Thanksgiving in Chicago

Chicago is the birthplace of the steel-frame skyscraper, and they just keep building them downtown. At left, along the now-cleaned-up Chicago River; right, the Reliance Building (1895), an early example of the form.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Linda and I flew to Chicago to spend the holiday with Cousin Jim and his family (after my brother’s death, they are my closest kin).  O’Hare was, as you might expect, a total mess, but we managed to find our Lyft driver (my second ride with them), snake through airport traffic, and out to Michaela’s and Jim’s house in Arlington Heights.  All four of us immediately got into a long yak with some beer, then a light dinner.  As we had done years earlier, Jim, neighbor Rolf, and I motored into downtown AH for a couple more beers.  Cousin Mike (three of Jim’s five siblings still live nearby) joined us.  Lots of laughs, and some commiserating on the sorry state of the republic (“Stupid is everywhere,” was a memorable quote from Rolf).

On Thanksgiving morning, Jim and I motored east to Wilmette and a high-school hockey game.  It had been years since I saw “schoolboy hockey” (as they call it in Canada), and it was a lot of fun.  Drove home to watch the Chicago Bears win their football game, then out on Michaela’s bike for a quick ride before dinner.  The repast was spectacular; Michaela is an accomplished cook, and everything was wonderful.  Their oldest child, Jack, is a freshman at Villanova, but Charlie and Katie, high school senior and junior, were at the table for color commentary on suburban adolescence.  Cleaned up the kitchen, went for a walk, had dessert, and went to sleep well before ten.

Was up at dawn Friday, out on Michaela’s bike again, around Arlington Heights.  At 9:30, Linda and I hopped the suburban train, called Metra, into downtown Chicago.  We ambled to a German-style Christmas market, which was nice but totally packed, then east to the Art Institute.  By my reckoning, it had been 43 years since I last visited, and I was totally wowed.  Whew.  What a collection, and even more, a wonderful visitor experience: clearly marked, wonderful interpretive panels for each work and larger genres, a fine place for lunch, just a wonderful few hours.  Need to get back soon!

Christmas Market in Daley Plaza; note the Picasso sculpture (1975) looming over the huts.

The famous lions, wreathed for the holidays, in front of the Art Institute.

Just a tiny sample from the collections.  From top left, a model of Alexander Calder’s “Flamingo” (the full-size version is in a Federal complex nearby); a small part of a stained-glass work, “America Windows,” by Marc Chagall; Monet’s “Gare St. Lazare” (the Transport Geek loves his flowers, but a train station, wow!); Thomas Hart Benton’s “Cotton Pickers”; Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Gaspé”; terracotta ornamentation from the Wrigley Building, one of the city’s landmarks (as an aside, my great-grandfather worked in a plant that made architectural terracotta, and it was fun to muse about whether he or his co-workers made that piece); and more ornamentation from the famed Chicago designer Louis Sullivan:

We hopped a taxi back to the train station, then back out.  Michaela the tireless host had organized a party that night for the three nearby cousins, plus Cousin Bob who lives across town, their spouses/partners, and a couple of their kids.  It was a lot of fun.  Linda had not seen these folks for nine years.  And when the Fredians get together, there are bound to be stories from their youth: my Uncle Joe was disabled after a bad stroke when he was just over 40, and my Aunt Sally worked hard as a school principal, so there was room for some pretty wild stuff.  My fave story from that night was when the boys rolled a keg into a nearby movie theater the afternoon after a large party at their house (“Hey, it wasn’t empty,” said one)!

With the cousins in the kitchen

Up early, Cuz and Michaela delivered us to O’Hare, and we flew home.  So nice to connect with family.

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Across the Atlantic Again: Switzerland, Italy, Germany, England

Vineyards in the Adige Valley near Bolzano, Italy

I was home from Omaha less than two days.  Hopped on a flight to Philadelphia at two on Sunday afternoon, November 4, then across the ocean to Switzerland, bound for my debut in the business school of the University of Zürich.  Landed at eight on Monday morning, grabbed a big tub of yogurt (I slept through breakfast on the Silver Bird), and climbed on the #10 tram for the university.  Happily, the small Hotel Plattenhof was 1) right by the school and 2) had a room ready for early check-in (larger Swiss hotels are less accommodating; this place had a friendly and flexible vibe from the beginning).  I took a shower, put on jeans, and headed into the center for a short walk-around.

More great art in Philadelphia airport: Adam Ledford’s “Fly Me to the Moon” (nice glimpse of the 1950s!), and Colleen McCubbin Stepanic’s “Peak”

 

Good morning, Switzerland; protruding cloud in the center of the photo is water vapor from a nuclear power plant (well, yes, I know the country pretty well!)

Enormous cedar tree across from my hotel — on Cedar Street!

Above, window shopping on Bahnhofstrasse, the city’s fanciest shopping street (those are boots for ice-climbing); below, detail in a shopping arcade

Swans in the Lake of Zurich, eager for handouts from tourists loaded with loaves of bread

At noon, I met Rev. Paul Brice, pastor of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, a little outpost of England in the middle of Zürich.  I’ve known Paul for about a decade, back to when he was chaplain at Sidney Sussex College, my digs at the University of Cambridge.  Paul showed me around the church, originally built by the Swiss Reformed Church for services at an adjacent cemetery.  We walked down the hill to an Indian restaurant for a buffet lunch and good conversation.  Said good-bye and looked around town a bit more (I had hoped for a short ride on one of the ferries that play the Lake of Zürich, but they run infrequently in fall and winter).  Back to the hotel, worked a bit, short nap, worked some more, and at eight met my young, longtime colleague Jochen Menges, who has just taken the chair of leadership and human resource management at UZH.  We ate at Oberhof, 100 feet from the hotel, in a building that dated to 1293.  Had a schnitzel and potatoes, a good base for a long sleep.

The Limmat River

Intense autumn color in the park near Paul’s church

Up early Tuesday, time to stand and deliver, two back-to-back lectures to Jochen’s undergraduate and Masters students.  At 12:15 we parted, I headed back to change out of my suit, then to a nearby Mensa (student cafeteria) for lunch.  Fortified, I walked down the hill, into the Grossmünster, the city’s largest Protestant church, and up 180 steps to nearly the top of one of the two towers.  Great views, though it had clouded up a bit.  Spent another couple of hours joyriding on the city’s superb public transit system (especially the dense network of trams), using my 24-hour ticket.  Worked a bit, short nap.

Above and below, graceful main lecture hall at UZH

Above and below, views from the church tower

Mosaics depicting postal transport modes, Sihl Post Office

Colorful sign for the Oberhof Restaurant

At 6:30 I met two of Jochen’s assistants, Nicolas, a Swiss postdoc, and Leonie, a German Ph.D. student.  We hopped the #6 tram into the city and tucked into a big dinner and some good conversation.  Said goodbye, rode the streetcar back to the hotel, and clocked out.  It was Election Day in the U.S. (I voted a month early), and I was determined not to check results until 6 a.m. Wednesday.  And it worked, though as often happens on the second night in Europe, I kept waking up.

The train to my next teaching gig, at USI in Lugano, Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, was not until 1:30, so after breakfast I zipped downtown and walked along the Limmat River and through the Altstadt (old town).  Was able to snap a quick, though poorly composed picture of the reception hall of the main police station, designed by Alberto Giacometti, before an officious woman waved me away (in fairness, posted signs said the hall was closed for renovations).  Hopped on a funicular up to ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, walked a bit of the campus, then next door to the university.  UZH is proud of the fact that it was the first university in Europe to be founded by the state rather than a monarch or the church, and proud of some notable alumni, like Albert Einstein.  At 11, I met Martin Ritter, marketing chair in the UZH business school.  In all my guest teaching I’ve never had a meeting like that: within 15 minutes he had invited me to give a lecture in February 2019, set the date, agreed on terms, done!

Oil vial from a Roman bath, ca. 40 B.C.; during redevelopment, builders have unearthed lots of material from Zürich’s Roman past

The city has lots of “wedding cake” buildings

Spires in the old town

Ceiling of Giacometti’s police hall, and detail at ETH

Ambled a few hundred feet from the B-school to my hotel, checked out, hopped the #6 tram downtown, bought lunch, had a little picnic in the sun in front of the Swiss National Museum, and got the train south.  As I wrote in 2018, the Swiss have finished a $9 billion, 35.5-mile tunnel through the Alps (the Gotthard Base Tunnel), which made the trip way faster than before.  North of the mountains, it was sunny and you said “Danke” to the SBB conductor; south it was rainy and the word was “Grazie.”

Swiss National Museum

Was in Lugano by 3:50, onto a bus and to the Hotel Lido.  For several years, I stayed at a newer hotel much closer to the campus of Università della Svizzera Italiana, but was back at this four-stars-but-worn hotel.  Happily, they had a fitness bike, slightly broken, and I cranked out some miles.  Cooled off, then ambled a block to a new restaurant, Neapolis, featuring Naples-style pizza.  The website made it look promising, and I especially liked the owner’s comments, pushing back on unfair social-media reviews, plus this gem:

We want to highlight that our production involves original ingredients, manual processing, care of cooking, firming times, hours used exclusively for the product and subtracted from other working processes, all which go far beyond the time and cost of buying an industrial and / or frozen product. We regret that “occasional” clients omit such realities, artisanal and contractual, and they criticize the cost. Therefore, clearing any doubts, we invite the “critics of Sunday” to reflect well before pointing out and remembering, as a pure example, that there are people who want to have Louis Vuitton bags, others … supermarket bags, so the use is the same and everyone is free to have, in fact, to eat what he chooses.

When I sat down at my table, I was feeling a little lonely.  The couple next to me was chatting with their children via FaceTime on their iPhone.  I thought of my traveling-salesman dad, who ate dinner alone for decades, in Appleton, Wisconsin, Devils Lake, North Dakota, and hundreds of other Upper Midwest towns, then I thought of what he often said to me when I was in a bad mood: “Snap out of it.”  So I did.  The pizza was great, and my server was a friendly young guy, half Swiss and half Italian.  A little T-t-S with him after the meal, showing him pictures of my Italian great-grandparents and other kin.  Asleep at 9:30, finally a long, hard sleep.

Neapolitan-style pizza; at right, a first: spray bottles for the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar!

When I checked into the hotel the day before, the clerk gave me a Ticino Card, good for unlimited public transport on all modes, throughout the canton.  Free mobility excites the Transport Geek, and because I was not teaching until afternoon, I mapped out a morning excursion, north and west to Locarno on Lake Maggiore, then up the Melezza Valley on a narrow-gauge railway known locally as FART (Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinese).  It doesn’t translate well, but it was an awesome ride, west and up and up and up, lots of curves.  The train to Locarno was 5 minutes late (very un-Swiss!), so I missed an earlier train and thus had to shorten the ride up the valley, getting off at Verdasio.  It was remote.  Three days earlier, when I got off the #10 tram in central Zürich, I said aloud, as I often do, “Well Butch, this is it; this is Bolivia,” words spoken by Robert Redford, a/k/a The Sundance Kid, in the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” when they disembarked in some remote town in that country (they headed south to rob banks).  But when I got off the FART train in Verdasio, that statement really had currency!  I was back at USI in time for lunch in the Mensa.

