Travels in the fourth quarter – likely to be as busy as the third – started Sunday, October 8, with a flight west to St. Louis. I had not been there for 14 years. Walking through the terminal, the Midwest was immediately evident: people smiling, making eye contact with strangers, and generally looking happier than folk in the Northeast. Hopped on the MetroLink light rail, and rode into the city. Got off at the Delmar Loop station, on the edge of a poor neighborhood, and although many of the people around the station looked like they had hard lives, they still nodded or smiled or said “how ya doin’.” I walked west on Delmar into University City, U City for short, then south on Skinker to Washington University, on the north end of the huge Forest Park (second-largest urban park after New York’s Central Park). Walked across the north end of the leafy campus and checked in at the school’s on-premises hotel. Grabbed a quick nap, and walked the campus a bit more.
At 6:30, I met Ayshwarya from India, Cathy from China, and Majed from Saudi Arabia, three students in the class I would teach the next morning, and we zipped a mile north to an awesome Barbeque joint, Salt & Smoke. It was a fun dinner, mostly explaining the airline business, but also getting to know them a bit, all Master’s candidates at WashU, as everyone calls it.
Up early Monday morning, onto a defective fitness bike in the hotel gym, only able to crank out five miles. Ate a free breakfast in the hotel and ambled next door to the airy atrium of the Olin Business School. Worked for an hour, then met my host Prof. Chakravathi Narasimhan. I had met Chak five months earlier at a conference, whence he suggested a visit. Chak was one of those fellows that you feel like you’ve known for years even though it’s only been 10 minutes. Just a swell guy. He had been at WashU 28 years, moving to St. Louis after earning his Ph.D. at Northwestern. Delivered a talk on airline sales and distribution to a largely Asian audience. Chak invited me to lunch and more good conversation, then delivered me to a taxi – on to stop 2, overnight with friend-since-1963 Steve Schlachter, out in the western suburb of Maryland Heights.
Steve had just returned from a reunion of 1000 former employees and leaders of PeopleExpress, one of the early successes of U.S. airline deregulation. Though the company failed, they have been widely heralded for their commitment to employee participation (and ownership, through stock), cross-utilization of people, and enlightened management. We spent the first 90 minutes yakking about the reunion, and the airline industry. Having lived through the death of an airline brand (Republic, my first corporate job, 1984-86), I understood the emotion generated. It sounded like a remarkable event, held at Newark Airport, which was PE’s home base.
At three, we went for a drive, through a big park adjacent to their subdivision, then down the hill to Creve Coeur Lake. Back home, I borrowed Steve’s bike and zipped around the lake a few times. Tonic! At five, we picked up Steve’s wife Cindy, who works at a garden and landscape center, then spent a pleasant 90 minutes on their back deck, with drinks and chatter. Headed out for dinner, made a wrong turn, but still ended up in a good place: Paul Manno’s, an Italian restaurant in a strip mall. St. Louis is full of Italians and great Italian eateries, and this one did not disappoint. The pasta was way good, accompanied by fine conversation.
Up early the next morning, did a bit of work, and at 8:45 Steve drove me back to the airport. Flew via Chicago to the next gig, at the Carlson School of Management at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota. We descended through cloud and below was my homeland: lakes, trees, and farmland. It was a comforting view. Landed Minneapolis/St. Paul at 1:30. Picked up a rental car and motored north. Stop 1 was a chocolate malt at the Dairy Queen on 42nd and Minnehaha, which included a nice chat with the owner – I told him I had not been in that DQ since September 1974, when I stopped to revive, on about mile 93 of a 100-mile bike ride. He said his dad had bought the store the year before my last visit. A nice bit of continuity.
At 3:00, I walked into the MPLS. Frame Store a few blocks north and met MJ the owner, then met Pam Harris, the artist who produced the lovely pastel “City Garden” that I bought at the Minnesota State Fair seven weeks earlier. We three had a nice chat about their work (MJ is an artist and a framer), and we talked a lot about other local artists that I had met through more than three decades of visiting the art show at the fair. Loaded the art in the car (fretting about whether it would fit in the airplane coat closets two days hence), and drove west on the lovely parkways that are one of the many virtues of the City of Minneapolis, across to the home of friends-since-1970 Deb and Phil Ford.
