past the giraffes of the London Zoo and the posh homes fronting the greenery.

Wandered a bit more, then, perfectly timed for the start of rush hour (not!), I headed to the Stephen Friedman Gallery, where Eleanor Crabtree, the daughter of longtime chum John Crabtree, works.  It was totally spur of the moment, and when I got there she recognized my name but not me, because the last time I saw her was, I think, 1991!  Notwithstanding the sort-of-ambush, she was charming, and took time to show me around the two large gallery spaces on opposite sides of Old Burlington Street in Mayfair.  I rode back to LBS, worked my email a bit, then headed out for a pint and early dinner in nearby Camden.  Was asleep before 9:30, dozing hard.

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Sculptures from German artist Stephan Balkenhol, who carved the figure and the base together from a single piece of wood.

Up Thursday morning, out the door to find breakfast fixings, back to the room, work a bit, then at 11:30 I gave a talk to the school’s Marketing Club.  LBS is global on steroids, and after the talk I ate a sandwich and visited for an hour with my host from India, plus youngsters from Ukraine, Russia, Japan, China, Brazil, and even Michigan.   It got me thinking that I may need a new abbreviation, WJMP, What the Jet Makes Possible, shorthand like T-t-S.  From 2:30 to 3:30 I gave a talk on airline revenue management to Oded Koenigsberg’s MBA class (Oded, an Israeli, is one of my fave hosts).  After class, the plan was to head across town to the new Design Museum in Kensington, but one of the students, Patrick, wanted to continue the conversation.

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London’s blue plaques, marking history, are legendary; I somehow had never noticed this one before, close to the Baker Street station (SOE was the World War II entity in charge of espionage and sabotage); all of us are pretty happy the Telemark mission succeeded.

I’m glad I said yes.  After changing out of my suit, Patrick and I ambled toward the Baker Street Tube station and zipped into a Pret for a mango smoothie and a long yak.  He’s 35, a retired British Army captain (son of a lifer and brother of an officer who lost many of his charge in Afghanistan).  Super-interesting fellow.

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The view from the bar at the Woodins Shades in Bishopsgate

At about five I hopped on the Tube to Liverpool Street station, paused for a pint at an atmospheric (and jammed) pub, bought some sandwiches for dinner, and got on the train for Harwich and the ferry to The Netherlands, once again to avoid paying the confiscatory UK departure tax (ransom).   The Stena Line boat was much more crowded than on previous crossings.  On arrival in Hoek van Holland, a bit of stress, because the train line was closed, so had to hop a bus to near Rotterdam.  Happily, road traffic was light, and happier still was a Talking-to-Strangers encounter with a Dutch couple who owned a small organic livestock farm in Norwich (England), raising 25 Shorthorn cattle and pigs, selling directly to a local butcher, the kind of direct agriculture that is slowly taking root.  We talked about the benefits of clear provenance (I kept thinking that people might say “Well, Bessie sure is tasty,” or “that haunch of Wilfred hit the spot”).  It was a lovely bus ride, more so because respectful Dutch teenagers gave up their seats so the couple, I would guess in their mid-70s, could sit down.

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Tight fit: trucks on the ferry

Hopped on the train at Schiedam, changed at Rotterdam Centraal, and in no time was at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  Along the way, as I always do, I admired how the Dutch manage water, zipped past huge greenhouse complexes, spotted old windmills in the distance, and smiled at how their language is sort of like ours: Calamiteitendoorgang = emergency exit!

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Ships, trains, and planes: the thriftier way home!

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The Netherlands from above

Flew to Philadelphia, down to Washington, and had Henry and MacKenzie on their leashes by 6:30.

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A bit of inspiration at Philadelphia airport: the truths are indeed self-evident, but we’re still working on the equality part.

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Farewell to the Circus

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[Once in awhile, I’ve motivated to post a thought or experience unrelated to my mobile life.]

On Saturday, April 1, granddaughters Dylan and Carson, wife Linda, and I drove to downtown Washington to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  After 146 years of continuous service, delighting millions of people, especially children, “The Greatest Show on Earth” was folding the tent, and we watched one of the last performances of the farewell tour.  Before we left home, I told Linda I was likely to cry at the end.  I did.  I wept in the middle, too, and now, five days later, as I write this.

We knew it was the end.  The New York Times delivered the bad news some months ago.  On the circus website, CEO Kenneth Feld wrote, “After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year. Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”

The last show, themed “Out of This World,” was the sensational mix of acts (minus the beloved elephants) that made it “the Greatest Show on Earth” for decades.  The performers were not digital compositions nor recorded and replayed in front of us, but talented, committed, sentient fellow human beings who clearly loved what they did.  We applauded the clown; the aerialists; the Torres family from Paraguay with their motorcycle ballet inside a metal sphere; big-cat trainer Alexander Lacey; and so many more.

