Monthly Archives: July 2010

Miami, Briefly

Total Green: Ingraham Highway, Coconut Grove, Florida

On Monday, July 26th, I flew at two p.m. to Miami, my first time there in nearly four years. The 767 seemed mostly filled with Spanish speakers, so tuning my iPhone to the Buena Vista Social Club, the great Cuban orchestra, fit. We landed at 6:45, I picked up a Hertz car and motored south to dinner at my fave Miami place, Versailles, a Cuban place (despite the name) on Calle Ocho.

Even better, I had a tablemate, Tom Cullen, who I had not seen since early in 2004. Tom was Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Cornell Hotel School for nearly the entire 16 years I lectured there. He’s an exceptionally bright guy, and a nice fellow, and we had a fun dinner, comparing notes on how we are keeping busy in semi-retirement, the state of academia, and more. At 9:15, I peeled off to find my hotel, west of the airport.

Out the door the next morning, west a mile or so to the North American offices of Amadeus, the travel and airline software company. I am still talking with them about a job or consulting assignment, and had a couple of good interviews with the CEO and her deputy. I was done at eleven and had some time, so I motored toward Coconut Grove, the leafy, pleasant, and upmarket neighborhood where I spent the better part of three summers in the mid-1970s, working with longtime tourism guru Herb Hiller.

Splendid Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, school, Coconut Grove

I stopped to take some pictures, then headed north, back toward Calle Ocho. The night before, Tom mentioned an awesome Vietnamese restaurant a block from Versailles but it was closed. I was set to drive a couple streets west to another Cuban place, the very successful La Carreta, when I spotted a Peruvian seafood place, Rincón Sal y Pimienta (literally, the Salt and Pepper Corner), in a slightly seedy strip mall around the corner from the Vietnamese café. “Why not?” I thought, and in I went.

It was a terrific experience. The waitress greeted me in Spanish, and continued to address me that way throughout. I could cope, which I thought was good, given that I was headed to South America in another week. The menu looked good, and I ordered a jalea mixta, a mixed fried seafood plate, and an iced tea. It was early by Spanish lunch standards, but three guys sat at the bar, eating soup and watching soap operas in Spanish. Soon the place began to fill up. While I waited for the meal, a karmic thought: my last Peruvian meal was three days shy of 40 years ago, in Lima (see previous post!). I noticed the Rincón offered free wi-fi, always a plus. Then the meal arrived, truly a mountain of fried fish, calamari, clams, atop a bed of lettuce and garnished with marinated (but still pungent) red onions. I simply could not finish it all, but it was really, really good.

Just before leaving, I scrolled through my iPhone photos smiling at recent snaps of Dylan and Carson. Just then the wife of the owner walked past, and I quietly said “Mire” (“Look”), launching a wonderful, if challenging, Talking to Strangers moment, because the talking was en Español. But Señora was enchanted with the pictures. We had a nice yak, and at the end, as I so often to, I gave quiet thanks to Don Miguel, my first Spanish teacher, on television in 1960.

Just before two I was back in American Airlines’ Miami, Caribbean, and Latin American divisional offices in Coral Gables, yakking with old friends Adelina, Kathy, Christine, and Peter. I then spent 15 minutes with another Peter, Mr. Dolara, the longtime senior vice president of the division. I have known Jefe (Chief) for more than 20 years, and have always held him in highest esteem. I was there to ask for his help in finding some additional consulting assignments, and he promised to try. He also offered me a desk, phone, and PC any time I was in Florida. A very kind and very good man.

I gassed up the Toyota and returned it. On the shuttle bus to the terminal, another nice T-t-S moment with a Swiss schoolteacher, returning to Canton Zug (the heart of Switzerland) after three years of teaching in Singapore and a couple of months touring in the Pacific and in several places in the U.S. I asked if she was happy or sad to be headed home. “Both,” she replied.

