Monthly Archives: April 2017

Philadelphia and London

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The view from my room at London Business School

Second-quarter travel began April 3, with a short flight to Philadelphia.  Standing on the airport rail platform waiting for the train into the city, a young Cornell student asked about fare payment.  Philadelphia’s SEPTA public-transit system is still in the 19th Century, cash only, no ticket machines, and while she was asking about nearby ATM machines, I remembered the Venmo app I now had on my iPhone (thanks to Jack and Robin), another one of the cool new ways to send and receive money.  I offered to front her $8 in cash and she could pay me back via Venmo.  A few minutes later, she said she was having trouble with the app, so after we got on the train I gave her my business card and said email me and I’d send an address for the eight bucks.  She didn’t look like a scammer – Indian-American electrical engineering student at Cornell – but, well, I got taken for a ride.  That’ll happen to trusting folk.

I hopped off at University City station and ambled a few blocks north, across the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus, to my digs.  In four or five previous appearances in Prof. Americus Reed’s MBA branding classes, he welcomed me to a comfy basement room in his house, but this time he had budget he needed to spend, so I checked in at the Inn at Penn, a quite posh place.  Met Americus for dinner and a good catch-up.  He’s a way-interesting guy, with a full schedule of research, consulting, and teaching, the kind of guy who can get along with four hours of sleep.  Whew.  Toward the end of the dinner, conversation turned to the new administration in Washington, and Professor Reed said that he found the current national situation sad; sad, too, he said to see the U.S. brand diminished in the world.  Yep.

Up early Tuesday morning, literally across the hall to the hotel gym, breakfast, then a nice amble around campus, through the place that changed my life when I joined a summer Wharton postdoc program in 1983.  I still remember the call from Linda, telling me I had cleared the waiting list; I was in a Colorado hotel room, and I felt like a helium balloon, floating upward.

I taught a morning class, and at noon we ambled a couple of blocks to the White Dog Café and lunch with Pat Rose, one of the people who 34 years earlier admitted me to Penn.  We’ve stayed in touch through the years, and it was great to catch up with her.  Hustled back, taught an afternoon class, worked a bit in Americus’ office, then peeled off.  At four, I met one of my Penn classmates, Jim Cohen, with whom I reconnected a year earlier.  The rain had stopped, and we sat on the patio of The New Deck Tavern, opened 1933, and covered a bunch of topics (I especially liked the discussion of algorithms for self-driving cars, and how to write code to make ethical decisions).  Jim was within weeks of retiring, and as he described it, “the universe just realigned” with him securing a great gig, playing slide guitar in a Linda Ronstadt tribute band.  Jim then he broke into harmony: “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.”  Wonderful!

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Jim Cohen, Wharton classmate, successful business owner, and professional slide guitarist

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Philly is much more vertical nowadays; below, scenes from the Penn campus

I was headed back to the airport by train, and on the way to the U City station I detoured to a walkway bordered with memorable quotations about women at Penn, including this: “My mother, a 1930 Penn grad, remembers being chased out of class by a male professor who shouted at her “I don’t teach women.”  We’re progressing, albeit slowly sometimes.  I then detoured to the statue of Benjamin Franklin, founder of the university in 1740; on the plaque was a quote from his colleague Washington, who described Ben: “Venerated for benevolence, admired for talents, esteemed for patriotism, beloved for philanthropy.”

Flew to London Heathrow, hopped on the express train and the Tube, and in no time was in South London for a meeting with the founder of Entrepreneur First, a very cool company that helps start-ups start up.  I met Matt Clifford two months earlier at a conference in Oxford, and it turned out that my young London pal Scott Sage knows him, so we three gathered for a chat.  Their offices were in the former Peek Freans biscuit (cookie) factory in Bermondsey, a nice bit of recycling.  The yak was simply fascinating, ranging cross a bunch of topics that aimed toward the future.  When we left, I told Scott that I’d relish a conversation like that every morning, to keep our minds fresh and open.

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The low hum of brainpower at Entrepreneur First

Scott and I walked to the Tube, and rode across town to Baker Street.  He headed to a conference and I walked a few blocks to London Business School for my annual visit to Europe’s best.  Like 2016, they offered a modest room in a sort-of-dorm adjacent to the school, but this year it was truly a room with a view, a gorgeous window framing Regents Park.  I changed clothes, washed my face, took a 20-minute nap, and headed out for an afternoon on London’s great bike share system.  Did several loops around Regents Park, past the giraffes of the London Zoo and the posh homes fronting the greenery.

Wandered a bit more, then, perfectly timed for the start of rush hour (not!), I headed to the Stephen Friedman Gallery, where Eleanor Crabtree, the daughter of longtime chum John Crabtree, works.  It was totally spur of the moment, and when I got there she recognized my name but not me, because the last time I saw her was, I think, 1991!  Notwithstanding the sort-of-ambush, she was charming, and took time to show me around the two large gallery spaces on opposite sides of Old Burlington Street in Mayfair.  I rode back to LBS, worked my email a bit, then headed out for a pint and early dinner in nearby Camden.  Was asleep before 9:30, dozing hard.

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Sculptures from German artist Stephan Balkenhol, who carved the figure and the base together from a single piece of wood.

