To the Heart of Texas and Goat

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World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off Judges Paul McCallum and Alfonse Dotson

By long tradition – back 27 years to 1991 – summer’s last trip was over Labor Day weekend, down to Brady, Texas, to be a judge in the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off.  Hopped the Metro to National Airport, flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, and rendezvous with son Jack, who has also been judging, nearly a decade now.  We picked up the rental car and zipped west to Fort Worth and the venerable Paris Coffee Shop, just south of downtown.  It’s old-time Foat Wuth at its best, with waitresses who call you Hon or Sweetie.  They’re also known for homemade pies (pronounced more like “pah” in the Lone Star State), but we opted for treats at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas, about 120 miles west.  We arrived in Brady at 4:15, time for some exercise before dinner at Fat Boys’ BBQ, wonderful turkey breast and a big ol’ jalapeño sausage link, plus beans, Cole slaw, and wot brayud (you can figure that out!).  Back to the hotel room, watch some football, and clock out early.

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Lake Lewisville, north of Dallas; North Texas was blessed with good summer rainfall, and these reservoirs were full.  The right amount.

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Still life, Paris Coffee Shop; in Texas, it’s important to have plenty of spicy condiments at the table

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Your scribe, southwest of Comanche, Texas

Up at 5:30, down to the gym on the fitness bike, showered up, and off to the judges’ brunch.  We normally convene in Melvin, Texas, 18 miles west of Brady, but this time we were set up at Jacoby’s Railyard.  The Jacoby family in Melvin are clever people, rural visionaries, and they have built a good business milling grain, and now playing a part in logistics.  There’s a small branch line that runs 67 miles from the mainline of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to the east, and the Jacobys essentially run the town freight yard.  Jason Jacoby explained it all as we entered the building.  It was good to be back with a fine and familiar bunch of good ole boys.  We tucked into a filling brunch, were formally introduced (my long tenure got me promoted to senior judge in 2016), and got our (by now familiar) marching orders.

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At Jacoby’s Railyard

Drove to the cook-off venue, Richards Park, and strolled around the grounds for a couple of hours, yakking with cookers, fellow judges, and strangers.  Some years back, the local chamber of commerce, which organizes the event, added “Mystery Meat” judging, and at two we started on pork ribs, which we generally excellent.   Senior judges sample and rate two types of entrants, Super Bowl (open only to first-place finishers in any of the prior 43 years), and the current-year competition.  There were nine SB entries, and we ranked those in short order, then waited for the 200 current entries to winnow down to the best 18.  It’s hard work, made easier with cold beer and a lot of good-natured ribbing.

Toward the end of the judging, a nice T-t-S moment with an older Mexican fellow, who with his family had driven five hours from Muleshoe, Texas (northwest of Lubbock in the Panhandle) to the event, their first visit.  “We don’t know nothing,” he said, so I gave him a quick overview of the cook-off, then handed him two foam containers of already-judged goat, adding “don’t tell anyone about this.”  Without missing a beat, he reprised: “We don’t know nothing.”  Each year, the cook-off becomes yet more diverse, and that makes your correspondent hopeful.  E pluribus unum, y’all.

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The Waco Boys, perennial entrants, with solid branding!

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Your scribe with royalty: Miss Heart of Texas; once upon a time, they were all Anglos, and we celebrate the evolution!

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Judges assessing entrants in the competition for best cooking rig

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Paul, captain of the Goat Willies team from Brownwood, Texas, and veteran judge Eddie Sandoval, my favorite Hispanic Apache!  Paul told me his cooking team has, over the years, raised $160,000 for charities in his hometown

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Goat Willies’ entry; Paul was concerned about too much heat, and was dampening the fire

The cook-off is, like the Minnesota State Fair the week before, one of those serial experiences that give comfort, and it was so wonderful to be back in Texas in general and small-town Texas in particular.  I noted above that Minnesota will always be Home, but Texas runs a close second.

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The first-place winners in pork ribs (left), and the main event, goat.  Yum!

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Senior judges Terry Keltz, Eddie Sandoval, Jerry Marshall, Gary Brown, and Kim King

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Cupla more good ole boys.  Yessir!

The judging over, Jack and I hopped in the car, retracing the route (including a stop at the DQ in Comanche), and were back in DFW by 8:15.  Dropped him at his pal Lawson’s house in North Dallas, then continued on to my bunk with Peggy and Ken Gilbert.  Hadn’t seen them in about a year, and it was good to catch up.  Ken and I worked together at American Airlines, and we’re both retired.  We caught up on family and travel (they are intrepid globetrotters, recently returned from Easter Island in the South Pacific).

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U.S. Highway 377 north of Brady, Texas

Up Sunday morning, a slow start with coffee and a good yak in the kitchen, then north to breakfast at the Maple Leaf Diner, dropped Ken at home, and out to the airport.  I had some time, so I motored past American’s corporate headquarters, passing the several buildings where I had worked.  It had been almost exactly 30 years since I pointed the silver Ford south from St. Paul to take up a job with a company that provided so much wonderful opportunity over more than two decades.  I paused to think about the day I crossed the Red River into Texas, October 5, 1987, and drove to the low building on Amon Carter Blvd. to start work.  I drove on to what we affectionately called “Taco Villa,” the vaguely Spanish Colonial apartment complex where I lived for three months before the family moved down.  Headed west to see, from a distance, the huge new headquarters complex that American is building.   Then back to the big airport for the Silver Bird home to Washington and the end of a colossal summer of travel, just some great trips: Vienna, London, Montana, Argentina, the beach, the fair, Up North, back “homes,” and lots more.

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“Taco Villa,” looking the same as 30 years ago!

 

 

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Minnesota, for the State Fair and “Up North”

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A lot of food at the fair comes on a stick; this was a fun effort to get kids excited about numbers!

Whooshed west on Thursday, August 24 for the annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair.  As I note every August in these pages, I have not missed the fair since the mid-1980s.  The morning nonstop from Washington left later than in 2016, arrived late, then car-rental snafus, thus I did not get to the fairgrounds district until after one.  It was opening day, and there were no parking places to be found.  Five pals were waiting.  I lucked out, spotting Mary on a bike at the corner of Simpson St. and Nebraska Ave.; she was waving a small round sign that read $20.  Done.  If I wasn’t already way late, I would have chatted with her, for in the first minute I learned she was from Harlowton, Montana, less than 10 miles from where my dad was born.  It would have been a memorable T-t-S, I’m sure!

I walked as fast as my gimpy knees would allow, and was hugging pals in front of the Fine Arts Building about 1:40.  Longtime friends Rick Dow, Bob Woehrle, and Steve Schlachter were there, as was Randy Essell, two-decade colleague from American Airlines making his first visit to the fair (his brother has lived in Minneapolis for years), and a new guy, Jim, a college pal of Steve’s.  We chatted a bit, then headed into the juried show.  For nearly 30 years, we’ve been buying art from the show.  Before leaving, Linda issued strict instructions: no more landscapes.  I concurred, because we’ve got plenty of lovely country scenes from all over Minnesota, from Lake Superior to wheat fields in the drier western reaches.  Not three minutes inside, I spotted a wonderful pastel, titled “City Garden,” and sent Linda a pic from my iPhone.  We walked the rest of the show, but there was none nicer than the pastel, and I bought it (patrons collect the art after the show; I typically pick it up from the artist, so I can meet him or her).

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Arms folded: two other works at the art show, a multimedia work and an acrylic painting

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“City Garden,” soon to hang in our house; at right, Mary, an art show volunteer, affixes the little red dot that means the work has been sold

The fair itinerary has been fixed for many years.  After the art show, we headed for the Creative Activities building to be dazzled by the broad spectrum of crafts, hobbies, and pastimes, everything from folk art to fine woodworking to needlepoint to dill pickles (we marveled at the many different categories: dill with garlic is in a different group than dill without garlic!).  As always, we thought briefly about smashing the glass doors and sampling the cookies, pies, and cakes, especially the mixed berry and peach pies from a Duluth woman – blue ribbons for both.  Avocations are alive and well in my homeland.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous in the Creative Activities building: the sweepstakes winner in knitting and a flying pig (who also was on skis, being a Minnesotan).

Stop three is the horticulture building, and in our zeal to slake our thirst at the stand of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild we missed the giant vegetables, crop art, and other charms.  But the beer stop was a lot of fun, a chance to yak about our summer travels, a bit of politics (well, Rick and me), and more.  Refreshed, we headed for the stands of two ultra-popular fair foods, deep-fried cheese curds and roasted sweet corn.  Yum.

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The group: Steve, Bob, Randy, Rick, Jim, and your correspondent

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We toasted these friendly hockey players (one of whom took our group photo), to be married on December 15

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Roasted sweet corn is one of the huge — and relatively healthy — State Fair treats; at right my friend Steve tucking into an ear.

Last stop were the animal barns.  Looking back, I wished we had slowed a bit, but Rick and I managed a nice T-t-S with Caroline, a fourth-generation Minnesota farmer, recently graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in ag sciences, as well as shorter chats with several 4-H kids showing their rabbits, pigs, and cattle.  I stroked a number of animal heads and faces, even a bristly Yorkshire hog, quietly whispering thanks to God and to them for the gift of domestic animals.  And as I did the previous month with ranchers Ed and Bev, I thanked a woman hog farmer for what she did.  She started to tear up.  Not enough city people either understand or recognize their hard work.

