Monthly Archives: March 2018

Germany and England, Again

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The Neckar River at Tübingen, Germany

After Montreal, I was home for four days, including Saturday, March 24, when I rode my bike into downtown Washington for the “March for Our Lives,” nearly 200,000 of us calling for sensible gun control.  The speakers were all youngsters, including a number of survivors of the February 14 tragedy at the Florida high school.  I was so happy to learn that Delta Air Lines provided three charter flights to Washington so students from the school could lift their voices in the capital.

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The Youth & College Division of the NAACP at the March for Our Lives

The next day I hopped on the Metro to National Airport and flew to Charlotte, then across the ocean to Frankfurt for a quick teaching trip.  Landed at 7:30, and an hour later met my young friend Tobias Hundhausen.  We hopped on a train to the main station, then out to the Rödelheim district for a tour of a data center.  Since I last saw Tobias in fall 2017, he had taken a new job as COO of e-Shelter, which operates data centers in Germany and elsewhere.  Data centers, as you know, are the “home of the Cloud,” which puts my pal on the cutting edge of the new economy.  It was a fascinating morning.  His firm essentially provides a roof, electricity, and climate control (a big deal, since servers and related I.T. hardware require consistent temperature, humidity, and even atmospheric pressure).  Customers range from small to “hyperscale” firms like Amazon.  The local power company provides two lines of 120 MW each – so the place almost consumes the output of half a typical (500 MW) generating station.  Whew!  The company is growing about 20 percent per year, and there were several projects underway on the campus, workers laying cable, finishing walls, installing fire suppression systems, and the like.  I peppered Tobias with questions, and he had all the answers.

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Scenes from the data center

We ambled back to the Rödelheim station, had an early light lunch and a good yak, and I peeled off, headed back to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, then south to Stuttgart and on to Reutlingen, for my sixth visit to the European School of Business (ESB) at Reutlingen University.  It was Easter Week, and the train to Stuttgart was packed.  Middle seat, but no matter.  There was work to do, and I got it done.

Arrived in Reutlingen at 2:55, hopped on the bus up to campus, and from 3:30 to 5:00 delivered my “advice for graduating students” talk.  This was “just-in-time” teaching!  Hung around after the talk to answer some questions, then the bus back down the hill and the train west a few miles to the historic university (founded 1477) town of Tübingen.  I stayed there on my first ESB visit, and it was good to be back.  Trudged up the hill with suitcase to Goethestrasse 14, my Airbnb digs.  Tom welcomed me and we had a short chat.  I was totally tired, but also hungry and thirsty, so after working my email to zero I changed clothes and walked into the wonderfully preserved Alstadt, the old town.  Headed to Mauganeschtle, a restaurant I visited on my first trip.  It was already the start of spargelzeit, asparagus season, and I tucked into a wonderful dish of maultaschen (stuffed pasta, the local equivalent of ravioli) with white and green asparagus.  And beer.  Walked home, and Tom’s partner Sandra was there.  We had a nice quick yak and I clocked out.  Zzzzzzzz.  Whew, nine hours was tonic.

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The almost make-believe town hall, Rathaus, begun 1435

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My Airbnb digs

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Dinner Monday evening

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Spring poking through winter

Up at 6:45 Tuesday, a welcome shower, coffee, and Sandra’s special recipe of “overnight oats,” cold with nuts and cinnamon, and a banana.  A nice chat with both my hosts, then out the door, down the hill on the bus, train across to Reutlingen, bus to school.  Worked all morning in the student cafeteria, the Mensa, and ate a big lunch.  From 1:45 to 3:15 I gave a talk on airline marketing, then hopped bus-train-bus back to my Airbnb digs.  Changed clothes, worked a bit, and ambled into town for a light dinner at a simple German restaurant.  Early to bed again, but slept fitfully for part of the night.

