On Monday, February 16, Linda drove me to National Airport, and I flew to Chicago and then up to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Picked up a rental car and headed a few miles south to Eagan and lunch with longtime friend (and our accountant) Mark Miller. I hadn’t seen him for several years, and it was great to catch up, laughing a lot (he’s one of the most irreverent and funny people I know).
At 2:30 I headed into Minneapolis and to the University of Minnesota for a 5:45 lecture to MBA marketing students.
As often happens, as soon as I arrived on campus, memories flooded into my brain, random images in the mind’s eye, but all focused on this great public institution that has transformed so many lives, including mine. My dad, brother, and I walking to a Gopher basketball game on a cold winter night; heading to the library to write more pages for my dissertation; hustling across the Washington Avenue bridge as an undergraduate, then southeast across the main campus to hitchhike from school to work; and many more. After working my email, I ambled into Wilson Library and down to the Borchert Map Library, named for one of my true academic heroes, John R. Borchert. A black-and-white portrait of him hung by the entrance, and I studied his eyes, looking for the twinkle of insatiable curiosity that was one of his many endearing qualities. I was sorry he was gone (for near 15 years now) but glad I was able to count him as a friend and mentor.
After the lecture I made fast for a fave place, the Black Forest Inn, for beer and dinner with Rick Dow. We had a fine meal and a great catch-up across a lot of dimensions. At 9:30 I was plumb wore out, and drove south to my hosts Deb and Phil Ford in southwest Minneapolis. Yakked for an hour and clocked out.
Got up before seven, had a cup of coffee, and headed out, first to Starbucks for another jolt. I was in the shopping district I knew so well as a child, 50th and France (the major intersection). The retail landscape was, not surprisingly, totally remade. Gone were Clancy Drugs, the Edina Cafeteria, the Brown Derby tavern. But the Edina (movie) theatre was still there, including its wonderful Art Deco façade and sign, erected 1934. I walked around the corner and into the Edina Grill (the only restaurant remaining from my youth is the Dairy Queen!) to meet a high-school classmate. I might have said hello and a few words to Nancy Carlsen (now Engasser) at reunions through the years, but our conversation that morning was the first for 45+ years. So there was a lot to talk about. Like me, she worked in the airline business most of her adult life, as a flight attendant for Delta; she retired in 2005. Married in 1980, three high-achieving kids (two doctors and business owner), surgeon husband. A happy life. But what I did not know was that, like me, her family struggled financially in her high school and college years, and like me the solution was to work while she studied. We had a great catch up. Such a joy to reconnect!
Drove back to the university, around the East Bank campus, then parked and headed into the business school. At 12:30 I met that day’s host, Carlos Torelli, for lunch, then delivered a talk to his undergraduate honors seminar, a group of about 20 very bright youngsters. After the talk I drove south to see another longtime friend, Jane Alrick Swenson, one of Linda’s classmates at St. Olaf College. We had a great yak, and she invited me to stay for a classic Minnesota dinner, meat loaf, baked potatoes, salad. Her husband Mike, a large and funny presence, arrived about 5:30, and we had a swell meal and good chat. Jane departed for a concert, Mike and I finished dessert, and I drove back to Deb and Phil’s for a long chat.
Wednesday morning dawned at eight-below-zero. Whew! Drove south to breakfast with my nephew Evan, and at eight he arrived along with my sister Carroll. For a bunch of reasons we have been apart for about a dozen years, so I was quite surprised, slack-jawed really, when she said hello. There are differences, but she is kin, and we had a good breakfast, yakking about Evan’s getting-closer-to-launch career as a screenwriter, about times in the past, and more.
Next stop was the home of Dave and Jennifer Horton, the latter the artist who painted “Making Concessions,” a wonderful oil that I bought at the Minnesota State Fair almost a half-year earlier. As I’ve done for a number of years, I like to meet the artist, and they were kind to invite me to their home, show me her studio, and yak a bit. She’s got talent, and so does Dave, a woodworker, who showed me some wonderful Craftsman-style tables he make in his shop, including three from a cherry tree that was a casualty of a summer wind, rescued from a friend’s backyard.
Headed north, back to the University of Minnesota for a quick meeting with a friend of Deb’s who wanted to pick my brain on networking, a fast lunch, a quick meeting with a U of M B-school prof who leads their executive education, and a bit of work. After that, I hopped on a bus across the Mississippi (the big river divides the campus, east bank and west), and ambled into the student union, then north along the historic quadrangle to Northrop Memorial Auditorium, recently and nicely renovated. More memories, in that case of my first visit to the hall, on a 1963 school trip to hear the then Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Stanisław Skrowaczewski.
At 5:45 it was time to stand and deliver, repeating my Monday talk to MBAs. Whooshed out of class at 7:20 and zipped across to dinner with hosts Deb and Phil at World Street Kitchen, one of dozens of great new restaurants in south Minneapolis. We had a nice meal and a great yak, and continued it at home. Before going to bed, Phil kindly wrapped the painting in brown paper.
Was up early again and to a third breakfast with friends or family, back to the Edina Grill (Tuesday’s venue) for a repast with Allen Wehr, who I had not seen for 45+ years. Allen was the leader of our YMCA youth group in 11th and 12th grade, and a fine mentor, in general and in two specifics. I reminded him of those two. First, he passed along copies of the industry magazine Air Transport World. Back then I thought he got them from his dad, and that was true, but his dad got them from no less than Donald W. Nyrop, then president of Northwest Airlines, who was a family friend. A nice link to a legend in the U.S. airline business.
I believe I’ve written briefly before about the second bit of help. Allen sold industrial equipment, and one of his clients was Braniff International Airways, which had a hangar at MSP, the northernmost point on their network. Allen asked the hangar manager if one of his young friends could come out and have a look, which led to a dozen or more visits on Friday nights in 1968 and 1969. Things were way different back then: the front door was unlocked, as was the door to the hangar floor. No one seemed worried about liability, and the manager – I wish I could remember his name – had only two instructions for me: be careful around heavy stuff and don’t touch anything in the cockpit! Yes sir. Those evenings in the hangar, with a British-made One-Eleven jet, a Boeing 727, and a big Boeing 707-320 (that each morning left MSP for Kansas City, Dallas, San Antonio, and Mexico City) were truly special, and I thanked Allen for the opportunities.
We had a wonderful yak for a couple of hours, covering a lot of topics: families, cars, trips to Europe – he toured the continent when he was in college, early 1960s, in an Austin-Healey. We both agreed that Germany was a splendid place, and he told about dear friends he has made there. Another fine reconnection.
I fueled up the car, dropped it, flew to Chicago and on to Washington, big painting under my arm. A fine visit to a place that will always be home.