Really-early-morning starts would be required in the coming weeks, so it was good to get into the routine: on Tuesday the 13th I was up at 5:00, down to DCA, back to O’Hare, and onto the #250 bus to Evanston and Northwestern. Met longtime Kellogg School host Anne Coughlan at 10:30, yakked for a bit, ate lunch, and walked to the Allen Center, Kellogg’s exec ed facility, right on Lake Michigan. It’s an impressive building more so because it’s filled with an astonishing collection of Inuit art donated by former dean Donald Jacobs. At 12:45, I began videorecording some segments for a newfangled business-school case study. For decades, these have been 5 to 20 printed pages, but Kellogg and a number of other schools are experimenting with multimedia cases. Anne, longtime pal Gary Doernhoefer, and I were collaborating on a case about technological changes and airline ticket distribution. The recording went well, and quickly, and Anne and I called it a wrap by 3:30.
We headed to her home a few miles north in Wilmette, where husband Chuck and dog Sally were waiting to greet us. I yakked with Chuck and watched Sally, a cocker spaniel-bichon frisé mix, perform a few tricks (learning, in the process, that the French bred bichon frisés as circus dogs, which helped explain Sally’s ability to walk on two hind legs!). But the high point of the house stop was a thorough tour of Anne’s second-floor greenhouse, a bewildering collection of bromeliads and succulents. She started raising all manner of them some years back, and her cultivating skill matches her marketing prowess. Wow! She insisted on packaging up a spoon jade plant (nicknamed “Shrek ears” for obvious reasons), later sending a meticulous set of instructions that caused some stress – I was now responsible for the welfare of this green living thing.
At six we motored to dinner, detouring north on Wilmette’s Michigan Avenue, a seriously affluent few blocks along that great lake. I was excited about the restaurant, Convito, an Italian café that had been on my list for almost 20 years. Its founder, Nancy Brussat Barocci, was a member of American Airlines’ Chefs Conclave when I led the airline’s catering team, and I met her a few times back then. She was a lovely person with an ego much smaller than several of the more famous members (like Wolfgang Puck). Unfortunately, Nancy was not there, but we enjoyed a splendid meal: a starter of wild boar ragu on creamy polenta, and my second entrée of Lake Superior Whitefish in a week. Yum! We had a great yak – Anne is a terrific conversationalist – and a lot of fun.
Was up again about five, and back on the #250 bus to O’Hare, six days after the last westbound ride: the same driver, and, a few rows back, the same large lady passenger with an African accent, Cubs jacket, and miniature baseball bat (and, like a week earlier, happy about her team’s win the night before). These moments are what make riding public transit special. Sure, the $1.75 fare is great, but far better is the opportunity to commingle with people from a broader swath of humanity. And broader means, as it did the day before, people with troubled lives, the mentally ill, and the marginalized. We are all on the larger bus of society, and it’s easy to ignore them, unless they’re sitting next to you.
On Monday, October 19, I flew north to Boston, landing at five. Onto the T, Boston’s public transit, repeating the experience described above, shoulder to shoulder from all kinds of people. Changed trains downtown and zipped out to Cambridge to meet my SmartKargo colleagues. After a quick catch-up, Milind the CEO drove Jay and me to an Airbnb a few blocks north of the office. We dropped our stuff and headed a couple of blocks to a Thai place for a spicy meal. Back at the Airbnb, which was a large one-bedroom apartment on the first floor of an old house, we met Robert, our host. He had texted me earlier to apologize that he couldn’t greet us on arrival, because his 12-year-old daughter needed a ride to hockey practice. Well, to this former player that struck a couple of chords: a great father, a daughter learning to compete and work as a team. So I was not surprised that Robert turned out to be a swell guy. We chatted about 20 minutes about hockey, his Airbnb business, the neighborhood (he had lived on Thorndike Street all his life), and more. I promised Robert we would stay with him again, adding that I hoped to catch one of his girl’s hockey games. Encounters like that are another reason why Airbnb is so awesome.
Was up early the next morning to have breakfast with Bart Littlefield, one of my first friends in the airline business. We joined Republic Airlines at about the same time in 1984, but had only seen each other a few times, and briefly, since I joined American and moved to Texas in 1987. It was great to catch up, but we didn’t have enough time, so we vowed to continue the chat next time I was in Cambridge. The rest of the day was pretty intense, in a system demo with a potential customer (actually the consulting firm they hired to help them choose).
Two days after that, on Friday the 23rd, was back on the 7:50 AM rocket to O’Hare – my third visit to Chicago in three weeks – but instead of the #250 bus to Evanston I jumped on the Blue Line train into the Loop, bound for my 11th talk to the University of Illinois EMBA (weekend) program that evening. Checked in early, rode the fitness bike 18 miles, and headed to lunch. The original plan was to meet a longtime friend, now at United, at the venerable Berghoff, a German restaurant on Adams Street since 1898. It was a place my grandparents and parents frequented decades earlier, and that I’ve been visiting for 40 years. My pal bailed out a day before, but I kept to plan, and tucked into a nice midday meal.
