Monthly Archives: November 2013

Three Quick Trips: Dallas, Philadelphia, Dallas

On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, a place that changed my life

On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, a place that changed my life

On Friday morning, November 8, Linda and I flew to Dallas, to attend the wedding of a long pal of Jack’s, Brad Ciesielski (Jack was best man).  I keep wanting to write “home to Dallas,” and as I have written before, going there as a visitor still seems odd.  In any event, we landed about noon, hopped in a tiny but zippy Mazda 2, and headed toward the Big D.  My friend Ken Gilbert responded to an email sent just before takeoff, and by pure luck he was having lunch that day with Nisha Pasha, another long friend from American Airlines.  So Linda dropped me at the Basmati Grill, a little Indian-Pakistani place in a strip mall in Irving, where I greeted my pals.  What a delight.  Karma!  We had a great visit (I was not hungry, but Nisha offered me some naan and a spoon or two of very spicy chickpeas.  We dropped her back at AA headquarters and Ken kindly delivered me to the very fancy Palomar Hotel, just across Central Expressway from Jack’s alma mater, SMU.  Changed into shorts and pounded out 25 miles on an exercise bike.  At six we drove a mile west to the rehearsal dinner.  It was fun to see old neighbors and friends, and some of Jack’s long pals (Brad and he go back to preschool, 1988).  Brad’s mom Julie is from Kansas, and we dined with some of her longest friends.

I was up early Saturday morning, down the street to Kroger for a parking-lot breakfast (two yogurts, a banana, and a donut), then Linda dropped me at a familiar place, the warehouse of the Dallas Ramp Project.  I had not built a wheelchair ramp for 13 months, but nothing had changed: the same cast of characters, great camaraderie, and the chance to make a difference in someone’s life.  I hopped in Hans Voorn’s car and we set off across town, to a trailer park in far southeast Dallas.  With the help of a bunch of volunteers from Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen (a mile from our former home), we built a 36 foot ramp for James.  When we shook his hand at the end of the build we were reminded of the joy of direct action.  It was so nice to be back at work.  We were in Dallas for a big event, but that morning was a big event, too.

The ramp team with finished product

The ramp team with finished product

This one is entitled "Ramp Still Life"

This one is entitled “Ramp Still Life”

Hans dropped me at the hotel about one.  Its luxury was a vivid contrast with the trailer park, always a humbling place.  Ambled across Mockingbird for some lunch, then back to the gym, a short nap, and over to church for the vows.  Conveniently, the reception was in our hotel, and we had a big time.  Sunday morning we were all up early, hugged Jack (our roommate for the weekend), drove to DFW, and flew home.   I miss Texas.

Two of my favorite wedding revelers

Two of my favorite wedding revelers

A week later, on Monday morning, November 18, I walked 400 feet to the bus stop, then the Metro, then Amtrak north to Philadelphia. Arrived at noon, clear and warm.  Ambled west on Market Street, through the Drexel campus, stopping for a seriously good lunch of noodles, tofu, and vegetables.  Walked south to the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  Thirty years ago last summer, that place changed my life for the better, and a smiled as I walked up Locust Walk.  I was lucky to be admitted to the postdoc business program that I attended in 1983; there were 240 applicants for 40 places, and initially I was on a waiting list.  When I got word that I cleared the list, I was in a hotel room in Colorado, and still clearly remember levitating toward the ceiling, like a helium balloon.  Back on earth, on a fine autumn day 30 years on, I wondered: at an elite university like Penn, how many students viewed it as an life-changer, a remarkable opportunity for which they are – like I still am – hugely grateful, and how many saw it more like an entitlement, the natural progression from affluent family to private school or an elite public school, to ivy institution?  A useful musing a week before Thanksgiving.

Another still life: lunch at Market 16 Noodle Bar

Another still life: lunch at Market 16 Noodle Bar

I stopped in the student computing center at the Wharton (business) School, and they got me “wired” to the wireless network, so I could do some work.  At three, I met Adam Grant, a professor of management and author of a very cool new book, Give and Take; the premise, which immediately intrigued me when I read a profile of him and his research six months ago, is that people who give freely of themselves do better personally and professionally.  Adam and I had corresponded a bit and it was great to meet him in person.  We bounced a few ideas around, and met a colleague with similar interests.  It was a wonderful reminder of why academies are such cool places – the world of ideas is an exciting place to be.

