Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Minnesota State Fair and “Up North”

Concession stand, Minnesota State Fair

Concession stand, Minnesota State Fair

On Thursday morning, August 21, way, way before first light, Linda drove me to National Airport and I flew west to Chicago, arriving just after 7:00 in rain and storm. Hopped on a connecting American Eagle flight north to Minnesota – time for the third recurrent trip of the month, to the Minnesota State Fair – but things derailed, to change transport metaphors. After taxiing around O’Hare for an hour, we returned to the gate and the flight canceled, because of bad weather northwest of us. I was on standby for the next flight, at noon, and I whooped noisily when the gate agent called my name, hopped on, and took off. The plan was to spend the afternoon at the fair with pals Rick Dow (my amigo from SABF in Argentina) and high-school buddy Bob Woehrle. But with a 2:30 arrival we scrubbed that mission, opting for an early start Friday morning. Unhappily, Bob had other plans, so it would be just Rick and me.

I picked up a Hertz car and headed to a Dairy Queen in suburban Richfield for a late liquid lunch, an enormous chocolate malt, then headed to Southdale, a shopping mall. Say what? Rob in a mall? I didn’t buy anything; it was a pure nostalgia trip, back to a place we frequented when we were young. Indeed, we were there the day it opened in July 1956, my mom, brother, and I, admiring what was the first indoor shopping center in the nation. Any mall 58 years old will have gone through waves of renovation, and I was curious: were the two large, abstract brass trees still in the center atrium. Indeed they were, as was a huge, 1950s-style wall clock. Way cool!

The original brass trees, Southdale Center, Edina, Minnesota

The original brass trees, Southdale Center, Edina, Minnesota

I motored around my hometown, Edina, an affluent place (and looking more so in recent years), and by 4:30 was in the driveway of Murph and Rick Dow’s cool Edina home. They lived in Minnesota for some years, raised their three kids there, but for more than a decade lived in an analogous suburb of Chicago. Murph opened the door and it was so great to see her – I see Rick quite a bit, but for her it had been eight years. Rick was running errands, so Murph and I sat in the kitchen and got caught up. It was great fun.

An hour later, we were sitting on their deck enjoying a drink and some really fine hors d’oeuvres that Murph made. An hour after that we were tucking into a seriously large and delicious salmon dinner and an Oregon pinot noir. And a lot of great conversation, some focused on the outstanding folk art that Rick collected on his many trips through the South. After dessert I was plumb wore out, and was asleep not long after nine.

BedroomView

Up early, fair time. I was so excited. Said goodbye to Murph, and Rick and I motored around traffic, only to get stuck in a massive jam waiting to park at the fair (I made a silly decision to divert from my usual parking area; won’t do that again). But we were in the gates by eight, and made fast for a sit-down breakfast. The fair is filled with on-a-stick-food, but we wanted a traditional start, and found the old-school (“Since 1937”) dining hall of the Robbinsdale Order of the Eastern Star. Robbinsdale is a Minneapolis suburb, and the OES is the women’s part of the Masons; on the napkin holders at table was a short description of their good work, and Rick and I felt good about the meal and their charity. Volunteerism at its best.

4H

Regular readers know that my fair visits – haven’t missed one since the mid-1980s and I guess I’ve been nearly 50 times – are formulaic. Five or six stops and were done. So we ambled up to stop one, the fine arts exhibition, where for nearly 30 years we’ve bought wonderful art. We got there early, and had a nice yak on a bench in front about Rick’s mom and dad and other kin; he’s a great storyteller, and it was a pleasant wait. At 9:00 we headed in, and I was again reminded that it pays to get to the show the first or second day, because I found an absolutely outstanding oil, entitled “Making Concessions,” by Jennifer Horton. Sold! Rick also bought art, a way-cool photograph.

