Monthly Archives: October 2011

Teaching: Madison, Maryland, Chicago

Lake Monona and the skyline of Madison, one of my favorite places

I arrived home from Calgary early Saturday afternoon, but back out the door 24 hours later, rocketing north to Chicago, then the short hop to Madison, for my fifth annual appearance at the business school of the great University of Wisconsin.  Landed at sundown, hopped in a cab, and got to the hotel.  At eight, I met Josué Gil Deza, one of my young Argentine friends from ITBA in Buenos Aires.  He was in the first weeks of a one-semester exchange program in chemical engineering.  We ambled across the street to Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, a Madison landmark known for great burgers.  I knew he was going to have some great experiences, and he was.  We yakked for a couple of hours about his academic and leisure experiences – he liked his classes, he joined the Hoofer Sailing Club and was learning to sail, he had been to all four Badgers football games.  In short, he was absorbing all that UW-Madison had to offer.  It was a lot of fun.

At eight on Monday morning, I met my friend Jan Heide, one of my favorite academic hosts, for breakfast.  We walked up University to the business school, time to stand and deliver, on that day back-to-back lectures on airline loyalty programs to his MBA core-marketing classes.  One of my Madison friends, Dan Smith, and his work colleague Don Knapp, attended the second lecture, and they took me to lunch at a Turkish restaurant on State Street.  Dan is a former dairy farmer who I met after I read an essay he wrote in the UW alumni magazine.  They work for an agricultural supply and consulting firm, and we had a good yak about business challenges at their firm and ours.  A fun time.

At two, as I have on three of my four previous visits, I rented a bike at Yellow Jersey on State, and set off, along the lake, then southwest, pausing at Camp Randall, the football stadium, then continuing on a bike path along a former railroad right of way.  At the edge of town I joined the Capital City Path, which circles the city, then back into downtown along Lake Monona.  I continued along the north shore of the lake, into the funky Marquette neighborhood, where I saw lots of signs and bumper stickers expressing disapproval with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  I concurred.

Wisconsin's impressive state capitol

Autumn color near Lake Mendota

"Coloring book" housepainting in Madison's Marquette neighborhood

Back to the bike shop, dropped the cycle, paid $10, and headed back to the hotel for a shower.  At 6:45, Jan and his swell wife Maria picked me up and we motored a mile to the Tempest Oyster Bar for a splendid repast.  Jean Grube, whose class I would join the next day, joined us.  The starter was a huge (and I mean enormous) plate of smoked fish: herring, lox, whitefish, and trout.  Main course was grilled Lake Superior sturgeon, a fish I had never before consumed, and it was really good.  I was sprouting gills by the time we shared dessert.  Also worth a call out: a glass of Night Train Porter from the O’So Brewery in Plover, Wisconsin.

Tuesday started early, joining a long Skype call (audio and video, which prompted me to get out of my pajamas!) with my AURA colleagues at 5:45.  At ten I had to say goodbye, and head to Jean’s two undergrad Human Resource Management classes.  At one, Jan and I headed back to Dotty’s for a caloric lunch and a good yak.  He is such a great fellow.

I was sorta baggy-eyed by 2:30, so grabbed a quick nap, then headed out for a walk around campus and a return to the splendid reading room of the Wisconsin Historical Society.  At 5:15, I walked across the street to the Wisconsin (student) Union, and sat down on the terrace (“the heart and soul of UW Madison” read the green banners) to bring this journal up to date and enjoy a very hoppy ale.  At about 5:30, a steam whistle blew; Googling, I learned that the Hoofers Sailing Club (that Josué joined) blows the whistle an hour before sunset to warn boaters to begin heading to shore.

On the terrace of the Wisconsin Union

My fellow tipplers were a mix of old and young, and I saw myself – as I tend to do – as closer to the latter!  The scene on the shore of Lake Mendota was wonderful: the sculls of rowing club cranking past, sailboats luffing their sheets, a couple of dozen Canadian geese honking aloft, an oak leaf falling right next to my netbook.  Those were splendid moments.  I walked back to the hotel, crossed the street for pizza and salad at Ian’s, another eating landmark, and flew home the next morning.

Again, back out the door in roughly 24 hours, flying up to Washington, and onto the Metro north to my debut at the University of Maryland.  It was unseasonably warm and humid, and storms were near.  I hopped on a handy university shuttle bus from the Metro station to the center of the leafy, red-brick campus, ambled south to the business school, and spent a half-hour chatting with leaders of the school’s Global Business Society.  On the train north, I Googled the school’s nickname, the terrapins.  I knew they were turtles, but I thought they were big ones.  Nope, terps are only five to seven inches long.  Some schools have lions and tigers and bears, but here were small reptiles, not unlike my alma mater’s gophers, a small, burrowing rodent!  Still, it was fun to see kids on campus sporting T-shirts that read “Fear the Turtle.”