But as much as their dazzling work made us smile, I kept getting sad.  Sad because I had been attending the circus for more than 50 years, and taking children and grandchildren almost every year for nearly 3 decades.  Sad because live entertainment is so special, so different from the stuff on screens small and large.   Sad because a whole lot of folks will lose their jobs — not just the performers and their support teams, but food vendors and ushers, and others who depend on the circus.  What will happen to the Kazakh horse riders?  The clowns?  We can hope many will find other work, but perhaps not.

And I’m mad, at the people and groups who helped bring down a great institution.  If our granddaughters hadn’t been with us, I would have been inclined to put a cream pie in the face of the PETA jerks who were protesting, the self-righteous carrying signs that said “Ringling beats animals.” As a precedent matter, it seems counterintuitive that circus people would mistreat the animals on which they depend; indeed, there’s a rich array of fiction and nonfiction literature documenting the special bonds between circus animals and their keepers.

Our relationship with other species in the animal kingdom is complex, and PETA tries to pretend otherwise.  I am no deep ethical philosopher, but given the growing volume of research on social interaction in plant communities (see, for example, The Hidden Life of Trees) and the possibility of sentience in individual living flora, it seems pretty hard to draw distinctions, except on simplistic lines (e.g., the cuter the animal, the easier it is to defend; no one cares much about maggots).  As I am fond of saying to pre-empt the discussion, “carrots have feelings, too.”

As I wiped back tears, I wanted to jump onto the show floor to thank even just one performer for all the times that their work and that of their colleagues enriched our lives over all the years.

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The last appearance of the Ringling Bros. elephants, 2016

 

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Two Quick U.S. Trips: DeLand, Florida, and New York

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Spring blossoms, DeLand, Florida

I was home for most of March, teaching an intensive short course at Georgetown the week of March 6, then catching up.  On Friday, March 24, I hopped the Metro to the airport and flew south to Orlando, into early spring in Florida.  Pressed through the hordes of visitors headed to see Mickey, Minnie, et al., picked up a red Ford Mustang (for some reason, it was cheaper than the little cars I prefer, but still got north of 30 miles per gallon), and drove north 50 miles to DeLand.

DeLand is the total opposite of the image that “Florida” conjures: densely vertical beachfront cityscapes, choked freeways, odd politics.  There’s only one high-rise in the entire town of 30,000, a dorm for Stetson College, the former Baptist liberal arts school (enrollment = 3,000) that – together with Volusia County government – anchors the local economy.  No traffic jams, and 25 mph speed limits.  And a decidedly progressive vibe, thanks to plenty of academics.  The downtown is returning to life (albeit without much retail), and the old neighborhoods are filled with farmhouse style dwellings and lots of bungalows.  Plus, of course, the verdant vegetation that makes the state so special.  Not long after crossing the city limits I felt very relaxed indeed.

I was soon on N. Clara Avenue, hugging Magda, daughter of my longtime friend Herb Hiller.  It had been way too long, almost nine years, since I visited them, especially because Herb was a great mentor and friend when I was in grad school in the mid-1970s.  Now almost 86, he is still going strong, busy, focused, and articulate.  Herb was taking a nap, so after visiting briefly with Mag (talented in her own right, a great singer/songwriter) I plopped down on a couch, dogs Napoleon and Rooster on the floor beneath me.

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On the kitchen table: citrus from a backyard tree

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Rooster, one of three new BFFs

Herb’s wife Mary Lee arrived about 3:45, and we started the first of several wonderful conversations in their kitchen.  Herb joined us, as did Mag and her daughter Wyatt, already 14.  We talked and talked, ate a nice salad and Moroccan bean casserole.

Herb (who graduated from Harvard Law but never practiced) worked in Miami’s fast-growing tourism industry through the 1960s, then at the dawn of the mass cruise-ship trade, then into the Caribbean – all conventional models.  Herb and I have been long friends not least because we have for decades shared a vision of sustainable tourism based on a very different model of authentic local experiences.

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In the mid-1970s, when we advocated that approach, people thought we were nuts, or as Herb wrote at the time, “communists, vegetarians, Luddites.”  We don’t feel smug that our vision has come to be widely embraced, but we are certainly pleased.  So we talked a lot that weekend about tourism development (the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation), and Herb’s efforts to nurture small-scale tourism in rural Florida, much of which has been oriented to the bicycle.  We are, in brief, simpático.

Was up at dawn the next morning, out the door for a splendid amble around downtown and the neighborhoods north of the center, back for a cup of coffee, then back out with Mary Lee and the dogs for their A.M. constitutional.  We met friend Dave, visited the art studio of Tony Eitharong (where Dave helps out part time), and headed home for a bowl of oatmeal.  Herb and I yakked a bit, headed out to buy some beer, then west to the St. John’s River, Florida’s 300-mile wide waterway (for years Herb and Mary Lee lived on an island in the river north of DeLand, where it’s called Lake George).  Yakked some more on the riverbank, then back into town for a quick wander around the Stetson campus and a serendipitous chat with another colleague (you could tell we were in a small place!).

