Monthly Archives: April 2014

New York, Briefly

LincolnCenter

Lincoln Center

I got to sleep in my own bed for two nights! Two! Up and out the door on Thursday morning, riding into the city with Robin and Linda, then onto the Metro to Union Station and Amtrak to New York. I would have preferred to stay home, but had committed months earlier to speak to a group of international business students from Tec de Monterrey, the Mexican engineering and business school that I’ve been visiting in recent years. They were in New York for a field trip, meeting with execs, touring Wall Street, and, I’m sure, having some fun, too.

We arrived a couple of minutes early, and I ambled up and over to the subway, riding north a few stops to Columbus Circle, where I met Pete Pappas, an old pal from American Airlines. Pete and his wife Ivy live right on Central Park South, an awesome location. Met Pete in their lobby and we swooped a couple of blocks south and west for lunch at what Pete described as “a Greek diner.” It was, though one of the posher versions. We weren’t there for the food, but for the super conversation. He’s a swell guy, and we covered a lot of topics over omelettes and potatoes.

At 2:30, I hopped back on the subway, south to the students’ hotel on W. 39th. Checked in, put on a necktie, and some of the group headed north to the site of my preso, Columbia Business School. I led them astray by getting on the wrong uptown train, oops, so we had an interesting walk through Morningside Heights to the campus. Some of the rest of the group joined us, and I delivered the basic leadership talk to a very bright and engaged audience. Afterward, I mentioned to the group that it was Holy Week and I was headed to Protestant services at 7:00 (I found Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on line, 65th and Central Park West). Martín said “I am Protestant,” and I replied that he was very welcome to join me, so after a quick walk around the Columbia campus he and I rode the subway south to Lincoln Center, ambled around the performance halls a bit, then headed east to the church, which was a splendid and medium-sized, in the Gothic Revival style.

Mosaic, 66th Street/Lincoln Center Subway Station

Mosaic, 66th Street/Lincoln Center Subway Station

Martín had no trouble tracking the (to me familiar) Lutheran liturgy. I explained before the service began that Lutherans have strong musical and choral traditions, and he nodded. When the opening hymn began, he sang well and with great gusto. It made me smile. One thinks of New York as a place of speed and dispatch, but the Maundy Thursday worship at Holy Trinity was anything but – 90 minutes of wonderful prayer and ritual (laying on of hands, feet washing, the works). A wonderful experience. We walked south to Columbus Circle and onto the subway. At the hotel I changed clothes and agreed to head out to dinner with the youngsters, but changed my mind, opting instead for takeout from a wok place a block from the hotel. Ate my udon noodles and spicy tofu in my pajamas and was asleep in no time.

I was still not all the way back on Eastern Time, and woke up at 5:30. Did a bit of work, read the paper on line, and trundled down to the free breakfast, served in the basement. Though I was grateful that the student group paid for my room, the hotel was a bit spartan (especially compared to my swell suite in Doha), and the breakfast room reminded me of a submarine. High point was a nice T-t-S exchange with a fellow from Manchester, England, over with his son – the trip was a birthday present. Nice yak.

I had long wanted to walk the High Line, a 1.1-mile-long linear park built on an abandoned spur line of the New York Central, so off I went. It was a great experience, lovely design, varied plants and trees, public art, really cool (though I had some concern with the durability of some materials used, which after five years were already well worn; I do wonder about some designers’ sense of the practical). Daffodils were blooming, red tulips starting to poke out of the ground. At Gansevoort Street, I turned around and headed back.

On the High Line

On the High Line

Lively public art adjacent to the High Line (commissioned by a developer)

Lively public art adjacent to the High Line (commissioned by a developer)

More evidence of art as gimmick or stunt; this oeuvre, composed of concrete, fur, and pigment, is modestly titled "Realism Triumphantly Marching into the City."  Really?

More evidence of art as gimmick or stunt; this oeuvre, composed of concrete, fur, and pigment, is modestly titled “Realism Triumphantly Marching into the City.” Really?

This scene perfectly captures the makeover of the west side, tall condos and apartments replacing the 19th century low-rise landscape.

This scene perfectly captures the makeover of the west side, tall condos and apartments replacing the 19th century low-rise landscape.

New York's "in your face" ethos is not always good, but I did like this billboard!

New York’s “in your face” ethos is not always good, but I did like this billboard!

In your face, part two: truck driver yelling at police officer; I just don't think it's wise to do that.

In your face, part two: truck driver yelling at police officer; I just don’t think it’s wise to do that.

