Monthly Archives: April 2013

Back to Texas, Our Former Home and a Place I Miss

The High Plains of West Texas

The High Plains of West Texas

I was back in the air a week later, down to Dallas/Fort Worth.  We’ve been gone almost six months, and on the third trip back it still felt weird to land in a place that is no longer home.  The skyline of Dallas, off in the haze, said home, as did the bluebonnets along the runway.  But I didn’t have much time to get wistful (at least for Dallas), because after 30 minutes I hopped on an American Eagle jet and flew west to Lubbock, Texas, to see son Jack.  It had been way too long since I had visited, and it was great to hug him outside the terminal.  We headed in to town, yakking like long lost pals.  First stop was serendip, a local antique car show we chanced upon as we motored along the northeast edge of downtown.  Lots of cool oldies, like a 1936 Ford with a rumble seat, ’56 Chevy Bel Airs, muscle cars from the late 1960s and ‘70s (the math of getting old is sometimes jarring: those SS 396s still seemed modern and new, but back when I was a teenager a 45-year-old car was a Model T).

BelAir

Rear fender, 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air

Car fans!

Car fans!

We dropped back to Jack’s house, chilled for a bit, then drove across Lubbock to pick up John Watson, a friend now in medical school at the local Texas Tech University, then across to Tech to see Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” radio show live.  Those of you who live in the U.S., or even the U.K., may recognize him as a Minnesota author and humorist who has been hosting a live radio show most Saturdays almost continuously for more than 35 years.  Although a huge fan and radio listener, I had seen him live only twice before, once very early in the show, mid-1970s, when it was only broadcast locally, then in August 1981 on the lawn of the Minnesota State Capitol.  So it had been 32 years, and I was excited for the start of the show, in an older auditorium on the Tech campus.

It did not disappoint.  We clapped and whooped and whistled our approval of the music, his dialogue, his jokes.  Apart from the show band, Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band, who have been with Garrison for years, there was a local trio now famous, the Flatlanders (Joe Ely and pals), and a rising country singer Ashley Monroe, nicely twangy.  Garrison and the shoe band played homage to local rock pioneer Buddy Holly, and just after intermission interviewed Buddy’s older brother Travis, at least 80 (whose best line was “getting old sucks”), and the original Peggy Sue, who Buddy had met in high school and wrote a song about.  Above all, what came through loud and clear was placefulness; Garrison always weaves the distinctiveness of the host community and region into the show.  One snippet: toward the end, acknowledging that the area is the largest cotton producing region in the U.S., he said “this part of America where your pants come from.”  And he gets his facts right: the correct radius for the center-pivot irrigation systems (0.25 mile).  It was an awesome show.  Afterward, we met John’s wife Kara, and repaired to the Cap Rock Café for a burger and some chatter, then across the street for an ice cream.  A colossal evening.

Telephone, Holly Hop Ice Cream, Lubbock, Texas

Telephone, Holly Hop Ice Cream, Lubbock, Texas

Sunday morning we were out the door at nine or so, over to J&B Coffee for a big cup, then back to the house and away on separate two-wheelers: Jack on his motorcycle to the gym, and me north on his Trek mountain bike, pounding out 20 miles on a breezy but cloudless morning – under that big Texas sky that I also miss.  On the way back, wove around the Tech campus, growing.

After lunch, we headed to the National Ranching Heritage Center on the edge of the Tech campus, a great interpretive center that tells the story of ranching, mainly in Texas through a series of restored structures.  The simple frontier houses and their sparse furnishings were a powerful reminder of the harshness of frontier life (and by extension how we ought not to take comfort for granted).  Inside the main building was a temporary exhibit of “cowgirl art” by Texan Donna Howell-Sickles, a couple dozen vibrantly colored and often whimsical interpretations of a usually unseen part of ranching.  It was a way cool outing.  We headed home and chilled, watching sports on TV.  I’m not a big viewer, but Jack’s house is just such a comfy place.  He’s in his element there.

