October: Sweden, Madison, Los Angeles, Austin

Back in Umeå, I scored a bicycle on the first day of the new quarter, and was really smiling. I sort of shamed the business-school dean, Lars Lindbergh, into it – but I didn’t think he’d hand me the key to his own bike that morning! In any case, it was great to roll down the hill from the university to my hotel that afternoon, change clothes, run a quick errand in downtown Umeå, then head off at 4:55 for a quick zip to my favorite place, the island of Bölesholmarna in the Ume River. I did four circuits of the island. The light was superb, shining the birches and pines:


One of my favorite places, the island of Bölesholmarna in the Ume River

After work the next day, Friday (the week went quickly), a Ph.D. student, Chris Nicol from Leeds, England, invited me to beers at a pub across from campus. We yakked for a bit, and were joined by Derek and Beverly, the former a visitor from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He was a few years older than me, and we enjoyed exchanging notes about travel back in the day, especially some hitchhiking adventures. As often happens with youngsters, Chris was totally amazed that, for example, I survived a thumb journey through the ghetto in Detroit in 1970 or ’71. It was great fun. Speaking of Detroit, when I got back to the hotel room, I flipped on TV6 and there were the Red Wings and St. Louis Blues, NHL hockey in Stockholm.

Saturday was another clear, cold morning, just below freezing, but calm. After breakfast I rode a quick 12 miles around Nydalasjön, a large lake east of the city. As I have written many times, the Swedes are outdoors people, and even at eight on Saturday morning, they were out, mostly walking their dogs. It was brisk – I had gloves, but the tights I packed were Robin’s size 6, which somehow ended up on my shelf. I am skinny, but there was no way I’d fit into those! Back to town, to the bike shop to pump up Lars’ tires, then to the bookshop to buy Steig Larsson’s second novel. Sadly, the battery on my Kindle developed a short, and completely discharged several days earlier, just when I was 60% done with Larsson’s first, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Sigh. But ya gotta be flexible! (And two nights later, I did some Googling, found that there was a Kindle app for my iPhone, downloaded it, and was back reading Larsson’s cool first novel.)

I did a bit of work back at the hotel room, and at 12:15 headed southeast to Holmsund, on the Gulf of Bothnia. Folks warned me there was no bike path, but I managed to stay on back roads almost the whole 12 miles, with only one dead end. Holmsund was small and quiet, not too interesting, so I grabbed a quick supermarket lunch (lots of folks staring at my shorts, though by then it was about 45 and still sunny. Road back on the highway with the wind at my back, very speedy. Time for a nap.


Bridge over the Ume River, with separate lanes for cyclists and walkers.

At five I walked next door to the gas station for a can of low-alcohol beer; the sun was already low in the west; back at the room I checked, and the days had become 45 minutes shorter in just six days since arriving. At six I was in the Lutheran Church (Stadskyrka) for an organ concert by a young organist, Lisa Eriksson, familiar works by Vivaldi (the first one zipped me back to painting the kitchen cabinets on Cheyenne Dr. in the early 1990s – the fast tempo of Vivaldi helped speed the job!), Buxtehude, and Bach. Church music, for sure. In the sanctuary, I was reminded of an illusion: it first appears that there are a disproportionate number of handicapped people in Sweden, but it is just that, an illusion; in a fair-minded and affluent society, they are helped and encouraged to live “among us.” And that is a good thing.

Filled with a bit of culture, I needed a good dinner, and headed to Angelini, an Italian place. Enjoyed a couple of Budvar beers from the Czech Republic (the original Budwesier, but way better), some astonishingly good tapenade and bread, and a lovely main course of cod with porcini mushrooms. Yum! I was feeling pretty swell, until I walked outside into pelting rain. Mercifully, it was only a mile home, pedaling fast.

It rained all night and into Sunday. I walked to church at 11 rather than pedal with an umbrella. It was “family service,” with a lot of noise and kids’ choir, but it was still a good thing to do. Before and after church I worked on some small consulting projects that arrived a couple of weeks earlier, so it was a productive Sunday, with the billing meter whirring gently. At four the rain had stopped, so I headed out on the bike for some exercise, on the north bank of the river to Backen, with its wonderful old church, built 1508.


