My wings were clipped for 39 days, until February 10, and my first priority in that time was to help Linda recover from her second knee replacement. Happily #2 went way, way better, and at “decision time” in late January we agreed she would be well enough for me to resume my mobile life. I was way excited on the 10th when Linda dropped me at Georgetown for a morning lecture before heading to the airport. Woo hoo! It was pouring at noon, so rather than walking across the Potomac to the Metro, I hopped in a taxi on campus. Enjoyed my first Talking-to-Strangers moments of 2018, a nice chat with the driver. He emigrated from Iran “when Nixon was president.” I asked him if he went back. “Every year,” he replied, smiling, “and I’m going again in two weeks.” It would be a two-month sojourn to five places, visiting friends and family. I gave him a good tip, “for your travels.” A good start to the trip.
Although I was headed to London, I detoured up to Connecticut, flying to Hartford, where Jack picked me up. We zoomed south to New Haven, dropped my bags at his pad, headed to a quick burrito dinner, then the main event, Yale men’s hockey vs. Princeton. We went twice the previous season, and it was good to be back in the Ingalls Ice Rink, designed by the famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen (Dulles Airport, Gateway Arch in St. Louis, other cool stuff). Even better when the home team scored three goals in the first six minutes. Princeton pulled within one, but the Bulldogs clinched it with four more goals in the third period. Back to the apartment, inflated the airbed, off to nine hours of sleep.
Up at seven Sunday, yakked, read, and at nine jumped on the exercise bike in the YMCA gym (two blocks from home, very handy), pumped out 20 miles. Back home, showered, and at 10:45 were first in line for pizza at Frank Pepe’s, a New Haven institution since 1925. Tucked into a big one. Jack then took me on a wonderful car tour of New Haven, into some places I had seen before, and some new neighborhoods. An interesting place. He dropped me at Union Station, kiss and hug, and onto the 1:25 train to Grand Central Terminal, New York. The ride south and west was interesting, through the backyards of affluent suburbs, past some hollowed-out industrial districts, then into the vast metropolis. Arrived Grand Central on time, detoured into the main hall to gaze upward at the remarkable robin-egg-blue ceiling, adorned with painted constellations – it is one of the world’s most magnificent transport hubs. My T-Geek professed mastery of New York public transit got dented shortly thereafter: the chosen route did not work, because of weekend construction on the line that would get me close to Kennedy Airport. So I reversed course, headed to Penn Station, then the Long Island Rail Road, and one more short ride; I still managed to arrive JFK with time for a beer in the Admirals Club.
Hopped on the 777 to cross the ocean. While watching the movie, I noticed the passenger a row ahead and across the aisle holding a musical score. Then he was moving his hands as a conductor would. When we landed, it was time for TtS. As he out away the musical score that read “Leonard Bernstein,” I asked the maestro where he was conducting. “Rome,” he replied. I apologized for not recognizing him, and asked of his home orchestra. “Two,” he said, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London and Santa Cecelia, Rome. Later that day, I Googled, and he was Antonio Pappano. I zipped through London Heathrow, hopped on the Tube east, and by long tradition cued The Beatles – “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Yesterday,” and other tunes are a perfect welcome to England.
Changed trains twice, and by 7:30 was ringing the doorbell at Carolyn and Omar Merlo’s house in Kew, near the famous botanic gardens. Had a good yak with Carolyn, who was home from her job with the BBC because daughter Sophie and son Freddy had a week off from school (Omar was teaching in Qatar, home late that night). Also greeting me was Mr. Waffles, their 14-month-old golden retriever, who was 1) absolutely huge, and 2) totally wild. He seemed to remember me as the old guy who liked to play, so we did some tug-of-war until my hands were covered in slobber.
Showered, changed clothes, and headed out to my first gig at London Business School. I had some time, so paused for a jolt of coffee, and at 11:15 met Hannah, a MBA student from California, and two of her colleagues, then from 11:45 to 12:45 gave an annual talk to the LBS Marketing Club. Very well attended and lots of good questions from seriously bright students. Walked back to the Tube, rode two stops to Oxford Circus, and met a young entrepreneur friend for lunch and a good chat. It was a nice day, clear and cold, and I simply could not resist a ride on a one of London’s shared bikes, so off I went, pedaling west from Whitehall, past Buckingham Palace, across Hyde Park, then west to beyond Hammersmith, eight miles. I planned to hop the Tube back to Kew, but the line was down, so had to take a very crowded and very slow bus home.
