On Sunday morning, November 18, Robin drove me to National Airport and I flew American Eagle to New York Kennedy. It was a clear morning, and I could see a lot, including the Jersey shore so devastated by Hurricane Sandy – though from 15,000 feet you could not really see the damage. Landed, hopped on the Skytrain to Jamaica, Queens, then the E Train and the 6 Train to Grand Central Station and the fancy Hyatt, for my seventh appearance at Princeton’s Business Today student conference. At lunch we heard a lucid and concise analysis of recent economic conditions from a former senior guy at NASDAQ, and I met the first of some really interesting students, Alex, a senior at Stanford. His parents were refugees from China – long before legal immigration was commonplace – and Alex clearly understood that he stood on the shoulders of people who had sacrificed much for him (he diplomatically noted that not all children of Asian immigrants had that view).
At two I got on the 4 Train and rode across the East River to Brooklyn, off at Franklin Street and Eastern Parkway, in the Prospect Heights neighborhood, hugely diverse. Although I had traversed that borough many times, I mused that I had not actually been there since 1976, when I was doing my Ph.D. research, lodged with friends of a friend (as was common back then). Whoa, 36 years. Brooklyn was the site of my overnight digs, Airbnb in a former warehouse. To say that Kellam Clark’s abode on Dean Street was quirky would not get close to capturing the ambience, but it was friendly and comfy. Adjacent to the building was a junkyard brimming with cool stuff: two travel trailers, bicycles, old signs, a collection of the varied produce of an industrial nation. Dropped my suitcase, relaxed for an hour or so, and retraced my path into midtown Manhattan and the conference. From 4:45 to 6:00 I delivered a talk on government regulation and the airline industry to a small but engaged group of students.
I was thirsty, and ambled out of the hotel looking for an agreeable watering hole. Found it, O’Neill’s on Third Avenue, where the barman really was Irish, and knew how to draw a proper pint of Guinness. Sat down and brought this journal up to date, read a bit, chilled – actually, I warmed up from late-fall cool air. I felt a little guilty about being away from all the move-in work, but not too guilty!
Dinner was later than in previous years, starting at eight. Had a lively conversation with Nicolas from Queen’s University in Ontario, but the after-dinner speaker, a former Lehman banker, was pretty dull. When she was done, I sprinted for the subway and was back at my digs in Brooklyn by 10:30. Kellam’s warehouse was funky, but really vertical, which was challenging on my knees. Step one was to go to the second floor, via a really narrow spiral staircase. Step two, after descending to brush teeth and go back up, was to ascend to the loft bed, reached not by a ladder, but a set up stools fastened together. Once I made it to the pillow, I was out. At 4 a.m. I had to pee, so back down the spiral, only to find three Airbnb guests still awake and quietly yakking. I chatted and headed back to sleep.
Up at 6:15, down-up-down, and out the door, pausing to admire all the stuff inside the warehouse, and snap a few pictures, like the way-cool bathroom sink from the 1930s or ‘40s. I wished I had more time to chat with Kellam, but it’s clear he’s into reusing everything. I don’t think he visits Home Depot!
Walked back to the subway, into Manhattan and the conference hotel. Met and yakked with more students, and listened to Andrew Tisch, a hotelier and developer, who spoke about U.S. public debt and what we gotta do to fix it. He ended a sobering talk with a wonderful quote from Newark Mayor Cory Booker:
We who drink deeply from wells that we did not dig, we who eat lavishly from banquet tables set up for us by the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors, are we just going to luxuriate in all that’s America? Or are we going to realize that this nation has not finished itself yet, and we must return the blessings of our ancestors by showing the same sacrifice and commitment?
After breakfast, the students headed to seminars, and I peeled off to a wonderful public atrium with tables and chairs on W. 47th Street, adjacent to a Starbucks (and wi-fi). Worked for a couple of hours and headed back for lunch and a delightful conversation with Reem, a student at the University of Denver, whose parents emigrated from Iraq in the 1980s (now that was a smart move!). The lunch speaker, Richard Novogratz, was the best of the four, an energetic, stand-up guy, articulate, informal, and very open (a student asked him if he’d be willing to be specific about one of the failures he mentioned in his talk, and he pretty much told us Goldman Sachs fired him in his early ‘30s for malfeasance). His five succinct pieces of advice:
- Cut parental ties
- Take a year off and travel
- Chase your passion
- Have fun
- Invest in all sides of yourself: spiritual, fitness, nutrition
I said goodbye to a bunch of students, grabbed my suitcase, hopped on the subway, and caught the 4:03 train to Philadelphia. Arrived about 5:30, and walked from 30th Street Station to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the place that changed my life for the better. It was my second teaching visit in 2012, and at six I met Americus Reed, the way coolest academic host among the 25 schools I visit. We worked a bit in his office, and at 7:30 met his wife Veronica at Doc Magrogan’s a new seafood place on the north edge of the Penn campus. Tucked into some tasty Delaware and Virginia oysters (second round of raw oysters in a week – so nice to be near the sea!) – the ones from our new state were called, curiously, “Little Bitches,” from Occohannock Creek near the lower reaches of Chesapeake Bay. Main course was wood-grilled salmon, scallops, and shrimp. Apple crisp for dessert, heavy on the cinnamon. Hopped a cab the short way to the Reeds’ house, and was hard asleep by 10:30.
Up at 6:15, out the door, on foot back to campus, for breakfast with Pat Rose, Penn’s placement director, who I’ve known since studying there almost 30 years ago. We had a good catch-up (I hadn’t seen her since 2009). At 9:00 it was time to stand and deliver, to MBA students; repeated the talk at 10:30, then a quick lunch, and gave a third performance to undergrads at 1:30. A fast day.
Said goodbye to one of my favorite marketing profs, snapped a couple of pictures, and ambled back to the train station and a two-hour ride home to Washington – and back to unpacking. The notable aspect of the journey home was that it required no car; at Union Station, Washington, I hopped on the Metro Red Line, changed trains, rode to East Falls Church, and caught last trip on Metrobus route 24T to within 500 feet of our house. It is so cool to live in a place with great public transportation.