The first day of May started inauspiciously. The plan was a nonstop to Minneapolis/St. Paul arriving in time for lunch with nephew Evan Kail, then coffee with longtime friend Mike Davis. But tooth #8 had other plans; the pain started a day earlier, and was accelerating. At first I thought “ride it out,” but by 7:45 I was in the car to the dentist that installed a new bridge less than a year earlier. Nope, they said, not our problem, so they called a nearby endodontist who could squeeze me in that morning. Good luck. And that clinic was wonderful, very professional. I was out their door at 11:50, after a successful root canal. Drove home, took the dogs for a pee, and set off for the bus stop. At non-rush hours I have to walk about 0.8 mile, and did that in under 10 minutes, just before the #721 bus pulled up. Caught the Metro to the airport and departed Washington at three. Oh, yeah, in between I managed to write an 800-word op-ed for a client.
Arrived in my native Minnesota at 5:15, in spitting rain just above freezing. Picked up a rental car and zipped into Minneapolis. Things got a lot better when I arrived at the Black Forest Inn, a German restaurant and bar I have frequented for 46 years, 6 years after German immigrant Erich Christ opened the place (he’s still in the kitchen almost every day). We started tippling there in the summer of ’71 because they didn’t ask we 19-year-olds for ID. Seven years later, we got engaged there. The place is woven into me.
Ten minutes after I sat down, long friend Bob Woehrle and wife Paula arrived, and we had a fabulous couple of hours, mostly talking about books, as well as a fine dinner. My tooth was still sensitive, so a trio of soft foods, Königsberger Klops (German meatball), spaetzle, and red cabbage were just the ticket. Drove back to their house in Roseville and clocked out. A long day.
Up at six Tuesday morning, cup of coffee, bowl of cereal, short yak, then out the door, south across St. Paul for my debut at the University of St. Thomas, a small Catholic institution not far from where we lived 1978-87. Met host Jon Seltzer, like me a Minnesotan retired from a long and varied corporate career, and delivered back-to-back talks on airline alliances to undergrads. At noon we hopped in the rental car and motored a mile east to the Green Mill Inn, a pizza joint and tavern we frequented through the years (I remembered walking there with Robin and Jack in their double stroller). I hadn’t been there in nearly a decade, but the place was unchanged. Had a pasta lunch and a great yak with Jon, dropped him back at St. Thomas, and motored to the airport.
Plan A was to fly standby on a Delta nonstop to my next teaching, at McGill University in Montreal, but the flight departed full, so I reverted to Plan B, American to Philadelphia and north to Canada. We took off from MSP to the northwest, and I saw lakes: Harriet, Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and on the western horizon the huge Lake Minnetonka. I thought to myself, as I did several times earlier that day, that Minnesota will always be home. It was a feeling identical to what I read an hour later in a novel about a woman returning to her native Iran after years in California: “The rush of sentiment that her girlhood home aroused in her was reassuring and soft.”
Arrived Montreal about 10:15, hopped the express city bus into town, then the Metro two stops and a short walk to the hotel. Head hit pillow 11:45 and the sleep was so deep that I was vaguely disoriented at 7:15 Wednesday morning. But the morning mission quickly came into sharp focus, and I was out the door and north on Sherbrooke for stop 1, breakfast with McGill prof and friend Bob Mackalski at the historic Montreal Athletic Association – today known as Club Sportif MAA – a storied sports institution (the club won the Stanley Cup before the NHL existed). We had a great yak and a solid breakfast, my tooth feeling much better.
Stop 2 was a case-study presentation to 30 students from McGill’s MBA in Japan program, a course I knew because I taught in Tokyo a decade earlier (Jack came along, and I remember it as a truly colossal trip). Except for two Canadians, an American, and a Dutch fellow, the class was entirely Japanese, older, bright, accomplished. They were a pleasure. After the talk we had an early lunch, listed to the dean, then walked across town to The Vatican. Wait, what? Well, if you enjoy ice hockey, it was a lot like approaching St. Peter’s Square, for in front of us was the marvelous Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, or the Habs are they are known locally.