Whoops, forgot to get a key when I left that morning, and no one was home, so I walked back to “downtown” Kew for a pint at the Tap on the Line, the only pub in London directly on a Tube line. Carolyn had my mobile number, and texted me to come home, so I finished my pint and headed back. Changed clothes and at 7:30, she, the kids, and Mr. Waffles walked a few blocks to the Kew Gardens Hotel, a very agreeable pub, for a nice dinner. We were having fun, and had even more fun when Dale, a former student of Omar’s a now good pal, arrived.
To describe Dale as a character doesn’t even come close. He grew up in San Diego, in a large Mormon family, but the stories he told of adolescent hijinks made the wild kid in our neighborhood seem like a choirboy. My stomach hurt from laughing as he recalled tales of stealing a massive concrete panther mascot from a rival high school and putting it in their front yard (his professor-father and mom were out of town); using a Volkswagen as a raging bull to chase kids around their backyard; and seeing if they could hang from the Coronado Bridge for a minute without letting go and dropping into the water far below. Whew. Wild kids.
Slept hard, nine hours. Omar was in the kitchen when I lurched down the stairs with my suitcase, and we had a cup of coffee, cereal, and a good catch-up. Left the house at 8:45, had a quick cup of coffee with another friend, then hopped the Tube to Imperial College. Met Omar for lunch, then delivered a lecture to his M.Sc. class on branding, big, 180 students. Dale attended, and we visited a bit after, then I peeled off. A quick yak with Mikhaela, a longtime friend at Imperial, then onto the Tube, across town to Liverpool Street Station, then the train to Stansted Airport, and a Ryanair flight to Frankfurt. Arrived 10:30, headed to the train station, hopped on the 11:39 train to my next destination, WHU, a private business school in the Rhine Valley. It was the very last minutes of Mardi Gras, or Karneval as they call it in that part of Germany, and I spotted only one remaining reveler along the whole line, a turquoise-wigged young woman on an adjacent platform in Mainz. Arrived Koblenz, a very familiar place, at 12:55, walked to the Hotel Trierer Hof (built 1786, began welcoming guests three years later), head hit pillow at 1:30. A long day.
Up at 7:30; six hours of sleep was not enough, but it had to do, because it was showtime at 9:45. Zipped across the Rhine on Bus 8, walked up the hill to the very-familiar WHU campus in Vallendar, and delivered a leadership talk to a sparse group, reduced from either flu or Karneval hangovers (more likely). Dashed out, back to Koblenz, changed clothes and walked to the train station. Hopped on a local train to Andernach, then almost missed Bus 310 (I couldn’t find the stop, and would have missed it save for all the students climbing on; Wednesdays must be early dismissal).
I was glad I made it, because I was bound for Maria-Laach, a Benedictine abbey 11 kilometers north. I met one of the monks two months earlier, on a flight from Copenhagen to Frankfurt. Among other things that day, he told me the Benedictines were noted for hospitality, and invited me to tour the abbey on a future visit. I was excited. Along the way, I had a nice TtS with a teenage boy of 13 or 14, who told me the abbey was really interesting, and that the nearby large lake, formed by a volcano, was where he went sailing in the summer. The bus took a circuitous route to the abbey — the 6 miles or so took 40 minutes via Nickenich, Wassenach, and several other small burgs, dropping chattering students at each one.
Fr. Augustinus was waiting for me in the abbey parking lot, and welcomed me warmly. First stop was the welcome center for a short video introduction. The abbey opened in 1156, and there was a fair bit of upheaval in the nearly nine centuries since. Napoleon dissolved monasteries, sold off property. Today the abbey has 35 monks and 220 staff to operate the abbey’s many enterprises – one of St. Benedict’s rules was every monastery had to be self-sufficient, and this one was a large enterprise, operating a hotel, conference center, large shop and art gallery, and a garden store renowned in the region. We toured the grounds, had a cup of coffee, then visited the Romanesque church and a spectacular library that was built when the Jesuits briefly held the abbey in the late 19th Century. Here are some scenes:
At five, I thanked Fr. Augustinus and wished him well, then hopped into one of the abbey’s cars, meeting Herr Hoffmann, one of the 220 staff. He was friendly but spoke no English, so the ride down the hill to Andernach was entirely auf Deutsch, together with hand gestures and lots of comparing photos on our mobile phones – wives, kids, dogs, the universal sharing of family. Hopped on the train back to Koblenz, and took a short nap. Whew, a long and good day. At seven I wandered a few blocks to one of my world-fave taverns, the Altes Brauhaus, opened in 1689. Had a couple of beers and a plate of cold herring with fried potatoes, yum. Then a solid sleep
I woke, on a day off, to two or three inches of snow. Plan was to head across to WHU, work the morning, meet two long WHU friends for lunch, and go to a thermal bath, in nearby Bad Ems, in the afternoon. After breakfast I ambled to the stop for Bus 8 and waited. And waited. And waited. After 90 minutes it was clear that a little bit of snow had massively disrupted service, so walked to the train station and hopped the rails to Vallendar. My faith in German efficiency and perseverance was slightly dented.