The Wharton School has a remarkable collection of art throughout its several buildings; here is a portion of Yoko Haru's untitled 1983 work

The Wharton School has a remarkable collection of art throughout its several buildings; here is a portion of Yoko Haru’s untitled 1983 work

Between 4:00 and 5:15, I met a Jaeyoun and Esther, a couple of Adam’s students who are interested in the airline business and who I agreed to introduce to contacts in the industry (one told me she had received an offer).  Worked my e-mail a bit, and at six knocked on the door of my long Wharton host Americus Reed.  Way cool to see him again!  First order of business was to meet a couple of undergraduates who were working on some marketing research; we helped them refine their plan for focus groups.  It’s always fun to be able to add value quickly.  An hour later we were in the car, rolling toward Society Hill (downtown, on the Delaware River), with Americus’ swell wife Veronica.  We started catching up on family and work and stuff in the year since I was last with them.  Whoosh, we rolled right past the Liberty Bell, shining in the night.  Let freedom ring!  We had a swell dinner at an Italian restaurant, then drove west to their house.

The Reed house is like a museum, full of all sorts of cool artifacts, like this machine

The Reed house is like a museum, full of all sorts of cool artifacts, like this machine

Tuesday morning, out the door with Prof. Reed, onto the bus a few stops to the UPenn campus, then into the Wharton School for three back-to-back lectures, with lunch after #2.  Was just great to be there, and to be with Americus.  Had time, barely, for one more quick meeting, with friend Pat Rose, who 30 years ago was one of the organizers of the postdoctoral program we attended.  We’ve kept in touch, and I try to see her, even if briefly, each time I visit.  It was a quick yak; at 3:55 she walked me to the trolley, which got me to 30th Street Station (just) in time for the 4:30 train home.

Home for six nights, and on Monday the 25th left the house as I did the week before, bus then Metro, but headed to the airport not the train station.  Flew to DFW for the second time in a fortnight, landing with the thermometer hovering just above freezing.   But the runways were dry, and in no time I was piloting a zippy Ford Fiesta northeast toward Richardson, Texas, where we lived for almost 20 years.  At 1:00 I met my pal Roger Tremblay, a longtime advertising-sales exec and total good guy, at Spring Creek Barbeque, a favorite for a couple of decades.  We tucked into a nice lunch and a great yak across a bunch of topics.  He peeled off, and I drove over to the Gilberts in North Dallas; Ken, a longtime AA colleague (often mentioned in these pages) and Peggy are just swell people.  We had a brief chat, and I got back in the car and headed south to Southern Methodist University and a twice-yearly talk on service quality that Prof. Dan Howard and I have been doing for almost two decades.  Check and done, as Robin used to say, and at 9:45 I headed back to the Gilberts.  I was worn out, but not too tired to pass up the offer of a seasonal India Pale Ale and some chatter, both with Ken and their two big dogs, Papi (who daughter Blair rescued a couple of years earlier from Tonga, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer), and Bella, a sweet and slightly timid German Shepherd rescued from South Dallas.  Nice to have hounds at foot.

Was up at 6:15 Tuesday morning for a yak and cup of coffee with Peggy (Ken was out for a two-mile run with the dogs).  We covered a lot of topics, including Thanksgiving plans (and the outline of a recipe for green beans).  I mentioned the cozy electric blanket on my bed, and that led to her telling me that she and her beloved slept in a full bed (“my electric blanket is Ken”).  I was surprised about the small bed, to which she replied, “Well, it’s the bed my great-grandfather was born in, in Egypt, Mississippi, in 1886, and that’s why I’m here . . .”  It’s exactly those kind of moments that make me so grateful for the hospitality of friends.  Just wonderful.

A little after eight, Ken and I motored separately to Cindy’s Deli on Forest Lane for a seriously caloric breakfast (any morning repast with biscuits and gravy puts one on a good start) and a long yak, mostly on airline and consulting topics – in retirement, we both do some work in the business.  At 9:30 I said goodbye, peeled off, and flew home.  Another trip to Texas, and several opportunities to tell myself how much I miss it.  We’re settling into Virginia, but the Lone Star State continues to pull at me.

Like the Reeds' house the week before, the Gilbert residence is filled with cool stuff from their travels, including a lot of awesome folk art, like these birds from Mexico

Like the Reeds’ house the week before, the Gilbert residence is filled with cool stuff from their travels, including a lot of awesome folk art, like these birds from Mexico

. . . And a lot of books, always the sign of a curious household

. . . And a lot of books, always the sign of a curious household

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Toronto and Montreal, via DFW

Toronto City Hall, a landmark in the city and indeed the whole country.  Opened 1965, designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell

Toronto City Hall, a landmark in the city and indeed the whole country. Opened 1965, designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell

On Monday, October 29, I was out the door and on the bus and metro to the airport a little after six a.m., then on wing to Dallas/Fort Worth.  We landed about ten, and I hopped on the free shuttle bus to American Airlines’ headquarters.  The driver, LaJuan, asked about my red remembrance poppy.  I explained that for some reason they have disappeared in the U.S., but are still popular in Canada and other former commonwealth countries.

