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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.