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Fellow traveler on the 9:00 AM train to Reutlingen

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The Reutlingen Uni campus from my “corner office” in the Mensa

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Splendidly ornate banks opposite each other, Tübingen; below, architectural detail

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Out the door at eight, to the nearby supermarket for breakfast stuff (yogurt and freshly-based whole-wheat rolls with lots of seeds), then to the train station.  Hopped on the same yellow-and-white regional train that I caught the day before.  I was enroute to Stuttgart, then west to Karlsruhe, and south toward the airport at Baden-Baden for my 1:20 PM Ryanair flight to my next teaching gig, at London Business School the next day.  Plenty of time, right?  Well, not if the yellow train broke down for two hours.  We lurched to a halt three miles north of Reutlingen and sat and sat.  The only good part was that the train had free wi-fi, so I could make contingency plans.  Even after an hour delay I could still make the flight.  But no, so I opted to head to Frankfurt and fly standby on Lufthansa (one of the great perks for airline employees, huge reciprocal discounts; that ticket cost me $71).  Was able to buy the e-ticket online while I sat.  We finally got to Stuttgart, and I was aiming for the 11:51 express to Frankfurt Airport.  Stopped at the Deutsche Bahn info counter and explained the mess to the friendly young agent.  Here was a best case of recovery from customer service failure: he heard my story, printed out an itinerary for the 11:51 train, handwrote an explanation, stamped it, and wished me a nice journey – no additional charge, no fight, no hassle.

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The culprit: nicely painted, but kaput

The Lufthansa check-in machine at Frankfurt Airport spit out a boarding pass with a seat assignment, woo hoo, and I did my “flying standby, got on” dance, steps perfected over the course of 52 years of flying without a booking.  Like I did a month earlier in Düsseldorf Airport, grabbed lunch fixings at the REWE supermarket and had a little picnic outside the store.  Worked a bit, took a short nap sitting upright, and at 4:00 took off for London.  Landed at 4:45, got through immigration more quickly than a month earlier, and onto the Heathrow Express into town.  Then onto the Tube, and was at London Business School shaking hands with my host Oded Koenigsberg by 6:15.  He handed me keys to a room in their adjacent guesthouse, and gave me directions to the classroom for the next morning.

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Wednesday’s “picnic lunch,” Frankfurt Airport

I was not done.  Agreed to meet a young airline mentee, Freddie, in the pub adjacent to the school at 6:30.  Washed my face and zipped next door.  We had a good yak for an hour.  I peeled off, back to the room.  What to do about dinner?  I had done some research on top-rated Indian restaurants in London, and Dosa n Chutny looked really yummy.  It was clear across town, south of the river in a suburb called Tooting, but off I went.  And I was glad I did.  The place had zero ambience (orange walls, bright fluorescent lighting) but astonishingly good South Indian food.  So good, a fine base for a hard sleep, deep into dreamland.

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Fellow diner, Dosa n Chutny

Slept in, meaning past seven, suited up, out the door for breakfast stuff at the nearby market, back to the room to eat, then a short walk south to London Business School’s new Sammy Ofer Center, a stunning re-do of the historic Old Marylebone Town Hall, built in the 1920s.  From 10:25 to 11:40 delivered a talk to a very engaged and diverse group of 80 students.  Nice applause.  Afterward, two students from Minnesota introduced themselves, a nice bit of the small world.  Peeled off at noon, out to Heathrow for the flight home.

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Regents Park from my room in the London Business School guesthouse

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The splendid, recently-opened Sammy Ofer Center, London Business School

Captain Freeman commanded American Airlines 105, and at the end of the flight the purser announced it was his last flight before retiring.  Once we parked at JFK, I headed to the flight deck to thank and congratulate him.  I told him that I had a flight deck jumpseat card for years, and always left the cockpit wishing that passengers could witness, as I did many times, their consummate professionalism.  His wife was with him, and they seemed a bit bowled over by the gesture, and my words of praise.  I had a big wait at Kennedy, but used some of the time to bring this journal up to date.  The long layover became longer, because fog closed JFK to arrivals for almost two hours and the short flight down to D.C. was late by that amount.  Happily, a kind Pakistani-American taxi driver was still on duty at 12:45 AM, so I was home at 1:10.  And glad to be there.