A rather poor photograph of Jennifer Horton's oil painting "Making Concessions"

A portion of Jennifer Horton’s oil painting “Making Concessions”

On our way to stop two, the Creative Activities building, we paused and had a nice chat with Bob, a 92-year-old former small-town newspaper publisher (Rick shares my zeal for Talking to Strangers) staffing the small Minnesota Newspaper Museum, then walked through the 4-H building. As it is every year, the diverse stuff on view in Creative Activities was eye-popping. Layer cakes, cookies, knitwear, woven rugs, woodworking, stuff by men, by women, by kids. The aggregate hours spent making all of it were close to infinity, or so it seemed. As always, people were demonstrating their skill, and I chatted with a young woman who taught herself bobbin weaving.

Bob Shaw, lifetime newspaperman

Bob Shaw, lifetime newspaperman

Craft-1

Bobbin weaver

 

From whimsy to serious composition in the Creative Activities building (the oeuvre at left are crocheted hamsters)

From whimsy to serious composition in the Creative Activities building (the oeuvre at left are crocheted hamsters)

The Homel Company, makers of Spam canned pork shoulder, dispatched a couple of ambassadors to promote in advance of judging the best Spam recipe of 2014

The Hormel Company, makers of Spam canned pork shoulder, dispatched a couple of ambassadors to promote in advance of judging the best Spam recipe of 2014

Stop three was the Horticulture Building, a splendid WPA-era building with six or eight wings showcasing all sorts of stuff. Crop art for starters, then flowers, then something I had not seen in all my years at the fair: an exhibit of the Minnesota Mycological Society, mushroom people. Two true-believer volunteers explained and answered questions, and one of the pair wase delighted to meet a couple of curious souls. Like a sea-siren, the Minnesota Craft Brewers’ Guild beckoned, with its opportunity to sample from dozens of small producers. It was only 10:30, but the opportunity could not be passed, so we shared two “flights” of four small glasses. There were some weak brews, but some splendid stuff, too, especially from the up-and-coming (and curiously named) Surly Brewing Co. More T-t-S while we tippled.

Specimens at the Minnesota Mycological Society exhibit

Specimens at the Minnesota Mycological Society exhibit

Cottage Grove Strawberry Festival ambassadors

Cottage Grove Strawberry Festival ambassadors

State Fair police, keeping order

State Fair police, keeping order

Final stop, for more than 90 minutes, were the animal barns. For the first 4 days of the 12-day fair the 4-H kids hold forth, and they were all great fun. We began with chickens, ducks, and geese, then rabbits, then into the sheep barn, where judging of the large, solid Columbia breed was underway (for a city guy, I know my animals). We watched the final winnowing, saluted the blue-ribbon winner, and moved on. By ritual, I paused at the table where visitors can help themselves to newly-shorn fleece and picked up a chunk, squeezing it for the lanolin that protects the beasts in rain and snow, and smelling the earth in the fiber. Domestic animals are such a gift, and the chance to see, touch, smell, and hear them each year is a true blessing, and a nice reminder that long before the supermarket there are families willing to endure a lot of uncertainty and hardship to bring forth food and fiber.

Rooster

4-H member from Hubbard County with her Australorp rooster

4-H member from Hubbard County with her Australorp rooster

4-H member awaiting the judge's decision on the best Columbia sheep

4-H member awaiting the judge’s decision on the best Columbia sheep

In the cattle barn, kids were hosing down their beasts in the “shower stalls,” and in the aisles they were prettying their best, spray-painting hooves, drying, trimming, shining. Time was running out, so we zipped quickly through the hog barn, admiring the sow with a litter of 12, then heading out. Rick had a call at 1:00, so we hugged and parted. I grabbed a corn dog, then headed to the car. It was one of the better fair visits ever, I think largely because Rick and I are so simpatico and share a lot of values.

Heifer

4H-4

In no time I was zipping northwest on Interstate 94, then U.S. Highway 10, then Minnesota Highway 25, through Foley, Buckman, Pierz, and Genola. Past Brainerd, and onto Crow Wing County 3 through Crosslake to my pal-since-1963 Tim McGlynn’s cabin on Big Trout Lake. Got there at 4:30, hugs and smiles. I missed him in 2013, so it was great to be back. We yakked a bit, then I jumped in the lake to clean off the road dirt. Grabbed a beer on the dock, yakked some more, then hopped in his boat and motored a mile east to a big dinner of walleye, a wonderful Up North fish, at a local lodge.