Up Thursday morning, out the door to find breakfast fixings, back to the room, work a bit, then at 11:30 I gave a talk to the school’s Marketing Club.  LBS is global on steroids, and after the talk I ate a sandwich and visited for an hour with my host from India, plus youngsters from Ukraine, Russia, Japan, China, Brazil, and even Michigan.   It got me thinking that I may need a new abbreviation, WJMP, What the Jet Makes Possible, shorthand like T-t-S.  From 2:30 to 3:30 I gave a talk on airline revenue management to Oded Koenigsberg’s MBA class (Oded, an Israeli, is one of my fave hosts).  After class, the plan was to head across town to the new Design Museum in Kensington, but one of the students, Patrick, wanted to continue the conversation.

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London’s blue plaques, marking history, are legendary; I somehow had never noticed this one before, close to the Baker Street station (SOE was the World War II entity in charge of espionage and sabotage); all of us are pretty happy the Telemark mission succeeded.

I’m glad I said yes.  After changing out of my suit, Patrick and I ambled toward the Baker Street Tube station and zipped into a Pret for a mango smoothie and a long yak.  He’s 35, a retired British Army captain (son of a lifer and brother of an officer who lost many of his charge in Afghanistan).  Super-interesting fellow.

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The view from the bar at the Woodins Shades in Bishopsgate

At about five I hopped on the Tube to Liverpool Street station, paused for a pint at an atmospheric (and jammed) pub, bought some sandwiches for dinner, and got on the train for Harwich and the ferry to The Netherlands, once again to avoid paying the confiscatory UK departure tax (ransom).   The Stena Line boat was much more crowded than on previous crossings.  On arrival in Hoek van Holland, a bit of stress, because the train line was closed, so had to hop a bus to near Rotterdam.  Happily, road traffic was light, and happier still was a Talking-to-Strangers encounter with a Dutch couple who owned a small organic livestock farm in Norwich (England), raising 25 Shorthorn cattle and pigs, selling directly to a local butcher, the kind of direct agriculture that is slowly taking root.  We talked about the benefits of clear provenance (I kept thinking that people might say “Well, Bessie sure is tasty,” or “that haunch of Wilfred hit the spot”).  It was a lovely bus ride, more so because respectful Dutch teenagers gave up their seats so the couple, I would guess in their mid-70s, could sit down.

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Tight fit: trucks on the ferry

Hopped on the train at Schiedam, changed at Rotterdam Centraal, and in no time was at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  Along the way, as I always do, I admired how the Dutch manage water, zipped past huge greenhouse complexes, spotted old windmills in the distance, and smiled at how their language is sort of like ours: Calamiteitendoorgang = emergency exit!

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Ships, trains, and planes: the thriftier way home!

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The Netherlands from above

Flew to Philadelphia, down to Washington, and had Henry and MacKenzie on their leashes by 6:30.

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A bit of inspiration at Philadelphia airport: the truths are indeed self-evident, but we’re still working on the equality part.

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Farewell to the Circus

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[Once in awhile, I’ve motivated to post a thought or experience unrelated to my mobile life.]

On Saturday, April 1, granddaughters Dylan and Carson, wife Linda, and I drove to downtown Washington to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  After 146 years of continuous service, delighting millions of people, especially children, “The Greatest Show on Earth” was folding the tent, and we watched one of the last performances of the farewell tour.  Before we left home, I told Linda I was likely to cry at the end.  I did.  I wept in the middle, too, and now, five days later, as I write this.

We knew it was the end.  The New York Times delivered the bad news some months ago.  On the circus website, CEO Kenneth Feld wrote, “After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year. Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”

The last show, themed “Out of This World,” was the sensational mix of acts (minus the beloved elephants) that made it “the Greatest Show on Earth” for decades.  The performers were not digital compositions nor recorded and replayed in front of us, but talented, committed, sentient fellow human beings who clearly loved what they did.  We applauded the clown; the aerialists; the Torres family from Paraguay with their motorcycle ballet inside a metal sphere; big-cat trainer Alexander Lacey; and so many more.

But as much as their dazzling work made us smile, I kept getting sad.  Sad because I had been attending the circus for more than 50 years, and taking children and grandchildren almost every year for nearly 3 decades.  Sad because live entertainment is so special, so different from the stuff on screens small and large.   Sad because a whole lot of folks will lose their jobs — not just the performers and their support teams, but food vendors and ushers, and others who depend on the circus.  What will happen to the Kazakh horse riders?  The clowns?  We can hope many will find other work, but perhaps not.

And I’m mad, at the people and groups who helped bring down a great institution.  If our granddaughters hadn’t been with us, I would have been inclined to put a cream pie in the face of the PETA jerks who were protesting, the self-righteous carrying signs that said “Ringling beats animals.” As a precedent matter, it seems counterintuitive that circus people would mistreat the animals on which they depend; indeed, there’s a rich array of fiction and nonfiction literature documenting the special bonds between circus animals and their keepers.

Our relationship with other species in the animal kingdom is complex, and PETA tries to pretend otherwise.  I am no deep ethical philosopher, but given the growing volume of research on social interaction in plant communities (see, for example, The Hidden Life of Trees) and the possibility of sentience in individual living flora, it seems pretty hard to draw distinctions, except on simplistic lines (e.g., the cuter the animal, the easier it is to defend; no one cares much about maggots).  As I am fond of saying to pre-empt the discussion, “carrots have feelings, too.”

As I wiped back tears, I wanted to jump onto the show floor to thank even just one performer for all the times that their work and that of their colleagues enriched our lives over all the years.

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The last appearance of the Ringling Bros. elephants, 2016

 

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