Grabbed a quick nap, worked a bit, and at four went out for a stroll, east to State Street, then north. The former Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. department store, designed by Louis Sullivan, was now a Target store, whew. Further on, more familiar and familial connections: the Marshall Field department store (now Macy’s) triggered memories of my maternal grandmother taking brother Jim and me to the toy department (almost 57 years on, I can still recall our last visit there with great clarity). Then a block north, I passed the former School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where my mother studied. Chicago feels like another home. Walked west on the south bank of the Chicago River, back to the hotel, then west to the Illini Center, the Loop home of the U of I business school. Ate dinner before my talk, and from 6:30 to 8 delivered a performance. Walked back to the hotel with host Steve Michael, a swell guy.
Was up at 5:45 Saturday morning, onto the fitness bike, a couple of free cappuccinos in the hotel “living room,” then out the door, west to the suburban train station. The free U of I pizza dinner the night before was good, but a bit small; I was way hungry, so I tucked into an enormous breakfast at a place called Yolk, then hopped on the 8:30 Metra suburban train for Arlington Heights and a visit with Cousin Jim and his family. I was pleasantly surprised with the ride: the cars were older but spotlessly clean, and the roadbed was smooth. The inner-Chicago landscape is always fascinating: first scene were blocks and blocks of brand-new, low-rise apartments on former industrial land; second scene were three churches within three blocks, proof of the city’s former (and in some ways enduring) Catholic bearing; third scene was a fleeting view of the back of my grandparents’ big apartment on Logan Blvd. I loved that place, and the people who lived there.
Hopped off at 9:16 and into Cousin Jim’s car, home to drop my stuff, then out to a high school cross country meet – their oldest child, Jack, now a sophomore, was on the team, and though he was not running because of illness we were there to cheer on his teammates. It poured rain for 20 minutes and even with umbrellas and raincoats we got wet. Watched the girls, then the boys. A nice bonus was a chat with Cousin Lisa and her husband Jack, whose daughter was coaching one of the girls’ teams. It seemed like a small town.
Next stop was to pick up their other two kids, Charlie, 9th grade, and Katie, 8th, both soccer players spending the morning refereeing youth games. All three children are lithe and athletic, swift of foot, an enduring trait on my mother’s side. We picked them up, raced home, and Jim and Katie peeled off for Katie’s 2 PM soccer game 42 miles southwest. Jim and wife Michaela’s weekends, and a lot of weekday afternoons, are given over to kids’ sport.
Michaela and I yakked in their kitchen for an hour, and at two I jumped on her blue Trek bike and rode two miles south to reconnect with Tom Aichele, who has led American Airlines’ Chicago sales team for almost two decades. It had been some years, and it was great to catch up with him and his wife Pat, and to meet two of their three children, as well as Rugby, their wheaten terrier. We sat on their patio and yakked for 90 minutes. I said goodbye and hopped back on the bike, riding for an hour through pleasant neighborhoods in Arlington and adjacent Mount Prospect, to bring the day’s mileage to 25.
After a tonic nap at Cousin Jim’s, we three plus Cousin Bob (2nd oldest of my Uncle Bapper’s six kids) motored over to dinner at the Davis Street Fishmarket in Evanston – third time there in October. Raw oysters were $1 apiece, so we slurped two dozen, plus pints of a great IPA called Wobbly, my third dinner of Lake Superior Whitefish in three weeks (threes and threes), and part of a huge key lime pie for dessert. Plus absolutely great banter: all four of us share political views, so we ranted a bit, but also laughed a lot – Cousin Bob is a seriously funny guy in a dry sort of way. A really pleasant evening.
Up at five, into a taxi at 5:20. At the wheel was a young immigrant from Turkmenistan (I think the first Turkmen I ever met). We had a good chat. Wikipedia wrote: “Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries,” and the driver’s face reflected that, a fusion of East and West. E pluribus unum. Grabbed breakfast at the Admirals Club, hopped on the 6:55 nonstop to Montreal and my 16th visit to McGill University. Was in Canada by 10.
Regular readers know my deep regard for our northern neighbor, and it was great to be back, first because it had been a year since last in Quebec, but mostly because Canada just elected a new Liberal (Party) government. Almost 50 years earlier, as a teenager who had visited Canada once, I was captivated by the energy, intellect, and young thinking of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. A week before, Canadians elected his son, Justin, to be Prime Minister.