The first mile of so of the FART train is underground, and the graffiti artists have been busy; then you surface and things look much better

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Swiss-made: at left, regional train from Stadler, and a von Roll fire hydrant; as I have written many times, part of Swiss prosperity is a cultural propensity to buy locally, even if it costs more; below, a $2,2o0 Swiss chair that doesn’t look too comfy!

The view from the fitness bike

Met my host and long friend Omar Merlo (we first met at Cambridge, and I’ve followed him to several, schools, mainly Imperial College London, where he is full-time), and delivered a talk to a dozen grad students.  Headed back to the hotel, rode the bike, worked a bit, and at 6:30 took a local bus into downtown, then a Postbus (the Swiss postal service, 180 degrees different from the USPS, runs a network of buses all over rural Switzerland) up the hill to Omar’s place.

He grew up in Lugano and he owns a small flat in the village of Carona.  His father and sister still live in Lugano, an Omar invited me to an early birthday party at the flat.  When I arrived the welcome was like I was part of the family: hugs and kisses from father Luigi and his partner Alida; sister Adriana, husband Sandro (who I had met several times before), and daughters Victoria (12) and Nicola (14).  The banter at the dinner table, and the laughing, were nonstop, moving easily between English and Italian.  Luigi and Alida did not speak English, so Omar translated – we also discovered that both grandfathers spoke rudimentary Spanish, so we occasionally conversed that way.  The main course was Alida’s wonderful lasagna, then a special almond-cream birthday cake for Omar.  It was a special evening – so wonderful for a visitor to be invited into a home when traveling abroad.

Slept hard again, up Friday morning and out the door, onto a regional train south 50 miles to Milan.  Walked a kilometer to the Pasticceria San Gregorio, and at 10:20 met longtime (since 1991) friend and former American Airlines colleague Massimo Vesentini.  We only had about an hour, so we talked fast, updating on families, work, and a little about the state of the world.  He accompanied me back to Stazione Centrale, hugged, and went back to work.

Massimo Vesentini, and an unusual ceiling display at the coffee shop

I hopped on the 12:05 fast train east to Vicenza, ultimately headed for the Brenta Valley, where my late brother Jim and wife Pam vacationed for many years, bicycling up smaller valleys and around the villages of the Veneto region.  In my backpack were the last of Jim’s ashes, and I wanted to consign them to the ancestral (well, 25% at least) homeland of which he was most proud.  Our dear Giacomo loved Italy and all things Italian.  A few months before he died, we agreed that we needed to do a cycling trip back to the Veneto, and that journey would include a visit to Pinarello, maker of some of the world’s best bicycles (I’ve owned a red one since 2011).  Once I committed to take his ashes, I wrote a paper letter to Fausto Pinarello (son of founder Giovanni, who started building bikes at age 15), told him that story, and that I bought my Pinarello on Jim’s recommendation.  Three months passed with no reply, and I gave up on the prospect.  Then just three weeks earlier an email arrived, Alice sending a nice invitation.

So at Vicenza I jumped on a local train east to Treviso, then into a taxi to the factory, arriving about 3:45.  Alice was the receptionist, and she called Andrea, a young marketing manager, who led me around the showroom, then into the production area.  It was fascinating.  They build bikes in three small plants, and this one, attached to their main office, was only for the serious high-end machines, the ones the best pros use.  We saw the paint shop, decal-application room, and the assembly area.  It was hand-crafting at its best.  As a souvenir, I got a Pinarello water bottle.  Shook Andrea’s and Alice’s hands, thanked them profusely in Italian, and hopped back in a taxi.

Back on the train, one change, arriving in Bassano del Grappa (yes, it’s the place that gives the simple brandy its name) at 6:10.  Short walk to my modest hotel, wash face, and at 7:00 I met Walter, one of the Italian friends that Jim and Pam made on their trips.  Walter, 39, was a wonderful guy, spoke great English (he had worked in England), always smiling.  We headed to L’Antica de Abbazia, a pizza restaurant in a former Benedictine abbey.   We had a great meal and got to know each other a bit.

Next stop was his Aunt Elsa’s bar in the village of Pove del Grappa, a few miles north of Bassano, which was where the Brittons stayed (sadly, the hotel they always used had closed).  They actually met Walter through Elsa – every day after their bike ride they would stop at her Bar Romanelle for an orange juice or soft drink before heading back to the hotel.  Elsa was away when we arrived, eating her dinner.  While waiting for her at a table outside, an “opposite T-t-S” happened.  A pretty young woman kept staring at me.  Finally she walked over and, apologizing profusely for interrupting, said “I love your accent; where are you from?”, which launched a chat about the U.S., including, alas, politics.  Soon Elsa was back behind that bar, at age 71 still working hard.  We had a chat with Walter translating, and met her daughter Eva and grandson (“Gabri Blu,” who at age 10 was already one of Italy’s best hip-hop dancers; go figure!).  I was plumb wore out, and Walter looked tired, too, so we motored back to Bassano and parted with hugs.  It was a long day.

I woke in the middle of the night with a start: where were Jim’s ashes?  I knew I packed them, but where?  Rummaged through my backpack and suitcase, and, aha, they were exactly where I put them a week earlier.  Up at seven, breakfast, and out the door.  As in northern Minnesota in August, I wanted to dispatch Jim to the earth, air, and water.  Earth first, at the base of still-blooming roses at the northeast gate of the (walled) old town.  Then into the air along the wall of the ancient Ezzelini Castle, and finally into the Brenta River from the historic Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), designed my Andrea Palladio, Italy’s most famous 16th Century architect.  Every deposit violated Italian law (so Massimo informed me weeks earlier), which requires that all human remains be buried in a cemetery, but, well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do!

R.I.P., Giacomo: the last of my brother returned to the earth, the air, and the water

Above, looking north, up the Brenta Valley; below, the Ponte Vecchio designed by Palladio

With the day’s main task finished, prayers said, and tears shed, I ambled around Bassano for a couple of hours, through the old town.  Two highlights.  One, the Saturday open-air market with beautiful local fruits and vegetables.  My eye landed on peeled whole garlics, then immediately a memory from 60 years ago: the smell of garlic sautéing in olive oil in my grandmother’s kitchen in Chicago.  Two, climbed to the top of the ancient city tower, Torre Civico, for great views in all directions.  In the tower were a series of interpretive panels in several languages that explained Bassano’s evolution in great detail; most salient was that the river was truly the lifeblood of the town: abundant water for drinking and bathing; for crops and watering livestock; for shipping (south to Venice and the rest of the world); and for power, for example to spin silk thread.  Scenes from Bassano:

At left, new meaning to the phrase “attack dog”; at right, the town’s namesake product

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Ambled back to the hotel grabbed my suitcase, and got on the 11:25 slow, slow train up the Brenta Valley, over a pass, and down into the Adige Valley to the City of Trento.  As we went north and west, house architecture looked less Italian and more Alpine, with steeper gables to handle the weight of snow; and ecclesiastical architecture tended away from Romanesque toward Austrian-Baroque.  Also notable: lots of fruit cultivation: grapes, apples, apricots, pears.  I had an hour between trains, so I found picnic fixings at a supermarket, then ate lunch in a pleasant park with fountains, ponds, and ducks.  Last ride was 35 minutes north to Bolzano, in the autonomous province of South Tyrol.  This is complicated: there’s another autonomous province to the south, Trentino, and together they made up the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. Yes, it’s Italy, but about 40 years ago the national government in Rome transferred most legislative and administrative powers to the two provinces; and taxing authority, which means the region keeps 90% and remits only 10% to the national treasury in Rome.  The whole setup reflects historical forces going back centuries, and a lot of to and fro following World War I and World War II.  In South Tyrol, 62% of the population have German as a first language, 25% Italian, 5% Ladin (an ancient tongue spoken in remote valleys, not unlike Romansch in Switzerland), and the remainder are the languages of immigrants.  You can read more in Wikipedia!

San Lorenzo (12th C.), Trento

Walked a few blocks from the station to my Airbnb, met the host’s son, Andrea, 23, and settled into a nice big room in a large flat.  My host, Simona (she was in India), had taken great care to decorate the guest room.  It was beautiful, and the bed beckoned, for a short nap.  Andrea showed me his bike out on the street and gave me the lock key for riding the next day.  I hoped for no rain, because some two-wheel touring would be great.  Out the door before six, literally steps to my dinner venue next door, a brewpub called Batzen.  Settled in on a stool at the bar, had a couple of beers and a nice plate of meat and potatoes.  Sitting on a bar stool and paying attention to customer interaction, I learned a bit about the dynamics of language and power (my bartender was a neutral party, a young immigrant from Albania!).  Walked next door, called home, and was asleep by ten.  Hard sleep, dreamland.

Up at seven, looked outside, cloudy but no rain, so pedaled off for a quick ride around town, south then west, then back.  Stopped for a double espresso at the little Bar Luce by the Talvera River, which joins the Adige in Bolzano.  Back to the house, light breakfast with bread and jam (rolls from dinner the night before, squirreled away, jam from the fridge).   Back out on the bike, across the river to the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church, which I found on the Internet.  The locals, whether German- or Italian-speaking, are largely Catholic (and overtly so, judging by all the roadside shrines).  It was Armistice Day, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the Great War, “the war to end all wars,” and it seemed to be a good day to give thanks and supplication.  (Although Italy changed sides in 1914 and joined the Allies, the region’s historic ties to Austria, and thus the Austro-Hungarian Empire, made it likely that a century earlier a lot of locals were “on the other side.”)

Italian “jet fuel,” Bar Luce

I emailed the pastor, Rev. Jäger, the week before to confirm that worship was at 10:00, and he confirmed.  I arrived early and he welcomed me warmly.  The congregation was small, perhaps 25 people.  Wonderful organist, I got through the hymns (easier auf Deutsch than Swedish weeks earlier), and sang the last, familiar one with special vigor, Martin Luther’s “Ein Feste Burg” (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”).  As I experienced at German Lutheran worship in 2002 and 2016, communion is truly communal, the group gathering in a semicircle at the altar.  It was a good place to be that morning.

Evangelical (Lutheran) Church

Bolzano had a wonderful network of bikeways

Evidence of long prosperity in the city

Back on the bike, zipping downriver several miles, then back to the train station for lunch fixings (almost everything is closed Sundays), then back to the Airbnb.  Tucked into a big sandwich, chips, and a Coke, then back out, short coast to the bottom station of the Ritten Seilbahn (cable car).  Bought a regional day ticket for €15, and hopped on.  Up, up, and away.  I hadn’t been on a big aerial tramway for years, and it was way fun, sort of like flying.  At the top, Soprabolzano (or Oberbozen in German), I hopped on a little narrow-gauge train east to the end of the line, then on foot, up to see a geological curiosity, “earth pyramids,” reddish-brown spires formed by deposition and erosion.  Alas, as I descended toward them a thick fog set in, and I saw nothing (as I got back to the little train station, the fog lifted, sigh).  Back on the train, back down on the tram, on the bike home and a short nap.

Villages above Bolzano looked decidedly Alpine; below, one of many shrines along roads and trails

The earth pyramids were down in the fog; at right, I did see a little one, barely visible; below, goats both real and imagined (oh, vanity! note she’s admiring herself in the mirror!)

At 5:30, I headed next door to Batzen, back on a bar stool for beer and dinner.  High point was a glass of their Habanero Pils, yes, spiced with hot peppers.  ¡Arriba!  Back home, re-packed by bag, starting reading a novel on my iPhone, then Zzzzzzzzz.