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Caroline, from Waseca, Minnesota, and her year-old crossbreed ewe, who has already given birth to the lamb at right.

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More of God’s critters: a 4-H service dog (every old person said, “Awwww, Lassie”), and goat siblings

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The true last stop was one more beer and some more chatter on park benches, then a brisk walk with Randy back to my rental car.  He needed a ride to dinner with a friend, and because we had some time, I drove him through familiar St. Paul neighborhoods, even past 1032 Goodrich, our very first house.  Dropped him at an eatery near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, then zipped west to the home of Rick and Murph Dow in Edina, the suburb where I grew up.  I had not seen Murph for two years, so it was good to catch up.  We three had a good yak, some pizza, and off to sleep before ten.

Up way early, did some consulting work for an hour, had a cup of coffee and another yak, and hugged them at 7:35, motoring across familiar ground to the apartment of Marlys Chase, my fair buddy Steve’s mom, who I’ve known for more than 50 years.  Mrs. C. kindly agreed to make us a full breakfast, plus more good chatting.  She is 87 and still going strong, half Norwegian and half Swedish – the Scandinavians live a long time, whether in the old world or the new.  Said goodbye at 9:30, motored north to the pleasant Linden Hills neighborhood for another cup of coffee, with friend-since-1967 Jim Grandbois.  We had not seen each other in six years, and it was good to catch up.  I think of Jim each morning when I sit down to work, because before getting into real estate, he and his brother were furniture makers, and the keyboard sits on a still gorgeous parquet walnut table made in 1979.  Thanks, Jim!

At 11, I pointed the rented Prius toward “Up North,” as Minnesotans call it.  Motored north on U.S. Highway 169, around the huge Mille Lacs Lake, and northwest to Crow Wing County and the cabin of another long (since 1963) friend, Tim McGlynn, on the north shore of Big Trout Lake.  Tim and I immediately fell into the substantive yaks that I’ve enjoyed for years.  He’s very well informed, and we share a world view about the market economy (good and bad), politics, and more.  Just as I plopped down for a short nap I heard the wonderful cry of the loon, one of the definitive sounds of Up North.  At five, we jumped into his boat and headed east and south through a chain of lakes to beer and dinner at Moonlite Bay.  That part of Up North is filled with people from Edina, and we met a number of old pals there.  Lots of fun.  Headed back, read for a bit, and clocked out.

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On Swanburg Lane, the road into Tim’s cabin

Woke in the middle of the night to light rain, which continued for the next 30 hours.  Drove through the wet Saturday morning to breakfast in Crosslake with former Republic Airlines colleague George Rasmusson, one of the funniest people I know.  As expected, by the end of the meal my stomach hurt from laughing.  We got caught up, and reminisced about our times at Republic.  I reprised one of the jokes he told me in January 1986 – that I could still tell it as he did 31 years earlier says a lot!  The wet scrubbed plans for a long bike ride.

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Left, Big Trout Lake from my bedroom; right, the McGlynn cabin from the dock

Spent late morning and all afternoon at the cabin, which had been custom built in 2016, a lovely place.  Tim’s older son Patrick was there with his new wife Molly, and we had a nice visit.  Took a nap, yakked some more with Tim about the current state of the world, and at five motored eight miles to the Norway Ridge Supper Club, a wonderful old place.  Tucked into my second Up North meal of walleye, Minnesota’s famed fish (though nowadays restaurants typically source them from Canada), and more good chatter.  Tim is a quality guy, and there’s never much silence.  Best topic that night was the corrosive role of private equity firms.

Up at dawn Sunday morning, still raining, though lightly.  Ambled down to the dock to listen to the loons, then back up to the cabin, hugs to Molly, Paddy, and Tim, then breakfast: leftover fish and potatoes from the night before, fulfilling my objective of three walleye meals in my homeland.  Into the car for a zippy drive back to the Twin Cities. I was back in my hometown of Edina by 11:05.  Motored west on 66th Street, across Richfield, retracing a route we took on bikes 50 years earlier, riding out to see the planes take off and land at MSP.  Just before the airport, I stopped to pray thanks at the grave of my dear dad in Fort Snelling National Cemetery.  I held the headstone tightly.  It would be impossible to express enough gratitude for our freedom.  Flew home.  Such a joy to be in Minnesota.

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Thanks, Dad.  And thanks to Russ, Roy, William, and countless others.

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Kiawah Island, South Carolina, with Family

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On Sunday the 13th we departed for what has become an August vacation tradition: a week on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, one of the loveliest resorts in all the world.  Arrived Charleston at 4:30, grabbed a minivan and zoomed 35 miles to the island.  Stop 1 was the supermarket for breakfast and lunch fixings, then to a lovely house on Glossy Ibis Lane.  Linda was at the American Bar Association annual meeting in New York for three days, so we unpacked the van and I zoomed back to the airport to get her.  Whew, lotta fast moves.  Drove back at a slower pace, and stopped for a late dinner and some beer.  Slept hard that night.

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The week, now the eighth trip to the beach, is formulaic, and at dawn every morning I’m out on a sturdy one-speed cruiser, riding along the bike paths and empty lanes that spread across the island.  About 20 miles every morning, to start the day with blood pumping and an opportunity to marvel at the fertile wetland ecosystem. It’s a place teeming with all kinds of life: deer (plentiful), bobcats (rare), water birds like egrets and pelicans, and lots of alligators.  Less visible, down in the water, are crabs, fish, and more.  It’s such a cool environment.

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Several times that week, I thought about the comfort that familiarity brings, and specifically about a traditional vacation venue like Kiawah.  Indeed, 50 years earlier, in 1967, my parents, sister, and I made our last visit to Greenwood Lake Lodge, a place in northern Minnesota we had visited almost every summer for about a decade.  The two places were forested, well-watered, and teeming with wildlife. Pine trees and deer were common to both.  Up north were bears, not gators; loons, not egrets, and birches, not magnolias.  In a changing world, the familiar is soothing.

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The gentle whoosh of the wind through the pines: a sound from 1967 in Minnesota, and 2017 in South Carolina; below, our cabin at Greenwood Lake in 1960, and our Kiawah lodgings

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Jack arrived Wednesday morning, adding to the fun.  Days were relaxed, save for the dawn bicycling.  Our house had a small pool, which likely made us even lazier: we could put on swimsuits, open a door, and jump in.

We got ambitious Thursday afternoon and motored into Charleston, one of the nation’s most interesting and historic cities.  Spent a couple of fascinating hours at the South Carolina Aquarium, then, again hewing to tradition, ate dinner at Hominy Grill, a simple place renowned for the dishes of the “Low Country.”

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The aquarium has fish, of course, and lots more!

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Boiled peanuts (top) and pickled okra, Hominy Grill

Out on the bike on the last morning, Sunday the 20th, Linda texted me that our 11:30 a.m. flight home was canceled.  Rode back to find that we were rebooked on a flight six hours later.  So headed out again.  Back home, showered, time to take Dylan to the island’s small nature center.  She loves science, as does her grandfather, and we spent a pleasant hour admiring a couple of small gators, frogs, and especially the turtles.  We watched four turtles, which she named, for at least 30 minutes. “Their interaction is so interesting, Pots,” she said.  Indeed.

 

Drove into Charleston at 11:15, lunch at the Wendy’s near the airport.  I wanted to spend a few hours poking around the city, but the ladies decamped at the terminal, so I dropped them and zipped into town.  Parked the car on Pitt Street near the College of Charleston, and spent an agreeable wandering slowly down Pitt (it was seriously hot and humid), then back on Coming St.,  In the courtyard of the college’s student union, had a nice T-t-S with Peter, a longtime international banker who now lives on Hilton Head Island, 90 miles southwest.  He and his wife have been there 20 years, and are thinking of decamping for someplace less crowded.  A good yak, including some nice honesty on his part: “You know, Rob, a lot of bankers just aren’t that smart . . .”  That was a nice opening for me to agree.  He’s keeping busy in his retirement by restructuring banks, mainly in the Middle East.

The National Park Service wrote, “It is no accident that Charleston, South Carolina, is a locus for the modern preservation movement. For nearly 100 years, generations of Charlestonians have been aware of this city’s singular sense of place. Since the turn of the 20th century, individuals, organizations, and government have established and promoted a preservation ethic. The roots of preservation run deep. In 1783, Charleston established itself as a municipal government with the motto: “She guards her customs, buildings and laws.”  Amen to that.  Keep on it, Charleston!

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Hopped in the car and motored right into downtown, King Street.  Spotted a parking place on a side street, woo hoo, and ambled along King.  My beer radar spotted the Charleston Beer Works, and zipped in for a cold one and some air conditioning.  Refreshed, I drove back to the airport, turned in the minivan, met up with the family, and flew home.  A swell week.

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Art in Charleston Airport

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Early August: Always Buenos Aires

 

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Experienced tango dancers, San Telmo, Buenos Aires

A day after returning from Montana, I began teaching an intense, weeklong course at Georgetown, one of two each year at.  Finished the grading on Monday, July 31, and the next afternoon flew to Dallas/Fort Worth for a connecting flight to Buenos Aires and the South American Business Forum (SABF), the student-run conference I’ve helped with for more than a decade.  On the “Skytrain” shuttle between DFW terminals I was again reminded of the powerful “mixing” role flight plays in the world: within six feet of me were six New Americans, immigrants from Panama, India, and Pakistan.

