Monthly Archives: June 2014

Onto the Convention Speaking Circuit

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Fancy lockset on the floor of the Door and Hardware Institute trade show, Dallas, Texas

On the last Wednesday of the quarter, I flew to DFW, landing in pelting rain much welcomed by Texans (the reservoir that was our water supply for 25 years is only 50% full). I was bound for a nice paying gig, delivering a four short breakout sessions the following day at the convention of the Door and Hardware Institute. They found me through a speakers’ bureau that I joined a couple of years ago, but never did get any work. To save the good people at DHI a few bucks, I hopped in a shared-ride van, and to my delight the only other passenger was also headed to the convention; Bill provided a lot of introduction to who would be there, the challenges of the “openings industry,” and more. As in other sectors, lots of consolidation underway, but still a fairly traditional distribution method, with small rep firms.

We hopped out at the Hilton Anatole, a few miles northwest of downtown Dallas. I smiled as I walked in, because the hotel was where Linda and I stayed one night in May 1987, when we flew down to see if Dallas was a place where we’d want to live. The kind DHI folks upgraded me to a posh and way-big junior suite. Nice! Not so nice was the proposed $16 to use the gym; as you fellow travelers know, there’s a remarkable disconnect in lodging: the mid-market places like Holiday Inn and Hilton Garden Inn give you gyms, wi-fi, and such for free, but the fancy places charge for it. So I headed back to the suite and took a nap.

At 6:30 my friend Randy Essell rolled up in his enormous black SUV, and we motored a mile or so east to Herrera’s a great Tex-Mex place. I hadn’t been there in four or five years, and we drove right past. But it wasn’t this navigator’s incompetence, the café moved across Maple Avenue, a temporary move until a new and bigger place opens later in the summer. Randy and I tucked into some really fine salsa, huge plates, a cold Tecate, and a lot of good chatter. Always good to connect with another airline veteran.

Next morning it was time to stand and deliver, and I think my first foray into this kind of work went well. I had done a bit more homework to prepare for short sessions on transition to retirement and succession planning. It was fun (I’m waiting for the formal reviews from DHI, but they seemed pleased). After the talks I roamed the trade-show floor, admiring digital locks, security systems, and all manner of doors. For the curious, trade shows are way interesting.

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At three I said goodbye and walked outside for a taxi to DFW. There was a line of buses, and a fellow yelled “which airline?” I replied “American,” and he directed me to the first bus. Nice little bit of hitchhiking. The coaches were chartered by Allergan, a name I vaguely recognized as pharma. Indeed, I learned later, they’re the makers of BOTOX, so I didn’t feel too badly about copping a free ride. I kept my eyes closed the whole ride in case someone tried to bust me. Hell, all they needed to do was look at my wrinkly face, but I hopped off at DFW $35 richer! Flew home, landing late, a long day. Let’s hope there are more opps like DHI. They paid well, it was not hard, I added value, and it was really fun.

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New York on the Last Day of Spring

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Street scene, Dumbo, Brooklyn

 

On Friday, June 19 I zipped up to New York for the day to see some friends. Flew into LaGuardia on a perfectly clear day, with superb views of Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Hopped the new Q70 express bus to Jackson Heights, then the E train into the city, to Penn Station.

On approach to LaGuardia Airport

On approach to LaGuardia Airport

On approach to LGA, we flew over the site of the 1964 New York World's Fair, with the Unisphere, a huge stainless-steel globe centerpiece

Just before landing, we flew over the site of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, with the Unisphere, a huge stainless-steel globe centerpiece

First stop was lunch with some airline friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, around the corner from Madison Square Garden. Dropped into a Starbucks for some work, then downtown for a quick look-see at redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. Since the September 11 attacks, I’ve only been there twice, once the following summer (2002), when it was basically a fenced-in big hole in the ground, still radiating a lot of emotion, and again in winter 2010, when construction was just underway. On the last day of spring 2014, a lot was completed – the 104-story Freedom Tower looked ready for occupancy, the new 9/11 memorial and museum was open (though I didn’t have time for a visit), and they were making progress on the way-over-budget transit hub designed by Santiago Calatrava (in the wake of an increasing number of reports of budget overruns, inattention to detail, and other woes, I am having serious reservations about his stardom).