Checked out of the hotel at 11 and hopped a train downtown, to West Fourth Street, Greenwich Village. Although there’s a lot about New York that I appreciate, on balance I don’t like the place, and have never hidden my disregard for the noise, disorder, and especially incivility. On the way down, two crankiness-inducing examples of the latter. First, on the train, no one offered a seat to a man on crutches. When he finally sat down at 14th Street, I said I was disappointed that no one had shown him any empathy.  “It’s okay,” he shrugged.  I replied, “No it’s not, man, it’s wrong, it’s just wrong.”  I was happy that several fellow passengers nodded in agreement.   Second, walking out of the station I walk past a woman loudly throwing F-bombs into her mobile phone. New York is the In-public Potty Mouth Capital of the World. That’s not a good place to be. Grrrrrrrr.

Window shopping at Esposito's Pork Shop

Window shopping at Esposito’s Pork Shop

The lower density and vibe of Greenwich Village brightened my demeanor considerably. It’s an interesting neighborhood. I sat for awhile on a park bench on Sixth Avenue, then headed east on Bleecker Street, then north along the edge of the NYU campus to Washington Square, which was buzzing with locals and tourists. The dog run was hopping, chess games were in full force, and an innovative kids’ playground surfaced with artificial grass was full of laughing tots. Lots of energy in that place. Walked west and south to Carmine Street and plopped down in Father Demo Square. A lovely Catholic church, Our Lady of Pompeii, was just down the street, and I wondered if the two were connected. With a smartphone linked to the Internet all questions can be answered, and in no time I learned that the good padre was pastor for many years in what was the center of one of the largest Italian neighborhoods in the U.S., had been a prominent advocate for the rights of Italians, and played a role in ministering to survivors of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire, one of the worst factory disasters in the U.S.

Washington Square playground

Washington Square playground

Washington Square

Washington Square

Washington Square street food

Washington Square street food

At 12:30, my friend-since-1960, Tim Holmes, emerged from 11 Carmine Street and we headed down the street to a colossal lunch at an Asian noodle house. Food was good, but conversation was better. Since he was a youngster Tim has had a special and incisive perspective on society and economy. We got caught up – I last saw him in 2010 – and after lunch he fetched his big dog Devin and we ambled north to Penn Station, yakking all the way (and pausing a couple of times for strangers to pet the hound, who is striking, with dark brown fur). Said goodbye, and I hopped on the 3:05 train, home to D.C. I don’t like the place, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun and interesting times when I visit.

Father Demo Square

Father Demo Square

Tim and Devin

Tim and Devin

 

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April Overseas 2: Qatar

The stunning Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar

The stunning Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar

 

From Stockholm, I would normally have flown west, toward home, but instead headed to a short consulting assignment, boarding a brand-new Qatar Airways 787 bound for Doha and my first visit to the Gulf – indeed to any part of the world between India and Turkey. This was a new kind of client (can’t say too much), and the contract provided for business-class travel on trips longer than six hours. Woo hoo! It was a fancy ride, with a good meal, and a good movie, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” We landed Doha at sunset.

Qatar Airways 787

Qatar Airways 787

A long queue for immigration, and I missed the hourly shuttle to the nearby Crowne Plaza, so I hopped in a taxi. The driver was multitasking cleverly: driving me and praying, the Qur’an being chanted on the radio. Not sure if it was blasphemy or not, but I diverted him with some questions: almost no one working in service or construction is Qatari (less than 15% of the population of 2 million are from there), so I was sure he was from somewhere else. An Egyptian, with a wife and kids 15 and 4 back home. They Skype every day, “but,” he said, “it’s not the same as holding them.” When I checked in, I was delighted to learn that my loyalty to IHG Hotels was paying off: I had become “Gold,” and that got me upgraded to a suite. Wowie! It was posh, especially after the dorm-like OK. Unpacked, and immediately headed to the gym to pound out some miles. The USBE bike was great for urban transportation, but you couldn’t really get aerobic. By the time I cooled down, it was nearly ten and I decided on sleep. Ah, finally my favored combination of a firm mattress and a very soft feather pillow. I was deep in dreamland all night.

Was up early Sunday morning. It was the start of the Muslim workweek, so locals were headed to work and school. The hotel restaurants were pricey, and even though I was on expense account, I went foraging for breakfast in a mixed neighborhood of modest apartments, newer flashy buildings, and some small construction-supply stores. Greeted the workingmen with “Salaam” (Peace). Spotted a totally local cafe, but I was self-conscious about using my (to the locals) unclean left hand – the one I learned to favor as a kid, hard to change six decades later – so at the tiny Al Faheem Grocery I bought a pint of Saudi milk, two sweet rolls and a banana (equivalent of $1.84) and headed home to practice eating with my right hand.

Journalists often use the term "Arab Street" to mean what ordinary people are thinking and feeling; on my way to get breakfast I walked right down that road!

