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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