On Wednesday, April 29, I flew up to Philadelphia for the day, short flight, then the suburban train to the University of Pennsylvania for a couple of meetings with profs and others. It was a gorgeous spring day, perfect for a stroll around the campus and the school that changed my life. Meetings went well, and in mid-afternoon I ambled down to 30th Street Station and hopped the train home, a bumpy ride that reminded me of all that was wrong with government-provided infrastructure in our republic.
In between these two sojourns, a local sortie of note: on Friday, May 8, I rode my bike down Dolley Madison Blvd., down the hill to the Potomac River, and along the old canal towpath into Washington, D.C. It was the 70th anniversary of VE Day, victory in Europe, the end of six years of carnage and destruction. Regular readers know that I give thanks every day for all who made freedom possible, in our republic and elsewhere, so it was right to mark this day. And what a marking: at noon, every combat aircraft involved in World War II flew down the river and over the National Mall. It was spectacular. And it was moving, especially from my vantage, the National World War II Memorial, where a few brave men and women from that war were still among us.
On Thursday, May 14, I flew to Dallas/Fort Worth and on to Torreón, a mid-size city in the state of Coahuila, in northern Mexico, to present a one-day seminar and evening presentation on leadership. Gabriel Rosel, the general manager of the Club Montebello, the hotel venue for the talks the next day, his bodyguard (more on that later), and Fátima Zuñiga, the local conference organizer, met me at the airport. As I have written before, Mexico is numero uno in hospitality, and I could tell from the first moment that they were going to go over the top. We yakked on the short ride to Montebello, and I was losing my voice, not a good thing on the eve of seven hours of speaking the next day. I was smiling, but feeling stressed.
Over the top. Yep, when Gabriel walked me into the vast Presidential Suite. Oh my. After profusely thanking my new friend – and he was already truly an amigo – my first thought was, well, this is way different from the Airbnbs that have been my recent digs. I washed my face and at 9:00 sat down to dinner with Gabriel and Jenny Torres, a local woman who would be my (sequential) translator the next day. Jenny grew up in El Paso, Texas, so was well and truly familiar with both languages. We talked a bit of business, but mostly listened to Gabriel, a great talker.
Originally from Merida on the Gulf of Mexico, he had been in the hotel business 22 years, mostly resort properties in Mexico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. The Montebello was a small (53 rooms) hotel that relied on events (weddings, birthdays, etc.) for most of its revenue, owned by an industrial family from Monterrey. Married, two kids, smartphone pictures passed in both directions.
Was up early Friday morning, paddling around the suite. Cup of coffee, suit up, meet Gabriel for a traditional Northern Mexico breakfast: small omelette, beans, potatoes, and chilaquiles, a wonderful mix of corn chips, cheese, and sauce. Yum. Learned more about Gabriel, about Torreón, and more. Delivered the morning half of the seminar with little voice difficulty, hooray. Lunch with Gabriel and a couple of his managers, and a chance to meet his wife Gabriela and sons Diego and Bernardo, who were very shy around the gringo. Afternoon sped by (two hours, traditional Mexican lunch break, enabled a 25-minute nap, totally tonic). Last stretch was an evening conferencia with 200 people, some good questions at the end. After a nice round of applause, students, who were the majority of the audience, came forward to have their picture taken with me. Smiled for about 15 minutes and 50+ snaps.
I spoke with a lot of nice people that day, but I met the nicest of the lot when walking back to my room to wash my face and rest for a bit before the final event, dinner with a group of event sponsors and the mayor. Dante, Carla, Alejandro, and Alan, who had been at the evening show, were having a beer on the bar terrace. Dante stopped me and wondered if he might ask me a question. “Sure,” I replied, “and if you buy me a beer I will give you the answer.” “Deal,” he said. I returned in a few minutes and fell into an almost-T-t-S encounter. The four all worked at Toyota Bashoku, a plant that supplies fabric and leather seat covers to the big carmaker. They were excited because a few days earlier they learned that BMW awarded the plant a big contract to supply their South Carolina factory. Three of the four had studied industrial engineering at the local institute of technology. Dante asked his question and a couple of more; he had just been promoted to manager, and wanted to know about how to manage! The conversation was fascinating on many levels, but especially in getting to know new members of Mexico’s educated middle class. And of course they asked to me to be in a picture.
Dinner started late, nearly ten, and there was no rest for the guest. Students and adults peppered me with questions about the airline business, Mexico, the U.S., leadership, crises, yow. After the meal there were more pictures, and I finally got “off duty” at 11:10. A long day, but satisfying.
Up at 6:30, Gabriel and company drove me back to the airport, last hugs (I truly got to know him well in a short period). He insisted on coming in and staying with me through check-in. His last words were, “Rob, remember, the Presidential Suite is always waiting for you.” Hospitality on steroids. A wonderful fellow and new amigo.
I had a long layover in DFW, so arranged with lunch with longtime friend and former neighbor Tim Griffy, who I had not seen in several years (his son Walker and our Jack were best buddies growing up, and indeed Jack, Linda, and Robin helped celebrate Walker’s wedding when I was in Europe a month earlier). While waiting for Tim, I witnessed something that made me happy and proud on many levels. A 20-piece youth Mariachi band from Fort Worth, immigrant children and sons and grandsons of people who came north in search of a better life, were outside the Customs hall, preparing to serenade a small group of exchange students arriving from Mexico City. In addition to the visitors from Mexico, there were families arriving from India, young black men from Africa, and more. E pluribus unum. I was proud of the welcoming arms of our republic. Memorial Day would come in two weeks, and I think my dad and all the others who, through the years, helped us endure as a nation would also have been proud of that scene.
Tim rolled in at 11:20 in his zippy 1997 Porsche 911, we headed for a barbeque lunch at Spring Creek, a Dallas fave, and a good yak across a bunch of topics. Tim dropped me back at DFW, and I flew home. A full, good trip.