Detail, saddle, National Ranching Heritage Center

Detail, saddle, National Ranching Heritage Center

Pioneer ranch house

Pioneer ranch house

Jack Britton, channel surfing

Jack Britton, channel surfing

At 5:30, we headed out for a look at Lubbock neighborhoods, then to dinner.  Lots of stuff is closed on Sundays, including some promising local barbeque joints, so we pointed the car toward Rudy’s, a chain that is, well, just okay.  Happily, there was what geographers call an “intervening opportunity,” in the form of Chuy’s, also a chain, but a great one, Texan, well known for outstanding Tex-Mex.  That was the place.  We were up at six Monday morning.   Jack was headed for work, and I rode along as far as the airport. Gave him a kiss, a big hug, and a thanks for a way-fun weekend.  Flew to DFW, detoured to a board meeting of American Airlines Credit Union, then back on the Silver Bird for Washington.

Chuy's, the place for outstanding Tex-Mex, in cities across the Lone Star State

Chuy’s, the place for outstanding Tex-Mex, in cities across the Lone Star State

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To Our Native State, Briefly

On the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota; spring was nowhere in sight!

On the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota; spring was nowhere in sight!

Was up at 4 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, to head back to the classroom, at the Carlson School at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota.  Linda came along, bound for a quick visit with her 91-year-old mom and siblings.  Dropped her and headed toward the campus, stopping first for a early lunch at White Castle on Lake Street, then onto the U of M’s West Bank campus.  Delivered a talk on crisis management to an engaged group of part-time MBA students (and a few from a Master’s program in strategic communication at the university’s journalism school).   Before the talk began, a couple of things caught my eye, perfect indicators of the basic sensibility that is one of Minnesota’s many strong traits:

On most campuses, empty whiteboard markers are tossed, but not at the U of M

On most campuses, empty whiteboard markers are tossed, but not at the U of M

This one is self-explanatory!

This one is self-explanatory!

I left “the U” at 2:15, north to suburban Columbia Heights and the home of Betsy and Tom Dimock.  Tom painted the oil “Waiting for Swimmers” that I bought at the 2012 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Show.  I was finally back to retrieve it and as I have done many, many times, to get to know the artist just a bit.  Son of a Navy dentist, Tom moved a lot as a kid, graduated from the superb Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and earned an MFA from Minnesota.  He’s done a ton in his career, including medical and technology illustration, graphic design, and a lot of fine art.  After a yak in their living room, Tom gave me an art tour of their house, then showed me his basement studio.  It was fascinating, for the amount of work and, even more, the wide variety of styles.  Most artists work in just one style and medium, but Tom ranged broadly, and every one of his works showed huge talent.  Betsy snapped some pictures of Tom and I with the painting, and I said goodbye.

Tom Dimock, master artist

Tom Dimock, master artist

Lots of Tom's paintings caught my eye, but this one was especially striking, from early in his career, back to the Soviet days

Lots of Tom’s paintings caught my eye, but this one was especially striking, from early in his career, back to the Soviet days.

A sort of artist's still life, from Tom's studio

A sort of artist’s still life, from Tom’s studio

"Waiting for Swimmers," which will soon hang in our house in Virginia, a reminder of the importance of water in creating the good life in Minnesota

“Waiting for Swimmers,” which will soon hang in our house in Virginia, a reminder of the importance of water in creating the good life in Minnesota

Pedal to the metal south to my mother-in-law’s condo, a short visit with her and Linda’s three sibs, then out to an airport hotel to check in and a needed but-too-brief nap.  Back out the door, for dinner with Mike Davis and Sara Wahl, friends for nearly 40 years.  Mike is Chief Federal Judge for Minnesota, and a really interesting guy.  We had a drink and a good yak at their home, then motored to Café Ena, a Latin-fusion eatery for a fine meal and more chat.  Really fun, and so great to stay connected with old friends.

