Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pots (that’s me) to the Rescue!

Dylan after her swimming lesson

On Monday afternoon the 23rd, I flew up to Washington.  A week after I helped Robin, Dylan, and Carson move into their apartment, she landed a terrific job, as director of communications for the Interactive Travel Services Association, the group that represents the interests of Expedia and other online travel services (growing up in an airline and travel family may have been helpful!).  That Monday was her first day “on the job” in nearly four years.  She had hired a nanny to look after Carson and Dylan, but the new caregiver was transitioning from a job and could not work the three mid-week days.  Pots to the rescue!

Carson riding the dragon (Dylan was nearby, in a ballet lesson)

It was great to see our granddaughters again.  We headed home and they went off to sleep.  I followed soon after, because I knew Carson would deliver the wake-up call Tuesday morning, and she did, at 6:15.  Robin departed an hour later (taking the bus and Metro into D.C.), and I was in charge.  Yow!  First task, breakfast.  Then dropped Carson at what I call “pre-pre-school,” and took Dylan to a swimming lesson.  In no time it was noon, time for lunch.  The afternoon sped past, with a little respite during Carson’s short nap.  Oh, yes, and I had to take Henry the terrier out for bathroom breaks.  Speaking of that, quite a bit of Carson poo to manage, oh yeah, all part of the job.

Henry, a rambunctious West Highland Terrier

Which of we three were happiest when Robin walked in the door at 6:15?  She took charge of baths, and I made dinner for her and me.  And I uncapped a bottle of Starr Hill ale from Charlottesville, much deserved.  Before going to sleep, Dylan told her mom, “I wish Potsy could stay here forever,” which was my paycheck for the day.


Wednesday was pretty much a repeat, kids’ activities in the morning, playing at home in the afternoon.  Carson’s speech therapist arrived at 2:30, an interesting bit of learning about speech development (the tot is a bit slow, but I think is making good progress, maybe even beginning to catch up).  At the end of a warm and sunny afternoon, we went for a walk with the big double stroller, Henry tugging in various directions.  After dinner, quite a bit of roughhousing and fun, and then Mommy was home.  Made dinner, clocked out.

It was a bumpy night.  Carson threw up a couple of times, and again Thursday morning, but Pots’ nursing care that day worked well, drip feeding her juice and water, and after a long afternoon nap, she seemed to be back in the saddle.  Dylan was having some trouble that day with her mom’s absence, and my job was to provide hugs and love and reassurance, that “Mommy now needed to work to be able to give you and Carson the things you need.”

I was nearly done with my assignment.  Just before six, we jumped in the car (they sold a very expensive, very large, and very thirsty Volvo SUV, and Robin leased a fun and lithe Jetta “Sportwagen”), picked up Robin at the Park and Ride, and drove out to Dulles Airport.  The role I dreaded three days earlier was becoming easier (emphasis on the –er!), but it was time to head home.  The paycheck that day came in the morning, when Dylan declared that I was “a really funny nanny.”

Flying home, I thought a lot about what had just happened.  I’ll share two thoughts.  First, a week earlier, when I agreed to help, (because there really was no alternative), I confess that I was a bit cranky, even complaining to Linda that “I didn’t sign up for this.”  Now I saw it differently, and it was more like, “I didn’t think I signed up for this, but earlier I was not focused on the fine print, which says that when you become a parent, you agree to help in all the ways that you can.”

Second, these were among the hardest three days of work in my life, right up there with trying to deal with the pilots’ strike in 1997 or the aftermath of September 11.  Seriously.  Even when I was a new father of two, I don’t recall being responsible for Robin and Jack for three consecutive days.  So this was reminder to me and all other men that women’s work in the home is undervalued and underappreciated – as I wrote in 2010 when I was helping out after Carson’s birth, if men had to be moms that species would vanish.  I believe that now more than ever.

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¡Ay Chihuahua! My First Visit There

Pancho Villa, from a portion of the huge mural at the Palacio de Gobierno, Chihuahua. Villa used the city as a base during the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1913.


