Monthly Archives: August 2019

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Four days after returning from California, it was time for the annual family vacation in South Carolina.  We would have a full house, with children and grandchildren, plus Jack’s girlfriend Reed, and Courtney, Robin’s long friend from Dallas.  Picked up a minivan at Charleston Airport, stopped for lunch (by long tradition) at the Wendy’s near the airport, then motored west to Kiawah Island.  It was raining cats and dogs, and the weather app in our smartphones showed thunderstorm icons for the entire week.  Happily, the rain stopped that night.

Above, scenes from our balcony; below, varied fun indoors; at bottom, interesting scenery near two of the island’s golf-course clubhouses

By long formula, beach-cruiser bicycles arrived the next morning, and I immediately headed out.  They are lunkers, but the tires have air and the scenery is superb.  I rode miles and miles each of seven mornings, trying to get ahead of heat and humidity – hard to do in South Carolina in the summer.   Days spun past, thanks in part to a comfy large house that had its own pool.  We ate in for breakfast and lunch, and went out each night for dinner.

One of the many bike paths on the island; at right, splashing around

 

Vacations really shouldn’t have to-do lists, but I had an assignment, to read Rep. John Lewis’ autobiography, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.  During the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Lewis was seemingly everywhere, and his detailed eyewitness account was powerful and moving.  I wept at the injustice (after I returned home, I sent him a note thanking him for the book, which he signed some years earlier, “To Rob, Keep the Faith”).

Again hewing to formula, on Wednesday afternoon we headed into Charleston, one of America’s most interesting cities.  Everyone split up, older granddaughter with Robin and Linda to the wonderful South Carolina Aquarium; Jack, Reed, and Carson for a drive through old neighborhoods and a tour of a historic mansion; and me to meet Sam, a Charlestonian and former student at Georgetown.  We met at the Blind Tiger, one of many bars on Broad Street downtown, and had a good yak.  He’s working for a multicounty consortium focused on economic, educational, and workforce development; on the side, he’s an aviation geek, so we yakked a lot about airplanes, including the big Boeing 787 factory in Charleston.  We parted and I walked a few blocks to dinner with the family at a great place, Slightly North of Broad.  Some scenes from Charleston:

The next two days zipped past.  High points Thursday: One, driving the cart as Jack played 18 holes of golf at the Osprey Point course.  Way fun to watch him drive and putt, along with Steve, a nice fellow (and relaxed player) from Charlotte. Two, cheering on Jack as he completed the second round of the day on the way-difficult Ocean Course.

Jack swatting the ball at Osprey, and pointing out one of the many four-legged course hazards! Below, the cheering section and players at Ocean Course; at bottom, spectators awaiting Jack’s arrival

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Kiawah Island has a large deer population, and no predators, which means many are almost tame

 

Above, drinks in the posh lobby of the Sanctuary Hotel; below, Carson making friends with the lobby pianist

Flew home Saturday.  It was our ninth visit to Kiawah Island.  When I was a kid, we went to the same simple resort on a lake in northern Minnesota.  Before the trips back then and before the trips now I would think, “Maybe we ought to go somewhere different,” but then and now after a few days a familiar comfort sets it.  Something to be said for continuity.  And both the boreal forests of northern Minnesota and the fecund wetlands of coastal Carolina are breathtakingly beautiful, brimming with nature, and quiet.  Perfect.

In Charleston Airport: above, a stained-glass interpretation of the Emanuel AME Church (site of the terrible terrorist attack in 2015); and Fred Jamar’s “Broad Street”; below, another Made in South Carolina product, from the new Volvo assembly line in suburban Charleston; at bottom, John Duckworth’s “Ashley River”

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San Francisco as a Tourist

Part of why 40 million people live in California!

