On Wednesday, March 6, I flew up to Boston in mid-afternoon for a short consulting assignment the next day. Hopped a shuttle to a nearby hotel, took a nap. At 5:45, met my consulting clients and we headed to dinner. I was put in charge of finding a close-by place, no small task when staying near airports, but Boston Logan is close to the city, so we headed in the (free) hotel van a couple of miles to Rino’s Place, a wonderful Italian place in the Chelsea neighborhood east of downtown. Dinner was enormous and wonderful, and the new clients provided agreeable conversation.
Up early the next day, over to a nearby facility, then to the airport. We were outside a lot, and it was way cold, but interesting. Flew home. Zip, done.
Ten days later, it was time for another trip to the cold, up to Montreal and a quick lecture at McGill University. I was off to a bumpy start: weekend maintenance on the Metro had reduced service, and I needed a Plan B, so hopped off along the way and hopped into a lift, driven by an Ayman, an affable and chatty Egyptian immigrant. Figuratively, the road smoothed out when I was in Ayman’s capable hands (he knew a good shortcut into Terminal A at National). The current U.S. President would never be able to understand a life like Ayman’s, his wife and kids back in Cairo, he working his tail off to send money home.
I was flying standby nonstop on Air Canada, and things got even smoother when I got one of the last seats on the little jet. It was way faster than flying American via New York; I thought getting on would be a piece of cake, because the flight showed 17 open seats the day before, so when the agent handed me a boarding pass, I did my little “success flying standby” dance, steps I’ve perfected since July 1966!
Landed at one, zipped through immigration and customs (the Canadians have those processes down to a science). Bought a pass on Montreal’s superb public transit system, the STM, and started walking toward the airport bus. Just ahead of me was a young guy, and on his suitcase was a plastic ID tag with the logo of my alma mater, the University of Minnesota. I asked him if he studied there. “I did,” he replied, “but graduated last year. Thus began a superb T-t-S that lasted 40 minutes, all the way into downtown Montreal. Joel Gagnon was from Saskatchewan, but now living in Montreal as a member of the Canadian national gymnastics team. We talked about his training, his family (French parents from Ontario, they spoke French at home, and he attended a Francophone secondary school in Saskatchewan). Clearly an ambitious fellow, in his part time he was working on a M.Sc. in aerospace engineering at McGill. A fine fellow, clearly an excellent young ambassador for Canada.
The McGill visits are formulaic. Bus into town, check into La Citadelle, a university residence, up to a big apartment at the top of the building, then head a few hundred feet for lunch at Kantapia, a family-run Korean café. In warmer months, I’d buy a day pass on Bixi, the bikeshare system, but it’s closed in winter (there was still a lot of ice and snow on roads and sidewalks). So I walked a few blocks to a bookstore (since they speak French in Quebec, it would be redundant to call it a French bookstore, but that’s what it was!), and bought a couple of books for Dylan and Carson, who study in French for half the day. Took a nap.
The formula continued: hopped on the Metro east three stops to the Latin Quarter and one of my fave brewpubs, Saint-Houblon (houblon is hops in French). It was St. Patrick’s Day, and at 5:30 the place was packed. But I found a stool at the communal table where I usually sit, asked for a pint of juicy New England IPA (“NEIPA”), and took in the scene. As noted in previous accounts, I’m two to three times older than the patrons, but no matter – still young at heart, still young in attitude. My original plan was to eat dinner down the street, but I settled in, ordered a stout (Irish!) and a plate of spicy chicken and rice. Saint-Houblon always offers creative plates with unusual seasonings and ingredient combinations. It was yummy. And a lot.
Up early Monday morning, worked and read, suited up, and 8:30 met host Bob Mackalski at his athletic club. As I have written before, Bob is a wonderful fellow, super-bright, another wonderful Canadian ambassador (like Joel, also from one of the Prairie provinces, Manitoba). Had a big bacon-and-eggs breakfast and some laughs, and walked up the street to the Dobson Center for Entrepreneurship, which he now directs. From 10 to 11:20, I delivered a talk to his MBA class on customer insights. Walked down the hill, hopped the #747 bus back to the airport, and flew home. Too short a visit, and a bit too cold, but I’ve loved Montreal for 52 years now.