We yakked for a bit. It was a beautiful fall day, and leaves were close to peak color, so I borrowed Phil’s slick new city bike and rolled east to Lake Harriet, joining a bike path that I’ve known for almost 60 years. Cycled north, then across to Lake Calhoun, and around it, back to Harriet, and home. I kept thinking back to all the times I rode around those lakes, and specific moments popped into my head, like election night in 1972; it was rainy and gloomy, and Richard Nixon had by early evening been announced as the victor. I remember feeling unhinged, not just by the voting result, but by the uncertainty that would follow college graduation in eight months. Of course it all worked out!
We headed to early dinner at a new place, Mill Valley Café, not far from their house. When I return to the Twin Cities, I’m always delighted with all the new restaurants, and this one did not disappoint. Tucked into spicy edamame as a starter and grilled rainbow trout. Yum. Headed home and yakked for a long time, as only long friends can do. Before retiring, I asked Debbie to play a song on the piano; she’s accomplished, and it was lovely to hear her. We don’t make music ourselves much anymore, which made it even sweeter.
Was up Wednesday morning at “the usual time,” but that was 5:15, not 6:15, in the Central Time Zone. Out the door, down 50th Street, then into the city on Park Avenue, a route I recall from my childhood (the main freeway in that part of town, I-35W, was torn up, so local routes made sense). Parked across from the Carlson School of Management at “the U,” walked around the West Bank Campus a bit, then found a big coffee and cinnamon roll at a Starbucks in Hanson Hall. Before delivering my first lecture, I walked over to the Geography Department (where I earned my Ph.D.) and tracked down Rod Squires, the only faculty member still there from my time in the late 1970s. He’s north of 70 and going strong. We lamented the decline of “real geography” in the hands of ideologues and theoreticians, a 40-year slide that was a major factor in my leaving the field. Sad to see that not much has changed.
At 9:45, delivered my airline pricing lecture to Mark Bergen’s morning MBA class. At 11:45, Mark and I linked up with longtime Carlson hosts Debbie and George John, a husband-and-wife faculty team (both marketing experts), and we motored across the Mississippi to lunch in the faculty club. Back to the West Bank for a lecure to Debbie’s undergrads, then an interview with a Ph.D. student, then a third lecture to Mark’s evening pricing class. Whew.
I was worn out, but hopped in the rental car and zoomed east to downtown St. Paul and a delightful dinner with Martha Sheppard, widow of my dear friend and Wharton classmate Jack (1944-1993); her youngest daughter Emily; Em’s fiancée Michael; and Pat, widow of Jack’s sister Beth. Martha had moved to a cool condo in a part of the center called Lowertown, and it was way cool. We tucked into a beautiful dinner, spicy Italian Wedding Soup, salad, homemade apple cake, and lively conversation. Martha poured some fancy Bordeaux (1983 vintage) for Pat and me. It was a poignant moment, hoisting that glass, for it was the among the last of Jack’s huge wine collection. We still miss him, and always will.
Slept hard, up at first light, and out the door for seven miles on Phil’s bike, through neighborhoods where I lived as a child; past the site of Wooddale Elementary School (1926), long gone; past the Cape Cod on Arden where we lived from 1959 to 1964; then back. I was flying home at 12:30, so there was still time to see one more friend, and at eight I hugged Tom Terry (another pal since junior high school) at Edina Grill. We tucked into a big breakfast, a good update (I hadn’t seen him since the 40th high school reunion in 2009), and some reliving of our youth – including a hilarious story of he and a buddy sneaking out of the house as teenagers. “Then we heard sirens” said it all!
Back at the Fords, I hugged them both, put my suitcase in the car, and drove to the airport. The journey home, via Chicago, would have been routine, except I had the huge painting. It just fit in the coat closet at the front of the MD-80 to Chicago, whew. Waiting to board the 737 to DCA, a gate agent said it would not fit on board, so he tagged it for gate check, like a stroller, to retrieve on the jetbridge on arrival. I was a little stressed, but trusted my American Airlines brothers and sisters on the ramp, and in Washington it came up unscathed. Hooray! Hopped the Metro home, a nice swing through the Heartland.