Florida like it used to be:

Houses

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Studio

In the artist’s studio

After a tonic nap, we drove south a few miles to Cassadaga, a former “spiritual encampment” (think psychics and such) for dinner at Sinatra’s, in the old hotel (which regularly offered séances and the like).  Back home, Mag baked cookies for dessert, more yakking, and off to sleep.  Sunday morning, another walk, without and with the dogs.  At 10:30, longtime friend, former island neighbor, and lawyer Bill arrived with some legal documents to sign.  We had breakfast of homemade raisin bread, a meal that conjured memories of wonderful repasts at Herb’s old house in Coconut Grove, Miami, and a good yak with Bill, a native Floridian (it’s always great to meet those folks, rare the state).

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At noon, I hugged Herb, Mary Lee, Magda, and even the dogs (including Mag’s cute Stevie), hopped in the Mustang, drove south to the airport, and flew home.  A great visit with a wonderful comrade.

The last travel of the quarter was a day trip to New York for a video interview for a consulting client.  It hopped but and Metro to Union Station, and onto the 8:10 train.  It had been about two years since I rode Amtrak, and I growled to myself as we formed a long line to board the train, contrasting too much control (queueing, and ticket checks, ostensibly for security) with the openness of European train stations.  The Berlin Hauptbahnhof is arguably as vulnerable to terrorist attack as Washington Union Station, but the platforms are completely open.

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The tracks were as bumpy as ever, but the train was on time and spotlessly clean inside.   The ride is not especially scenic, but there were moments: crossing the Susquehanna River at the top end of Chesapeake Bay; apple trees in blossom along the Schuylkill River just north of center-city Philadelphia; and the brilliant contrast between the flat, empty wetlands east of Newark and the soaring Manhattan skyline on the horizon.

Arrived New York Penn Station on time at 11:21 and walked a few blocks north to Han Bat, a Korean restaurant I’ve enjoyed a few times over the last 25 years.  At 11:40, my friend-since-1961 Tim Holmes joined me, and we tucked into a spicy lunch (kimchee and more) and a lot of banter, jumping through five-plus decades, back to sixth-grade art appreciation with Miss Feltl, forward to his music-writing gig for Sony (he just finished a press release marking Loretta Lynn’s 85th birthday).  Tim always marched to a slightly different drummer, and I’ve long appreciated his perspectives on life, society, and politics.   An hour or so later we ambled up Sixth Avenue to my gig and parted.  As I have written many times, it’s a great joy to stay connected with long friends.  On the way north, I gave an attaboy to a young guy who thumped the back of a van that had driven through a red light.  The driver stopped, and a lively exchange ensued.  The kid struck a blow for order in the face of chaos.  Excellent!

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The video production crew had set up in the Presidential Suite of the New York Sheraton, which would have been posh save for all their kit, duct tape on floors, etc.  For the first time in my episodic on-camera career, a tech applied face make up (whew!), and off we went.  Took 30 minutes, slam dunk.  At 2:15, I met an airline colleague for a coffee in the lobby, a nice chat, then walked south on Seventh Avenue, through the circus of Times Square, and on to Penn Station.  Geographers like all places, but each of us gets one pass, and I always use mine in The City That Never Sleeps.  Just too frenzied and uncivil.

Signs

The sign business: a growth industry in Times Square

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Hopped the 4:05 train back to Washington.  My client kindly upgraded me to business class, where the seats and amenities were identical to coach, which got me to musing about the last time I was in “business class” on a U.S. train: summer 1962, to and from visiting relatives in Chicago, aboard the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha streamliner.  It was called the parlor car back then, and as I lurched home I did some Googling; sure enough, found two images of the Hiawatha’s “Skytop” parlor car, lovingly restored by a group in Minnesota.  Trust me, the parlor car looked nothing like where I was sitting:

ParlorCar

Thanks to Railroading Heritage of Midwest America for this memory!

Waiting for the Metro home, I had a nice T-t-S with a North Carolina family.  As I always do when I see visitors who seem lost, I asked if I could help.  They were completely turned around.  But they were going where I was going, so I simply said, “Follow me.”  We had a nice visit while waiting for the train and on board.

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A Week of Teaching in London and Oxford

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Rural England?  No, Richmond Park within metropolitan London

I was home from Germany but nine days, and on February 19 flew to London, arriving in Monday morning rush hour.  Hopped on the Underground at Heathrow (cueing the Beatles into my ears, as I always do), changed trains twice, and was soon at the Kew Gardens station.  I was bound not for botany, but the home of Carolyn and Omar Merlo, the latter my long host at Imperial Business School, and, more, a good friend.  The Merlos moved into a larger house a year earlier, and invited me to stay on a short trip back then; this six-night invitation was hugely generous.  I arrived in time to walk the kids, Sophie, 8, and Frederik, 6, to the Queen’s Church of England School a few blocks north and west.  Leading the parade was their new golden retriever puppy Mr. Waffles, 12 weeks old.  He was a magnet of attention.  I met a few moms that I met before (school was still in session at the end of June 2016).  Walked back, changed into jeans, and zipped out on Omar’s mountain bike, north into Richmond and the vast Richmond Park.  It’s like being in the country.

