On Tuesday the 13th I flew to St. Louis then on to New York, bound for a paid consulting gig the next day (strict rules prohibit disclosure, hard for a chronicler and blabber like me!). Landed at 2:30, and even though the sponsor was paying expenses I simply could not hop a taxi to Manhattan. Nope. Stuck to my usual, a short cab ride to Jackson Heights and then the subway into Manhattan. Way cheaper, way faster, and a chance to be in the messy democracy and huge cultural diversity of public transit.
The Egyptian cab driver had no grip on Queens geography, and dropped me at the wrong station, so I walked up the stairs and onto the elevated Line 7, riding three stops west to where I was supposed to be. But as offset there was a nice T-t-S moment on the 7, a chat with a young Latino hipster in a porkpie hat, dime-size circles carved into earlobes, heavily tattooed, thick-frame eyeglasses. His son Dominic, age five, was worried that my rollaboard suitcase and backpack were squeezing him, and that was my entrée into a conversation with a person very different from me. They were returning home after a visit to the science museum. I commented on Dominic’s backpack, covered with multicolored images of dinosaurs. I bet he likes dinosaurs, I said, adding that my granddaughter, about the same age, also likes dinos and fossils and such. Dad smiled and replied that “he wants to be teacher, a police officer, and a paleontologist.”
Hopped on the E express train and was soon ambling south on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Into the Hotel Roosevelt, faded glory (but where the client booked me). And $15 for internet, causing a groan at check-in. Dropped my suitcase, and set off for a Starbucks, where the wi-fi is free. Found one at Rockefeller Center, then continued west to meet old friend and airline stalwart Pete Pappas. He lives at Columbus Circle, so we walked across the street into the Time Warner Center and found an agreeable bar with a cool view of Central Park. We yakked for a couple of hours. Pete started his airline career in the 1960s with Eastern, then went to Pan Am, then American, where we worked together a bit. A really fun time, listening to stories of the “old days.”
We parted and I headed back across town. I paused to admire and photograph a skyscraper built on the air rights above Carnegie Hall. Way cool, it was designed by Cesar Pelli and opened 1991 (I had never seen it before, but that part of Manhattan is unfamiliar). And on that island of commerce, you can’t help but notice shop windows, and on the way back to the hotel I saw some interesting stuff. I needed a picture, and paused at Dior on Fifth Avenue, but the composition wasn’t right. Just before the hotel, an image came into sharp focus, at a gallery on Madison Avenue, filled with bold, bright art.
I was tired, but I was also hungry, so I washed my face in the hotel room and walked a couple of blocks to Grand Central, and hopped on the 6 train, south to 23rd Street. Within 10 minutes I was sitting on a stool at Il Pesce (“The Fish”), a restaurant in the Italian food bonanza called Eataly, first visited in 2009. Colossal! I had a starter of small marinated fish and sweet peppers, and a main course of steamed mussels with lots of garlic (I sopped up the broth with bread). And a nice glass of Barbera, red wine from the Piedmont region. So good.
Up at six Wednesday morning, to the hotel gym, 12 miles on a bike, then back out the door to breakfast and free wi-fi at Starbucks. Over to the client, where for the next four hours I dispensed some advice on the airline business. At three I hopped on the E train to Penn Station, over to another Starbucks (for the second time that day, the line was long but there were chairs, so I didn’t buy anything before working my e-mail; that time I felt bad about ripping them off, so I stuffed a dollar in the tip jar!).
It was another nice day, so I stood in the fresh air in front of Penn Station. The air was soon sullied by Officer Fitzsimmons of the NYPD (badge 8777), dispensing F-bombs to a fellow cop. I stared hard at him, and had he engaged me, I would have said, “Officer, how can you expect citizens to be orderly and lawful when you set an example of lawlessness.” It made me so cranky. Okay, venting, here’s the other thing that drove me nuts on that visit, as it does every time: pedestrians jaywalking when cars are heading right for them. It is just not a very civil place, and I was glad to get on Amtrak and depart at 4:43 for Philadelphia. (The train had free wi-fi, very handy, and among other tasks I sent an e-mail to the Commissioner of the New York Police Department, the Honorable Raymond Kelly, about Officer Fitzsimmons’ conduct! It made me feel much better.)
Arrived 30th Street Station at 6:10. It was good to be back in the City of Brotherly Love. At 6:30, I met my host, Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the place that in 1983 changed my life. I had not seen Americus for three years, and instantly remembered what a wonderful, positive, smiling guy he was. And way smart and way ambitious. We repaired to The White Dog, a very agreeable restaurant in an old house just north of campus, for a swell meal: salad with duck confit for starter, then flounder from the Jersey shore, Brussels sprouts, and sorbet for dessert. We were full when we ambled back to Walnut Street and caught a free U Penn bus west to Americus’ house on Pine Street, my digs for the evening. It was only the second time in my 23-year B-school teaching career that a host invited me home. As I have often written, it is a special treat to be in friends’ homes, and this was no exception. Built in 1896, it was like a museum – Americus’ wife, Veronica, liked an eclectic mix of décor. But no time to tour, time to sleep. Hard.
Up at 6:15, did a bit of work, and at 7:30 met Veronica’s aunt, Maya, from Quito, Ecuador. Maya spoke no English, so I was instantly on my toes, recalling words and verb tenses. Maya was a happy and patient person, and gently corrected my poor Spanish. Veronica, Americus, and their one-year-old daughter, Zora, soon joined us in the kitchen. The little princess was so cute, and smiling. She also spoke only Español, but it was easier to make conversation with a tot than a grown-up. As I did the week before with boss Martin Cunnison’s twins, I read Zora a book, in Spanish, of course, and learned the word for belly button!
At 8:45, we walked over to the bus stop, and rode a mile or so to campus, worked for a bit, and at 10:30 delivered a talk on airline advertising to an MBA class. At noon, we zipped over to Pod, a way-cool Asian-fusion restaurant we had visited four years earlier. Lunch was dim sum, yum. Back to Wharton, and two back-to-back lectures to undergrads. At 4:30 I said goodbye to a really great fellow, one of my favorite hosts, and walked east across campus to the University City train station, hopped on the suburban train to the airport, and flew home.