The New Year got off to a mobile start. On January 1, I drove to the Metro (Linda would pick up the car later), hopped the train, flew to Chicago, and picked up a rental car, headed to a New Year’s Day party at Cousin Donna’s house. Had the first Talking to Strangers episode of 2017 before noon, a nice exchange with the smiling young African-American woman at the Budget exit gate. No one was behind me, so we yakked for a minute or two, me telling her my destination, she asking if was gonna cut loose on the dance floor, and on from there.
I took local routes north and west to Cousin Jim’s house. He was out for a run, so wife Michaela and I yakked (we had seen them a week earlier, when they visited Michaela’s sister’s family nearby in Washington). Several DVDs needed to be returned to the public library, and I needed some air, so hopped on Michaela’s bike and rode off, then zipped around town for six miles.
After three we headed a few blocks to Donna’s and Tim’s house. Five of my Aunt Sally and Uncle Bapper’s six kids live within a mile of each other in suburban Arlington Heights, and they were all there, with spouses and most of their offspring. I had not seen some of the kin, including Donna, for about seven years, and it was splendid to reconnect with all. Nice beer, good food, and a lot of laughs. Bapper suffered a stroke and was seriously disabled when Jim was 13 and the youngest, John (who lives in Fort Worth, Texas) was 6, and the challenges in that household created enormous solidarity and love. It’s always a joy to see people who overcame serious family issues. Solid.
Up early Monday morning and out the door, east six miles to Cousin Larry and Judy. Lorenzo is a first cousin once removed, the youngest son of Alice, my maternal grandfather’s only sister (b. 1898). We’ve been reconnected for several years, and it’s a joy to know him. Judy suggested we head out to breakfast, and tucked into big meals at a popular pancake house in Glenview. Was fun to catch up with them, and to meet Blackie, their new dog, rescued at age seven. Hugged ‘em both, and drove back to O’Hare.
The same woman who checked me out the day before checked me in, and wanted to know about the party. “Did you drink a lot?” she asked. “And what about that dancing?” I told her the day before that my knees kept me from getting down, and as I departed she said she’d come along next year and help me with some steps. Such fun to engage with people who are often made to feel anonymous. Flew home, landing in the rain, a good start to the year.
Two weeks later, on another rainy day, flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, headed the next day to the memorial service for Liener Temerlin, a legend in U.S. advertising. The Dallas ad agencies that Liener led (which changed names a bunch through the years) had American Airlines as a client from 1980 until 2015, one of the longest agency runs among any big company anywhere – and they kept the business in large measure because Liener worked hard to keep the business he pitched decades ago. Liener took a shine to me during my first stint in AA’s ad department, 1990-93. I don’t and can’t know all the ways he supported my career, but I know he helped several times. Saying goodbye at his memorial just fit.
Although I’m pretty good at Talking to Strangers, sometimes I get the timing wrong, and I wished I had begun yakking with my seatmate earlier in the flight to DFW. Commander Brown of the Royal Australian Navy was returning to Canberra after a three-year stint in Washington. He and his family lived less than a mile from us, and I wished I had met him earlier. A really interesting fellow, and a reminder that we need committed military leaders like him.
Landed at 5:30, picked up a rental car, and zipped east and north to our old neighborhood. Stopped at a Kroger to buy flowers for my overnight hosts, Kim and Adam Pitluk, and while waiting to pay had another brief T-t-S that was so emblematic of Texans’ warmth and friendliness. The African-American man in front of me had huge bags of collard and mustard greens, and a big smoked pork shoulder, fixings for a nice side dish. “Man,” I opened, “I want to come to your house tomorrow.” He replied, “come on, then”! We yakked about his recipe (“might start the slow cooker tonight”), about the party (the Dallas Cowboys were playing Green Bay), and the guests. Nice.
At seven at one of our old neighborhood faves, Rockfish Seafood Grill, I met Roger Tremblay, a longtime publishing exec turned media-business headhunter. His wife Gayle was with their daughter in Austin, so a late ask worked out perfectly. We yakked for two hours, ate some fish, and laughed a lot. Roger has had a varied and interesting career, publisher of Chicago, one of the best city magazines around, sales exec for Sports Illustrated (which landed the Brittons a trip to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002), and more. A genuinely nice guy. As we parted, he said he hoped I’d mention him in this journal, and I responded, “with pleasure!” At 9:15 I drove to the Pitluks. Adam and I yakked for 45 minutes and I clocked out.
Up at seven, down to the kitchen for a yak with Maddy, age 11, Kim, and Adam. After Kim left to drive Maddy to Sunday School, Adam and I yakked more. He has a lot of stories from his fine work in journalism (he was editor of American’s inflight magazine, American Way, for eight years, and by far the finest editor among the four or five I met over almost three decades). And some remarkable family stories: both paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Grandmother lived through Auschwitz. Grandfather and his brother jumped off a train headed to the Bialystock camp; brother was immediately shot, but grandpa escaped, and scavenged in a forest for three years. Whew. Lily, age eight, came down and we chatted about art, elephants, and more before Adam drove her to Sunday School (coincidentally, both kids headed to Temple Emanu-El, venue of Liener’s memorial that afternoon).
