The day after Easter, April 2, I rode with Robin to her new workplace northeast of downtown Washington, got a quick tour (she’s now Director of Public Affairs for the Emerson Collective, a nonprofit founded by Laurene Powell Jobs), and set off on foot, briskly, for Union Station, a mile away. Hopped on Amtrak, bumping and lurching north to Wilmington, Delaware. Hopped off, and in no time was getting a great city tour from Jean Spraker, a longtime friend – her late husband, geography prof Tom Harvey, and I were in grad school together, and he was a great friend and an astute observer of landscapes urban and rural. Those skills rubbed off on Jean, and in 25 minutes I had a good grasp of the inner districts of the biggest city in Delaware.
We motored back toward the station for a swell lunch at Banks’ Seafood Kitchen, right on the Christina River, and a good catch-up yak. I had not seen Jean for nine years, way back to a weekend at their seaside house west of Portland, Oregon (Tom taught at Portland State University). Jean recently moved back to Wilmington, where she grew up, and was settling in after decades away.
The downtown landscape was fascinating (perhaps I was channeling the former geography prof, Tom or me), and instead of hopping on the 12:50 train I asked Jean to drop me at the foot of Market Street. I walked west for a bunch of blocks, then returned to the station. Had a bit of a wait for the local train to my destination, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, but it was so worth it. Here’s the rich variety of architecture on Market Street:
Climbed onto a commuter train at 2:45, and bounced north, making lots of stops. Got off at the University City station, walked several blocks north to my hotel on the edge of the Penn campus, and set off for a walk around. As I told the Wharton MBA students in all three classes the next day, the school changed my life. Thirty-five years earlier, in 1983, forty of us began a summer postdoctoral program at Wharton called “Alternative Careers,” aimed at “recycling” academics as businesspeople. Back then, the supply of Ph.Ds. wanting to be professors – in any field – far exceeded college demand, and a number of schools were determined to try to help right the balance. Our cohort ranged from hard scientists like Jack Sheppard, a geneticist, through the social sciences, to humanities scholars – I think one of my classmates specialized in Renaissance French literature. Over that summer, we were transformed, and it remains one of the best academic experiences, in addition to changing my life (a year later, I simply would not have caught the eye of Stephen Wolf, Republic Airlines’ new CEO, and subsequently been hired, without the Wharton lines in my resume). Needless to say, I am so grateful to Penn for that opportunity.
I stopped into Penn’s career-services office to thank, once again, the only remaining person on the Alternative Careers admissions committee, Pat Rose, who through the years has become a dear friend. I was glad I did, because she would retire in a few months’ time. We had a good catch-up yak, and I peeled off, bound for the hotel gym.
Was up early Tuesday morning, back to the gym, then out the door for a bit more of a campus tour, past the high-rise dorm where we lived that summer, breakfast, then into the first class. By tradition, had a big lunch at Pod, an Asian fusion place near the school, then back for two more lectures. At 4:30 I said goodbye to Americus, picked up my suitcase at the hotel, and zipped through the rain to the New Deck Tavern to meet – for the third year in a row – Wharton classmate Jim Cohen.
Beyond a successful career in medical market research (his Ph.D. is in zoology), Jim is an accomplished pedal-steel guitarist, and about to launch another career as sideman in a Linda Ronstadt tribute band, Ronstadt Revue. We yakked about the old days at Penn, how we were lucky enough to get in, but a lot about music. Music talent runs in the family; his son Jonathan is a music prof at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and a way-talented saxophonist. Tucked into a couple of beers and split a plate of nachos. My flight was delayed and I would have happily stayed longer, but Jim peeled off to a birthday party. I slogged through the rain back to the U City station, onto a train to the airport, and after a long wait, home. For the second time in a week, head hit the pillow about 1 AM, but it was a good start to the quarter’s travels.