Journalists often use the term “Arab Street” to mean what ordinary people are thinking and feeling; on my way to get breakfast I walked right down that road!

On the way to the souk, I walked down Bank Street, the country's financial center

On the way to the souk, I walked down Bank Street, the country’s financial center

A green oasis in the middle of the city

A green oasis in the middle of the city

Surprise

Fortified, I headed out into bright sunshine and a temp already in the mid-80s. First stop was the Souk Waqif, a traditional bazaar. I love markets, and this was my first visit to one in the Islamic world. I was surprised and happy that that there were no hustlers preying on visitors. It attracted visitors but mostly quite a few customers, ordinary people: older women buying spices, a fellow getting measured for a thawb (the traditional men’s white dress), a young guy buying wire mesh. Porters in red vests used garden-like wheelbarrows to tote customer purchases to the parking lot or taxis. The souk was partially arranged by type of goods, and I soon was in the pet area, surrounded by cages of songbirds, lizards, turtles, rabbits. Many looked underfed and poorly cared for, depressing (clearly, there’s no Doha chapter of PETA). I drank a can of soda and pressed on.  Some scenes from the souk:

SoukStreet

SoukStall

SoukRelax

Goods-Triptych-2

Goods-Triptych-1

This is a traditional place, judging from clothing: lots of men in thawbs or the pajama-like dress. Almost every woman was in a burqa and headscarf (hijab), a few of which had the veil that covered all but the eyes.

An Indian construction worker with fresh chapatis for lunch

An Indian construction worker with fresh chapatis for lunch

Rounding the corner at the northwest edge of the souk, shimmering in the distance was the new Doha skyline. The contrast with a traditional bazaar could not have been more startling. I crossed a busy street and walked east along the Corniche, a bayfront promenade, past the harbor full of traditional boats called dhows, to the spectacular Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei.

The dhow harbor with the downtown skyline in the distance

The dhow harbor with the downtown skyline in the distance

A "fish" of trash

A “fish” of trash

Looking up from the museum lobby

Looking up from the museum lobby

I needed a jolt of coffee, and sat down in a very comfortable lobby café with a superb view of that bay and skyline. First stop was a temporary exhibit, “Kings and Pawns: Board Games from India to Spain.” Superb museum interpretation of “war games” (chess) and “race games” (parcheesi, backgammon, and snakes and ladders). Turns out the latter originated as a fun way to teach children moral principles. Who knew? Then it was time to see the permanent collection, which was eye-popping. The key difference was that art meant not painting and sculpture (though there was some of that), but mostly what the West calls decorative arts: dishware, jewelry, architectural detail, illustrated manuscripts, weapons, and more. I swept through galleries on two floors, then started again, to re-admire some of the stuff that really caught my eye:

Qur'an page, India, ca. 1500

Qur’an page, India, ca. 1500

Armor, Turkey, late 15th C.

Armor, Turkey, late 15th C.

Huqqa base, India, ca. 1700

Huqqa base, India, ca. 1700

Silk tapestry, Iran, ca. 1575

Silk tapestry, Iran, ca. 1575

 

Tile, Iran, 17th C.

Tile, Iran, 17th C.

Earring, Egypt, 12th C.

Earring, Egypt, 12th C.

Earthenware jar, northern Iraq, 13th C.

Earthenware jar, northern Iraq, 13th C.

Syrian door knocker, early 13th C.

Syrian door knocker, early 13th C.

War mask, Iran, 15th C.

War mask, Iran, 15th C.

Star tiles, Iran, 13th C.

Star tiles, Iran, 13th C.

Astrolabe, Spain, 1304

Astrolabe, Spain, 1304

Treatise on Mechanical Devices, Egypt, ca. 1275

Treatise on Mechanical Devices, Egypt, ca. 1275

The lobby café was pricey, but I was hungry, so I paused for a plate of chicken biryani, then hopped into a cab. I slapped my forehead as I headed back to the hotel: forgot that I needed to make some photocopies for the meeting the next day. With a bit of resourcefulness, I found a Kinko’s-like place two miles away; the hotel concierge who called to ensure they were open then offered a 50% discount on the hotel’s normal rate, which made it a likely wash (cheaper copies, but two taxi fares). Ya gotta admire enterprise!

Residential area near my hotel; vacant land was awaiting redevelopment

Residential area near my hotel; vacant land was awaiting redevelopment

Grabbed a nap and 15 miles on a fitness bike. At six I headed to the bar; was glad I had a frequent-stayer chit for a free drink. At least in that Muslim land they discourage the tippler: a beer cost more than in Sweden, the equivalent of $11. I confess that I felt a bit immoral, especially when the only other people in the bar were drinking water, juice or tea. After a cold one (and jotting notes for this journal on my iPhone), it was pedal to the metal with a young and chatty Egyptian taxi driver. He got a bit distracted and missed the turn, requiring a long detour around a huge construction site, Msheireb Downtown.

