Monthly Archives: June 2012

North, Again

Farmland west of Madison, Wisconsin

On Wednesday, June 28, I flew north to Madison, Wisconsin, for a quick planning trip with my B-school host there, Jan Heide, and a couple of colleagues.  We landed about 11:30, and I hopped into a cab for the quick ride downtown.  I had time to spare, so I asked the driver to drop me at the state capitol, and I walked west a mile or so to campus.  We had a good lunch and a productive meeting, and Jan kindly drove me back out to the airport (he’s my favorite academic host, just a great fellow and friend).  Next stop was Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Delta flies the 240 miles or so nonstop, but I ride free on American, so I backtracked to O’Hare, then up to MSP.  The flight was a bit late, but I made it to Jim O’Gara’s bar on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul by 8:05, for a good yak, Summit ales, and a fried-walleye sandwich with longtime (since 1963) friend Bob Woehrle.  It had been nearly three years, so there was plenty of catch-up.  I could have stayed longer, but wanted to get to my lodgings before ten.  Another longtime (since 1984) friend Ann Hathaway, her partner Robin, and their swell Welsh terrier Finney welcomed me (especially the latter – I bond quickly with terriers).  We had a quick chat, and clocked out.

I should have used my “big camera” to properly capture Ann and Finney, but you get the picture

Robin was already gone when I rose at 6:15 Thursday, but Ann and I had a couple of cups of coffee (Finney wanted to play tug-of-war again).  She had to get on a work call at 7:15, so I gave her a hug and headed out of their leafy neighborhood in suburban Mendota Heights and toward the airport, not to fly out but to go back to one of the places that formed the roots of my interest in flying machines.  The nondescript hangar now says “Zantop,” and I’m not sure it’s still in use, but in the late 1960s it belonged to Braniff Airways, a long-gone trunk airline with routes up the middle of the nation, from New Orleans and Houston to Minneapolis-St. Paul.  This was where Braniff did overnight maintenance on the Boeing 707s, 727s, and BAC-111s that departed the next morning for Kansas City and Dallas and elsewhere.  A friend of friend who sold industrial equipment arranged for me (then in 11th grade) to visit, pretty much whenever I wanted.  There were no locked doors; I would park the car, walk through a front office, and out onto the hangar flow.  In the 1960s, there were no security concerns.  I snapped a picture of the hangar, and drove on.

The former Braniff Airways hangar at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

I’m not sure how the next stop popped into my head, but I drove a few miles north to Christ Church on 34th Avenue South, a splendid Lutheran parish designed by the great Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and opened in 1949 (it was his last completed building; he died the following year).  His son Eero, equally accomplished, designed the adjacent education wing in 1962.  A plaque on an outer wall noted it as “one of the earliest examples of modernist design of places of worship.”  When your correspondent was a grad student then geography prof, he led many tours of the built environment of the Twin Cities, but, remarkably, I had never seen the church.  It was lovely, simple, serene.

Detail, front facade, Christ Church

But the real purpose of the short trip north was to get reconnected with my nephew Evan Kail, who I had not seen in nine years – not since his bar mitzvah.  As many of you know, family relationships are often complicated, and my sister and I have not been in touch since shortly after our mother died in 2003.  But sibling quarrels are no reason not to connect with the younger generation, and our breakfast and long catch-up chat was tonic.  Evan is now 23, about to graduate from the University of Minnesota, and is an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker.  The lad has genuine talent – several of his screenplays have won awards – but it’s a tough road to break into the movie biz.   Notwithstanding a very challenging home life, he has become a self-reliant and determined young man, and I felt so proud of him.  It was a great morning.

Evan Kail, aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker

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Into Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Flew out to Lubbock, landing about seven on Friday evening, the 15th.  Jack picked me up and we motored to dinner at the Cap Rock Café in his neighborhood.  Lights out (for me at least) at 10, because we were up Saturday with the roosters and on the road at 6:30.  We headed north on Interstate 27, stopped for a caloric breakfast at the IHOP in Plainview, Texas, and by 8:50 were in one of Texas’ most remarkable landscapes, the Palo Duro Canyon.

Approaching from the west, you have no clue that the pancake-flat high plains are about to fall away into spectacularly incised valleys, and that’s a big part of what makes it so spectacular.  The only other place I’ve visited where the land changes so quickly is New Zealand.  Palo Duro is part of the Cap Rock Escarpment, formed through ages of erosion (there are other interesting parts of the escarpment, but this is the most dramatic).  After a long queue to pay the ranger, we motored east, dropping several hundred feet off the escarpment to the valley floor.  We found a perfect hike, six miles roundtrip to the base of a spectacular formation called the Lighthouse.