After teaching a short-course at Georgetown, and grading projects and tests, on Thursday, August 8, I tagged along with Linda to the annual meeting of her employer, the American Bar Association, in San Francisco.  She would be working for four days, and I could be a tourist.  What a plan!  We landed in perfect California weather, blue skies and 70° F.  Hopped in a taxi, and were soon downtown, checking into the fancy Nikko Hotel.  It was a lot nicer than the hostel in Buenos Aires!  Unpacked and headed to the hotel gym and the fitness bike, then a shower and out for a short walk.  I had not been to San Francisco for nine years, and change was evident, mostly for the worse: dirtier streets, and more homeless and/or mentally ill people begging, or just ranting.

At 7:15, I walked across the street and met longtime Argentine friends Martín and Valeria for dinner (they were co-founders of SABF in 2005).  They’ve been living in the city for about three years, working their second start-up business, a podcast app that now has about 500,000 daily users.  We hadn’t seen each other for several years, and it was good to catch up, and to get their perspectives on California, the U.S., and living away from home.

When I got back to our room, up popped a text from longtime friend Mike Hindery with good news: the next morning he was not heading to Yosemite for a week of camping as originally planned, and could meet me for breakfast.  After a gym run at dawn Friday, I ambled south and east across downtown S.F. to Red’s Java House, a tiny greasy spoon built over the water, in the shadow of the Oakland Bay Bridge.  Along the way, I got a good intro to the downtown makeover, largely at the hands of the big tech companies – the tallest skyscraper is now the Salesforce Tower, and you see signs for Google, Yahoo, et al. everywhere in the center.  The Transamerica Pyramid, once the tallest, was barely visible.

Above, a lot of steel and glass has come downtown, but some splendid old buildings persist, especially ones in the ornate Beaux-Arts style; below, the venerable cable cars are not the only really old streetcars in town — the transit agency bought some splendid old rolling stock from Milano; at bottom, the Salesforce tower (in center) and other new construction, and a high-tech lobby scene

It had been nine years since I saw Mike, and we had lots of catch-up to do.  I’ve owed him for a long time, because he was one of three members of the committee that admitted me to the 1983 retooling program at the University of Pennsylvania, a summer of studies that changed my life for the better.  He’s a super-interesting guy, with huge experience in the outdoors.  A great morning.

Hugged Mike and walked along the bayfront, the Embarcadero, for several blocks, admiring the old pierside warehouses and the Ferry Terminal, then hopped on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) under the water to Oakland, then north to Berkeley.  More than 25 years earlier, I had been on campus, but just for a few minutes, so a good amble around one of America’s best public universities was in order.  I forgot a ball cap, oops in full sun, but my walking shoes were suited for the large and sloping campus, up and up to the Haas School of Business for a look-around (Walter Haas was President of Levi Strauss & Co., the blue-jeans maker and one of the city’s oldest firms, from 1928 until 1970).  Small creeks bisect the campus, and towering above are redwoods, plus lots of flowers and plants, altogether a pleasant place.  Hopped back on BART, and home.

Above, under the Bay Bridge on the Embarcadero; below, in the center of UC Berkeley, and six reserved space parking spaces for Nobel prizewinners (five were economists from the Haas School); at bottom, scenes from a verdant campus

Linda was back from her first day of work.  She invited me to come along to a reception, met some of her colleagues, and tucked into some heavy hors d’oeuvres.  We were plumb wore out by 7:30, so headed back to the room and got into pajamas.  Slept long and hard.

Up at dawn again, back to the gym, then out the door, onto a tram west to Ocean Beach on the Pacific.  Paused for a light breakfast at a sorta-hippie eatery, then back on the tram.  National media and political attention has focused on the city’s surging rents and house prices, the result of housing undersupply and huge demand from the growth of high-tech companies, but a child could easily understand the root cause: San Francisco urban density is just way too low – blocks and blocks of small houses.  Or as I thought to myself, if the X and Y dimensions were constrained by water, what about Z?  Seems pretty easy to begin to fix, though I suspect a combination of existing homeowners, preservationists, and the privileged will ensure that little changes – and that the people who cook their food, drive their Ubers, and keep their gardens will need to make long commutes.