Backens Kyrka (Church), from the early 16th Century

The high point of Monday was a small parade of four students, asking questions and asking for advice. The first was Asim from Lahore, Pakistan, a grad student interested in an airline career. His father and sister were civil servants back home, and both had encouraged him to join them for stable and secure lifetime work. But like a lot of kids I meet overseas, Asim wanted something more, to see the world, to meet others. Next was Chris, the Ph.D. student who invited me for beer the previous Friday, seeking very specific and practical career guidance. Next came Johannes, a Swede with a few simple questions.

The last was the best: A., from Teheran, who was interested in the airline business.


A., an Iranian student; I cropped his image for obvious reasons.

Along the way, we talked about life in Iran – he was in the streets for the June post-election protests, and was shot in the stomach with rubber bullets. The goons broke his father’s arm. We had a nice, long chat, culminating with a slideshow of some recent trips in his country. With the background of rather tense relations between our two governments, the human connection made me smile.

The fun continued after work: I rode across town to the Umeå Arena to see the Umeå Björklövens (birch leaves) minor-league men’s hockey team take on the Bofors Bobcats (tree leaves vs. wildcats!). A few nights earlier at the All-Star sports bar, I whet my appetite for Swedish hockey by watching the Luleå team play, and when I got back to the room that night I checked the Umeå team website – I was in luck, a match was scheduled and tickets are available.

I bought a good seat for 160 kronor ($22, not cheap), then two T-shirts for Jack and me, then went foraging for a beer. It was not easy. You could not buy beer at the many concession stands, but at a bar in the corner of the arena, and could not take it into the stands.

Thirst quenched, I headed to my seat. Next to me were a couple of typically quiet Swedes. I was not going to be quiet – this was gonna be big fun, and I was gonna cheer hard for the home team, the mighty Birch Leaves of the Allsvenskan League, the second tier of Swedish men’s hockey. No national anthem to start, but a lot of video hoopla and smoke-like fog – amazing and a bit depressing that the hoopla seems to be everywhere – there, at the Charleston Riverdogs game in June, and elsewhere. Owners feel this need to add “entertainment.” We’re content to just watch the athletes!


He shoots, he scores! The puck is the blurry black line behind the goalie.

And in a flash it was hockey night in Sweden. It was fast, clean play, a lot of fun. The arena was fairly small (and nowhere close to full), and the seats were steeply pitched, so I was above but very close to the ice. Lighting was different from North American arenas, in that the stands were fairly dark, creating contrast with and focus on the ice. The rules were a bit different – for example, a goal on a power play did not end the penalty, and the Birch Leaves got two goals after a tripping call on the Bobcats. With no TV commercial breaks, the game went quickly, and ended Bofors 5 and the home squad 3.

That morning, Helena, a colleague at the business school, and a friend of hers railed about salary disparities in the local teams, women’s soccer vs. men’s hockey. More ominously, they warned about fights – not on the ice (it was quite clean hockey), but in the stands. I saw none of it. Instead, it was all orderly and quite Swedish. The equivalent of “bleacher bums” in the cheap seats did sing team songs and wave the Leaves’ green and gold colors, but there was no disorder!

The next evening, after riding the bike pretty hard, I was ready for a good dinner (the hot dog and coke at the hockey game was not much of an evening repast), so I rode into town for a plate of arctic char (röding in Swedish), mashed potatoes made with local Västerbotten cheese, and asparagus at Harry’s Bar, a chain. I was again reminded that these are a quiet people who tend not to engage with strangers – I tried to visit a bit with the waitress, but failed. The moment stood in stark contrast with a nice chat I had with my waitress at the Indian restaurant in Edmonton in late February – the “Where are you from?” led to a long chat about Canada, India and more. I do appreciate the New World for that!

But the next night, at Lotta’s Krog, a pub downtown, I had no more than walked in than a big Swede with a grin asked me where I was from. He was Kurt the Cash Register Man (he owned a firm that sold them), and was really friendly. “My family says I am the, how do you say it, outgoing.” Indeed. In 20 minutes we had exchanged views on Obama, the joys of being a grandparent, the Umeå hockey team, and a lot more. It was just really pleasant, T-t-S in Sweden! Kurt departed, I hopped on a bar stool, and ordered a plate of fish and chips to go with my microbrew, Gotlands Bryggeri Wisby Weisse. And 20 minutes later Ivonne engages me while waiting for her wine refill, commenting first on my bike helmet, then launching a nice conversation. Those little yaks were surprising, and very welcome.