From Eric Fischl's 2003 "Garden of Circus Delights," a series of glass mosaics in the Penn Station subway concourse

From Eric Fischl’s 2003 “Garden of Circus Delights,” a series of glass mosaics in the Penn Station subway concourse

 

My Starbucks "office," W. 35th Street

My Starbucks “office,” W. 35th Street

Redevelopment at the World Trade Center

Redevelopment at the World Trade Center

Then headed to the best stop of the day, under the East River to the neighborhood called Dumbo, short for “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass.”  I walked down Jay Street to the river, past lots of hip youngsters. The view west to lower Manhattan was way cool. Every minute or so, trains would roar above, crossing the bridge. Redevelopment of a park was underway. Further north, the John Street Pasture, a field of red clover that, according to the sign, “is a temporary living earthwork that celebrates green space, agriculture, and the transitional nature of urban land.” Except for a lot of bees eagerly working the clover blossoms, it was empty. I could imagine a goats or sheep happily grazing the lush acreage. In the next block I came across a curious workshop, no front wall, just open air. As I was trying to figure out the place, Colin Touhey returned and explained that his company, Pvilion, designs, makes and installs flexible fabric solar structures. They use thin film solar cells laminated into fabrics and plastics, anything flexible. Whew. I could hear the low hum of brain power all along the street. I shook Colin’s hand, thanked him for taking time, and moved on.

Street scene, Dumbo; a pier of Roebling's Brooklyn Bridge is in the background

Street scene, Dumbo; a pier of Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge is in the background

Lower Manhattan from Dumbo

Lower Manhattan from Dumbo

 

John Street Pasture and the Manhattan Bridge

John Street Pasture and the Manhattan Bridge

Red clover in the pasture

Red clover in the pasture

Pvilion workshop, John Street

Pvilion workshop, John Street

At the foot of Jay Street, I met Emily Sheppard, youngest child of my friend Jack Sheppard, who I met at Wharton in 1983 and who died a decade later, way too soon, at age 49. Though I see Jack’s wife Martha every few years – including just a month earlier, here in Washington – I had not seen Emily since she was a teenager, more than 20 years ago. She’s a partner in the Brooklyn Roasting Company, a specialty coffee company, with a good wholesale business and two very funky cafes. We had a look at their roasting operation, café, offices, enjoyed a sensational decaf Ethiopian cappuccino, and got a little caught up with two decades of an interesting young life. I was glad to reconnect.

Brooklyn Roasting Company, Jay Street

Brooklyn Roasting Company, Jay Street

 

Global beans awaiting the roast

Global beans awaiting the roast

Emily and your scribe

Hopped back on the subway, F train through Manhattan to Jackson Heights, the fast bus to LGA, and US Airways home to D.C. A fine day off.

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Manhattan, on departure

 

 

 

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New Page: 50 Years on Skinny Tires

If I were a more proficient blogger, or perhaps younger, I’d know how to put a small spotlight on an essay I just posted, accessible from the blog’s home page.  June 2014 marks 50 years riding road bikes, and because bicycling has been a big part of my life, I wanted to mark the milestone.  Hope you enjoy it.

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Dallas/FortWorth, Nearby, and Chicago

Oak Street Beach, Chicago

Oak Street Beach, Chicago

I was home two nights, and on Thursday, May 22 left home early, and flew to Dallas/Fort Worth for the annual meeting of the American Airlines Credit Union. I had served on their board of directors for almost 12 years, and this was my last meeting. I would have been happy to continue to serve, but retired employees like me were too large a share of total, plus we needed to make room for former US Airways employees. First stop was a quick lunch with friends Ken Gilbert and Nisha Pasha; coincidentally, American’s Asian employee resource groups were staging a lunchtime program in the corporate headquarters, and Ken and I got to watch Nisha do some traditional Indian dances, resplendent in a red sari. Afterwards, I sat with several Indian and Pakistani employees and had a nice chat. E pluribus unum!