Met Heidi and Sandra for lunch, a now-annual event, at an agreeable little Italian place. Tucked into pasta, and made great conversation with nice people. Because I didn’t get any work done that morning, and a new assignment arrived, I spent the afternoon working at WHU, and got caught up. Missed the baths, but stuff happens. Headed back to Koblenz, pausing at the bus stop for another TtS, with a WHU Ph.D. student who had lived in Chicago for a year as an intern with the German-American Chamber of Commerce. Headed back to the Altes Brauhaus, then home. Another long sleep, catching up from earlier in the week.
Friday morning, time again to stand and deliver. My new WHU host, Jane Le, was ill on Wednesday, but was there that morning to introduce me to a class slightly larger than two days earlier. Gave the talk, lots of good questions. Afterward, Jane’s TA, Mommin Durrani, invited me to coffee, and although I had a bit of work I was so glad I accepted.
Mommin was one of the most interesting grad students I’ve ever met. He was from Peshawar, Pakistan, close to the Afghan border, a chaotic and unstable area. He had just arrived in Germany, after Jane agreed to supervise his doctoral thesis, which will be an ethnography of informal security personnel – the brave and totally underpaid people who defuse IEDs and other dangerous stuff. He has been embedded with these workers, and will return for more field research. His work is groundbreaking, sure to shake up the field of organizational behavior. Just one story: the U.S. Defense Department sends bomb-defusing robots to Pakistan, but they are useless in a place without 24/7 electricity, so the team uses decidedly low-tech solutions, like magnets attached to string. That launched a discussion of appropriate technology, the failures of Western-imposed economic development “solutions” (think World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development), positive developments like microcredit, and lots more. My chat was easily one of the most fascinating conversations in the past year – and I meet a lot of interesting people.
At one, Mommin, Jane, and I met at the Mensa (school cafeteria) for a quick lunch. To my great delight, grünkohl (cooked kale) was on the menu, with boiled potatoes and a giant sausage. We yakked across a bunch of topics, then headed back to the classroom for my last talk of the week. By the numbers, more than 300 students in 6 days, at 4 schools. Good to be productive. You can’t mess with consistent quality, so tippled and dined once again at the Altes Brauhaus.
My train was not until 10:30, and in my ongoing drive to be productive, agreed to be filmed for a series of WHU-student-produced videos. Jöran Heikhaus picked me up at the hotel at 8:25, and we zoomed across the river to campus, with great chatter along the way. As I have written here, I deeply admire the German tradition of apprenticeships and internships, and Jöran was the poster child – worked briefly in Sydney and London, was helping a B2B startup in Koblenz, and still studying full time. Very cool. We laid down about six short videos, zipped back to the train station, and said goodbye. Great lad.
I hopped an earlier direct train to Düsseldorf Airport. Rather than using the time to bring this journal up to date, I looked out the window at some interesting stuff: a mothballed nuclear power plant (it had operated for less than two years in the 1980s); a wonderful mural of Bonn’s most famous son, Beethoven (a kilometer south of the Hauptbahnhof), and the huge Bayer chemical complex in Leverkusen, north of Cologne. Along the way, a nice TtS with a law student enroute to Düsseldorf.
Flew Saturday afternoon to London Heathrow and into easily the longest immigration queue I’ve seen in 51 years of crossing borders. It took way more than an hour to get through. About halfway along, a nice TtS with Casey from Minot, North Dakota, who designs sweaters for upmarket ski-clothing brands Obermeyer and Spyder. She grew up in Billings, Montana, so we had a nice yak about my father’s native state. Went to college in Colorado, moved to New York, then Denver, then married a fellow in the air force, hence Minot. She was fun to talk with, and it made the long wait a bit less unpleasant. Finally admitted to the U.K., I hopped on the fast train into town, then the Tube, then a fast mile walk to the home of my long friends Scott and Caroline Sage. Their daughter Eva, now three, still recognized me, even though it had been 14 months; and they had a smiling new daughter, Sadie Rose. It was such a joy to be there. The grown-ups visited briefly, then the Sages left for dinner. I stayed until Carrie, their wonderful caregiver arrived, then peeled out for dinner at Khas Tandoori, one of those slightly-worn looking neighborhood Indian restaurants that dot London. Scott recommended it, and it was terrific. Home, and asleep by 9:30.