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Mr. Waffles

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Sophie’s welcome

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Pathway on the south bank of the Thames near Putney

Past noon I suited up and headed out.  First stop was lunch at Masala Zone in Earl’s Court, a frequently-visited venue in London; it’s a chain, but the food is good and you can have a sort of sampler plate (called a thali).  Zipped east on the Tube and at 2:45 met friend Jan Meurer, retired from years at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.  He was curious about my classroom gigs, so I had invited him to team teach a class in the air transport program at Cranfield University, 50 miles northwest of London.  It was my third visit but his first, and first in any classroom anywhere.  My role over a cup of coffee at Euston Station was to calm his butterflies!

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I’ve long admired the Tube workers who do stuff like this!

A school driver met us at Milton Keynes station and provided useful running commentary on MK, a “new town” of about 300,000 (I had been there several times, but his knowledge was great).  At Cranfield, we met Prof. Pere Suau-Sanchez, a friendly Catalan.  Pere provided his personal assessment of Brexit, with Jan lobbing in a few thoughts – it’s been interesting to get the non-British perspective, which is generally “why did they do that?”  Jan and I agreed that the class would be a non-lecture, each of us speaking for 5 minutes, then the remaining 100 for student questions and comments.  It worked superbly, his European perspective providing a nice counterpoint to my U.S. view.  Students mobbed us afterwards.  Taxi back to MK, fast train to London, hug at the station, and onto the Overground train home to Kew, plumb wore out.

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Jan Meurer’s professorial debut; he’s a natural

Up Tuesday morning for a long visit with Carolyn’s mum Maureen, visiting from Melbourne, Australia (I met her in 2016).  Walked with the kids and Mr. Waffles to school, ate a bowl of cereal, did a bit of work in my room, and headed out.  I had not ever been on the campus of University College London (two days hence I would lecture at UCL, but on a different campus), so I spent a couple of hours wandering around.  At one point I found myself in the Physics building, a place with lots of history, not least good Professor Higgs, who discovered the subatomic particle named for him.  The corridor hummed, not with brainpower (although that seemed likely), but with lots of equipment inside locked laboratories.  I spotted something called the Optical Tweezer Lab.  Say what?  Curious, I looked it up on Wikipedia: a tightly focused laser beam capable of holding microscopic particles stable in three dimensions.  Little tweezers!  In a main building I spotted the names of Joseph Lister and Jeremy Bentham, just two of many famous scholars at UCL.  Way cool.

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Mr. Waffles’ teething, and a close call!

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Sophie and Freddie

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University College London

ucl-diptych

Because my new iPhone has lots of memory I have downloaded more apps useful for travel, including one for the London bikeshare system; and because T-Mobile provides free data in 140 countries I could hire a red bike from my phone, and did so at UCL, riding two miles south to my lunch date with David Holmes at The Wolseley, where we had eaten several times before.  A repast with David, who had a long career with the U.K. Department of Transport and British Airways (where I met him in 1994), has been an annual tradition for nearly a decade, much anticipated, for he is another of my many windows on Britain.  We caught up on family, Brexit, U.S. politics, and more.  As always with David, I learned lots of stuff, for example, that King George III, who Americans revile and who was not much better regarded in Britain, is currently being “rehabilitated.”  Maybe not so bad, the thinking goes, for his willingness to learn English (previous monarchs from the House of Hanover spoke German), support for the emerging sciences, and other positives (I wasn’t convinced, but listened attentively).  David also has a fine ability to recall curious phrases from his past: he told me about a senior civil servant who, on the eve of discussions with a U.S. delegation, described Americans as “deeply alien”!  All in all a fine lunch and stimulating banter.

We parted at 2:45 and I hired a bike for a two-mile ride east to my 18th visit to the London School of Economics.  Traffic was absolutely nuts, which required both defensive cycling and some bold (though wholly legal) moves.  At 3:30, met a new LSE host Rocco Macchiavello, then delivered a two-hour presentation on airline revenue management.  Peeled off after six, onto the Tube and home to Kew.  Dinner was at Tap on the Line in Kew, the only licensed pub on a London Underground platform; tucked into a pint and a yummy pork pie with mashed potatoes and buttered kale (also trendy in Britain!).  The Merlos head to bed early, and I joined that routine.

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The view from the handlebars; cycling in London means keep your wits about you!

Up early Wednesday morning and out the door before the kids, with Omar to Imperial for a full day of three lectures, a total of six hours to stand and deliver.  A long day, needless to say, and I was happy at 6:15 PM to zip down Prince’s Gate to South Kensington, Tube to Victoria Station and a suburban train south to Clapham Junction.  A few minutes before seven I was at an agreeable small Italian restaurant and hugging a longtime American Airlines colleague, Denise Lynn, and her husband Danny.  Denise, a native of England, had been working a six-month temporary assignment as head of HR for Virgin Atlantic Airways (her boss, CEO Craig Kreeger, is a long mutual friend).  We had a fine dinner, and got caught up after about four years.  Lots to talk about.  Home by ten and fast asleep.