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Montreal, Still Winter

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On the McGill campus, looking east toward downtown

On Sunday, March 18, I flew nonstop to Montreal on a “real” ticket (thanks to McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law, IASL).  Landed, zipped through border formalities, and into a nice T-t-S with Isabelle, an Air Canada flight attendant.  Told her my “first-visit-to-Montreal-51-years-ago” story and a couple of other tales while we waited for the STM (public transit) express bus to downtown.  The bus runs non-stop, but was not express – weekends are for freeway rebuilding, so it took an hour.  I was deep in my iPhone screen, but when I looked up close to the center I immediately knew where I was, and said to myself “this place is really familiar.”  Nice to have a collection of places that feel well known.

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The view from above: Adirondack Mountains, New York, and the St. Lawrence River at Montreal

 

Hopped on the Metro for the last couple of miles and walked to my digs.  First stop was lunch at Kantapia, a now-familiar Korean hole-in-the-wall close by.  Slurped a bowl of noodles in spicy broth.  Ambled back to my suite on the top floor of La Citadelle, McGill student housing, watched a bit of March Madness basketball, and took a nap.

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Stained-glass backlit art, McGill Metro station

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Another sort of e-Commerce: lunch at Kantapia

Out the door about five.  The wind was howling, and it felt like single-digits Fahrenheit.  Onto the #24 bus, then the #165, skirting the western flank of Mount Royal, the big, forested hill right in the middle of town.  It had been more than three decades since I was on Chemin Côte-des-Neiges (literally, the “Snowy Side Road”), but again it felt familiar.  Hopped off in the neighborhood adjacent to the University of Montreal and several other schools, and made my way to Saint-Houblon, a brewpub.  I had been to the other location, in the Latin Quarter east of downtown, many times, frequently enough to make friends with Michel, a manager.

Sat down at the bar, and there was Michel.  Instant recognition (yet more evidence of a familiar place!).  He explained that he normally worked the other venue, but was training a new server/bartender.  Michel explained that since my last visit five months earlier they had started a microbrewery, and he brought me a couple of IPA samples.  Yum, especially the “NEIPA Passion,” a New England IPA, fruity and hoppy.  It was not busy, and we had a long yak.  He was  26, what in America we call an “Army brat,” both parents in the Canadian Forces.  Dad of Italian ancestry, Mom a Quebecker.   We talked about the Saint-Houblon enterprise, the four owners, the new brewmaster who Michel said was “almost despicable” for his unwillingness to compromise with his produce.  Saint-Houblon (“Saint Hops”) serves great food in addition to fine beer, and I tucked into baked cod, cauliflower couscous, and beets.  So good.  Said au revoir to Michel, thanked the new server, and headed home via Metro (it was too cold to wait for two buses).

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Michel and your scribe, Saint-Houblon

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New Metro car; as I never tire of writing in these pages, every one of these Canadian passengers has health insurance. 

Up at dawn Monday morning, out the door, and a few blocks to Tim Horton’s for breakfast and a large coffee.  Met my McGill B-school host Mary Dellar in the classroom at 8:20 and delivered a talk to her Services Marketing undergrads, an engaged group.  At the end thanks came in loud applause as well as a Tim Horton’s prepaid card.  Yippee!  Mary had a midterm to proctor at 11:35, which gave us time for brunch and a good catch-up yak.  She’s a swell person, a true Canadian in the best sense.

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Poutine breakfast, Le Universel; this dish came with a handy referral to an English-speaking cardiologist!

Worked for a couple of hours, and at one met my law school host, Brian Havel, the new head of IASL.  I was still stuffed, but enjoyed a bowl of cream soup with scallops and corn in the McGill Faculty Club, housed in the ornate former mansion of a successful German industrialist.  From two to four I held a colloquium about aviation careers and the airline business with masters’ of air law students, informal and enjoyable.  Walked back to the hotel, took a short snooze, and headed back to campus for one more gig, 6:00 to 7:30, to the undergraduate marketing club.  A full day.  Back to the suite, into jeans, onto the #24 bus north on Sherbrook a mile to the Latin Quarter and another fave brewpub, L’Amère a Boire, for a beer and a rabbit burger.  Yum!