Woke before six Monday morning, out the door to the station and onto the 7:32 train north to Innsbruck, Austria.  In no time all Italian-style buildings disappeared, and I was decidedly in Central Europe.  We went through a tunnel below Brenner Pass, into Austria, and downhill to Innsbruck, last visited in 1973 when I was briefly a tour manager across the border in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.  Most people with an hour between trains would hang in the station, but I kept moving, out for a 40-minute walk through the center to the famous Goldenes Dachl (Gold Roof, below), a landmark built in 1500 for a royal wedding.

Back to the Bahnhof and onto the 10:40 to Munich.  Coasted east, down the Inn Valley, then across into Germany.  As soon as we crossed the border the solar panels appeared – the Germans so understand solar and renewable energy, what insight!  It was a little too early for lunch (11:30), but the train arrived Munich at 12:25 and it had a dining car, irresistible to this traveler who grew up riding trains with rolling restaurants, so I headed in for a small plate of meat dumplings and sauerkraut.  Not great, but the ambience was superb – the scene along the tracks was the Alpine version of the “storybook” landscape that I have often described along the middle Rhine Valley north of Mainz: this is the Europe that non-Europeans imagine it to be!

Hopped on the 12:47 train west to Plochingen, through Augsburg and past the huge church spire in Ulm that I climbed two years earlier, then onto a connecting train south to the historic university of town of Tübingen.  As the crow flies, from Bolzano it was only 165 miles, but it took nearly the whole day to get over and around mountains and hills.  I was teaching the next day at the European School of Business (ESB) in Reutlingen, 9 miles away, but Tübingen is a more interesting and historic place.  Hopped on the bus, stopped at the supermarket for breakfast supplies for the next days (brief T-t-S at the bakery with a young immigrant with family in the U.S.), and up the hill to Sandra’s and Tom’s Airbnb, my second visit.  They were away, but left directions to the hidden key, and I was in.  Unpacked, connected to Wi-Fi, did a bit of work.  Headed into the center at six, back to a cozy restaurant for a plate of bratwurst and fried potatoes.  Back home, asleep by 9:30 – I really didn’t do anything hard that day, but was totally worn out.  Way deep sleep, dreamland, tonic!

Up at seven to shave off four days of whiskers and don a necktie – time to stand and deliver (in the afternoon).  Had a nice, brief catch-up chat with Sandra before she headed to the gym (Tom was in Detroit), a couple of cups of coffee, and out the door.  Did some errands, worked a bit, brought this journal up to date, and at noon met Professor Dominik Papies, Marketing Chair at Tübingen University.  We had a good discussion and a nice lunch at a fancy restaurant, and by the end of the meal it looked very much like I landed another teaching venue at a storied university.  Dominik was a young guy, clearly up and coming; among other things, I learned he had been an exchange student at Eagan High School in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, not far from where I grew up.

Tübingen is a delightful university town; below, evidence that Germans lead the world in recycling: everything into the Yellow Bag (Gelber sack)

Nice wordplay in a help-wanted sign at a Tübingen bakery: “Weckle” means bun in the local (Swabian) dialect!

Took the train 9 miles east to Reutlingen, then the bus up to ESB, the European School of Business at Reutlingen, my seventh visit there.  Met my host Oliver Götz, and from 3:30 to 5:00 delivered a talk on airline selling to 40 undergraduates.  Oliver and I then hopped in his car and motored back to Tübingen, parked in a ramp just outside the old town, and walked to a new restaurant, Gasthaus Bären, specializing in Swabian tapas (Swabia is the historic region that rambles across two modern German states).  The latter two words turned out to be oxymoronic – traditional Swabian cooking is hearty, and the eight small, shared dishes turned out to be a huge meal.  Burp!

Oliver dropped me at the Airbnb, I chatted briefly with Sandra, and was asleep before nine, because I was up at 4:30 Wednesday morning, out the door, and onto a bus to Stuttgart Airport, 25 miles north.  I was stressed, because the bus arrived 59 minutes before my flight departed.  But I was at the gate 14 minutes after the bus dropped me, stress relieved.  Flew Eurowings to London, landing Heathrow at 8:20, fairly short queue (under 20 minutes) at immigration, then onto the Picadilly (Tube) Line into town.  As always, once on the train I cued The Beatles, English genius at its best.  Off the train at South Kensington, and seriously in need of coffee (I had a light picnic breakfast on the bus to the airport, but no coffee).  Headed into Pret a Manger for two coffees and a Danish, and life was way better.  Walked a half-mile north to Imperial College London and worked the rest of the morning.

On the Piccadilly Line

From 1:00 to 2:00, delivered a webinar to alumni of the business school at the University of Hull, in Yorkshire (I’ve started doing webinars organized by an enterprising woman, Jane, who I met in Düsseldorf in 2017).   Grabbed a quick lunch from the cleverly-named  Pie Minister, a sort of indoor food truck in the Imperial student union.  The server, a smiling African immigrant, heard me say I was hungry and added another scoop of mashed potatoes and a ladle of gravy.  Time to deliver again, a two-hour seminar for about 150 Masters marketing students.  By 5:30, I was worn out.  Walked back to the Tube, then west to Kew and a night with Omar and Carolyn and their kids.  No humans were home when I got there, but Mr. Waffles, their more-than-spunky golden retriever welcomed me with games of fetch and tug of war.

Changed clothes, and walked a couple of blocks to the agreed dinner venue, the Kew Gardens pub.  Sadly, the kitchen was closed.  Omar arrived and we opted for dinner at Pizza Express in the Kew village, a serviceable chain and a fave of their kids, Sophie and Freddie.  They and Carolyn arrived, and in no time we were jabbering as old friends do.  Pizza, pasta, beer, and then a welcome sleep – had been up since 3:30 UK time.

Mr. Waffles plays tug of war; Freddie Merlo (far right) in front of the Queen’s School, Kew

Up early, more fun with Waffles, quick breakfast, then out the door with Carolyn, walking the kids a few blocks to school.  Hugs to all, then onto the Tube into Central London.  Quick coffee with a young colleague, then onto a sharebike a couple of miles to the London School of Economics.  Last gig of the trip.  Omar was teaching a intro to marketing course to undergrads, and I was guest.  Finished that at two, ambled a couple of blocks to Masala Zone, a curry chain, for a spicy lunch.  Then one more stop before it got dark, onto the Tube east to the Olympic Park, site of the 2008 summer games.

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Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

No games that day, instead a solemn event.  Four days earlier, I marked the centenary of the end of World War I in a church.  Now I was walking toward and around “Shrouds of the Somme,” an enormous art project consisting of 72,396 small (about 18” long) figures wrapped in white shrouds and arrayed in a grassy field in the park – one for each of the British and Commonwealth forces that died in the bloodiest battle in British military history.  When I came upon the scene, I wept, as did many others.  Over loudspeakers, a volunteer read names, ages, and the military unit of each.  Further along, a separate display, one shroud for each day of the war, and a small sign showing the death toll of that day.  I counted the tallies for Christmas, normally a day of peace: 1914, 147; 1915, 208; 1916, 269; and 1917, 281.  Then I thought of my great-uncle Maurice, who died a month before the war ended.  I didn’t know the day, so I Googled his name, and learned that he died of shrapnel wounds while eating lunch on October 11, 1918.  This was all so grim.

I bought a program when I entered the site, and read the story of the artist, Rob Heard.  Imagine my surprise when I saw him standing by the exit, chatting as visitors left.  Of course I had to thank him.  We had a nice exchange.  Despite his fame, he was quiet, unassuming, kind.  I told him about Maurice, and showed him his picture on my iPhone.  As I left, thanking him again, I told him that one of the many things I admired about the British was that they were good at remembering. “Yes, he said softly, “yes, we are.”

Left, reading names of the dead; right, artist Rob Heard

Headed back to town, picked up my suitcase and backpack (left at my friend’s office), worked in his lobby a bit, walked a couple of blocks to Liverpool Street Station, then onto the 7:00 train to Harwich, then the ferry across the North Sea to Hoek van Holland.  This was the fifth time I’ve returned from Britain via the Netherlands, to avoid the $250 (and soon to rise again) departure tax, and have a little adventure along the way (the whole package by boat, trains and breakfast included, is $125).  Was in my cabin and fast asleep by 9:45.

Up at 6:30, big breakfast, down the gangway, onto a bus, then a train, then another bus (the Dutch were repairing a piece of a major rail artery, which caused some disruption).  Along the way, glimpses of the orderly and dense Dutch countryside, intersected by canals and ditches – they do know their water!  Arrived Schiphol Airport at 10:25, in time for a coffee and chat with ex-KLM executive and friend Jan Meurer.  We had a good yak and some laughs, taking turns showing pictures on our smartphones.  Jan peeled off at 11:30 and I flew home via Philadelphia.

The orderly Dutch cityscape, Schiedam; at right, my friend Jan Meurer catching up on the news

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St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Montreal, and Omaha

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Along the Lachine Canal, Montreal

On Sunday, October 7, jumped on a quick flight west to St. Louis, bound for my second appearance at Washington University.  Landed early, hopped on the handy Metrolink light-rail from the airport, and within 30 minutes was at the hotel on campus.  Along the way, something I’d never seen on public transit: a card shark working passengers, mostly young black men, on the train.  I really wanted to get a picture, but, well . . .  He had a wad of cash, plenty of Franklins, and in the three minutes I was on the Blue Line train he had done a brisk business.

At five, I reconnected with Bill Burnes, a St. Louisan and great fellow.  Back in Aughts, Bill and his colleagues worked at Momentum, the agency that handled American Airlines sales promotions.  I had not seen him in a dozen years, found him on LinkedIn, and up he drove in his Mustang convertible (it was about to pour, so the top was up).  We drove a mile to Salt & Smoke, a barbeque restaurant I visited the year before with students, and had a 2.5-hour repast, catching up, discussing marketing, ranting about the idiocy of procurement departments, and more.  Oh, yeah, some good local craft beer and a plate of pulled pork, beans, and tomato salad.  It was a great evening.

Up Monday morning to the hotel gym, cranked out some miles, breakfast, then over to the Olin Business School.  Met my host, Professor Chak Narasimhan, and delivered a talk to a small but engaged class in (distribution) channel strategy.  The Faculty Club was closed, so we walked next door to the law school for a quick lunch and yak.  Hopped in a taxi at 1:00, like the year before bound for the suburban house of Steve Schlachter, friend since 1963 and former AA co-worker.  Much of the joy of Talking to Strangers is conversing with people way different than me.  The cab driver, from the Kikuyu people of Kenya, was way different, but much the same.  We talked about work and family, about faith and values.  We also talked about how, almost five decades ago, we were nearly in the same place at the same time: on my only visit to Kenya, in 1972, we visited Lake Nakuru, famous for its huge flocks of pink flamingos.  A couple of years later, he started school in Nakuru, traveling from his home village 100 miles west.  Those kinds of time/place near-intersections are not uncommon, another datapoint on a mobile life.  I gave him a good tip.

