Short trips: Omaha and Montreal


Public art of all kinds is everywhere in downtown Montreal


On April 17, in between Saturday teaching at Georgetown, was up early and onto the Silver Bird to Chicago, then a smaller bird to Omaha, Nebraska, for a couple of days of teaching at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Aviation Institute.  Scott Tarry, the institute’s director, picked me up at the airport, still called Eppley Airfield, a wonderful old-school name.  Scott had been at UNO for 18 years, and though not a native, knew the city well.  It was my first time there for 30 years; a lot was new and a lot was the same.  New was redevelopment of former railyards between the close-in airport and downtown, a stadium mainly built for the baseball College World Series (always held in Omaha), and some fresh construction downtown.  Omaha punches above its weight in corporate headquarters: Union Pacific Railroad, Mutual of Omaha (insurance), the Gallup Organization, and Kiewit (construction and engineering) among others.  Scott gave a great tour enroute to the campus, several miles west of the center.  We had lunch, then motored to the Aviation Institute.


Lake Michigan and Chicago, both looking much warmer than on my January 1 visit


The Great Plains in late-winter tan; at left, map-like contours show the gently rolling farms of western Iowa; right, the Missouri River meandering north of Omaha

Not new — but welcome — was Mid-continent friendliness, which I have missed since moving East in 2012. Smiling people, eye contact and friendly “how are ya?” with strangers on the street, genuine welcomes and cheerfulness at restaurants and hotels.  Good to be back.

From 4:00 to 5:15, I delivered a talk to a small class, then from 6:45 to 8:00 was part of a recognition evening for scholarship winners; my job was to give a talk on the airline business.  It went well; these were aviation-focused students, so they knew quite a bit about the business, though perhaps not from my long view.  Yakked with students afterward, then Scott dropped me at a nearby hotel.  After a huge Midwestern lunch (meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, rolls) and finger food at the recognition event, I was not hungry.  But thirsty, so I walked a couple blocks south to pick up two craft beers, making sure to find local Nebraska brews.  I was in the heart of Aksarben (Nebraska spelled backwards) Village, an ambitious and well planned redevelopment of the former Ak-sar-ben horse track and fairgrounds.  A nice story: the Knights of Ak-sar-ben, a civic-betterment organization, was organized in the 1890s to keep the state fair in Omaha; as times changed, the coliseum, fairgrounds, and track they built became less popular.  In 1992, the knights gave the land to the nonprofit Ak-sar-ben Future Trust, to redevelop the site, just south of the UNO campus.  It was all looking very good, mixed-use housing (some for students, some not), retail, and offices.  A block away was a new arena, home of UNO’s formidable NCAA Division 1 men’s ice hockey team.

Up early the next morning, did some work in the hotel room, and met Scott and colleagues for a big breakfast and a good discussion of future directions for the institute, which, like several dozen colleges in the U.S., does two things: trains pilots while they earn a bachelor’s degree; and offers courses in airport and airline management.  I also got a short tutorial in Nebraska government, including a reminder (first learned in 9th grade government class) that the state has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature.  A nice idea.

We motored back to campus for a car and walking tour, including a good look at the insitute’s facilities.  The campus, with about 2/3 the enrollment of the main Nebraska campus in Lincoln, was very modern and growing — the state is clearly funding higher ed.  Nebraska is 500 miles across, but fewer than two million people, and about half live in the eastern 15 percent.  From 11:30 to 1:00, yakked over lunch with ten aviation students, then Scott drove me back to Eppley.  We detoured through Happy Hollow, a wonderful, affluent neighborhood from the 1920s and ’30s just east of campus.  I’d live there.  Warren Buffett has been there for decades.  Flew home via Chicago and prepped for the last Saturday class.


On the UNO campus; below, “Castle of Perseverance,” a rather odd piece of public art on campus; with its depiction of former U.S. presidents as clowns funded with tax dollars it would likely drive Tea Party types nuts!



On May Day, Tuesday the 1st, I flew north to Montreal, back for the second time in six weeks.  Cruising north, upstate New York and the Adirondack Mountains didn’t look all that different from the preceding visit: lakes were still frozen, ridgelines held a lot of snow, and downhill ski trails were demarcated, white on dark green.  Hopped the bus into downtown and checked into the hotel.  I was back at McGill to speak to their MBA in Japan students, just as I did in 2017 (and 2007 before that, in Tokyo), and they were staying at the fancy Le Meridien hotel.  A bicycle with the hotel logo stood next to the reception desk, and after dropping my suitcase in the room I pedaled east, three hours free if you belonged to Starwood Hotels’ loyalty program.  It was well past lunchtime, so made fast for my favorite Kantapia for a steaming bowl of Korean noodles.