Detail, reproduction of an James John Audubon print, Miami Airport

I was happy to be headed home. Since mid-May, I had been away 34 of 70 nights, almost half, and I was headed out again the following week, but at 9:30 I walked MacKenzie around our pond, and all was well.

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40 Years of Overseas Travel

Laguna del Inca, Portillo, Chile, August 1970

Regular readers know that milestones are important to me (like last year’s quarter-century in the airline business). Today marks another. On July 29, 1970, I embarked on my first overseas trip, a two-week journey to Lima, Peru; Santiago and Portillo, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A quick look mainly at big cities. I can clearly remember some cool experiences. Two come quickly to mind: one was awesome skiing in the Andes. Portillo had gotten so much snow that the road was closed, and we reached the resort by chairlift and skis (toting my big suitcase between my skis, down a steep hill, was a challenge). A second was sitting on a park bench in Buenos Aires and quietly discussing politics, en Español, with fellow university students. The awful military government still gripped Argentina, so we needed to be careful, but what was memorable was that I was nearly fluent in their language.

Many of my travel ways and habits began back then. A love of public transport as a cheaper and more local way to get around. A willingness, no, a zeal to talk to strangers (I hitchhiked from Portillo back to Santiago; I think my ride was a lawyer). An interest in simple, typical places to eat. And above all, a respect for the places and cultures who kindly received me.

Two nights ago, flying home from Miami, as we descended toward DFW I thought about this milestone. I turned on my iPhone and scrolled through pictures from summer journeys going back to 2006. It was such fun to see dozens of places all over the world. I was smiling broadly. And I thought, “I’m the luckiest person on this whole plane.”

Mobility is such a gift.

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Toronto and Chicago, Two Great Cities on the Great Lakes

The View from W. Adams Street and the Chicago River

Five days later, on Wednesday the 14th, I flew north to Toronto, for a two-day planning session for a new client, Environics Analytics, a marketing analytics firm (one of the principals, the geographer Tony Lea, has been a friend since he was a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota in the mid-1970s, when I was a grad student). Arrived mid-afternoon and as I always do, hopped on public transit into town, the Airport Rocket express bus and the subway.

Checked into the huge Royal York Hotel (for many years the largest in the British Commonwealth), worked my e-mail, and hopped back on the subway, riding north on the Yonge Street line to our dinner venue. I had a bit of time, so I hopped off two stations south of the one closest to the restaurant, and walked up Yonge, past the wonderful North Toronto railway station with an impressive bell tower (part of it was recycled as a liquor store – the Province of Ontario has a booze monopoly, and I later learned it was the largest alcohol retailer in the world). That part of Yonge was the western edge of Rosedale, a very upmarket neighborhood, and the stores reflected the affluence. As I always do early in every visit to Canada, I remembered: every person I saw on the street, rich or poor, had health insurance. That reality made me smile, as it always does, and silently celebrate the humanity of our northern neighbor.

The former North Toronto railway station, Yonge Street

After six I met Jan, the Environics president, Michael, the VP of Marketing (and a highly regarded author and expert on U.S. demography), and a new sales exec, Diane, at Cava, a Spanish restaurant. We had a great meal, feasting on tapas of all sorts. Took a taxi back to the hotel and clocked out. Up early the next morning, on foot to the planning session at a very cool new-style women’s club, Verity, on Queen Street East. After a long day, we repaired to George, a restaurant in the club, for an absolutely brilliant dinner. The Italian chef is part of the Slow Food movement, and our repast, a five-course tasting menu, lasted four hours. The courses were small, but not that small, and everyone was stuffed by the end. And the conversation was equally swell, particularly the chance to exchange hitchhiking and backpacking stories with Peter, who was my age. Jan earned even more cred when she told us that she had been at Woodstock. Whoa! Cool!