Sunset, Big Trout Lake, Crow Wing County, Minnesota

Sunset, Big Trout Lake, Crow Wing County, Minnesota

I woke Saturday to the cry of the loon, one of my favorite. It is the sound of the North Woods. Had a cup of coffee and more chatter, then borrowed one of Tim’s cool mountain bikes for a ride into Crosslake and breakfast with George Rasmusson, a former colleague from Republic Airlines and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. We had a great meal and a better yak, laughing hard. It had been three years. To keep busy, he’s become an excursion boat captain on Pelican Lake, and had some great stories from that job, and the airline biz before that. He’s a character.

George Rasmusson

George Rasmusson

Rode back to the cabin, hopped in Tim’s new, scaled-down motorhome (his house in the winter, which he spends out west, skiing and snowboarding), and headed north and west to look at a building lot he’s considering. He wants to downsize to a summer-only place, in a quieter location. The lake district in central Minnesota was always pretty built-up, and the retirement of baby boomers is making it more so.

Tim McGlynn and son Charlie

Tim McGlynn and son Charlie

At three we got back in the boat and headed through a chain of lakes to Bill and Sally Terry’s cabin, picked up four passengers, and headed to Moonlite Bay to listen to the Elements, a rock band of older guys and one of their kids. Way fun. Drank beer, met old pals, danced a bit (my knees felt in for days), carried on like we were young again. Not! At 6:30 we motored home, washed up, and headed by car to the Terrys for dinner – it’s a traditional annual event, and it’s always big fun, with plenty to eat and drink. I had to be up early the next day, so we were home by 11.

I planned to take a bike ride at dawn Sunday, but a storm came through at four, so I packed up, had a cup of coffee, hugged Tim, and headed back to the Twin Cities in driving rain. I took a different, more interesting route home, skirting the shore of the vast Mille Lacs Lake, third largest in a state of big lakes. It was still stormy, and the water looked angry. It was a cool sight. Stopped for breakfast at a small-town café, K-Bob’s in Princeton, then headed into town. I had just a bit of extra time, to I parked at Lexington and University and hopped on the new Green Line light rail, riding seven stops west to Stadium Village, in the shadow of the new University of Minnesota football field. Nice system, and well-planned new development along the line, on a street long in need of fresh blood.

GreenLine-2

Green Line train at the new U of M stadium, and new transit-oriented development along University Avenue

At 11, I met another decades-long pal, Bob Woehrle, for a cup of coffee near our old house in St. Paul. Had a great catch-up yak, plenty of laughs, then zipped back to the airport and flew home.

 

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Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Sunrise, Willet Pond

Sunrise, Willet Pond

Descending into Charleston, the view below was emerald. It rains a lot in South Carolina, and with the powerful sun trees grow quickly; the pine plantations below destined to become paper of all kinds. Linda, Robin, Dylan, and Carson picked me up in a rented minivan and we made fast for one of my favorite restaurants in the South, the Hominy Grill. When we turned off the freeway onto a local street, I smiled broadly, for here was an authentic landscape in that historic town. A young black man rode by on a bicycle, grocery bags hanging from the handlebars; leafy trees crowned the road, and flowering shrubs on the verges below; clapboard homes built 150 years earlier lined the streets on both sides; and deep potholes invited us to slow down.

Flower

In no time we were toasting our good fortune, me with a local pale ale. Tucked into a vegetable plate, shared dessert, and left the Hominy in a good spot. Drove to Kiawah at dusk, unpacked, and slept hard. Rose before dawn and hopped on a rented bike; they’re clunkers, but after four previous vacations on the island I knew them well, and was happy to be on a two-wheeler after days on foot in Argentina.

Vegetable plate, Hominy Grill, Charleston

Vegetable plate, Hominy Grill, Charleston

Riding east toward the end of the island, I got thinking about new places and familiar ones. Although I like to discover the former – like Jakarta several weeks earlier, what a cool experience – returning to well-trod paths is also good. I thought about childhood vacations, when for almost a decade we returned to the same rustic resort in northern Minnesota. The ladies all like Kiawah, and I do, too.

