Monthly Archives: April 2012

Japan and Back, Quickly

Early on Monday, April 16, I got a call from a new consulting client.  After a brief conversation about an urgent need for research, we determined that the best way to meet that need was for me to fly to Tokyo and dig out the needed information.  So 24 hours later your scribe was on AA175 bound for Narita Airport.  I travel a lot, but it had been nearly 20 years since something arose that quickly, and it was more than a little exciting.  The client sprang for Business Class, sweet.  My seatmate was a 75-year-old Japanese-American who emigrated to College Station, Texas about 40 years earlier.  It’s a long ride to Japan, just under 13 hours, so I settled in.

It was, I’m sure, the confluence of a couple of Kirin beers, Beethoven in my ears, snow-capped Rocky Mountains out the window, and the joy of flight that propelled me to jot down this passage from the book I brought along, Half Broke Horses, a wonderful memoir of a strong-willed woman in the American West in the first decades of the last century.  Seeing an airplane for the first time while riding home (hundreds of miles) on her horse Patches was a pivotal moment.  Once back with her family, she wrote:

Another thing that airplane made me realize was that there was a whole world out there beyond ranchland that I’d never seen, a place where I might finally get that darned diploma.  And maybe I’d even learn to fly an airplane.

Lily acted on that belief, all through her life.  It’s a remarkable book.

We landed in Tokyo early, before 1:30 p.m.  I stopped to say hello to my old friend Masahiro Arimizu, American Airlines’ general manager at Narita.  Arimizu-san is a great fellow, easily the “dean” of airline people at that busy airport.  Hopped on the Narita Express train and rode into the city, past the main station to the busy district of Shinjuku, a few miles west of downtown.  Walked about a mile to my digs (which I booked the night before on Expedia, at a totally great price for a hyper-expensive city), the E Hotel on Meiji-Dori Avenue.  The place was quite new, the room was compact but spotless (the bathroom was like you find on cruise ships), and the wi-fi was fast and free – though only in the lobby, which was where I ended up spending a lot of my time.  It became my Tokyo office, and I got quite friendly with the young check-in staff.

A civil and orderly society: small queue, Tokyo Metro, 9:30 on a Wednesday night

Showered and got to work with some research preparations.  About seven I headed out for a walk and onto the Tokyo Metro, south and east to Omotesando and the wonderfully designed and upscale urban shopping mall called Omote-Sando Hills.  Walked the place a bit, then headed into Ramen Zero, a simple noodle shop last visited with son Jack in 2007.  I had some dumplings and a big bowl of steaming noodles (no relation to the 6 for $1.00 stuff that sustains thousands of college students).  Prior to the meal I donned a black bib, to enable relatively free slurping.

Fancy handbags at Omote-Sando Hills

Wednesday dinner, Ramen Zero, Omote-Sando Hills

Despite my best efforts to manage the 10 time zones across the Pacific, I slept poorly, only about four hours.  Was up at first light, about five in Tokyo in the spring, dressed, down to the lobby to work e-mail, then out the door at seven in search of Japanese breakfast.  I found it two blocks down Meiji-Dori, at Yayoiken, a low-priced but very comfy chain restaurant.  You order and pay on touchscreen terminals by the front door, 490 yen (about $6.50) for a nice variety.

Automated meal-ordering. Unlike the Tokyo Metro, no English screen option, so it took awhile to get the sequence (cash, choice, change)!

Yes, that’s a raw egg.  You’d be concerned in the U.S., but Japan takes food purity and quality very seriously.  Dried seaweed, yum.  And free refills on rice.  What could be better.  Hopped the Metro into downtown, had a couple of cups of strong (and pricey) coffee, attended a meeting at 9:15, then headed back to the hotel, setting up appointments for the rest of that day (Thursday already) and Friday.   Getting off the Metro downtown, I was reminded of how well signposted Tokyo public transport is; it wasn’t always that way – on my first trip in 1993 almost every sign was only in Japanese.  The level of detail today, in Roman characters, is outstanding.  It makes getting around a breeze.

Detail, ceiling of main building, Hanazono Shrine

At 11:45 I set out for lunch with another former AA colleague, Wesley Stockstill, their marketing director for Japan.  American has moved its offices from the center to the Shinagawa district and a high-rise office complex.  They’re now in the same building as their joint-venture partner Japan Airlines.  Wesley showed me the new digs with some pride, introduced me to lots of people.  He, a manager named Robert Hayashi, and I then repaired to a tempura place for lunch and a long conversation about the business.  Wesley and Arimizu-san were very helpful in my research quest.