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Landed in Argentina on Wednesday morning, out the airport door, and into the car of Damasia Jurada, member of the 2015 SABF team.  That she took time off from her new job (as employee #4 of a financial-services startup) to pick me up at the airport speaks volumes to the commitment of the growing SABF “family.”  The rush-hour drive was relatively quick, but long enough to cover a range of topics – Damasia’s new job, her boyfriend, the importance of family in Argentina, the accomplishments of the country’s new, center-right president, and more.  At the Hotel Waldorf, SABF digs for more than a decade, I greeted Sergio at the front desk and a bunch of students and organizers in the lobby.  It was good to be back.

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Got my room, took a shower, and at 11 met friend-since-1986 Rick Dow, like me totally committed to the conference – it was my tenth appearance and Rick’s fifth.  We had a cup of café con leche  and reviewed his presentation for the next day.  Took a quick nap, grabbed a late lunch, and at five plunged into the first event of the conference, a get-to-know-you session at the host institution, the Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires (ITBA), a small university that is like the MIT of Argentina.  Rick and I plunged into the crowd and met youngsters from Argentina and across Latin America, plus India, Denmark, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and more.  Enormous talent and youthful idealism in abundance.  We were pumped for the start.

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Rick bantering with participants at the SABF kickoff event

At 8:30, we met a Sofía Fraga and Lucas Diaz, conference alums, for dinner at El Establo, a simple restaurant 200 feet from our hotel – on previous visits Rick and I had a beer at the bar, but never a meal.  Time for the first ribeyes and Malbec of the visit, plus some great discussion.  Sofía works for the new government’s energy-conservation initiative, and Lucas, known as Luqui, is, like many ITBA kids, working a startup with a promising idea.  We had a great yak – as we chatted, I was reminded that experienced old guys like Rick and me have a lot of sharable experience, plus the ability to ask potent questions.  Remaining relevant in old age is a gift for which I thank God every morning.  At 10:45, Rick and I delivered what has become a SABF tradition: cheerleading with the current organizing team.  They were running on adrenaline, and Rick and I were there to salute and enourage them on the eve of the forum.

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Main course (minus potatoes and salad) and close-up of a traditional Argentine dessert (mild white cheese and a jellied confection made from sweet potato)

Thursday morning, and we’re into the conference.  The 2017 organizers tweaked the formula a bit, and instead of one theme, the forum had three: challenging identity, the reality gap (fake news and such), and empathic design.  Three plenary speakers briefly addressed each theme – 15 minutes or so, then time for student comments and questions.  As in every previous plenary, the day went quickly, and as valuable as the formal sessions were, lots of good yakking happened during the breaks and at lunch.  It was past 7:30 p.m. when we processed to the traditional dinner venue, El Figón de Bonilla.  A week earlier, Rick and I tracked down a participant from the 2016 forum, and invited him to join us for dinner.  Pascal Menseh, originally from Ghana, had a fascinating life story, and we wanted to reconnect.  Also at our table was Tania from Russia, Pedro from Brazil (studying at the University of Notre Dame), and Rodrigo from Argentina.  It was a lively meal.

Friday was given over to breakout sessions of various kinds.  I peeled off after lunch to begin drafting my closing remarks, then Rick and I returned to the forum in late afternoon to do “mentoring sessions” with six or seven participants.  The youngsters were headed to dinner and a (undoubtedly noisy) party, so Rick and I fashioned the gramps’ plan: an agreeable beer on Rick’s 9th floor balcony, and a mile walk old to Sottovoce, an Italian place we visited for lunch in 2015.  Our mezzanine table afforded a fine view of the main floor dining room, glimpses of a convivial neighborhood place where friends and acquaintances hugged, kissed, and bantered animatedly.  “What a country” was a common refrain from the two of us.  Before turning in, we stopped back at El Establo for a nightcap at the bar, and had a nice “dual T-t-S” with two guys across the bar, who were drinking liter mugs of beer and tucking into serious meat.  Turned out they were ice skaters working for a Disney on Ice production; one Canadian and one Brit, late 20s, totally enjoying a nomadic life.

Saturday morning, Rick and I did not head to the forum, but hopped on the subway and rode west to the Las Flores neighborhood to attend a remarkable event.  Two days earlier at the plenary, Rick and I chatted with Nathalie Stevens, a retired cosmetics executive who had opted to “make a difference” with her remaining years.  She organized La Fundación de los Colores (The Colors Foundation), a nonprofit that trains women from the city’s poorest neighborhoods to become make-up artists, to build the skills and capacity to support themselves and their families.  And the project does much more: it gives women who often did not have a mirror at home to build an identity, a sense of self.  During our chat, Nathalie invited us to attend a graduation ceremony, so of course we went.

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Art on the glazed tiles of the Lima subway station

During the forum, a recurrent conversation centered on the need for all of us to get outside our familiar social zones.  When we arrived at the ceremony, in a reception room of a small university, Rick and I crossed a bridge, to stand with and to celebrate the achievements of people much different than we – but similar, too, in that the three graduates all understood that learning was the key to a better life.  At the end of the ceremony, Nathalie placed the foundation’s distinctive tri-colored pins on our jackets, and we felt so honored to wear them.  It was a proud day for the graduates, and we were happy to help them celebrate their new identity, and their new skills. With those skills, it will be possible for them to earn more money, and to secure greater dignity and human purpose.

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My Colores pin!

We hopped back on the subway into the city, past the pink presidential palace, and back to ITBA, lunch, and, for me, a small airline crisis – a participant from Morocco did not have proper documentation to transit the U.S. on her way home, so I swung into action, working with longtime American Airlines colleague, Gonzalo, who manages AA’s Buenos Aires operation.  In the “can do” fashion that has always set airline people apart, once we connected by phone he had a solution sorted out in two minutes.  On to the next task, a joyous one, to deliver brief remarks to parents and friends of SABF organizers.  In previous years, I was only able to chat with a handful, in my poor Spanish and some English, but this time the speakers’ coordinator, Guillermina, asked me to deliver remarks to a group of about 30.  It was great fun.

My last job, as it has been for the last five forums, was to deliver a summary and closing remarks, an assignment I truly enjoy, helping to end the event on a high note.  After a lot of clapping at the very end for each of the 20 conference organizers, Rick and I hugged a lot of people, then slipped out for a beer in Puerto Madero, a former port area with renovated brick warehouses and new construction.  At eight, we met Christoff Poppe, United Airlines’ country director for Argentina, and headed for what has become a traditional end-of-conference dinner.  We tucked into steaks at La Cabrera in the Palermo neighborhood, plenty of Malbec, and a lot of great chatter.  Two former airline guys and a current one, and there was plenty to discuss!

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Puerto Madero, one of the shiny parts of Buenos Aires

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Master of the grill, La Cabrera

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Sketching at mealtime: left, Christoff illustrating the distinct design of an Argentina meat grill, sloped to drain the fat, thus preventing fire; right, sequence for Luqui’s and Franco’s startup

Sunday breakfast was with a young Australian interested in the airline business.  Rick and I then zipped by taxi to the San Telmo district south of downtown, which bustles on weekends with a flea market, street entertainers, and more.  At ten, we met Luqui (from three days earlier) and his business partner Franco, for a coffee at the historic Café Dorrego and some further discussion about their financial-services startup.  Rick has had tons of recent experience with new firms, and I chimed in from time to time.  We peeled off and roamed the neighborhood for a few hours, pausing for lunch outdoors.  High point was listening to Cien Pájaros, an energetic quartet of accordion, fiddle, and two guitarists.  Way fun.

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Last stop was the La Boca neighborhood, home of the Boca Juniors soccer team.  Walked around the stadium, La Bombonera (literally “the chocolate box,” because if its shape).  There was no game that day, so the place was more a shrine.  We ambled then up and down streets of Boca, a mix of gritty and touristy.  Hopped a taxi back to the center, grabbed a coffee right on the broad 9 de Julio thoroughfare, picked up our bags, jumped on the bus to the airport, said goodbye, and flew home.  Rick is an agreeable travel pal and has become an anchor of the conference – we’re lucky to have him.

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Scenes from La Boca, above and below; lower right is a mural commemorating those seized during military rule, 1976-83

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Homeward

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Across the West: Oregon to Montana, “The Last Best Place”*

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Cousin Betty Jean Hackman on the Castle Mountain Ranch, where she lived until age 12

 

On Saturday, July 15, I flew to Phoenix (first time at the splendidly-named Sky Harbor Airport in 23 years) and on to Medford, in southwestern Oregon.  It was so wonderful to fly over, and then be back in, The West.  Looking down on the endlessly varied landscapes, I was slack-jawed, mouth agape.  I was once again smitten with the region.

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Scenes from the dry West: northeastern Arizona, irrigated valley, the edge of Phoenix

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Like an atomic bomb: this cloud was part of an isolated cell that visited torrential rain on Arizona; remarkably, the latent energy in these clouds is equivalent to that from a nuclear blast. Nature is powerful.