On Thursday, I ran into Derek. I was getting lonely, and things picked me up when he invited me to join him and Beverly for dinner downtown, at the Bishops’ Arms. It was nice to have a table of friends from Australia, South Wales, and Yorkshire. We laughed a lot, and told lots of stories. A German living in Vancouver joined us, and two Finns chimed in from the table on the other side.

On the last day, I gave one more lecture, met a couple more students, and at 3:30 ambled over to e-Puben, the bar that HHUS, the business students’ association, runs. It was the end of the first half of the semester, exams were written, and the place was hopping. I had a series of nice chats with HHUS leaders, a nice bunch of kids, mostly continuing themes from a career-development talk I gave the day before. It might have been the beer, but at moments like that I really felt like I could connect with students, about life and values, and not just about the world of commerce. They can figure that stuff out for themselves; they often seem to need help with the stuff that truly matters.

I packed up my suitcases and hopped on the bike for a last ride into the center and a late dinner at Lotta’s. When I left the pub and hopped on my bike, I said loudly, to no one, “To the New World. I’m headed back to the New World.” It would be good to get home. Was up at six the next morning, out the door, walking a mile to the airport bus, where I met the driver, Peyman, an Iranian immigrant who arrived in the late 1970s, before the fall of the Shah. “I like monarchies,” Peyman said, “and I could see that ours was going to disappear, so I emigrated to this kingdom.” We had a nice yak for the next 15 minutes, as the #80 bus wound through town. A nice T-t-S moment, for sure. And in between words, he warmly greeted every customer who boarded. My kind of guy.


Swedish design: stools, Terminal 5, Stockholm Arlanda Airport

Flew to Stockholm, then on to London. The flight home to Texas was seriously late, and my head did not hit the pillow until 12:30 a.m., but I was home, in our bed, MacKenzie murmuring next to me (Linda was back in Charleston, touring historic houses). Back in the New World.

A week later, I met Jack at the airport, and we flew north to Madison. I was due to teach for the third time at UW, and as luck would have it, the Badger men’s hockey team season opener was the night of the 17th. Ben Grotting, son of longtime friends Jim and Ann, was in his senior year, his last on the Badger varsity team, so the game would be special.


Madison, between lakes Monona (lower) and Mendota

We landed at two, hopped in a Hertz car, and in no time were downtown. Checked into the Fluno Center, the UW hotel, parked the car underneath, and ambled across the street for a couple of slices of pizza from Ian’s. Fortified, we set off for an amble around campus and town. We saw a lot in a couple hours. As I have written, Madison is a very cool place, something Jack quickly appreciated. And I was reminded of what fun it is to travel with our son, who shares my curiosity about, and enthusiasm for, places.

We walked back to the hotel and rested for a bit. At 5:30, I walked across the street to meet Ann Grotting and her sister Jane (down from Stillwater, Minnesota, where Ann grew up). They were at Big Red’s sandwich place, with a group of parents of Badger hockey players. We yakked a bit, and laughed a lot. A little after six, I collected Jack, and we walked two blocks south to the Kohl Center, the arena. We were pumped! Ben had lined up free tickets for us. The game was big fun. Total pandemonium in the arena, called the Kohl Center. A tight game, ended in a 1-1 tie. We met Ben afterward, gave him a hug, and I peeled off. Jack and Ben went out for some fun.


The Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey team psyching up; our friend Ben Grotting is #14.

We then went to see the Smiths, described in an earlier post. I dropped Jack at the airport, opted for the frugal $2 bus back to the hotel, rode an exercise bike for a bit, and at five ambled back to the Wisconsin Union for a beer. The late-afternoon light was gorgeous, but it was a bit too windy to drink my local Oktoberfest brew outside.


Armory, University of Wisconsin

At eight on Monday morning I met my swell UW host Jan Heide, a wonderful fellow. It would be my third time in his MBA marketing classes. We had a caloric breakfast, walked up University Ave. to the business school, and delivered two back-to-back talks. At one I headed back to the hotel, changed into bike shorts and a turtleneck, and walked a few blocks to the Yellow Jersey Bike Shop. It was a perfect fall day, sunny and 60, and time for a ride. I hired decent bike, had a quick lunch, and set off, west along the shore of Lake Mendota, then back through campus to the other of Madison’s big lakes, Monona. Rode around that, then back to Mendota along a canal and back downtown by four. It was 27 miles of delight.

