“Rinse, repeat” lasted a bit longer, just over a day. In the U.S., summer ends the day after Labor Day, the first Monday in September: students head back to school in most places, workers get serious about work, and I flew north to Chicago and east to Buffalo, New York, landing at one.
I was headed to a seminar in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The limo and shuttle services wanted some $70 to drive me 30 miles; a quick look weeks earlier showed that Buffalo’s public-transport agency, Niagara Frontier, would get me there for $4.50, with a short connection in downtown. So I hopped on their airport express. Halfway downtown it started raining, and by the time I got off it was coming down steadily. Opened my umbrella and ambled a block to the transfer point, and onto route 40, which would drop me a block from the Rainbow Bridge, across the Niagara River from Canada.
Buffalo, at least what I saw from the two buses, looked better than I expected. It’s a city hit hard by deindustrialization. Lots of job loss. Niagara Falls, New York, last visited more than 30 years earlier, also looked a bit better than I thought it would.
It was absolutely pouring when I got off the bus. Happily, the pedestrian route to Canada was well marked and I got across the river and into Canadian immigration. I must have been a sight to the inspector, but he was polite and waved me through. As I’ve done before, I told him it was great to be in a country that provided health care as a basic human right. “I hear you,” he replied. From there, totally soaked, I ambled across the street to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, hailed a taxi, and rode a few blocks to the Hilton, home to the Bombardier Airline Executive Seminar, an annual conference I last attended in 2009. I was a presenter and agreed to stay for the full 2.5 days.
Wowie, they reserved an enormous suite with a superb view of the (smaller) falls on the U.S. side. Step one was to hang up all the stuff that got wet, and that was a lot – even stuff inside my suitcase and backpack. Step two was the gym, 12 miles on an exercise bike. Step three, a bit or work, step four a short nap.
At seven, I joined a welcoming reception, meeting a lot of new people, both from Bombardier, manufacturer of a wide range of small to mid-size commercial aircraft, airline guests from all over the world (Oman, Tunisia, Latvia, Canada, and more), and other presenters. Some good yaks. Wednesday morning, it was time to deliver a talk on how to improve airline alliances, which was well received. After lunch, the airline people were put into three teams for a simulation exercise, and I peeled off to my room to do some work, then some bike exercise.
At 6:30, I ambled down the hill to get a better look at the larger Canadian falls, which drop more than 300 feet. Although all the development on both sides of the river mar the grandeur, it’s still a remarkable sight. I was a bit surprised at how popular the place still was – especially, it seemed, with recent Canadian immigrants.
We left the hotel at 5:15 Thursday afternoon for a great night out. By this time the small group had bonded quite well, Michelle from Las Vegas, Surdeep from London, Danny from San Francisco, and about 20 others. First stop was the Stratus Winery, a new, 55-acre vineyard, really impressive. The Niagara Peninsula has long been a center of fruit production, but the grape business is relatively new, growth driven by tourism and proximity to a huge (10 million people) market within 100 miles. Stratus’ building, indeed the whole winery, was LEED-certified (a new standard for environmental sustainability and energy efficiency). Way cool. We sampled a bit while listening to an introduction and welcome, had a brief tour of the production facilities, then did some aroma and blind testing. Really fun.
Drove ten miles west to Treadwell, a restaurant focused on high-quality and local foods, where we had a colossal dinner (scallop and risotto to start, halibut, and a peach crumble for dessert). Lots of fun. To my left was Jorge Abando from Bombardier and across from me Tomasz from Eurolot, a start-up airline flying from Poland’s secondary cities. A very fun group.
Friday morning was given to conclusions and summation, and in early afternoon we went by bus to Toronto airport, past Hamilton, Canada’s steelmaking city, then into metropolitan Toronto, passing an enormous residential and commercial node, Mississauga Town Centre, a perfect last reminder that Canada’s different – and to this long observer, better – approach to economic and social development works so well.
At the airport we said goodbyes, and caught an earlier flight home. A nice few days, which might yield some future consulting business.