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From the wetter West: the Sierra Nevada after a snowy winter; Lake Tahoe at left, and Mount Shasta

My brother Jim and sister-in-law Pam welcomed me to Oregon, hugs and kisses.  It had been way too long, eight years, since I had been out to see them.  On my first visit in 1999, I thought it was scenic.  A decade later, 2009, it seemed more beautiful, and as we descended and drove from the airport I thought it lovelier still.  Gentle, green-clad mountains, vineyards, golden fields and grass.  It’s a Mediterranean climate, hot and dry on summer days and cool enough to open the windows by 9 pm.

We made fast for Frau Kemmling’s Schoolhouse Brewhouse, a German restaurant in a former (1908) school in Jacksonville, a town of about 2,500 six miles west of Medford (which has about 200,000 in the metro area).  J’ville, as locals call it, is a pleasant historic mining and timber town, which began with gold fever in 1851-52.  We sat in the beer garden and had some brew, a nice meal, and a lot of splendid talk.  My brother and I had been talking about a road trip to our father’s Montana roots, and it was about to happen.  We were bouncing up and down with excitement.  Drove a few miles south to their wonderful house in the country, climbing 500 feet in elevation.  Ate a cookie and promptly fell asleep just after nine.

Up before sunrise the next morning, downstairs for coffee, then a good yak with Jim and a pancake breakfast.  Helped Jim clean the gutters, then hopped in the car, down the hill for a walk around town, starting in the historic Jacksonville cemetery, and on through some pleasant residential areas.  Back home, I did another chore, trimming the merlot and syrah grapevines in his terraced back yard (each fall he harvests a few pounds of grapes).  Ate a light lunch, took a nap, pretty much chilled in preparation for two long days of driving.  We had a couple of beers on the patio, and Pam brought out some family photo albums, which were great fun.  I can relate to her late parents: mom Bea was a stewardess (as they were called back in the day) on DC-3s, when she met dad Paul, who Western Airlines hired in 1952 and kept on until mandatory retirement at 60 in 1995 – 43 years of flying, the last ten or so after Delta bought WAL.  Had a lovely meal of pasta and salad, walked the yard a bit, and was asleep early, so excited to be heading on the road.

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Backyard

Scenes from the Brittons’ backyard: doe and fawns, laurel bark, a tiny vineyard

I kept telling Jim and Pam “You’re so fortunate to live here,” but every time I made that remark it failed to register.  For locals, there’s no comparator.  But there is for me.

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Hummingbirds at dinner; Jim and Pam feed lots of winged friends

Up before six, cup of coffee, nice cooked breakfast (thanks, Jim!), then out the door at 8:30.  The day 1 drive was long but wonderful, 520 miles through a range of landscapes to Boise, Idaho.  Started out climbing a pass over the Cascades and into the Klamath Valley.  We stopped briefly at the Running Y Ranch, a lovely planned development on the south shore of the huge Klamath Lake.  Jim showed me the wonderful building lot Pam and he bought, and on which they hope to build a house.  Really cool place.

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One of the only clear snaps from two days of driving: Mount McLoughlin in the Cascade Range

A little detour: as a geographer, I have long enjoyed snapping photos along the way, but my brother, although also a geographer, seemed to want to make time, so, alas there are almost no photos to post on the blog from two days of driving across spectacular country.

We skirted Klamath Falls.  I thought once you were east of the Cascades you were into flat country, but we rose and dropped over at least half a dozen mountain passes as we headed east-northeast.  And there were spectacular sites, like the huge Lake Abert and the Malheur River Valley.  We crossed the Snake River and entered Idaho, onto Interstate 84, and into Boise.  Jim booked a room right at the Boise Airport, figuring I’d like the sounds of nearby jets.  We were worn out, and, happily, a basic eatery was right across the street.  Ambled across, tucked into a big meal and a local brew, and clocked out.

Up Tuesday, out the door, back onto Interstate 84 southeast to Mountain Home, quick breakfast, then east on U.S. Highway 20.  Again we were climbing passes and descending into irrigated green valleys, across southern Idaho, through Arco, past the Idaho National (nuclear) Laboratory, around Rexburg.  That day and before, I was reminded many times that in the West water is everything; folks in the well-watered Eastern part of the nation – including lots of leaders in Washington – fail to understand that basic reality of life.

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Roadside spring near West Yellowstone, Montana

Just past noon the jagged “teeth” of the Tetons poked out of the eastern horizon.  Started climbing, up and up and into Montana just west of West Yellowstone.  So I could gawk, Jim drove the last 90 miles to Bozeman, down the spectacular Gallatin River Valley.  We were in our motel room by 4:15, showers, relaxing after another 460 miles.  An hour later, we were out the door and across a splendid college town (Montana State University) to the Bozeman Brewing Company, the city’s oldest craft brewer (since 2001!).  Had a great T-t-S with John, the taproom manager, and tucked into a pint of splendid IPA.

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At seven we were at the front door of our cousin Betty Hackmann (nee Britton, b. 1945), who I had not seen in more than half a century.  She showed us around her house, which brims with her art and that of others.  Enjoyed a nice dinner and the start of catching up, as well as learning from her recollection of Britton family history.  It got complicated early on: in 1918 our ne’er-do-well paternal grandfather Albert abandoned his wife and four kids (Betty’s dad Harold, then 16, Constance, 14, Mildred, 8, and our dad Clifford, 4).  Constance stayed in Montana, but about a decade later grandmother Florence, Harold, Mildred, and dad moved east to Sioux City.  Harold soon returned to Montana and the other three went on to Chicago, where they were able to move out of poverty and into some modicum of comfort.  We’ve lost track of Constance, but Harold went on to manage a big Montana cattle ranch (more on that in a moment) and more.  It was a great evening.

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Cousin Betty in her basement art and photo studio

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Uncle Harold, fearless bronc rider, 1922

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There’s a reason they call Montana “Big Sky Country”!

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Our motel “beacon”

Wednesday, July 19, was as full and wonderful a day as I’ve had in a long time.  Jim and I were up by seven, breakfast, and back over to Cousin Betty’s.  I hopped in Betty’s big Ford and Jim followed behind, motoring north out of Bozeman into the Bridger Mountains toward Betty’s hometown of White Sulphur Springs, seat of Meagher (pronounced “Marr”) County, population 900.  First stop was the cemetery, to see the graves of Uncle Harold (1902-1975) and Aunt Dorothy (1909-2001).

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The Bridger Mountains, above and below

 

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Just before 11, we introduced ourselves to Bev Fryer, co-manager of the Castle Mountain Ranch, the huge spread that Uncle Harold managed from 1932 to 1957, and that we last visited in 1956.  More than six decades later, memories of that visit are still fresh in my mind: the cookhouse where we ate with the cowboys, Bertha the cook, fearlessly riding a horse at age four (the last time I felt confident on one), and more.  The low hills above the ranch were just as I remembered.

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On the ranch, 1956

 

We learned a lot about Bev and Ed that day.  They were both from the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in south-central Montana, and had been ranchers since graduating from Montana State in the 1970s.  Their first jobs sounded spare, working on a ranch called the Flying D, south and west in the Gallatin Valley (Bev referred to those years as “BB,” and I immediately grabbed the reference – CNN founder Ted Turner bought the spread and they were there before Ted’s bison).  They had been at Castle Mountain for 20 years.

We hopped in Bev’s red Suburban and headed out for a look around just a small part of the ranch.  Bev told us they tended 3000 cows and 1500 yearlings across tens of thousands of acres.  Although they’ve made “modern” improvements in irrigation, watering, hay cultivation, and such, old-school practices remain: they still use draft horses for winter feeding (“saves on fuel and they always start on cold mornings,” said Bev).  Several hundred elk roam the ranch, and Bev was proud of their stewardship of those majestic wild beasts.  Paying off the remark above about lean years early in their marriage, she said “back then, when we were young and starting out, we hunted elk, it was our only meat.”

We caught up with Ed, who was running a very cool hay-bale stacker.  When you’re putting up winter forage for a big herd, you need lots of hay, and we watched Ed drive a Stinger hay stacker and mover, lifting enormous bales that weigh 750 pounds and are equal to the 10 smaller bales I remember stacking when I worked summers on the Kellys’ dairy farm in Wisconsin.  Ed motored the Stinger toward us, parked, and we met.

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Above and below: scenes from Castle Mountain Ranch

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Critters

Bev, Ed, Betty, Jim, and I headed into White Sulphur Springs for lunch.  Ed’s first choice was packed, so we drove on to the Branding Iron.  Ed and Bev knew lots of folks in for lunch, and Betty said hello to a few.  I reckoned it would be disloyal to order anything other than beef, and I tucked into a wonderful hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and lots of rich gravy.  We yakked about a lot of stuff, including the Fryers’ two boys, one still on the ranch, and the other not far away after many years of working in Geneva and Shanghai for Cargill, the grain trader and processor.  Like my late Wisconsin farm friends David and Katherine, these were people rooted to the land, but wordly, too.

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Bev and Ed Fryer; next time you tuck into a burger or steak, tip your hat their way!

For the three days that we were in farm and ranch country in three states, I kept thinking about the hard and precarious life of people who work the land.  I have long understood and respected them – a perspective more city people and politicians need to embrace (for just a glimpse of that life and work, take a look at this video of winter on the ranch).  At the end of the meal, I looked Ed in the eye and told him how thankful I was for what he and Bev did every day.  As expected, he was modest, and thoughtful in his reply: “Well, Rob, we are grateful for consumers like you; we need you as well.”