Nisha drove me to a nearby hotel, I worked for a bit, rode a fitness bike, and walked a few blocks down Trinity Blvd. to the credit union.   I was a bit sad, because the AACU connection was my final link to American Airlines, a relationship that began almost 27 years earlier. Indeed, as I walked, I spotted the apartments where I lived for three months in fall 1987, before the family moved into our new house.

My neighborhood for three months in 1987; the rented apartment, dubbed "Taco Villa," is in the distance

My first Texas neighborhood; the rented apartment, dubbed “Taco Villa,” is in the distance

AACU CEO Angie Owens gave me a moment to deliver a short talk. Here it is:

Good afternoon. I am honored and pleased to have served 12 years as a board member for your credit union. That service has been facilitated by great leadership and an outstanding staff, and I salute your commitment, experience, and passion.

Although I appreciate and respect most parts of our free-enterprise economy, I strongly believe that when it comes to our money, the cooperative model – the credit union model – serves working Americans better than banks do. There are some parts of the economy where profit is a powerful and effective motivator, but when it comes to the basics of saving and borrowing, and of helping manage our money, the member-owned solution is the best one. And that’s even before we consider all the damage that commercial banks have wrought to the national and global economy in recent years. Had they run their banks with the care and prudence of our credit union, we would not have endured the worst financial turndown since the Great Depression.

Since 2002, I have served the credit union to the best of my ability, always keeping your interests foremost.   As you may know, none of us earn a dime for our service. But volunteering provides its own rewards – something that each of you who gives freely to school or church or nonprofit already knows.

Although everyone eligible to belong to the AACU is very welcome indeed, I want to end by lifting up all the member-owners who work for American Airlines. You have endured enormous professional and personal challenges, and a lot of bad news, during the past 15 years, and your persistence and resolve are unmatched in any industry or company. I salute all AAers in the Credit Union and thank you for your continued service in providing safe, reliable air transport. But, as you know, it is more than that. What American Airlines people do is to bring people together, and there are few labors as wonderful as that.

Thank you again for your trust in me as a member of the board.

AACU-Speech

The meeting was over soon after. I lingered a bit, shaking hands, hugging a few dear friends, and saying goodbye. Another departing board member, Rob Friedman, drove me back to the hotel. And a chapter ended.

At 6:30, longtime mentee Jay Shelat picked me up and we headed out to dinner. Jay is another immigrant from India, so we headed to Pasand, a nearby Indian place I’ve liked for a decade. We had a swell dinner and a long chat across a lot of airline and aviation topics.

Was up early Friday morning, worked a bit, then headed to the airport in time to meet one more AA friend, Laura Burnett, who heads the flight attendant crew base at DFW, a big job, more than 5,000 employees. We had a great catch-up – it had been a couple of years – and some laughs. I have long appreciated her candor and perspective on the airline business. She walked me to my gate, and on the way we ran into another American stalwart, Captain Bob Johnson. I hadn’t seen Bob in years, and was delighted to learn that as a result of the merger, he got a super promotion and was now responsible for five of American’s pilot crew bases, as well as flight operations in western North America, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific. After I said goodbye to Laura and Bob I was again wistful; the decision to take early retirement in 2006 made sense and still does, but I truly miss the superb people I was privileged to work with, and the opportunity to be part of a large and complex operation – a business, as I described in my speech the day before, that does so much good for so many people.