Bob had organized a tour of the arena, and I was reveling in it. Our tour leader, Gabriel, filled us with facts – the 4-centimeter-thick ice is made once a year in early summer, built in layers; there’s a seven year waiting list for season tickets; every game has been sold out since 2004; the press gallery way, way above the rink is the biggest in the NHL, holding 300. Along the way, I saluted the memory of a junior high and high school friend, Bill Nyrop, who went from our neighborhood rink on Arden Avenue to the Habs, playing on three Stanley Cup teams in the 1970s (sadly, Bill died in 1995 at age 43). Before, during, and after the tour I yakked with students. Here are some scenes:
Peeled off at 2:45, back to the hotel for a bit of work, then out the door for a ride on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare system. I head west to the pleasant inner suburb of Westmount and a bit further, then reversed course, most of the time on dedicated bike lanes separated from the busy Maisonneuve Blvd. It was rush hour, and a surprising number of people were returning home by bike. Cool!
At 5:15, I ambled into McLean’s Pub on Peel Street for a Cing à Sept (literally Five to Seven, a distinctively Quebec phrase) with the MBA class and some local McGill MBA students, both part-time and full-time. It was sorta like speed dating: in less than two hours I spoke with more than a dozen bright young people: Sasha, a Serbian-Canadian whose parents took the family away a year before civil war in the early 1990s; Scott, a Quebecois whose mom worked in the Air Canada real estate department for 38 years; Nishant from India, who studied at Virginia Tech before McGill; Chris from Philadelphia; Mai from Tokyo, who worked for Nissan in brand management and who lived in San Francisco as a young child; and several of the other Japanese students. The chat with Mai was interesting and at the end a bit troubling, after she told me “my grandparents were at Hiroshima and got bombed.” Whew. But she was so matter of fact, smiling, as if to say “stuff happens.” She told me both grandparents were healthy throughout their long lives, and grandma is still alive. Whew, again.
At seven, I hopped back on the Bixi, east on the Maisonneuve bikeway to the Latin Quarter and one of my favorite places, Saint-Houblon (literally St. Hops, as in the beer flavorant), a bar with a dozen craft beers from Quebec and some simple but refined cooking. I sat at one of the large communal tables in the center of the main floor. Across from me, four young people were chatting and I overheard them wondering about “loonies and toonies” (Canadian for their $1 and $2 coins). It was a T-t-S opening, and I jumped in.
They were lawyers from the U.S. in Montreal for a meeting of the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association. One from South Dakota (with her non-lawyer boyfriend), one from Hawaii, one from, well, I forget. Beth from Sioux Falls was closest to me, and we chatted a lot across a bunch of topics, of course including Linda’s work and career. It was a wonderful half-hour. After they left, I walked over and said hello to the young fellow who was my waiter on my last visit six months earlier. He remembered me. “Yes. You were sitting on the same stool . . . You are a teacher, non?” As on my previous visits, I looked around and quickly concluded that I was the oldest person in the house by at least 30 years. I enjoyed a couple of beers and tucked into a wonderful plate of rabbit meatballs on homemade spinach pasta. By the end of the meal, I was plumb wore out: it would be hard to imagine a day when I experienced more human interaction. But I had to ride a mile or so home, so I did.
Thursday was well and truly a day off. I could have taken morning flights home, but I am slowly learning not to rush off (it’s taken awhile!). So I donned bike shorts and some warm layers on top (it was 40° F) and hopped on a Bixi, coasting down the hill and headed for Ile-des-Soeurs (Nuns’ Island) in the St. Lawrence. Unhappily, access to the island was limited to way-busy streets choked with trucks and cars, so I pointed the bike toward the wonderful bikeways that line both sides of the historic Lachine Canal. A much more pleasant ride north and east to Old Montreal, up the hill, and back to the hotel, stopping for breakfast at – where else – Tim Horton’s. The line was long, but as I waited I conjured the thought I have every time I’m in Tim’s: every single one of the Canadians in the place have health insurance, recognized as a basic human right (coincidentally, later that day, “my” House of Representatives voted to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, which wasn’t even close to Canada’s model of universal coverage).
I showered, changed clothes, worked a bit, and still had plenty of time before I needed to head to the airport, so I hopped on the Bixi again, retracing my earlier route and going a bit further along the canal. It had warmed up, and lots of people were out strolling and cycling. At noon I grabbed my suitcase and ambled down St.-Mathieu to lunch at Pho Nguyen, a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall. Tucked into a small bowl of pho, grilled chicken, salad, yum! Jumped on the #747 bus to the airport, flew to Philadelphia, then home. A great trip.
Five days after posting this entry, the Montreal Gazette published my essay on 50 years of travel to that city; you can read it here.