After lunch, we drove back with Bev to the ranch, and said goodbye.  Jim and I checked into the motel (our home for the next three nights), said goodbye to Betty, and took a short nap.  At five motored into town to the 2 Basset Brewery, a microbrewery Jim found on the Internet.  What a place!  In no time we met co-owner Barry Hedrich and his daughter Molly, who had just finished nursing school and landed a job in the neurosurgery unit at the Mayo Clinic.   We had a long T-t-S yak with Carter, a retired dispatcher from Montana Rail Link, a mid-size railway in the state.  We enjoyed two pints of some seriously good beer.  And of course we asked Barry and Molly about the brewery namesakes, Leroy and Stanley, learning that they don’t much like to visit in the heat of the afternoon (we met them two days later, in early morning).  Refreshed, we drove back to the Branding Iron for a light dinner and clocked out early, way tired from a splendid day.

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Happy scenes from the 2 Bassets Brewery

We “slept in” until 6:45 on Thursday morning.  Before breakfast, I ambled around White Sulphur Springs, snapping pictures.  After a bowl of cereal and coffee at the motel, I walked a block to the Forest Service office and met Nancy at the desk.  She provided ideas for our day, and we set off, north on U.S. Highway 89 and into the Little Belt Mountains to Memorial Falls, a splendid small cascade in the woods.  It was a short, easy hike to the lower and upper falls, through beautiful forest.  Back in the car to WSS (as locals write it), quick sandwich lunch, then in the car again.  We refueled at the Conoco, where Gerald washed every window on the car not once but twice.  As we gassed up we yakked a bit, and got a reco for dinner that night.

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Houses in White Sulphur Springs: fancy (“The Castle”), comfy, and in need of work; below, scenes from town and Memorial Falls

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WSS-2

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We headed west, soon on dirt roads, 18 miles to Gipsy Lake in the Big Belt Mountains (Nancy from the Forest Service suggested it, an easily accessible mountain lake).  We hoped for a trail all the way around, but could only go about one-fourth of the way.  Still lovely.  Back down the hill, and into town.  Jim took a nap and I headed to the tiny county library to try to do some research on the “old days,” but there were no references, and the heavily tatted young librarian (I was hoping for an old timer who really knew stuff) pointed me to the Meagher County Historical Society in the old house known locally as “the Castle” (it was built in 1905 by the Donohoes, second owners of the Castle Mountain Ranch).  I met volunteer Helen Dupea, told her a little about the family, especially Uncle Harold (who she remembered), but they didn’t have anything helpful.  She suggested the clerk of Meagher County, so I stopped at the courthouse, but the friendly young woman only had records for land ownership, and water and mineral rights.  Back to the motel, shower, and on to beer at the 2 Bassets.  WSS is a small place: Helen was there, as was Nancy from the Forest Service!  Enjoyed a couple of pints, then motored south to The Roadhouse, which Gerald from the Conoco recommended.  Jim and I both tucked into a walleye dinner.  On the way out, we spotted Gerald and thanked him for his guidance!

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On the way to Gipsy Lake (below)

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Wildflowers

Montana wildflowers

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Splendid taxidermy in the Meagher County Courthouse

Four days into a flawless trip, we hit a small snag Friday morning.  After an amble around town, which included a stop at 2 Bassets to meet Leroy and Stanley (Barry was brewing, the hounds were paddling around the tasting room), we headed south to Ringling, a shrinking burg that was once on the main line of The Milwaukee Road (a major Chicago-Seattle railway, now part of either the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, BNSF, or the Union Pacific); the Milwaukee’s main line through Ringling was long gone, and we worked hard to spot the former right of way.

After a two-minute drive around town, we set off for our morning destination, Maudlow, where dad and sibs lived with our grandmother until moving east.  The dirt road was bumpy, our map was not that detailed, and even though I had a GPS signal on my smartphone, I reckoned we were lost about 10 miles southwest of Ringling.  So we turned around (we later learned we were headed the right way, deep sigh), back north.  At the intersection of U.S. 12, a major east-west road, we headed west, across the Big Belt Mountains, for lunch in Townsend.  It was a well-kept town, seat of Broadwater County, right on the Missouri River, which was flowing north toward a huge reservoir and Great Falls.  Great burger, nice chat, then north a mile to the river for some pictures.

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On the road to Maudlow

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The Missouri River at Townsend; Lewis and Clark paddled here in 1804

Back in White Sulphur Springs, I dropped Jim for a nap and headed to the self-service car wash to clean the dust off his car.  I worked up a thirst, so stopped at the historic Stockman Bar for a cold one; it was right across Main Street from the 2 Basset, and the Stockman had their beer on tap.  The place was echoing with decades of cowboy voices (the celebrated Montana novelist Ivan Doig spent time there with his dad, and wrote about it in his autobiographical essay This House of Sky), plus a beautiful carved-oak back bar with columns and mirrors, just way cool.

Stockman

At this point, it’s probably redundant to write that Montana was fertile ground for my Talking to Strangers impulse; here are three vignettes from Friday:

> With Ethan, 19, son of the current owner of the Stockman. I gave him our brief family story, and he remarked that his uncle is current county sheriff.  Made me wonder: would he have hired Uncle Harold?

> With Ernie and Alice Bachsler a couple hours later at the 2 Basset.  Ernie’s dad emigrated from the ethnically German part of Romania in 1919, stowed away on a ship, and somehow made his way to North Dakota, south of New Salem.  Ernie and Alice moved west to Seattle with their five kids, and after retiring moved to Montana – “much better weather,” said Ernie.

> With Dale Luchterhand, known as Red, who I met after dinner (found the best place to eat in town, the Bar 47), when I ambled up a side street to take a picture of The Castle.  Dale was yet another memorable fellow, a former Wisconsin dairy farmer squeezed out, cowboying in Meagher County since 2006, and about to head off to Dillon, in southwestern Montana, to learn bootmaking.  Whew!

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Dale Luchterhand, cowboy

We were up before six on Saturday morning, into the car, and south on U.S. 89, then west on Interstate 90, across the Yellowstone River, over the south end of the Bridger Mountains, and into Bozeman.  First stop was to retrieve my iPhone charger at the motel where we stayed Tuesday (smooth recovery from a senior moment Wednesday morning); then for a short stroll on the tidy, compact campus of Montana State University; then to the Nova Café on Main Street to meet Jim’s long pal Boone, friends since the late 1970s.  Through the years, Jim often spoke about Boone, cyclist, inventor, entrepreneur, original-thinking architect, and nice fellow.  He was that and more.  We had a great chat and a fine breakfast.  Last stop before the airport was a quick detour to Cousin Betty’s to meet her beloved Dwain, just back from a week of backcountry adventures on his ATV.  Jim had met Dwain previously (he has a daughter in Oregon), but I had not, and it was fun to yak with him, albeit briefly.

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On the campus of Montana State University: “Old Main,” and the College of Engineering; below, Main Street, Bozeman

Downtown

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Dwain and Betty

At 11:45, Jim dropped me at Bozeman airport.  Kisses and hugs, and hugs again.  It had been, as Jim predicted months ago, an epic trip.  Better than epic.  As we approached the terminal, he said it was one of the best weeks in his life, and I agreed.  Through the years, we’ve not been as close as we should have been, but that week we were close.  I waved goodbye with tears in my eyes.

Bozeman airport was teeming with tourists.  At the security checkpoint, I spotted a last “you’re in Montana” image: signs noting that bear spray was prohibited beyond the screening area!  The flight to Chicago was seriously late, and I missed my connecting flight to Washington.  The experienced traveler always has a Plan B, and after we took off for O’Hare I mapped it out: a United flight into Washington Dulles.  Thanks ro onboard wi-fi, I fixed up a standby ticket on United.  Sprinted across the vast ORD terminal complex and made it to the United gate 20 minutes before departure, but there was a snag (long story, about travel privileges for employees of other airlines) and the gate agent could not give me a seat.  Plan C was executed: two hours in the Admirals Club until it closed at 10, then 6 hours of sleep on a bench outside the club entrance (I slept fairly well, raincoat over me to darken the light), back into the club when it opened at 4, a bit more sleep, a shower, and a 6:55 flight home.  A minor bump at the end of a wonderful journey back.

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* Montana writer William Kittredge coined that apt description in a 1989 anthology of stories and essays from the state.

 

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The icy waters of Memorial Creek give new meaning to “chilling”!

 

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London with Family

 

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The family in front of our mews townhouse

On June 28, Linda, Dylan, Carson, and I hopped in a huge black Chevy Suburban to National Airport.  We were headed to London for a week, to meet Robin and introduce granddaughters to overseas travel.  Sitting in the “black car” made me a fish out of water – regular readers know I take the Metro to the airport, but 1) we had a ton of luggage, and 2) Robin was paying for the fancy ride.  We flew to JFK, then onto a big 777 to London Heathrow.  Carson (age 7) was seriously excited.  Dylan, older by two years, was both excited and a little scared.  We landed early, and hopped into another black car (thanks, Robin, again) into the city.

Enroute

We had rented an Airbnb house for six nights.  It looked posh in the website pictures, and it was: a totally modernized three-bedroom house on Atherstone Mews in Kensington (mews are the old stables and living quarters that were behind bigger homes), less than 300 feet from the Gloucester Road Underground Station, a supermarket, and more.  A perfect location in a neighbrohood I knew well from many years of American Airlines work in London.