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WashU has an impressive campus, not least for the quality of the buildings: renovated older halls and dazzling new ones

Steve and I immediately fell into a long chatter across a bunch of topics, including other friends, current events, and some substantial remodeling of their home.  We zipped a mile to the supermarket for some supplies (read: beer for Rob), then back for a mid-afternoon snack.  At four, I hopped on his sleek city bike and coasted down a big hill to Creve Coeur Lake, ringed with a great biking trail.  It was warm but not hot, and I cranked out 17 miles, then pedaled over to the gardening store where Steve’s wife Cindy works.  Steve met us at 5:40, we put the bike on the car rack, and drove home, up the hill (I sorta cheated a little, but the hill was big).  Took a shower, grabbed a cold beer, and at 6:30 we headed back to Paul Manno’s Café, a wonderful Italian place where we dined the year before (do you detect a pattern?  The St. Louis trip was like, as Yogi Berra memorably said, “Déjà vu all over again).  Was fast asleep well before ten.

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Creve Coeur Lake, suburban St. Louis

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Chris and Haley, Cindy’s father and daughter co-workers at Schmittel’s Nursery

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Hospitality!  Fellow Minnesotan Steve served my beer in a Vikings glass.  Skol!

And up at 4:40 Tuesday morning, out the door, and back to the airport for a 6:12 departure to Minneapolis/St. Paul on Delta.  Even though I had been to my home state just six weeks earlier, I was still excited to return.  Landed in rain and mid-40s temps, and began a bold experiment: public transit everywhere, no rental car.  Bought a Metro Transit day pass for $5 and hopped on the Blue Line light rail toward the University of Minnesota, where I would teach later in the morning and afternoon.  At the 50th Street station, a woman with some bulky bags squeezed in next to me.  “I’ve met you,” she said, “You’re a teacher.”  I replied affirmatively, launching an outstanding T-t-S.  More specifically, for the second time in two days it was a T-t-S-w-P-W-D-T-M – with people way different than me.  Susan looked Ojibwe, and halfway into the conversation I asked her if she were Anishinabe, the more respectful term for that nation.  Yes, she was, and told me that her “real” first name was Flower in the Wind (she said it both in English and Anishinabe).  Lovely.  We talked a lot about her 28-year-old son; she was happy that “he finally seems to be directing his energy in positive ways.”  Just before I got off the train, she told me that at age 55 she had outlived most of her friends, a sad commentary of the life expectancy of Native peoples.

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The famous spherical-triangle roof at Lambert St. Louis International Airport

 

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Flying into rainy weather, and a perfect flight on Delta Air Lines

I grabbed a quick breakfast in the B-school, worked a bit, then set off, across the wide Mississippi River to the East Bank Campus of “The U.”  It was raining lightly but steadily, so I ducked into a few buildings as I made my way around.  Paused for 20 minutes in the atrium of the architecture building, where a civil engineering job fair was just getting underway.  More T-t-S with several organizations looking to hire imminent graduates.  Despite all the time I spend at universities, they always fascinate me, that morning in the broad range of things to study.  After the job fair, I lingered in the mechanical engineering building, specifically in the shops where students built things.  Just wonderful.

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Longtime friend and stalwart Geography Prof. Rod Stewart in his tidy office

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The Washington Avenue bridge connects the U of M’s West and East Banks. As an undergraduate, I crossed this two-block-long span up to six times in a morning.  I still know the way!

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Outside the Mechanical Engineering shops; at right, a machine that can cut any material using 60,000 psi of water pressure.  Whoa.

 

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Last stop on the campus roam was the Borchert Map Library, named for a wonderful former professor; here a close-up of a USGS topographic map showing my father’s birthplace in Cascade County, Montana

Hopped the Green Line light rail back to the West Bank and met my longtime U of M host, Debbie John.  Delivered back-to-back lectures to her undergraduate advertising class, with yummy pizza in between.  At 3:30, I said goodbye, and hopped on an express bus, then a local bus, then three blocks through the rain to the home of long friends Deb and Phil Ford.  Such a joy to lodge with friends, way better than a hotel.  We yakked for an hour.  I cheated a bit and headed to dinner in Deb’s car rather than public transit, north to the home of Emily Sheppard and new husband Michael, plus their swell big dog Buster.  Emily’s mom Martha, widow of old pal Jack Sheppard arrived, and we tucked into a big dinner and lots of conversation.   But I was plumb wore out, so hugged them all before nine and drove back to the Fords.  Yakked briefly and clocked out.

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Undergrad advertising class, tucking into free pizza

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Canine pals along the way: Sadie (Steve and Cindy were petsitting) and Emily’s dog Buster

I didn’t teach until 9:55, but my body was still on Eastern Time, so woke up at 5:25 (one hour difference seems to mess me more than the five or six across to Europe!).  Showered and out the door, several blocks south and west to 50th and France, the shopping area of my childhood.  Stopped at the fabulous Wuollet Bakery for a Danish, then yogurt at Lund’s & Byerly’s supermarket, then a big Starbucks.  At eight I hopped on the #6 bus, a line from my childhood, and rolled toward downtown Minneapolis, then across to The U on light rail.  Delivered a talk to MBA students in mid-morning, met host Mark Bergen for lunch, worked the afternoon, and repeated the MBA lecture at dinnertime.  Mark is an enthusiastic and welcoming host – the only of my B-school hosts who whoops at the end of my lectures.  Great fun!

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50th and France, Edina, Minnesota, familiar for 60+ years

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Carlson School of Management

Deb and Phil picked me up at 7:30 and we motored a couple of miles to Brasa, a wonderful casual eatery we had visited several years earlier.  We tucked into a great dinner, and even better conversation.  Headed home.  Last nice moment of a good day was Deb playing some tunes, Cole Porter and the Beatles among others, on their Steinway.

Up early Thursday morning, out the door and onto the 46 bus across south Minneapolis and the Mississippi to the Highland Park neighborhood in St. Paul and a wonderful reconnection (and caloric breakfast) with Ruth Mordy Friedlander, who I had not seen in more than three decades.  Ruth was the daughter of Wendell Mordy, who was president of the Science Museum of Minnesota when I worked there briefly in the early 1980s.  Wendell, his swell wife Brooke, and Ruth, we all became friends, but the last time I saw her was at her wedding in 1984.  There was a lot to catch up on.  Staying connected and reconnecting is such a joy.

Ruth kindly dropped me at the airport, and I flew home.  A good start to the quarter’s peregrinations.

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After returning home, Ruth dug out a picture from the last time we met, at her wedding in October 1984; I’m holding a one-month-old Jack in his car seat, and yakking with the father of the groom

 

Ten days later, on a windy and crisp Sunday morning, October 21, I flew Air Canada to Montreal, for my third 2018 visit to McGill University and, by my pretty-accurate reckoning, the 100th trip to Canada since the first one in 1967.  Landed at 1:30, and made fast for the STM (local public transit) express bus downtown.  While waiting to board, I struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow American.  It turned out to be one of the better T-t-S ever.  Mark Inch served in the U.S. Army for 35 years, rising to the rank of major general and heading the entire MP organization.  He served in the new Administration as director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, but resigned after just seven months following significant, “principled” (his word) disagreements with the Attorney General and others.  We continued the conversation all the way into town.  He had a hugely varied military career (for example, serving with UN forces in Somalia in the early 1990s and teaching at West Point).  And he was a fellow geographer, earning a Master’s at the University of Texas at Austin.  Just a fascinating guy.

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After a quick connecting ride on the Metro, I checked into my “hotel” atop a McGill highrise dorm, a place now very familiar.  Hewing to formula, slurped a bowl of spicy noodles at the tiny Kantapia Korean café, then hopped on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare.  It was windy and cold, but I needed some exercise, and to see (for the first time) the largely Francophone neighborhoods of east Montreal.  Had a great ride until my iPhone suddenly lost all power.  The Bixi app was thus useless, but happily the kiosks at the stations recognized my debit card and account, and was back on my way, returning to downtown.  No phone meant no camera, and I wanted to snap some pictures of the neighborhoods and some lovely older buildings, especially churches.  Next time!

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Grabbed a quick nap, hopped back on a Bixi, a mile east to my fave brewpub, Saint-Houblon. on Rue Saint-Denis.  The friendly server told me that Michel, a manager there who I had gotten to know on many previous visits, had left two weeks earlier.  I had a couple of beers and a sensational plate of salmon and shrimp dumplings.  Rode back, clocked out.

I wasn’t teaching until Monday afternoon, so at dawn put on warm clothing and hopped on the Bixi, down the hill to the St. Lawrence River, then west along the formerly industrial Lachine Canal.  Lots of detours, because of the seemingly endless residential and commercial construction downtown and on the edges of the center.  The whole city seemed to be a construction zone, either buildings or roads.  My Republican friends would no doubt be dismayed to see all this growth in a “socialist” economy!  Rode back, parked the bike, and ambled a block to a bowl of oatmeal and muffin at Tim Horton’s.  Suited up, grabbed my suitcase, and headed south and west to the McGill campus.  My class was in the law school, but I parked for a couple of hours on the second floor of the business school and did some work.  Halfway through, a student who was in two of my lectures a year earlier sat down for a chat.  “Do you remember me?” he asked.  As I usually do, I apologized, but then actually recalled that he had worked summers for Delta in Atlanta, and we talked about career prospects in the airline business.  I subsequently sent a couple of email recommendations for him.

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At left, industrial buildings recycled as condos along the Lachine Canal; at right, the new construction that is everywhere in Montreal

At noon, I met my long friend (and now co-author; stay tuned for details) Bob Mackalski for lunch at Universel, a familiar and fave eatery a few hundred meters from the B-school.   We had a lot to talk about and less than an hour, but we managed to cover a lot of ground, mostly about his new job as director of McGill’s Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, the university’s business incubator.  Bob, a consummate marketing pro both in and out of the classroom, was brimming with creative ideas on how to advance the center.  It was a great yak, but way too short.  As I have written before, he’s one of the most interesting people I regularly meet.

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Montreal brims with street art; this colorful critter coiled outside our lunch venue

After lunch, I trudged up the hill on Peel Street (torn up for new water mains) to the Institute of Air and Space Law, and delivered a talk on airline alliances to a hugely multinational class of 20.  Back down the hill (wish I could have balanced on the rolling suitcase, wheeeeee), onto the Metro, the 747 STM bus, and a flight home.  I never tire of Montreal, even for a short visit.

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I visited just days after marijuana became legal in Canada; here a deposit bin just before entering the U.S. Customs Preclearance Facility

 

Six days later, on Sunday, October 28, I flew west to Chicago and on to Omaha, for a week of teaching in the Aviation Institute of the University of Nebraska Omaha.  Landed in early afternoon, hopped in a taxi piloted by a friendly Ethiopian immigrant (tech-savvy, I paid him via the Square app on his smartphone), checked into the hotel near campus, changed into jeans, and jumped on a Heartland BCycle, Omaha’s bikeshare system.

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Omaha’s Midtown district, anchored by Mutual of Omaha (insurance); new commercial and residential buildings and plenty of green space

I have for decades said that anyone who thinks the Midwest is flat has never been there, and that’s totally true about Omaha.  I headed east toward downtown, up and down, up and down, up and down.  Nearly everyone I passed nodded, smiled,  or made eye contact.  Chatted briefly with a few people at stoplights.  It was great to be “home” in the Midwest.  Had a good look at a pleasant mid-size city, then rode across the wide Missouri into Council Bluffs, Iowa – an interstate ramble.  I missed lunch, and my “fuel tank” was low on the ride back.  One way to conserve energy was to time the three downhill glides to zip through green lights at the bottoms – it was the cycling equivalent of large birds riding thermal updrafts in the summer!

