Monthly Archives: April 2011

Ziptrip to Chicago

I was home from Germany just long enough to help build a wheelchair ramp for Juan, a young man in West Dallas, take Linda out to dinner, stretch my legs on the bike, catch up on some e-mail, and pay a few bills.

Juan and an able group of young volunteers from the University of Texas at Dallas

Monday afternoon I flew to Chicago for a meeting the next day. The green way from the airport to Cousin Jim’s house is a bus then the Metra suburban train from Des Plaines, a few stops from Jim’s home in Arlington Heights. Waiting on the train platform at Des Plaines, I noticed a fellow wearing a maroon University of Minnesota windbreaker. Passing him, I pointed to the “M” logo and said “I went there, too.” Thus began a wonderful Talking to Strangers engagement. I wished I had gotten his name, a fellow who graduated a year before me, played varsity football, and became a lawyer. In 15 minutes we covered a lot of topics, but the most interesting yak was about those turbulent times in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Jim and I drove off to watch son Charlie and daughter Katie practice soccer, then back home for dinner at out to Eddie’s bar for a couple of beers with neighbor Rolf and cousins Mike and Bob. It was a lot of fun.

Waiting for the train, Arlington Heights

Was up early the next morning and onto the train for downtown Chicago and a meeting with Don Kolodz, a senior sales guy at SATMAP, a company with a very advanced software solution for call centers (I began helping SATMAP in 2010, and it’s now my “moonlighting” job). We had a good sales call with a large prospect. At noon I met longtime airline friend Brent McNamara for lunch and a good yak at the Berghoff, a traditional German restaurant that has been serving on Adams Street since the 1890s. I was determined to get back in the groove of weaving a little “place discovery” (or in this case rediscovery, because I have been a Chicago visitor dozens of times over more than five decades), and snapped a couple of pictures before flying home:

The ornate lobby of the Palmer House Hotel, which opened in 1925 and was designed by Holabird and Root, at the time one of Chicago's most prominent architectural firms

The Majestic Building (1906), a splendid example of the Beaux-Arts commercial style; when it opened it was the tallest skyscraper in Chicago

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To Hamburg, to Launch AURA, Our New and Better IFE System

The "front door" to the AURA stand, Aircraft Interiors Expo, Hamburg

On April 1, I flew to London. At Heathrow, I met my new boss, Martin Cunnison, and we zipped across the North Sea to Hamburg, for the launch of our new AURA inflight entertainment (IFE) system at the big Aircraft Interiors Expo at the Hamburg Messe (fair). Landed and headed to the hotel by taxi (if I were on my own, I would have taken public transport!). The EAST Hotel, a boutique place and our home for the next six nights, was über-hip. After a bit of liquid refreshment, we checked in.

The splendid view from my hotel window; the the distance is St. Michael's Church

The room was assuredly “designer,” and rather unfunctional, especially the sink. And the promised wi-fi did not work. Not to be an ingrate, but the two-star Ibis across the street looked rather nicer by comparison.

At the beginning: Stand 6A1, a blank canvas

We ambled over to the huge Messe to have a look at several square meters where our stand would stand. Our colleagues Murray and Stuart, who drove a van and trailer with the stand’s contents from Scotland to Newcastle, then onto a ferry to Holland, were caught in road closures and expected to arrive at six p.m. So we did a quick walk around the center, then headed back to the fair just as the boys arrived. We spent a couple of hours unpacking the van and trailer, then headed to Stuart’s hotel, the Gaswerk, in a converted former gas works. That hotel, a bit away from the center, had parking for the van and trailer, something that would have been impossible at our hotel.

Murray and Stuart arrive at the fair

We were back at the Messe Sunday morning before nine, and spent 11 hours building the stand. We’re a new company and not flush with cash, so we did it ourselves. All around us were Polish, Slovak, and a few German workers building competitors’ and others’ facilities. We had a blast, but it was hard work. And required a bit of initiative, as I was dispatched, late in the day, to forage for screws that others had dropped on the floor.

A little historical aside about the German messen. The tradition of a trade fair as gathering place for people selling wares was established in late Medieval Europe, and by the 20th Century most large German cities had built facilities. The messen got a boost in the years immediately after World War II when the German government (and Marshall Plan supporters) encouraged trade fairs as a way to rebuild a shattered economy.