Linda opted for a nap, but the little ones, Robin, and I headed for a walk in Hyde Park, bound for the bronze Peter Pan statue that has delighted me for years.  The kids were soaking up all the new and different things, admiring all the dogs, marveling at the feral parakeets.  We returned by way of the Princess Diana Memorial Playground and a ride on a rather speedy carousel.  It was nearly five, and time to introduce the kids to that famous British institution, the pub.  Into the Gloucester Arms we went.  Linda joined us five minutes later, and we toasted the start of the trip.  A quick dinner and we were all asleep by nine.

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We slept nearly 12 hours (it had been a long time since I snoozed half a day).  Coffee, breakfast out the door to nearby museums.  First stop was the Natural History Museum, to marvel at dinosaurs, fossils, and more.  I peeled off at noon to join a long friend for lunch, hopping on a bikeshare cycle and riding toward Piccadilly.  Alas, at the last minute my pal couldn’t make it, so I pedaled on, east on one of the new “Cycle Superhighways,” CS3, on a separated right-of-way, all the way to Tower Hill.  Grabbed a sandwich at a Pret a Manger, walked to a small park nearby, and had a picnic.  Got back on a red-and-silver bike, south across the Thames into Lambeth, then back west.

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At the Natural History Museum: serpent design in interior column and natural “sand sculpture”

Met the family outside Kensington Palace (less than a mile from our house), and headed in, for a look at a special exhibit of Princess Diana’s dresses and gowns (truly beautiful), then the King’s and Queen’s state apartments (King William and Queen Mary bought the palace in 1689).  Along the way, nice reminders of the succession of monarchs in the 17th to 20th Centuries.  Headed out into the gardens, then home.  A long day of touring, especially for the young girls.

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Gardens, Kensington Palace

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The King’s Staircase, Kensington Palace

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Gown sketch and fabric swatch

At 7:30, friends Scott and Caroline Sage (with whom I often stay when in London) joined us at the house for drinks and dinner.  Scott and Robin have been friends since Mohawk Elementary School in suburban Dallas.  We had a good yak and some laughs – Linda has been friends with Scott’s mom for nearly 30 years.

I slept fitfully on night two, too much sleep the night before.  Up before everyone at seven, washed up, brewed coffee, ate breakfast, and peeled out at eight.  Onto a shared bike, east to Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, saluting the bronze statue of General Eisenhower in front of the U.S. Embassy, then back through Hyde Park to Paddington Station.  Hopped on the 9:22 Great Western Train to Worcester, my second ride on that line in five weeks – and headed for the same place, the home of the Crabtrees, this time for Diana’s 50th birthday party.

There was something of a welcoming party on the platform of Worcester Shrub Hill station: Jamie, 17, newly licensed to operate a motor vehicle, plus his half-sister Jo (who I had not seen in years) and her husband Neil.  In no time we were at The White House, the Crabtrees’ wonderful house in the village of Crowle.  Though the party did not start for 30 minutes, the first revelers were already there, and I plunged in to meet all of them.  It was perfect afternoon, sunny and warm.  I met lots of villagers as well as family – Diana’s father up from Australia; John’s sister Jenny and husband Rob; and more.  Hopped in a taxi back to the railway, onto the 7:02 to London, and home by 10:45.  A nice day.

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My long pals John and Diana

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Villagers: Jean, 94, a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, recognized for her work with poor children in Birmingham; Keith and Jason

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Sunday morning I was back in London-tourist mode, out the door with the girls to The Royal Mews, the stables adjacent to Buckingham Palace (the Queen was in residence, so the palace was closed to visitors).  I peeled off and headed back to the house for lunch, then a leisurely afternoon cycling about northwest London.  And a nap.  At five we hopped on the Tube to Piccadilly and a fancy dinner at The Wolseley.  We had a great table on a balcony overlooking the bustling restaurant, built in the former showroom of a company that made motorcars.  The girls enjoyed the people watching, and dinner lasted more than two hours.  A fun evening.

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At the Royal Mews

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Carson as Royal Horsewoman!

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Grenfell-Diptych

The Grenfell tragedy hung over the city; at a risk of seeming to be a disaster-voyeur, I rode a bike out to see the remains, and to pray for the victims. Having worked my whole life in a safety-focused business, the disregard for basic safety was shocking.

Monday morning, and the ladies headed for the Tower of London, while I cycled north to The Design Museum, in its new quarters in Kensington.  I had visited them early in 2015 when they were still in a cramped old warehouse on the Thames in Bermondsey.  The new digs were in the former Commonwealth Institute (1962), nicely repurposed.  Much more of the permanent collection was on view, as well as a cool special exhibit on the impact of California design and innovation on our lives.  It’s a way-cool place.

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The Design Museum in its new quarters; to fund building renovation, the museum sold off adjacent land for fancy apartments (left)

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Part of the museum’s permanent collection.  Below, examples from the UK’s 1960s redesign of road signs (I have long admired these, which are so much clearer than the awful, old signs in the U.S.)

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California!  Barbie, the Frisbee, and the world’s first networked PC, actually developed by Xerox’s PARC Design Team, 1981

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More California design

Rode around a bit after lunch, and at 3:45 Dylan, Carson, and I hopped on the Tube west to Kew and met my Imperial College host Omar Merlo at his kids’ school, a place I’ve gotten to know from staying with them several times in the past two years.  Sophie Merlo is eight, and we organized a sort of “play date” with her and their new dog Mr. Waffles.  We had lots of fun.  Back to Kensington, dinner at the pub.

Playdate-Triptych

Tuesday was the last full day.  Robin, Carson, Dylan, and I hopped the Tube to another fave attraction, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, across the Thames from Westminster.  The museum had been completely redone in 2014, and was ever more impressive.  Most of the place is given over to the two World Wars, and the quality of exhibits and interpretation is outstanding.  The girls headed to meet Linda at the London Eye, and I peeled off.  Headed home, rode around, took a nap, and nipped in for a pint at a cool pub near our house.

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From the museum collection: soliciting cyclists during WW1; the famous Spitfire that saved Britain; and a children’s “Mickey Mouse” gas mask that was smelly and uncomfortable — but kids soon figured out if they breathed a certain way they could make a fart-like sound, which made them laugh even when scared.

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We were asleep by nine, because we rose way early Wednesday morning and flew home via Philadelphia.  Our granddaughters, ages nine and seven, already been overseas, and that’s a very cool thing.

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England and Austria

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Worcestershire, England

On Friday, May 26, I rode into Washington with Robin, then hopped the Metro to National Airport.  I was headed to England via New York, and JFK flights later that day got goofed up, so I opted to head up early.  I planned to head to the Neue Galerie, the museum of German and Austrian art created by the Lauder (cosmetics) family, but some time-sensitive consulting work arrived in my in box just as we were leaving D.C.  By the time I finished my “homework” at LaGuardia, it seemed too late to head into Manhattan, then back out to Kennedy, so I hopped on the Q70 to one of my favorite E Pluribus Unum places, the Jackson Heights district of Queens.  The streets are packed with new Americans from all over.  Almost no one looks like me.  On the bus, the first T-t-S of the trip, with a jetBlue captain.  Turned out to be a fellow Minnesotan (ja sure you betcha, as we say in the Northland).  We had a nice chat about the airline business, careers, family.

Not surprisingly, there are a bunch of good ethnic restaurants in the area, and I tracked down a simple Korean spot on Broadway, Hae Woon Dae, and tucked into a spicy stew based around kimchee, the spicy fermented cabbage that is sort of the national dish.  Fortified (and sweating from the spice), I hopped the subway two stops east, then the Q10 bus, which lurches through Queens to JFK.  The airport-to-airport public transit fare was $2.75, and the glimpse of humanity in all its colors was huge added value.

Landed at London Heathrow at 6:50, zipped through border control, and onto the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station.  The day before saw a record high temperature in London, and it was still surprisingly warm.  My next train, west to Worcestershire and my dear friends the Crabtrees, departed at 8:18, so I headed out to get some cash, then back into the station for one coffee, then two.  In no time we were zipping west, past Oxford, through the timeless and verdant English countryside.  John Crabtree, who I have known since we met when both of us were guest lecturers in Australia in 1981, and his daughter Jessica (now almost 12), were waiting on Platform 1 at Worcester Shrub Hill Station.  Hugs, into the car, and home to their splendid old house in Crowle, a village four miles east.  John’s beloved Diana, sons James and Robert, rounded out the welcoming party, hugs and kisses.  It felt like home.

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At 12:30, John and I set out on foot for Chequers, the village pub that has been fancied up into a gastropub (nice, but I liked it better before).  Diana and the kids drove, and soon Diana’s friend Claire and daughter Olivia joined us at a big table.  Nice big lunch, pints, laughs.  Back home, nice afternoon nap, then at 5:30 we drove north to Birmingham and the Hippodrome Theatre to see Milongo, an energetic Tango presentation with Argentine and British dancers.  We arrived early and had a walk around.  John is a Birmingham native, a Brum, and has contributed mightily to the economic and social development of the city, including 25 years of service on the Hippodrome board (he would retire as chairman in four days).  The show was great, but Jessica was a bit bored, so we left at intermission and headed home.  On the way we passed a nearly completed, £14 million  training and care facility for Sense, Britain’s charity for the deaf and blind.  John has been on their board for years, too.  His commitments are many.  A true citizen, a righteous person.

