Monthly Archives: October 2012

Boston and Montreal

Peak color on the south slope of Mount Royal, Montreal

On Tuesday the 17th, I flew to Boston for some consulting work.  Checked my flight log and determined that I had not been in central Boston (except for a couple of two-hour meetings) for 17 years.  Back in the 1970s and early ‘80s, I was in Boston a lot, because a good friend went to MIT and stayed on, and I knew the city quite well then.   We landed in perfect autumn weather, and New England’s famous fall foliage was at close to peak color.  Hopped on the Blue Line subway and was at my hotel at the foot of Beacon Hill in 25 minutes.


Boston on approach to Logan Airport

I had about an hour before I needed to leave for dinner with a client, so it was time for some efficient touring.  What could I see on a 30-minute stroll?  A lot, as it turned out.  The hotel was across the street from Massachusetts General Hospital (Harvard Medical School’s primary teaching hospital).   MassGen is a massive complex of buildings, but my eye gravitated quickly to the oldest one in sight, a gray stone structure with a dome and cupola.  I asked a fellow leaving it if it was the original, and he replied yes, and pointed to what he called “the Ether Dome” atop the structure.  He suggested I go up and take a look.  In a time before artificial lighting, the many-windowed dome was a perfect place for a surgical theater, and indeed it was there in 1846 that Dr. William Morton used the first anesthetic, which changed medicine forever.  The famous 18th Century Boston architect Charles Bulfinch designed that first hospital.  The circular operating room, with steeply tiered seating, had been nicely restored, and a variety of old photos and illustrations told the story of the innovation and a little about the institution, which was the site of lots and lots of medical “firsts.”


Bulfinch’s original Massachusetts General Hospital, 1811

Close-up of the Ether Dome

Painting of the first surgical procedure with anesthesia

Bulfinch’s Old West Church

I ambled back to Cambridge Street to the Old West Church (1806), another Bulfinch design.  Dropped my camera and set off for dinner, passing a plaque marking Bulfinch’s birthplace – he was everywhere!  Enroute, my old bearings returned: in front of me was City Hall and the massive plaza that has long been the site for various protests; the U.S. Custom House; historic Faneuil Hall; and a rooftop neon sign for the Union Oyster House.  I met my consulting client, Danny Williams, for dinner at a venue he knew well, Neptune Oyster, a tiny, sensational raw bar on the edge of the historically Italian North End.  A CPA from Dallas, he now lives in the Bay Area; his father is a captain for Southwest Airlines (and his grandpa flew for Braniff), so we yakked a lot about aviation while we     tucked into oysters from Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. We       shared orders of local fried Ipswich clams and PEI mussels in garlic and red-chili broth, and for dessert, a massive portion of smoked Maine salmon. Protein from the sea!  We walked to the Haymarket subway station (Danny was a fellow public-transit fan, another reason to like him), and parted.

Was up early the next morning to prepare for work.  There were fine views of the Charles River and skyline from the hotel’s temporary breakfast room on the 15th floor.  Grabbed my suitcase and rolled south on Bowdoin Street and up Beacon Hill to another Bulfinch masterpiece, the Massachusetts State House (1795-98). Ambled along the east edge of the Boston Common.  At 8:40, I met a former AA colleague, Webster O’Brien, for a coffee; I hadn’t seen him for more than a decade, so the quick, lively catch-up was a treat.

Yet more Bulfinch: the State House atop Beacon Hill

Spent an intense five hours with clients, then hopped on the Silver Line, an express busway that runs under the harbor to the airport.  Caught a zippy Air Canada Express flight across New Hampshire and Vermont to Montreal, then the wi-fi-equipped 747 city bus into downtown.  I needed exercise, so put on shorts and headed to the fitness center, but the exercise bike was broken and not fixable (it went from frictionless to impossible to pedal in 20 seconds and there was nothing in between).  Temporary crankiness, time for dinner.

