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.
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).
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.