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The city still has wonderful old buildings from its era of fast growth a century ago; at left, the former public library (note authors’ names above the windows), and a big office building in what’s simply called Commercial style

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The sinuous Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge across the wide Missouri (named for a former U.S. senator)

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My fave Omaha neighborhood, Happy Hollow, just east of UNO

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Nebraska microbrew, a reward for the hilly ride!

My UNO host and director of the Aviation Institute, Scott Tarry, and his wife Mary picked me up at 5:45, and we motored a couple of miles north into an agreeable older neighborhood called Dundee for dinner at Pitch.  A superb meal, and good talk.

As on every recent trip into the Central Time Zone, I woke at five.  The Courtyard by Marriott had a tiny fitness center and no bike, but happily guests could use a nearby gym, so I headed there for some exercise on Monday morning, then onto a shuttle bus and over to the larger north campus (UNO has two, separated by about a mile).  Spent some time getting settled, then in meetings with faculty.  Delivered three back to back lectures from 11:30 until 3:45, whew (glad to have eaten a big breakfast), then another talk from 6:30 to 7:45.  Then I was plumb wore out.  Back to the hotel, into jeans, and down the street for a Thai curry.

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The art in the foreground was funded under a 1978 Nebraska law that mandates 1% of the capital cost of constructing new public buildings be allocated to art; now there’s a good idea!

Rinse, repeat on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I was glad that Scott and his colleagues were keeping me busy.  Wednesday was Halloween, and a few students wore costumes (though not in my classes).  I missed trick or treating (it seemed like years since I was out of town on Halloween), and I didn’t finish teaching until 8:30 Wednesday night.  Whew.  Thursday was an easier day, two classes in the morning and a short one in early evening.  High point of the day was a nice T-t-S with the shuttle driver back to the south campus.  I was the only passenger.  He was an African-American man about my age.  I greeted him cheerfully, and sat down.  “Man,” he said, “you are in a good mood.”  I replied that I tried hard to always be that way, and cited sage advice from one of my bosses, CEO Gerard Arpey of American Airlines, who said we don’t really control much in our lives, but we have absolute control over our attitude.  That launched a great chat, mostly centered on family. I wished the ride were longer.  Back at the hotel, changed clothes, found a new BBQ restaurant for dinner, tucked in, and was asleep before nine.

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Nebraska clearly invests in higher education; UNO facilities were new or newer, and well-kept

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The first building on the new campus (1931, when a former private college became a municipal university), and the Henningson Campanile, named for a Nebraskan who headed a construction company that brought power to rural people, among other projects

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Two Omahans: painting of investor Warren Buffett in the lobby of the business school; and a recent arrival working the wok in the student union

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“Quest for Knowledge,” also funded under the 1% law

Friday morning, up again at 5:00, off to the gym for a longer ride (17 miles), then to a caloric breakfast with Scott and his Aviation Institute colleagues.  I did a “gentle hard sell” to return in 2019, because I really enjoyed the week with nice kids and a great, small faculty team.   Stopped to drop my expense report at the school, then, for the first time ever, hopped in a Lyft to the airport.  Kemy from Seattle was the driver, and it was a fine ride.  A young African-American from Seattle, he came east to college and stayed.  Showed me pictures of his kids, compared notes on house prices, and agreed that our President was a complete dolt (I’ll ride Lyft again, but not Uber, at least not until they hire more grown-ups to run the company).  Flight to Chicago was late, but I had two hours until my connecting flight.  Was home by nine.  It was a good week.

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Backlit ad in Omaha Airport; as a heartlander, I like the message and the double-entendre slogan. Hooray for civic pride!

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Switzerland, Berlin (Briefly), and Sweden

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Morning on the Umeå River, northern Sweden

On Saturday, September 15, was onto the short flight to Philadelphia and across the Atlantic for the first European teaching of the autumn term.  Landed in Zurich on a beautiful late-summer morning, sunny and warm.  Had a $7.50 cup of Starbucks in the airport train station, and hopped on the 10:44 train to St. Gallen and my 19th visit to the university there.  While waiting for my train, there were three variants of Talking to Strangers: H-f-S, help for strangers.  I directed two Israeli youngsters to the platform for the train to the downtown main station, an African fellow to the train for Weinfelden, and a Chinese student for the train to Ziegelbrücke.  I do know my way around Switzerland!

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Skies above Maryland and Switzerland

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Art in Philadelphia Airport; crocheted work by local Jessica Curtaz

Arrived in St. Gallen, after 18 years well familiar, at 11:35.  Happily, my nearby hotel had a room ready (the Swiss can be rigid about check-in times), and I was changed and out the door before noon, onto my local host Georg Guttmann’s bike.  Georg has kindly loaned his bike every September since 2014, and I’ve varied my rides.  I hadn’t been toward the Alps since 2015, so I pointed the two-wheeler that way – actually west out of town, then south.  My destination: the end of the road in Wasserauen, 15.5 miles away.  Google Maps helpfully told me there was 1,515 feet of climb and 890 feet of descent on the way there, and in no time I was huffing and puffing.  Georg’s bike has a very low front gear, which made the steep hills less arduous (but still harder than I recalled from three years earlier).  The descents were fast, and in a couple of places wild.  Biggest downhill risk were the many moist cow turds in the road.  I imagined skidding on wet poop.  But I did not spill, and made it briskly through small villages to the tourist town of Appenzell (teeming with visitors), then another few miles up the Sitter Valley to Wasserauen.  Lovely ride.

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“An apple a day . . .”

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The Swiss have long taken “wayfinding” to the Nth degree

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The top of Sitter Valley is a popular paragliding area

Paused at the midway point for water, then started back.  I was hungry, and my usual go-to places for lunch, either the Migros or Co-op supermarkets were closed on Sundays, so I peeled into Backerei (Bakery) Schäfli.  They had a big outdoor terrace, and I tucked into Sennenrösti, the Swiss version of cheesy hash browns (like the Waffle House’s “Smothered and Covered,” but twice as expensive).  The plate was yummy, and it was nice to relax for nearly an hour, watching the Swiss enjoying their weekend.  Lots of elderly folk with the ski-pole-like walking sticks.  And almost no tubby folk like in the U.S.

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Lunch!

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A design common in central Europe: combined house and barn

Three years earlier, I took the wrong way back, climbing way too much, and back then I cheated a bit by hopping the local train, the Appenzeller Bahn, back to St. Gallen.  But 2018 was the real deal, which meant a tough slog back up the hill to the village of Stein, and then lots of Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee descents into St. Gallen.  Was back at the hotel at 4:40, an awesome afternoon.  The cool shower was tonic, as was a 60-minute nap.  Worked a bit, and at 8:00 headed to dinner at Drahtseilbähnli, a fun, small restaurant that opened a few years earlier.  Super friendly staff, great food.

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Village in the Sitter Valley

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Kids’ playhouse, Appenzeller dairy, Stein, and street art in St. Gallen

Was up way early Monday morning, biking up the hill to the University of St. Gallen.  It’s a climb, and even on a cool morning I worked up a sweat (my suit jacket was neatly folded into my backpack).  Worked the morning in the library, at 12:15 met Georg, and from 12:30 to 2:00 gave a lecture on airline pricing.  After class, a group of students invited me to coffee and further discussion.  We sat outdoors at the student union and yakked for 90 minutes.  Said goodbye, rode back down the hill (Wheeeeeeee!), changed clothes, and took a quick nap.  Biked out for dinner, checking a few places before settling on Tibits, a vegetarian buffet place I visited in May.  Great meal, down the food chain.

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The St. Gallen abbey church, outside and in

Rose early again Tuesday morning, out for a short (six miles) ride before sunrise on a cool morning.  On the way to an 11:15 lecture to MBA students, I stopped at the wildly Baroque abbey church, pausing for daily prayer beneath my favorite religious icon in the whole world: a wooden angel up on the ceiling.  I’ve admired her and whispered to her since my first visit in 2000.  After the MBA talk, Georg, my prof host Winfried Ruigrok, and I repaired to an Italian place for lunch (our traditional Swiss eatery was closed for renovations).  Worked several hours, and from 4:30 to 6:00 gave a lecture to 55 international management students, a younger group.  Back down the hill.  At 8:00 I met Georg’s replacement, Xiaoxu (from Shanghai), who just began her Ph.D., and Nina, who was a student helper, for dinner at Zum Goldenen Leuen, a longtime favorite.  Had a nice craft beer, potato salad, weisswurst, and great conversation.  Xiaoxu was especially interesting, very perceptive.  Third night, finally slept hard.

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Urban garden, Kleingarten, adjacent to St. Gallen campus; these small plots, sometimes with little overnight huts, are common across Europe

Repeat, repeat.  Up at six Wednesday morning, onto the 7:25 train to Zurich Airport and a 10:20 flight to Berlin.  Hopped on the 109 Bus from Tegel Airport and was at my digs, an Airbnb, by 1:00.  My host, Angelika, was as friendly and nice in person as she was in arranging the stay, and kindly allowed me to check in early.   The apartment, in a wonderful early-20th-Century building, was 100 feet from an U-Bahn (subway) station, which made the capital’s excellent public-transit system even more accessible.

Berlin was just a quick stopover, 27 hours, to attend InnoTrans, a huge railway exposition and trade fair held every two years.  I first visited with fellow Transport Geek Michael Beckmann in 2016, and really enjoyed it.  I’ve started to do a little consulting in railways, and remain fascinated with trains, so after dropping my suitcase and yakking a bit with Angelika and her daughter Helena, I headed to the huge Berlin Messe (fairgrounds).  Spent an afternoon wandering through several buildings.  Headed back to the apartment, washed my face (it was still very warm in Berlin, after a record hot summer), worked some email, and at 6:30 headed into the center.  Hopped off a S-Bahn (suburban train) at the newish main station, and walked toward the Reichstag, the German Parliament.  It was not quite as open as last time I visited, but still way less guarded than the U.S. Capitol.  I walked east on Unter den Linden (in the other direction was the famous Brandenburg Gate), and continued south to dinner with friends at the Hilton Berlin.  It was a nice meal and good conversation, but really long, and I was way tired.  Hopped on the U-Bahn at 11:20, head hit pillow past midnight.  I did not sleep well that night, ugh.

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Fittingly, the Richard-Wagner Platz U-Bahn station featured scenes from his many operas (“Siegried” shown here); at right, around the Reichstag were pavement-mounted place signs (identical to those on roadsides) for all 11,000+ German cities, towns, and hamlets, in alphabetical order — part of Germany Unity Day, celebrated on October 3.

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The Reichstag and Deutscher Dom (cathedral)

Up and out the door, back to InnoTrans.  I was headed to Sweden that Thursday afternoon, so rolled my suitcase and backpack everywhere.  It was still warm, and it was a sweaty morning.  But an interesting one, seeing lots of state-of-the-art trains and trams, yakking with some interesting people.  Scenes from the show:

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Not surprisingly, the Chinese were everywhere

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Best of show: trainsets from Stadler of Switzerland

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And tucked into a little corner: how we used to move on rails

Left the show at 1:00, S-Bahn and bus back to Tegel Airport, quick lunch, and a SAS flight to Stockholm, then, after hustling across Arlanda Airport, onto a connecting SAS flight north to Umeå, my 24th visit to the university in that pleasant city of 120,000.  I was seriously hungry, and the hotel where we always stay, the Uman, offers a free buffet dinner every night.  Tucked into fish curry and lots of the vegetables that are often missing from the travel diet.  Was asleep at 9:00, deep ZZZzzzzz for nine hours.  Tonic!