Mobile in front of the Toronto Dominion Centre, downtown Toronto

Next day, I was up just after five to do some writing for another client (nice to be busy!), and out the door for a coffee with Toronto friend Lorne Salzman prior to the start of the planning meeting. We got caught up with our work and family; Lorne is a senior lawyer in a big Canadian firm, and a prince of a fellow. The planning meeting ended at three, I took the subway and rocket back to the airport, and flew home, in time to walk MacKenzie after ten o’clock.

Urban texture, Queen Street East, Toronto

The Transport Geek spotted this mishap on Queen Street East, Toronto; never a good idea to disobey stop signs!

It was a short night, Friday blending right into Saturday. Was up 5:30 and out the door, down to west Dallas to build a wheelchair ramp. We finished pretty quickly. As we were loading up our tools and leftover lumber, the client’s son, Roberto, asked if I would like to meet his mother. Sure, I replied, and in a moment was speaking a few words of poor Spanish to Irena, 72, blind from diabetes, and lame. But her handshake was firm, and her words of thanks strong. And that’s why we build them.

Four days later, I flew at 1:00 to Chicago, headed toward a teaching opportunity in the University of Illinois EMBA program. Landed and walked fast to catch the airport shuttle train north to the suburban bus station. I had a pleasant flashback when we passed the international terminal, T5, back to a Saturday night in November 1966: my dad sprang for a cut-price youth fare on Eastern Airlines and we had flown down that morning. He headed to a sales meeting and I hung at O’Hare, collecting airline timetables, then took a bus down to see my Uncle Alan and Aunt Dorothy. On the return, the bus passed the old international concourse, and from the window I could see a Swissair DC-8 and SAS DC-8. It looked so exotic, and so cool. It still does.

I just made the 3:22 PACE bus on route 330, south on Mannheim Road. We soon traversed the huge Soo Line (now Canadian Pacific) rail yard, just southeast of O’Hare. Three miles farther, we crossed vast Union Pacific yards, and I was reminded that Chicago is still rail city. I watched the suburban landscape keenly. Signs indicated lots of Hispanics, some South Asians. I spotted a sign on the east side of Mannheim, “Spumoni by Victor Lezza and Sons,” evidence of who used to live there. Reading ethnicity in the landscape is one of the reasons a bus ride is such fun (and way cheaper than a taxi).

I got off the 330 at La Grange, ambled a few hundred feet, and hopped on the Metra suburban train, riding a few stops to Hinsdale, then a taxi with a young Jordanian immigrant, and in no time I was back with Uncle Alan and Aunt Dorothy. Alan, born 1931, is the last survivor of my parents’ generation. He was long the one to emulate: smart, curious, active, articulate. “Be like Uncle Alan,” intoned my mother.”

During my earlier years of wanderlust, in the 1970s, they frequently welcomed me to their old house in La Grange, a few miles east – I was heading to or from Europe, or visiting friends, or riding my bike across Wisconsin and detoured south. They have been very kind to me.

Because Alan is the last one, it made sense to organize a “roots day,” to see the two neighborhoods where he, my mom, and my Uncle Joe (Cousin Jim’s dad) grew up, and that was the plan for the next day. First, though, it was time for an early dinner with them and their middle son, Justin, who lives nearby. We had a great meal and a lot of laughs, and I learned a nice name of endearment for Alan. They call him “Caro,” Italian for dear, and henceforth I will, too.

Drawbridge, Chicago River

The next morning, the roots adventure described in the previous post began. After I said goodbye to Caro and Jim, I walked east on Adams Street to the Club Quarters hotel. I worked my e-mail for a couple of hours, and at 5:15 I walked north across the loop, which was teeming with tourists, to Northwestern University Hospital, to visit a longtime friend, Charlie Kubert. I e-mailed him a week earlier, hoping to see him and his family, and he told me that we could do that, but in the hospital. Charlie was recovering from some serious surgery, but he looked pretty good, and it was fun to catch up. His brother-in-law Richard Nathan was there, and we quickly fell into the kind of animated and informed conversation that I have long associated with Charlie. His doc and a trio of residents visited for awhile, and we bantered with them, too. Soon Jonathan, a longtime skiing pal (Charlie has for decades competed in long-distance Nordic events like the American Birkebeiner) from Indiana appeared, and the yak continued.