Happily, he dropped me right on time for my dinner booking at Khazana, owned Sanjeev Kapoor, an Indian celebrity chef (I love Indian food, but don’t track the TV cook-stars). I was almost the only one in the place, and enjoyed a nice T-t-S with the manager, who was from Chennai. It was pricey, but delicious, with huge portions. The waiter kindly offered to package it up “for takeaway, sah.” I was surprised and pleased, and told him I hated to waste food. I reckoned it could be lunch after our meeting the next day.

Because of construction, Khazana was in a sort of no-man’s land (part of the reason for its emptiness), so I walked diagonally across the Souk Waqif to a busy street and a taxi home. At nine on a Monday the souk was buzzing with life. Found myself on “falcon alley,” a string of five or six shops selling falcons and everything you needed to handle them. That was way local.

After flagging a cab on Banks Street (apparently named for the finance houses that line both sides for about three blocks), I asked the young Sri Lankan taxi driver if he wanted dinner, and happily parted with my leftovers. Asleep soon, a long and fascinating day.

Up just after dawn Monday, back to the Al Rasheem Grocery for breakfast stuff, then suited up. At 9:30 I met Rabih, a friendly Lebanese fellow from the organization that was subcontracting my services, and hopped in a taxi to the client offices. There we met his colleague Shikha, and we spent a couple of hours presenting. All went well, and there may be more work there, which would be good.

It was almost two, and I was hungry. On the taxi ride back to the hotel I spotted a couple of simple, local eateries a couple of blocks away, so after changing clothes I headed over, settling into the Jawahar Restaurant. Lots of stares, returned with smiles. Most of the diners appeared to be Indian, all tucking, with great gusto, into a big aluminum plate of rice with three stews, and with their (right) hands – no forks, no spoons. “When in Rome,” thought I, and in no time I was digging in, though with a spoon in my right hand. It really wasn’t so hard to be ambidextrous, and I chuckled when I thought about the last time local convention dictated a new hand-to-mouth skill: Osaka, Japan, November 1993, when I either learned to use chopsticks or go hungry! A friendly fellow brought seconds, ladled with a smile. What a place! I was chuckling to myself about going totally local in the Jawahar. I’m glad I’m still the adventurous traveler I was 40 years earlier. Smiled again at the front of the place, when the manager punched “9.00” on his calculator – $2.84 for the big meal and a can of 7-Up.

Scenes from my local lunch!

Scenes from my local lunch!

Ambled back to the hotel, did a bit of work, and hopped in a cab around the bay to the downtown area. Walked for a mile or so, then hopped on a free shuttle bus to cool off and see a bit more – like a Grey Line tour without the narration, and the cost! Jumped off at one of the several flashy malls that cab drivers extolled (and I politely replied, each time, that I wasn’t a shopper). This one had an ice rink. A little of modern commerce was enough, so walked to the basement of the mall and hopped in a cab with a Kenyan driver, a happy fellow with a good smile. His English was the best thus far, and I learned a lot about him. He was of the Mijikenda coastal people, from Mombasa. He had been in Qatar for three months, after two years next door in Saudi Arabia. Qatar, he said, was freer, but more expensive – running a red light costs you the equivalent of $1650 here, a huge chunk or yearly income. He said he could tell where in Africa men were from, by the way they walked: “See, there’s a Nigerian guy.” About halfway home he volunteered that his wife gave birth to their second child, Mohammed, yesterday. Maybe it was a scam, but even if it was I felt good handing him a tip that doubled the cost of the ride.

Downtown from the bayside Corniche

Downtown from the bayside Corniche

Construction sites create a sort of no-man's land downtown

Construction sites create a sort of no-man’s land downtown

Dueling styles: lots of non-rectangular glass and steel skyscrapers, and stone buildings that borrow traditional design idioms

Dueling styles: lots of non-rectangular glass and steel skyscrapers, and stone buildings that borrow traditional design idioms

Taxi drivers all recommended a visit to one of the many shopping malls; I managed five minutes in this one, with ice rink

Taxi drivers all recommended a visit to one of the many shopping malls; I managed five minutes in this one, with ice rink

My Kenyan driver, a lively and happy fellow

My Kenyan driver, a lively and happy fellow

Headed to the gym for a brief ride, then back to the bar for a free beer (on the second chit), then out for dinner. Like the night before, the young Nepali driver did not use the meter. Because I had lots of riyals and was leaving in 12 hours I didn’t ask the price as we left the hotel. When we got to the souk, I asked the price. He smiled and replied, “You decide, sir.” So I did. I headed back to the lively souk, to the restaurant area, where lots of people were sitting outside, many happily puffing on water pipes (shisha). Not my cup of tea. Spotted a Malaysian restaurant, and sat down outdoors for plates of chicken satay and spicy noodles. Back home, and fast asleep.