Play ball! This was lunchtime Thursday, a baseball diamond in the canyons of the Tennozu Isle office complex, adjacent to Japan Airlines' corporate headquarters

Japan is a conserving society, nicely illustrated by this bike delivery cart of Yamato, a local delivery service

Was back in Shinjuku by 3, on a mission to find a shop to replace my watch battery, which died on the flight west.  Ordinary errands typically take a lot longer overseas, but this was a relatively zippy affair – up to the 5th floor of Bic, a big electronics store, hand the watch to a technician, and in 10 minutes my timepiece is ticking again.  Nice!

Tokyo has banned smoking on the streets, indicated by the sign above these pedestrians. Nor surprisingly, compliance is high.

Japanese contemporary architecture has made enormous strides in the last 30 years, and new stuff is really interesting, as in this brand-new apartment building a block from my hotel.

Back to the hotel for some work and a short nap.  Out the door at 6:30, south and east to the Azabujuban district, and a rendezvous at the top of the escalator for exit 4 of the Metro station with business-school chum John Vanderbrink and his wife Donna, who I try to see when I visit Japan.  They’ve lived in Tokyo since 1984, and have lots of insights.  We had a great dinner and a good yak, hopped back on the subway, and off to sleep after a long day.  John was also very helpful in my research quest, and brought along some helpful reports as well as a link to a trove of online data.  I could not have gotten the job done without all these locals; I was so grateful.

Another endearing aspect of a civil society: free and spotless public toilets; have you seen anything like this in a subway or railway station anywhere else in the world?

The second night was more restful, but hardly my usual eight hours.  Was up again at dawn, down to the lobby to work my e-mail and the internet, back to Yayoiken for breakfast, and then to work.  The data was starting to come together.  Worked in the lobby all morning.  Headed out to lunch, then onto the Metro and to the offices of the Ministry of Justice.  There were a few remaining chunks of data that I knew were inside the building.  The trick was to get inside.

Ministry of Justice

I had seen and admired the building on many previous visits.  Designed in the 1880s by two German architects in a late-baroque style, it perfectly symbolized the opening of Japan to new ways and new ideas during the Meiji period.  The contract security man at the front gate stopped me.  To my amazement, an English-speaking guard appeared a minute later, and I began my charm offensive, speaking slowly, smiling (that I had on coat and tie was helpful, too).  I showed him a document (in Japanese; I was beginning to understand some basic characters) similar to one that I sought.  I suggested perhaps he could call the library.  He did, and after a few minutes asked me to call a number inside.  I was making progress!

A few minutes after that, a young man from the library appeared.  He spoke no English, but invited me to follow him.  Hooray.  Once inside the library, there were friendly librarians, but still no one speaking English, so with charade, pantomime, and showing the Japanese document I used with the guard they understood what I needed, and efficiently produced four bound reports from the 1990s.  Eureka!  I was so elated that I immediately snapped their picture.  In ten minutes, not including fist pumping, I had what I needed.  Headed back to the hotel, took a quick nap, and was able to finish and send the report to the client by 6:00.  Done.

Librarians, Ministry of Justice; it's a little blurry, but you get the picture!

It was time to celebrate, just a bit, so I jumped on the subway and rode east and north to the Asakusa neighborhood and the Kamiya Bar, which opened in 1880.  I had tippled there in December 2003, and remembered its location, almost directly above the Asakusa Metro station.  Since the earlier visit they had instituted a pay-in-advance system, so I lined up to buy tickets for two dark beers, and sat down at a table, opposite two fellows, friendly but a bit in their cups, with fluency in my language roughly equal to mine in theirs.  I got well caught up with The New York Times on my iPhone.