At 6:30, Charlie’s wife, Karen Murchin, and their two sweet and energetic daughters, Jessica, 12, and Arielle, 9, arrived, and with pizza from Gino’s East, across the street.

Aspiring gymnast Abigail Kubert

We repaired to a family waiting area in the hall, and pretty much set up a party, munching pizza, chatting, and watching Abigail demonstrate her considerable gymnastic prowess (she’s in a quite serious program, and it shows). I left after eight, walked south, stopped for a quick beer at the Berghoff, and fell hard asleep. A long and good day.

I met Keith Burton a long friend, for breakfast Friday morning at the Union League Club, Chicago’s power bastion. We caught up with the last two years, and Keith reckoned he might have some business for me. I headed back to the hotel, then walked south to the Archicenter, the shop and exhibits of the Chicago Architectural Foundation. There’s always something interesting on display, and that day it was an awesome scale model of downtown. I circled it, marveling at its fidelity. An amazing device called a stereolithograph built the model buildings in batches. Each batch starts on a 20-inch square bed (typically 10-20 structures), and a digitally controlled device fabricates each structure layer by layer – a blade sweeps across the bed, depositing a very thin layer of clear resin, then hardened by a laser. Each bed takes 20 to 80 hours to create, depending on building height (the Willis, formerly Sears, Tower must have taken the full 3+ days!). The whole model took 1,600 hours to build. The outcome, and the process, were way cool.

I walked several blocks south on Michigan Avenue to the enormous Chicago Hilton to introduce myself to the chief concierge, Karin von Krusenstierna, the best friend of the SAS flight attendant Maja who I described a few updates ago (and who is the mother of a young Swedish friend, Peter Gabrielson). After patiently working through a number of people with some pretty dumb questions, it was my turn, and I greeted her in Swedish. She was surprised, and even more so when I told her the connection. We had a nice visit.

At noon I met a former AA colleague, Jeff Zidell, for lunch. He runs the loyalty program at Hyatt. We had a good chat. Ambled back to the hotel and did some work. At 5:15, it was time to stand and deliver, first time in a couple of months, and I was pumped. In addition to 40 EMBA students, there were about a dozen prospective students, there for a free “test ride.” I gave my stump speech on the financial travails of the business.

During the talk, a thunderstorm swooped in, ending the plan for dinner outdoors on a lovely terrace right on the Chicago River. So we ate indoors. Had a nice mealtime chat with six or seven of the students; as I have written before, I like EMBA programs because the students are older and thus have more work and more life experiences, and my tablemates were no exception. One woman, now with Caterpillar, spent nine years in the Army, including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another was the sole woman African-American mechanical engineering major in her class at Cornell. The fellow next to me worked at Goodyear, and was on a team investigating the puncture of one of their aircraft tires, which began a series of cascading actions that led to the crash of the Air France Concorde in July 2000. As I wrote, a lot of experience.

After dinner, I spent 45 minutes speaking generally about leadership and what makes a good (and bad) leader, drawing on my experience at American. Answered more questions, and took a bow at 8:05. I stayed for a few more minutes, chatting with faculty and students, walked back to the hotel, and clocked out early.

The plan was for a long walk at 6:00 on Saturday, including a visit to Lake Michigan, but I awoke to heavy rain showers, so hopped the CTA Blue Line to O’Hare and flew home.

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A Walk in the Past: Marshfield Avenue, Chicago

James and Anna Fredian (far right) on their wedding day, 1920.

My Uncle Alan, Alan Fredian, is the last close relative from either side of my parents’ generation. Almost a decade ago, Cousin Jim and I visited him in Hinsdale, a Chicago suburb, with a tape recorder, note pad, and photo scanner. That snowy day we spoke about the fun of visiting the old neighborhoods where he, my mom, and my Uncle Joe (Cousin Jim’s dad) grew up, and that was the plan for Thursday, July 22. At dinner the night before, with his middle son Justin, I learned that the family calls him “Caro,” which is Italian for dear. Henceforth, I will, too.