Cheers in the Sanctuary bar

Cheers in the Sanctuary bar

Carson at the beach

Carson at the beach

 

Dylan at the pool

Dylan at the pool

The days fell into a rhythm: biking 15 or more miles before breakfast, out to admire the green and especially the remarkable fauna, principally water birds and a lot of alligators (at a distance). We alternated between a fun, kid-oriented swimming pool and the lovely wide beach, the latter walking distance from our villa. Nap after lunch, a beer on the porch with a good book, out to dinner, and more reading before bed. The days passed quickly. It was fun to be with Carson and Dylan, who love the place.

Early morning on the wetlands on the east end of the island

Early morning on the wetlands on the east end of the island

The view from our bedroom

The view from our bedroom

Kiawah teems with wildlife: deer, water birds, and lots of alligators; Dylan, Carson, and I were fascinated by this guy, who climbed out of the pond to warm up his cold-blooded body

Kiawah teems with wildlife: deer, water birds, and lots of alligators; Dylan, Carson, and I were fascinated by this guy, who climbed out of the pond to warm up his cold-blooded body

We flew home on Sunday, August 17, and it was good to be home after 12 days.

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Buenos Aires and the South American Business Forum

The baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), Buenos Aires

The baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), Buenos Aires

On the way home from Indonesia, I was feeling about a quart low, and indeed I contracted shingles, sort of like chicken pox for older adults. Didn’t have anything to do with tropical pathogens, the doctor said stress often triggers the onset (well, yeah, like getting your phone stolen, leaving your passport at the hotel, etc.!). It’s uncomfortable, to me not debilitating, but persistent.

Persistence meant I still had some symptoms when I departed Tuesday, August 5 for Buenos Aires and my seventh appearance at the South American Business Forum. But the show must go on, especially at that student-run conference where I have become something of a senior leader and proud cheerleader. The journey south had a few complications that were not my doing. The Washington-New York flight was severely delayed, which would have meant missing my connection to B.A. I was rebooked on another flight that was also late. The original schedule gave me almost three hours at JFK. I arrived 9:40, waited five minutes for my gate-checked bag, and walked as fast as I could across American’s big Terminal 8. As I dashed, I heard them paging me to go to gate 8 “for immediate departure,” to which I responded “I’m coming, I’m coming” (I’ve never been paged as a tardy passenger). At the top of an escalator a man asked if I was Robert Britton, and escorted me to the gate. I was on the Silver Bird 10 minutes before departure time, and they closed the door right behind me. Whew, that was close.

Arrived into winter in the Southern Hemisphere, met one of the conference volunteers, Lucas Diaz, and my sidekick Rick Dow (see earlier posts, a longtime friend and marketing genius), who was making his second SABF appearance. Hopped in Lucas’ car and were soon yakking across a bunch of topics, not least what sounded like an awesome presentation Rick would give the next day. It was a pleasure to be in B.A., a place that has become familiar. Rick and I checked into the hotel, changed money, and headed to lunch at one of the city’s cool bares notables, the Bar Britanico in the San Telmo neighborhood just south of downtown. We spent a couple of hours yakking, ate a good meal, had a beer.

Rick Dow at the Bar Britanico

Rick Dow at the Bar Britanico

We then headed to a high-rise that has long been the site of the first day plenary, met some of the conference organizers, and tested Rick’s presentation. At six, we walked a few blocks south to the compact campus of ITBA, the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology, the SABF host institution, and plunged into the first forum event, a noisy and lively “tea party.” Organizers asked the roughly 100 participants (50 from Argentina, 25 from elsewhere in Latin America, and 25 from other places) to bring some nonperishable food from their homelands, so we were able to tuck into geitost (caramelized goat cheese from Norway), savory crackers from Paraguay, the sweet cookie from Argentina called an alfajon, and lots more. Taste was great, but better was the exuberance of the youngsters. We met Kulani and Mokgohloe, two women medical students from South Africa, Daniel from Venezuela, Ariadne from Ukraine, and many more.

