Three Cities in the Midwest

From the great public university of From the great public university of “America’s Dairyland”: campus-made cheese for sale in the Babcock Hall Dairy Store

On Saturday morning October 3, Linda and I flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Main purpose was to visit Linda’s 93-year-old mother. It had been too long. She doesn’t hear well, and drifts out a bit, but when you look her in the eye and engage her mind, she is with you. Bless her heart, she has outlived all her friends. And, in retrospect, she had a hard life. She deserved more happiness. We were glad we spent the afternoon with her.

Minnesota, the land of lakes, here the suburbs of St. Paul on approach to the airport Minnesota, the land of lakes; here the suburbs of St. Paul on approach to the airport

We hugged her, Linda’s siblings Gordy and Julie, and departed at 5:40, north to Northeast Minneapolis, a former ethnic (largely Eastern European) neighborhood that is a hot place to live and a hotter place for artists, who have colonized several former industrial buildings. After a bit of zigging around railroad tracks (including the former main lines of the great transcontinental lines the Northern Pacific and Great Northern, important arteries to this Transport Geek), we found the former Northrup King building, once the center of a big ag company that supplied farmers with hearty, cold-resistant hybrid seeds. It’s now home to art studios and galleries, and at 6:15 in room 183 I met Susan McLean Keeney, who painted the gorgeous oil of the Mississippi River downriver that I bought at the Minnesota State Fair five weeks earlier. It was a delight to chat with her, and see her other work. She recently retired after 34 years as an art teacher in a Minneapolis suburb. (In another small-world occurrence, her husband Phil and I worked together at Republic Airlines, 1984-86.) We then motored south, through downtown Minneapolis at dusk, and out to friends-for-four decades Mike Davis and Sara Wahl.

Susan McLean Keeney with the superb oil painting we bought at the State Fair in August Susan McLean Keeney with the superb oil painting we bought at the State Fair in August
Part of dinner, Parella Part of dinner, Parella

It was so great to see them again, and to catch up. Mike recently retired after 21 years as a Federal judge, and Minnesota’s first African-American U.S. jurist. We talked law, politics, food, travel. He is a wise person, as we would like judges to be, free to make important decisions about our nation (for example, he has been very active in recent years in the matter of radicalized Somali youth joining terrorist organizations like Al Shabab and now ISIL). We walked a few blocks to Parella, a new Italian restaurant, and enjoyed a fine meal and more great conversation. Walked back to their house, hugged them both, and headed to our hotel by the airport.

On the ceiling, Calhoun Square shopping center On the ceiling, Calhoun Square shopping center

I was up early, downstairs to the gym. After cranking out 18 miles on the bike, I stepped outside, looked across the highway, and smiled: a few hundred yards north of me was where my airline career began, in the former general offices of Republic Airlines (the building now belongs to Delta). The adjacent hangars immediately conjured a vivid image: on a freezing cold Friday night in December 1985, work colleague Lennie Anderson and I stood in almost the exact same spot and watched Republic’s first Boeing 757 taxi around the corner and into the hangar. It was the first “big plane” in the Republic fleet, and for a company that was almost kaput two years earlier it was an exciting moment.

A familiar place from the past: the former Republic Airlines hangar A familiar place from the past: the former Republic Airlines hangar

Linda and I ate breakfast and had an hour to drive back to our old neighborhood in St. Paul, past 1032 Goodrich Avenue, our first house, a modest bungalow where we lived from 1979 until moving to Dallas in 1987). The old ‘hood looked great. The sugar maples planted in the late 1970s to replace the stately older trees that died of Dutch Elm disease had grown well, and the streets were again shady. It still felt like home, as much of Minnesota does.

We flew to Chicago, and parted. I headed 109 miles northwest to Madison, Wisconsin, one of my favorite cities in the world. O’Hare was jammed, it took a long time to take off, and I missed the hourly Madison city bus into town. Well, okay, a taxi (regular readers know that I am not a taxi person!), but when I walked outside there were no cabs and six people waiting. I missed lunch, so the sensible thing to do was wait for the next bus, in 50 minutes, in the airport bar – eat a late lunch, grab a beer, and watch the Green Bay Packers – the team for the whole state – battle the San Francisco 49ers. The guy on the next barstool sported a Packers green fleece jacket, and Jessica the bartender had green and gold Packers ribbons in her hair, and a Packers lanyard to hold her airport ID. Partisans, for sure! That bit of entertainment and $2 bus fare was cheaper than a cab, and way, way more fun.