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Sunset, enroute to Umeå

My student hosts, from HHUS, the business-school student association, had kindly rented a bicycle for me, and the hotel receptionist handed me the key the night before.  So Friday morning at 6:20 I pulled on bike shorts and sweater (it was about 45° F, clear blue sky) and zipped off.  After two dozen visits, I know the place well.  Crossed the river, east to the island of Ön in the Umeå River, then west to my favorite place for riding, the small island of Bölesholmarna.  For several years (though not since 2015), I would say hello to Keso, a West Highland Terrier like our Henry, and his two masters.  I did not see Keso in 2016 nor 2017, so when I saw two women walking their dogs on the island, I asked if they knew Keso.  One did not, the other did, but said she had not seen them for a long time.  I vowed to keep looking.

After a shower and breakfast, was back on the bike and up the hill to the university, and USBE, the business school.  Worked a bit, and at 9:40 met one of my hosts, Chris Nicol.  Delivered a talk to his first-year international business students, ate a quick lunch, and from 1:15 to 3:00 gave a talk on airline strategy to Masters’ students.  Still not done.  From 3:30 to 4:45 it was time for the sixth annual “Drink and Learn” seminar at the E-Pub, a bar that HHUS runs.  The place was packed, and the bar was doing a brisk business in pitchers of beer.  I gave a short talk on emotional capital in business, answered some good questions, and was done.  But I stayed around for a couple of beers and informal chats with students.

On previous trips to Sweden, I met people with connections to Swedish-Americans in Minnesota, but never 3 in 10 minutes: Mary from the small town of Mora, daughter of a Canadian father and Swedish mother (who was on exchange from a small university in northern British Columbia); Axel, who as an exchange student in 2015 lived three blocks from one of the houses in Edina where I grew up (we talked a lot of hockey); and another young Swede who was an exchange student in a small town west of Minneapolis.  Small world stories, all.

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The E-Pub crowd, and your scribe with Alex Holmaner, the exchange student in Minnesota

I was about to head back to the hotel when a student asked me if I would “join the boat.”  It was noisy and I wasn’t clear about the invitation: a ride in the Umeå River, perhaps?  No, the boat was a 4-foot long toy-like wooden vessel, the Titanic, with five holes for shot glasses.  The bartender filled the glasses with Jack Daniels (not a favorite spirit, but when in Rome, or Umeå . . .), I joined the group, and at the foghorn signal we lifted the entire boat and drained the shots.  Lots of applause and backslapping.  “We are young,” I thought, and perhaps a little drunk!  Hopped back on the bike, slightly wobbly, and back down the hill in light rain to the hotel, where a sauna was just what I needed.  After a good sweat and a cold shower, I tucked into the buffet dinner, back to the room to read, and asleep early.   The original plan was to go to the opening game of the local pro hockey team, the Björklöven, but the game was sold out.  Boo!

Up at 6:15 Saturday morning, cloudy with rain forecast, but I gambled a bit and headed out for a pre-breakfast ride.  Strong wind from the southeast, but no rain until the last mile of nine.  Back into the hotel only a little wet, and hungry.  The hotel also lays out a lovely breakfast buffet, with plenty of coffee.  The weather forecast was rain until early afternoon, so I chilled in the hotel room, bringing this journal up to date and doing some consulting work.  I checked the local weather radar, ventured out at 11 in search of replacement Björklöven T-shirts for Jack and me (originals purchased 2009!), to the northern end of town and a big sporting-goods store.  The store was of course open, but the little “Team Shop” that had the team shirts, was closed.  And when I left the store, it was a full-tilt gale, howling wind and pelting rain.  Got home sopped, nearly with little fish squirting from my shoes!

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Offices in a traditional riverside style

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Locavore opps: herring and salty fish-roe paste at left, and a smoked-reindeer sandwich

With a lull in the storm, about one I headed out to grab lunch at a nearby supermarket, then a nap.  By three the skies had cleared, so back out on the bike, which was nice, except for a saddle that was truly tearing up my rear end!  Did a little more work in the room, then at six rode a few blocks to Lotta’s, a wonderful pub and microbrewery.  The place was hopping.  Shook hands with the bartender, who I see every year, had a $10.32 glass of IPA from the Swedish island of Gotland, and headed back to the hotel for the buffet dinner.  Read for an hour or so, and copped another 8.5 hours of sleep, window open, nice and cool.

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Top, old and new in downtown Umeå; bottom, moonrise on the river.  The cityscape has changed and grown substantially in the almost 25 years that I have visited.

Up at 6:15 for the third straight morning.  Mostly clear skies, light wind, on the bike (ouch in the butt!), west along the Umeå River, upstream, a familiar ride.  The light was lovely, the ride pleasant on a gravel trail.  Crossed the river on a pedestrian/bike bridge, back on a highway.  Grabbed a couple of cups of coffee, then changed, then a really big breakfast.  At eleven, I rode a few hundred feet to the (Lutheran) church for high mass.  I had not been there for three years.  As always, the sequence of the liturgy was the same as home, but the hymns were tricky!

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Scenes from the Sunday-morning bike ride; at top left, the historic Backen church (16th C.); and various mushrooms

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Views from my hotel window: the Stadskyrka, and an elaborate house next door

I hopped back on the bike about one, intending to go far, but the combination of the tortuous saddle and a strong wind were discouraging.  Grabbed a light lunch at the supermarket, then a nap, then some reading and writing, as well as photo editing for this blog.  At five I headed to another pub, Gröna Älgen, the Green Moose, a few blocks east of downtown.  It was a new place, and having visited the Blue Moose in Vail, Colorado, many times, I needed to see the verdant one.  The place had a neighborhood-bar vibe, small and welcoming.  A fellow three stools down at the bar recommended a Belgian Lambic (ale), fruity and a bit sweet.  It had been at least 25 years since I had one, and though I normally drink local, I thought it good to agree.  And it was tasty.  He left soon after I arrived, so I struck up a conversation with the friendly bartender.  Toward the end of the chat (and my beer), he told me he was a Kurd, and that his family emigrated to Sweden in the early 1990s, after the first Gulf War (I emailed the bar later that day to ask his name; a few hours later he replied that his name was Baland, and he was the bar owner).  I’ll go back to the Green Moose in 2019 for sure.

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Baland multitasking at the bar

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Graceful old high school near the hotel

Monday was an all-day meeting with the USBE’s International Advisory Board.  As we’ve done since the board formed in the late 1990s, we convened in Samvetet, a conference room with glass on three sides.  I’ve long enjoyed the IAB meetings in that room, not least for the opportunity to gaze out at the always-interesting Northern sky.  And in recent years, I’ve appreciated conversations with Håkan Olofsson, a Umeå native who has worked all over the world and now lives in suburban Denver.  His two oldest boys are serious hockey players, one with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, and the other finishing at the University of Nebraska Omaha and hoping to turn pro.  We talk hockey and lots more – just a terrific fellow.

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Håkan and others at the IAB meeting

Was up earlier than usual Tuesday morning for the last morning bike ride, 9.8 miles to make an even 350 for the month to date.  My backside was still sore, but the morning was clear and cool, and the ride was nice, a last spin along the river and around Bölesholmarna (sadly, no Keso the Westie).  At nine, the IAB met jointly with a local advisory board and the trustees of the business school for a “strategy session.”  Like the day before, it was a tutorial on the consultative “Swedish way,” which sometimes includes gentle euphemisms: “messages for future improvement” = bad stuff.  It was a full day, and at 6:30 enjoyed a wonderful last dinner, a favorite far-North fish, arctic char (röding in Swedish), and more great conversation with Håkan.  Asleep early.

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Orange: the former Umeå city hall (now a restaurant); classic Swedish contemporary chairs, and autumn foliage

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Plants on the earthen eco-roof of a multipurpose civic building

Wednesday the 26th promised to be full, and it was.  Flew to Stockholm at 7:25, arriving late because of heavy rain and wind.  Hopped on the express bus, soon into traffic on the highway into town, a bit of stress about getting to my first lecture at Stockholm School of Economics for the 10:30 start.  It’s less than a mile from the bus stop at St. Eriksplan to the building, but it was raining hard.  Most folks would have hopped a taxi, but I’m a Transport Geek, so jumped on the Stockholm Metro two stops (the equivalent of $3.50 for a senior fare), and made it to class 15 minutes early. Whew.  Met a new host, Daniel Tolstoy and delivered a talk on new airline business models from 10:30 to noon.  The usual formula is lunch at a nearby buffer restaurant, but I was due at Uppsala University, 35 miles north, at 2:00, so hustled to the train station, grabbed a ham-and-cheese sandwich at 7-Eleven, and hopped on the 12:40 train.

Arrived Uppsala at 1:10.  It had stopped raining, which was nice.  Walked briskly to the Uppsala business school, met longtime host Katarina Lagerström, and from 2:00 to 4:00 delivered a talk on alliances.  But I was still not done.  At 4:30, I gave an hour talk to Ekonomerna, the student business association.  Then I was done, but two students wanted to talk some more, so they walked me back to the train station.

At 6:10 I met longtime Stockholm School of Economics host Hans Kjellberg and a new Ph.D. student Fairouz.  Since my time at the school earlier that day was limited, Hans invited Fei (pronounced “Fay”) to dinner.  And he and wife Mia kindly invited me to stay overnight in their new-but-old Swedish house, always great.  We tucked into a wonderful spicy North African stew, lamb tagines, served on couscous.  So good.  After dinner, Hans’ wife Mia left us to talk about Fei’s Ph.D. research plan on U.S. airline deregulation – so I was still working!  We had a great chat, and she left about 8:30.  I was fast asleep by 9:15.  A long day.

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Uppsala’s Domkyrka, seat of the Swedish (Lutheran) church

I was up before sunrise Thursday morning, breakfast and coffee with Hans, and south in his car a few miles to Knivsta.  He hopped on the train into Stockholm, and I took the #801 bus to Arlanda Airport, a BA flight to London, an AA flight to New York Kennedy, and a connecting flight home to Washington.

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The Department of Crafts at the University of Linköping created this wooden-relief art and donated it to Stockholm Arlanda Airport in 1991.  It’s based on a 1906 children’s novel by Selma Lagerhöf, written to teach Swedish children geography (ya gotta love that!).  To me, it’s a metaphor for the blessing of mobility.

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Philadelphia, Very Briefly

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Independence Hall

On September 6, I hopped on the Metro to Union Station, headed north to Philadelphia for a brief consulting gig the next day.  While waiting to board the train, I spotted an ID tag on a fellow traveler’s piece of luggage, “Finnish Broadcasting Corporation.”  That was a perfect T-t-S invitation, so I said “Welcome” in Finnish (one of about five words in my Finn lexicon).  She looked surprised, and we launched into a 15 minute yak across a bunch of topics.  Paula was the U.S. correspondent for the YLE, as it is known over there, and she and her camera-woman were headed to New York to interview a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest.

Arrived in Philly about 4:30, hopped on a suburban train two stops into Center City (as downtown is known locally) and my hotel.  Grabbed a quick nap and at 6:30 set off to meet my clients for dinner on Market Street.  I hadn’t been in the center for years, and it was fun to walk past so much history in just a few blocks; pausing at a stoplight, for example, I looked at the old brick building to my right, and a plaque identified it as the house where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.  Cool!  Moved on, gazing affectionately at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and more.  We Americans are still working on creating, as it says in the preamble to our Constitution, “a more perfect union,” but I remain a patriot and an optimist, and I love walking in the footsteps of the people who started the whole experiment.