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Same street as above, looking west toward the mountain

The flight home was in early afternoon, so I paddled around the suite, worked a bit, and headed out for a Tim Horton’s breakfast, then a couple of bus rides around town (the STM three-day pass, including the ride from and to the airport, is under 14 bucks), admiring the old neighborhoods; Montreal has a lot of architectural texture.  Last ride was back on the Metro.  Grabbed my suitcase, walked down the hill to the airport bus, zipped west, and flew home.  I never tire of that city.

 

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One reason Montreal never tires: tons of rich architectural detail; here a weathered portico, Av. du Parc

 

 

 

 

 

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Remembering Jim Britton, The Traveling Kind

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James S. Britton (1947-2018) in a good place: Bozeman Brewing Co., Bozeman, Montana, July 2017

On Sunday, February 25, I drove a rental car north toward a week of teaching at Penn State (described in the previous post).  As I motored west and north through the Maryland suburbs of Washington, I cued Emmylou Harris’ and Rodney Crowell’s “The Traveling Kind”:

In the wind are names of poets past | Some were friends of yours and mine

And to those unsung, we lift our glass | May their songs become the traveling kind

My brother Jim was the traveling kind.  He died unexpectedly in early February at age 70.  In coming to grips with the sadness and grief of losing my only true sibling, I have thought often of brother-and-brother travels through the years.  The first trip I recall with clarity was our 1956 family vacation to visit Uncle Harold and his kin in Montana.  And the last was also to Montana, we two brothers exploring our paternal roots, just seven months ago.

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Two brothers, Castle Mountain Ranch, Montana, July 1956

Here are some brief vignettes of other travels with Jim, mostly from a long time ago:

The North Shore and Gunflint Trail, Northern Minnesota, 1957 and many more times

On our first visit in 1957 and every year save one until 1966, Jim and I marveled at the Northern Lights, enjoyed pan-fried fresh fish at Greenwood Lake Lodge (cabin 9 was our favorite), tucked into blueberry pancakes at the East Bay Hotel in Grand Marais, and went fishing by ourselves and with our father – best place was tiny Sunfish Lake, brimming with walleyes.  Dad trusted Jim with the aluminum fishing boat and 5½ horsepower Johnson motor, and we two zoomed around the lake a lot.

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Two brothers, Cabin 9, Greenwood Lake Lodge, Minnesota, August 1957

Trips on the Burlington Zephyr (passenger train) to see kin in Chicago

The train rides on this streamliner, down to see family, were formulaic, beginning with our mother dispatching Jim and I to run down the stairs of the Great Northern Station to the platform, hop on the coach just in front of the dining car, and grab the four seats facing each other at the base of the Vista Dome. Chairs secured, we headed upstairs to enjoy the scenery, especially the hundreds of miles in the Mississippi Valley.  I can still recall sights from those rides, and even smells: the hot metal smell of train wheels and brakes, and the wool seat upholstery, infused with tobacco smoke.  And the taste of freshly-grilled hamburgers for lunch in the diner.

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Our mom didn’t have a camera, so I had to grab this pic off the Internet, and the image of the postcard below

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The short trip to Marshall Field’s in Chicago, November 1957

Though our Gram (maternal grandmother) often took Jim and me from their big apartment on Logan Blvd. into the Loop (downtown) by El (elevated train/subway), I have vivid recall of one trip.  It happened when our family was moving to Cleveland, and on a night when Field’s, Chicago’s vast department store, stayed open past dinnertime.  Jim and I had misbehaved earlier that day – I can’t recall the transgressions – and Gram axed a promised trip to Field’s enormous toy department.  Our comportment must have improved, because just before dark she relented.  “Hurry,” she said.  We left the apartment and walked briskly west and south to the El station on California Ave.  I remember waiting on the wooden platform for the train as if it were yesterday, Gram holding Jim’s and my hands.  I don’t remember what toys she bought us, only the joy of grandmotherly kindness and redemption.