Rinse, repeat, we were back at it Monday morning at eight, and worked all day. Our sales colleagues David Withers (Asia/Pacific, based in Australia) and Tina Andreasson, a longtime friend who would soon join us to look after Europe and the Middle East, arrived, as did Mohammed Hammamm, based in Istanbul (and helping with sales support in the Middle East and the “Stans”) and Svala Olafs, an Icelandic friend of Tina’s. It was a great group, and we were fired up. I was especially charged, mainly by the prospect of once again being on a team.

The show began Tuesday morning, and the day went by in a blur of meetings on the stand, which featured an airplane-cabin mockup with five rows of two economy-class seats, each fitted with our AURA system. Murray and Stuart did a superb job of simulating “the real thing,” and prospects were delighted – and amazed when we told them that the whole thing was a blank piece of paper just eight months earlier.

When the doors closed Tuesday night, we hung around for a glass of wine, then I peeled off for a solo dinner – as much as I liked my new pals, I needed some quiet time. On an earlier trip to Hamburg I noted but did not visit a traditional pub called Anno 1905 (named for the year it opened, and has never closed), on the Holstenplatz, just across from the Holsten Brewery. I headed there for dinner, and stepping inside was so glad I did – the place was the definition of German old-school, restored to something close to the state when it opened that year. There was a massive back bar; stools at the bar; in the corner, a piano, on top a concertina; cast-iron Doric support columns painted, many times, in green and gold.

My early thought: we should reward persistence with our patronage. On the walls and menus were old photos: the fittings looked the same; only the people were different, and I wondered about how different we really were from those working- and middle-class patrons 106 years before. My mind headed back to 1905: Germany before all the woes of the next four decades. I also mused that the place opened 20 years after my maternal great-grandparents Ottilie and Josef departed Germany for the New World. I enjoyed a nice salad and some wonderful Hamburg-style baked fish. It was a treat.

At the bar, Anno 1905

Was back at the Messe early the next morning, likely the only person vacuuming in a pinstripe suit. Oh, and removing quite a bit of bird poop from the pigeons that made their way indoors. Ewwww. All part of the job description! The day was even more hectic – between prospect visits I scribbled and sent a press release taking aim at our two entrenched competitors. While revising the press release, I looked up and thought, for perhaps the 500th time that week, that this was really, really fun. That night we had a lovely dinner at the hotel for prospects and friends.

Thursday was a repeat.

At the end: Stand 6A1 is no more

The show closed at four, and Martin, Murray, Stuart, and I spent the next five hours tearing down the stand and loading it in the trailer and van.

The Scots dropped me at the hotel just after nine. I changed clothes and zoomed back over to Anno 1905 for a late, quick dinner. Sitting at a table at the end of a long but good week in a new career, I came across a great quote from the 20th Century French author Jean Anouilh: “And under this carnival disguise the heart of an old youngster who is still waiting to give his all. But how to be recognized under this mask?” I felt so lucky that Martin somehow spotted me! I tucked into a plate of salted herring (zarte matjes), pan-fried potatoes with bacon and onion, and a weissbier. It was wonderful.

The only thing less than wonderful about the week was that I never got more than about a mile from either the hotel or the Messe.

Russian Orthodox Church, Holstentor; I passed it each day to and from the fair

I had hoped to see a bit of Hamburg, a truly interesting place, maybe just to get down to see progress on their waterfront revitalization called Hafen City. I had about 90 minutes free Friday morning before the flight to London and home, so I headed out of the hotel just after seven, walked half a mile toward the Reeperbahn district of bars, strip joints, sex shops, and hookers, and hopped on the S-Bahn (suburban train). I rode four stops to Othmarschen, a prosperous and leafy suburb with large homes built from the 1890s to the 1930s. I had directions to Zickzackweg (Zig-Zag Way) 27, which is where son-in-law Brett Reck lived for a couple of years when he was in primary school and his dad Bob was with Mobil Oil. I found the place, and snapped some pictures of the house and other scenes from the neighborhood. It was time for students to head to school, and unlike a similar place in the U.S., I did not see even one parent driving their kids to school. Nope, they were all riding their bikes, except for the really young ones, who walked hand in hand with their mothers. Ambled back to the S-Bahn station, walked the adjacent shopping street, bought a big tub of yogurt, and headed back to the hotel.

Zickzackweg 27

An inter-war house, Othmarschen

German students head to school, on their own, without cars. Nice!

German ingenuity, again: pre-dyed Easter eggs, supermarket, Othmarschen

I was on my own from the hotel to the airport, so naturally I schlepped my suitcase a block to the U-Bahn, and headed to the airport for under four bucks. Flew to London, jumped on a Silver Bird, and was home walking MacKenzie by 8:30. A great trip. A working trip.

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