Madison and the isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona Madison and the isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona

Hopped off at University Avenue and Orchard at 5:30, and walked a block south to my new digs, the hotel at Union South, the new offshoot of the venerable Wisconsin (student) Union. Checked in, ironed my suit, headed downstairs for a beer, and brought this journal up to date. Just as when I arrived in Tübingen 10 days earlier, it was immediately evident that I was in a college town: students bicycling past, wearing Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirts and carrying backpacks; lots of long hair; and on the Union South activity board was notice that the “Introduction to Pole Dancing” began the same time as my arrival. Pole dancing, good to learn!

My late lunch suggested a light dinner, and I ambled a few blocks south to Jordan’s Big 10 Pub, literally in the shadow of Camp Randall, the UW football stadium. The place was empty. Had a beer, a salad, and a bowl of chicken chili, walked back, and clocked out.

Up at six Monday morning, to the hotel gym for 16 miles on the bike, suited up, and at eight met my UW marketing host Jan Heide, one of my fave guys. It was my ninth consecutive visit, and it was good to be back. We had a nice breakfast and got caught up on family, then walked a few blocks to the business school. Delivered two back-to-back lectures on airline loyalty programs, answered some questions, and ambled back to the hotel. Changed clothes, grabbed a Subway tuna sandwich, then walked west to Camp Randall. It was indeed a former U.S. Army camp dating to the Civil War, and I passed under a stone arch that included plaques listing and commemorating the 90,000 Wisconsinites who fought to preserve the Union. God bless them.

The gate to Camp Randall; although it's best known as the name of the UW football stadium, it actually was a military camp dating to the Civil War. The gate to Camp Randall; although it’s best known as the name of the UW football stadium, it actually was a military camp dating to the Civil War.

Hopped on the #2 bus westbound, and by 2:55 I was in the apartment of Professor John Fraser Hart and his wife Meredith, in a splendid senior complex called Oakwood Village. Fraser, now 91, was one of my Ph.D. advisers, but his influence on my life was far more lasting and profound: he taught me how to be a better writer, in a seminar called Geographical Writing that I took in the fall of 1976. His lessons have served me so well, all through my working life, and continue to bear fruit in my consulting work, much of which requires clear writing.

The terrace, Union South The terrace, Union South

I had lunch with Fraser in winter 2011, but had not seen Meredith, now 92, in about 35 years. It was a delight to spend 90 minutes with them. Fraser retired in May after almost 50 years of teaching at the University of Minnesota, they spent the summer at their cottage in Door County, Wisconsin (on the Green Bay), and had only been in the apartment two days – I was their first visitor! Their daughter Anne lives five minutes away, and she helped get them out of their family home in suburban Minneapolis and into the new place. They were the third nonagenarians I met in two days, and the contrast with Linda’s mom, bless her heart, could not have been greater. They were fully engaged in a lively conversation about our families, moving, Wisconsin politics, and more. I had long forgotten that Meredith was from Milwaukee, where her dad was a longtime, prominent journalist. It was a lovely visit, and I vowed to return in subsequent years.

I hopped back on the bus into town, changed clothes, and bought a one-day pass for B Cycle, Madison’s bikeshare network. Rode a mile along Lake Mendota to the original Wisconsin Memorial Union, and strode into the Rathskeller for a pre-dinner beer. Gotta keep to tradition, and it was fun to be back in that place, not least for the oldies music that was blaring including the Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a mere half-century old! Hopped back on a red shared bike and rode up the hill to Capitol Square, in the shadow of Wisconsin’s splendid capitol building. At 6:30 I met Jan and his wife Maria for a caloric and fun dinner at a posh steakhouse called, fittingly, Rare (I had halibut!).

German-style frescoes in the Stiftskeller at the Wisconsin Memorial Union German-style frescoes in the Stiftskeller at the Wisconsin Memorial Union
Ornate sink (okay, it was in the men's room!). Rare Steakhouse; the fixture was emblematic of a place that was over the top. Ornate sink (okay, it was in the men’s room!), Rare Steakhouse; the fixture was emblematic of a place that was over the top.
Wisconsin State Capitol, one of the nation's most ornate state houses Wisconsin State Capitol, one of the nation’s most ornate state houses

Was up early Tuesday morning, cranked out some consulting work, and at 9:00 met the chairperson of the UW Geography Department, Lisa Naughton, a delightful and interesting person. It was my first meeting with a geographer for years, and I was there to volunteer to speak. She reckoned that a panel on applied geography would be good, and I signed up for October 2016. She was really interesting, an ecologist with research interests in biodiversity and indigenous communities in Uganda, Ecuador, and Peru. And the department “lives” in Science Hall, one of the oldest (1885) and funkiest buildings on campus – really more a museum than a university structure. Headed back to the hotel, changed clothes, and got back on the bike, riding 18 miles before joining Jan for traditional Tuesday lunch at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, a wonderful burger joint. We had a good yak and I peeled off, grabbing my first afternoon nap in days (it was tonic!), then a bit of work, then back out on the bike. Like lots of other bikeshare systems, rides less than 30 minutes are free, so you’re always cycling through half-hour rides. The weather cleared, and it was a delightful autumn day, first hints of fall color, lots of wildflowers along the bike paths that crisscross the city.