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Brainpower at Imperial College London: the robot can play ice hockey!

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I have long admired late Victorian and Edwardian architecture, especially polychrome brick

Back to school-walk routine Thursday morning, then home to work.  Suited up and out the door at 11, south to the suburban rail station at North Sheen, east to Vauxhall on the south bank, and a mile south to lunch at a longtime fave Indian restaurant, Hot Stuff.  I had not been there for almost two years, but owner Raj Dawood remembered me, and we had a nice yak.  He had suffered a lot of misfortune in the interim, losing his grandmother, his mom (who founded Hot Stuff in 1985), and two kids.  And he was limping with gout.  It’s hard to deliver sympathy to a person you don’t know well, but I did my best, offering prayers for comfort and reminding myself of my good fortune.  Tucked into a spicy chicken dish and lots of naan.

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Raj Dawood of Hot Stuff

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Land values are making Lambeth vertical; indeed, Raj reckons he’ll be squeezed out in two years

Said goodbye to Raj, and as I walked away I almost tripped over Owen’s dog Biscuit.  Who’s Owen?  Another stranger, of course.  We chatted a bit in front of Hot Stuff, and he asked me where I was headed.  I told him the Tube station at Oval, a mile east, and he offered to lead me there.  We had a great yak.  Owen was in his mid-70s, had lived in Lambeth for more than 50 years, and thus had seen a lot of change.  Two datapoints: his father bought a row house in the 1960s for £18,000; the houses lining the streets on our path were now selling for £1.2 to 1.5 million.  Owen was a lifelong builder; his father emigrated from Jamaica.  A nice stroll.

Hopped the Tube east and north to Canary Wharf, the high-rise office complex east of central London that looks a lot like a U.S. downtown.  Up 38 floors to the new “campus” of the University College London School of Management to deliver a one-hour lecture in Omar’s core-marketing class from 3:00 to 4:00.  Worked for a couple of hours, admired the stunning views of the city, took a quick nap sitting up, and repeated the lecture at 6:30.  We zipped out at 7:45 and home to Kew, in time to read Sophie three chapters in a book (on my visit the previous summer I apparently made an impression as an expressive reader!).

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The west view from Canary Wharf

Up Friday morning, now firmly in the family routine, off to school with Sophie, Freddie, and Mr. Waffles.  On the way to school, Sophie asked if I would read more chapters that night, and I replied that we would finish the book.  She smiled.  Hopped onto the Tube, east to Gloucester Road.   It was the first sunny day since Monday, and a good time to bike a few miles, even in coat and tie, so I hopped on a red shared bike and set off through Kensington Gardens and Green Park.  Stopped briefly to say thanks at the memorial to the RAF Bomber Command, admiring Churchill’s words from September 1940: “The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.”

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Mr. Waffles slowing traffic!

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Part of a large bronze in the Bomber Command Memorial

I rode on up the slope to Notting Hill, arriving at a pleasant fish restaurant 20 minutes early.  I sat at the bar and thumbed through a book on English watercolors, filled with splendid work.  It was one of those moments when to celebrate our long cultural heritage and hope we are able to persist as a species, if only so talented artists can create more works of beauty.

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William Turner of Oxford, “Donati’s Comet,” 1859; coincidentally, the original is two blocks from son Jack, in the Yale Center for British Art

At 12:30, met young friend and mentee Scott Sage (frequently in these pages) and Sir Geoffrey Owen, my original host at the LSE.  I had wanted to get those two together for awhile, and was glad I got to be there.  Sir Geoffrey knows a ton about the U.K. economy and in 2015 published a book on the high-tech sector, a focus of Scott’s investment expertise.  We talked along those lines, as well as politics here and in the U.S., and a sobering few minutes on how people displaced by technological advance will find new work.  A totally stimulating conversation, one we could have continued, but Scott had an appointment and I had a third class at UCL, so we parted.

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Zipped across London by Tube and delivered another quick talk; the two classes the previous day were mostly comprised of East Asian students, but this class was virtually 100% Chinese.  A little way into the talk, I noticed in the second row a plump fellow texting.  I called it out, and he looked mad; by his attitude he appeared to be one of the highly privileged.  Toward the end of the talk, he was back texting again.  After questions and applause, as students departed, I confronted him for his rudeness.  I generally let those things slide, but simply could not.  I pointed out that I was there as a volunteer.  His apology was insincere.  Grrrrrrr.