Was up at 5:30 Tuesday morning, over to the airport. I growled to myself in the Qatar Airways premium terminal, at people – largely fellow Americans, I’m sure – who were dressed like they were headed out to sweep their garage (not that many of them would ever do that). This lack of grace was especially visible in a conservative place like Qatar. A little adult supervision warranted.

One last T-t-S of the trip, with a very friendly young fellow, Dave, a health and safety consultant on oil rigs. Originally from Liverpool, he was living in Perth, Australia, and was enroute to a rig in the Libyan desert. Clearly a fearless soul. We covered a lot of topics in a short period, and it was a pleasure to yak with him. Before parting, we agreed that Talking to Strangers was a great thing while traveling, and I promised to send him my soon-to-be-published story on the topic. He agreed to email some photos of his Libyan gig. What fun those 20 minutes were!

Climbed on a long (13.8 hours, time for four movies), pleasant flight nonstop to Washington . We were late, and I did not walk in the front door until 6:30. The terriers were ready for a walk!

Postscript: I’m still unhappy with how WordPress software blurs the photos — every one of these was crisp before uploading.  Rather than delaying the post, I dispatch these with apologies.

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April Overseas 1: Sweden

I was home for a little more than a day – my own bed felt good, especially with Henry and MacKenzie snuggled on top – and at 5:15 the next day I took off on SAS for Copenhagen. The flight was way full, but I had a real ticket, and got a great exit-row seat with both legroom and a sense of space (the plane was an Airbus A340, a good-sized bird). The flight was fast, as were the connections in CPH and Stockholm, and I was in Umeå for the 18th time by 12:45, a day before I’d begin a week’s residence at the Umeå School of Business and Economics. My first visit was in 1994, so this was the 20th anniversary – USBE was the first overseas business school I visited. (April also marks the 25th anniversary of B-school guest lecturing, back to a first visit to Mac Noden’s airline management class at Cornell; indeed, I met my original USBE host, Kerstin Nilsson, when we were both visiting Ithaca.)

A foggy morning at Copenhagen Airport

A foggy morning at Copenhagen Airport

A first vignette of green Sweden: the bus from Arlanda to downtown Stockholm runs on canola oil

A first vignette of green Sweden: the bus from Arlanda to downtown Stockholm runs on canola oil

I had been in residence once before, for two weeks in 2009, and school policy for longer stays is a simpler but perfectly comfortable OK Hotell. It’s truly just that, okay but not fancy. Checked in, unpacked, took a needed shower, grabbed a sandwich at the convenience store next door, then took off on “my” bike – one of the great USBE traditions is provision of a two-wheeler, which is the way most of the town, young and old alike, get around. The tires needed air, and, happily, the hotel clerk had a hand pump that was a bit balky but managed to add a bit of pressure front and rear. And I was off!

For almost the whole two decades that I’ve visited, the splendid, wooded island of Bölesholmarna, in the Umeå River just upstream from the center, has been a magnet, so I headed there first. From the SAS flight 90 minutes earlier, I could see there was still snow and ice here and there, and the island had both of those as well as a lot of mud. Tough sledding, to mix sports! So I only made one circuit (1.5 miles), and headed back onto pavement. The bottoms of both pant legs were spattered with mud (happily, after it dried it simply brushed away, always good on your first day away with limited clothing!).

Rode west to Backen, past the wonderful old church, and north the Sculpture Park, about 50 works outdoors. We had visited in autumn 2008, on a spectacular fall day. It was gloomy, but I saw some cool stuff, and some “this is art?” stuff, too. Rode back to town, weaved around a bit, then back to the hotel. Grabbed a 20-minute nap, brought this journal up to date, read a bit, and at 5:45 got back on the bike to find dinner. Lots of stuff is closed on Sundays in Sweden, but the Bishops Arms, an attempt to reproduce an English pub, was open and pouring some nice ale from small Swedish breweries. Enjoyed some with a grilled salmon dinner. Slept hard.

Three sculptures from the roughly 50 in the Umeå sculpture park; I'm still wondering about that last one . . .

Three sculptures from the roughly 50 in the Umeå sculpture park; I’m still wondering about that last one . . .

Up early Monday morning, up the hill to the university. I didn’t have much to do on the first day, but it was fun to say Hej! (hello) to lots of old friends. Left campus at the end of the day, changed into bike shorts and tights (the saddle on the “comfort bike” was anything but, and I already had a sore rear), and rode 11 miles. The OK Hotel had a free, though rather limited, dinner buffet, and I tucked in.

