Monthly Archives: September 2011

Long Walkabout, Part 3: England

On the Stratford Canal, Warwickshire

I was feeling a bit stressed and tired when I boarded SAS flight 1523 from Stockholm to London, but the ride above the clouds was tonic.  Time to rest, to think, to do a bit of work, to reflect.  Music helped, as it always does – Vivaldi, the great crooner Linda Ronstadt, Sibelius.  I was calm and refreshed when we touched down at Heathrow at the end of the afternoon.

Hopped the Heathrow Express train into London, then the Tube, then what was supposed to be an express train to Cambridge, but it poked along.  I was headed to the Judge Business School for the third time in 2011, this trip to give a lecture in an executive-education program.  Because it was a quick trip, I did not stay at Sidney Sussex College, but at the hotel the school arranged.  Got there about 9:30, quick change of clothes, and out for a pint at my favored pub, The Eagle.  I brought the newspaper in my iPhone; I had read most of the day’s news earlier, but have long enjoyed The Times’ science coverage, and it seemed fitting to read it in the pub where Darwin, Watson and Crick, and other science giants tippled.  Two articles stood out, one about a Minnesota-born expert on dolphins, whose current effort is to see if she can communicate with them; the other was truly remarkable, about an artist, Lonni Sue Johnson, who lost her memory when viral encephalitis attacked her brain several years ago.  Much of the article was about memory and identity, and that hit home, because my memory is very much a part of my identity.  Lonni Sue was a successful artist before she got sick, and she had to re-learn how to walk, talk, and eat – and then to draw, to create, to use her art to make us smile: “Two months after she was taken ill, her mother took a green marker and drew a triangle; the younger woman took a blue marker and copied it.”  She re-learned quickly.  Just amazing.

The pub kitchen had closed, so I ambled a few blocks to Dojo, an Asian-fusion place I had visited twice before.  The place was empty of customers and they were mopping up, but they kindly allowed me to sit down and tuck into a couple of satay skewers and a huge mound of Singapore noodles.  Yum!  And a good base for a solid sleep.

Morning rush hour, Trumpington Street, Cambridge

Pediment, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Up the next day and out the door to Judge Business School.  I found “my table” in the second-floor common room, and set up the office.  At nine, I met Jochen Menges, a young German friend now on the faculty.  We had a good yak about his new daughter, Elisa, about his research, about my working for a small company after decades with big ones (workplace is his focus).  At noon, two exec ed people collected me and we walked a few blocks to lunch with the students.  My original Judge host, Simon Bell, now chair of marketing at the University of Melbourne in Australia, was just finishing the morning session.  We ate a quick lunch and it was time to stand and deliver to 14 students; I received their bios in advance, and they were an impressive lot, so I was really on my toes.  It went well.  We had a coffee break and I yakked a bit with a few students, then rolled suitcase and backpack to the railway station and onto the 4:00 train to Birmingham, bound for some fun: three days on the Dame Daphne, a 48-foot canal boat, or narrowboat, with the vessel’s owners, longtime mate John Crabtree (who I’ve often described in these pages) and his former law partner Andrew Manning Cox.  I had been on the “DD” once before, in August 2007, and was really looking forward to it.

The early fall ride west from Cambridge was pleasant, past the massive Ely Cathedral, sheep and cattle grazing, farmers tending to field chores, wind turbines churning slowly.  I cued Dvorak’s From the New World, which is splendid music for traversing countryside, whether or not one is in the New World.  Brought this journal up to date, did some work, and in no time we were in Birmingham.   Like other big cities, it has several train stations, so I walked a few blocks through its U.S.-like downtown (it looks familiar in part because of World War II bombing) to Moor Street Station and hopped on a local train, riding 18 minutes southeast to Lapworth.

Moor Street Station, Birmingham, in front of the space-age Bullring Shopping Centre

John and Andrew were waiting on the platform, with hugs and greetings.  I had seen John just four months earlier, but had not seen Andrew for a couple of years.  We threw my stuff in the boot (trunk), drove a mile to a parking lot, and set off down the towpath of the North Stratford Canal to The Boot Inn, a gastropub, for a fine meal and a lot of laughs.  After dinner we reversed course and ambled to Kingswood, the junction of the Grand Union and Stratford canals, into a marina, and onto the Dame Daphne.  She was as I remembered her, but in 2007 six were onboard; this time the three of us had loads of space.  I had an enormous double bed in the aft, and was asleep in no time.

Andrew Manning Cox and John Crabtree, masters of the Dame Daphne

Friday morning began with a bit of low fog, but it soon cleared to a lovely and warm autumn day.  We had coffee and a bowl of granola, and set off on the canal, motoring south at two or three mph.  We stopped to fill the water tank and empty the toilet tank, then headed into the first of almost 20 locks we traversed that day.  I quickly re-learned the downstream locking sequence: if the lock was empty, winch open the paddles to fill the lock to the level of the boat; open the gate to allow the boat to enter (clearance was less than six inches on either side); close the gate and lower the paddles; winch open the paddles at the opposite end, draining the lock; open the downstream gate, and proceed.  Like playing in a bathtub!

Kingswood Junction, intersection of the Grand Union and Stratford canals; turn left for London!

At noon we sat down to an English breakfast of sausages, bacon, fried egg, and beans, then moved on.  Part of the fun was chatting with other boaters and people on the towpath, a varied lot that included a few Americans but mostly Brits, many with their dogs (I was missing MacKenzie a lot, so I petted a lot of hounds that day).  About 2:30 we tied up in the hamlet of Lowsonford and walked a couple of blocks to a pub for a pint, a perfect stop.  We continued south at a very calm pace, sun dappling the fields.  Sheep and cattle grazed.  It was a timeless scene.  I felt like I was in a BBC period drama, one of those great shows we Yanks watch on Masterpiece Theatre.

Former Lock Keeper's House

We moved through more locks before turning around near Wootten Wawen about 5:30.  I took the tiller for the first time, and it was good to be pilot, north a couple of miles to the tiny burg of Preston Bagot, where we moored for the night.  Walked over to the Crab Mill, another gastropub (and a place I knew from dinner four years earlier) for another great meal and even more laughs, yakking about past travels, the decline of the English language (something that aggrieved Andrew and me, but not John), and politics.  Andrew is conservative and John and I are not, but as I noted in these pages a few weeks ago, the notion that we can’t be friends is just silly.