Two miles west of Palo Duro: there’s no clue that the land is about to change, big time

We tightened our boots and shoes and set off.  When Jack was young, he was pokey on trails, but as an exceedingly fit adult – he recently ran his first marathon – we set a pace above 4 mph.  That didn’t mean we didn’t stop; we paused to admire insects, arroyos, wildflowers, and to allow mountain bikers to zoom past.   Thanks to good spring rains, the canyon was green and lovely, and the overcast skies kept the temperatures down.

We got to the Lighthouse quickly, drank some water, snapped some pics, and headed back.  It was a great hike, and I checked Palo Duro off my list of things to see in Texas.  It was awesome.

Jack handed me the keys and I drove back.  We stopped for lunch at the Dairy Queen in Abernathy, and were back home by 1:15.  Jack zipped back to the airport to pick up Linda, and they peeled off to the store.   Had a great dinner and all three of us got caught up.

Abandoned farmstead near Canyon, Texas; this one’s solid, and not likely to fall for awhile

Fresh paint for the stores on Main Street, Abernathy, Texas; sadly, the new coat is not likely to revive retail

Sunday was Fathers’ Day, and we had a nice morning, with a big breakfast, then back to the airport and home.  A great weekend.

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To Minneapolis/St. Paul, for Art and for Friends

Artist Tom Wolfe and “Winter Cabin”

On June 7, I zipped up to Minnesota to (finally) retrieve “Winter Cabin,” the painting I bought at the Minnesota State Fair art show almost ten months earlier.   I had e-mailed the artist that it might take awhile – I just don’t get to my native land as much as I did in the past.  On the flight north, the young working-class parents seated in the row in front of me and holding twin 10-month-old daughters reminded me, as above, of another joy of working in the airline business: during my 25-year career we have democratized a transport mode once reserved for the well-to-do.  They made me smile.

We landed about ten, and I couldn’t pick up the rental car until the weekend rates kicked in at noon.  I put the two hours to special use, riding a light-rail train one stop west of the airport and walking across 34th Avenue South to the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where my dad – and thousands of others who served – are buried.  I normally visit by car, but the walk was better, because I saw lots more evidence of the enormous debt I wrote about in the Memorial Day blogpost.  I walked through a whole section of graves of men and women who did not come home from World War II; for example, a marker identified the final resting place of Private First Class Freeman C. Reum of the 320nd Medical Battalion, 95th Infantry Division, who died 18 December 1944 at age 23.

As a sidebar, when I got home I did a little Googling and learned that Mr. Reum’s division arrived in France about nine weeks after D-Day.  They began moving east toward Germany; on November 22, they secured Metz, a city on the Moselle River that had withstood all military attacks since AD 451.  Private Reum’s 95th Infantry earned the nickname “Bravest of the Brave.”  It appears that Freeman was killed during the battle for Saarlautern (today Saarlouis).  He died one day before the bridgehead over the Saar River was secured, another important step toward victory in Europe.  Elsewhere on the ‘net I learned that his parents emigrated from the Trøndelag region of central Norway.  Tusen takk, Freeman.

When I got to Captain Britton’s grave, I bowed my head and gave thanks.  As often happens there, I then looked up and saw the rows and rows of white gravestones.  They were marching together, proud, standing tall.  Give thanks each day for what they did.  My last act was to find some stones to place on my dad’s graves.  It’s a Jewish custom; on a helpful website, a Rabbi Simmons in Jerusalem verified a practice I have long admired; he wrote:

We are taught that it is an act of ultimate kindness and respect to bury someone and place a marker at the site. After a person is buried, of course, we can no longer participate in burying them. However, even if a tombstone has been erected, we can participate in the mitzvah of making a marker at a grave, by adding to the stone. Therefore, customarily, we place stones on top of a gravestone whenever we visit to indicate our participation in the mitzvah of erecting a tombstone, even if only in a more symbolic way.


I headed back to the airport, picked up a sweet new Ford Focus (as I’ve noted before, Ford is building some great cars), and motored east into St. Paul.  I had 45 minutes before my lunch date, so I motored into downtown, then up onto Summit Hill, a neighborhood of wonderful old houses, mostly big ones.  We lived nearby for almost a decade, but whenever I go back I am always amazed by how pleasant that district is.  Just lovely.