Aunt Dorothy drove us to the train station in Hinsdale, and Caro and I hopped on the 8:56 into Chicago. It was a nice ride, a commute that he has done for decades. We yakked about jobs, business, family. At Union Station, we ambled on Adams Street, across the Chicago River to the Quincy CTA stop, and onto the Brown Line, one of the elevated lines that loops the center and gives downtown Chicago its nickname. The line remains above ground, and curves north and west, giving a good view of new development north of the center. Uncle Alan had not been in these parts for awhile, and he marveled at the amount of development (I’m always surprised at how much new stuff gets built in inner Chicago).

We got off at Diversey, walked down the stairs, and met Cousin Jim in front of an Einstein Bagels store. I needed a jolt of coffee, so we headed in and immediately got into family history. It was going to be an interesting few hours. My uncle, at 79, has great recall. Caro had never seen Jim’s old house on Altgeld, where he lived for a decade before moving back to the suburb where he grew up, so we detoured past the place we had visited many times. We then headed west to Marshfield Avenue, where Alan lived from 1931 to 1940. We parked in front of my grandfather’s Centrella Grocery, at 2507.

Jim Fredian in his Centrella Grocery, 2507 Marshfield Ave., 1920s.

The store closed more than 50 years ago, but the building stands. In the early 1920s, my Nonno (Italian for grandfather) bought the store from the previous owner, who financed it. He and my grandmother, Anna, later bought the two buildings immediately to the north. We walked between the buildings, Caro pointing out the door to the cellar, in which he slaughtered and rendered chickens, geese, and pigeons. He helped his dad in a lot of ways. Jim the Grocer served an ethnically diverse group of customers: Italians, of course, as well as Germans, Poles, Czechs, and Serbs, and he needed a few words of many tongues. Memories surfaced in Caro’s mind and he spoke and laughed, about the Italian bookie next door, about Pontinanni, a fellow who appeared homeless, because he sought refuge from his rather intense wife, and who sat on the stoop next door. They yelled at Signor P, “No sputa qui,” an approximation of the Italian for “hey, don’t spit here!”

Next stop was the McWhinney Benevolent Association, a men’s social club that, remarkably, is still in business. Nonno and my great-uncle Frank were both officers at the McWhinney (through a friend of Cousin Mike’s we actually visited the McWhinney on my 40th birthday, in 1991).

Caro and Jim in front of the McWhinney Benevolent Association

More stories from Caro. Continuing north, Alan mentioned Mr. Mariotini, a poor fellow that Jim the Grocer set up in business, a simple newspaper stand around the corner at the busy intersection of Ashland and Diversey. My gramps was a kind and generous man, a righteous man, quick to offer credit for groceries to people who often could never repay. In the late 1940s, he sold the store to his nephew Pietro Federighi (Americanized to Pete Frederick), who owned it until he died in 1959.

The store was at 2507 Marshfield, but the family lived in the lower unit of a duplex at 2662, which my maternal great-grandmother Ottilie Palluck owned (and lived above with my Great-Aunt Bezita).

My great-grandmother, Ottilie Palluck (ca. 1870-1949)

Oma (German for grandmother) died in about 1949; her husband Johan died much earlier, in the 1920s. The house still looks good.

The childhood home, 2662 Marshfield

Walking north, Alan mused about Billy Surmonte, who lived at 2714, and who used to beat the hell out of Uncle Alan for reasons unknown (maybe because he was a smart kid?).