The stroll west on Sherbrooke was pleasant: after 15 or 20 visits over 45 years, Montreal feels totally familiar.  Not only did every Canadian have health insurance, Mitt, but the street ethos was so different from Boston – far less variance in wealth, at least what was apparent in a person’s clothes and look. A few blocks on, near the art museum, the scene changed: more affluence, more style – but all of them had health insurance, Mitt.  I sat down at a corner table in Molivos, a Greek restaurant I scoped out online.  I had forgotten both the iPhone and a magazine, and when I settled in I felt lonely.  The waiter supplied the cure: a piece of scratch paper to jot notes for this journal. That helped, but could not blot out the annoying drunken women at the next table; I was not sorry to see her depart.  Tucked into a big filet of sea bream (Dorade in French), curiously presented without accompaniments (and vegetables were not shown on the menu as a la carte, which was weird).  The fish was pricey but really good, and laid foundation for a solid sleep with a soft pillow.

Was up early again, prepping for a busy day, five stops between 8:30 and 5:30. Stop 1, up Peel Street to McGill University’s Law School and my annual lecture on airline alliances.  My host, a new guy, invited me to lunch, but my schedule was full.  After class I walked a mile south with an American student, Jared, yakking and offering career advice.  Stop 2, at ten, was a meeting with a colleague at IATA, the International Air Transport Association.  Stop 3 was lunch with my winter McGill host, Mary Dellar, back up the hill.  Stop 4 was a meeting with another IATA colleague.  The final stop was an opportunity to meet a new person, John Illson, Chief of Integrated Safety Management the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, part of the United Nations).  John had a fascinating career story, 28 years as a pilot for Allegheny Airlines, and US Airways.  He basically walked away after bankruptcy and other woes, worked for IATA for two years, then joined ICAO.  It’s always fun and interesting to compare notes on airline careers.  I hope to see him again – meeting him was the high point of the day.

Walked back to the hotel, worked my e-mail, and at 6:30, headed by Metro to L’amere à Boire (“the bitter drink”), a brewpub on Rue St. Denis, straight east of downtown.  Remarkably, I had never been in the Quartier Latin neighborhood, young, mainly Francophone, and seriously lively (I calculated that I was almost three times older than the average person on the street, but it was friendly and I felt at home).  The barmaid offered the beer menu, only in French, but it was easy to translate.  Started with a somewhat-hopped pale ale named for the place; it was nice, but the next one, a hefeweizen (no translation needed) was superb. After 40 minutes of reading and writing on my iPhone, I looked up, surveyed the lively scene, and marveled at my great good fortune.  I was seated on a stool at a long high table next to the bar, a perfect vantage to size up the animated crowd, and to once again observe, Mitt, that north of the border in “socialist Canada” they had no trouble keeping the lights on and enabling a high standard of living.  Dinner was a rabbit burger, really savory.  On the homeward Metro, I read New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof, who that day wrote “Compassion isn’t a sign of weakness, but of civilization.” It struck me as a perfect summation of most Canadians’ view, which is another reason why for 45 years I have admired our neighbor to the North.


This sticker on the sidewalk on Peel Street on the McGill campus perfectly captures the Canadian sensibility

Was up at five the next morning, out to the airport, and home.


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To Teach in Two Great Public Universities, and To See Friends and Family

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

On October 5, the 25th anniversary of my arrival in Texas and joining American Airlines, the Silver Bird carried me north to Chicago, and into late-fall chill (40F, wind).  Walking to the Blue Line subway station at the airport, I passed the spot where buskers play.  Normally there’s someone playing a horn or sax, but that day a skinny fellow with a pony tail and guitar.  I stepped onto a moving sidewalk.  Then I listened.  And smiled.  He was playing “Wagon Wheel,” a tune made popular by Old Crow Medicine Show, a group Jack likes.  And he was playing it with skill and feeling.  So at the end of the walkway I turned around, rode another one back, and dropped a dollar in his milk crate.  Hopped the train downtown to my hotel, worked a bit, rode in the fitness center, ate a late lunch.