Up at six Sunday morning, to the gym for 15 miles on an exercise bike, then down to meet Rick Dow, another long friend, for a caloric breakfast and great yak.  Rick dropped me back at the hotel, we returned the rental car and flew home.  It took awhile, and was another reminder of how great it was to live close to American’s big hub at DFW.  Short, great trip.

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New York, Briefly

Library, Columbia University

Library, Columbia University

The day after April Fool’s Day I was up early and onto the 24T bus, the Metro, American Eagle to Kennedy Airport, New York, AirTrain to Jamaica, Queens, and finally the E subway into Manhattan.  First stop was a quick cup of coffee with a young mentee, Andrew Chima, yakking about business schools – after several years of work, he’s headed back to get a MBA.  Next stop was Delta Air Lines’ New York sales office (posh!) and a rendezvous with a former American Airlines colleague, Athar Khan.  We yakked for a bit in his office, then headed across the street to a wonderful lunch at Circo (rabbit for me, yum).  Athar has moved around a lot, and seems to have found his element at an airline that is doing a lot of things very well indeed.  We got caught up – last time I saw him was London in 2008.  In between he had worked in Qatar, where his next-door neighbor became his wife, and joined Delta a couple of years ago.   He’s a very good guy, a long friend.

Narrow

Reinvention of the Manhattan landscape always fascinates; in this case, using a narrow lot on E. 44th St. to the max!

It was a day of reconnecting.  Next stop was to meet Steve Buell, a classmate of mine from the 1983 Wharton summer management.  I had not seen him since about 1985 or ’86, and it was such fun to catch up with him, too.  He’s worked in investment research the whole while, helped raise two sons, and I clearly lived a good life.  Parting, we agreed that Wharton changed our lives for the better.

SteveBuell

Dr. Buell

Then it was across to Times Square and north on the #1 train to Columbia University.  I had only been on the campus once or twice, very briefly.  At 4:30 I met young friend Marcos Sheeran, who I first met at the South American Business Forum in Buenos Aires; we have kept in touch, but like Athar I had not seen him for five or six years.   He’s finishing a MBA at Columbia, and organized an early-evening talk on leadership.  The group was seriously bright, the kind of people who make me think “I can’t imagine they’re learning anything,” but judging by questions and applause I did alright.

Brainpower meets practice in front of the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture; students were building a parabola of smaller plywood parabolas (at least that's how I thought of it), an excercise, one student told me, in "tension and compression."  Indeed.

Brainpower meets practice in front of the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture; students were building a parabola of smaller plywood parabolas (at least that’s how I thought of it), an excercise, one student told me, in “tension and compression.” Indeed.

Last reconnection was with Brenda Barnes, a person I barely knew at American, who found my blog while searching for AA alumni.  Brenda moved to Delta in the mid-1990s, and has worked in various places.  She mentioned a Columbia affiliation in an e-mail, so I invited her to the talk, and we went to dinner afterward at a tapas place in her neighborhood.  Great food, wine, and chatter, but way, way too noisy and densely-packed for this suburbanite!

Ever the thrifty traveler, Airbnb was again the sensible choice, and at 9:30 I met my young host Spencer at his apartment on Amsterdam Avenue, a couple of blocks from Columbia.  Spencer was a great guy.  The pad was spartan but clean, and I was plumb wore out.

My Airbnb home on Amsterdam Avenue

My Airbnb home on Amsterdam Avenue

Up early the next morning, back to midtown and a caloric and fun breakfast with another AA alum, Pete Pappas.  You can count on Pete for a great yak and a lot of laughs.  He’s well north of 70, and has seen a lot in his years. I treasure that experience.  Peeled off, headed to Queens on the F train and up to LaGuardia on the Q33 bus.  As part of a “let’s get to know each other” initiative, American’s new merger partner US Airways was offering employees and retirees seriously cheap passes, so if you’re willing to standby you can get a short flight for way less than a short cab ride ($5, plus $8.25 in taxes and fees).  The 11:00 flight was not full, and I got a seat back to Washington National, and was home by early afternoon.

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