Poppy

She asked if she could take my picture, sure, and then told me about her friend’s photo of cows in a field of red poppies.  We then got onto poppy seeds, and she told me she never made the connection with the flower.  When I got off the bus at AA, a young woman also got off, and asked me which building was HDQ2.  I pointed to it, and we started talking, first about poppy seeds in Polish cooking.  Yes, Eva was Polish, and she was headed to HDQ2 for her “medical,” the physical exam that is the last hurdle in joining the airline.  She wanted to be a flight attendant.  I welcomed her – still feeling part of the enterprise – and told her we would be lucky to have her.  Two T-t-S in ten minutes.   We parted, and I headed to a quick board meeting of the credit union, then back onto the shuttle bus, back to the airport, and onto a flight to Toronto and my debut at Ryerson University.

The flight was 30 minutes late for a curious and wholly avoidable reason that was not American’s fault.  The captain explained that during the 16-day Federal government shutdown, FAA inspectors could not give final blessing to allow planemakers to deliver new aircraft, so the Airbus A319 scheduled for the flight was still in Europe, and American had to scramble to replace planes and crews.  Thanks, Republicans!

We landed Toronto, I zipped onto the Airport Rocket, TTC bus route #192.  Sure, I could have taken a taxi for $70, but as I rolled along I remembered (and looked up) a great quote from New York Times columnist Roger Cohen.  Earlier in the month, writing – at least partly about travel – from a quiet place in eastern Germany, he said, “We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience.”  Yep, that’s why I was on a crowded bus, with a wide range of humanity, and not by myself in a cab.  I hopped onto the TTC subway, changed routes, walked a few blocks, and at 7:20 was at a table in the Bangkok Garden restaurant with a long professor-friend, Kim Bates, now at Ryerson, and the head of graduate studies in the business school, Dale Carl.  I hadn’t seen Kim for almost seven years and had never met Dale.

It had been a long time since I met someone with a life story like his: early years in the Canadian Navy, including service as an officer on a destroyer.  About a dozen years in the Canadian foreign service, in nice places like Oslo, at in charge of the embassy in Baghdad on the eve of the first Gulf War.  He had plenty of stories, including a gun to his head several times.  He earned his Ph.D. late, then joined Ryerson.  Whoa!  We covered a lot of ground, including a good introduction to the business school and the full-time MBA class that I would meet the next day.  At about 9:30 I ambled a mile to my hotel.  I’m not sure I could have crammed more into a single day.

Was up Tuesday morning at 6:15 at in a booth at The Senator, oldest restaurant in Toronto (1929) at 7:30, to meet pal-since-1993 Lorne Salzman.  Lorne and I meet for a repast and a long yak every time I go to Toronto; it had been 18 months, so there was plenty to discuss.  Such a great fellow.

At 9:15 I met Dale in the lobby of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson.  A downtown campus, so the school was in a highrise (it had a similar feel to Concordia in Montreal, another urban campus).  We rode escalators up, took a quick tour, and from 9:30 to 11:30 I delivered a talk and answered questions for the entire full-time MBA class, about 80 students.  They were a diverse lot, bright, and full of questions.  The new dean stopped in to listen for awhile, then say hello to the class.  It was a fun morning.  At noon, Kim, Dale, and I went to lunch next door.  After a nice meal, I walked south across downtown Toronto, past the wonderful city hall and big plaza, and onto a shuttle bus to the city airport, just offshore the city center on an island in Lake Ontario – amazingly convenient (described in a September blogpost).

Steven Murphy, new dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management

Steven Murphy, new dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management

As I strode across city hall plaza, they were unloading what appeared to be a massive sculpture comprised of shiny stylized bicycles

As I strode across city hall plaza, they were unloading what appeared to be a massive sculpture comprised of shiny stylized bicycles.

I'm pretty sure I've shown a version of this in a previous post, but I never get tired of the contrast between old and new design.

I’m pretty sure I’ve shown a version of this in a previous post, but I never get tired of the contrast between old and new design.

They keep on building in downtown Toronto; this view from the ferry out to the city airport.

They keep on building in downtown Toronto; this view from the ferry out to the city airport.