Along Summit Avenue, Saint Paul

At one I met David Herr, one of Linda’s law school classmates, an interesting and hugely accomplished trial lawyer.  And, yes, he’s a conservative Republican and has taken some pro bono cases on “the other side,” but he is still and will remain a good friend.  To repeat: political belief and friendship are separate things.  We had a great meal and a great yak – we had not seen each other in more than five years.

Next stop was the Wuollet Bakery a block from our old house, for a dessert of their sensational raspberry and cream cheese Danish.  Oh my.  Ambled across the street and at three met friend #2, Ann Hathaway, a former colleague at Republic Airlines and person about whom I have written (her dad Don Miguel was my first Spanish teacher, via televised lessons 1960-63).  It was great to catch up with Ann, who now works in marketing at the Mayo Clinic.

Then it was west to the Mississippi and up the east bank, past my beloved University of Minnesota.  Parked and paused to chat briefly with a consulting client, then continued north into northeast Minneapolis, or “Nordeast” as its historic Slavic-immigrant residents called it.  Motored past several large Catholic and Orthodox parishes that were historic anchors of the neighborhood, and parked in front of the California Arts Building, a former grain mill recycled as artists’ studios (the name comes from the street.  Walked in and tracked down Tom Wolfe, the creator of “Winter Cabin.”  We had a good yak.  He’s three years older than me, and grew up not far from where I did.  He showed me some of his other work, introduced me to a few other artists, and treated me to two Grain Belt beers.

Sketches on Tom’s studio workbench

He also provided some background on the artwork.  For three winters he was caretaker of some property on Nym Lake in northwestern Ontario, about 80 miles northwest of where we spent lots of summer vacations.  The cabin he painted, which was on an island in the lake, was not winterized, so the scene is fanciful, but I welcomed his artistic license, because it looks so cozy.

I also enjoyed visiting with Suzann Beck, a portrait artist whose studio is a few doors from Tom’s.  Suzann has enormous talent; though she has a degree in fine arts, she had only been doing portraits for two years.  I have long appreciated the interpretation that portraitists can supply that simply does not exist in a photograph.   More broadly, the visit was a great immersion into the creative process, something that has long fascinated me; creative expression was everywhere, even in the stairwells of the building:

Along the floor of Suzanne Beck’s studio

In the stairwell of the California Arts Building; creativity was everywhere

The Minneapolis Skyline from the parking lot of the California Arts Building

It was after seven when I departed, pedal to the metal south to friend #4, Steve Elkins, in suburban Blooomington.  Steve, his wife Judy, and I had a lively conversation across a number of topics – he’s moved from airline exec to public servant, serving on the local city council for years and now a member of the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council, a highly-regarded regional planning organization – but by 9:45 I was plumb wore out.

Up at 5:30, out the door just after 6, north through Edina.  I paused to snap a picture of the new house built on the site of one of the places I lived as a child; the house where I lived exploded and burned in 2009, then headed for a tub of coffee, then toward downtown Minneapolis on local routes, including a splendid run along the shores of Lake of the Isles.  As you may know, it’s called the City of Lakes, and for good reason.  I parked the car on the edge of downtown and walked to the Federal Courthouse.  It’s about a decade old, with imaginative design and landscaping, including a whimsical set of sculptures set around a set of small ridges resembling the glacial landform called a drumlin.

The new house at 5000 Arden

A small portion from “Rockman,” Tom Otterness’ whimsical collection that rambles across the courthouse plaza

At 7:30 I met friend #5, the Honorable Michael J. Davis, Chief U.S. Judge for the District of Minnesota. But for almost four decades he’s just been Mike, a terrific guy and dear friend (Linda met him when she was an intern for a poverty-defense law practice and he was a new lawyer).  We had a great chat and a big breakfast.  He loves his work.  Just before nine, we headed up to his chambers briefly and separated.  His assistant Gerri escorted me into the courtroom, where I watched him give instructions to a jury about to begin deliberation after a nearly two-month trial involving a $194-million Ponzi scheme.  It was a complicated case, with charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion, and more.  Whew.

At 11:20 I waved goodbye to Mike, zipped out of the courthouse, drove to the airport, and flew home.  MacKenzie was on the leash by 5:20.

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