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The east view from the UCL B-school “campus” on the 38th floor

Omar had some additional work, so I peeled off.  The Jubilee (Tube) Line was closed, so I took a rather circuitous route home (Omar opted for Uber).  Omar made a wonderful pasta dinner for the family, and we had a splendid time before and during the meal.  It is so nice to stay with a family.  After dinner, as promised, I read Sophie the remainder of her book, and kissed her goodnight.  She would be at Olivia’s house for a pajama party the next night, so I told her I’d see her again later in the year.  Everyone was headed to sleep, and I joined the procession, because Saturday would start early.

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Friday commuters on the London Overground

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Sophie and Omar on the piano, top, and her cardboard rocket, created for Olivia’s “space party” sleepover

Early, as in 5:40.  Out the door, onto the Tube toward Paddington Station.  Along the way, some delays, and had I not been able to use my iPhone to access the Internet, I would have missed the 7:21 train to Oxford (thanks T-Mobile, again!).  Happily, I made it with five minutes to spare.  Arrived Oxford about 8:15, well before the 9:30 start to “Oxford Inspires,” a conference on entrepreneurship at the Saïd Business School where I was due to speak.  So I headed for a short ramble about town, my first visit since 1977.  Made it to Christ Church College, which is where David Holmes studied.  Grabbed a coffee and a sweet pastry and ambled back to the B-school.

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People began to arrive, and I struck up a nice conversation with Giles, a young high-tech fellow from the West Midlands (one little piece: his father worked for the British Railways prior to and during privatization, and as a kid Giles had the rail equivalent of the free airline travel that our kids enjoyed).  We covered a lot of ground in a short while, and soon were joined by V.R. Raghavan, a retired lieutenant-general in the Indian Army.  His daughter Nina was attending the conference and he “tagged along.”  Great conversation, including some wonderful glimpses of modern management in a major armed force.  Soon Dagmar, an Oxford Ph.D. in computer science joined.  Whew, a great start.  I attended a morning session on social-impact investing, listening to presentations from a woman whose company finds work for women after they leave prison; a wheelchair user who started an Airbnb-like service for mobility-compromised travelers; and a Somali who built an economical way for migrant workers to remit funds home.

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Said Business School, University of Oxford

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Yakked with several youngsters during lunch, and from 2:00 to 4:00 was part of a session on marketing and products, though my talk focused on managing in turbulent times.  Unhappily, during the panel discussion the moderator kept asking his questions rather than welcoming audience queries, but it still worked.  Last session was a keynote from Matt Clifford, of Entrepreneur First, a company that supports engineers and computer scientists to build tech companies from scratch.  Matt graduated from Cambridge in medieval history (proving my point that specialized knowledge can be overrated), and delivered a brilliant talk called “The Disruption of Ambition.”  He told about “technologies of ambition,” from literacy to military education, to management education.  Matt said “Power used to lie in the hands of people writing cheques; now it’s in the hands of writing code.”  Whew.  The day ended with refreshments, and lots of youngsters sought me ought for varied advice, mostly on studies and career.  Hopped the train home with a “laptop” dinner of sandwiches and salad.  The Merlo house was already quiet at 8:45.

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The luxurious life of the itinerant professor: laptop repast on the train

Up at seven Sunday morning, cup of coffee, hugs to Carolyn and Omar, and out the door toward Heathrow.  Standing on the above-ground Tube platform at Kew I gave thanks for friends like them.  It was pure joy to stay with a family for six days, to get in their rhythms and learn from them.  Flew to Kennedy, then on to Washington, and was home by 5:15.

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jan-feb-routes

Travels in January and February

 

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Teaching in Germany, via Paris

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The skyline of Cologne, Germany, including the huge Dom begun in 1248 and completed in 1880

On Saturday, February 4, I headed to Europe for the 180th time.  But it’s still so exciting to cross the Atlantic.  Flew to JFK, then, although bound for Germany, to Paris to visit the fourth bar, Comptoir Voltaire, that terrorists attacked in November 2015. Regular readers may recall that in July 2016 I planned to visit all four but only made it to three.

Arrived Charles de Gaulle early, at six, and was on a RER suburban train soon after.  Stashed my suitcase and laptop in a locker at Gare de l’Est, the station from which I would depart five hours later, then picked up a Velib shared bike (bought a day pass for the equivalent of $1.92 online the day before).  It was still dark, and Paris was still asleep, which made for a pleasant and quiet ride. It reminded me of the voice on an American Airlines TV commercial promoting our Europe services; our jets were landing in Paris (and other places) “just as the city starts to stir.”  Rode to the bar to locate it, then headed south a couple miles to Coulée verte René-Dumont, a pedestrian and bikeway on a former railway that was one of the inspirations for New York’s High Line.  Gliding past other early-morning riders, I was reminded of a swell quotation from H.G. Wells: “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.”  Amen to that!