About an hour later, Toshita Masuyama sat down next to me.  He spoke great English, and thus began a wonderful Talking-to-Strangers encounter that lasted well over an hour.  Masuyama-san was 75, a mechanical engineer by training, fan of photography, opera, and the visual arts (he had visited New York in 2011).  I ordered another beer and some fried octopus for dinner.  Two ladies, both 64, sat opposite.  They had recently retired from long careers with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.  The T-t-S string continued when they left and were replaced by a young plastics engineer, from Saitama west of the city.  It’s not far, but this was his first time in Tokyo – we laughed when I told him I had been there at least 10 times.  Toshita and I rode back toward Shinjuku together; I peeled off and he headed for the Shinjuku railway station and his suburban train home.  On the way to the hotel, I thought about something he told me: when he was seven, he came home from school one day and his house was gone, burned.  He didn’t say any more, for I knew that in 1944 U.S. bombers were pounding Tokyo.  And it reminded me of something I wonder about each time I visit the Japanese: how to reconcile their current pacific nature with the belligerence and uncivil behavior that characterized them in the first four decades of the last century.  A couple of scenes from the Kamiya:

Toshito Masuyama

Your scribbler with a Japanese friend (Photo courtesy of Matsuyama-san)

I slept really hard, but woke up early again – my mobile rang twice a little after five.  Caller ID said “Blocked,” so I ignored it.  But I was awake by then, so I showered, dressed, and headed to my lobby office.  “Blocked” called again just before six, and that time I answered.  It was the NYPD calling, specifically Officer Fitzsimmons’ supervisor.  Who?  Readers may recall my account of the policeman using really coarse language outside Penn Station on March 14, and my sending in a complaint on an online form.  I received a couple of e-mail acknowledgments in the week following submittal, but thought that was the end.  Not so.  I was pretty impressed that my online grousing actually made its way to the offender’s boss, and even more so that he called me to apologize.

At 6:15 I headed across the street to McDonald’s for a cup of good (and inexpensive) coffee, then back for a third Japanese breakfast at Yayoiken.  I was becoming a regular.  Back to the hotel for some last work, packed up, checked out, and headed across town to Ueno Park, a green lung north of downtown, and adjacent to the station for the Keisei Railway to Narita Airport. Put my suitcase in a locker and headed into the park.  There were still quite a few cherry blossoms, gorgeous.  One tree had nearly-white blooms on one side and pink on the other.  It was 9:00, and the park was fairly quiet.  A baseball team was warming up on a diamond.  School groups, kids in uniform, were arriving.

Thick cherry blossoms, Ueno Park

Morning practice, Ueno Park

I was headed to the Tokyo National Museum at the north end of the park, to a special exhibition of masterpieces of  Japanese art from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  I spotted a poster for the show on a platform at Shinjuku station and immediately decided that would be a good way to spend Saturday morning, before heading to the airport.

The show was colossal, stupendous, eye-popping.  You may know that after Japan “opened up” in the middle of the 19th Century, Boston and New England more broadly became a significant trading partner, clipper ships plying the long route across three oceans.  Yankees began to buy art.  And to my delight, about 100 works had temporarily made their way back.  The show consisted of paintings, ink drawings, a few sculptures, robes, and swords.  A panel for the latter two noted that “swordmaking and textile arts were born out of the same exceptional technical proficiency cultivated by the Japanese . . .”  It’s a proficiency that endures, of course, as a signal quality.  All of it was eye popping, but I gave “best in show” to about ten remarkable robes from the Edo period (17th and 18th C.) and Meiji period (19th).  A brilliantly-finished small sword from about 1300 was dramatic proof of their advanced ability relative to Europe.  Just amazing technological prowess in a preindustrial time.  And I’d be delinquent if I didn’t call out the amazing works of Soga Shohaku (1730-81), full of energy and often whimsy, as in this piece entitled Dragon and Clouds:

I did not break the rules! This photo is of a postcard reproduction.

Some of the Japanese exhibit visitors were amused at my expressiveness, but it was hard to contain my delight at the show.  And, certainly, my pride in a cultural exchange between our two nations.

Photography was not permitted in the exhibit, and no one was sneaking a snap, so this rendering of one of the stunning robes, taken from a catalog page, was the best I could do.

I bought Dylan and Carson some postcards; normally I buy a modern scene, but I carefully chose cards with three works from the show, and I look forward to explaining the art when I next see them.

By the time I left the museum, just past 11, the park was hopping, teeming with families, young couples, school groups, people walking dogs.  There was something for everyone.  It was a place of wonder.  I paused to watch a street performer, Koji Koji Moheji, whose talents were diabolo, a yo-yo like spool that spins and is tossed on a string connected to two sticks, and bagpipe.  He was amazing (I captured video of this feats on my iPhone and sent them to Dylan and Carson).  The whole park scene hearkened to a simpler time in the past, before video games, when a lot of entertainment was in the public sphere.

