Monthly Archives: March 2012

New York and Philadelphia

Lower Manhattan, on approach to LaGuardia Airport

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.

On the street in Jackson Heights, a hugely diverse neighborhood in Queens

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.”

Columbus Circle and Central Park

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.

Above Carnegie Hall, a new building built in the Commercial Style of a century ago

Gallery, Madison Avenue

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.)

Rowers on the Schuylkill River, just north of the University of Pennsylvania

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.

Professor Reed

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Teaching in England and France

Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, built in a former hospital

On Monday, March 5, I was back into the sky for the first European trip of 2012, to England and France.  The nonstop was full, so I flew up to O’Hare, then to Heathrow.  Took advantage of a posh arrivals lounge for a shower, breakfast, and a bit of e-mailing, then hopped on the Tube into London, cueing (as I often do) 20 Beatles tunes.  Got off and walked a block to the St. Pancras railway station, terminus for Eurostar.  That was my ride to France in two days, and I wanted to collect my ticket in advance.  Check and done.  I was mere blocks from my UK barbers, Peter and Tony, and needed a trim, so I ambled up Caledonian Road.  A rather fancy hair salon stood where their simple barber shop had been.  I had not been there for a little over a year, so I walked another block, thinking I had the wrong location.  Nope.  So I asked the Pakistani shopkeeper next door, and he said the rent had gotten too high, and my Greek Cypriot friends elected to retire.  Bummer!

Peter's and Tony's ordinary barber shop was gone, replaced by a rather fancy salon!

Old and new buildings, University College London

Changing a window exhibit at the Wellcome Collection; the photos depict artifacts on display inside, a remarkable assortment of stuff mostly related to medicine and human health. I made a note to visit on an upcoming trip.

Next stop was the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency a mile southwest, to meet Fabio Scappaticci, a Cambridge MBA student I met in 2011; he’s a great young fellow, and we’ve kept in touch.  His training was in aeronautical engineering, so the move into the ad world was totally different – and one that I encouraged.  To my delight, he’s super happy in the new post.  Even better, he and his wife become parents in July.  We had a great yak over soup and sandwich.  He showed me around the agency (greeting Jane and Tim, Cambridge students from previous years), and I peeled off, back to the Tube and to my modest Holiday Inn Express digs in the Golders Green neighborhood of north London.  Dropped my stuff, back into central London, then onto a train out to Hemel Hempstead, about 30 miles northwest.  Whew, a lot of movement.

At 4:25, I met my Intelligent Avionics boss, Martin Cunnison.  We motored to his house and caught up on business – face to face is much better than Skype.  Covered some ground.  At home, we collected wife Tara and twin daughters Beatrice and Henrietta (who had just turned four), drove into Milton Keynes, and had a noisy and fun dinner at an Italian place.  They dropped me at the station, hopped on the 8:09 back to London, then tube and bus, and finally was in my pajamas at ten.  A busy and good first day.

Henrietta, Martin, and Beatrice Cunnison

Up early Wednesday, worked a bit, then out the door around nine, to miss rush hour.  Arrived London Business School an hour before I was due, and worked my e-mail on their fast and good wi-fi connection (my hotel connection was intermittent and slow, which really made me cranky).  At 11 I met my host, MBA student Joyce Tan, and delivered the talk on airline loyalty programs to an engaged audience of about 50.  Good questions at the end, and a half-dozen students came to talk more after class.

I was running out of time, so I invited a student, Erik from Vienna (he was actually a Russian Jew, whose parents emigrated before the end of the Cold War), to ask some questions while walking back to the Tube.  He was a seriously bright and entrepreneurial fellow, and it was a fun walk.  Hopped the Tube to Leicester Square, walked a few blocks to Rules, which bills itself as London’s oldest restaurant (1798) for an annual March tradition, lunch with my dear friend David Holmes, who ended a long transport career with a decade at British Airways.  Lunch lasted nearly 150 minutes, and we covered the conversational waterfront.  The airline business, a little politics, sure, but in the other direction to pre-Socratic philosophers – Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and others. I knew nothing of them (save for Mr. P’s theorem!), and David knew a lot.  These were guys who inquired not about good and evil, but about how things worked.  Who held up the world?  They didn’t think it was a god, and they were right.  It was so good to spend time with someone smart, and very well read.  In between, we tucked into venison hotpot (Rules has its own estate where they raise deer, cattle, and more) and pickled red cabbage, with a couple of glasses of Côte du Rhone.