I don’t usually write about little sorties close to home, but on Memorial Day (for non U.S. readers: a national holiday to remember those who served in the military) I hopped on my bike and rode to Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River from Washington. Their morning ceremony was packed and access was cumbersome, so I rode across the bridge and a mile to the World War II Memorial, which was in any case the most important stop, for it was the opportunity to thank my dad, Captain Britton, for his service to freedom and nation in World War II. The memorial is circular, half for Atlantic battles and half for the Pacific, with outer pillars marking each state and territory. I located the Montana column, and beneath it laid a yellow rose and a sheet:  WW2

 

I then walked along the arc of granite slabs that marked the major Pacific battles, and his team fought in four of them. Others who still remember had laid flowers and photos (next to the Montana column, a picture of the six Jacobson brothers from North Dakota was a poignant reminder of just how many served and how deeply families were involved). I didn’t really intend to see if anyone noticed what I wrote about my dad, and I couldn’t resist striking up a conversation with a couple of them. One fellow asked to take my picture next to my remembrance. I was touched that they also took the time to remember and to thank.

Battles

Witness

Adjacent to the memorial were some shady benches, and I plopped down to think. Soon I was in a great T-t-S moment with some visitors from Pennsylvania, and soon after that, with them and Steve, a sergeant major in the Army, and his wife. Steve was just about to retire after 28 years of service, and looked great in full-dress uniform and beret. It was good to thank a living servant of nation. Although as a citizen I have long questioned U.S. presidents’ decisions to deploy troops, I have long had total respect and admiration for those who serve. (And as regular readers know, believe strongly in mandatory service, so politicians’ make better decisions, knowing that their sons and daughters and those of the well-to-do would share the burden.) Steve and his wife, both from Green Bay and headed there soon, were very honest about the challenges of his many years.

SgtSteve

It was truly Memorial Day.

Three days later, I headed west to Chicago, early morning, for my annual talk at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Hopped on the bus for a slow ride east from O’Hare to Evanston, the leafy older suburb adjacent to the university. At 11, I met my long hose Anne Coughlan, and for the first time in several years my airline friend Gary Doernhoefer. Together, we would teach the evening class. We had a good yak, some lunch, prep for the class, and in mid-afternoon drove south on Lake Shore Drive to the downtown campus. It was a spectacular day, and Gary reminisced a bit about living in Chicago while in law school (U. of C.). It was great to be on the shores of Lake Michigan; as I have written many times, the Great Lakes are a spectacular resource.

We had dinner with ten students in the class, then had a great 110 minutes with them, discussing various aspects of airline sales and distribution. At eight, we peeled off, dropping my stuff at my hotel and heading south on Michigan Avenue to an agreeable bar and restaurant in the old Chicago Tribune building. Gary had found the place some months earlier, and enthused about their huge selection of craft beers. We enjoyed a couple of glasses from local producers, had a great yak and some laughs, and parted ways. Always good to spend time with Gary.

Was up early the next morning (the one-hour time difference from home does that now), to the gym, then out to find some coffee and breakfast. I had a couple of hours, so went for a nice walk along the lake, into the sand at Oak Street Beach, and back. Chicago is such a cool city, for the big lake, the stunning architecture, the energy, and the greater civility of the Midwest.

The south view from the hotel fitness center

The south view from the hotel fitness center

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Oak Street Beach, looking south

Apartments designed by Mies van der Rohe, one of Chicago's -- and the world's -- most influential modern architects; plain, steel, and glass, that was his style

Apartments designed by Mies van der Rohe, one of Chicago’s — and the world’s — most influential modern architects; plain, steel, and glass, that was his style

Inner Chicago is constantly being remade; this 1960s era hospital, by the same architect who designed the famous round Marina City a mile south, was making way for a new building

Inner Chicago is constantly being remade; this 1960s-era hospital, by the same architect who designed the famous round Marina City towers a mile south, was making way for a new building on the Northwestern downtown campus.

At 10:30 I checked out, walked several blocks west, and hopped on the CTA subway (the “El”), changing to the Brown Line and rolling north to the Ravenswood neighborhood. At 11:30 I met Cousin Jim, who as a real-estate agent was showing prospective buyers a $650,000 duplex on Winchester Ave. We hopped in his car and drove a few blocks to Lincoln Square, and a caloric lunch (sloppy joe, first one in years and years, with a mountain of Tater Tots) at a corner bar, with good catch-up yak. He drove me to O’Hare, and I flew home.

 

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