Koji's audience

Koji Koji Moheji, a consummate entertainer

At noon I hopped on the Keisei “Skyliner” train, through the city and suburbs and past flooded rice paddies to Narita.  Relaxed in the Admirals Club, bringing this journal up to date, and stepped onto the Silver Bird in mid-afternoon.  Booking just five days earlier, the DFW nonstop was pricey, so I bought a seat to Los Angeles and a quick connection home.  Business Class was way too high, and even though the client was paying, I just couldn’t pay $3800 when Economy was $890.  So back I ambled, to seat 36B.  To my delight, a great fellow joined me in 36A, Lee Gamlin, a MBA student at Thunderbird, the small, internationally-focused B-school in Phoenix.  We hit it off immediately, and the ride home was really like T-t-S on steroids.  The son of a German mother and an African-American father (he described them as “a really funny couple,” the adjective meaning different, not humorous!), he grew up in Germany, went to high school in suburban Denver, and undergrad at the University of Chicago.  Yep, a smart young man.  We yakked until we took off, then I finished Half Broke Horses, and slept pretty well, five hours at least.

Lee Gamlin

We were eating breakfast off Monterey on the central California coast when we banked left and the flight attendants hurriedly collected trays.  There was a medical emergency, and we were diverting to San Francisco.  It was a reasonably quick stop, but the zippy connection in L.A. was lost.  On the plus side, Lee and I yakked a bunch more.  Landed at 11:45, through Customs quickly, over to the AA terminal, to the Admirals Club for a needed shower, and onto the 1:35 rocket to DFW.

As I have often written, a ride above the American West is always a treat, and it was clear almost the entire way.  The Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico was a green band running through an arid brown landscape.  It reminded me of a line from Half Broke Horses, which took place entirely in desert land; Lily’s husband, Jim Smith, said, “Never take water for granted.  Always cherish it. Always beware of it.”

The Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico

We landed at 6:40 p.m., and I was home by 8:00.  A long ride, but Japan is always a fascinating to visit.

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Easter in Washington, D.C.

Nap time at the National Zoo

Five days into the new quarter, Linda and I flew to Washington for Easter with Robin, Dylan, and Carson.  We landed at Dulles at six, and the welcoming committee included Henry their dog, fresh from the groomer.  It was a tight squeeze, me wedged between two kids’ seats in back, Henry jumping up and down and licking my face. A nice welcome.  We got the kids in bed, and I took Henry for a long walk – the lovely spring weather lasted the entire weekend.

I needed to do some work on Friday, so I headed to a nearby Starbucks until one, then back to the apartment for lunch.  Unpacked the Dahon folding bike that we now keep on Robin’s balcony, and zoomed north to the Washington & Old Dominion trail, on a former right of way of the railroad of the same name.  I’m getting to know it well, and headed west, from milepost 19.5 to 29.5, then back, a good workout.  Dylan wanted a cheeseburger, so we headed to dinner at the nearby Reston Town Center.  Then bath time; I was out of practice, and had forgotten that the tub is like recreation – getting clean seems to be merely a byproduct!

We needed a good outing on Saturday, so set off relatively early for the fabulous National Zoo (part of the Smithsonian).  High points were the famous pandas, the lions, and a variety of cute little critters in the Small Mammal House.  We zipped over to the Glover Park neighborhood for a burrito lunch, then down to the very crowded National Mall (a park in the center, not a place to shop!) and the National Botanical Garden, just down the hill from the U.S. Capitol.  I had never been there – small but interesting.  Then home.

There was just enough time for a quick bike ride before dinner, so I took the Dahon east on the W&OD Trail, then to Home Depot to buy Robin a Vise-grip (a very useful tool, familiar from stand-building in Hamburg two weeks earlier), then to Vapiano, an Italian eatery in Reston Town Center that has become a fave.  Rode home, gave the girls a bath (even more splashing and ruckus), took Henry out for a good walk, and clocked out.