On the leafy campus of the University of Maryland

The Robert Smith School of Business at Maryland

At six, I began the talk on airline alliances.  Within 30 minutes, I saw a bunch of students looking at their phones, then a couple of students walked out, and I asked “what’s up?”  The school’s campus alert system (an innovation developed after the 2007 massacre on the Virginia Tech campus) blipped that a tornado was going to strike the campus in 15 minutes.  Yow!  We headed to the basement, which was small,  and soon filled up (the dean was down there, too).  After about ten minutes of uncertainty, I went online, to the website of the National Weather Service – they’re the agency that issues tornado warnings, the threat level that means a tornado has been sighted in the vicinity, thus it’s time to take cover.  But there was no NWS warning, only a tornado “watch,” which means be alert to the possibility of a tornado.  Aieeeeee.  Either Prince George’s County (where we were) had gotten it wrong, or the university had misinterpreted things, or both.  In any event, I was pretty cranky.  Others seemed to conclude similarly, and we walked back upstairs about 7:20, only to receive a second campus alert that the tornado was fixin’ to hit in five minutes.  I was skeptical, as were others, and we didn’t return to the basement.  The lecture was a write down.  One of the organizers drove me back to the Metro, and I headed back to D.C.  Too weird.  And worth a follow-up by this cranky citizen, to find out who messed up.  (I subsequently learned that the university buys weather forecasting from the woefully misnamed private firm Accuweather, which judged that a tornado was near; I continue to believe that the National Weather Service should be the sole authority for warnings.)

Waiting out the false alarm in the basement of the B-school

I was due to meet my longtime American Airlines friend Carl Nelson for dinner at nine, and I was at the appointed meeting place an hour early.  Happily, Starbucks was open, and I headed in for a mango smoothie.  It’s easy to dump on chains, but I really appreciate Howard Schultz’s set of stores, all with free wi-fi, nice music, and a table useful for, say, bringing this update up to date.  Carl rode up the escalator right at nine, and we walked down the street to a restaurant/bar for a meal and some catching up (I’ve known him nearly 20 years; he is AA’s associate general counsel in Washington).  We had a good yak and walked a mile to his old row house on Massachusetts Avenue, just east of the Capitol.

I slept in (7:10!) Friday morning, and after a bowl of Cheerios Carl and I walked to the Metro and rode to the AA office, I place I’ve known through the years.  Did a bit of work, yakked with an old friend, and around ten met daughter Robin, in from suburban Virginia.  We had a good chat, mostly around her desire to get back to a job – in addition to being a superb full-time mom.  She dropped me at National Airport and I flew to Chicago, where at 1:50 I met Cousin Jim.

We motored into the city, bound for Hot Doug’s on California Avenue, a lunch opportunity that had long eluded us.  Jim had raved for years about their “encased meats.”  The long line out the door said it all.  We yakked across a bunch of topics, and then it was time to feed.  My ultra-spicy hot dog was yummy, as were the fries (only offered Fridays and Saturdays), and cooked crisp in, yes, duck fat).  Fortified, Jim dropped me at the CTA Blue Line, and I was in the Loop in 25 minutes.

Hot Doug himself, taking orders

Painted porcine sculpture in Hot Doug's "back yard"

Checked into my hotel and made fast for Brooks Brothers on Adams Street, to see if one of their tailors could repair my torn zipper.  I was a little stressed about delivering a 90-minute lecture with my fly open!  But no, he could not put the zipper back on track (I’m pretty sure I could have if I had small tools), so I had to make field repairs with a strategically placed safety pin.  Mercifully, it closed the flap.  Crisis averted!

My sixth appearance in the University of Illinois’ EMBA program went well.  It was a big and engaged group.  After dinner, one of my hosts, Prof. Steve Michael, joined a group of current and prospective students for a relaxed and really enjoyable chat across a bunch of topics.  One of the prospects was a captain for AirTran Airlines, and his partner was a registered dietician.  One student worked in capital planning for the Illinois Tollway, the other was setting up a green lighting business.  It was the kind of exchange of ideas that makes universities so magnetic.

The original plan for Saturday the 15th was to head out to Cousin Jim’s in the suburbs, then attend the Centennial dinner of my maternal grandparents’ parish, St. Bonaventure, four miles northwest of the center.  I had been gone too much and wanted to get home, but that morning I struck a sort of compromise with myself, and took the CTA out to the old neighborhood, walking north on Marshfield Avenue, past what had been my grandfather’s small grocery, then past the McWhinney social club (site of many fun times, according to my Uncle Alan), my mom’s old house, and finally past the church itself.  It was a clear, crisp morning, and I was glad I made the detour.  Grabbed a coffee and donut at a Starbucks across from “St. Bonnie’s,” headed to the airport, and flew home.

