On Sunday, October 7, jumped on a quick flight west to St. Louis, bound for my second appearance at Washington University. Landed early, hopped on the handy Metrolink light-rail from the airport, and within 30 minutes was at the hotel on campus. Along the way, something I’d never seen on public transit: a card shark working passengers, mostly young black men, on the train. I really wanted to get a picture, but, well . . . He had a wad of cash, plenty of Franklins, and in the three minutes I was on the Blue Line train he had done a brisk business.
At five, I reconnected with Bill Burnes, a St. Louisan and great fellow. Back in Aughts, Bill and his colleagues worked at Momentum, the agency that handled American Airlines sales promotions. I had not seen him in a dozen years, found him on LinkedIn, and up he drove in his Mustang convertible (it was about to pour, so the top was up). We drove a mile to Salt & Smoke, a barbeque restaurant I visited the year before with students, and had a 2.5-hour repast, catching up, discussing marketing, ranting about the idiocy of procurement departments, and more. Oh, yeah, some good local craft beer and a plate of pulled pork, beans, and tomato salad. It was a great evening.
Up Monday morning to the hotel gym, cranked out some miles, breakfast, then over to the Olin Business School. Met my host, Professor Chak Narasimhan, and delivered a talk to a small but engaged class in (distribution) channel strategy. The Faculty Club was closed, so we walked next door to the law school for a quick lunch and yak. Hopped in a taxi at 1:00, like the year before bound for the suburban house of Steve Schlachter, friend since 1963 and former AA co-worker. Much of the joy of Talking to Strangers is conversing with people way different than me. The cab driver, from the Kikuyu people of Kenya, was way different, but much the same. We talked about work and family, about faith and values. We also talked about how, almost five decades ago, we were nearly in the same place at the same time: on my only visit to Kenya, in 1972, we visited Lake Nakuru, famous for its huge flocks of pink flamingos. A couple of years later, he started school in Nakuru, traveling from his home village 100 miles west. Those kinds of time/place near-intersections are not uncommon, another datapoint on a mobile life. I gave him a good tip.
Steve and I immediately fell into a long chatter across a bunch of topics, including other friends, current events, and some substantial remodeling of their home. We zipped a mile to the supermarket for some supplies (read: beer for Rob), then back for a mid-afternoon snack. At four, I hopped on his sleek city bike and coasted down a big hill to Creve Coeur Lake, ringed with a great biking trail. It was warm but not hot, and I cranked out 17 miles, then pedaled over to the gardening store where Steve’s wife Cindy works. Steve met us at 5:40, we put the bike on the car rack, and drove home, up the hill (I sorta cheated a little, but the hill was big). Took a shower, grabbed a cold beer, and at 6:30 we headed back to Paul Manno’s Café, a wonderful Italian place where we dined the year before (do you detect a pattern? The St. Louis trip was like, as Yogi Berra memorably said, “Déjà vu all over again). Was fast asleep well before ten.
And up at 4:40 Tuesday morning, out the door, and back to the airport for a 6:12 departure to Minneapolis/St. Paul on Delta. Even though I had been to my home state just six weeks earlier, I was still excited to return. Landed in rain and mid-40s temps, and began a bold experiment: public transit everywhere, no rental car. Bought a Metro Transit day pass for $5 and hopped on the Blue Line light rail toward the University of Minnesota, where I would teach later in the morning and afternoon. At the 50th Street station, a woman with some bulky bags squeezed in next to me. “I’ve met you,” she said, “You’re a teacher.” I replied affirmatively, launching an outstanding T-t-S. More specifically, for the second time in two days it was a T-t-S-w-P-W-D-T-M – with people way different than me. Susan looked Ojibwe, and halfway into the conversation I asked her if she were Anishinabe, the more respectful term for that nation. Yes, she was, and told me that her “real” first name was Flower in the Wind (she said it both in English and Anishinabe). Lovely. We talked a lot about her 28-year-old son; she was happy that “he finally seems to be directing his energy in positive ways.” Just before I got off the train, she told me that at age 55 she had outlived most of her friends, a sad commentary of the life expectancy of Native peoples.
I grabbed a quick breakfast in the B-school, worked a bit, then set off, across the wide Mississippi River to the East Bank Campus of “The U.” It was raining lightly but steadily, so I ducked into a few buildings as I made my way around. Paused for 20 minutes in the atrium of the architecture building, where a civil engineering job fair was just getting underway. More T-t-S with several organizations looking to hire imminent graduates. Despite all the time I spend at universities, they always fascinate me, that morning in the broad range of things to study. After the job fair, I lingered in the mechanical engineering building, specifically in the shops where students built things. Just wonderful.