At 10:30 on Saturday morning, we hopped in John’s car (he had ridden his bike, which was lashed to the boat’s roof, to fetch it) and motored 35 miles to his house in Worcestershire, hugs for his sweet wife Diana, and kids Jessica and Robbie.  Took much-needed showers, dressed up a bit, and headed to see the Worcester Warriors rugby team play the Harlequin, a London team.  It was my second Warriors match in four months, and was a lot of fun.  Unhappily, our team lost, but it was still a big time.  Drove back to John’s, fetched my stuff, and Andrew and I headed back to the boat (John stayed with family).  Changed clothes and motored two miles into Henley in Arden, a historic town – the Forest of Arden was a favorite place of Henry VIII.  We had a big lunch at the match, so only needed small plates at the Blue Bell pub, which fit perfectly because without a booking the proprietress could only grant table for an hour.  We were still thirsty at 8:15, so walked down High Street to the White Swan, a very agreeable place in a really old half-timbered building (when we left, we noticed a sign that read “serving Henley for over 650 years,” which caused me to marvel).

At the Warriors match; our team led 15-3, but lost

Andrew slept in on Sunday morning, and I caught up on some reading, including a very brief history of the British canal system from Nicholson’s, the authoritative source on canal travel.  The 2,000-mile system was built in the late 18th and early 19th century, just in time for the railways to make them obsolete.  British Waterways, a public corporation, now owns and operates the canals.  An act of Parliament in March 1793 enabled our route, the Stratford Canal, and it was finished in about 1820.  Within 15 years, the railway was already grabbing business, and a couple of decades later the Great Western Railway bought the company.  The last working boats were in the 1930s.  Happily, a couple of decades after that, visionaries saw that increased leisure time and rising incomes might revive interest in a slow but wonderful way to see the countryside.  The National Trust, Britain’s venerable and excellent preservation organization, got involved in many canal restorations, including the Stratford, which reopened in 1964.  Later that day, John and I read a wonderful quotation by one of the leaders of the Stratford project: “We were not experts, therefore we did not know what could not be done.”  Amen to that.

John rejoined us about 10:30.  Rain was just beginning to fall.  At 11:30, one of Andrew’s longtime friends, Justine, joined us.  She was a nice addition to the all-male crew.  John gave me the tiller again, and for the first time I guided us into a lock, with only one gentle bump.  A simple task, but, whew, I was sweating!  We moored for lunch, then resumed in pelting rain.  We Texans don’t get wet much, but I’m happy to be sodden.  In no time we were back at their marina, cleaning up (my task was to empty the toilet holding tank, a chore embraced with vigor!).

A very happy boat

Justine needed a ride back to her car, so I hopped on John’s bike, which had been lashed to the barge roof, pedaling the 4.5 miles to Andrew’s car in Preston Bagot in no time.  The bike ride afforded a good perspective on the canal and the small distance we covered over two days.  I paused to take a few snaps, like at the Yarningale Aqueduct, where the canal flows in a bridge across a small stream.  The side of the bridge read “Moseley Iron Company 1834,” and I read the story on a nearby sign: a flood on the stream wiped out the previous wooden aqueduct, so they rebuilt with iron, and the canal was only closed for a month.  It was a reminder of the remarkable engineering of a long-gone era, before motorways and high-speed trains and efficient supply chains.

Bridge weight limit sign

The Yarningale Aqueduct, 1834

John and I said goodbye to Andrew and drove back to the White House, John’s and Diana’s wonderful old home in Crowle.  Diana and the kids welcomed the boatmen, and we tucked into a chicken dinner.  Watched a bit of BBC and clocked out early.  Up at 6:30, down to breakfast.  Robbie was giving his tortoise a bath.  Jessica and Jamie soon arrived.  All three kids looked smart in their school uniforms.  The kitchen was buzzing, then Diana rounded them up, and suddenly it was silent.  And lonely.  Time to head for home.  John, who works from an office in an adjacent old building, rounded me up at eight, and drove me to the Shrub Hill railway station in Worcester.  Caught the 8:39 train to Reading, then a bus to Heathrow, and the Silver Bird delivered me back to Linda and MacKenzie at 8:30 that evening.  After 16-plus days, it was really good to be home.  Really good.

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Long Walkabout, Part 2: Sweden

The Paulson House on the Umeå River, in the traditional Västerbotten style

It was time to get back to teaching.  Early on Friday the 16th, I ambled a couple of blocks to the Folkets Hus (“People’s House), a civic space, for a talk on the airline business to 30 members of the Umeå marketing association.  Had a good yak before the talk with a couple of people, including a well-experienced Ph.D. physicist who now owns a small local company that manufactures fitness equipment; in a previous career he worked for Raytheon and other defense contractors, and said he preferred his current work to “making things that blow up.”  Indeed.  After the talk, the president of the association, Nils Paulson, drove me up the hill to the university; along the way he told me a little about his six kids, three grown and three small, the latter from a second marriage, and invited me to visit two days hence.  His only daughter, Anna, plays soccer for the local pro team, as well as for the Swedish national team.

I joined the annual meeting of the Umeå Business School’s International Advisory Board, in progress.  Introduced myself, and off we went, filling the day with reviews, advice-giving, and some interesting banter.  To my right was a new guy, Guy Pfeffermann, a former World Bank executive now CEO of the Global Business School Network, a Washington-based NGO focused on linking B-schools in developed countries with those in emerging markets.  We had some good chats over the next three days.  Several times that day, I looked out of our glass meeting room at the northern sky, and my mind went back to 11 previous meetings of the board; my association with this school is a long one, and I’ve greatly enjoyed it.

At four, we went down the hill – me on the Dean Lars Lindbergh’s black bicycle (he lends it each time I visit) – to the university’s School of Architecture for a fascinating tour of its new building.  Professor Allan Greve, an enthusiastic and articulate Dane, showed us around.  He stressed that the school, the newest of five such faculties in Sweden, had “a different starting point,” emphasizing an artistic, rather than an engineering, approach.   Allan was fascinating, full of fresh perspective, so reflective of the Scandinavian impulse for cooperative and innovative solutions; it was my second great experience with an academic architect in 2011 (see earlier post about Cambridge in March).  Just before six we headed to dinner.

Professor Allan Greve, passionate about a new approach to architectural education

Architecture students' inexpensive solution to brightening the building and dampening noise

Architecture students in their space for work, study, and collaboration

Was up at dawn on Saturday morning and out the door, across the Umeå River and upstream to a familiar place, a small, skinny island called Bölesholmarna.  Each circuit around is 1.5 miles, and I did 6 before breakfast, finishing in a light rain.  It was nice, even comforting, to be back there (as I have written many times, as much as I enjoy new places, the circularity of my travels, like to that island, feels really good).  After breakfast I rode up the hill to school; I was well early for the ten o’clock start, and did a bit more cycling.  Riding through a well-designed public-housing district, in my head I began to compose a letter to Michelle Bachmann.  “Dear Michelle, I’m here in Sweden, in a place people like you love to criticize.  But the lights are on. The economy is growing.  People are not hungry.  Nor do they worry about getting sick and not having access to medical care . . .”  I stopped there, because it made me cranky, and the blue sky was not conducive to that!