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No pic from that trip to Field’s; and none of the two brothers with Nonno and Gram, but this one of Jim in about 1953 makes me smile

The road trip to Florida, August 1964

Jim’s friend John Lillejord tagged along for the adventure, a circuitous route south in the big blue Oldsmobile, to visit grandma Florence, Uncle Walter, and Aunt Mil, who had moved to the Sunshine State two years earlier. We boys hung out in the TraveLodge in Holly Hill, body surfed at the vast Daytona Beach, ate fresh shrimp along the Intracoastal Waterway, and more.

Lutsen, Minnesota, March 1969

A weekend trip to ski fast, then Jim and his buddies partied hard in a room in Olson’s Motel in Tofte.  That time and almost all the time, he let me tag along. And on that trip he taught be how to drive the stick shift of his Sunbeam Alpine, winding south on Highway 61, hugging the North Shore of Lake Superior.

 

Not long after that spring ski trip up north, Jim moved to the West, where he stayed for the rest of his life.  He remained “the traveling kind,” moving by car, truck (for years and years in a reliable Ford F-150 pickup), and by bicycle.  Jim and I shared a passion for two-wheelers.  Though he bought a skinny-tire machine years after me, he quickly bested me, routinely riding 100 miles in a day, taking on some astonishing road trips through the mountains, and competing vigorously in a range of road races.  It was in those events when he was strongest.

After marrying his beloved Pam in 1989, the two of them became the traveling kind, by car on many trips across the west and occasionally further afield.  A couple of decades ago, they ventured across the Atlantic, and made a number of way-cool bike trips through Italy, where Jim decided that he ought be also be called Giacomo.  In that country they would be known as tipi da viaggio (special thanks to my paesano Massimo in Milano for nuanced translation; as a sidebar, just before he died, Jim and I started talking about a trip to Italy to meet Massimo and see some places described in the touching new novel Beneath a Scarlet Sky).

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Jim and Pam, Crater Lake, Oregon, 2009

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Jim and Pam at home in Jacksonville, Oregon, July 2017

In the five decades he lived in that spectacular and mostly empty part of the world, I visited far too infrequently.  And I’m sad that we never traveled together again until last summer’s trip, which he correctly described as “epic.”  I am grateful for that last time together (my loving account of that trip is here).

Further along I-270, Emmylou and Rodney sang:

When the music slowly starts to fade | Into the light’s last soft decline

Let us lie down in that evening shade | And rest among the traveling kind.

Like me, Jim was the traveling kind. We miss him.  His newspaper obituary is here; I’m working on a eulogy, which I hope and pray I will be able to deliver later this year.

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Jim loved all mountains; here the Bridgers north of Bozeman, Montana

 

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To Penn State

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The Nittany Lion, mascot and team name at The Pennsylvania State University; at left the sculpture created in 1942 (his right ear was being repaired); at right huge paws welcome visitors to the university’s art museum

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, February 25, Linda dropped me at a nearby Marriott, where I picked up a rental car and drove north, headed for a week as “professional-in-residence” in the College of Communications at Penn State.  I had the whole afternoon to drive 175 miles, so I took the scenic route: freeway to the Pennsylvania border, then two-lane highways of varied quality north.  It had been a long time since I drove the ridges and valleys of the Appalachians, more specifically the Allegheny Mountains.  Up and down and up and down, through some interesting and old towns, mostly small.  A couple of wrong turns here and there, but was at the Nittany Lion Inn, the university’s historic hotel, by 4:45.  Parked the car and would leave it in the same space for four days.

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The drive north took me through historic Pennsylvania towns with lots of old buildings

At 5:45 I met my host for the week, Prof. Ron Smith.  We motored a couple of miles to a brewpub, and another prof, Steve Manuel, joined us.  I did a little research on the faculty I would meet that week, and knew that Steve would have some stories.  And he did.  Entered the Marine Corps in 1969 as an enlisted man, firing from a helicopter gunship in Vietnam, and departed 28 years later as a major at the Pentagon.  Quite a lot of action in between.  Since leaving, he has gone on 60 USO tours as a photographer, in between teaching stints at Penn State, where he’s served for two decades.  “Been shot at?” I asked.  Indeed, he replied.  It was quite a meal.