Travel and teaching resumed on January 18.  Driving to DFW Airport, I was excited to be heading back to the classroom, and to a new place.  That evening I flew 620 miles southwest to Chihuahua, Mexico.  Waiting outside the customs hall was a wonderful young friend, Alejandro Moreno, and his buddy Javier Ortega.  I met Alejandro at last year’s South American Business Forum in Buenos Aires, and he suggested a visit to his school, Tecnológico de Monterrey en Chihuahua, one of some 35 campuses of the school known more commonly as Tec de Monterrey.  A private university, Tec is arguably the premier engineering and business school in the country, and offers many other disciplines.

Alejandro Moreno, from his Facebook page

The chatter in the car from the airport to hotel covered a bunch of stuff, but most interesting and wonderful was the news that Alejandro had secured an appointment to work overseas for two years for ProMéxico, the nation’s investment and export promotion agency.  About 1,000 young people applied for 30 positions.  He was to begin a month of training in three days, then would learn where he would be posted.  Way cool.

Was up at 5:30, up and into the hotel restaurant for the kind of breakfast that has sustained Mexican people for centuries: chilaquiles, tortilla chips mixed with sauce and cheese, and a big helping of refritos, refried beans.  Had a nice chat with the waiter, an early chance to use a bit of Spanish.  Was into Javier’s car before 6:30, driving a few kilometers to the campus.  First class ran from 7:00 to 8:00, my “Ten Pieces of Advice” talk to kids in their last year of Tec’s high school, called Prepa.  They were young and enthusiastic, and I did my best to pump them up.  We grabbed a coffee and went back to the classroom from 9:00 to 10:30.  A good start.

Part of my first class at Tec, the youngest and the most enthusiastic!

Alejandro’s friend Salvador arrived with a Toyota pickup and we zipped into the center (Chihuahua, population 850,000, is the capital of the state of the same name).  The U.S. news media would have you believe that most cities in northern Mexico are in state of permanent mayhem, but the scene on every street was tranquilo.  We parked the car across from a wonderfully ornate theater and cinema from the 1920s, the Colonial, which had been recycled as a cultural center for the city.  A kindly guy near the door unlocked it and allowed us a quick look inside.  Next stop, the cathedral, begun in 1725 and finished 101 years later.  We then ambled a few blocks to Quinta Gameros, a mansion built 1907-08 and now a museum with permanent and temporary art collections.  The interior was stunning, mostly Art Nouveau but with some neo-Gothic and other styles.  In the basement and on the first floor was a temporary exhibition of a contemporary Mexico artist known as Kin Kin, who paints in a distinctive folk-art style.

The former Colonial theater, now a cultural center

Chihuahua Cathedral

Interior of the Cathedral

Quinta Gameros

Art Nouveau bed and nightstand, Quinta Gameros

Artisan, Quinta Gameros

One of KinKin's many powerful and evocative works, depicting the violence and sadness in Ciudad Juarez, the city most in the crosshairs of drug violence, 200 miles north of Chihuahua

We headed back across downtown to a museum in the former post office that mainly focused on Hidalgo, a priest who was one of the many fathers of Mexican independence, and who was executed in Chihuahua in 1811.  Last stop was the ornate Palacio de Gobierno, state offices completed in 1892.  Walls facing the large courtyard were a series of murals depicting the long fight for Mexican independence.  When we Americans think that our 1776-81 war was a major struggle, we would do well to look south, where it took more than a century for Mexico to be fully free.  They are a persistent people!

Palacio de Gobierno

Benito Juarez, one of my heroes and five-time president of the republic, depicted in the large mural at the Palacio; he is often compared to Lincoln, depicted at left.

Miguel Hidalgo, from the same mural

At two it was time for lunch (late by my standards but on time in Mexico!).  A group of Tec faculty and students gathered at El Retablo, a wonderful restaurant.  I won some major cred by ordering tacos made from barbecued beef tongue; they were seriously yummy.   My hosts were also delighted to see me scooping plenty of the several salsas on the table, and I explained that I was well accustomed to spice north of the Rio Grande.

Back at Tec I worked my e-mail (the school has a free, open wi-fi network, totally great) and prepared for the big event, a two-hour presentation on leadership, open to the school and the wider community.  I began the talk en Español, a few paragraphs that I worked up with Google Translate and polished by Ann Hathaway, daughter of my first Spanish teacher Don Miguel, and her brother-in-law, a native Mexican.  I think the audience appreciated the effort.  Here’s the text in English:

Good day, ladies and gentlemen.  I will begin in Spanish, not to be a “show off,” but to express my deep respect for and my long friendship with your great ation and your people.  I first visited Mexico more than four decades ago, and have been back many times since – but not often enough.