Up at 5:40 on Easter Sunday, everyone fresh and well dressed in an hour, and into Washington for 8 a.m. worship at the National Cathedral.  The kids were exceedingly well behaved during the nearly 90 minutes of hymn and reflection.  Dylan spoke two gems: during the sermon, she asked Robin, “Buried, and now he’s still alive?” (she was obviously paying attention to Bishop Marianne, a terrific preacher); and after receiving a Communion wafer she declared, “I’m still hungry.”  We’re grateful that Robin is introducing her daughters to Christianity.

We celebrated with a caloric brunch at Chef Geoff’s in far northwest Washington, then motored back to Herndon.  Took Henry for a walk, played with the girls, and we headed to the airport.  It was a nice visit, but a bit short.  So Mother Nature found a way to lengthen it: storms in Texas forced cancellation of our Sunday-afternoon flight, so Robin and the girls picked us up, took us home, and we had another evening and morning to have fun.   And Henry got two more walks.

"Ex Nihilo" (roughly "Out of Nothingness") by American sculptor Frederick Hart (1943-1999), above the main center door of the National Cathedral. A brilliant artist, many critics snubbed him, because he preferred realism over abstraction. I find his work wonderful and moving.

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Ich bin Hamburger (well, I’d like to live there . . .)

The imaginative HafenCity on the Elbe River, Hamburg, an ambitious redevelopment of the inner port, on space not needed in an era of container shipping.

On Friday, March 23, I ate joined Nisha Pasha, a young former colleague at AA, and her parents Harish and Usha Gambhir, who were visiting from Chennai (I had visited them in June 2010), for lunch at an Indian restaurant near our house, then drove to DFW, bound for London and Hamburg, to the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo, the huge trade show for everything inside an airliner.  I was flying British Airways across the ocean, first long ride on BA in many years, and on a regular ticket, not an airline-employee pass.

Although American and BA (and Iberia) now have a joint venture for transatlantic travel, the two airlines have different policies, which made me, as a “real customer,” cranky.  On AA, I could reserve a specific seat when booking, but on BA I had to wait until 24 hours before the flight, whence all the choice seats were taken.  Their system assigned me 51C on a 747, which seemed so far aft that it was in a different time zone.  That was a joke, but when I saw my seatmate the fun was over.  He was Mr. Big.  Tubby did not begin to describe it.  I knew I was in trouble when he asked for a seat belt extension.  His body touched mine virtually the entire flight.  Slept a max of 40 minutes.  The tailwind was strong, but not strong enough.  It was by far the worst long ride in 4.2 million miles and 46 years of flight.

Changed planes at Heathrow Terminal 5 (I was tired and a little crabby, but for a new terminal it strikes me as remarkably inefficient, with poor attention to details).  Things got much better once I landed in Hamburg.  Regular readers know my affinity for Germany, and from then on the trip really was click, click, click.   Wheeled through customs and onto a S-Bahn (suburban) train, then the Hamburg Hochbahn (elevated train and subway), about four bucks to my hotel.  The Holiday Inn Express on Simon von Utrecht Strasse had free wi-fi, a plus.  And a hot shower, another plus.

I was fatigued but I was in a favorite city on a sunny spring day, so down the street I went.  I had done some research before departing, and learned that Hamburg, like many large cities in Europe, had an automated bike-rental system, called StadtRAD (German for “CityBike”).  One of the rental locations was a few hundred feet from the hotel, touchscreen kiosk in German and English, and in no time I had created an account, unlocked the bright red, well-equipped bike (gears, hand brakes, lights front and rear), and zoomed off.  I was smiling broadly and telling myself, out loud, how cool this was!  The first 30 minutes are free, so the trick is to find the next location, return the old bike, and take a new one.  Did that three times (I would happily have paid!), zipping into the center, down the cobbled Deichstrasse (passing a restaurant I visited on my first trip in 2008), and into HafenCity, a $10 billion, imaginative redevelopment of harbor land.  Passed the new Elbephilharmonie concert hall (designed by the Swiss superstar firm Herzog and de Meuron, it is way cool, but also way late and wildly over budget), rode along the river, back toward my hotel, then north to Holstenplatz and Anno 1905, a cozy pub I visited twice the year before.

Detail, opera house. Hamburg's old buildings convey solidity, but the decorative touches, like these cherubs, are a nice counterpoint.