Above, examples of flowers we just don’t see in the rest of the U.S.; below, proof of the city’s remarkable low density; at bottom, the tiled steps and St. Anne’s

On Google Maps, I spotted a label for the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, a few blocks away, so hopped off, then started climbing another of the city’s legendary hills, up about 200 feet or more.  The steps were cool, 163 panels of mosaic, a community project that began in 2003.  Check and done, then onto St. Anne’s of the Sunset, a 1931 Catholic church I passed on the way to the beach.  Just lovely.  Walked a few blocks, then onto the bus east to the infamous Haight-Ashbury district, seemingly unchanged since my first visit in 1968: head shops (now selling legal pot), used-clothing stores, dive bars, and all manner of eccentrics, dopers, and freaks.  And teeming with tourists; a half-century after the “summer of love,” the place is still a magnet for all kinds.

Walked another block north to Page Street, and at noon met another young Argentine entrepreneur and former SABF organizer, Lucas Diaz.  Rick and I visited his company, Mudafy, in Buenos Aires in July (described in previous post).  Like Martín and Valeria in 2017, Lucas and his partner Franco had been accepted into Y Combinator, a 90-day high-tech “start-up accelerator” that’s become a fixture in Silicon Valley.  YC receives 40,000 applications for their two annual classes, and accepts 400. That’s 1 percent, way more selective than Stanford’s B-school!  Lucas and I walked a mile or so to a Greek fast-casual restaurant and tucked into salads (with kale, of course!).  Franco arrived a bit later, and we had a good yak about their business, already with a big number valuation.  We also talked about the 2019 SABF and some other stuff, a fun time.  Walked back to their pad, said goodbye, and hopped buses back downtown.

Lucas in his home office

Took a short nap then walked a few blocks to the Museum of Modern Art.  The day before, Mike told me about a free exhibit called “The Chronicles of San Francisco,” a play on the name of the city’s newspaper.  An astonishing work by the young French artist JR, it’s hard to describe: a slow-moving, slightly animated mural comprised of hundreds of photos of San Franciscans, showcasing the diversity and humanity of the city.  Truly remarkable.

Adjacent to the mural were a bank of interactive tablets, enabling visitors to click on a person in the mural and listen to a short interview; I liked Iheem’s words a lot

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Back to the room, suited up, and headed to the nearby St. Francis, one of the city’s venerable old hotels, for the Thurgood Marshall Reception and Dinner, an annual award function that would that night honor U.S. Representative John Lewis, one of the heroes of the Civil Rights movement.  Sadly, Rep. Lewis could not attend, but he sent a nice video.  After that, a truly wonderful performance from Rhiannon Giddens, a North Carolina musician and musicologist.  Her gig was part homage to the ongoing struggle for justice and equality, part music history, and part moving performance.  She bridges black and white musical styles; picking up her banjo (which she explained had roots in Africa, though widely regarded as a “white” instrument), she said “Here’s a song from the other side of the tracks, but there is no tracks.”  Amen to that!

Met yet another friend for Sunday breakfast.  John Massopust, pal since 1963 and now living in New Mexico and in Minnesota, was in town for the birth of their second grandson.  Pure serendipity!  We had seen each other as recently as the high-school reunion three weeks earlier, but hadn’t really yakked for years, so was great to catch up.

At eleven, I hopped on an old streetcar, northeast on Market Street, then west along the bay to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Hadn’t been there for four decades or more, and it had only become more tourist-tawdry.  Just when I despaired about another block of souvenir and T-shirt shops, I spotted the logo of the National Park Service and a sign for the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park.  Woo hoo!  My tax dollars spent on a good cause!