The Adirondacks at left; the distinctive “long lots” of Quebec, plowed and ready




Fortified, I rode down the hill toward the St. Lawrence River, then onto a now-familiar bikeway that runs along the old Lachine Canal.  Got a good workout, especially the trudge uphill to the hotel.  Took a quick nap and at 6:00 started meeting students as we processed several blocks north to free beer at McLean’s Pub.  The group was only about half Japanese, the remainder mostly Indian, but also from Britain, the U.S., Morocco, Portugal; all were living and working in Japan.  It occurred to me – as it often does these days – that air travel is directly responsible for improving these students’ lives, not just in a weeklong visit to a new city, but more broadly in enabling long-distance migration.  Had several good introductory yaks and a couple of beers, then hopped a bus to my favorite Saint-Houblon pub in the Latin Quarter.  Michel, described in the account of the March trip, was not there, which was too bad.  The place was packed, but as always convivial.  Had a short exchange with a Francophone couple a bit younger than me, tucked into a dinner of pork belly and cannelloni, hopped the bus back to the hotel, and clocked out.


Pleasant new residences line the formerly industrial Lachine Canal

It was raining lightly the next morning, so I rode a fitness bike in the hotel gym, suited up, and walked with students to a company visit, the huge financial coop Desjardins.  When I was on the board of the American Airlines Credit Union, we sometimes discussed Desjardins, because they are a leader among coop banks.  The presenter said it all.  “As an institution, we are social-values driven, and people come first.”  I had to peel off early for a meeting with McGill faculty.  At noon I met one of my stalwart McGill hosts, Bob Mackalski, and the two presenters who would precede me, Steven and Shawn.  Bob is lively, so the lunch was fun yakking across the table as we tucked into salads.  At three it was my turn to stand and deliver, and it went well.  Walked back to the hotel, washed my face, grabbed a quick nap, then walked back to McGill, to the Faculty Club, for a reception and dinner.  Bob and I sat with two guys from Taiwan and Portugal, and really had fun.  The after-dinner speaker was the CEO of Beavertails, a Canadian pastry franchise, who earned his MBA at McGill in 1991.  Great presenter, lots of humor.


Complex Desjardins, shops and restaurants; most of downtown retailing has been remade into places like this


More public art, in almost every Metro station


Presenter at Desjardins Lab, the coop’s digital innovation center


More expansion in the fine-arts district: a new home for the National Film Board


Bob Mackalski and Ricardo looking at pictures of their new arrivals

Up before six Thursday, out the door with the hotel bike, back down the hill.  On my first visit to Montreal 51 years earlier, the big world’s fair called expo67 featured a lot of innovative architecture.  One of the premier examples, Habitat 67, an apartment block (literally blocks) designed by Canadian Moshe Safdie, was not actually on the fair site, but across the river.  Despite dozens of trips to Montreal, I had never seen it up close, and it was only four miles from the hotel.  The route required some zigzags, but most of it was on the splendid bikeways that now spread across Montreal.  It was pretty cool, as was the view of the skyline across the water.  Rode back to the Lachine Canal, south a few miles, then back up the hill to the hotel.  Ate breakfast with a handful of students, answering some last questions.


Habitat 67


Montreal from the Habitat 67 site


Color-coordinated gear in the Port of Montreal

Headed back to McGill for a logoed T-shirt to replace my well-worn white one, then to Archambauld, a bookstore, to buy some children’s books en Français for Dylan and Carson (sort of tricky: what would fit a 10-year-old native Quebecois would not work for our two, who are in a French immersion program).  Check and done.  Back to the hotel, pick up my suitcase, roll down the hill, onto the Metro and bus to the airport.  I hadn’t made my obligatory visit to that great Canadian institution Tim Horton’s, so stopped for a light lunch in the airport arrivals hall.  I was unaware, but had been in a bit of a T-t-S deficit that trip, which was nicely corrected while eating my chicken noodle soup at Tim’s: the fellow at the next table was wearing a University of Southern California ball cap; when he and what I assumed was his wife stood up, I asked him if he studied, and he replied yes.  That launched a nice chat.  He graduated in 1999, six years before Robin.  “I lost everything when my business failed, and I had to start over,” he said, “and the USC network helped me get back on my feet.”  An hour later, I flew to Philadelphia, then on to Washington.  Was home by 6:45, dogs quickly on the leash.


Architectural detail, outside and in: the old Birks Jewelers entry, and door frames and decorative columns in the McGill Faculty Club

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