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My trusty steed at Gare de l’Est

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While doing a yo-yo on the trail, it started raining, lightly at first, then pelting.  By the time I circled back to Comptoir Voltaire, I was wet (the Gore-Tex coat helped, but my head and lower legs were soaked).  But it was warm and friendly inside, lots of regulars greeting the barman with a smile and handshake.  Had a café au lait and dried off a bit.  Before leaving,  showed the barman my iPhone with the following in French, thanks to Google translate (I did the same thing, with a shorter message, last July):

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Morning customers watching the news at Comptoir Voltaire

Good morning.  I’m very glad to visit Comptoir Voltaire for the first time.  I’m here to enjoy a cup of coffee, and to remember the people who were injured here in the terrorist attacks of November 2015.  I worked for American Airlines for 22 years, and was there on 11 September 2001, so I am well familiar with terrorism.  But we are not afraid, because if we fear, then the terrorists win.  And they will not win.

He read it, shook my hand, and wished me a pleasant day (in French, naturellement).  Back on the Velib, in lighter rain, toward the railway station.  About a half-mile south, the rain stopped, so I changed direction, following the Canal St. Martin south, past the Theater Bataclan – site of the worst carnage in the terrorist attacks – to the Bastille, then on to the River Seine.  Rode west past Notre Dame, then back north to the station.  A fine morning in a city that is so visual and so majestic, even in the dumpier parts.  There’s no place like it.   I was feeling young.  And connected, thanks to changing wireless providers, from AT&T to T-Mobile, which offers unlimited data and texts in France and 139 other countries (as well as voice calls home for 20 cents a minute vs. $2).  Cool!

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The new normal: the French Army at the railway station

At 1:01 the Deutsche Bahn ICE to Frankfurt rolled out, and pretty soon we were at 320 km/hr (about 200 mph, zippy).  Ate sandwiches I bought in the station, read The New York Times on my iPhone, and brought this journal up to date.  Crossed the border that flipped-flopped several times in recent centuries and arrived Kaiserslautern, Germany, at 3:30.  Got on a branch-line train at four, down a narrow valley, very scenic, into the Nahe Valley, and finally to the Rhine at Bingen, just downstream from Mainz.  Arrived Koblenz at six, walked to the hotel, and took a much-needed shower and a 20-minute nap.

At 7:30 I ambled a few blocks to the Altes Brauhaus, a swell bar and restaurant that’s been in business for 328 years, so they know how to serve a beer and a plate of food.  The place was surprisingly empty.  Sat down, had a couple of beers and a plate of (cold) herring and fried potatoes.  Yum!  Back to the hotel and asleep by ten, all the way through to seven.  No time-zone woes, nice.

 

Out the door Monday morning and onto the bus across the river to WHU, a private business school I had visited 12 times before, including a stop at their graduate campus in Düsseldorf seven weeks earlier.  On a walk around the small town of Vallendar, I looked down and saw four stolpersteine, remembering four murdered in Treblinka.

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The two classes weren’t until the afternoon, so I worked the morning, and at lunch met two longtime WHU friends, Heidi Heidrun and Susan Boedeker.  I see Heidi once a year, but hadn’t seen Susan for about six years, and it was good to catch up.  At 1:30 I met my new host, Raphael Silberzahn, a friendly young guy filling in for my usual colleague Jochen.  Delivered two talks on leadership and at seven hopped the bus home.  Worked a bit, changed clothes, and at eight walked back to the Altes Brauhaus to meet Raphael (we planned to eat at another place, but it was closed Mondays).  Tucked into an enormous plate of venison stew with spätzle and red cabbage, really good and really a lot.  Even better, a long chat with Raphael, a seriously interesting guy.  We yakked about a lot of stuff, including his recent unpleasant academic experience in Spain, his research, his entrepreneurial bent, and more.  A nice evening.

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Old and new on the WHU campus, Vallendar

Up Tuesday morning, repeat Monday, except class was in the morning.  Walking up the hill to the campus, I spotted four more stolpersteine.  The Nazis murdered three of four of the Loeb family on Wilhelm-Ross Strasse, parents Felix and Flora and younger daughter Martha; Anna, born 1923, somehow managed to flee to Belgium, then on to the United States.  I thought of the Loebs a few hours later, when at lunch I read in The New York Times that police arrested 20 rabbis obstructing traffic at Trump Tower.  They were protesting Trump’s order restricting Muslim immigration.  Rabbi Jill Jacobs said, “We remember our history, and we remember that the borders of this country closed to us in 1924 with very catastrophic consequences during the Holocaust.”  Memory is a good thing.

Finished class at 11:15, worked a bit, grabbed lunch in the Mensa, and got on the train back to Koblenz, then south.  The Rhine Valley south of Koblenz is of storybook quality, with steep slopes, cliffs, hilltop castles, and picturesque villages.  I shot a video on the iPhone to send Dylan and Carson, updated this journal, and worked a bit.  Arrived Stuttgart at 4:22. The 4:52 local south to Reutlingen canceled, slowing things a bit, but was working in my hotel room by 6:30.  Met my longtime friend Oliver Götz from Reutlingen University’s B-school at 8:15 and tucked into a light dinner (I’ve been eating plenty).  Slept hard.