We looked at St. Bonaventure, their church for decades; earlier I told Caro and Cuz that my goal was to get a look inside the sanctuary, which was almost certainly locked. So we crossed Marshfield and pressed the intercom button on the front door of what had been the convent. “Good morning, my name is Robert Britton, and with me today is my Uncle Alan, who was an altar boy at St. Bonaventure in the 1940s . . .” That was as far as I needed to go before a woman buzzed us into what were now the offices of Vicariate II, a sort of regional office of the Catholic Church, run by Bishop Kane (who, in finest small-world fashion, turned out to be best friends with Father Bill, the priest who married Jim and Michaela).

Judy couldn’t have been nicer. She invited us into her office. Being the not-shy one, I mentioned that we’d love to see the sanctuary at St. Bonaventure across the street; she was not sure there was anyone in the building who could do that. We relayed a bit of family history. Jim added, maybe for more cred, that Non had been captain of the ushers and active on other parts of the church. In Catholic tradition, she gave us color postcards of Bishop Kane, Francis George, the Cardinal of Chicago, and the Pope – at the risk of irreverence, they reminded me of the baseball trading cards Cuz and I had as kids.

All the talk and the connection to the bishop softened her a bit. She rang upstairs to ask Father Healy if he’d be willing to open the doors. Yes, he said, and introduced himself a few minutes later. With declining membership, the parish became what’s known as an oratory, not a “full-service” church, but offering a limited Sunday worship schedule.

Father Healy was retired from full-time duties at another parish, and had agreed to serve as head of the oratory, a task known as rector. We ambled into the church, pausing for a photo by the cornerstone, “erected A.D. 1912.” It was only the third time I had been inside. Father Healy was not happy with the “modernizing” that had been done in the 1960s, but it looked at least stable and in repair. We yakked a bit.

St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)

I asked Father Healy about St. Bonaventure, who turned out to be the number two man in the Franciscan order, the fellow tasked with bringing, as the Father said, “order to the order.” Nice.

The lesson, of course, was of faith and persistence, or as Luke wrote in Chapter 11 of the New Testament, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

We said goodbye to Father Healy, thanked him, and walked south on Marshfield. Caro pointed out the Criere Boiler plant, a small industry that he recalled made a lot of noise, and the surnames of various families, adding “they were so poor,” or “they were good people.” He recognized the Gemignani surname on a plaque identifying them as the managers of a structure at 2711. We got back in the car and drove a block west to Paulina, a former industrial street now fully developed into fancy townhomes and single houses – million-dollar stuff. Caro looking in all directions, marveling at the affluence in what had been in his day a working- and lower-middle class neighborhood.

We drove west to Logan Boulevard, and parked in front of 2548, where the family lived from 1940 to 1958 (when my grandparents joined Jim’s family in suburban Arlington Heights). Caro said the 1940 move was for my mother, then 19, to have the privacy of her own bedroom.

Uncle Alan pointed out the apartment, which occupied the western half of the second floor.

The building was still in good repair. We walked a block west, then back to the car, and down a half-mile to Logan Square and a filling lunch at a gastropub called Longman and Eagle (and my first sloppy joe in at least a decade).

At lunch, we yakked a bit more about the old days, about our grandmother’s worry about all manner of hazards, her fascination with disasters, and more. I asked about cars. Alan’s first recollection was his father driving a Rio from the early 1930s (not the Kia econobox of the same name!). “Then,” my uncle recalled, “he drove a maroon 1936 Pontiac, a blue 1940 Pontiac, and a green 1942 Buick, among the last produced before the GM plan shifted to war production. And he recalled his Dad buying Uncle Joe (Jim’s father) a 1947 Ford convertible when he came out of the service (he was drafted and entered the Army in June 1945, just months before World War II ended).

We looked at our watches and zipped back into the loop. Caro and I jumped out at Union Station, he for the train back to Hinsdale and me to my hotel a few blocks down Adams Street .

As in any trip back in time, the hours built interest. We wanted to know more. We wanted more detail for the question we all need to ask: “Where did we come from?”

My mother (1921-2005), Uncle Joseph (1926-1987), and Caro (b. 1931)

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Vacation Time: With Family to Chesapeake Bay

The perfect representation of vacation: a fisherman on the Chesapeake, Tilghman Island, Maryland.