New public housing near the university; a nonprofit company, Bostaden, manages nearly half of all rental housing in Umeå

After a morning session and lunch, the meeting ended.  I rode back to the hotel, changed clothes, and set out for a good ride up the river, along another cycling and walking trail that I knew well.

Remains of a hydroeletric plant on the Umeå River, built 1917 because World War I made coal too expensive for local industry

It was a fine workout, more than 30 miles for the day.  Grabbed a quick nap and at five ambled down the hall to the hotel’s sauna (bastu in Swedish), where I fell into a long conversation with an electrician and a nurse from Örnsköldsvik, a city 60 miles south.  They were on a quick getaway to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.  We covered a lot of ground: family, electricity, home heating, caring for the elderly.  And of course I congratulated them.  Four members of the advisory board, the dean, and several colleagues gathered for a wonderful dinner (I was really eating well on that trip).  It was a full day.

Sunday was even fuller.  I ate breakfast with the new board member, Guy, yakking for a couple of hours, then chatted briefly with longtime board member Marian Geldner, about a possible spring 2012 visit to the Warsaw School of Economics.  At ten, I hugged Ali F., a young Iranian I met in Umeå in 2009; I’ve kept in touch with him as he has watched events unfold in his homeland.  Providing more detail might put him and his family at more risk than they already bear, but I was amazed that Sunday morning as I was two years earlier by his serenity in the face of uncertainty and threat.  He chatted for an hour about his possible futures.  He knew from e-mail that I was headed to high mass at the nearby city church, and I was touched that he asked, so respectfully, if he could accompany me.  “I’m a moderate Muslim,” he said simply.  We more or less kept up with the flow of the service, picking out every tenth word, me stumbling through the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer in Swedish.  Happily, God hears all voices.  The mass took a long time, and included a retirement ceremony for a woman priest.  Ali and I walked back to the hotel, he gave me a CD of Iranian music and read a poem to me in Farsi, and we said goodbye.  I prayed several times that morning, and in the days after, for him, his family, and his nation.

It was another sunny day, and I needed to stretch my legs, so I changed into bike shorts and zoomed off on the big black bike, up the hill and past the university to the Nydalasjön, a large lake on the edge of town.  Rode around it three times, on a path crowded with walkers, other cyclists, families out for a picnic, and more than a few elderly people in wheeled walkers – you gotta admire the Swedes’ commitment to staying active.  Rode back to the hotel for a drink of water, and noticed two missed calls on my iPhone.  It was Nils Paulson, the marketing-association head. “Where are you?” he asked.  I didn’t think his suggestion two days earlier that I visit Sunday afternoon constituted a firm invitation, but when he said “my wife has baked a cake and we have brewed fresh coffee,” I jumped back on the bike and rode five miles south, along the river, to their house.

The Paulsons; left to right Johan, Carolina, Olle, Dagny, Petter, and Nils

I was glad I did.  There was a Paulson family welcoming committee when I arrived: Nils, his smiling wife Carolina, Nils’ mother Dagny (nearly 87, and still riding her bike from town to their house), and sons Johan, nearly 8 (and already speaking good English), Petter, 3, and Olle 1.5.  Two days before, Nils noted with some pride that it was built in the local style, Västerbottens Gård.  What I did not know is that he and Carolina built it themselves.  Wow.  We visited a little in their front yard (Petter and Olle not really understanding what the guy on the bike was saying!), then went inside for a tour.  It was so cool, not only that they spent two years building, but it was faithful to 19th century ways – massive beams, bleached pine floors, old-fashioned wallpaper.  Well, okay, the kitchen held a massive Husqvarna refrigerator, but we are in the 21st century!

We walked out the back door to admire the view from the yard, which runs down to the river, then repaired to the kitchen for homemade chocolate and blueberry cake (wild berries), and some solid Swedish coffee.  It was a lovely visit, and we all agreed that when we travel, one of the best, but quite rare, experiences is to be able to see how people live.  I gave each boy a hug and a kiss (they made me feel lonesome for Dylan and Carson, who at that moment were with Linda, Robin, and Jack at Walt Disney World).  It was the high point of the day.  (In an e-mail sent the next day, Nils wrote that Petter told his kindergarten class that he was “really happy that Rob was visiting yesterday”!)

On the way home from visiting the Paulsons

At five I took another sauna, but did not stay as long because the bath was empty.  Took a quick nap, biked to a local pub for an $11 pint of pale ale from a Swedish microbrewer.  It was great beer, but eleven bucks!  (Mrs. Bachmann would not have been happy, either.)  Sipped the pint while reading the Sunday New York Times on my iPhone, then rode back for the free buffet dinner at the hotel – it was not fancy food, but it was really nice to be in control, and to load up on vegetables.

Was up early Monday morning, biked a few blocks across downtown to the Umeå railway station and onto the 6:46 Norrtåg train to Örnsköldsvik (where my Saturday sauna friends lived).  The ride was along the new Bothnia Line, the largest public-works project in Swedish history, north of $2 billion.  The line runs closer to the coast, and is shorter and faster than the old line it replaces.  We ran above 120 mph for most of the run, and the expense was clear from the many tunnels, bridges, and cuts – blasting through granite and volcanic rock is expensive.  The train reversed course at Örnsköldsvik and I was back at the hotel just after nine.

Botniabanan right-of-way, blasted through the rock

Norrtåg train at Umeå C station

Suited up and rode the bike up the hill to campus.  Did a bit of work, visited with old friends on the B-school faculty, and at noon delivered a lunch talk on career and life to 200 undergraduates.  I enjoy giving the talk – my “ten pieces of advice” (stuff like the need for work-life balance, to read the news every day, and so on) are obvious to me after a long time at work, but not to youngsters.  They gave me the kind of applause that made me feel like a rock star.  I bowed deeply.

At the end of the day, I spoke on leadership to members of the business school student association, the HHUS.  By seven I was plumb wore out – good thing the campus is above town and you can coast a lot of the way to the hotel.  It was raining steadily, and I used the brakes a lot (happily, I remembered to throw my rain jacket in the backpack that morning).  I took off my suit, ironed the creases the rain removed, put on jeans, and headed back out for a beer and dinner.