David was also headed for the Tube, so we walked through Covent Garden, then on the Piccadilly Line.  I said goodbye and peeled off at Kings Cross, then onto the train north to Cambridge.  I arrived just before six. It had cleared, and dusk was cool and crisp, perfect for a mile walk to my digs.  For some reason, perhaps because it was just one night, my new host had booked me in a small hotel near the business school, rather than my customary billet, Sidney Sussex College.  First impressions were not positive.  The clerk was indifferent, the room dimensions suitable for an elf, wi-fi not free.  Wedged myself onto a stool in front of a tiny desk, opened my PC, and stumbled onto free wi-fi (I suspect from the pub next door!).  When you’re connected, things get better, and I worked through e-mail, pausing to admire a cute picture of granddaughter Dylan at pre-school, wearing a special fourth birthday crown.  Work completed, I repaired to “my local,” the Eagle pub on Bene’t Street, established 1525.  Had a pint, finished reading the paper on my iPhone.  Walked a couple of blocks to Dojo, an Asian noodle bar, for a plate of tofu pad thai and a nice conversation with Simon and Sonia, visiting students from Munich and the Tyrol.  Ambled back to the hotel and slept hard.

Up before sunrise Thursday morning, a bit more work, breakfast, then over to Judge Business School.  First business was a swell hour spent with Jochen Menges (described in a December 2011 post), a young faculty member.  From 10 to 12, I delivered a talk on airline marketing to Prof. Vincent Mak’s master’s in management class.  We had a small reception, then off to lunch next door at Brown’s with two other colleagues.  Had a nice plate of fish, then zipped off to catch the 2:15 train back to London.  Too short a visit to my favorite college town.

The sign affixed to the British Library carried a Samuel Johnson quotation that is in sync with my view of learning

Arrived London a bit after three.  I was due to meet my London School of Economics host Geoffrey Owen at 3:30, but my work did not begin until 5, so I opted to be a little late and tend my e-mail at a Starbucks, because I was expecting some important stuff. Met Sir Geoffrey and yakked until the beginning of the student case presentation on American Airlines, which I was to assess – it was my fifth or sixth experience with the project, and this one was by far the best.  Students did quite a lot of research and work.  After effusive praise and a few small criticisms (and a requested photo with the team), I peeled out at 6:20, and trotted a few blocks to the Tube, which was having some security issues that slowed things down.  But I wedged myself in the last possible space on the second train through, rode two stops to St. Pancras, and dashed for the Eurostar to France.  It was hurry up and wait, because the 7:04 train was about 10 minutes late, but I was glad to get on.

Zipped across southeast England and under the channel, and was in Lille, north of Paris and close to the Belgian border, at 9:35.  Made my way to the Green Line tram and east 20 minutes to the pleasant suburb of Croix and the EDHEC Business School.  They had their own small hotel on the new, purpose-built campus.  Nice!

Campus of EDHEC Business School

Friday morning I met my host, Joëlle Vanhamme, who I first met at Rotterdam School of Management.  She moved to EDHEC in 2009.  We had a coffee and yakked a bit about the school, a private institution. From 9:20 to 12:30 I delivered two back to back talks, ate a quick lunch, and did another three hours in the afternoon, after which I was plumb wore out.  Grabbed a quick nap, did a couple of hours of AURA work, and took the tram back into central Lille.  I intended to track down a more local bistro, but opted for Les Trois Brasseurs, a chain of brewpubs with great beer and serviceable food.  Had a sort of sampler platter and a couple of dark beers, took the tram back, and clocked out.

Up Saturday morning, a bit of work, then back to town for a very brief look-see in daylight.  Central Lille was a curious mix of traditional and modern urbanscapes.  Bought Dylan and Carson a postcard and hopped on the TGV (Train a Grand Vitesse, the speedy train) to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.  In no time we were rolling at 180 mph, very cool.  And we were at the airport in about an hour.  Walked to terminal 2A, checked in, and hopped on the Silver Bird to go home.  I was happy to be on board.  It was a pleasant flight, aided by an agreeable seatmate, Scott, and a chance to watch three movies, which was a volume record for me.  Landed in pouring rain, a welcome site after a year of drought.