At six, Jan and his wife Maria picked me up. She sat in on my class earlier in the day, and it was great fun to get to know her a little better over dinner at a small seafood place called Blue Marlin, right next to the state capitol. Maria was born in Greece, immigrating to Akron, Ohio, with her parents. She told lots of tales of Greek family life in America and back in Greece, and it was a wonderful window on another bunch of new Americans.

Next morning, I ambled around campus before my next pair of classes. I spent some time in Science Hall, a Victorian behemoth that once housed all of UW’s science departments. Today, geography is the only tenant, so I felt right at home among maps in the halls. At ten I met the day’s host, Jean Grube, a contemporary of Jan’s and a really swell person. We yakked for an hour about our backgrounds, and at eleven I delivered two back to back lectures. Ben Grotting sat in on the second one. Jan, Jean, and I headed to Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, a bar, for a greasy burger and some laughs, and I said my goodbyes. UW is such a swell place.

I worked my e-mail, then walked east to the state house, a wonderful and imposing building. As I have written before, it is so cool that these places are completely open – no security screening, no gates, no barriers. I sat quietly in the Supreme Court, admiring the murals and marveling at the fact that four of the state’s seven high justices are women.

The Assembly (the lower house) was in session, and I ambled up the stairs and into the gallery. It looked like a “cleanup” day to pass a range of laws in rapid succession, without debate. I was thinking of the famous line from Bismarck, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made,” when I witnessed a bit of history.

I sensed that the Assembly was going to take up some matter relevant to Wisconsin’s native peoples, because several were sitting with me in the front row. Swiftly, the house passed on unanimous roll-call vote Bill 421. My seatmates smiled and filed out. I needed to know more, to talk to strangers, to find out what just happened. I caught up with the group, introduced myself, and asked about the bill. It was indeed good news, long overdue: the bill returned to Wisconsin’s 11 Federally-recognized tribes the power to determine the welfare of Indian children (prior to passage the State had that power). The bill was long overdue – doing some research, I later learned that Indian people had been trying for almost 20 years to change the law, but the Republican-controlled legislature took no action.

I congratulated all of them and shook several hands. One fellow said “it’s awesome you’re here, and that you care.” Treatment of Indian people has always been for me a sensitive matter, way back to when I was a little boy, and my mother explained the situation very sympathetically. We (and I must write in first-person plural) have not treated the aboriginal people well. This bill was a small step, but in the right direction, and for that I was happy.

Ambling around the capitol for a few minutes more, I thought about the role of government. I can be cynical, but deep down, I still believe in these institutions, if only because they are the only ones we have. We can walk away, or we can participate. I headed back to the hotel, worked a bit, then ambled over to the Union for a final beer. After a huge, greasy lunch, I sought out a small dinner, a plate of spicy ma po tofu at a wonderful small Chinese restaurant (always a good sign when nearly all the diners are speaking Mandarin). Clocked out early, got up at 4:30, and flew home.

A few days later, on Saturday the 24th, Linda and I flew west to Los Angeles, to see our USC Trojans play football. Landed and zipped away from LAX in a red Mustang convertible (I had reserved a more-reserved Focus, but Hertz upgraded me!).

Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Checked into the nearby Westin, changed clothes, and headed to campus. After a lot of traffic, we finally parked and ambled onto the campus. It had been a few years since we had been to game day at USC, and had forgotten the fun and pandemonium that is the USC tribe. People of all colors and ages, united by a link to a great university. We ambled through the crowd and made our way to the bookstore for some souvenirs, then over to the Coliseum.


Cardinal red and gold, a small part of the USC Trojan tribe at the Los Angeles Coliseum

We had great seats, way up for perspective. In came the marching band, way fun and way noisy. The Trojans beat the Oregon State Beavers. We headed back to the hotel, had a drink in the lobby bar, and clocked out.

Next morning, we followed the formula set earlier in the decade, and motored west (with the Mustang top down) to Manhattan Beach for a caloric breakfast at Uncle Bill’s. MB in the early morning was buzzing a bit, notably surfers headed down the hill to catch a wave. I dropped Linda at the airport, dropped off the convertible, and hopped on public transit, the Green Line train and an express bus, and was at the dumpy Radisson at USC by 1:00.