Was out the hotel door at eight Tuesday morning, rolling the suitcase and backpack.  I was pretty sure I could not load those two (total weight, more than 40 pounds) onto Lars’ bike, but lo and behold, the pack rode on my shoulders and the rolling luggage fit snugly in a metal box frame above the back wheel (the same one I occasionally whacked with my leg when getting off the bike, ouch).  In airline terms, the craft was way above MTOW, maximum takeoff weight, but it was quite stable, and I was able to keep good control at a slow speed, taking huge care to avoid bumps, other cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists – happily, the latter show great respect for those on bikes, and they kept even greater distance from me!  I rode back up the hill with a huge grin – it was one of those “we are young” moments.

At nine I met Anders, responsible for articles in the HHUS newspaper and on their website, for a 45-minute interview.  His brother Lars arrived with some serious cameras to snap some pictures, and we had a good session.  From ten ‘til almost noon, I delivered a lecture to three combined classes, then walked briskly across campus to catch the 12:06 bus to the airport and the 12:50 flight to Stockholm (nice to be in a small place, where each pre-flight task takes almost no time).  The very speedy train into the city had become really expensive – almost $40 for 25-mile one-way, so I opted for the $15 express bus.

At the central station, I hopped onto the subway (single ticket, $6.60!), rode one stop to the Gamla Stan, the old town, and walked two blocks to a rather unique hotel, the Mälardrottningen, which was actually a small ship once owned by Barbara Hutton, heiress of the Woolworth’s chain of dime stores.  She (the boat, not Barb) was anchored off Riddarholmen, one of Stockholm’s historic hearts, an absolutely superb location (I had booked the place months earlier, largely because it was one of the cheapest places in central Stockholm).  The kind front-desk clerk assigned me a larger cabin than I booked, much appreciated.  Unpacked, did some work, grabbed a quick sandwich.

My floating hotel, Stockholm harbor

View from the ship hotel

At 6:30, a young friend, Peter Gabrielson, who I first met five years earlier at the Stockholm School of Economics, picked me up in his zippy convertible.  We had kept in touch through the years.  Peter, whose mother still flies for SAS (and who I met in 2010 and described on these pages), really wanted to work in the airline business, and six months earlier he got his wish.  He was pumped about his post in SAS’ revenue-management department.  We drove across town to his apartment in the Östermalm district, quite close to the center.  As we walked up to his solid, century-old building, he told me he had lived there from birth until age 18.  How cool to be back!  The place was right across the street from Oscars Kyrka, where his dad was pastor.  We had a quick tot of champagne, then walked a block to a fish restaurant for dinner and a good yak about airlines and more.  It was a nice evening – we were planning for his mom to join us, but she had a 3 a.m. wake up the next morning, back into the skies.

Stockholm's distinctive town hall, from the ship hotel

Rose early Wednesday morning to do a bit of work, then bought another ticket for the Tunelbana (Metro) from a man wearing a shirt with the logo of the Hong Kong subway, the MTR.  I thought he was just wordly, but he explained that the latter now have a contract to manage Stockholm’s system.  Ah, globalization!  At 9:30, I met my Stockholm School of Economics host Hans Kjellberg, then delivered a two-hour lecture to a MBA class.  It was good to be there, an excellent school, after a hiatus of a few years.  As we had done in the past, after class we had an informal lunchtime chat with about 12 students.  Peeled off and headed back to the airport.

Frieze, Marketing Department, Stockholm School of Economics

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Long Walkabout, Part 1: Seattle

Seattle, from a Washington State Ferry bound for Bainbridge Island

On September 10, I began a 16-day trip, one of the longest in decades.  It was a challenge to pack clothes into the rollaboard suitcase, but I did it without having to sit on the bag to zip it.  First stop, Seattle for a trade show, to demonstrate our AURA inflight entertainment system, which had evolved remarkably over the summer, from a prototype we showed in Hamburg in April to a full production version.  I had not been west in awhile, and the view from above was delightful, especially the last 90 minutes, over Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, the Columbia River above Grand Coulee Dam, the Cascades, magnificent Mount Rainier, and a vast Puget Sound.  What a country!

Sound Transit's Link light rail in an innovative underground station combining rail and bus

I hopped on the Link light rail, which now connects Sea-Tac Airport with downtown.  Thirty-five minutes later, I was ambling up the hill to the huge Sheraton Hotel.  To my amazement, my room was ready before 11 a.m.  I don’t watch much television, but a scene on a TV in the lobby caught my eye, coverage of the dedication of the (United) Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  As happened the night before, watching Tom Brokaw reprise stories from September 11 (the 10th anniversary of which was the next day), my eyes welled with tears.  I took an elevator to my room, and turned on the TV, to see Presidents Bush and Clinton give remarkable speeches in praise of the citizens on board UA93.   President Clinton compared the fallen on Flight 93 with the Spartans defeated at Thermopylae and the soldiers at the Alamo – all of whom knew were going to die, and went through with their valiant efforts anyway.  But then Clinton noted the key difference: “At the Alamo and Thermopylae, they were soldiers, not civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Vice-President Biden spoke: “My mother used to say, ‘Courage lies in every heart.’ And she would go on to say, ‘And the expectation is that, Joey, one day it will be summoned.’ Courage lies in every heart, and one day it will be summoned.  On September 11, 2001, at 9:57 a.m., it was summoned and 40 incredible men and women answered the call. They gave their lives and, in doing so, gave this country a new life.  We owe them. We owe you a debt we can never repay.”

At noon I walked across downtown to pick up some printing at FedEx Office (their Print Online service is pretty cool), returning by way of the Seattle Public Library, designed by superstar architect Rem Koolhaas.  Had a nice T-t-S moment walking north on 4th from the library; Tyree was an aspiring comedian about to try to make it in the big time of L.A., but that sunny day he was focused on more important stuff: getting to his nine-year-old son’s football game on time.  It was a nice exchange, with a handshake on parting.  I dropped the printing in my room and headed back out, this time on the South Lake Union Streetcar, riding a mile north through the nicely redeveloped Mercer Corridor (Seattle has always struck me as a well-planned place).

Seattle Public Library

On the ride, the iconic Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair, came into view and it made me smile and wander back in time, nearly a half-century.  We lobbied our dear dad to take us out there, and for a bit he actually considered a road trip west, rationalizing the distance with a possible stop to see his brother, a county sheriff in Montana.  In the end, though, the traveling salesman opted for a shorter journey to his favorite Greenwood Lake in northern Minnesota, and my rendezvous with the Space Needle was deferred until my first visit to Seattle in 1974.