New Lille: high-rise offices adjacent to the Lille Europe TGV station

Old Lille: the jumbled streetscape of the Place de Gare

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Back into Canadian Winter: Edmonton, Alberta

The end of winter: small shop in the HUB student center, University of Alberta

Two days home, then back in the air, north to Calgary.  Before we departed DFW, the captain, Mark Spiegel, greeted me in the cabin and shook my hand.  I spent some of the next three hours trying to remember where I met him – I met a lot of people in 22 years at American.  On the way off the plane I stopped in the cockpit to ask.  Back in 2001, he told me, we were members of the TWA transition team, in a time when we were optimistic that the acquisition would work out.  We visited a bit about the current state of affairs.  He was gloomy, and with reason: the pilot pension plan, which had been enormously plump, will in bankruptcy become much skinnier.  Mark told me he had 27 years of service.  Walking up the jetbridge toward customs, I reflected a bit: it’s easy and tempting to vilify pilots as a group (and particularly their union, to which individuals may not have any affinity), but when you come face to face with a friend things look different.

Calgary Airport has some of the nicest public art of any airport anywhere, all with a solid (Albertan) sense of place, and themed around movement, in this case a First Nations (Indian) canoeist.

After entering Canada, I headed back through security and to the gate for my short flight to Edmonton, 160 miles north.  Calgary Airport offers free wi-fi, so I plopped into a comfy leather armchair and worked away.  Landed in Alberta’s capital at 5:25, and jumped on a city bus that ran to the end of the city’s light-rail line ($8, nice!).  Along the way, in the affluent south suburbs, a cool winter scene: a white-stone Buddhist temple perched atop a snowy hill, framed with blue-spruce trees.  In no time I was walking down 87th Avenue and into my hotel on the edge of the University of Alberta campus. It was my third visit. Checked in and worked a bit.  The original plan was to ride the train into downtown and amble to a highly-rated Chinese restaurant, but I was tired and opted for fish and chips at a pub next door.

Maybe, dear reader, you get tired of reading a variation of the following, which appears in roughly every third account of a visit to Canada.  But it bears repeating: I looked around the pub, and I smiled at the reality that every person there had health insurance.  The grizzled guy watching the Toronto Maple Leafs on TV.  The Chinese guy (looked like a grad student) behind me, eating a burger.  The waitress who called me by name.  All of them, covered.  U.S. Conservatives periodically decry Canadian “socialism,” but in so many ways our neighbor to the north works so much better than our republic.

Was up early on Wednesday the leap-year free day, worked a bit, out the door for breakfast at Tim Horton’s, then north to the U of A School of Business.  At 8:15 I met a new host, Charles Keim.  Delivered a lecture on airline alliances.  Charles peeled off and I ambled up the stairs to meet my longer host, Kyle Murray.  We yakked a bit, then headed to class, the lecture on airline pricing, a quick Chinese lunch, another pricing talk.  Finished the day with another alliances presentation in Charles’ class.  Whew, a lot of talking.  But the applause was a big reward.

Back at the hotel, I pounded out 15 miles on an exercise bike, then headed to dinner at Gaya, a 14-seat hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant.  The waitress was sweet and welcoming, and brought a plate of spicy stir-fried tofu, kimchee, and pickled sprouts.  Yum.  I had a nice short chat with her father, who had owned the café for seven years.  Was business good, I asked.  “Very good,” he replied, “I bought Cadillac.”  That made me smile.

At 7:15 I ambled to the University light-rail station and met longtime friend Jeff Angel, who was just finishing a short assignment as communications officer for the City of Edmonton (an odd post, I thought, since he’s from, and really likes, Calgary).  For the Transport Geek, the meet-up was great: he sent an SMS when he was at the next station south, and when the train stopped at the platform he waved.  Nice rendezvous!  Jeff had lined up tickets to the Edmonton Oilers vs. St. Louis Blues game, my second NHL match in less than three weeks.  We saw a good game and had a great yak, catching up on things over the past year.  He’s an interesting guy and a great friend.  Hopped the train back.