Stacked concrete, Interstates 110 and 105, Los Angeles

The room was not ready, so I dropped my stuff and hopped back on the #81 bus (ride all day, all over L.A., for $5), into downtown (like the two rides in from the airport, I was almost the only Anglo on the bus.) It had been a few years since I was in the center, and I headed for the splendid new cathedral (consecrated 2002), where the 12:30 mass en Español was just ending. Took a few photos of a 17th-century Spanish retablo, and read the fascinating story of its journey from the Old World to California. I then headed a couple blocks to the Music Center complex of performance venues, its south end anchored by the new Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry. It has traditionally been hard for me to slow down (must get up to Pasadena! Soon!), but the State of California Community Park on the west side of the concert hall exercised unusual deceleration – an oasis of quiet green in the middle of this frenzied and noisy place. I decided to read the Sunday New York Times on my iPhone. It was a nice break.


Entry, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels


17th Century Retablo (altar piece), Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles


Three generations of L.A. architecture: a chunk of Frank Gehry's concert hall, the iconic City Hall, and a '70s-era government building


Pigeons guarding the turret, Walt Disney Concert Hall


Solar panels above parking lot, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power


For sale? Roommate wanted? Lampost, Chinatown

I then ambled a few blocks north to L.A. Chinatown, which contrasted markedly with the Toronto version I saw the month before; although we were on the edge of downtown L A, it was suburban in density, compared with the crowded bustle of Spadina Avenue up north. I hopped the Gold Line north to Pasadena. The older neighborhoods along the way, like Highland Park, were filled with bungalows. Way cool. Downtown Pasadena was teeming, partly because of the U2 concert at Rose Bowl that night.


New transit-oriented development along the Gold (light-rail) Line, Pasadena


1920s commercial bulding, Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

I wandered a bit, then hopped back on the train, riding a few stops to Mission Street, South Pasadena, with a “mini-downtown” spreading out from the station (the tracks originally belonged to the Santa Fe Railway). I admired a 1906 watering trough erected by a women’s civic association, to water the horses – and the riders – making the journey from L.A. to Pasadena. The retail on Mission Street was now strictly New Age, yoga salons and organic cafes and such.


Early-20th Century transit-oriented development, Mission Street, South Pasadena

Got back to the hotel, checked in, and washed my face. At six, I met Varun Sharma, ambitious son of a fellow guest lecturer I met 13 months earlier when I taught at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. I first Met Varun a few weeks after meeting his dad. He had finished his M.S. in computer science at USC, and now works for Activision, the video-game publisher. We had a fascinating chat; some of his best stories were about the boarding school he attended in Uttar Pradesh, in the north of India. It sounded like quite a place, a place where a small team of students, teachers, and guides could get to the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Himalayas. After Varun dropped me back at the hotel, I smiled about how lucky we are in the U.S. when people like that choose to move here. E pluribus unum.

I spent the next day teaching two undergrad classes in the Marshall School of Business, and at 7:15 met my host Kristin Diehl and my original host Joe Nunes for dinner at Rivera, an über-hip restaurant downtown. It took a long time to get a table, but when we did the Latin food was really terrific, with imaginative presentation. A fun night. Up the next morning, the #81 bus south on Figueroa to the Green Line, out to the airport, and home to DFW.

We landed at one, and a few minutes later I ambled into the Hyatt Regency adjacent to the terminals for American’s annual Fall Leaders’ Conference. It was my 22nd and last one, but that prospect did not sadden me. It was time to move on. I saw a lot of old pals, the people who played a big role in my staying two decades plus.

Rinse, repeat. I was up way early the next morning, in the air for less than 30 minutes, south to Austin. Hopped on the 75-cent Airport Flyer to the University of Texas, yakking the whole ride with a longtime American Airlines flight attendant, headed to take her freshman daughter to a birthday lunch. At 11:30 I met a new UT prof, Ying Zhang, and my longtime host Wayne Hoyer. We grabbed a quick plate of enchiladas, and at 12:30 I delivered back-to-back lectures to a remarkably bright group of business undergrads. Very impressive students (admission to the B-school is very tough). Bus back to the airport, short flight home, whoosh.

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