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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.