My grandpa Jim's former Centrella Grocery, Marshfield Avenue, Chicago

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Calgary, Alberta, Briefly

Part of the Calgary skyline from Prince's Island, in the Bow River

Travels in the last quarter of 2011 began six days in, when I flew to Calgary on behalf of SATMAP, the software company for which I still do a bit of work.  The ride north was mostly cloudy, and we landed in light rain and single digits (Celsius, that is).  After answering the immigration officer’s questions, and her welcome to Canada, I couldn’t not offer a comment I’ve wanted to say on many previous visits: “Ma’am, I just want to tell you how happy I am to be in a country where a mom doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and taking her sick kid to the doctor.”  It took a moment to register, then she simply replied, “thank you.”  I may reprise the comment on future visits.

The hotel was close to Calgary airport, and the prospect was walking distance from there, so the original plan was not to get a car, but my Canadian SATMAP colleague, Bruce Williams, asked me to rent a car, so I picked up a sweet new Ford Fusion (see my laudatory comment a couple of months ago about another Detroit product).  Traffic was impossible (wrecks in the rain), but I finally made it the few miles from terminal to Hilton Garden Inn.   First, though, a detour to a late, light lunch at Tim Horton’s (where there’s always a queue, no matter the time of day; no wonder it’s a signal Canadian institution!).

Worked my e-mail and hopped back in the car, motoring a couple of miles east to a Calgary Transit Park and Ride station, then onto their “CTrain” light rail into downtown.  A little vignette of polyglot Canada: more than half of the passengers in our car were Sikh men with turbans of burgundy, mauve, grey, teal.  We were in the big city in 25 minutes.  The rain had stopped, and I ambled around, admiring all the public art (another endearing thing about Canada; yes, Governor Perry, it costs money, but it makes us civil and it makes us smile).  Walked north to the Bow River across a channel, and onto Prince’s Island and a big park.  Snapped some pictures and continued north, across the main channel of the Bow (From Wikipedia: “The name “Bow” refers to the reeds that grew along its banks and which were used by the local First Nations peoples to make bows).

Public art: a splendid interpretation of the magnificent Lake Louise

The Alberta Oil Patch is booming: new office tower, Calgary

Walked back south, across downtown at rush hour, to the District brewpub on 11th Avenue SW.  I was glad I did a bit of research a day earlier and spotted an agreeable place.  Ordered an Ambush IPA and struck up a delightful conversation with young Cassandra behind the bar. It was a ten-minute download of my travels in Canada, hitchhiking (like most young people, she was amazed at the distance I covered), and related travel topics, with her lobbing in some of her life story starting with growing up in Powell River, British Columbia. Talking to strangers is such fun.  Worked my e-mail, surfed the web, relaxed.  Enjoyed half a dozen oysters fresh from Qualicum, B.C., and a swell organic hamburger (with bacon cured on premises, yum) and fries.  Spent nearly three hours in a very agreeable place, then ambled out into the rain (I brought my new L.L. Bean long rain parka, a good move), and back to the hotel on the train.

Still life, District brewpub

It was still raining Friday morning, so motored a few blocks to breakfast at Tim Horton’s, and  back to the hotel to work.  At 11, I returned to the airport and picked up Bruce, who had just flown in from Toronto.  Drove to lunch, then back to the hotel to work a bit, and at 2:30 made our sales call, a good meeting with some engaged prospects.  It was the start of the long Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, so Bruce opted to fly home at six.  We debriefed in an airport bar, I said goodbye, zoomed back to the hotel and changed clothes.

Keep moving!  At seven I met longtime friend Norah Carmichael and son Mark (who I had not seen in 8 years, when he was an early teen).  I met Norah in the mid-1990s when she worked for the late Canadian Airlines.  We motored to an Indian-Pakistani restaurant nearby for a spicy dinner and a great catch-up.  Mark graduated from Dalhousie University in Halifax in 2010, and recently took a job with Fluor Corp.  On nights and weekends he’s an unpaid scout, looking for talent in the Western Hockey League, a minor group but with strong talent.  We had a good yak about that fast game, U.S. politics (Canadians are concerned!), the booming Alberta economy, gay rights, and more.  Clocked out, up way, way before dawn the next day, back to the airport, and south to Texas, where lots of mothers do have to decide between buying groceries and taking their sick child to the doctor.  Canadians like Mark and Norah have it right.

Norah and Mark

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