The Space Needle from Puget Sound

A nice collection of old boats, Lake Union

Hopped off the streetcar and admired a new park and museum district on the lake, which was teeming with kayakers, sailors, and even swimmers.  Seaplanes came and went.  It was a wonderful scene.  My destination was West Marine, a chain of stores for sailors, where I bought a 2.2-pound boat anchor to use as a prop in our demonstration room (in our promotion, our ultra lightweight AURA system is compared with older technology above the slogan, “weigh the anchor”).  That task done, I hopped the blue streetcar back to downtown, grabbed a quick late lunch and a tonic nap.  Then up to the gym for 16 miles on a recumbent exercise bike.

Thirsty in the land of microbrews, it was not hard to find the Elysian Brewing Company, a mile east of the hotel in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where I stayed on my 1974 visit (high-school pal Mark Hennessy was working temporarily that spring).  Enroute, I detoured down Melrose St. after spotting a sign “Taylor Shellfish Farms.”  Ambled in to admire local oysters, clams, scallops, crabs, wow.  Seattle is, as you may know, also a place for locavores, and the store identified the genus, species, and provenance of every shellfish they sold.  Admiring the produce, the clear thought surfaced: maybe we Americans should focus on less quantity and more quality.  Just a thought on a Saturday night.

Qualicum Beach scallops from Fanny Bay, British Columbia; in this land of locavores, you know the origins of what you eat

Sat at the Elysian bar and perused the beer menu.  They had no fewer than three pale ales made on premises, and I opted for the super-hopped one, practically green with hops.  Yum!  But back to Capitol Hill: a very funky and mixed neighborhood, skewing young, but some oldsters too.  On the way to ale, I walked past a bar with a rock band playing every track of a Led Zeppelin album (of course, dear readers, I did not know that – a fellow on the street ‘splained it to the greyhair).  Having been in Seattle nine hours, I also noticed that people on the street make eye contact and speak to you, if only an amiable nod and “howyadoin’?”  A very agreeable place indeed.  Joey the bartender extended that, yakking for a bit, joshing with the folks on stools net to me.  Nice!  Refreshed, I walked down the hill to the hotel, and met my boss, Martin Cunnison, who had just arrived from Vancouver.  We ambled over to a great restaurant, Dahlia Lounge, for a late dinner and a catch-up.

On the way, I had to educate Martin, a go-forward Londoner, in the “West Coast pedestrian code,” which I learned almost four decades earlier on my first visit to Seattle.  From there to San Diego, drivers have historically been far more respectful of foot traffic than almost anywhere else in the U.S.  The quid pro quo is that in Washington, Oregon, and California, pedestrians obey the traffic signals, and do not jaywalk.  I have long regarded this as a wonderful and endearing aspect of West Coast life.  My supervisor was a bit slow to learn, but he seemed to be catching on!

Sunday, September 11 dawned clear.  I was up early and out the door for breakfast at Starbucks, then to the 8:30 service at Plymouth Congregational Church, a large urban parish just a block from the hotel.  I had earlier found a Lutheran congregation only a mile or so north, but Plymouth was closer, and was a welcoming and agreeable place.  The service was in a small round chapel and we were enthusiastic participants.  The pastor, Jane Sorenson, was a gifted homilist, speaking simply about forgiveness and mercy.  After the sermon, she delivered some wonderful remarks about remembering September 11.  After the service, I introduced myself, mentioned that ten years earlier I was working for American Airlines, and offered a few thoughts, to which Jane replied simply, “there are no words to describe what happened.”  Amen to that.

The September 11 anniversary observances were hard for many of us who have worked and continue to work in the airline industry.  Our mission since the first plane carried paying passengers ten decades ago has been and will always be to bring the people of the world together, quickly and safely.  That those assholes perverted the mission will make me angry until the day I die.  And sad.  I wept more than a few times that weekend.  And thought back to that day, to the first word, colleague Susie Williams on the phone saying “Have you heard about a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York . . . oh my, oh no, I gotta call you back.”  And how could I ever forget daughter Robin calling at the end of the day from the University of Southern California, where she had just enrolled; sensing that our business could be ruined, she offered to quit and come home, to which I replied that I would scrub floors before that happened.  But we move forward, always.

I met Martin after church, and I suggested late breakfast at Pike Place Market.  Fortified, we walked back, he headed to his room to work, and I thought a ride on the water was in order, so I headed down to Pier 54 and bought a $7.10 round-trip on the Washington State Ferries to Bainbridge Island, 35 minutes west on Puget Sound.  While waiting for the 1:10 sailing, I called Linda, who reminded me that she and I rode that boat years ago; yep, I recalled, it was July 1986.  The quick crossing was cool and pleasant, with a nice chat with a young couple with a Labrador and a Bernese Mountain Dog.  Bainbridge Island and the little town near the ferry dock, Winslow, has a pleasant rural (and quite affluent feel), remarkable for its proximity to a large metropolis.  I wandered down main street, and tucked into a light salad lunch at the local supermarket, then headed back across the water and up the hill to the hotel.  I had hoped for a nap, but my iPhone chirped a reminder that I was to meet a contact at four.

Children's view of Seattle, from a mural on Bainbridge Island

Wild berries, Bainbridge Island

I really wanted to doze, but Yvette turned out to be a really interesting woman, working for a London marketing agency long familiar to me.  She grew up in South Africa with an Italian father (from Friuli, near Venice) and an English mother.  Like me, she had worked for years in the airline business, and like me, was now adjacent to it.

At 6:30, Martin, Tina Andreasson, AURA’s sales exec for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, walked back to Pike Place for dinner at Steelhead Diner, a wonderful place I found on my 2009 visit to Seattle.  I had an outstanding piece of Oregon rockfish and a side of braised collard greens.  Yum.  Back at the hotel, I worked my e-mail a bit, and at 9:15 drove to the airport to pick up one of our other team members, David Withers, our man in Asia/Pacific, who doubles as the (totally brilliant) engineering brains behind our new system.  With a huge background at Qantas and Boeing, he is precisely the man for the job.  We had a good yak driving back into town.  Clocked out.

Up early Monday morning, lots to do.  As the AURA marketer, I was in charge of fitting out our presentation room at the hotel, so after a quick Starbucks breakfast I headed out, stopping at a florist, then north a mile or so to pick up brochures (FedEx was way too expensive for the job, so I found a Alphagraphics franchise on the Internet).  Eschewing taxis, I hopped on the bus back downtown, then started setting up the room.  David ambled down and unpacked a very cool airplane half- seatback fitted with our 10-inch screen.  And it worked!