Up way early Monday morning, to the hotel gym, then breakfast with two more faculty, then into Ron’s advertising creative strategies class.  Did a bit of consulting work, met Ron for lunch, then at 2:00 met the person responsible for the Penn State invitation.  In October 2015 when I was teaching in Chicago I spent a couple of hours with a longtime American Airlines colleague.  His daughter Margaret came out to the patio to say hello, Tom introduced her, said she was an advertising major at Penn State, adding, “Margaret, you should see if Rob can be invited to speak.”  Almost 2½ years later, Margaret, her classmate Audrey, and I were yakking at a coffee shop in downtown State College. A fun chat.  Headed back to campus, Ron found me an office, and I was set.  Worked until 5:30, walked back to the hotel, changed into jeans, and headed back to town.

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Old Main

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The school’s buildings and grounds were in really good condition, especially well-maintained older structures

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The Nittany Lion Inn, my digs for the week; built 1931, university-owned, and used for teaching in the school’s hospitality-management program

Earlier I had spotted a promising tavern, the Darkhorse, on an alley called Calder Way.  Zipped in, sat down, and in no time was chatting with Nolan the bartender.  Nice TtS piled on top of SMN (Small world, no?): he worked for five years as a counselor at a summer camp for special-needs kids on Big Trout Lake in Minnesota, two miles from my pal Tim McGlynn’s cabin.  Also yakked with a couple of colorful locals, Alec and Eric.  A nice time.  Next and last stop was India Pavilion for dinner, then home.

Tuesday, same drill: on the fitness bike, breakfast (on my own), then to class: one before lunch and two after.  In between, a delightful lunch with more faculty: Tara, Frank, and Denise.  Back to the room, changed clothes, out the door for a beer, then a spicy Thai curry.  Wednesday, again.  Breakfast with a prof, then to his class and another.  Lunch with grad students and Denise, brief meeting with the dean, Marie Hardin, worked a bit more and got prepped.

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Self-explanatory, and so true!

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I welcomed these intepretive signs all over the campus, many of which noted “firsts” at Penn State, like this one

The main event of the visit was a keynote speech in the student center at 6:30.  Denise, Ron, and I had an early dinner in the Nittany Lion Inn’s superb dining room (like Cornell, Penn State has a “hotel school,” and the inn is used extensively for hands-on lessons in hotel and restaurant management).  The keynote went well – attendance was a bit sparse, but your scribe delivered a solid talk, and answered some great questions.  After the talk, two people with airline connections introduced themselves: Debbie, a former Continental flight attendant, and Jillian, whose mom has worked on the ramp at LaGuardia for American and predecessor companies back to Piedmont Airlines.  Walked back to the hotel, changed clothes, and had a nightcap beer.

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Like other schools with agriculture majors, Penn State has an on-campus creamery; it was way bigger than the one at the University of Wisconsin

Thursday morning, back to the gym, packed the suitcase, tossed it in the rental car, and headed to my office.  After lunch and a detour for a milk shake at the Berkey Creamery on campus, I met a soon-to-graduate student, Mike, who was torn between a career in comms and one in the cockpit.  We chatted for an hour, and after he left I felt much better about young people – Mike was hardworking, kind, humane, thoughtful.  He’d make a good pilot.  Last class ran 3:30 to 4:30.  By then it was pelting rain.  Walked briskly back to the car, fueled up, and headed home, this time on the freeway.  It was, alas, one of the most awful drives in almost half-a-century behind the wheel.  Sheets of rain nearly the whole way, fog on the ridgetops, and once on I-70 a parade of semis, many of which were in the uphill left lane.  I was seriously glad to be home, even to clean up a couple of MacKenzie’s accidents on the basement carpet!

The visit to Penn State was superb, and I told host Ron that I would very much like to return in future years.

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The lion motif was everywhere on campus!

 

 

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