The still-unfinished and way-over-budget (but pretty cool) Elbphilharmonie

St. Michael, above the entrance of his namesake church

I took a tonic nap, only an hour.  It was just starting to get dark when I left for dinner.  I could have taken the subway, but the red rental bikes beckoned, and were free.  Coasted down the hill a mile or so, found a return station, then a stool at the Gröninger Privatbrauerei, a microbrewery from way before they called them that – 1750 to be precise.  I got there at the right time, because people started streaming in a few minutes later.  My perch was strategic, just four feet from the spigot for Märzen, the spring seasonal beer.  I ordered a fish plate (what else this close to the North Sea?), herring and salmon, yum.

The pepper on the herring roll-up (rollmops in German) got me thinking about the nature of port cities like Hamburg.  Residents got all sorts of adventures without leaving the comfort of their homes.  Someone else took the risk – they just waited for the ship from faraway lands to dock.  And what about that lemon garnish?  When did the first Hamburger taste citrus?  Toward the end of dinner I fell into a T-t-S session with a Bavarian couple at the next table.  Early in the chat, for cred I showed them the picture of my maternal (and German) great-grandmother Ottilie:

I was plumb wore out.  Ambled back to the bike stand, rented a red rider, and pedaled back to the hotel (the return journey was uphill).  At ten on Saturday night, the last thing I recall was kids screaming from the thrill rides at the nearby amusement park.  Then I was more or less comatose.

We got a slow start Sunday, over to the Messe (the fair and congress hall; see my post from March 2011 on the interesting history of German fairs, which date to the late Middle Ages) about noon.  Dan, a young trainee from our owner’s other firm, Aero Technics (they do interior maintenance and engineering on a contract basis), joined us.  He was a friendly kid, about 20, first time out of the U.K.  We got to work, setting things up.  We worked hard, but it went slowly, and when we left at 7:30 we were behind where we were on the Sunday night the year before.  One of the high points that day was my first currywurst, one of Germany’s favorite snacks, sliced hot dog drowned in a sweet and only barely spicy tomato sauce, topped with a light sprinkling of curry powder.  At the risk of offending my German readers, I found it an odd and not very savory combination.  The cod dinner that night in the fancy East Hotel dining room was way better!

A lot to do: the AURA stand, barely taking shape

On Monday another Dan from Aero Technics joined us.  He was a great worker, really knew how to read plans and build, and we were rolling.  But we still couldn’t find the fasteners for eight stools and three tables, so I peeled off to find a hardware store.  Hopped a taxi to a smaller, German version of Home Depot, and set to work finding the right bolts and nuts, plus a cordless drill (someone had stolen batteries from ours the night before).  Got back to the stand and started to build furniture, hampered by lack of metric tools (Aieeeeee! When are the Brits and we Yanks going to join the rest of the world?).  But we got it all done.

I needed some time away, so at seven I rented a StadtRAD bike and rode up to Anno 1905, the pub I visited twice in 2011 (and briefly spotted on my Saturday ride).  It is such a great place, friendly and cozy.  And as I wrote after visiting in 2011, it has seen a lot of history in 107 years.  I chatted a bit with the waitress, and at some point mentioned that I was 25% German, showing her the pic of Ottilie on my iPhone, as I did two nights earlier.  She looked and said “I’ve seen her picture before.”  In a moment she showed me Ottilie on her iPhone, and we figured out how she got it – after visiting the year before, I sent an e-mail to the pub to thank them, and included the photo of my great-grandmother, mein ur-oma.  Too funny.  Rode back to the hotel.

The view of the beer taps and bar from my perch at Anno 1905 on Holstenplatz

The show started Tuesday morning.  Although the Messe was only a kilometer from the hotel, I jumped on a StadtRAD, dropping it right next to the entrance.  Cool!  The day went by in a hurry, a blur of meeting prospects, keeping the stand tidy and the food and drink fresh (no one seemed to want to do those tasks, so I stepped up).  Had beer with our team and dinner with AURA owner Steve Cloran, his wife, and a couple of us.