It gets light at four in England in late May.  I slept two more hours, then grabbed a cup of tea, bowl of cereal, and hopped on young Robbie’s mountain bike for a slower gaze at the wonderful landscape, through villages like Broughton Hackett and White Ladies Aston, past grazing sheep and cattle, old churches.  Timeless and splendid, all the more on a sunny, cool morning.  Thirteen miles, a nice leg-stretch.

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Sidebar: Election Time in England

Regular readers know that I prefer the parliamentary system over the U.S. model of separate executive and legislative branches, and a day earlier had asked John and Diana about their constituency (“riding”).  I spotted an election notice with the riding name, Mid-Worcestershire, so I looked up who was running.  The incumbent was a Tory, and my eye then moved to Margaret Rowley, the candidate from the Liberal Democrats, a party closely aligned with my beliefs.  I looked up her website, read her ideas, and thought “I’d vote for her if I could.”  So I sent her a note:

Dear Ms. Rowley,
I’m an American, visiting long friends in Crowle, and just read the summary of your views on the LibDem website.  Too bad I can’t vote next month!
  I wish you and your party much success.

Within an hour, she responded (I simply couldn’t imagine a U.S. politician replying to a non-constituent, much less so quickly):

Dear Rob,

Thank you for your good wishes.  I too am sorry you can’t vote!  We seem to be suffering from the same phenomenon here that gave you Trump as president (whom I suspect you don’t support!) 

I hope to improve my vote from last time, but I suspect not as much as I should given the relative merits of the Party manifestos. In time, I believe that more people will realise we were right and we will eventually win through.

Regards, Margaret


 

It was a busy weekend: at ten we headed out, driving 45 miles southwest into the gorgeous Wye Valley, into a desigated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  And it was, just wonderful.  I was last in the valley exactly 40 years earlier, when I visited journalist Patrick Rivers and his wife as part of my dissertation research.  At 11, we met two more long friends, Andrew Manning Cox and wife Janet, with their golden retriever Humphrey.  We did a nice three-mile walk in the valley, crossing the river on a footbridge, and re-crossing on a hand-pulled ferry to our real destination, the Saracen’s Head pub, for Sunday lunch.  The place was hopping.  James, his girlfriend Immy, and Robbie joined us.  Another lively and fun repast.  After lunch we had to hike back up to the car, about 300 vertical feet.  Full of lamb, potatoes, and beer, it was a bit of a slog!

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John Crabtree and Andrew Manning Cox

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The Wye Valley

We were home in an hour, and into their swimming pool.  Nice!  Then a simple dinner, bit of television, and off to sleep.  A full day, for sure.

Monday was cloudy with the prospect of rain – more like real British weather – but I was able to crank out 12 miles on the bike.  Nice yaks with John and Diana in the kitchen, bowl of cereal, shower, and the whole family, save James (who was studying for senior exams), drove me back to Shrub Hill station.  They insisted in accompanying me to Platform 2A to see me off with hugs and kisses.  Such wonderful and special people, more like family.

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The milkman still visits!

I settled in, pulled out my laptop to write in this journal, and cued The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” perfect background to admire a paddock full of grazing sheep.  We arrived London Paddington at 12:30, to meet the next friend, albeit a newer one, Freddie Broderman, for lunch at 1:00.   Freddie tracked me down just as he was graduating from Georgetown in 2015, bound for a job in American Airlines’ Revenue Management Department.  After a year in Texas, he transferred home to England and now works in the European regional office.  We had lunch, beer, and a long yak about the airline industry.  He’s an interesting and perceptive young fellow, loves the business.

At 2:45, I hopped on the Tube out to my lodgings, back with Omar Merlo and his family in Kew (I had stayed with them in February, and was lecturing in his class at Imperial College the next day).  In a few months, their golden retriever puppy, Mr. Waffles, had grown to 65 pounds, and greeted me at the door.  Took a much needed nap.  At 5:30, Omar’s wife Carolyn, son Freddie, the hound, and I drove a mile to Richmond Park, and set off for a pond to see if Mr. Waffles would swim.  We took a wrong turn at the start, so it took awhile to get there, but it was a cool day and the park is such a lovely place, a semi-wild expanse in the middle of a huge metropolis.  As we approached the pond we encountered a large herd of deer.  Mr. Waffles was uninterested in them, but he liked the water.  We threw sticks far into the pond, to help him find his swimming legs, but he was content to wade.  We found the straight path back to the car, but it was still a five-mile trek, and all of us were nackered by the time we got home after nine.  Had a few slices of pizza and I headed to bed.

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Up early Tuesday morning, suited up, out the door to fetch milk and flowers for Carolyn.  When I got back, Mr. Waffles had a plaintive look and was whimpering softly.  Ah, I thought, you want breakfast, so I found the dog food and dumped it in his bowl.  When Carolyn came down, she said she fed him at five.  What a trickster!   Walked the short way to the Kew Gardens station and onto the Tube to South Kensington and the university.  I had time, so hopped on a shared bike and rode around Hyde and Green parks, grabbed a coffee, rode some more.

The morning reminded me that one of the joys of travel is experiencing ordinary life in a different place. It’s one of the reasons why staying with friends is such a delight, because you can walk to the grocery store, feed the dog, and do the dishes.  These experiences are at the polar opposite of most mass tourism, which guides visitors to a curated set of “sights.”  At its worst, this nodal approach presents the ordinary landscape and ordinary experiences as mostly worthless, a desert. I have long railed against that view.

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Met Omar for lunch, and from one to three delivered a talk to MBA students.  At three I went back out on the bike, riding to Westminster, past Buckingham Palace, and back.  More than 20 miles, a good stretch.   As I was docking the shared bike in front of the school, a nice T-t-S moment.  A father approached me and asked if I knew the neighborhood, because they were looking for a playground for their five-year-old daughter, who looked seriously unhappy.  I told father and daughter that we would find one, and with a few taps on my iPhone we had them on their way to Hyde Park Playground, 0.6 mile east and north.  “I hope when you get there you’ll start smiling,” I said to the little girl, “because you look pretty gloomy right now.”  She finally smiled!

I grabbed my backpack, and hopped onto the Underground, east to Holborn to meet a former Cambridge student, Tim.  We’ve stayed connected for a decade.  The original plan was to meet at a pub on The Strand, but it was closed for a private function, so we ambled a block north to a wonderful tiny pub, the Seven Stars (established 1602), just across Carey Street from the Royal Courts of Justice.  Tim and I got caught up on jobs, families, a bit of politics.  Way interesting fellow, and a genuinely fine person.  We walked back to Holborn and parted, me riding west to Earl’s Court for a Indian dinner at the now-familiar Masala Zone (my fourth visit in under six months); as I’ve written, I’m not a fan of chains, but the place offers a sampler tray called a Thali that gives a lone diner great variety.  As often happens, the (Bangladeshi) waiter looked askance when I asked for some chopped green chiles, and later surprised that I finished them all.  I was full, happy, and tired.  Headed home, chatted briefly with Carolyn (Omar goes to sleep even earlier than me).

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Scenes on Carey Street: above, redundant pay phones outside the law courts; below, tribute to Sir Thomas More; bottom, tipplers across from the Seven Stars.

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Up early again, packed up, down to the kitchen.  Mr. Waffles did not fool me again!  Made some coffee, ate a bowl of cereal, hugged the family, and headed out, Tube and train to Gatwcik Airport.  Dropped my bag and at ten met Roz Chivers, a second-generation airline manager (her dad worked for the long-gone British Caledonian, Royal Brunei, and Virgin Atlantic) I met at London Business School in April.  We had a nice yak across a bunch of airline and non-airline topics.

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At 11:30 I hopped on EasyJet 8957 to Vienna.  A young Hungarian family with a 14-month-old joined my row.  I explained I was a grandfather, so crying or getting up and down didn’t bother me.  Dad said “she doesn’t cry,” and she didn’t.  But she did take a liking to me!  Bound for Austria, it made sense to cue Mozart, and soon I was tapping my foot to Symphony #41.

We landed in Vienna about 3:20.  I was pumped!  First visit in 46 years (on my very first trip to Europe, 1971).  Wowie!  Hopped on the nonstop train into the city (doh, the T-Geek could have saved $10 by taking a local train), then walked just over a mile to my Airbnb in the Erdberg neighborhood.  School had ended for the day, so there were lots of kids on scooters, alone and with moms, plus a few grandparents like me.  Erdberg was a slightly gritty (but not threatening) working-class neighborhood, a place where lots of men have tattoos and women smoke cigarettes while pushing strollers. (Indeed, it seemed like lots of Austrians smoke, so I looked up the stats, and indeed 24% of adults do so, compared to 15% in Germany and under 9% in Sweden.)

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Detail, my Airbnb apartment building

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The windows of Vienna.  So cool.

It was warm and humid, and I was sweaty when I got to my digs – a whole studio apartment – in in a pleasant old building on Wällischgasse.  So I stripped down, drank some water, and took a late but tonic nap.  At six I headed out, bound for the closest station of Citybike Wien, the bikeshare system.  It was several blocks, but in no time I was gliding along.  Citybike is cool, because 1) it’s completely free, and 2) the (free) time allowance is 60 minutes, not 30.  Only downside is the density and number of stations is relatively small – hence the half-mile walk to the nearest one.  I rode north then east, through the enormous Prater park to WU, the Vienna University of Economics and Business, where I would lecture the next evening.  The campus is brand-new and eye-popping, with buildings designed by several superstar architects, including the late Zaha Hadid.   Rode back, dropped the bike.