SABF's kickoff tea party

SABF’s kickoff tea party

Next stop was dinner with long friends Martín Siniawski and his partner Valeria Luna, and Juan Trouilh and his girlfriend Barbara. The two guys were part of the SABF founding team, and we’ve become close through the years. Dinner was at Caseros, a delightful restaurant Juan’s cousin owns (unhappily, she wasn’t there). We shared wonderful appetizers, ceviche and grilled sweetbreads, then I tucked into a ribeye steak. I am not a big red-meat eater, but when I’m in Argentina I really appreciate the superior flavor and texture of grass-fed beef, so much better than the grain-pumped feedlot animals in my native land. Yum! The day ended just after 11, with me as cheerleader, addressing the SABF organizing team on the eve of the conference. I got ‘em fired up!

Next morning the conference began, a full day of plenary, six speakers, including Rick’s stupendous preso. Met lots more students, including Artem from Russia, Menzi from South Africa, Thijs from the Netherlands, and more. As good as the sessions were, the chatter during coffee breaks, lunch, and dinner may have been better. So many remarkable life stories, like from Aslan, born in Iran but now a proud Oklahoman. The day sped by, as did the next one, Friday. I moderated a student presentation in the morning, continued yakking. Rick and I left a bit early, grabbed a short nap, then returned to a group dinner.

SABF

Before dinner, we ambled across the street to an agreeable neighborhood restaurant, El Establo, for a beer. It’s got a great local feel. I thought I knew Rick pretty well, but he told me lots of new stories, of him living in Paris as a teenager, and more color on his first real job, selling pool chemicals in the Southeast. Just one colorful story: he loves music (his first job – not a real one, he says – was owning and running a live-music bar, Vegetable Buddies, in South Bend, Indiana), so often on his selling trips he’d check out various music venues in the Carolinas, Georgia, etc. That included breaking into a closed, old hotel in Macon, Georgia, to “commune” with the spirit of Little Richard, one of the black musicians who hugely influenced rock and roll; Rick knew that Little Richard had been a dishwasher in the hotel. I could listen to his stories for hours!

On Saturday morning,we started a bit later, so the Transport Geek hopped on the subway for a short ride; the now-privatized system is old and in need of investment (judging by the Japanese characters on windows, my train began life across the Pacific).  Stations have wonderful old art, mosaics, paintings, and tiles.

Subte

Tile art, Buenos Aires subway

Tile art, Buenos Aires subway

The city is filled with these contrasts of old and new -- it's one of the things that makes B.A. so cool

The city is filled with these contrasts of old and new — it’s one of the things that makes B.A. so cool

We did a cool group activity that morning, basically an hour of dance with a wonderful and inspiring moderator. My big job, for the third time, was to summarize and close the conference that afternoon, a task I have come to relish, for it gives me the opportunity for a full measure of inspiration. I also was able to meet and thank parents of six or seven organizers, which was lovely, and pose for countless pictures with the youngsters. It was sorta rock-star treatment, and I kept telling them that I was getting far more than I gave. Once again, a colossal conference. I am just so happy to be associated with the group. They are like family.

At 6:30 Rick and I met a former organizer, Josue, now a management consultant, for a beer and a good yak. He still wants to get into the airline business, and Rick (a former VP at Northwest Airlines) and I dispensed some advice. The airline theme continued at 8:15, when we met Christoff Poppe, the Argentine country manager for United Airlines. I met Christoff when he was a MBA student at Kellogg a few years back, and we reconnected earlier in the year. Three airline guys, two former and one current, made for a lively dinner at Al Carbon, a steak place around the corner from our hotel. We covered a lot of topics, including our industry, Argentine economics and politics, and lots more. Really fun. And another steak.

I was plumb wore out, but we promised students we’d show at the end-of-conference party, so at 11:30 Rick and I hopped in a cab and motored west to the Palermo neighborhood and the Liv night club. A night club! I don’t think I had been in such a place for at least 25 years. It was lively, the kids were having big fun, but it was way too noisy for this old guy. Still, we moved around, getting into digital snapshots, hugging and one-cheek-kissing almost everyone (Rick and I do like the Latin way). On the way out, I ran into another old SABF hand, Agustín DiLuciano, a telecoms engineer who told me he’s spending more and more time as an artist – a good thing, because he has huge talent.