Not a great photo, but a fine musician

At six, I walked east on Adams Street to the Illini Center, the downtown mini-campus of the University of Illinois.  It was my seventh appearance before their EMBA students.  Ate dinner, then delivered a well-received lecture. It was Friday night, and they were tired, but they were “on.” I like the U of I program, because the students are older, mid-career, and very engaged, and because my host Steven Michael, is a bright and supportive fellow.

The trip was a two-fer, and because I was due at the University of Wisconsin Madison two days later I opted to spend Saturday and Sunday morning in Chicago with friends and kin.  Got up early Saturday to ride the exercise bike, then out into a cold, sunny day to snap a few pictures of the architecture that makes downtown Chicago so special.  I got some good snaps, but also got cold quickly, so nipped into a Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and a quick look at The New York Times on my iPhone.

The Willis (formerly Sears) Tower framed at right by a late-19th Century skyscraper

More old and new contrast: at left, a classic Chicago Style commercial building

Alexander Calder’s Flamingo (1973) in the Federal Center

A corner of the postmodern Chicago Public Library (1991), a way-cool building on S. State Street

My eyes gravitated to a report on the memorial service for Mr. Punch Sulzberger, former publisher of that great newspaper and father of the current CEO.  Among other bold decisions, Mr. Sulzberger opted to publish in 1971 the damning government documents known as the Pentagon Papers.  Sitting across from the massive Federal complex (designed by 1960s superstar Mies van der Rohe), I thought once again about press freedom, about a private company – albeit a large and influential one – having the guts to expose the truth.  And yet again I concluded that among the many gifts soldiers like Punch (a Marine) and my dad gave us, freedom of the press might be the greatest one.  Punch once wrote, “The business of America is freedom.  For the journalist, that means the freedom to get to the root of the truth, the freedom to criticize, the freedom to goad and stimulate every institution in our society, including our own.” Amen, and rest in peace, Mr. P.

At nine I met Lora O’Riordan at her loft at the corner of Harrison and S. Clark St. at the south end of the Loop.   After a tour of the way-cool apartment Lora and I walked to Blackie’s, a pub a few blocks south, for breakfast and a long yak.  I worked with and mentored Lora at American in the 1990s.  Because we had only seen each other once in the last 11 years, I asked for a recap.  Putting it in sequence: she personally knew two of the AA people killed in the September 11 attacks, then three weeks later got laid off; moved to San Diego to attend law school, and finished two years; got married to Brian; earned an MBA in California; moved back to Texas and joined Continental Airlines in Houston (I have long admired their culture, and she confirmed it was a great place); and moved up to Chicago after the United merger (my realtor Cousin Jim found the loft for them).  It was an absolutely wonderful morning, so good to reconnect with a fellow airline geek (she may be more into the flight biz than me), and the emotion that whooshes along with the business flowed, at least for me: what we do – that complex business of bringing people together – brought both tears and laughs.

At noon I walked north through the loop, pausing to gawk at Trump’s new tower on the Chicago River, picked up a rental car, and motored north to suburban Glenview, to see my first cousin once removed, Larry Frederick, and his wife Judy.  His mother Alice was my paternal grandpa Jim’s youngest sibling, so the age gap is only 16 years.  I had first reconnected in 2010, and back then we both mused about why our families had drifted apart, but we agreed we were happy to reconnect.

Matt Frederick, soccer player with eyes like many descended from Enrico and Cesira Frediani

Their youngest child, Matt, arrived soon after, and after introductions the first thing I did was snap his picture.  “Your eyes,” I said, “you have the Fredian eyes.”  He did, and it was so good to meet new kin of the same generation.  Matt was headed to a soccer game; at 46 he still plays the game he has loved all his life.  A bit later Larry’s oldest child Karen arrived with her only child, Sally, 14.  Karen basically asked “who are you?”, so I told my story up to the present and near-future of the move to Virginia.  Meanwhile, Larry and Judy laid out a light lunch of Italian fare – he reminded us later that he was the last remaining 100% Italian in the family (my maternal grandmother was German, and even though my mother said she was Italian that was only half-true).  Karen and Matt had interesting life stories, too, and we had a great chat.