AURA's brain core: David Withers (L) and Martin Cunnison

At eleven, I peeled off, changed into a suit, and sat for a pleasant and friendly filmed interview with Steve Harvey, a longtime IFE guru.  We spent the afternoon setting up, did another filmed interview with the BBC (a nice bit of publicity, we expect), then had a team meeting for a couple of hours.  Tina, Martin, and David wanted to stay in for dinner, but one of my rules is never, or almost never, eat at the hotel, so I headed back to the water for a nice meal at Etta’s – six briny Penn Cove oysters from Samish Bay, 80 miles north, and fish and chips made with Alaska ling cod.  Yum!  Before sitting down to dinner, snapped a pic of a breathtaking sunset over the sound, the Olympic Mountains jagged on the horizon.  Seattle is a special place.

Tuesday morning, show time.  The day sped past, meeting with several airlines, proudly showing AURA and telling our story.  At 5:30, we joined Peter Tennent, one of the owners of Factorydesign, the London firm that is doing our industrial design – and they have done a remarkable job, transforming a rough prototype into a polished design ready to manufacture.  Had two ales, then Tina and I hopped in a cab and headed a couple of miles east to Crush, a superb (and high end) restaurant in a 1920s house.  Peter, Martin, David, and six or seven invited guests joined us for a wonderful dinner.  The young and rising-star chef Jason Wilson prepared a wonderful meal for us – tomato and mozzarella salad, followed by a beef duet of short ribs prepared sous-vide (slow cooked in a vacuum to produce tenderness and amazing flavor) and two slices of ribeye steak, the meat from Painted Hills Ranch in southeastern Washington.  Dessert was perhaps the most remarkable, small bites and a spectrum of flavors that Jason introduced to the table: almond, lavender, vanilla, strawberry, rose hip, goat cheese, yuzu, lime, and pluot (a plum-apricot hybrid).  Wow!

Wednesday morning, repeat the show time.  Visitors from 8:30 until noon, when I peeled off to head toward Sweden, the second stop.  Back to Sea-Tac Airport, 737 to Chicago, then into a big seat on the 9:45 p.m. Silver Bird to London Heathrow.  The schedule showed an hour at O’Hare, and for a week or so I had been watching the on-time performance of the Seattle-Chicago flight, but it all worked smoothly, and we were in England quickly (nearly 700 mph across).

Imperial College and the Royal Albert Hall, on approach to London Heathrow

Worked in the Admirals Club at Heathrow, and at 1:50 flew to Stockholm, arriving 5:20.  Then a long wait (punctuated by a nice plate of cold salmon and creamed potatoes) for the one-hour flight to Umeå and my 16th visit to the business school at Umeå University – it was pretty much a 24-hour journey, head hitting pillow in the clean, mostly empty north of Sweden about 11.

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To the Heart of Texas, and Some Barbequed Goat

Your correspondent with senior judge Eddie Sandoval

 

The next weekend was time for the other end-of-summer ritual, the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas.  It was my 21st consecutive appearance as a judge, and I was pumped.  I needed a haircut, but scheduling complications prevented a visit to Rick, my regular, so after a nice lunch with a former colleague at American’s corporate headquarters, I tapped my iPhone to find a barber in Euless, a working-class suburb just southwest of DFW Airport.  Carlos the Barber caught my eye, but when I drove there he was outta business.  Next stop, the Midway Barber Shop on Euless Blvd.  As soon as I entered I knew I was in the right place.  Five chairs, four in use, lots of banter.  I introduced myself to Ken, and we had a great time yakking about softball, his late friend from Minnesota, barbering, and life in 1970 as an Army grunt along the DMZ.  Lots of people would not visit a barber in a place like that, but I’ve always been one for stepping out of the comfort zone, and it was a lot of fun – and a great haircut.

Worked a bit at the airport, and at 5:40 flew 160 miles west to Abilene, Texas, where I met Jack, just arrived in his Subaru from Lubbock.  Threw my stuff in the back, hopped in, and we were off, down Texas Highway 36, past a landscape parched but still interesting for its occasional hills and creeks, and cap rocks, the flat-topped hills formed from more resistant rocks.

Highway 36 south of Abilene, Texas

Driving across Texas, Jack and I were reminded of our love for our adopted state and the importance of place in identity.  As we sped down the road, Jack and I talked about others’ ignorant prejudice of places like ours (we experienced it a couple of weeks earlier, up north), often formed by dislike for politicians, or by the comments of smart-ass comedians and other uninformed observers.  Neither Jack nor I voted for Texas’ capital punishment, nor for Rick Perry, but bad policy and a dumb politician don’t make the state a bad place.  “Placism” is nefarious.  Jack said it best on the drive: “those people discount humanity, and that’s bad.”  Amen to that.

We made it to Brady, 100 miles south, in no time, and soon were tucking into dinner at the Hard Eight Barbeque.  Checked into our motel, watched a little college football, and clocked out.

We were out the door about 8:20 Saturday morning, driving 17 miles west on U.S. Highway 87 to Melvin, Texas, population 184 (yes, it’s redundant to add the name of the state, and although I am a spare writer, I hew to local tradition and include it).  Jacoby’s Café in Melvin was hosting the judges’ brunch, and in no time we were shaking hands and slapping backs and catching up with old friends.  After the meal, Jack peeled off for extra judging duties, assessing cooking rigs with three other younger judges, and I poked around Melvin; like many places of its size, it was forlorn in places, though the Jacoby family’s feed mill was going strong.  Drove back to Brady and headed into Richards Park, site of the cook-off.  Barbeque smoke was in the air.

A former farm implement dealer ad hardware store in the forlorn part of Melvin, Texas

Remaining merchandise at the implement dealer

 

The shinier part of Melvin, at Jacoby's Feed Mill

 

I ambled around and met some of the characters that make the event what it is, like the Little Lebowskis Urban Goat Herders team, in pirate attire, and fresh from a 20-hour drive from Athens, Georgia; or the Waco Boys, resplendent in orange shirts, shorts, and cowboy boots.  Talked at length with fellow judges, seasoned pros and some newbies; had an interesting chat with rookie judge Drew, a lecturer in business ethics and other topics at UT’s B-school.

Before the judges could get to the main event, we had to sample and assess the Mystery Meat Competition, which this year was barbequed salmon.  There were some nice flavors, and we didn’t get too filled up.  At three, we began the goat judging, first, 25 plates, then 15, then 10, then 5 (judges work in teams and move from table to table, creating a fair way to assess quality); because there were a few ties and some so good they merited seconds, I ended up sampling more than 60 pieces, and was full to the brim.  But we helped pick a winner.