Forty years ago, I studied just a little about Mexican history, but enough to come to appreciate the many struggles that have swept over this land.  And I learned what remains my favorite quotation of all time, from the great Benito Juarez, a man of justice and compassion, who said, “respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz” (“the respect of the rights of others is the peace”).  Simply brilliant words, and as relevant today as they were when your president first spoke them in 1867.

I have a presentation to make, and I could probably continue in this direction for the entire time allotted.  But permit me one more anecdote as introduction.  Some people back home were astonished when I told them I was coming here.  “My God,” they said, “it’s a war zone in Northern Mexico.  Don’t you watch TV?  Read the newspapers?”  Well, no, I don’t watch much TV, and certainly not for the news, but I do read a lot.  And my 42 years of international travel have taught me to look past headlines.  I understand tragedy and am deeply worried about the situation here.  But I live my life without fear, because if I give in to fear, than all who wish to terrorize – the Zetas, the Taliban, and others – will have won.  And one more thing: your state and your city would not be so dangerous if there was no demand for drugs in my country.  And for that, I apologize deeply, and pray that working together, we find a way to solve this huge problem for all of us.


The talk was well received, and by eight I was worn out.  My young hosts, ever hospitable, offered to take me to dinner, but I opted to go back to the hotel, have a couple of beers and a light dinner, and head to sleep.

I was back at it early Friday, three back-to-back lectures from 7:30 to noon.  Toward the end of the middle one, a smiling, middle-aged fellow entered the classroom and sat down next to me, at the desk in front.  I asked him if I should stop, and he waved me on.  During question time, he introduced himself, Joaquín Guerra, and he was president!  In the early afternoon I did a bit more work-work, we grabbed a quick burrito at 1:30, and from 3:00 to 4:00 I gave the seventh and last lecture of the visit, to a group of mechanical engineering students interested in aerospace.  I learned that Tec and the state government of Chihuahua were developing an “aerospace cluster” to manufacture aviation components there, taking advantage of labor cost and proximity to the U.S. market.  Very smart.  Indeed, on the visit I saw lots of positive economic development, which contrasted markedly with the simplistic televised narrative of chaos.

A corner tower of a former hospital across the street from Tec, and in the background a solar-powered building in the high-tech business park linked to the university

The main engineering building at Tec

Back to the hotel, a bit of a break, and at six Alejandro and I drove across town (stopping briefly to meet his mother).  The day before, he promised beer and dinner at “a cowboy bar,” and I was looking forward to rubbing shoulders with some grizzled vaqueros (the north of Mexico has a lot in common with the American West).  The cowboy bar turned out to be La Cabaña Smokehouse, a U.S.-style barbecue place with country-music videos, but it was a lotta fun.  Alejandro, Javier, Yvon, a friend of Alejandro, and I ate ribs, drank beer, and laughed a lot.  They wanted to head to a bar after dinner, but I was plumb wore out.  Back at the hotel, I hugged Alejandro, thanked him, and wished him well in his new job.

The guys would not let me take a taxi to the airport at 5:45 the next morning.  Javier picked me up, and drove me out, the last kindness in a trip filled with them.   Indeed, I could not recall a school that treated me as well as Tec in Chihuahua.  I look forward to returning.

This was the first teaching that was self-funded – you may recall that as part of its bankruptcy restructuring, late in 2011 American ended its decades of reimbursement of travel expenses not covered by the schools.  I’ve created a “teaching fund” to enable my lecturing, and will deposit miscellaneous income into it.  The new approach brings another benefit: complete freedom to offer critical analysis and comment.  Independence is good!

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Moving Days

Dulles Airport, Virginia, four miles from Robin's new place

Two days later, on the 26th, the last trip of the year, up to Northern Virginia with Robin and her daughters.  Unhappily, her marriage of four years had dissolved.  Time to move forward, with resolve.  My task was to help her move into a new apartment.  In 2007, when Linda and I moved into our swell bungalow, I vowed that the next move would see me carried out horizontally.  Well, not yet!  Nope, time for a strong back and swift but sure foot.  I was cranky when we pulled out of the driveway, but my attitude brightened on the way to the airport.  Gear up, Rob.