It was so wonderful to meet new family.  To keep that theme going, at four we drove west to Arlington Heights so Larry and Judy could meet Cousin Jim.  Two of Jim’s sibs, Lisa and Mike (and their spouses Jack and Gail) arrived later for a huge cassoulet dinner that Jim’s wife Michaela prepared.  Before beginning the meal I stood and raised my glass to family.  That evening, it was Larry’s turn to explain who he was, and we were able to fill some gaps. And have a lot of fun.

Another soccer player, Charlie Fredian (he’s also an aspiring bass guitarist)

All the day’s yakking propelled me into deep sleep, and up early Sunday morning.  Two of Jim’s and Michaela’s three kids had soccer games (that game must be in the family genes!), and peeled off.  I chatted with Michaela, and at 8:30 met another friend for breakfast, Jane Allen, tied with Arnold Grossman as my best boss ever.  Jane left AA to join United Airlines in 2003, and has since retired.  We had another great airline yak and chatted a lot about relocation – she and husband Tom are likely to head to Raleigh, North Carolina, where Jane has two sibs.

At ten I headed northwest on U.S. 14.  I had some extra time, and thought it might be good to take that route (how the Brittons of the 1950s used to get to and from to Madison) rather than the freeway.  Big mistake.  Chicago’s suburbs now extend almost to the Wisconsin border, and soon after I crossed the state line I consulted iPhone maps, turned west on Wisconsin Highway 67 (no traffic, pedal to the metal), and north on I-90 at 75 mph.  The car was due at the airport Hertz location at 1:00, and I made it with 12 minutes to spare, including refueling.  Whoosh.

At the hotel, the University of Wisconsin’s Fluno Center, I discovered that I left my bike shorts at Jim’s house, but I still headed out for a bike ride (in khakis), using B Cycles, a network of rental bikes (like London’s, only privately run).  You buy a day pass for $5, but if you use the bike for less than 30 minutes there’s zero usage fee, so I stitched together an 18-mile ride over a couple of hours – slow because I had to trade in a bike every 25 minutes or so, and because the red bikes were really, really heavy.  But the air was fresh, Madison’s lakes and old inner neighborhoods were interesting, and the afternoon brought a smile.  Not surprisingly in a college town long a bastion of progressivism, one did not see a lot of Romney nor Republican lawn signs.  In fact, I didn’t see one.  But I did see plenty of “Recall Walker” signs, including one suggesting the current governor be indicted.  Passion.

At four, I met yet more friends, Dan and Cheryl Smith, at the Rathskeller of the Wisconsin Union, a wonderful place.  As I’ve written about previous visits to Madison, Wisconsin’s brewing tradition means beer in the student center of their largest public university.  Nice!  And it’s been that way since before Prohibition.   I’ve known the Smiths for three years; I wrote Dan after reading his 2008 essay about his career as a dairy farmer, “An Honest Living,” published in On Wisconsin, the school’s alumni magazine.  He’s now CEO of Midwestern Bio Ag, a progressive company focused on sustainable agriculture.  We talked about work, but mostly about family.  They have three sons, Austin, who just earned a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford; Ryan, beginning his surgery residency at Rush Medical Center in Chicago; and Levi, in second year at the University of Michigan law school.  I marveled at these accomplishments.