Visited briefly with the family Sunday morning, and at nine walked east, across Queen’s Park to St. Anne’s parish, where I worshipped in late November. The vicar, Mother Christine, and I yakked a bit before. The congregation was yet smaller than the previous time, but so friendly. Afterward, as before, I had a cup of coffee and chatted with another two from November, father-and-son scientists Mark and Patrick Haggard, and a new fellow, a U.K. civil servant, from the Ministry of Finance. Renewed, I walked home, said hello to close friends of the Sages who were there for lunch, and headed out.
First stop was Scarlet & Violet, in my limited view the best florist in the whole world, to get Caroline a gift card (the house was full of Valentine and spring bouquets, so I thought a chit for later made sense). Then into Café Mineiro, run by Brazilians, for another jolt. They made great coffee, and I sat down to admire the shelves of Portuguese and Brazilian packaged foods. The place had a friendly vibe and, as I have written many times in these pages, ordinary experiences like this are better than a visit to a famous museum.
I walked a mile south to a museum, not a famous one, but a good one for a former ad man: the Museum of Brands, Packaging & Advertising. Their collection was enormous, starting in the Victorian era, with the rise of what we regard today as modern consumerism, to the present. Food, toys, games, all sorts of stuff. Although the artifacts were great, the interpretation (museum speak for explaining things and putting them in context) was weak. Still, pretty cool. It was lunchtime, so I bought a couple of sandwiches and a pint of skimmed milk, found a “picnic spot” on a side street, and tucked in. Headed back just as the friends were leaving the Sages. Scott and I yakked a bit, then took Eva to a nearby park. Had a light dinner and headed to bed to read.
Up Monday morning, into central London, worked a bit, and at 12:30 met my former, longtime host at the London School of Economics, Sir Geoffrey Owen, and Scott for lunch in Notting Hill. We three had gathered the year before, and the 90 minutes were like a mini think tank – lots of discussion of U.K., European, and U.S. politics, economic trends, old industries and new, and more. At the beginning of lunch, I told the two that I had planned to create an agenda but did not, and as I said “see you next year” to Geoffrey, he replied, “Have an agenda ready!”
At 3:45, I met my friend Jan Meurer, a retired executive from KLM. We were repeating a successful visit to Cranfield University, 50 miles northwest of London, and dialogue with students from the school’s specialized air transport management and airport planning M.Sc. programs. Gary, a drive from the school who I had met previously, picked us up at the train station, and we had a good yak (small world: his wife had worked in a Girl Scout camp 50 miles from my home in Minnesota). Jan and I carried on the dialogue from 6:30 to 8:15, answering students, making comments, and having fun. It was a good session. Hopped the train back, then the Tube and London Overground back to the Sages. Picked up a sandwich and cole slaw for a late dinner. A long day.
Tuesday was the last teaching day. Hopped the bus back to Imperial College Business School and delivered a two-hour seminar on crisis management. Worked a bit, jumped on the Tube across town, and at 1:00 met my longtime friend David Holmes for our annual winter lunch. David is a wonderful fellow, retired from a senior post in the Ministry of Transport and ten or more years at British Airways, where I met him. We were back at Rules, London’s oldest restaurant (opened 1798), a comfortable place in Covent Garden. We’ve done the lunch for more than a decade, and it’s always a joy to reconnect, updates on family, the state of the world, and some critical commentary on Britain (from him, not me!), including a long discussion on the railways. He is another Transport Geek, though a refined sort. His most entertaining tale was the account of his resignation in the mid-1990s from the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, a protest over their deplorable treatment of women. He’s just reapplied, and said he hoped he could host me there in 2019. We shall see. Octogenarians can still be regarded as troublemakers!
I peeled off at 3:10, walked several blocks to the London School of Economics for my 19th appearance. Delivered a talk to about 50 students from four to six, then I was done for the (long) day. Zipped home, arriving in time to read Eva four bedtime stories. Tucked into Lebanese take-away. Asleep early.
Up at 6:30, goodbye hugs and kisses, across Queen’s Park to the Tube, Heathrow Express, and a flight to New York JFK, then home to Washington.