Hopped the Green Line light rail back to the West Bank and met my longtime U of M host, Debbie John. Delivered back-to-back lectures to her undergraduate advertising class, with yummy pizza in between. At 3:30, I said goodbye, and hopped on an express bus, then a local bus, then three blocks through the rain to the home of long friends Deb and Phil Ford. Such a joy to lodge with friends, way better than a hotel. We yakked for an hour. I cheated a bit and headed to dinner in Deb’s car rather than public transit, north to the home of Emily Sheppard and new husband Michael, plus their swell big dog Buster. Emily’s mom Martha, widow of old pal Jack Sheppard arrived, and we tucked into a big dinner and lots of conversation. But I was plumb wore out, so hugged them all before nine and drove back to the Fords. Yakked briefly and clocked out.
I didn’t teach until 9:55, but my body was still on Eastern Time, so woke up at 5:25 (one hour difference seems to mess me more than the five or six across to Europe!). Showered and out the door, several blocks south and west to 50th and France, the shopping area of my childhood. Stopped at the fabulous Wuollet Bakery for a Danish, then yogurt at Lund’s & Byerly’s supermarket, then a big Starbucks. At eight I hopped on the #6 bus, a line from my childhood, and rolled toward downtown Minneapolis, then across to The U on light rail. Delivered a talk to MBA students in mid-morning, met host Mark Bergen for lunch, worked the afternoon, and repeated the MBA lecture at dinnertime. Mark is an enthusiastic and welcoming host – the only of my B-school hosts who whoops at the end of my lectures. Great fun!
Deb and Phil picked me up at 7:30 and we motored a couple of miles to Brasa, a wonderful casual eatery we had visited several years earlier. We tucked into a great dinner, and even better conversation. Headed home. Last nice moment of a good day was Deb playing some tunes, Cole Porter and the Beatles among others, on their Steinway.
Up early Thursday morning, out the door and onto the 46 bus across south Minneapolis and the Mississippi to the Highland Park neighborhood in St. Paul and a wonderful reconnection (and caloric breakfast) with Ruth Mordy Friedlander, who I had not seen in more than three decades. Ruth was the daughter of Wendell Mordy, who was president of the Science Museum of Minnesota when I worked there briefly in the early 1980s. Wendell, his swell wife Brooke, and Ruth, we all became friends, but the last time I saw her was at her wedding in 1984. There was a lot to catch up on. Staying connected and reconnecting is such a joy.
Ruth kindly dropped me at the airport, and I flew home. A good start to the quarter’s peregrinations.
Ten days later, on a windy and crisp Sunday morning, October 21, I flew Air Canada to Montreal, for my third 2018 visit to McGill University and, by my pretty-accurate reckoning, the 100th trip to Canada since the first one in 1967. Landed at 1:30, and made fast for the STM (local public transit) express bus downtown. While waiting to board, I struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow American. It turned out to be one of the better T-t-S ever. Mark Inch served in the U.S. Army for 35 years, rising to the rank of major general and heading the entire MP organization. He served in the new Administration as director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, but resigned after just seven months following significant, “principled” (his word) disagreements with the Attorney General and others. We continued the conversation all the way into town. He had a hugely varied military career (for example, serving with UN forces in Somalia in the early 1990s and teaching at West Point). And he was a fellow geographer, earning a Master’s at the University of Texas at Austin. Just a fascinating guy.
After a quick connecting ride on the Metro, I checked into my “hotel” atop a McGill highrise dorm, a place now very familiar. Hewing to formula, slurped a bowl of spicy noodles at the tiny Kantapia Korean café, then hopped on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare. It was windy and cold, but I needed some exercise, and to see (for the first time) the largely Francophone neighborhoods of east Montreal. Had a great ride until my iPhone suddenly lost all power. The Bixi app was thus useless, but happily the kiosks at the stations recognized my debit card and account, and was back on my way, returning to downtown. No phone meant no camera, and I wanted to snap some pictures of the neighborhoods and some lovely older buildings, especially churches. Next time!
Grabbed a quick nap, hopped back on a Bixi, a mile east to my fave brewpub, Saint-Houblon. on Rue Saint-Denis. The friendly server told me that Michel, a manager there who I had gotten to know on many previous visits, had left two weeks earlier. I had a couple of beers and a sensational plate of salmon and shrimp dumplings. Rode back, clocked out.
I wasn’t teaching until Monday afternoon, so at dawn put on warm clothing and hopped on the Bixi, down the hill to the St. Lawrence River, then west along the formerly industrial Lachine Canal. Lots of detours, because of the seemingly endless residential and commercial construction downtown and on the edges of the center. The whole city seemed to be a construction zone, either buildings or roads. My Republican friends would no doubt be dismayed to see all this growth in a “socialist” economy! Rode back, parked the bike, and ambled a block to a bowl of oatmeal and muffin at Tim Horton’s. Suited up, grabbed my suitcase, and headed south and west to the McGill campus. My class was in the law school, but I parked for a couple of hours on the second floor of the business school and did some work. Halfway through, a student who was in two of my lectures a year earlier sat down for a chat. “Do you remember me?” he asked. As I usually do, I apologized, but then actually recalled that he had worked summers for Delta in Atlanta, and we talked about career prospects in the airline business. I subsequently sent a couple of email recommendations for him.