We walked a couple of blocks to a Turkish restaurant for an early dinner and more conversation.  Among other topics, I mentioned that I read about a Swiss inventor who had built a collar-like device for cows that would notify the farmer by text message when she was in heat.  The article said that because cows were milked so intensively, they were less fertile.  With more than 30 years of experience with some of God’s most useful animals, Dan asked “wouldn’t it make more sense to stress the cows less?”  And we agreed that reversing agriculture’s complexity curve, whether for bovine reproduction or for replenishing the soil – a major part Dan’s business – made a lot of sense.  It’s a great joy to reconnect with someone who “gets it” with respect to agriculture; it’s a link back to what I learned almost four decades ago, when I worked a week each summer on David and Katherine Kelly’s dairy farm in western Wisconsin.  Later, I read a great quotation from Dan on his company’s website:

For years, we have relied on science and technology to solve our problems. In the future, the goal must be to enable people around the globe to grow their own food, not have it shipped to them. Our survival, in his view, depends on our ability to respect the principles of three key areas: one: soil nutrition; two: business practices; and three: personal integrity.

The next morning, still another friend, in this case Prof. Jan Heide, my UW host.  The Wisconsin visit is formulaic – no need to mess with six years of tradition – and it starts with a big breakfast (plenty of Wisconsin bacon) in the Fluno Center dining room.  Then up to school and into class; I began by telling the MBA students that of all the U.S. schools I visit, this one is hands-down my favorite.  It’s all about Midwestern sensibility and comfort, but mostly it’s because Jan is such a great fellow and superb host.  Back-to-back classes full of bright youngsters with varied backgrounds – a woman who played varsity volleyball then pro ball in Dubai, an Indian-American just back from volunteer service in Rwanda, to name two – what a delight.

A new gateway to the UW campus

At 1:15, I ambled back to the hotel, changed clothes, did a bit of work, and rode a bike 15 miles in the fitness center (without shorts, I had to improvise, rolling up my pajama bottoms and donning the Wisconsin Badgers T-shirt I bought an hour earlier).  At 5:40, I met Jan and his wife Maria for the traditional Monday night dinner.  Jean Grube, my other UW host, joined us.  We visit a new place each year, and the repast at Harvest, right on Capitol Square, was splendid: duck confit, Wisconsin trout, wild rice, braised kale, pudding cake, yum!

Tuesday morning I met with a couple of MBA students who needed a bit of redirection on an airline-related project, then into Prof. Grube’s two undergraduate HR classes for a lecture on people issues in the airline business.  At 1:15, I met Jan for burgers and fries at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, across from the hotel.  Said goodbye, and headed back to the hotel to work the afternoon.

About 4:30, I headed out into cold rain, walking a few blocks to the wonderful Wisconsin Historical Society.  I needed a little research task to put me into a real library, so I opted to track down the address of one of my dad’s old friends who lived in Madison years ago.  Down I went, deep into the stacks, to location 1A and city directories.  I found Fred and Mary Bisbee, 220 Westmorland Blvd., listed in directories from 1947 to 1967.  It was so cool to be around so much knowledge, so I paddled around 1A for a few minutes.  They had everything.  As I left, the eye of the Transport Geek spotted 1912-20 annual reports for the Minneapolis and Sault Ste. Marie Railway.  Wow.

Ceiling, main reading room, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison

Deep in the stacks of the WHS library

Upstairs, I snapped a photo of Forward, a bronze sculpture created by Wisconsin artist Jean Pond Miner (1865-1967) in 1893 for the state’s pavilion at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The adjacent plaque stated “Forward is an allegory of devotion and progress, qualities Miner felt Wisconsin embodied.”  And while admiring her advancing posture I thought about all the good ideas that sprang from Wisconsin in the past, and where it seems to be going today.  I liked her past posture better.  Forward, indeed!

It was 5:30, and time for a beer, so as I’ve done at the end of almost every visit to UW in the past, I ambled across the street to the Wisconsin Union and the Rathskeller.  The well-worn furniture, names and initials carved into the oak tables, Germanic frescoes on the walls, music from my era (The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, oh my) all make it a comfy place, perfect for bringing this journal up to date.  And to think about still being young in mind.

The Rathskeller, Wisconsin Union

Was asleep early, up before five, and home walking MacKenzie and Henry by ten.

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