Up and out the door, on foot up the hill to the university Wednesday morning (it was my fourth visit in under two years, so I knew the way).  On the way, a nice walk through the old town, passing through two ancient gates, the Gartentor and the Tübinger Tor:

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I love cooked kale, grünkohl, but had never seen it for sale raw

Worked a couple hours in the Mensa, and from 11:30 to 1:00 gave a lecture to a quite diverse group of marketing students: half from Germany and kids from Mexico, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the USA, Pakistan, Korea, China, and more.  Oliver peeled off to a meeting and I got the bus down the hill, picked up my suitcase at the hotel, changed clothes, and ambled to the train station.  Late lunch al fresco on platform 1, then onto the 2:48 local back to Stuttgart, then a fast ICE north to Cologne.  The wi-fi was not working, so I couldn’t get some needed work done.   The ICE track between Frankfurt Airport and Cologne parallels an autobahn, and it’s always cool to see the 180 mph train zooming past cars – even tricked-out Porsches – like they’re standing still.

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Terraced vineyards near Stuttgart

On the connecting train north to Münster, somewhere between Wuppertal and Hagen, my brain locked up, but positively, on the following simple thought: What I Get to See.  The privilege of mobility, it’s such a blessing.  Arrived Münster about 30 minutes late.  Got to the hotel (I normally stay with Airbnb host Svenja, but this was just one night), dropped my bag, and walked briskly toward Altes Gasthaus Leve, long a favorite restaurant.  I tried to visit on my December trip, but the place gets booked months in advance of Advent and the city’s popular Christmas markets, so I hadn’t been since 2012. Lunch was late but small, and I was way hungry.  Tucked in, maybe too much, but it was really good.

Up Thursday morning, a bit of work, then some meetings with doctoral students Julian Allendorf and others.  Pizza lunch, walked back to the train station, and headed south to Cologne.  It was a long way to go for short meetings, but I kept a promise.  Arrived Cologne at four, and checked into the youth hostel in Deutz, across the river from the center.  It was my first hostel stay since 2009, and that was at the same place, a quite new and very convenient place.  I was looking to save a few dollars, and to link to my past, because youth hosteling was one of the activities that expanded my horizon as a teenager, and because I had served on the USA youth hosteling association board of directors for nine years in the 1990s (as “compensation” for my service, I received lifetime membership, and when I checked in I showed my card).

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Audis whizzing north for export

They were installing wi-fi in the building, and it was only working on the main floor, so I grabbed my laptop and headed down to a table and bench to do some work.  Swirls of teenagers on school trips swirled around.  Then a wonderful T-t-S: a little girl about seven walked up to me, hovering right over my computer, and began speaking, in German of course.  I mustered my best skills, and we were able to have a little chat.  I vividly remember the last such encounter, in Vietnam in November 2010, and recalled what worked well was to scroll through family photos on my iPhone.  So out came Dylan and Carson, then Robin and Jack, then Linda, then Henry and MacKenzie.  After about five minutes, her mother and grandmother appeared.  They spoke some English, so we filled in the blanks.  The little girl was Viola.  I told her, auf Deutsch, that she had a pretty name.  She proudly spelled it for me, V-I-O-L-A.  Then said auf Wiedersehen.

Took a short nap, and walked a block to the tram, riding across the Rhine to the Altstadt, the old city.  At 7:15, met Jan-Marc, an undergrad at the University of Cologne and one of the heads of the student business association, at Gilden im Zims, one of the city’s oldest bars – from the 13th Century.  The place celebrates “Heroes of Cologne” with a series of large black-and-white pictures on the walls and messages on the little glasses (by tradition, the local beer style, Kölsch, is served in 20 centiliter (6.7 ounce) glasses).  I had visited once before, and again admired the photo of Konrad Adenauer, a former mayor of Cologne, but more important the first Chancellor of the postwar federal republic.  I often think of Adenauer, leading the rebuilding of a country and economy flattened by the Nazis’ horrific wrong turn. (Indeed, while I waited for Jan-Marc near the entry, I noticed behind me a photo of Gilden in spring 1945 – buildings on either side destroyed, but the bar still standing tall.)

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At Gilden, beer is still tapped from oak kegs

We got to know each other, and talked about future guest presentations.  His friend Kevin arrived, in high spirits because he had just written his last exam and only had to prepare a thesis to graduate.  The topic then moved to Carnival, the annual big party in Cologne, and the anecdotes reinforced my belief that this is one of the party capitals of the world.  Soon Tina and Johanna, Kevin’s roommates, joined.  In a small world moment, Johanna had just finished at ESB, the school I visited the day before, and her adviser was my host Oliver.  I tucked into a traditional Cologne meal, Himmel und Erd (“Heaven and Earth”), blood sausages with mashed potatoes and a little side of apple compote, yum.  The youngsters were staying on, but I departed at 9:30, walked across the Rhine, and fell hard asleep.

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Up at 6:30, four-minute walk to the train, onto the 7:13 ICE to Frankfurt and the flight home.

 

 

 

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