The 2011 Miss Heart of Texas (center) and two runners-up

 

Judge Jack Britton

During the judging, each judge was introduced.  When they got to Jack, the announcer (from the Chamber of Commerce) mentioned he was an addiction counselor in Lubbock, then ad libbed: “Some of you certainly need a referral to that place, and I’m sure Jack will give you a discount!”  It was hilarious.  With the judging done, we stepped off the stand – two flatbed trailers – and yakked a bit more.  At five, Jack and I ambled back to the car and headed north to Lubbock, rather than back to Abilene.  It was an easy drive on back roads, through Winters (where, appropriately, we stopped for frozen treats at the Dairy Queen) and Sweetwater, and were at his house by 9:05.  Met his new roommate Ford and his dog Mason, showered, and clocked out on the living-room couch.

 

Wind turbines south of Sweetwater, source of the Brittons' electricity

A cold front arrived overnight as promised, and when I stepped onto Jack’s front porch Sunday morning, it was 64, 36 degrees cooler than the day before.  Folks all across Lubbock were raising their arms and you could almost hear the entire city saying “Ahhhhhhhh,” after a very hot summer.  At ten, Jack, Ford, a buddy John, and I motored to a caloric breakfast, then up to the Ranch at Dove Tree, for a tour of the treatment center where Jack works.  There was a powerful moment of truth up there, when a client, visiting with us about the cook-off, looked me in the eye and told me how much my son was helping him.  I have always been proud of Jack, but maybe no time more than that.

 

From the ranch it was just a few miles to Lubbock airport, where I caught a little jet and was home by 3:30, happy to be in the Lone Star State.  Not a perfect place, but a good place.  Home.

 

 

 

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Minnesota for High Purpose, and Minnesota for Fun

 

On Thursday, August 18, we met Jack at DFW Airport (he had flown in from Lubbock), and headed north to Minnesota, to his commencement ceremony at Hazelden, where in April he had finished his M.A. in addiction studies.

All hail the Graduate!

 

Before getting on the flight, a nice Talking-to-Strangers moment.  I spotted an older guy wearing a cap that read “B-17”; behind the big letters was embroidery of the World War II bomber.  Mindful that of the declining opportunities to thank folks like him for his service (more than 1800 World War II veterans die every day in the U.S.), I engaged him:

Me (gesturing at his cap): “Sir, did you fly them?”

Him: “No, I built them.  I was 17 years old, and I was riveting them together.  Then, toward the end, I got in the infantry, they sent me to Germany, and I saw ‘em flying over me.  I was glad to see those planes above.”

Me: “Thank you for what you did for us.”

Him (surprised): “You’re . . .  you’re welcome.”

We landed in Minneapolis, picked up a Chevy Malibu (a nice car, by the way, proof, albeit anecdotal, that General Motors is indeed pulling itself together), and drove to Linda’s mom’s house.  Jack’s last remaining grandparent turns 90 next year, and is doing pretty well physically and mentally, still living on her own; Linda’s next-youngest brother, who never married, lives with her and helps some.  We had a nice visit.  Next stop, shopping for Linda and Jack, while your scribe worked his e-mail, made a call, and snapped a photo:

Travelers to the U.K. and other Commonwealth countries know the roundabout is an efficient intersection design. Americans have been slow to adopt them, and when they do, for some reason the simple design and rules create enormous confusion. My Brit and Aussie friends will chuckle when they see all the warning signs!

About six we headed northeast across the Twin Cities to Forest Lake, to dinner with a couple of Jack’s Hazelden classmates and their families and girlfriends.  I had walleye for dinner, my favorite Minnesota fish.  After dinner, we headed across the St. Croix River into Wisconsin, and to the big yellow farmhouse of friends Edward and Karel Moersfelder, who kindly hosted us for two nights (they are also Jack’s godparents).  It was so good to again sleep with open windows, a nice breeze zipping in.

Friday was graduation day.  Jack peeled off in the rental car to hang with his buddies, and Linda, Ed, Karel, and I yakked the morning away on their deck overlooking wetlands, pasture, and woods.

The verdant view from Ed and Karel's deck atop Windy Hill

After omelettes we dressed and drove to Hazelden for the ceremony.  I’m a soft touch, and the sight of Jack processing in cap and gown brought tears of joy – and recognition that after some struggles he has found his life’s calling.

High point of the event was a gripping keynote from David Carr, media columnist for The New York Times and recovering addict.  We read a Times excerpt from his memoir Night of the Gun a few years ago, and his speech recounted some of his former life, together with high praise for the graduates’ chosen profession.  Carr described them as “the Navy Seals of addiction treatment, a great tactical unit.  Speaking of those in recovery, he said, “they don’t need rehabilitation, they need habilitation.  They need to learn what it means to be a human being.”  It was, as they used to say about speeches, a stemwinder.

Jersey cattle, Polk County, Wisconsin

After hugs and photos, we headed back to the house, took short naps, and headed to a celebratory dinner in nearby St. Croix Falls, then across the street to the Festival Theatre, where Ed has acted in a number of plays.  That night was improv from summer interns.  By ten we were plumb wore out.

Up before the sun Saturday morning, pedal to the metal, winding down State Highway 35, the gentle Wisconsin landscape smiling at us: grazing Holsteins, brooks, woods and farms.  Dropped Jack at the airport and took Linda’s mom to breakfast.  She told us she remembered being hungry for much of her childhood.  Again we are reminded not to take things for granted.  We flew home, back to the more-than-100º heat.

And repeat: exactly a week later, I flew (solo) back to Minnesota.  Time for the annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair.  The plan was a bit different this year: get there on opening day.  We landed about 12:30, I zoomed to my hometown, Edina, and picked up friend-since-1963 (and former workmate in American Airlines’ ad department) Steve Schlachter.  Before departing, we visited for awhile with Steve’s mother, Marlys, 81 and going really strong.  Such a joy to meet active older people.

Despite warnings that it would take a long time to get through various road construction, we were near the fairgrounds by 2:30.  If I arrive early in the morning, I park on the street, but no spaces were open, so we wheeled onto a front lawn on Pascal Street, engaging with the homeowner, an ESL teacher in St. Paul, and her two young daughters, who were getting ready for the start of the school year.  You can learn a lot about people in five minutes, and the teacher provided some perspective on the challenges of inner-city public education.