Had a fine dinner with my clients, a diverse lot.  Slept hard.  Up early, to the hotel gym, then the daylong engagement, then a train home to Washington, arriving just in time for Robin’s birthday dinner.  Some scenes:

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The firmer Lit Brothers Department Store, and the Rohm and Haas Building (1964-65), already on the National Register of Historic Places

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 I wanted to get a closer shot of the statue of Washington, but a rent-a-cop shooed me away.  I growled at him, then muttered for several blocks about U.S. paranoia.  How can we exude strength and confidence if we don’t allow citizenry to take a pic of our first President.  Just silly.

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Some nice friezes around town; at left, the old U.S. Courthouse, and at right a small part of “Spirit of Transportation,” in the 30th Street (railway) Station; though completed in 1895 (and moved to the current location in 1933), note the child holding the airship!

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City Hall.  For decades, no building in Center City could be taller than the hat atop William Penn’s statue!

 

 

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Back to Texas

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Metal critter at the Cook-off

 

Regular readers know what happens the first September (Labor Day) weekend: this was my 28th consecutive time to judge the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas (pop. 5,425).  Flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, landed at 11:15, hopped in a rental car, and made fast for a spicy Indian buffet lunch with long friends Nisha Pasha (originally from Chennai, India) and Ken Gilbert (Chicago).  We worked together for years at American Airlines, and it was great to catch up.  I would have liked to chat for another hour, but had to keep moving, so hugged them both, then pedal to the metal to Dallas Love Field to pick up son Jack, in his 11th year as a goat judge.  We’re talking experience!  We yammered the whole way south and west 200 miles, pausing, by tradition, at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas.  We were at the motel by 5:45, washed out faces, chilled, watched some football, then headed to Mac’s BBQ for dinner.  Back home, lights out early.

Up at six, to the gym, then coffee, then over to Richards Park, site of the cooking and fun.  The cook-off organizers at the Brady Chamber of Commerce extended the event to two full days, and to be honest, Jack and I were skeptical, wondering if this might be our last year.  That doubt was erased in the first hour, breakfast and chatter with fellow judges, a great group of old friends and new ones, too.  Back slapping, good-natured ribbing, lots of laughs.  Just great to be back in Texas.

Being back in Texas meant being away from what sometimes seems to be an echo chamber of political thought around the nation’s capital.  As I and many others have written in the past few years, we all do ourselves a disservice if we only pal around with people who share our views.  Truth is, Linda and I wouldn’t have made many friends in the 25 years we lived in the Lone Star State if we didn’t learn to get along, and to genuinely like, people on the other side of the political spectrum (it was, of course, better if their views were informed with research or logic!).  So it was that I laughed heartily when I spotted this bumper sticker (yes, it was in uppercase): GUNS KILL PEOPLE LIKE SPOONS MAKE ROSIE O’DONNELL FAT.  Yes, of course, gun violence is serious, but sometimes you just need to lighten up, right?

For the first 20 years or so, we only judged goat.  In about 2010 the chamber added a “mystery meat” competition, and 2018 saw those two, plus (on Saturday) beans, chicken, ribs, and margaritas (we skipped those); Sunday was hot sauce, Bloody Marys (I helped), then MM and, finally, goat.  Whew!  A lot of sampling.  Saturday sped past.  We peeled out at about four, back to the room, Tex-Mex dinner, and early to bed.

Sunday: rinse, repeat.  Back to the park and back to work.  Jack peeled off to help his pals Stewart and Riley judge best cooking rigs, I tasted a few Bloodies, and we headed toward this year’s mystery, bacon, and at 3:00 the goat.  In 2016, I was promoted to senior judge, so we sampled nine Super Bowl entrants (open only to previous first-place finishers) and 18 finalists.  Some nice goat.  I ate all but one sample.   As a senior judge, I felt quite a bit of responsibility, so I pitched in to keep the tables tidy and, at one point, recovered to Super Bowl entries that someone mistakenly tossed in the trash.  Whew, close: good thing I am an inveterate dumpster diver!

We opted not to stay for the awards, back in the car, back to Dallas with the required stop at the DQ in Comanche.  Jack and I agreed that we needed to head back in future years, for the wonderful sense of belonging, the warm welcome, and the fine time with good ole-boys (and, increasingly, gals).  Belonging is so important.  Here are some scenes from the event:

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Longtime Cook-off organizers Terry Keltz and Kim King

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Left, Jack and fellow young judges Stewart Storms and Mark Marshall; right, three of the women judges — the judging ranks have become way more diverse in recent years

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Stalwart judge Eddie Sandoval and local businessman and rancher Jason Jacoby

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Two generations of judges; at left, Paul and Lanham McCallum of Grapevine, Texas

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The team judging the best cooking rigs

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From day 1 sampling: chicken and pork ribs

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From day 2, hot sauce and Bloody Marys

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Senior judges hard at work

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A cupla good ole’ Texans from the Waco Boys Cooking Team, in their signature orange colors

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Cook-off still life

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The right-rear tire had a slow leak, and the warning light caused a bit of stress, but we were in the Big D by 8:10.  Dropped Jack at a friend’s house, and motored north to our old (1988-2007) neighborhood in Richardson, Texas, and the home of long friends Jane and Brad Greer.  Brad’s sister Vicki was there, and we had a good catch-up.

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A common Texas sight: wind turbines, which now generate more than 22,500 megawatts — the equivalent of about 40 nuclear power plants

As I did when I stayed with the Greers in September 2016, I was up before light and out on Brad’s bike for 19 miles around the old ‘hood and beyond to a good chunk of our former hometown.  It all looked good.  Got back, showered, ate a swell cooked breakfast (thanks, Jane!), picked up Jack (he was flying home from DFW Airport, not Love), and flew back to Washington.

 

 

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Another sign of a changing Texas: lawn sign for the Democratic candidate in our old neighborhood, once almost 100% red!

 

 

 

 

 

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To Minnesota, then Up North

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On the North Shore of Lake Superior, near Grand Portage, Minnesota

Four nights at home was pretty nice (the dogs especially liked it).  On Wednesday, August 22, I flew home to Minnesota.  It was, once again, State Fair time, and your scribe has not missed the fair since the mid-1980s – more than three decades.  Landed at noon, picked up a swell little Toyota rental car, and headed to the nearby Fort Snelling National Cemetery and my dad’s grave.  Thanks given then, and every single day.

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Along the way to Minnesota: dunes on the northeast shore of Lake Michigan, and some of the last farmland in rapidly suburbanizing Washington County, east of St. Paul

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Next stop was lunch with the Honorable Michael J. Davis, Senior Judge of the U.S. District Court, and a friend for 45 years (back then, Linda was an intern in the poverty-defense law firm where Mike worked after graduating from law school).  It had been too long, three years, and we got caught up on family, jobs, health, and a little dab of the current and grim national situation.  But only a little, and in the parking lot as we departed.  I used the men’s room in the restaurant to change into shorts and a T-shirt, then walked 100 feet to a station of Nice Ride, the local bikeshare system.  Earlier in the day I bought a $6 day pass online, and off I went, west to bike paths on Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun (renamed Bde Maka Ska, because Calhoun was an icky fellow), and Lake Harriet, then east along Minnehaha Creek – all familiar from more than 50 years of riding through Minneapolis’ splendid parkland.  It was a gorgeous summer day, not too hot, nice breeze, and I covered 23 miles.

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On the Minnehaha Creek bike path, and the venerable #1300 streetcar, restored and still rolling after more than a century

Was back at the restaurant at about 4:45, headed into the bar for an iced tea and Wi-Fi connection to do some work, then motored a couple of miles east to the Black Forest Inn, a German fave since 1971, and dinner with Jinny Jensen, recent widow of my 12th grade English teacher, and my pals Bob and Paula Woehrle.  We had a good yak about recent travels, books, and more, then headed to the Woehrles for a good sleep in their guest room.

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After the ride: Minnesota wheat beer from Schell’s

Bob and I were up the next morning before six, and out the door to opening day at the fair.  Arriving that early, we parked on the street close to the fairgrounds, and headed into the action.  It was a cool morning, tonic, and I was pumped.  First stop was the animal barns – more precisely sheep, rabbits, and poultry.  We walked back across the fairgrounds and lined up for breakfast at the “dining hall” of the Salem Lutheran Church.  It was a long queue.  Pals Rick Dow and Steve Schlachter texted that they would be late because of traffic and bus woes.  Rick found us as we were finishing breakfast, and we then walked into the traditional first stop, the juried art show.  This year’s show was substantially better than previous years, and we really enjoyed it.  Steve and his longtime pal Skip found us just as we were entering stop two, the Creative Activities show, a showcase of all sorts of domestic talents, from needlepoint to woodworking to baking and canning.  Hewing to the proven formula, stop three was the Horticulture building for a look at crop art (only in Minnesota), award-winning vegetables, flowers, Christmas trees, and lots more – plus the increasingly large set-up of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Association.  It was 10:30, but time for a cold one, or more accurately samples of four cold ones.

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At left, a man committed to his flock

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Works from the juried art show

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Left, Tim Walz, candidate for governor; at right, a weaver demonstrating both her skills and some true wisdom (atttributed to Albert Einstein)

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In the Creative Activities exhibits

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You can win a ribbon for all sorts of stuff!

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“Crop art” is a distinctly Minnesota genre; lots of entries depicted contemporary events and themes

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Next time you sit down to a meal, think of these hardworking farmers

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Marching animals (equine and human) are a big part of the fair

Bob and Rick peeled off, and Steve, Skip, and I headed to the animal barns, back to the poultry, sheep, and rabbits, plus the much larger displays of 4-H cattle and hogs.  And goats.  Always good, at least once a year, to think about from where our food comes, and who works hard to produce it.  As I have written many times, domestic animals are truly a wonderful gift.  We three sat for a half hour to relax and yak a bit more, then I walked briskly back to the car and pointed it north toward Duluth, at the far west end of the enormous Lake Superior.

I wisely paused at Hinckley for mid-afternoon refreshment at Tobie’s, a place I’ve known for almost 60 years.   Sitting down at the counter, my friendly greeting to Teri the waitress seemed to confuse her.  “I like to be civil,” I explained.  “Bless your heart,” she said, “I could use a little civility today,” then itemized three or four unpleasant encounters she had with rude tourists.  When I left, she patted my arm and said “thank you for making my day.”

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One of Tobie’s celebrated caramel rolls. Yum!

I drove on, cresting the hill above Duluth for the first views of the magnificent Lake Superior.  That sight always makes me smile, and feel truly Minnesotan.  Headed through town to the far east end, the Lester Park neighborhood, and an Airbnb hosted by Julie, a young athletic trainer at the College of St. Scholastica, a small liberal arts college.  Washed my face, worked a bit, and at 6:45 drove a few miles west to Tavern on the Hill and a splendid catch-up dinner with Bob Ryan.  Bob and my Cousin Jim were roommates at the University of Notre Dame, and I’ve known him for more than 25 years – back in the late 1990s, Linda and I bought a vacation rental property, a splendid log house right on Superior, from Bob’s resort development company.  Bob is a quality person, a true citizen, and we talked a lot about his community service, among other topics.