A sample of Agustín's talent

A sample of Agustin’s talent; you can see more at http://www.facebook.com/dilucious

 

 

But we weren’t done. Nope. At 1:45, we left the club and headed to La Catedral, a tango club that Juan Trouilh told us about. It was exactly as he described: dumpy, funky, but totally local and totally memorable: I will long remember ordinary Porteños (as locals are known) moving around the dance floor, filled with energy, and a lot of passion. The tango is such a cool dance. We left just before three, and I felt pretty local. I’m an early-to-bed guy, and have been for decades, but lately I have discovered – perhaps better late than never – that if I stay up late from time to time I’m not gonna die! So 4.5 hours of sleep was better than zero. And, oh, did we have fun.

Tango2

Up Sunday morning, packed my bag, and met Rick for breakfast at 9:30. We hopped in a taxi and headed to Recoleta, pausing to admire the baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), then into the huge cemetery where Eva Peron and lots of others are buried. It’s a fascinating place, with elaborate burial vaults and structures, some in poor repair.

Altar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Altar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

FatherFahy

Rev. Fahy’s grave, however, is in fine shape!

Man and friend, Recoleta park

Man and friend, Recoleta park

Flower power, Recoleta park

Flower power, Recoleta park

The latter are a sort of metaphor for the local economy, which has been on a down slope for more than seven decades. As I have written in these pages after previous visits, Argentina 110 years ago was as rich as the United States, but the decline began with the election of Juan Peron in the 1940s. His populist approach, with lots of state intervention (and ample corruption) has become entrenched, and has destabilized an economy with enormous resources and potential. The collectivist urge has actually engendered an absence of togetherness, and the evidence is plainly visible on the street (for example, in disrepair and dog turds on the sidewalk).

The fawning praise for Juan is everywhere

The fawning praise for Juan is everywhere

You must feel invincible if you brand a government ministry with an image of Eva Peron, the former first lady

You must feel invincible if you brand a government ministry with an image of Eva Peron, the former first lady

We walked the rows and rows of the cemetery, then headed into the nearby park, filled with what seemed like an oversupply of artists and craft vendors. Hopped in a cab for a (to us) late lunch with Martín and Vale, at a sensational local parrilla (barbecue), more steak, some spicy chorizo, and more. After the meal, we walked a few blocks to their high-rise apartment and rode up to the 31st floor for stunning views of the city. Had a coffee and a short yak in their apartment, then headed out for another amble around Palermo.

True amigos: Martín Siniawski and Valeria Luna

True amigos: Martín Siniawski and Valeria Luna

The view from Martin's and Vale's apartment

The view from Martín’s and Vale’s apartment

Rick shares my delight in spending time in ordinary landscapes, so the hour or more walking the streets of an interesting neighborhood was to both of us a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Some scenes from the neighborhood:

PaintedDetail

Modern apartments are replacing these two- and three-story traditional houses

Modern apartments are replacing these two- and three-story traditional houses

The replacement structure (to the above); note the stylish variant on burglar bars

The replacement structure (to the above); note the stylish variant on burglar bars

Bookstore window

Bookstore window

In a city filled with annoying spray-painted graffiti, we very much liked this transitory paper and foil version!

In a city filled with annoying spray-painted graffiti, we very much liked this transitory paper and foil version!

We hopped in a taxi back to the hotel, I said goodbye to Rick, and hopped in a private car (I planned to take the bus, but the SABF, always hospitable, organized a nice ride). The driver spoke no English, so it was the perfect moment to thank Don Miguel, my first Spanish teacher, way back to 1960 (I actually murmured a “Gracias, Don Miguel” the night before in the steakhouse, where I ordered all courses in Spanish). The driver was my age, a friendly fellow, and we exchanged basics – my job, my family, his family. He explained that he was in his second marriage, and had children aged 6 to 40. It was a fun ride, a nice variant on Talking to Stangers. Flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, arriving early Monday morning. I was headed to family vacation in South Carolina, and had a seven-hour layover, so I took a welcome shower, worked a bit, and at 1:50 flew to Charleston.

A welcoming sight: the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 777, Buenos Aires

A welcoming sight: the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 777, Buenos Aires

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