Atrium, Umeå School of Business and Economics

Atrium, Umeå School of Business and Economics

Tuesday I had a meeting with the dean, Lars Hassel, a very good guy, a lecture in the afternoon, and another bike ride after work. High point that day was dinner at the Allstar, a sports bar downtown. I was there twice during my 2009 two-week residence, and they have big-screen TVs all over the place. When you arrive, the hostess asks you what you want to watch, and I knew the answer: game 5 of the semifinals in the Swedish Hockey League championships, Skellefteå, the 2012-13 SHL champs, against Linköping. In a country of 9.5 million, most SHL teams hail from smaller cities, and Skellefteå has only 32,000, plus it’s sort of local – in the same county (Västerbotten) as Umeå, about 80 miles north. I had a great seat, and the game started well, with Skellefteå scoring the first goal within about a minute. The Swedes stared as this fan erupted with cheers and a pumped fist, something I repeated twice more in period 1! Go S, go! Enjoyed a beer and a salmon burger (garnished with guacamole – something odd about eating that this close to the North Pole), and left after the second period. Caught the end of the game at the hotel, a 7-3 win. The European hockey style is different, and it was fun to watch.

Swedish Hockey League action on the huge TVs at the Allstar sports bar

Swedish Hockey League action on the huge TVs at the Allstar sports bar

As often happens, night two in Europe was a bit of toss-turn-toss-turn, so the Swedish coffee Wednesday morning was especially helpful. Gave a lecture in the morning and afternoon. Grabbed a short nap after work, and at 5:45 met Peter Vegh, a prof in the university’s culinary arts and tourism school (and host of my lecture earlier that day on airline service quality) at Lotta’s, a cozy bar and microbrewery. He’s a great fellow, very open, and we had a really fun chat and some fine home-brewed pale ale. I was not surprised that a food guy grows lots of fruits and vegetables in the summer (a greenhouse helps with warmth), but was intrigued by another summer pastime: he spends a few weeks each summer waiting tables at cutting-edge restraurants in Stockholm to pick up on the latest cuisine trends and techniques. Way cool. I missed my after-work bike ride, so near sunset (it was clear all day, a welcome respite from days of cloud) I pounded out eight miles. I’m grateful for a bike when I visit, but by day four I pined for my carbon-fiber road bike!

The path on the river island of Bölesholmarna, a favored place to ride, just upstream from downtown Umeå; I've ridden in the three warmer seasons; the winter track was muddy and not much fun.

Dusk on the path on the river island of Bölesholmarna, a favored place to ride, just upstream from downtown Umeå; I’ve ridden in the three warmer seasons; the winter track was muddy and not much fun.

Thursday saw me in meetings with the dean, senior leaders in the business school, and a wonderful fellow Minnesotan, Kjell Knudsen, retired dean of the B-school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Kjell was serving as a volunteer mentor, helping the school prepare an application for accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). After the meetings, I peeled off for another bike ride, rather unpleasant because of a howling south wind, out to the airport and around the island of Ön (in the river). At seven Kjell, Lars, and others gathered for dinner at TC Teater Cafeet, a fancy restaurant downtown. When we left the restaurant at nine, it was spitting sleet and freezing rain. Felt good to be back in the warm hotel room.

 

Up Friday, out the door for meetings. The sun came out at noon, and it warmed up a bit, but we were indoors. At 3:30, I rode the bike a block to the ePuben, the pub that the business students association, HHUS, runs. It was time for the second “drink and learn” lecture; the first one in September 2013 was a huge success, and we were looking for a repeat (90 minutes before the talk, I overheard one student ask, “Are you going to hear Rob Britton?” Yes, other replied, “and drink beer.” A good sign. The talk went well, good questions. Said goodbye to the students and rolled down the hill a last time.

Changed clothes and at 6:45 met Kjell and Lars for part a jazz concert (they had dinner reservations at 8:30, but I was going back to the OK to pack). Format was one set per group, and first up was FIVE38, two women from Paris, on long-neck guitar and hard. This was jazz? Really? WWBD (What would [Dave] Brubeck do?). The guitarist made much use of her wow-wow pedal. The program promised a “harp, liberated completely from its historic constraints.” It was yet another manifestation of gimmick as art, and as I whispered to Lars, a bad day for a headache! It got much better, with a brisk set by the Foyn Trio from Aarhus, Denmark: bass fiddle, guitar, and Live Foyn Friis, a young woman with a riveting voice. Finally, melody. We headed out, I rode back and clocked out.

Friday night jazz: one gimmick group and one legit.

Friday night jazz: one gimmick group and one legit.