The house was empty, save for a plump cat and their new puppy Dusty. I ate some breakfast, and at nine drove east to our old (2007-12) neighborhood in Allen, then south to the Richardson neighborhood where the kids grew up (1987-2007). Brought this journal up to date to a Starbucks, and at 11:30 motored south to lunch at Spring Creek Barbeque with longtime AA pal Ken Gilbert. Tucked into smoked turkey with sides, and a lot of fine banter.
I expected to see a lot of old friends at Liener’s service, and it started in the parking lot, greeting Liener’s longtime business partner Dennis McClain. There were lots more inside, including my old boss Bob Crandall and wife Jan (it was comforting to feel him squeeze my upper arm tightly, a gesture he did many times when we were at the airline); one of my AA ad colleagues, Ann White (Bob, Ann, and I were the only former AA clients); and lots of folks from Liener’s and Dennis’ ad agency.
Before three, we entered a beautiful sanctuary, with a huge glass wall behind the pulpit and Torah. It was just a stunning space (after the service, I told the presiding rabbi, David Stern, that I believed a nonbeliever could enter that temple and be transformed to a believer, just by its simple beauty).
The memorial service perfectly reflected a remarkable man. After a series of piano pieces, mainly show tunes (“On the Street Where You Live” and other old favorites), the cantor sang. Rabbi Stern welcomed us, and we all recited Psalm 23: “ . . . I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”
The rabbi began the eulogies, continued by a daughter, grandson, and great-granddaughter. All spoke of a man who began with nothing, and built a remarkable family, a career, and an unstinting commitment to the betterment of Dallas. A man with an unwavering moral compass; several spoke of his “MELAK” test: is a proposed action moral, ethical, legal, and Kosher? You can, and should, read his obituary here. The rabbi noted, to laughter and many nods, that Liener planned the entire memorial; he was a precise fellow, and we were not surprised; he even chose a wonderful passage (author unknown) in the printed program; here is an excerpt:
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I. And you are you. And the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. What we were to each other still is. Speak of me in the easy way, which you always used. Put no difference in your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow . . .
A reception followed the service, more opportunity to celebrate his life, raise a glass, nosh a bit, hug more old friends. At 5:00 I drove back to DFW Airport and after a storm delay, flew home, glad I made the effort. Liener Temerlin made everyone, from janitor and me to the Chairman and CEO, feel special. We will miss him.
On Thursday, January 26, I hopped bus and metro to the airport and flew to Philadelphia, then to New Haven’s tiny airport, bound for a weekend with son Jack. We were home in 10 minutes – now that’s close-in convenience! Climbed onto the inflatable bed in his living room and clocked out. Up early Friday, out the door, Jack heading to work and me jumping in his blue Subaru and heading north and west into the ridges and valleys of the Appalachians, through old towns, then along the Housatonic River, pausing at a covered bridge, then into the pleasant town of Kent:
At 10:15 I rang the doorbell of Stephen M. Wolf, the man who hired me into the airline business in 1984. He was President of Republic Airlines, and was engineering the turnaround of a broken airline. I’ve just written a business-school case study of that transformation, and after talking with and emailing other former colleagues, I needed input from Stephen. I had not seen him for decades, but we instantly fell into comfortable conversation, not only about the airline business (after Republic, he was CEO of United and US Airways) but about our lives. His was a story of overcoming obstacles at a young age (his father abandoned the family when he was 15), and through grit making his way upward in the corporate world. It was a delightful morning. With our talk finished, he briefly showed me one of his hobbies, collecting old Jaguar automobiles.
I then drove 20 miles east to Litchfield, another lovely old town. Parked on the village green and had lunch at the Village Bar, then motored a mile east to see another former Republic colleague, Sky Magary, who was the Senior Vice President, Marketing, and his wife Susan. I had not seen them in 16 years, and it was grand to catch up. At 4:30 I said goodbye and drove back to New Haven, taking a few wrong turns along the way.
Jack, his friend Julia, and I headed out for a drink at a lively college bar, followed by a wonderful, spicy meal at Taste of China (doing big business on the eve of the Chinese New Year). Julia is from a small town in Montana, and the story of making her way from the Bitterroot Valley to Yale was interesting indeed.
Saturday was relaxed. We slept in until seven, went to the YMCA gym, lunch at Claire’s, a vegetarian standard for 40 years, then a walk through the Yale Art Gallery. Took a nap. Chilled with some televised golf. At 5:30, we repeated our steps from last visit: burritos at Chipotle, enormous ice cream cones from the Arethusa Dairy Store, then a brisk walk north to Ingalls Rink and the Yale Bulldogs men’s hockey team vs. Brown (University) Bears. We had cool seats right behind the goal. After a lackluster first period, the Dogs came on strong, and beat the Bears 4-1.
Sunday was equally relaxed. A good workout at the Y gym, shower, and an amble north to Da Legna, a newer pizza place. Another outstanding Naples-style pie, bottle of local soda, Foxon Park White Birch (that’s the flavor, very distinctive), good conversation.
We walked home slowly, down Orange, one of New Haven’s historic streets, lined with interesting architecture (the whole city is filled with cool stuff from bygone eras):
Watched college basketball for awhile, then north to Hartford airport and a flight home. A swell trip.