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Citybike Wien station

 

I was thirsty, so stopped at the Petrus und Paulus Stuben for a beer on their sidewalk terrace.  Way pleasant, beneath tall trees and across from a primary school.  I considered eating there, but decided to head “home,” wash my face, and put on jeans.  Gasthaus Bauer was right around the corner from my digs, and they also had outdoor seating.  The neighborhood is seriously off the tourist track, so my rough German came in handy for the beer and meal order.  And what a dinner: pan-fried fish filets (Zander, European cousin of the walleye, a species we treasured growing up in Minnesota), boiled potatoes, and three spears of white asparagus, all with hollandaise sauce.  So good.

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Ornamental detail, public school on Petrusgasse; left, girls’ entrance; right; Snow White and the seven dwarfs above a side door

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Public housing in Vienna does not look like public housing in the U.S.: scenes from the Rabenhof, built in the 1920s by a socialist municipal government, and still clean and well-maintained.

Up after six Thursday morning, on foot to the Citybike station, then to the Belvedere Palace, and famed State Opera House, then back.  Bought breakfast fixings at a supermarket and headed back.  Showered, did a bit of work, suited up, and walked back to grab a Citybike, then north to WU.  I was seriously needing coffee, do dosed up on a large Americano and brought this journal up to date.

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Belvedere Palace and gardens

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The Allies did not build monuments to European victory in World War II, but the Soviets did.

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The famous Vienna State Opera, Staatsoper

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Morning rush hour, the good kind!

At 12:00, I met one of my new hosts, Bodo Schlangenmilch, and we started chatting.  Ten minutes later, a longtime University of Minnesota colleague, Mike Houston, came in.  The U of M and WU have run a successful joint EMBA program since 1990, which is how I was invited.  We chatted a bit more, then walked to lunch, and another WU colleague, Barbara Stöttinger, joined us.  A lively lunch.  Barbara kindly offered a short tour of the dazzling campus, and off we went.  She forthrightly pointed out that some of the superstar-designed buildings already required remediation (why can’t famous architects get the basics right?).  After the walk, I headed back to the Marketing Department to work for the afternoon.

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Above, scenes from the WU campus

At 6:30, it was time to stand and deliver, to 32 EMBA students, almost all from either Austria or Eastern Europe (Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc.).  The program is clearly relaxed, because prior to my talk the class was tippling, and brought their wine and beer into the classroom.  They offered me some, but I politely declined.  Twenty minutes into the talk, Georg from Südtirol left the classroom, returning quickly with a glass of wine for the presenter.  I took a sip and they cheered.  Prosit!  It was a great class, lots of engagement, and the hard questions that typically only come from older EMBA students.  They are my favorite kind.  After the talk, I stayed around for another glass and a good yak with Ferenc from Hungary, Signe from Estonia, and several others.  I had planned to ride a Citybike home, but it was nearly dark, so I hopped the U-Bahn and bus.  Changed clothes and walked a block to another local gasthaus for a splendid filled schnitzel.  Slept hard.

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In the (relaxed) classroom

Friday was a free day, and I knew it would be a long one, because the overnight was not in an Airbnb or hotel, but a night train to Munich that would depart Vienna at 11:30.  But I still woke up at 6:30 and got moving, though slowly.  Out the door at 8:45 to the Hauptbahnhof (main station).  I suspected that Google Maps’ transit information was inaccurate, and that morning I noticed the disclaimer: “These results may be incomplete. Not all transit agencies in this area have provided their information.”  Yep.  I could have taken a tram from the Airbnb to the station in under ten minutes, rather than two subway rides.  Sigh.

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New construction near the Hauptbahnhof

At the station, I put my bag and backpack in a locker, and headed out, bike helmet and iPhone in hand.  Before grabbing a Citybike, I needed a coffee, and spotted a wonderful traditional Viennese café, the Goldegg in the Wieden neighborhood.  Zipped in for a café latte.  There was an old billiards table and some other things from the past.  A joy that places like that are still in business.  Hopped on the bike and rode north to the first stop of the day, the apartment building designed by the idiosyncratic Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.  Cool, but crawling with tourists, validating my point above about “nodal tourism.”  I took a few snaps and got back on the bike, riding north to stop 2, the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Dom), a Gothic fortress begun in 1137.  The tower lookout was not nearly as high as the one in Ulm visited six months earlier, but still afforded great views.  Check and done.

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Hundertwasser apartment building

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St. Stephan’s: view from the tower, and below

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View from the tram

Stop 3 was lunch at a recommended spot, but it was a bit early, so I hopped on a tram that I followed the ring-streets that encircle the city core.  When we rolled past the opera house, I spotted about a dozen men dressed like Mozart standing in front, posing for tourist pictures, the Vienna equivalent, perhaps, of the naked cowboy in Times Square!  A couple blocks on, some fancy palaces (the Habsburgs owned some nice real estate), the Austrian parliament, city hall.  A good ride.  I mistakenly thought tram #1 would go 360 degrees around the ring, but the streetcar knew the way, and headed west.  European transit systems are dense and integrated (about that moment, I noticed that screens on the trams displayed real-time info on Citybike availability at adjacent stations, way cool), so I hopped on the U-Bahn, then a S-Bahn (suburban train), and by 1:15 was at Gasthaus Kopp in a residential area north of the center.

The Kopp was a triumph of web marketing and TripAdvisor mastery: a rather dumpy place in a modest neighborhood, with slightly alienated wait staff.  Food was fine, but the two dinner places in “my neighborhood” were way better.  It was Friday in Catholic Austria, so I had a nice plate of fried fish and salad, lots to eat.  Walked two blocks north, grabbed a Citybike, and rode down the Danube, past a bunch of river cruise ships, to the WU campus.  My iPhone battery was not going to make it to 9:00 p.m., when I would reclaim my backpack, so I circled back to the WU campus and paused for an hour to recharge both batteries and my body in the ExecEd offices.  It was good to chill.

At 3:30 I pedaled away on another Citybike and rode 10 miles through Prater, which is both a huge green space and an old-school amusement park.  Next stop was the amusement side, which has been in business since 1766, although likely without the thrill rides, games of chance, and the other Midway-like attractions.  Paused for a beer in the enormous Schweizerhaus beer garden.  While tippling, I did a bit of reading about Austria immediately after World War II.  I was unsure if it was occupied by the Allies (it was, until 1955).  And I learned that Austria was, on a per capita basis, the largest recipient of Marshall Plan and humanitarian aid, in part because of U.S. concern that the Soviets would exploit hunger and poverty and tip Austria into the Eastern Bloc.

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Scenes from the Prater

I took one thrill ride, the Prater Tower, which was way cool (and not at all scary; the kid next to me asked before takeoff if I were scared, and I replied no; but once we were flying he looked pretty tense!).   Had another beer and relaxed, watching the crowds pour into the park on a warm Friday evening.  I didn’t need a big dinner, but I needed to find a good place after Kopp, and with a bit of research I headed toward Sperl, a pleasant neighborhood restaurant (opened 1925) close to where I had morning coffee.  The inner garden was full but not packed, and I sat right down,  For about the same price as Kopp, Sperl offered tablecloths, a bread basket before the meal, and smiling waiters.  I tucked into the last of Spargelzeit: cream of asparagus soup and a (vegetarian) asparagus goulash with dumplings.  Yum!   A reminder of the density of European cities: the restaurant courtyard was tight against an apartment, and on the railing above us were drying swimsuits and towels.

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WU campus from the Prater Tower.  Whee!

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The famous ferris wheel at Prater

The T-Geek still had a bit of time, so I hopped a tram for a short ride in the center, walked the gardens of Belvedere Palace, and headed to the main station.  Grabbed my bags and made for the Austrian Railways’ (ÖBB) first-class lounge.  I had a ticket for a sleeping car to Munich, so got to use the lounge for a couple of hours, way nice.  The 11:25 to Munich was actually operated by Hungarian Railways, and the sleeping car was a bit dated, but comfortable.  My upper-berth roommate was Fabian, a researcher at an Austrian government agency, clearly a smart guy (he had been at Princeton in 2016).  I would have been happy to yak had it not been a way-long day, and in no time the lights were out.  It took awhile to fall asleep, but then I was in deep.  The porter brought coffee and juice at six on Saturday morning, and Fabian and I yakked a bit about the state of the world.

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Detail, Belvedere Palace

Hopped off at 6:20.  This trip had some long intervals, like a flight home six hours later, so I took a little walk across downtown Munich, past the cathedral and several other churches, and new and old city halls.  Hopped the S-Bahn to the airport, which was absolutely teeming.  Made my way to British Airways’ lounge, which contracted with American.  Alas, no shower, so I shaved and cleaned up as much as possible with just a sink, donned clean clothes, and flew to Philadelphia.

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The New Town Hall

 

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Old Town Hall

The last swell T-t-S of the trip was on the short flight home to Washington.  My seatmate David was from York, England, and it was his first trip to America.  He was so excited, and I filled him with tips on what to see in the capital region.  A nice end to a fine journey.  Had Henry and MacKenzie on leashes by six.

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