Up early Saturday morning, seven o’clock taxi to the airport with a very chatty driver, then down to Stockholm. On arrival, I met two Master’s students from the Stockholm School of Economics, who heard me speak seven months earlier. They were doing a project on airport-airline partnerships, and I offered some strong views. At ten I peeled off, through security. First stop, the Swedish-design department of the duty-free shop. I had a specific item in mind and asked the clerk if she had silver moose napkin holders. “No, I’m sorry,” she said, “all we have are holders like painted horses.” I thanked her and started walking away, disappointed. “Wait,” she called, “are you looking for these?” Indeed, and I whooped with joy. “Your enthusiasm made my day,” she said, but I countered, “no, you made mine.” I told her the moose replaces an identical number that mysteriously disappeared in our move from Texas.

The jagged Swedish coast north of Stockholm, on approach to Arlanda Airport

The jagged Swedish coast north of Stockholm, on approach to Arlanda Airport

Farms north of Arlanda Airport

Farms north of Arlanda Airport

Success!  A moose napkin holder to replace the one that went missing in our move to Virginia.

Success! A moose napkin holder to replace the one that went missing in our move to Virginia.

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Dallas and Austin, Texas, and a Memorable Flight Home

With World War II veterans aboard American Airlines' Honor Flight to Washington

With World War II veterans aboard American Airlines’ Honor Flight to Washington

Second-quarter journeys started on the first day, up early and out the door to National Airport, then nonstop to DFW.   First stop, Hertz lost and found to retrieve the raincoat Linda left a few weeks earlier (happily, I have a 100% success rate in claiming lost items from Hertz, a string going back 20 years or more). Picked up a Budget car, a brand-new, red Ford Focus, and motored to the American Airlines Credit Union for a board meeting. Serious business concluded, I met a longtime friend, Anita, for a coffee at a nearby Starbucks.   Recently laid off from AA’s ad agency, Anita had worked tirelessly on the airline’s business for 34 years. Not much justice there, but the new leaders cut the ad budget. We had a good yak about retooling. I then headed to my “hotel,” the welcoming home of Peggy and Ken Gilbert in North Dallas. Jumped on a phone call for 45 minutes, then sat down for a quick beer. They are adventurous eaters, and proposed an Afghan restaurant in Plano. Zipped off in my red car, and in no time were tucking into some very savory food and good conversation.

Up early Wednesday morning, out with Ken to walk their two big dogs, Bella and Papi (the latter an immigrant from Tonga, a souvenir from their daughter Blair’s service in the Peace Corps). Peggy headed to work, and Ken and I peeled off for a coffee with another former AA colleague, Laura Freeland. Another great catch-up yak (I hadn’t seen Laura for a couple of years). Back home for a bit of work, then to lunch at a Korean joint with Laura 2, yet another former AA colleague. Fascinating conversation, much of it focused on her efforts to get a private high school funded and built; Cristo Rey is the organization, founded by Jesuits 20 years earlier in Chicago, with a commitment to provide quality schooling for students who could otherwise not afford the tuition. Back to Ken’s for a short nap, then up to SMU’s Plano campus for my twice-yearly talk to their Graduate Marketing Certificate Program. Always a fun presentation, tag team with Prof. Dan Howard, who I have known for more than two decades. Back to Ken’s for a quick visit, then lights out.

Was up well before six on Thursday morning, a bowl of cheerios, cup of coffee, and quick chat with Ken, then out the door, pedal to the metal to DFW airport. Traffic was light, and I was at the TSA barrier by 7:10. There, a T-t-S moment that brought great sadness: the TSA were giving a FEMA officer and his dog were the third degree (don’t get me started on the silliness of a uniformed and credentialed Federal employee encountering such treatment). Admiring the dog, I quietly asked the officer about the hound’s skills. “He’s a cadaver dog,” he replied matter of factly. “We’re going up to Washington to try to find mudslide victims.” I thanked him and the dog for their service and walked away, in tears. God bless them, and the victims. Hard work, and unhappy work.

Flew to Austin, Texas, landing at 9:20, and ambled briskly to catch the 9:30 Airport Flyer bus. No doubt drivers waiting in the long taxi rank were surprised to see a suit walk past them to the bus stop, but the T-Geek always favors public transit, and $1.50 works. At 10:05 I hopped off on the east end of the University of Texas campus, right in the shadow of the massive football stadium. It was good to be back at UT after a three-year absence.

A little piece of the Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium

A little piece of the Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium

The place is huge, but with a good feel, and a many wonderful older buildings with lots of architectural detail. My jaw was slack as I admired a series of friezes just below the roofline on one, depicting the old Texas: a pack horse, burros, a cattle head, a dagger. It reminded me of a sign on an outside wall of the Texas State History Museum: “Opportunity. Identity. Land.” Not a sentence, but it clear expressed the much of the state’s ethos for decades. I miss Texas.