On the first day of the new quarter, Linda and I flew up to Northern Virginia, to Dulles Airport, minutes from Robin’s and Brett’s house. Vacation time! The next day we were headed to the Eastern Shore of the vast Chesapeake Bay, to a Hyatt resort, with those two grownups and our two swell granddaughters. Later that afternoon, the UPS truck delivered my folding bike. Woo hoo.

Next morning, I was up early for the first good ride on the little bike in years. I couldn’t believe that it had been packed away in our attic for nearly a decade – it was nimble, light, and fit in a very small package. It will be great to have it in their basement. At ten we departed, moving into heavy weekend traffic, crossed the huge Chesapeake Bay east of Annapolis, and were in Cambridge, Maryland, in three hours, and in swimsuits not long after that.

I got up at 5:30 every morning to work a consulting project that was due in a few days, ate breakfast, and rolled out for ten or so miles on the folding bike, which was small enough to stack on top of all the stuff young parents need (diapers, baby food, strollers, etc.). The days went quickly. It was swell to have the two tots at hand, though Dylan is in the thick of the Terrible Twos. Carson, four months, is by contrast one of the most content babies I’ve seen.

The Choptank River, an estuary of the vast Chesapeake Bay, from our hotel room

On July 4, we observed the 234th anniversary of the founding of the republic by putting my iPhone in the hotel room’s sound dock, and belted out various patriotic marches by John Phillips Sousa. Carson bobbed to the beat. Looking at new American life, it seemed to me the future of the nation was bright.

As often happens at resorts, we got sorta lazy, so on Monday morning, Linda and I peeled off for a day of touring. We drove north, then west to Tilghman Island, a quiet little place at the end of one of the many peninsulas on the Chesapeake. Poked around a bit, admiring, for example, the last skipjack (a kind of small working sailboat used for dredging oysters) built on the island, in 1988. We then motored ten miles to St. Michaels, founded 1677, a really charming old town. I smiled as we entered, and said to Linda, “well, I finally made it,” explaining that I had read an article about Maryland in the National Geographic in 1971 and tried hitchhiking there from Washington in May 1972, but only made it as far as Annapolis, 60 miles northwest of St. Michaels.

Detail, last skipjack (working sailboat) built on Tilghman Island, now in drydock and looking forlorn.

Talbot Street tourist traffic, St. Michaels

Side entrance and churchyard, Christ Church, St. Michaels

The first three days were unseasonably pleasant but by that day it was hot, humid, and hazy, exactly the kind of summer weather you expect in the Mid-Atlantic. We ambled down Talbot Street, named for the county, made a few purchases at shops (my souvenir was a little crab fashioned from rusted steel), and headed to the St. Michaels Historical Museum, where we had a nice chat with Bob Caulk, the docent, whose family had been in the district for 350 years. Talbot County had another famous son, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who had worked as a slave in the 1830s before heading north. We had a nice lunch at a local bar, then headed back.

Late that afternoon, I looked out at the boats on the Choptank River, a bay estuary, and mused about the seaside, an unfamiliar but fascinating environment to a heartlander like me. What is obvious to people who live on the sea was so new to me: it was an enormous, omnidirectional; highway – 100 feet from our hotel room was the watery route to London, Umeå, and Chennai, places I had visited a month earlier, and to many more.

So it was that I was so happy with the dinner venue that night, Jimmie & Sook’s a local seafood place in downtown Cambridge that I found on the internet. The center of town was a bit down on its luck, and Brett and I were not sure Robin and Linda would head in, but all were glad they did, because we enjoyed a lot of fresh seafood, local brew, and very friendly service. The walls were adorned with big black-and-white photos of watermen (as fishers are called locally) and implements from the fishing trade – oyster tongs, rakes, crab pots. My kind of place, for sure.