Vintage cars run on two of the tram lines; this is a “PCC Car,” which was a popular style worldwide from the 1930s

I ambled into a very well done visitor center, relatively new, that told the story.  It would be hard to understand the city without understanding that it was first a port.  In the center were lots of cool artifacts and some very fine interpretation.  But there was more: across the street was Hyde Street Pier, also part of the park, and at anchor were half-a-dozen old vessels.  Paid $15 and zipped in.  First stop was the huge bay ferry Eureka, offering “open house” in the engine room.  The Transport Geek climbed down a steep ladder (I marveled that OSHA hadn’t busted their cousins in the Park Service!) and was in marine heaven, admiring the boilers, the steam lines, the giant piston, and more.  Had a long chat with volunteer docent Doug Ford, retired from Lucasfilms, about the elaborate mechanical controls that drove the paddlewheels.  Way cool.

Above, a sample of artifacts in the maritime park visitor center: part of a fresnel lighthouse lens, a bronze finial from the same lighthouse, and a lovely painting; below, vessels on Hyde Street Pier

Next stop was the C.A. Thayer, a schooner that hauled lumber up and down the Pacific coast, then saw service in the Alaska salmon and cod fisheries.  Below deck was a colorful NPS employee who told me her (ships are always women) story, then explained that they’ve rigged the sails again (synthetic, but the same color as canvas!), and are getting read to hoist them.  I asked about passengers, and he despaired – all sorts of goofy Coast Guard safety rules likely will keep we enthusiasts from getting a ride.  I’m just not sure why we couldn’t just accept the risk, rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.  Deep sigh, and the ranger agreed.  I was due to again meet Martín and Vale in less than an hour, so was only able to spend a few minutes on the steel-hulled Balclutha, built in Glasgow in 1886 and one of the last of the sailing ships to visit S.F.  Gotta get back to that pier to see more stuff.  Such a cool place.

A bonus at the end of Hyde Street Pier: barking seals copping some sunrays

At 2:30, I met my long amigos on Fort Mason.  Soon another Argentine and former SABFer, Matías Sulzberger, joined us.  Hadn’t seen him in a decade, so was good to catch up.  He’s a project manager for Apple, figuring out how to improve Siri.  Hugged everyone at 4:15 and hopped the bus back to the hotel.  Washed my face, had a quick beer, and walked to the top of Nob Hill for drinks and dinner with yet more friends, James and Lael Beer (Linda was supposed to join me, but had to prepare for the next day).  After leaving American Airlines in the mid-2000s, he’s mostly worked in high-tech, and we had a long discussion about the sector, good and bad, as well as catch-up on kids, life in San Francisco, their recent trip to Iceland, and more.  And a fine pasta meal at a neighborhood Italian place a block from their condo.  A super evening.  Only “downside” was having to descend 260 vertical feet on gimpy knees.

Above, a couple of scenes on the bus ride back downtown; below, the view south from the Beers’ condominium atop Nob Hill

On the last day, Monday, I walked a mile south to the station of Caltrain (the commuter line that connects San Jose and Silicon Valley with San Francisco), and hopped on the 9:43 train south to Redwood City.  Original plan was to ride several stops further south to Palo Alto, but the train was late and I needed to be in a quiet place for a noon client call.  Ambled around Redwood City for a bit, then sat in the shade beneath a big palm tree and read.  The client rescheduled the call.  At 12:30 I reconnected with Mike Schonenberg, more an acquaintance than a friend: in the mid-1970s, when I was in graduate school, I spent a week every summer working on the Wisconsin dairy farm that belonged to his aunt and uncle, my dear and long friends David and Katherine Kelly.  Mike and I worked Monday to Friday in 1974 and ‘75, cleaning manure from barns, baling and stacking hay, and doing a bunch of other chores.  I had tracked him down some years ago, and it was great to catch up over a plate of enchiladas.  He raised a family in Palo Alto, and has worked in commercial real estate for most of his life.