UT-3

UT-2

UT

At 10:45, I met my new host, Ying Zhang, a young and energetic fellow, and from 11:00 to 12:30 delivered a lecture to an undergrad marketing class.  We walked a few blocks to Mercado for a Tex-Mex lunch and a good chat about the airline business in China – Ying goes back and forth a lot, and knows a lot. Headed back to the school, worked my email, and repeated the lecture to the afternoon class. At 3:20 I said goodbye and ambled a few blocks west to the Hotel Ella, a fancy boutique place. Checked in, changed into shorts, and headed to the fitness center, only to find no bike. Ugh. So a nap was the next best thing!

Austin's tallest building; the place continues to grow rapidly

Austin’s tallest building; the place continues to grow rapidly

The Container Bar, built from, yep, shipping containers

The Container Bar, built from, yep, shipping containers

Change on Rainey Street; the temporary structures at left are offices for a high-rise condo (not visible).  The fate of the cottage at right is just about sealed.

Change on Rainey Street; the temporary structures at left are offices for a high-rise condo (not visible). The fate of the cottage at right is just about sealed.

At 5:20 one of the bellman, an affable young fellow from the Florida panhandle, drove me toward dinner in one of the hotel’s courtesy cars. A nice service, but we got caught in the serious traffic that is Austin’s worst aspect. When we got within a mile of my destination, I handed him a tip, hopped out, and walked the rest of the way, briskly. Met still another former AA buddy, John Morton, who has lived in Austin for a decade. Dinner venue was Banger’s, a popular place for beer and sausage, on the southeast edge of downtown (the street was a mix of one-story houses and little joints, and I suspect it will be gone in a few years as residential high-rises continue to sprout). We had fun catching up, plus some seriously good local microbrews. Morty kindly drove me back to the hotel and I was asleep way early.

John Morton

John Morton

Austin bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World," so it wasn't surprising to see a crooner at Banger's

Austin bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” so it wasn’t surprising to see a crooner at Banger’s

Way early, because I was up at 4:05 and in a taxi with a chatty driver from Pakistan at 4:30. No traffic at that hour, so it was a quick ride to the airport. Short flight back to DFW, a bit of work in the Admirals Club, then the most interesting flight, maybe of my entire life . . .

As I approached the gate for AA1033 to Washington, I saw a crowd, lots of people in red shirts, and flags. Moving closer, I heard most of the people singing the national anthem, and I immediately realized what it was: an Honor Flight. I stopped, put my hand on my heart, and listened to the song, whispering “land of the free, and the home of the brave.” Less than a minute later – I was still not at the gate – a former colleague from AA Flight Service recognized me, explaining that she was helping with the flight, 39 World War II veterans headed to D.C. for a weekend of recognition. Without hesitation, I handed her my First Class boarding pass and asked her to find a soldier to sit in a big seat.   She went off, and I watched the men – and a few former WACs and WAVEs – board the flight to applause and cheers.

Hero1

The memory of my dad’s war service and the lifetime of subsequent injury makes me pretty emotional in situations like that; tears started to flow, and ran many times that morning. I had already said my morning prayers, and like every morning I had give thanks to God for all who had preserved freedom and nation. Now I was face to face with them.   As I boarded, I introduced myself to Charlie Boyd, sitting in the seat I happily yielded. Across the aisle from my seat in row 9, I also thanked a fellow for his service, and several more. Word of my seat swap had spread among the volunteers, and they all thought it was some big deal, but I waved it off. How could I not do the right thing? For much of the flight I yakked with Linda, a retired nurse who volunteers for these trips in case medical care is needed – after all, 26 of the 39 were more than 90 years old. An historian of sorts rides along, capturing stories of their service, bravery, and privation. Just one example: on board was a former POW who in 1945 was starving. He somehow caught a pigeon and found a potato on the road. He plucked the bird and hit it in his sock. Periodically, the guards let the prisoners wash their socks in scalding water, and the soldier managed to “just sort of” cook a meal.

When we arrived, the regular passengers got off first. There was more ceremony at the gate, and people waiting for the departing flight and dozens of others thronged the area. I was not in a hurry, so I parked my bag in a “front row” spot and cheered and clapped one more time as the honorees came off the plane. Many sported big grins, some were in tears. We can never repay them, but we can and must remember them each day.

It was quite a morning.

The veterans got on buses, bound for the World War II Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and other hallowed places, and I hopped on the Metro to Rosslyn and the shuttle across the Potomac to Georgetown, where I delivered a lecture to incoming MBA students.

 

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