We landed in a cold, pelting rain, and worried that it would still be wet the next day, when the movers would arrive.  We got back to their old house, Brett took charge of Dylan and Carson, and Robin and I started loading boxes into her capacious (but soon to depart) Volvo SUV.  We got quite a bit moved in late afternoon and early evening.  Walking down the corridor of her new apartment building in Herndon (just three miles from the old place), it occurred to me that what she was doing was very brave.  Even with emotional and financial support from Linda and me, taking that big step took courage.  At dinner an hour later, I told her that.  And before going to sleep, I thought of all the moms who say “Enough,” and against big odds choose a new way rather than the joyless status quo.  But hold the stirring music: it’s still damned hard.

Wednesday dawned clear and windy.  Streets were dry.  Hooray.  Carlos and Freddy, movers that Robin found on Craigslist, showed up with a big former U-Haul truck, and with backs that made me marvel (and smiles and banter that made me smile), got all the big stuff loaded up and moved into the new place.  My guess was that at least one of them was in our republic illegally, and I was reminded of how so many people take their will for granted.  We did not, do not, will not.

Meanwhile, Robin and I schlepped boxes and tubs of clothes, toys, dishes, the stuff of life.  The gas man arrived to turn on the main for heat, hot water, and a warm stove.  We started the task of making a home.  Our daughter inherited our work ethic, and she swiftly brought order from chaos.  Tony Carter, an affable technician for the telecoms provider Cox arrived to take charge of setting up phone, cable, and Internet.  He ran into some troubles with the phone wiring, but he got it done (the next day I wrote his supervisor with a commendation).  I liked him a great deal, in part because he touched me, I mean physically, and I responded.  Touch is an interesting interaction with strangers.  While Tony was wrangling with the wires, I was in a tiny closet trying to get the pilot lit inside the water heater (under Virginia or local law, the technician who visited earlier was not permitted to light it, and he failed to tell Robin that he closed the gas supply valve; aieeeeeeeeeeee).

We were dead tired by the time he left, close to eight, but I needed to pick up my backpack at the old place, which had my toothbrush and netbook and stuff.  From there we headed to Reston Town Center and a plate of pasta and celebratory glass of vino at Vapiano.  I was asleep before 9:30.  Hard, into dreamland (I’ve been dreaming travel for more than four decades, so it wasn’t surprising that a travelogue ensued, that night riding the London Underground).

The original plan was to fly home at 9:50 Thursday morning.  But my work was not done, and it was not right to bail, so I shifted my flight to nine hours later, pulled on jeans, and got back to work.  Ate a bowl of cereal and connected the DVD player, a crucial task.  We then did two more trips back to the old place; at the end of the second I hopped on my trusty Dahon Helios folding bike, rode to the new place, folded it into its case, and put it on the balcony.  Nice!

Zipped out to Home Depot to buy Robin some tools and some other stuff.  First, a detour to Best Buy, where your scribe enjoyed a nice T-t-S moment with a returns clerk.  He asked for photo ID, saw the Texas driver’s license, and told me he had moved north from Houston.  I replied with a comment about cold eather, but he said the biggest loss was the lack of Whataburger, a Texas fast-food institution.  “Man, I miss those big cheeseburgers, some onion, mustard,” he said wistfully.  I shook his hand and wished him a Happy New Year.

Zoomed back for lunch and an afternoon of mopping up, mostly hanging pictures on walls – the tried and true way to create a sense of home.  Most of what I put up were pictures of the girls that Robin so dearly loves, and that made me smile.

The stalwart moving crew in front of a fabric castle that Santa Claus brought Dylan and Carson


As we say in Texas, we got ‘er done, so Robin drove me to Dulles Airport at 5:30.  I had not seen the main terminal building at night for years, and the scene was stunning.  I hugged and kissed Robin, then ambled west a few hundred yards to capture the grace of Finnish-American Eero Saarinen’s 1962 design.  “Soaring” is a word often used to describe it, and indeed it lifted my spirits heavenward.  Flew home, done.

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