As formula dictates, first stop was the juried art show, celebrating its 100th year.  As regular readers know, most of the art is for sale, and we’ve bought a work nearly every year since 1986.  Although it was day one, the show was jammed, but I was determined, and quickly surveyed the more than 300 works on display, snapping iPhone pictures.  To my great delight, an absolutely wonderful oil and acrylic painting, “Winter Cabin” by Minneapolis artist Tom Wolfe, was for sale, and I zipped out my debit card at the front counter.  The quick snap of the work is blurry, so I’ll include it when I go north to retrieve it in some months’ time.  Like all of the art we’ve acquired at the show, there’s a strong Minnesota sense of place – deep winter snow, a simple log cabin, evergreens at dusk, nearly faded to black.  It’s just lovely.

We paused for a beer, then ambled into the Creative Activities building, #2 on the must-see list, to again marvel at the enormous skill of craftspeople working with yarn, with wood, with flour, and more.  “These are our neighbors,” said Steve, “and we usually have no idea of their talents.”  Once again, we were tempted to smash the glass separating us from blue-ribbon and sweepstakes-winning cookies and bars.  Then it was south to the Horticulture building, to ogle the flower growers’ skill, the prize-winning vegetables, and more.

A small portion of the sweepstakes-winning quilt

Detail, carved clock

Dessert bars, in a refrigerated case. We were temped mightily!

I was delighted that Steve wanted to spend time in the animal barns, really the best part of the show.  All of the controversy about livestock raising – and there is much inhumanity in industrial agriculture – fades when you see young members of the 4-H exhibiting their rabbits, chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle.  Walking through the barns, I am each year reminded of the gift of animal domestication, and I whispered my thanks to God.  We chatted briefly with some youngsters, but our best Talking-to-Strangers moment was with Kathryn Loppnow, 4-H member from Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota, who would show her Hampshire pig Rodney the next day.  We asked about Rodney’s growth (birth to 280 pounds, 20 more than market weight in six months!), about her studies (finished her second year as a biology major, hoping to go to medical school), and more.  She was exemplary!

Rodney and Kathryn

Dozing at the Fair

We ambled back across the Fair, pausing for some treats: roasted corn on the cob, deep-friend cheese curds (so glad Steve was along, because it’s way too much for one person), the little donuts called Tom Thumb, rolled in cinnamon sugar – and more beer.  The weather was lovely, and we had a terrific time catching up on stuff and watching the varied humanity amble past.  Steve reckoned it was his first Fair visit in 40 years.

Deep-fried cheese curds from the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Wisconsin. Yum!

Tom Thumb mini-donuts coming off the assembly line

1951 vintage Ford, 1951 vintage Steve

We drove back to Edina and visited for more than an hour with Marlys and Steve’s sister Nancy, who had just dropped her oldest child at Marquette University (Milwaukee) for the first year of school.

I was out the door at 7:25 Friday morning, back through my old neighborhood in Edina, and down to the Linden Hills district in Minneapolis for coffee with another pal from high school, Jim Grandbois.  We were not close friends back then, but we’ve been connected for years (he and his brother Dick had a furniture business and they made us a lovely walnut dining room set which we still have; the parquet inlaid table is precisely where I am typing this update).  Jim and I got caught up on family and more.  He needed to get to work selling realty, and I shot downtown to meet another long-time friend, Martha Mars.

I first met Martha at the Slalom Bar (I think that was the name) in Zermatt, Switzerland, January 1974.  She and a pal were traveling in Europe, and as I recall I heard the word “Minnesota” in the bar, and the friendship began.  Friends, but I had not seen her for more than 25 years – we actually reconnected by e-mail in 2006, when she spotted my name in the specialized newspaper Advertising Age.  So we had a lot of catching up to do, back to the mid-1980s, but even farther back.  She and I both lived unhappy early lives because of alcoholic parents.  It was a joy to be back in touch with her.  We yakked for almost two hours.  There was a common theme among us that morning: we all understood, decades ago, that there was a bigger world out there, beyond Minnesota.  We’re all the better for that recognition.

I dropped Martha at the new Minneapolis Public Library, and put pedal to the metal, aiming the red Nissan Versa north, across the pleasant farm country of central Minnesota, up to the lakes north of Brainerd.  First stop was the fourth friend of the day, George Rasmusson.  We worked together at Republic Airlines, and we had a good visit.  He’s taken a job selling for a big resort called Breezy Point, an interesting place with quite a history.  He had been in the post for less than a month and seemed eager to get more done on a Friday afternoon (I was on vacation!), so I drove ten miles to the cabin of pal-since-1963 Tim McGlynn.  Mac and his partner Sue were glad to see me, and vice-versa.  It was my third visit to Big Trout Lake in four years.  We yakked a bit, drove into the town of Crosslake for some food and beer.  I hopped in the lake to cool off, and we motored over to Bill and Sally Terry’s cabin for a party and dinner (it was the same weekend festivities described in 2010).  Great to see old friends and meet some new ones.  My bunk for the night, as the previous year, was a comfy king in the back of Tim’s RV.  Nice!

Saturday morning, Big Trout Lake

The iPhone alarm clock did not need to be set.  I awoke Saturday at dawn, to the call of the loon, for me the signal sound of northern Minnesota.  I just listened to the call for 15 minutes.  Ambled down to the cabin and sat on the deck admiring to view and savoring the 52º.  After breakfast, I connected with an even longer friend (since Mrs. Milward’s fourth-grade class 51 years ago), Ward Brehm.  We took a long and brisk bike ride, at a pace fast enough for a workout, but gentle enough to ride side by side and catch up.  Ward has done a great deal of work to raise awareness of African development issues, and we yakked about that, as well as a host of other topics.  He’s the one of the nicest Republicans I know, and indeed that was one of the topics: we lamented the polarization that seems to be taking place, not only in Washington, but even among people who are (or were) friends.  Just so stupid.  How about a little flexibility, people?

After a zippy ride on one of Tim’s fast motor scooters (I was goin’ 60!), we got in the boat and motored through the chain of lakes to the Moonlight, the bar we visited in 2010 to hear a group of aging rockers, The Elements.  And they were back.  We had a blast there, yakking, dancing, and carrying on as if we were youngsters (my knees reminded me the next day).  Almost too much fun, but there was more later, as we headed back to the Terry’s cabin for barbecue.  I just had to leave early, because I wanted to get up at six for a last bike ride in the cool morning.

Saturday evening, Big Trout Lake. In the boat are Tim's son, Patrick, and his labrador Clark

And that’s what I did, pedaling nine miles on Tim’s mountain bike before heading back to the Twin Cities.  Last stop before flying south to Texas, and the heat, was a cup of coffee with Mr. Jensen, my 12th –grade English teacher and an early and positive life influencer.  It had been a year, and it was great to catch up with him.  He is a righteous person.

We like our life in Texas, but after back-to-back visits, my native Minnesota was tugging hard.

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