Above, start-ups are everywhere on the peninsula; at Redwood City, the seat of Invoice2Go, and above Five Guys hamburgers was a banner for “FinTech Co-working Incubator” space for rent; below, the former San Mateo County Courthouse and my Monday-morning “umbrella”

There was one more reconnection, friend number 11 of the trip.  After lunch another childhood friend, Mark Hennessy, and his son Eric, picked me up and we repaired to Harry’s Hofbrau, also in Redwood City.  The boys had a late lunch and I had a beer.  Mark missed the high-school reunion, so wanted the scoop on classmates.  He raised his kids in Gilroy, south of San Jose, worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, then Amtrak briefly, then Caltrain, and like me retired early.  He lives in Mexico now, in a couple of different places, on the Pacific and inland.  He’s a character.

Hopped back on Caltrain, then the tram.  Washed my face, headed across the street to dinner, then asleep early, then a flight to DFW and on to Washington.  It was great to be in California.

On the bicycle car on the Caltrain express north to San Francisco

 

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Looking Back and Looking Forward: Minnesota, Texas, Argentina

The pep band at the 50th Reunion of the Edina High School Class of 1969

 

A week later, I flew home to Minnesota.  It will always be home, all the more so in the coming weekend: I was bound for the 50th reunion of the Edina High School Class of 1969.  Woo hoo!  Go Hornets!  Landed at noon and picked up a rental car, driving east, then across the Minnesota River to eat lunch with a special person from a half-century ago: Chuck Wiser, one of the founders of Vanguard Travel.  Chuck’s partner Rick Fesler actually hired me (I called him a month earlier to thank him).  As I have written several times and in several places (including a LinkedIn post last month), that job gave me direction, identity, and a way for pay for a university education.

About a half-hour after takeoff from Washington, my “flight odometer” turned over five million miles. Flight is such a gift.

I had not seen Chuck in eight years, but because I’ve known him well, we picked up where we left off.  At 84, he’s had more than his share of health issues, but was sharp as ever, and still active on the golf course.  He treated me to a walleye (fish) sandwich at his Mendakota Country Club.  As we left, I thanked him to changing my life.

Pedal to the metal, west to Edina (a southwest suburb of Minneapolis) to “check in” with dear friends Rick and Murph Dow – it was so handy to stay just a few minutes’ drive from the reunion venues, and the Dows are superb hosts.  But I could only yak for a few minutes, because I was due to meet nephew Evan Kail at four.  Picked him up at work, and we motored three blocks north to The Lowry for a beer and fun yak.  He was starting an interesting second job.  Woulda been nice to chat longer, but the first reunion evening began at six, so I dropped Evan at his apartment a mile south, then drove familiar local streets across southwest Minneapolis and Edina to Braemar Park and the golf course clubhouse.  As I walked up to the building, I spotted long friend Jim Grotting sitting in the shade on the phone, talking to his high-school girlfriend Cathy, who was in San Diego and not at the reunion (Cathy’s mom Verna helped get me the travel-agency job 50 years earlier, a fact I mentioned to Cathy with thanks and praise).  As I said goodbye, memories flooded in at a rate I could not absorb.

Nephew Evan

It was well above 90° with almost equivalent humidity, and not much cooler in the clubhouse, but it didn’t matter, because I was immediately surrounded by friends and classmates, laughing and backslapping and kissing girls I never would have kissed 50 years ago.  The night sped by.  There were plenty of reunion regulars, last seen a decade earlier, but a large number of people who told me this was their first – folks like Karna Lundquist from elementary school, recently retired after a career in pediatrics.  Two former teachers were on hand, Jinny Winter Jensen, widow of my late dear friend and 12th grade English Teacher, Bud Jensen, and Larry Stotts, who was my theater-arts teacher.  The next morning, I jotted down the names of 52 people I talked with.

I paged through my high-school yearbook a day before winging out to Minnesota

 

Chris MacPhail, and Dana and Jim Arnold; neither of the Arnolds went to Edina, but knew a lot of us, and it was grand to see them

 

As always happens, I woke at about 6:00 Eastern Time, which was 5:00 in Minnesota.  Wide awake, time to get up and get going!  Murph is an early riser, so we had a good yak and coffee in their kitchen, catching up on our kids’ lives.  Clear skies soon changed, and by 8:15 it was pelting rain, with wet forecast until early afternoon.  Hopped in the Toyota and zipped across Edina to the apartment of Marlys Chase, mother of longtime friend Steve Schlachter.  She had cooked us a superb bacon-and-egg breakfast, and I got caught up with their lives.  Mrs. Chase is inspirational, still strong at 85.