I hopped on the wi-fi equipped 747 express bus into the city. Not far from the airport, I noticed a campaign poster for Anju Dhillon, who was the Liberal candidate for the district around the airport. I wondered if she won, Googled her name, and, yes, she did. So I sent her an email that ended, “I have been traveling across Canada for almost 50 years, and I know your country well enough to say this: as of last Monday, Canada is young again. Congratulations on your victory, and best wishes in Ottawa.” I didn’t really expect a reply, but a few weeks later she answered my email. She rocks!
Checked into the hotel, in this case a huge apartment on the top floor of a McGill University residence hall. Changed into jeans and headed out the door for some rides on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare system. It was a nice ride, west on a dedicated bike lane on Blvd. de Maisonneuve, out of downtown and into Westmount, an affluent, largely Anglophone neighborhood. Circled back, then headed down toward the St. Lawrence River, where I picked up a great bikeway east to Old Montreal. Headed up the hill, back to the hotel, and a needed nap.
At 3:45, another reconnection, going way back. I met Kenny Saxe on a chairlift on Ajax Mountain, Aspen, Colorado, in December 1969. I saw him a few times in the 1970s, and we mostly were out of touch after Linda and I stayed in his big apartment on Mount Stephen Avenue in Westmount in September 1980. Kenny and his wife Barbara now live in Vermont, and I wrote him a few months earlier to see if they might drive north to visit his mom, 93. We met at Schwartz’s, a deli in the core of Montreal’s historic Jewish community, a joint famous for its smoked meat sandwiches. I had never met Barbara, his wife of 29 years, and we had a great, but way too short, catch-up. He’s the same fine man I remember from the ski lift. We promised not to let another 3.5 decades pass. I showed them how Bixi worked, we snapped some pictures, hugged, and parted. I hopped on a bike, back to the hotel. Worked a bit, then grabbed another Bixi at dusk, riding east to the Latin Quarter and a pint at two brewpubs. The smoked meat sandwich was still rumbling a bit, so it was time to move down the food chain, so I headed to Kantapia, a little, family-owned Korean place two doors from my digs. Tucked into some udon noodles with tofu, vegetables, and kimchee. Yum!
Was up early Monday morning to do some consulting work, suited up, and headed to breakfast at Tim Horton’s, my fave place to see ordinary Canadians, all of whom (as I never tire of writing when north of the border) have health insurance. Walked across the McGill campus to the law school and the Institute of Air and Space Law. Maria D’Amico, secretary and friend, greeted me, and we chatted about the recent election and other happy topics. From 10 to 1, I delivered my talk on airline alliances to 14 masters’ of law students: from Canada (5), Singapore (2), India (2), Italy, France, Indonesia, Colombia, and Taiwan. The professor was away, and he warned me that the group was quiet, but I got a number of them to engage.
Grabbed a quick salad lunch, walked back to the hotel, changed clothes, and grabbed another Bixi bike. It was a sunny day, fairly warm, windy, and I was bound for a place where we spent a lot of time on the first visit to Montreal in 1967: the islands in the St. Lawrence just downstream from downtown that were the site of expo67, a world’s fair. It was a bit of a chore to get there, via the massive Jacques Cartier bridge, which rose about 150 above the water. Almost a half-century on, only two buildings remain from the exposition: the former U.S. pavilion, a spherical geodesic dome designed by futurist Buckminster Fuller, and the former French pavilion, now a casino. The rest of Ile St-Helene and Ile Notre Dame are mostly wooded parkland, pleasant, with great views of the skyline. Dropped the bike at the park’s Metro station and glided back downtown.
Quick nap, suit back on, south on Rue Sherbrooke to Desautels, the McGill business school and a preso to the undergraduate marketing society. Some bright youngsters, listening attentively and asking great questions about what American Airlines did with its brand after the September 11 attacks. Back to the hotel, back into jeans, and onto the Bixi a mile to the Latin Quarter and a craft-beer bar called Saint Houblon (houblon is French for hops). Most of these places (and I’ve been to seven or eight in Montreal) have simple bar food, but Saint Houblon had that plus some nice-looking real dinners. I tucked into two glasses of IPA from nearby brewers and a splendid dinner of sweetbreads and risotto. Yum again.
Slept in until 7:15, whew, decadent, up and out the door. Another oatmeal breakfast at Tim Horton’s, then a brief meeting with Brant, a nice fellow who manages volunteers at the B-school. Worked the rest of the morning, and at 11:40 met my longtime McGill host Mary Dellar, and a young prof and former entrepreneur Bob Mackalski for a fun lunch. Those two are lively! The banter was nonstop.
Last stop was a lecture to Mary’s services marketing class, then goodbyes. Walked a few blocks east to a bookstore, bought three kids’ books in French for Dylan and Carson (who are learning the language at an early age), hopped on the 747 bus to the airport, and flew to Philadelphia, then home to Washington.