Hopped on Porter Airlines and took off east toward Montreal.  I wanted to, but did not, disobey the electronic-devices rule and snap pictures of Toronto skyscrapers that were just outside our window.  A cool experience.  We landed Montreal, and I hopped on the convenient a speedy city bus nonstop to downtown.  While waiting to board, I noticed a customer-service woman from the transit agency, the STM; what I really noticed were her seriously cool green and blue eyeglasses, an early reminder of a place that I have long found to be on trend and stylish (should have politely asked to take her photo).  Makes for great people watching, especially downtown and on the metro.

I ambled a few blocks to my hotel, headed to the gym for some needed miles on an exercise bike, took a short nap, and headed to dinner.  Montreal has a bunch of microbreweries and brewpubs and as I did on the previous two visits I found a new one, Brasseur de Montreal, just southwest of downtown.  Had a couple of yummy homebrews and a smoked-meat sandwich, a sort of corned beef that is a Montreal tradition.  The Canadiens (locally known as the Habs) were playing hockey on a big-screen TV, and it was a pleasant repast.  Would have been a bit better if there were some strangers to talk to . . .

Brasseurs

Was up early Wednesday morning, out the door to breakfast at – where else – Tim Horton’s, one of my favorite windows on Canada.  And as always I smiled when I looked around and saw that every Canadian in the store, every single one, had health insurance.  Ate a bowl of oatmeal, a muffin, milk, another coffee, and, fortified, I walked a couple of blocks west on Rue Sherbrooke to McGill’s business school.  Delivered a talk to a small class of MBAs, and afterward had a juice with my host Mary Dellar, a swell person.  Peeled off, headed back to the hotel, worked a bit, then rode out to the site of the 1976 Summer Olympics, a few miles east of downtown.  The massive and interesting stadium was still there, as were some other buildings.  Headed back, had a quick lunch at Tim Horton’s, then delivered a 90-minute talk to master’s students in McGill law school’s Institute of Air and Space Law, my seventh consecutive visit with host Paul Dempsey.

Walking out of the Pie IX metro station near the olympic site, I spotted this wonderful statue of Jackie Robinson, who played for the AAA Montreal Royals in 1946

Walking out of the Pie IX metro station near the Olympic site, I spotted this wonderful statue of Jackie Robinson, who played for the AAA Montreal Royals in 1946

The Olympic Stadium, with its distinctive leaning support pylon

The Olympic Stadium, with its distinctive leaning support pylon

At 6:00 I met another friend, Bruce, now working for a life insurance company in Montreal.  He grew up just a couple of miles from the restaurant, in Westmount, and was after decades living at home again, with his elderly father, and commuting to his permanent home in Toronto.  We had a good yak and a wonderful Italian dinner.  He peeled off to walk his dad’s golden retriever, and I headed home to the Holiday Inn.

My other favored spot for breakfast, Cora’s on Avenue du Parc, had closed, so I headed across the street to yet another Tim Horton’s.  Back to the hotel and out the door for the airport.  It was Halloween, and some people were in costume, even at 9:00 a.m.  So I donned my rainbow-colored Afro wig, and an old red tie, and got in the spirit, introducing myself as a certain Republican senator.  People laughed, and I smiled.  I removed the garb for immigration and customs formalities (as many of you know, you clear the U.S. border on departure from larger Canadian airports), and for the flight to JFK.

You know Montreal is a different sort of place when you spot Nota Bene, a new store devoted to things you need for writing and drawing; nothing digital within!

You know Montreal is a different sort of place when you spot Nota Bene, a new store devoted to things you need for writing and drawing; nothing digital within!

Spotted on Blvd. Rene-Levesque while waiting for the airport bus; gesturing to the skull, she said in French-accented English, "it's my husband!"

Spotted on Blvd. Rene-Levesque while waiting for the airport bus; gesturing to the skull, she said in French-accented English, “it’s my husband!”

I had to make a deposit at the handy AA Credit Union branch in the terminal, so when I headed back through the security checkpoint, two of three black women managing the lines commented on my remembrance poppy, remarked that she hadn’t seen one in a long time.  I repeated the story from two days earlier, and the two said, “yes, I remember them from Guyana.”

It took a long time to get home, but when we finally landed in D.C., I donned the hair and tie again, for the metro ride home.  Another great trip north.  More than 46 years after my first visit, I never tire of visiting Canada.

Postscript

A day after posting the words above, an email arrived from the bus driver described in the first paragraph, a message that made me happy for reaching out to talk to strangers; here it is:

Hello Mr. Britton, I know you maybe thought I forgot all about you, well guess again it was such a blessing and a pleasure to have meet you and again it was no mistake you getting on my bus I called that right place, at the right time. But I could not send you a email just so you can send me something I wanted the joy of send you the picture of the cow and poppy seed picture. Here it is and I pray that this warms your heart just like you warmed mine and again I thank God for you passing my way.

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