Race Street, Cambridge. Downtown was struggling a bit: the tourist boom had not yet arrived.

Tuesday morning, Linda, Robin, Carson, and I set out for another short excursion. We turned off U.S. 50, the main road, and onto a splendid two-lane Maryland highway that curved a lot, passing corn fields, pasture, and big stands of hardwood and pine. A pleasant and gentle landscape. In no time we were in Oxford, easily the nicest of the small towns we visited.

Decorative picket fences were to be seen in all parts of Oxford, Maryland, another pleasant small town

After motoring around town (which did not take long), we caught the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, oldest in the U.S. (1683, and in continuous operation since 1836). Ten bucks got us across the Tred Avon River on a vessel that held nine cars. The Transport Geek was smiling broadly, yakking briefly with the pilot, the distaff side of a couple who have owned the ferry since 2001; “we aren’t getting rich,” she said, “but we sure are having fun.”

The Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, oldest in the U.S.

The boat saved about 30 miles of driving, and in no time we were back in St. Michaels, showing Robin the town. I ambled down to the water and the girls went shopping. Ate lunch, and we headed back.

Talbot Street, St. Michaels

A real working boat catches your attention; this is the Doris N., moored at St. Michaels.

Fun. We were back in time for Brett and me to watch a World Cup semifinal match, Netherlands vs. Uruguay. Finished the second book of the trip (as I’ve written, I’ve read more in the last 13 months since any time in my life). We were back “home” in Reston, Virginia, by noon the next day, having enjoyed time in a new part of our great United States.

Next morning, Thursday the 8th, Brett, Robin, and Carson left before dawn for a wedding in North Carolina, and Linda, Dylan, and I stayed. Some weeks earlier, Dylan – who is in the see-all-ask-all phase – expressed interest in riding on a bus, and Robin replied, “Pots [that’s Dylan-speak for “Pops”] will take you on a bus.” I learned of that promise a couple of weeks earlier, and immediately relished the prospect. For a traveler like me, imagine what fun the future held! In my head I filled in the blank for many years of adventure: “Pots will take you _________”! Wowie!

So it was that at 10:15 that day Dylan and I climbed on Fairfax Connector route 505 and headed east toward the capital of the republic. She was a little apprehensive, but adjusted quickly.

Granddaughter Dylan Reck, watching for the bus

In 20 minutes we were on the platform at the West Falls Church station of the Washington Metro, and she was getting into it. And so, obviously, was her grandfather the T-Geek. “This is so cool,” I thought to myself. I pointed up the line and said, “Dee-Dee, watch for the train,” and soon the brown and silver Metro glided into view. We climbed on, and in no time were in D.C., walking down 17th Street, barely two blocks from the White House. She was a little too young to understand sightseeing, so we ambled to the American Airlines Washington office to see old friends: Will Ris, the SVP, Norma Kaehler, an in-house lobbyist, Antoinette Coffey, longtime employee, and the great Carl Nelson, American’s Washington lawyer for almost 25 years, and a great pal for 17.

It was great fun, and a bit nostalgic, to be back in that office. Through the years and several jobs, I had spent a lot of time there. Dylan was comfortable, and all was well. Carl, Dee-Dee, and I ambled down L Street for lunch, where she promptly fell asleep. Carl and I yakked for an hour, she woke up, and we headed back. Carl pulled out his collection of little toy turtles, the painted ones from overseas with moving feet, heads, and tails. Dylan loved them. When we left, she said “Bye, Carl.” And then, on her own, she added “Thank you for playing with me.” It was so sweet.

I carried her a couple of blocks south to the Farragut West Metro station. Our train did not arrive for 15 minutes, and she had fun watching trains come and go, waving goodbye as they pulled out. One more ride and we were home, the #551 bus dropping us right in front of their house, Linda waiting with open arms. It was quite an outing! Dylan was plumb wore out, and I was kinda tired myself.

I flew home the next afternoon, sorry to leave. But I was glad to see MacKenzie a few hours later.


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