Short Trips: Boston and Montreal

More evidence that what conservatives deride as “socialist” Canada has a vibrant and growing economy: new office construction in downtown Montreal; counting construction cranes is a good proxy for a strong economy

 

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.

Joel Gagnon from his U of M days. Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

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.

St. Patrick’s Day colors by coincidence: scallions and carrots in my Kantapia bowl; at right, Centre Desjardins, a downtown shopping mall built around the offices of Canada’s largest credit union

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. 

Above and below, St. Patrick’s Day scenes at Saint-Houblon. One of the many reasons I like the place so much is that almost all the clientele are Francophone, a nice reminder of the enormous diversity in North America.

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.

Stained-glass rendering of a Quebecois trapper at the Club Sportif MAA

“Green” rhetoric is cheap. Action matters: let’s raise a (reusable) glass to McGill University for banning sales of bottled water in May 2019.

 

Conference room in the McGill’s Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship (which Bob directs), a place to show off the many innovations coming out of the school. Below, guitar and hockey stick, quintessentially Canadian equipment in Bob’s office!

Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, Montreal

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