Your correspondent feeling very much like a local

It was a short night, because David and I got up at 6:15 and took StadtRAD bikes out for a ride around the inner and outer Alster, pleasant lakes right in the middle of the city.  The larger outer lake was especially pleasant, ringed with lovely large houses.  Quite a bit of wealth in that city.  The ride was tonic, and we were pumped when we returned to the hotel at 7:30.  Wednesday on the stand was much the same.  The Austrian leather producers nearby kindly loaned me their vacuum cleaner.  We were co-sponsoring a party that night, so I took a nap after the show, walked over to the Reeperbahn, the sex and drugs and music capital of Germany (hawkers and pimps and yuck).  I was really only looking for a light meal, and enjoyed a Döner, shaved chopped lamp on pita with onions, tomatoes, and yogurt dressing – it’s a German favorite brought by the Turks who emigrated to Germany in large numbers in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.  The party started at ten, and it was way loud.  DJs were playing nothing but German “dance music,” thump, thump, thump.  I volunteered to help with registration on the ground floor, which got me out of the noise and provided a convenient escape route at midnight.  Enough!

The AURA stand in full swing, Wednesday

Things start to wind down Thursday, the third day of the show.  We had a couple of good appointments with prospects, and a walk-in from a growing Asian low-cost carrier.  But things were quiet by 3:30, and with 90 minutes left in the show, we started to dismantle the stand.  I went behind our “wall” and changed from suit to jeans and turtleneck.  Dan and Dan had arrived earlier in the day, and we got quickly to work.  We made a good team (I was the only “white collar” who elected to stay and pitch in), and in no time had everything in neat piles.  At 5:50, Martin dropped the keys to the truck, which was parked on the other side of the vast Messe, awaiting some magic signal to the scores of waiting rigs.

On my way across to find the truck, it occurred to me that I was likely violating German law, driving a truck (and a British one with right-side steering) without a commercial license.  But that was no time to be faint of heart.  Nope, I was playing with the big boys now.  With the help of a translator, learned from a guard that there was no precise opening time, that it would be between six and seven.  Hopped in the Mercedes Benz truck (humming Janis Joplin’s memorable “Lord won’t you buy me . . .” tune), practiced with the manual transmission; happily, it had a smooth clutch and was surprising easy to maneuver.  I was toward the back of the line, but it started moving, drivers jockeying for position.  I was polite but fairly aggressive, German I think, and made my way to a loading door very close to our stand.  Dan and Dan wondered what happened to me, and some bad language issued from the driver!

I worked for nearly another hour, dismantling the furniture (still no metric socket wrenches, and the vise-grip took ages).  At 7:40 I thanked the lads.  The older Dan saluted, calling me a “genuine bloke,” which was high praise indeed from a great British workingman.  Hopped on a StadtRAD and was back at the hotel by 7:50.  Washed my face and a bit after eight got on a call with a potential consulting client in Washington.  That done I got back on a StadtRAD and rode back up the gentle hill to Holstenplatz and a final dinner at Anno 1905.

Anno 1905 a century ago; my favored seat was just in front of the brass beer taps, which are still in use. What a place!

I’ve grown to love that place.  It’s so friendly.  The young waitress from three nights earlier welcomed be back to “my” table, and brought me a big beer.  I sat down to a bit of work, and when I looked up I spotted a sweet-looking dog sitting at the other end of the bar.  It made me lonesome for home, and I couldn’t resist walking over and asking her owner if she was friendly.  Indeed, so I went down on knee to make friends.  She was a little shy at first, but then began to lick my hand.  “We’d be lost without our dogs, wouldn’t we?” I asked, and her owner replied, “Yes, we would.”

I returned to my table and in a few minutes the dog ambled over to me. The older waitress brought a dog treat from the kitchen and handed it to me.  “Sitzen sie,” I said, and she assumed a very German posture before calmly taking the treat.  The young waitress told me the dog’s name was Mäuschen (“little mouse”).   I tucked into a plate of fried potatoes and a large salted herring, which meant I ate that fish six days in a row – in my view, you just can’t have too much herring!  Had another beer, cycled back to the hotel, and clocked out.

It was a short night.  Up at 4:45, out the door (the night clerk had made me a cheese sandwich and one of salami, plus an apple and banana), onto the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, to the airport, and onto BA to London.  Found a quiet place for a few hours, and did some work, including brining this journal up to date.  And I found a grateful recipient for the two croissants that the hotel also provided; I’m not fond of them, but a plump and smiling janitress in Terminal 5 was happy to have them, agreeing with me that wasting food is a sin.

Flew home in BA’s World Traveller Plus cabin, an upgraded economy-class section, which was a way more pleasant ride than a week earlier.  Landed at 4:00 on Friday afternoon, March 30, and that was the end of travels for the quarter.

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