We yakked for several hours.  At 11:45, classmate Marty Kupper picked us up, and we drove west to Lake Minnetonka and a hospice, to visit a classmate, John, suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a dreadful terminal illness.  I saw John a year earlier, and while ill, he wasn’t sliding downward; unhappily, that changed in the spring, and his goal of attending the reunion was dashed.  So the least we could do was bring a little of the reunion to him.  It was sad, but I’m glad we went (John passed away two weeks later.)

Happily, the rain stopped and the sun was peeking through clouds.  Motored back to Edina, then back to the Dows.  Rick kindly loaned me his fat-tire bike, and I zipped off, on a new regional bike trail across Edina, then north around two of Minneapolis’ many urban lakes, then home, 27 miles in total.  A great ride, through familiar, yet changing, neighborhoods.  It was especially fun to ride up and down several streets in Edina’s Country Club neighborhood, a solid place where we lived before my dad got sick and had to sell the house to pay his medical bills.  There was Steve’s house, and Jim’s, and Ann’s, and Lucinda’s . . .

Left, the splendid view from my room at the Dows; right, the “building on stilts,” home in 1969 of Vanguard Travel, where I worked to pay for school

Refueling on the bike ride at the Dairy Queen on 66th Street; at right, a preserved door column from our Wooddale Elementary School, razed in the 1980s.

As I finished the ride, I thought of wonderful words from the popular BBC TV series, “Call the Midwife”; at the beginning and/or end of most episodes, actress Vanessa Redgrave voices memorable and poignant words, and these came to mind:

Home is not simply a mark upon a map, any more than a river is just water.  It is the place at the center of the compass, from which every arrow radiates, and where the heart is fixed.  It is a force that forever draws us back.

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Rick and I had a nice yak and a beer, I showered and changed clothes, and headed less than a mile to Interlachen Country Club.  I was ten minutes early, but the place was already hopping with classmates (I learned from one of the organizers that it was a record turnout, 260, including a few spouses).

It was a repeat of the night before: connecting with people I had not seen in a half-century and others I see regularly.  Conversations with a couple of Montanans, but mostly people who stayed in Minnesota.   Many of us observed that we could look across the room and instantly recognize someone we hadn’t seen in five decades, while others looked completely unfamiliar; such is the intersection of aging and memory.

Total high point that night was a pep band that lifelong musician Ralph Campbell organized, a mix of players from our class and some from later EHS classes; they played our two high school fight songs.  We cheered along, “H-O-R-N-E-T-S, Edina Hornets fight, fight, fight,” and tears came to my eyes.  The event ended at 11, but I was totally worn out by 10:30.  Said goodbye to a number of long friends and motored home.  Colossal.

 

Above, 11 students from Wooddale Elementary, 1957-63; yes, there were boys, but none were listening when instructions were given to gather! Below, band organizer Ralph Campbell and Guy Drake; at bottom, friend-since-1957 Linda Bearinger.

 

Milestones are so important – don’t miss them in your lives.

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Same drill Sunday morning: up with the sun at five.  Like 24 hours earlier, first task was to jot down the names of classmates and friends I met the night before, and the count was 17, plus “kids” from Friday night.  Murph was up, so we had another great chat.  Rick peeled off for a bit of work (like me, he’s staying busy in his seventh decade).  I hugged Murph at 7:25 and drove to 50th and France, the shopping area of my childhood.  At 7:45, I met longtime Edina pals Chris MacPhail and Greg Paske, and a few minutes later Jim Marquardt.  We piled into a booth at Edina Grill, tucked into another big egg breakfast (this time with smoked salmon), and a lot of good conversation.  We were close friends for many years, but don’t see each other much anymore: 10 years earlier for Greg and Chris (at the 40th reunion), and by my reckoning more than 25 for Jim.  We talked a lot about Greg’s second career, 17 years as a substitute teacher in the Scottsdale (Arizona) public high schools (he taught across the entire spectrum, from music to physics), and Jim’s life work as a pediatrician (he told some funny stories, including selective use of his hearing aids when listening to overly worried moms).  Some revisiting of memories from childhood and adolescence.  Fun time, but not enough time.

