Quick Zip to Montreal

Two days after returning from Lake Superior, I was back at the airport at 0:dark and up to Chicago, and on to Montreal. Had I planned better, I would have stayed up north, and taken the Canadian train from Thunder Bay, about 60 miles from where we stayed (Grand Marais) to Montreal, as Linda and I did almost exactly three decades earlier. There’s an interesting historic link, too: beginning in the 17th Century, French trappers and traders collected furs along Lake Superior and inland, and canoed them east to market in Montreal, a very long trip.

Flying northeast, I cued longtime Canadian singer Neil Young, reaching back to my youth for some favorites, including “Helpless” and “Long May You Run.” To my delight, the public-transit agency there, STM, just began a frequent, fast, and cheap express bus service into the city. Even better, for the cost of a roundtrip I could get a three-day pass for unlimited rides on their network. On the way into town, I read in a STM magazine that Montreal launched the first public bike network (like the ones in Paris and now London) “thanks to Quebec know-how.” The rise of Quebec identity and pride in place has long been of interest, and the phrase made me smile. Reading further, the first evidence of the essential goodness that I have long admired in Canada – the bike network awarded the contract for cycle maintenance to an agency that supports at-risk youth (you Canadian readers, take a bow!). I rode the Metro for the last part of the trip, and at the Peel station I spotted a nice reminder of my first visit in 1967 – a large, colorful, round mosaic.

A stand of Bixi, the Montreal public-bike network

I was at my hotel on Rue Sherbrooke in no time. Washed my face, checked e-mail, and hopped back on the Metro, riding two stops. Grabbed a late light lunch at Tim Horton’s, and entered Concordia University. It was a downtown campus, no green, no statues, but with an enormous and palpable sense of energy. It was 4:15, toward the end of a school day, and the place was still buzzing. The student body was hugely diverse with lots of new Canadians of varied colors, a reminder that higher education is the key to a better life. I chatted briefly with a Chinese kid in suit and tie, fresh from an interview with McKinsey and Company. I stepped off on the sixth floor, and wished him well. I had only been here once before, in 2005, and I didn’t recall it being as vibrant.

At 4:30, I met Sue Hogan, who runs the aviation program in Concordia’s John Molson (yes, the beer) School of Business. We yakked about some short-course teaching opportunities – they do a lot of corporate contract work for companies like Bombardier. Took a quick nap and got back on the Metro, riding north to a hip neighborhood along Blvd. St.-Denis, and ambling to Bieres et Compagnie, which I visited a couple of years earlier. Quebec has some great microbreweries, and I was soon enjoying a Blanche de Chambly. Got a table and perused the menu. The roast wapiti looked interesting, but they were out, so I had a caribou burger, really yummy, and a pint of Rousse ale from the brewer Boreale, whose symbol was a polar bear.

Before dinner arrived, I was heading for the denouement of a touching and remarkable novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Fiction can be powerful, and the account of injustice visited upon Japanese-Americans during World War II made me want to stand up and scream. Handily, my meal arrived, and my vector toward hyperventilation abated. Whew!

Getting off the Metro at 9:37, a thought from a few hours earlier surfaced, so strong that I stopped to make a note: it started here. What, you ask? Rob’s foreign travel started in Montreal, in August 1967. That weeklong visit to Montreal, with diversity that contrasted so much with white-bread Minneapolis, was one of the experiences that has propelled me outward, and enriched my life in so many ways.

Was up at 6:30 on the 29th, down to the gym for a short bike workout, then out the door, west on Sherbrooke, and into the leafy McGill campus. Had a brief T-t-S chat with a fellow walking his dog, then headed to the Law School and my host Maria D’Amico. We chatted briefly, she walked me to class, and I delivered a three-hour presentation to 20 students in the Air and Space Law master’s program – a hugely diverse group, from Australia, Korea, China, India, Peru, Costa Rica, Mexico, the UK, Italy, and France. Oh yes, one Canadian, an interesting older fellow Paul, who had worked on aviation liberalization at Transport Canada. Paul, a prof named Richard, and a student took me to lunch at the Faculty Club.

Playing field, McGill campus

Peeled off at two, and headed out on a suburban train to the Town of Mount Royal, an interesting and green suburb begun in 1920s. Walked around a bit, then took the bus and Metro back to the hotel. Did a bit of work, took a short nap, and at 5:30 walked south to meet longtime friend Gary Doernhoefer. Arriving early, I was tempted to take one of the Bixi public bikes for a quick ride, but instead read The New York Times on my iPhone. Gary is now General Counsel of the International Air Transport Association, headquartered both in Geneva and in Montreal. We walked to his apartment on the edge of the old town, Vieux-Montreal, had a beer and a yak, and continued the chat at a nearby brewpub. We covered a lot of territory, and had a lot of laughs.

Was up at 5:30 on the last day of the quarter, out to the airport, and a nonstop back to Texas.

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