On Monday, April 4 I headed to Georgetown to meet two students, then down to National Airport for the short flight to Philadelphia and a return to the classroom at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Before meeting my genial host, Americus Reed, I spent an hour with a graduating senior who was interested in the airline business. At 6:45, Americus and I walked over to Doc Magrogan’s, a seafood restaurant near campus. His T.A., Jay, joined us, and an hour later Americus’ wife Veronica sat down. It was a nice dinner. Veronica drove us home; for many years Americus’ has welcomed me overnight, the only host to do so, and it’s always nice not to be in a hotel.
We were up early the next morning, Veronica dropping us at school. I worked a bit, then delivered the first of two lectures to MBA students. By tradition, we eat lunch at Pod, an Asian-fusion place. Gave another talk, took a short nap on the couch in Americus’ office (he was in a meeting), worked a bit more, and said goodbye.
At 5:15, I met Jim Cohen, a fellow student from the summer Wharton postdoc program we attended in 1983 (the one that changed my life and, I learned that evening, his too). We repaired to a local watering hole and caught up. Though I saw him briefly at a Wharton reunion in 2002, each of us “rewound the tape” 33 years and we went through career and personal life. A zoology Ph.D., Jim recycled himself in medical marketing research, and on the side continued to hone his pedal steel guitar skills. One nice aside: during a time when he was working less, he worked a lot on his music, and he told me that there was one specific moment when he instantly improved. His wife, a choral musician, heard him playing much better, walked up a flight of stairs and asked “What just happened?” I love hearing about moments like that. We had a couple of beers and a really good catch-up. He’s a great fellow.
At 6:50 exactly, I shook his hand and walked briskly back to the University City station and onto the train to the airport, then a flight to London – back to Europe after just 10 days. We landed at Heathrow mid-morning, and I headed not to the Sages’ house but to London Business School, which offers simple accommodation that perfectly fit a one-day visit. I had to wait 90 minutes for the room to be ready, but when it was I showered, changed clothes, and headed out for a bike ride, using the wonderful bike-sharing service that costs less than $3 a day (provided each trip is under 30 minutes). The weather was mixed, patches of rain then patches of blue sky, but I had my Gore-Tex raincoat and all was well. First sortie was around Regents Park, past the giraffes and the posh houses that front the park.
I then headed east to Kings Cross to swap some cash dollars for pounds (didn’t need much) at a favored hole-in-the-wall exchange. Then south through Clerkenwell and Farringdon, pausing for a late lunch. Then across Blackfriars Bridge and west to Vauxhall and Pimlico. At 4:15 at St. George’s Wharf, Vauxhall, I hopped on a River Bus, floating downstream on the Thames to Embankment, past the massive London Eye Ferris wheel and Big Ben.
The sky was again blue, and it was a spectacular ride, offering London views that I had never seen before. Really, really cool. I admired the pilot’s skill, given fierce winds, strong current, and more traffic than you would expect. Got off at Canary Wharf, the massive office development that looks a lot like a U.S. downtown, only nicer, and hopped on the Tube back to Baker Street and my digs. I was so tired that I slept past my stop, but only by one! Views from the boat:
Back at LBS, I washed my face and revived. Grabbed another bike and headed west two miles to the Prince Alfred, an old (1856) pub recommended by a young colleague at Imperial Business School. It was lovely inside, old wooden bar and fixtures. Had a pint, biked a mile south to an Indian place for dinner, where I had a nice T-t-S exchange with my server, Sally from Australia. She was in the first month of a planned two year walkabout (almost a rite of passage for young Aussies). When I told her the purpose of my trip, she said, “I guessed you were a lecturer, because you project well.” Always interesting to learn what people perceive at first glance. Hopped on the last bike of the day, and home (after a couple of wrong turns), 20 miles all told. Then I was really tired.
Was up early Thursday morning, out the door for breakfast fixings, big cup of coffee, and at 8:45 I met my LBS host Oded Koenigsberg. Delivered the airline revenue management talk from 9 to 10:30, and a talk to the LBS Marketing Club from 11:15 to 12:30. Zip, zip, zip. Out the door at 12:37, and was able to get to Paddington Station and onto the 12:55 to Heathrow (public transport generally works very well in that huge city). I was headed to Milan. The British Airways flight was lightly booked, so I got a boarding pass early. Because I had a tight connection from plane to bus for my destination, Lugano, and because the flight was not full, I didn’t have to check my bag. Then I remembered that Oded gave me, as he almost always does, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Couldn’t carry that on, so I gave it to the kindly BA agent who checked me in. Nice!
The flight was 20 minutes late, and I was sure I wouldn’t make the bus (another one left an hour later), but I somehow managed to speed through the airport, get ATM Euros for bus fare, and hop on the 6:40 trip. Got to Lugano (my seventh visit there) before eight, walked down the hill to the hotel, then out for dinner. As I have written many times before, Swiss prices make me cranky, so I opted for dinner at McDonald’s (they have beer!). Still, the meal was about $20.
My lecture was not until mid-afternoon, and I did a poor job of planning the morning. In hindsight, I should have headed to Bellinzona, the capital of the Italian Swiss canton of Ticino; next time for sure. So I spent the morning on a long walk around town, the high point being lovely lakeshore gardens, brimming with seasonal flowers — it was Switzerland at its best. Met my host Omar Merlo (for the third time in two months) for lunch, worked a bit, took a short nap, and from 3:00 to 4:30 delivered a lecture to a big class of engaged students. Omar grew up in Lugano, and has family here, so I was on my own that night. I opted for a takeaway meal, and was asleep by 9:00.
Apart from not wetting the bed, seldom does having to pee in the middle of the night do old guys any good. But there are exceptions: at midnight I checked my email, and spotted a headline: Italian air traffic controllers to strike Saturday, April 9. I checked AA.com and my departing flight was delayed, but I worried that it might not leave at all, so I got into rebooking mode, buying a train ticket to Zurich and getting an AA flight to New York. Happily the Silver Bird had seats. Went back to sleep, fitfully, up at five. The night clerk at the hotel printed out my Swiss Railways ticket, I grabbed a couple slices of bread and some cheese, and hoofed it up the hill to the station (I got there with a half-hour to spare).
The ride north, last done in autumn 2010, is spectacular. Like the last time, I cued Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, dramatic music to match the dramatic mountain scenery, and horns reminiscent of the Swiss alpenhorn. We zipped through Bellinzona, capital of Ticino, rolling right under one of the town’s famed medieval castles. A brand-new, 57-kilometer tunnel (the largest public works project in Swiss history) opens in June to replace the much shorter one we used (opened 1882), which included slow climbs and descents, but way-cool views. You gotta admire how the Swiss have mastered the earth in three dimensions – not a lot of the country is flat.
At the top it was still winter, trees flocked with snow. We seemed to poke along in places, but we arrived Zurich Hauptbahnhof exactly on time, and out to the airport with almost an hour to spare. Hooray! Flight home was routine, connection to Washington on time.
Postscript: the original Milan-New York flight departed exactly on time. But how could I have known?