At noon, I met my long friend (and now co-author; stay tuned for details) Bob Mackalski for lunch at Universel, a familiar and fave eatery a few hundred meters from the B-school. We had a lot to talk about and less than an hour, but we managed to cover a lot of ground, mostly about his new job as director of McGill’s Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, the university’s business incubator. Bob, a consummate marketing pro both in and out of the classroom, was brimming with creative ideas on how to advance the center. It was a great yak, but way too short. As I have written before, he’s one of the most interesting people I regularly meet.
After lunch, I trudged up the hill on Peel Street (torn up for new water mains) to the Institute of Air and Space Law, and delivered a talk on airline alliances to a hugely multinational class of 20. Back down the hill (wish I could have balanced on the rolling suitcase, wheeeeee), onto the Metro, the 747 STM bus, and a flight home. I never tire of Montreal, even for a short visit.
Six days later, on Sunday, October 28, I flew west to Chicago and on to Omaha, for a week of teaching in the Aviation Institute of the University of Nebraska Omaha. Landed in early afternoon, hopped in a taxi piloted by a friendly Ethiopian immigrant (tech-savvy, I paid him via the Square app on his smartphone), checked into the hotel near campus, changed into jeans, and jumped on a Heartland BCycle, Omaha’s bikeshare system.
I have for decades said that anyone who thinks the Midwest is flat has never been there, and that’s totally true about Omaha. I headed east toward downtown, up and down, up and down, up and down. Nearly everyone I passed nodded, smiled, or made eye contact. Chatted briefly with a few people at stoplights. It was great to be “home” in the Midwest. Had a good look at a pleasant mid-size city, then rode across the wide Missouri into Council Bluffs, Iowa – an interstate ramble. I missed lunch, and my “fuel tank” was low on the ride back. One way to conserve energy was to time the three downhill glides to zip through green lights at the bottoms – it was the cycling equivalent of large birds riding thermal updrafts in the summer!
My UNO host and director of the Aviation Institute, Scott Tarry, and his wife Mary picked me up at 5:45, and we motored a couple of miles north into an agreeable older neighborhood called Dundee for dinner at Pitch. A superb meal, and good talk.
As on every recent trip into the Central Time Zone, I woke at five. The Courtyard by Marriott had a tiny fitness center and no bike, but happily guests could use a nearby gym, so I headed there for some exercise on Monday morning, then onto a shuttle bus and over to the larger north campus (UNO has two, separated by about a mile). Spent some time getting settled, then in meetings with faculty. Delivered three back to back lectures from 11:30 until 3:45, whew (glad to have eaten a big breakfast), then another talk from 6:30 to 7:45. Then I was plumb wore out. Back to the hotel, into jeans, and down the street for a Thai curry.
Rinse, repeat on Tuesday and Wednesday. I was glad that Scott and his colleagues were keeping me busy. Wednesday was Halloween, and a few students wore costumes (though not in my classes). I missed trick or treating (it seemed like years since I was out of town on Halloween), and I didn’t finish teaching until 8:30 Wednesday night. Whew. Thursday was an easier day, two classes in the morning and a short one in early evening. High point of the day was a nice T-t-S with the shuttle driver back to the south campus. I was the only passenger. He was an African-American man about my age. I greeted him cheerfully, and sat down. “Man,” he said, “you are in a good mood.” I replied that I tried hard to always be that way, and cited sage advice from one of my bosses, CEO Gerard Arpey of American Airlines, who said we don’t really control much in our lives, but we have absolute control over our attitude. That launched a great chat, mostly centered on family. I wished the ride were longer. Back at the hotel, changed clothes, found a new BBQ restaurant for dinner, tucked in, and was asleep before nine.
Friday morning, up again at 5:00, off to the gym for a longer ride (17 miles), then to a caloric breakfast with Scott and his Aviation Institute colleagues. I did a “gentle hard sell” to return in 2019, because I really enjoyed the week with nice kids and a great, small faculty team. Stopped to drop my expense report at the school, then, for the first time ever, hopped in a Lyft to the airport. Kemy from Seattle was the driver, and it was a fine ride. A young African-American from Seattle, he came east to college and stayed. Showed me pictures of his kids, compared notes on house prices, and agreed that our President was a complete dolt (I’ll ride Lyft again, but not Uber, at least not until they hire more grown-ups to run the company). Flight to Chicago was late, but I had two hours until my connecting flight. Was home by nine. It was a good week.