Science Hall Science Hall
School spirit on wheels School spirit on wheels

At 3:30 I slapped my forehead and remembered that I had one more traditional stop, the Babcock Hall Dairy Store. In the flagship university of America’s Dairyland ya gotta get a milky treat, and I got an old-school chocolate malt, made the traditional way (ice cream from the university’s herd, chocolate syrup, malted milk powder). I hopped back on the bike, malt in one hand, handlebars in the other – it was a Wisconsin version of drinking and driving!

At 4:30 I met my last Sconnie (Wisconsin) friend, Dan Smith, for a beer and dinner. I’ve known Dan for seven years, back to when I tracked him down after reading an article he wrote for the UW alumni magazine about his retirement as a dairy farmer. He’s a way-cool guy, a true Wisconsite, and we had a great yak across a bunch of topics. Unhappily, his wife Cheryl couldn’t join us, because after a day of substitute teaching she was back in their rural home (in a lovely gentle valley west of Madison) looking after their new dog Jax. They picked him up, a rescue dog (Lab and Border Collie mix), two days earlier. It was an understandable absence.

My only regret that day is that I did not find time to ride to the Capitol and ask Gov. Walker’s office why he was intent on dismantling one of America’s premier public research universities. Maybe it fits, since he was a college dropout, and has no appreciation for the power of knowledge. His simplistic approach makes my head hurt.

Was up early Wednesday, into the gym for some aerobic work, then out the door to the airport, of course on the city bus. As we pulled into the North Transfer Point, a mile or so from the airport, I spotted a bike leaning on a lamppost festooned with plastic flowers. It looked like a memorial. Curious, and with time before my next bus, I walked a few hundred yards to see that it honored Tyler Francis Knipfer, a cyclist who was hit by a car in 2012, and died exactly three years earlier, October 7, 2012, at age 21. As a cyclist, it brought tears to my eyes. Back on the bus, I Googled his name, and here I smiled, for he lives on: “Upon his passing, Tyler was a organ and tissue donor and was able to help five other individuals in the community.” I also observed, having been on a number of buses in three days, that in Madison about half the riders yelled “thank you” to the drivers when disembarking. I mused about that nice bit of civility, also noted in these pages a few years ago in Manchester, England.

RIP, Tyler RIP, Tyler

Flew to Chicago, 22 minutes in the sky. At 10:40, Larry Frederick, my first cousin once removed (b. 1937), and his wife Judy picked me up at O’Hare. It had been two years, and it was grand to see them again. They were just back from 10 days in Ireland, including pints of Guinness with my pal Maurice Coleman, and had a wonderful trip. We stopped at their house in suburban Glenview for an hour or so, then headed to Paizano’s, for a superb pizza lunch. Of course I’m biased, given that my parents were both natives and I feel like I’m partly from there, but Chicago pizza bakers are the best this side of Italy. Lorenzo and Judy insisted on driving me to the hotel in Evanston (I was there for an evening lecture at Northwestern University), and we detoured past the Evanston home where they lived for 25 years. Nice memories, for sure. Italian men kiss each other, so we did too, and hugged them both. Ciao.

Larry and one of his recent oil paintings Larry and one of his recent oil paintings; he’s been an artist, for work and for pleasure, all his life.

Worked a bit, then ambled across town to the Kellogg School of Management and a lecture to MBA students on crisis management and American Airlines after 9/11. Check and done, school #22 for the year, back to the hotel then down the street to Prairie Moon, a bar and restaurant that several recommended. The Chicago Cubs were playing a single wild card game that night, and were ahead 4-0, so the place was hopping, and raucous. Enjoyed a plate of broiled whitefish, mashed potatoes, and broccoli, plus a pint of Belt & Suspenders IPA from the nearby Buckle Down Brewery. One last thing to report on a full day: on the way back to the hotel, I spotted a plump skunk skittering down Orrington Street, pausing to forage beneath the tables of sidewalk restaurants. I gave him wide berth!

Up at 5:20 the next morning, the #250 bus across Dempster Street to O’Hare, and home by noon.

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