Slept hard that night, through thunderstorms, and woke Friday morning to pelting rain.  The day held a clear mission: before my brother Jim’s memorial service seven weeks earlier, I asked Pam if she would set aside some of Jim’s ashes for me to take back to the North Shore of Lake Superior, to the special landscapes we first saw in 1957 and enjoyed almost every year for a decade.  She agreed, and had part of Jim neatly packaged in two Ziploc bags, which went into my backpack.  As in Oregon, I wanted to deliver him to the wind, the water, and the earth, and thought hard about the three best places.  I had a plan.   Jim went to the winds at the scenic overlook off Highway 61 at Good Harbor Bay, five miles west of Grand Marais.  We stopped there on our first trip up the North Shore in August 1957, and I remember the scene like it was yesterday.  As I did on the 50th anniversary of the stop in 2007, I cued a wonderful, soulful tune, mandolinist Peter Ostroushko’s “Heart of the Heartland.”  I spoke a few words of prayer, and scattered him into rainy skies.

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Good Harbor Bay

Drove into Grand Marais, to the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op for a picnic breakfast, which I gobbled quickly on the front steps of the store.  It was time for stop two, sending Jim to the waters.  Back in the day, the family vacationed at Greenwood Lake Lodge, a simple resort on that large lake, up the Gunflint Trail, a paved county road.  I drove up the highway, and turned east onto a Forest Service road; it was way better than the rutted track that once connected the highway to the resort (the one that tore the transmission of our 1959 Mercury!), and in no time I was on a small bay at the south end of the lake, not far from the portage we used to Sunfish Lake (more a pond) that was our go-to place for walleye fishing.  It was still raining steadily.  I walked out on a small dock and said another goodbye and prayer as Jim entered the cold water.

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Greenwood Lake

Drove back to Grand Marais for stop three, the pebbled beach on the east end of town.  On Sundays, the day after we arrived at the resort, the family would drive into town to mass at St. John’s Catholic Church (it’s still there), then down the hill for a big breakfast at the East Bay Hotel (also still there, though modernized).  After gobbling our pancakes, Jim and I would head down to the beach to look for agates and skip stones into the big lake.  At the south end of the beach, I returned Jim to the earth.  My three-part memorial was done.  Amen.  And tears.

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East Bay Beach

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Jim’s return to the earth (left), and good things from it — flowers outside the café

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Grand Marais harbor from the Angry Trout

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Though it no longer stands tall  on the roof, I remember this sign from the 1950s

My picnic breakfast was a bit thin, so I headed to a fave place, the Angry Trout Café, for a fresh whitefish sandwich (assuredly fresh, because fisherman Harley Tofte’s boat and dock are right next door!).  Back in the car, north and east on Highway 61 to the Grand Portage National Monument, almost at the Canadian border.  “Grand Portage” was the 8.5 mile trail from the Pigeon River to Lake Superior that had been walked for centuries, a detour around a series of waterfalls.

In the mid- to late-18th Century, England’s North West Company set up a trading post there: Indians and French trappers would bring pelts, mostly beaver, from as far as Alberta and Saskatchewan to Grand Portage, where they were sold and loaded onto lake canoes (see photos for more detail).  At the new and well-done Heritage Center, I watched an excellent 20-minute movie that told the story, then walked a few hundred yards to a recreated trading depot, with interpreters dressed in period costume explaining tipi and canoe building, fur trading, and the annual cycle at the outpost.  It was fascinating, very well done, a credit to the National Park Service (currently undergoing a budget slash from the Trump Administration) and cooperation from the Grand Portage Ojibwe people, who own the land.

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Birch bark, essential material for the Ojibwe, for housing and transport (below), and more

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The exhibits also told the story of how the furs were used in England — Brennan the furrier made things from ermine (left), and others made artists’ brushes from badger

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But it was the beaver, or rather his or her pelt, that was the major driver of the North West fur trade

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A lake canoe, and Lake Superior visible through the gate; these vessels were 36 feet long, 4 feet wide, and could carry up to 4 tons of cargo; the journey to or from Montreal took 6 to 8 weeks.

Drove a few miles north and joined the line to enter Canada, then continued north to Thunder Bay, an industrial and port city: they make things (forest products, railcars, other stuff) and move things (railways into the port carry grain and other exports from Western Canada for shipment through the Great Lakes and on to oceans).  Thunder Bay was formerly the twin cities of Fort William and Port Arthur, and the urban form reflects that history.  Found the Airbnb on McGregor, a comfortable and eclectic older home in a prosperous neighborhood of the former Fort William.  My host, Anne-Marie, was out of town, too bad, because in correspondence she seemed like a way-interesting person.  Had a short chat with Brandon from Calgary, another Airbnb guest.  Washed my face and headed out, north a few miles to the Dawson Trail Craft Brewery, one of two micros in town.

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You know you’re going to have a great Airbnb experience when the front door welcomes you!

With nearly a half-century of experience with drinking places, I can quickly size up the vibe, often right at the front door, and Dawson was immediately welcoming.  A small (maybe 15 feet by 30 feet) taproom was in front of the brewery.  People were smiling, laughing, enjoying the end of the week.  I sidled up to the bar and got a glass, then starting chatting with a fellow American.  Then I yakked with Wes and Murray, locals with lots of good stories about the outdoors (Wes told me he was going fishing the following Sunday morning: 3 hours each way to a river brimming with walleyes – he once caught (and released) 140 fish in 5 hours).   Murray was from Saskatchewan, and we talked a bit about Prairie agriculture.  The 2018 harvest was coming in, and it was big (not as large as in 2015, which they told me took two years to clear).

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At Dawson Trail; right, Murray and Wes

Then I yakked with Kari, who worked at the brewery but was not on duty.  I told her about my mission that day, returning brother Jim north, and she started to cry.  “Not tears of sadness,” she said.  Also yakked with the Anderson brothers.  Kari offered the other American and me a Thunder Bay pastry specialty, the Persian, a hole-less doughnut topped with a lot of pink icing.  It went well with our ale!  It was a great couple of hours.

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A Persian and a beer

Anne-Marie had recommended a simple restaurant on the Fort William First Nation, an Indian reservation south of the city.  Motored down to the Rez, but the place was closed “due to labor shortage,” so I headed to other Indian food, the Monsoon Indian Restaurant not far from the Airbnb.  Tucked into a huge and very spicy meal.  On the way out I had a nice T-t-S with the co-owner.  They came from the Punjab in 2007, originally to near Toronto, then moved to Thunder Bay in 2011.  “Did they tell you about winter?” I asked.  She laughed and said, “Yes, but we quickly got used to it!”  You have to admire the adaptability of immigrants.

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Was up at 6:30 Saturday morning, out the door before daylight, for a look around Thunder Bay.  East to the port area of Fort William, then north to downtown Port Arthur, where the lakefront (south of its docks) had been substantially redeveloped with condos, a new hotel, marina, and parkland.  It looked really good.  Took a short walk and had a nice T-t-S with Margot, who answered a few questions about the place.  She was a local, and told me a lot of interesting things.

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St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church

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By the port; Canadian grain feeds a lot of people worldwide

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The 1905 Canadian Pacific depot, Port Arthur, and the former logo of the Canadian National, on a restored caboose nearby

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Thunder Bay factories: Resolute Forest Products (lumber, wood pellets, building materials) and Bombardier Transportation (passenger railcars and trams)

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Breakfast time!  My Toyota rests beneath.

Back in the car, west to my fave Canadian breakfast venue, Tim Horton’s.  While waiting for my oatmeal and muffin, had another T-t-S with a teenager wearing a Westfort (short for West Fort William) Hockey hoodie:

Me (pointing at the team logo): Are you guys good?
Him: Nope.
Me: Okay, but are you having fun on the ice?
Him: Yup.
Me: Attaboy.  That’s really all that matters.

Five minutes into breakfast, another T-t-S with a guy about my age, who appeared to be part Ojibwe:

Him: Can’t get today’s paper out of the machine by the door; it’s stuck.
Me: Well, it’s probably the same old news.
Him: Yeah, but I always like to look at the obituaries to make sure my name isn’t there.
Me: I hear you.  Being vertical is better than horizontal.
Him: For sure.

Back in the car, south on the highway, and across the border into the United States (where the officer asked rather a lot of questions, way different than entering at an airport).  Parked at the Visitor Center of the Grand Portage State Park, separate from the national monument (which is several miles south and west), and walked a half-mile up the Pigeon River to the High Falls, a drop of about 130 feet and the reason for the grand portage: you just wouldn’t want to be in a canoe at that point in the river, just upstream from Lake Superior!

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The High Falls of the Pigeon River, the reason for the Grand Portage

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The persistence of nature: a fir tree sprouts in rock on the river bank

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One of many Ojibwe decorative works in the state park visitor center

The lake views were much better than the day before, some truly dramatic vistas.  Arrived back in Grand Marais about ten, bought a sandwich and banana for a drivetime lunch, and wandered around.  The parking lot of the coop was full of artists and craftspeople selling their wares (and some junk made in China), and the lineup of smaller chainsaw sculptures caught my eye, a bear in particular.  After texting the photo to Linda and calling, we agreed that Mr. Bear would look great on our front porch.  Done!  Ambled over to the town’s craft brewery, Voyageur, for the 11:00 tour hosted by Casey from Virginia.  She knew a ton, and it was easily the most thorough brewery tour I’ve ever done, and I’ve been touring them for almost 50 years.  (Two tidbits: their water comes from the municipal supply, which comes right out of the big lake, no chlorination or other treatment, just pure water; and they have begun to buy hops from a new farmer in Hovland, 17 miles northeast.)  There were samples along the way, some really fine brews.

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Scenes from a thorough brewery tour

When I got to town an hour earlier, I called my long friend Tim McGlynn, who I knew might also in town, ready to head by seaplane to Isle Royale, a national park in Lake Superior, with two other long buddies.  The call rolled to voicemail, so I figured they had already departed.  But he called me back five minutes later and said he was in a chartered fishing boat two miles offshore.  I suggested lunch, and John Massopust, Tom Terry (who by another coincidence I saw at the State Fair art show two days earlier), and Tim joined me on the deck of the Voyageur for an hour of laughs and reminiscence.  It was travel serendipity on steroids!  Whew!

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Friends since 1963: Tim McGlynn, John Massopust, and Tom Terry

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Hopped in the car at two, pedal to the metal, and was back at the Woehrles by 6:10.  We had a couple more beers, and a delicious dinner of pork chops and vegetables.  So yummy, home cooking.  Was asleep just after nine.

Bob gets up early (way before six), and we headed out on bikes (I borrowed Paula’s) for a swell 14-mile ride, mostly on the bike paths that have spread all across the Twin Cities.   Great ride, yakking along the way.  Back home for a bowl of raisin bran and coffee, showered, hugs, out the door.  I had several hours, so I motored into downtown St. Paul for a look around (it had been a couple of years), and the center looked really good.  Lively, even on a Sunday morning, lots of people heading toward a Farmers’ Market in Lowertown.  Meandered back to the neighborhood where we lived from 1978 to 1987, past the bungalow that was our first house, and to a nearby coffee shop on Grand Avenue (sadly, my favorite bakery across the street, Wuollet’s, is closed Sundays).  Back to the airport, drop the car, Mr. Bear past the TSA screeners, and onto American Eagle nonstop back to Washington.  A splendid visit back to my roots.

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Mr. Bear, riding south from the North Shore

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