Like the U.S., Canada is a nation of immigrants, and that day I met two and learned a little of their stories.  Charles Keim was born in 1968 in Ohio to Amish parents, but they left the community and relocated to east-central British Columbia, rugged land of mixed forest and field.  He earned a Ph.D. in English literature, a Shakespeare expert, and now was working on a second doctorate.  The owner of the Korean restaurant was born in Korea in 1954, in a place ruined by war.  He emigrated to Canada in 1994 at age 40.  “This is home,” he said proudly.

More Talking to Strangers the next morning.  The public-transit option to the airport didn’t work, so I hopped a van service.  Driver was very chatty, as was the fellow sitting behind him, who was a forest fire-fighter in High Level, Alberta, 500 miles north.  We yakked mostly about hockey (Canada!), a little about football.  At the gate for the flight back to Calgary, a long chat with a Paul Hanson, a native of New Brunswick who builds plants for Baker Hughes, the Houston-based oil-and-gas services firm.  We had a long yak about management (from a practical viewpoint), and a really interesting discussion of safety – he works with tons of hazardous materials, mostly liquids.  With some pride he noted that the newest plant they built (and he continues to operate) handled 13.7 million gallons of liquid last year and only spilled 9.  Of course that kind of performance doesn’t just happen, and we discussed the importance of building and sustaining a safety culture.  Paul was a really interesting guy, exactly why I like to talk to strangers!

My default breakfast venue in Canada, Tim Horton's, this one at Edmonton Airport. No matter where you are in Canada, and almost no matter the time of day, there will be a line at Tim's!

Spent a couple of hours in Calgary, then flew home to Texas.  On the flight, I read several chapters of a powerful and grim new novel, Home Front, about war and family separation.  The damage of war, in that case the one in Iraq, made me so sad I cried.  And thought clearly: our nation should not go lightly into war – as we have since the 1960s, in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and twice in the Gulf – because it harms and ruins so many lives.

It's been too long since I've posted some views from above -- one of the great joys of flight. So I need to get back in the habit, starting here, the deeply-incised lands of east-central Wyoming perfectly lit by late-day sun.

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Pots and Dylan Go to School

On Friday, February 23, I motored out to the airport, had lunch with longtime AA friend Ken Gilbert, parked the car, and flew to Washington Dulles.  I had a hugely important appointment the next day: accompanying granddaughter Dylan Caroline to “Donuts with Dads” at her pre-school.   Her dad was in MBA class that weekend, so Robin and Dylan invited me to fill in (would it be called “Pastries with Pots” in my case?).  Could not miss it. Would not miss it.

Landed at six, hopped in Robin’s car, kissed Dylan and Carson, who were all smiles (I’d seen a lot of them in the past three months, and I was now as familiar as Linda, er, Nana).  At home, Henry the Westie went nuts (he must have been thinking, “Oh, good, that grayhair who plays hard is back”).  After some spirited tug of war with the terrier, Robin and I sat down for a long yak about her new life.  Almost all good news, which gladdened my heart.

Carson was a little ill, and she woke up at 5:15 Saturday.  I managed to get back to sleep, but was up by seven, ready to go.  Donuts with Dads started at ten, and we were there on the dot.  Dylan was a little shy at first, but she warmed up.  And I was eager to meet some new folks, younger dads but a few grandfathers, too – some like me standing in stead, some in addition to their son.  Had some great chats with the dads of Aya, Taria, Lila and others.  Making friends is such fun, and I was made to feel very welcome indeed.

Lila and Dylan at the Insect table (a nice idea, by the way: teaching at an early age that bugs are not icky nor ugly).

Returned home by way of Home Depot, picking up a couple of tools and some picture hooks.  Ate a quick lunch and got to work hanging four pictures.  At four I unpacked my trusty Dahon Helios folding bike, pumped the tires, and headed north to the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad bike trail.  Had not been on the W&OD for almost a year, and it was nice to be back.  The west wind was fierce, so I turned that way, riding west to Sterling, then hoisting the sail and almost gliding home, a nice 15-mile pedal.  We headed to Vapiano, an Italian eatery, for dinner.  And we were asleep a little after nine.

We padded around Sunday morning, some last play with kids and dog, and they dropped me at the airport.  Robin told me later that as they pulled away from the terminal Dylan said “I wish Potsy lived in Virginia.  Then we could see him every day!”  That made me happy.  And sad.

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