Jim Marquardt

I peeled off about 9:30 and headed out “on assignment.”  In December 2018, I met a young Irishman, Will McConnell, who was making a documentary film about a Belfast firm, York Street Flax Spinning Co., for which my father worked as a sales rep in the Upper Midwest.  Will wanted me to capture a bit of video for the documentary, trying to find scenes that looked more like that era, late 1950s and early ‘60s.  I did my best, in neighborhoods and older parts of downtown Minneapolis.  Last stop was Fort Snelling National Cemetery to pause for thank yous and prayers at my dad’s grave.  A lot of remembering in one weekend.

Above, a still from the video clips shot for Will: the renovated Grain Belt sign on Hennepin Avenue and the Mississippi River; below, the rebuilt Linden Hills station on the streetcar line; service ended in 1954, but part of the line was rebuilt and open for weekend rides.

The memory factory would continue for another day or so: Sunday afternoon I flew to Dallas/Fort Worth for a Monday reunion lunch of people who worked in American Airlines’ advertising department or for our longtime ad agency.  Picked up another Hertz car, and in no time was zooming along I-635, 70 mph.  Unlike folks in the Northeast U.S., Texans build fast roads, and plenty of them, which made me smile – yes, I get that cars are not the optimum mobility solution, but they exist, so you gotta deal with them (in the Northeast urban planners tend to deny their existence, hence massive traffic jams in places like Washington).

Was at Ken and Peggy Gilbert’s house in North Dallas by 5:30, hugging the humans and petting their two dogs, Bella and Papi (who came with daughter Blair from her Peace Corps stint in Tonga).  Had a quick beer and headed with son Allen, a business-jet pilot, to a great Tex-Mex restaurant, Cantina Laredo.  Filled myself with enchiladas – at home, I would have taken half of it home, so I tucked in.  We motored home, and Ken suggested a dip in their pool, which was tonic.  We bobbed in the shallow end and yakked for an hour (Ken and I were colleagues at American Airlines for decades).  Lights out at 9:15, for nine solid hours of much-needed snooze.

Up at 6:15 Monday morning, cup of coffee with Peggy and Ken, then out the door to a Starbucks for another jolt and some work, then at 8:30 met another former AA colleague, Laura Einspanier, for breakfast.  I had not seen her for five years, and it was great to catch up.  Back then, she was already toiling in retirement, helping to organize a Catholic high school, Cristo Rey.  Five years on, the school was open and indeed just graduated its first class of about 110.  She’s doing God’s, and society’s, work for sure.  We yakked about family, and her biggest news was her playwright daughter just had a breakthrough, with the premier of “Lunch Bunch” in New York.

I had more than an hour until the ad-alumni lunch, so Googled “Dallas Public Library” and found the Cedar Springs branch was three minutes from Avila’s, our Tex-Mex venue.  Worked my email, did a bit of research, and enjoyed the spectrum of humanity in the reading room.  The lunch was colossal, reuniting people across more than two decades.  We were jabbering in all directions.  A special time.

At the public library; below, the ad alumni lunch

Never have I connected with more people from the past in less time than on those four days.

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I returned the rental car a bit early, falling into a nice Talking-to-Strangers moment with the Hertz agent.  She was from Kenya, and I asked where. “Near Lake Nakuru,” she replied, and she smiled broadly when I told her I visited the lake and its famous huge flock of pink flamingos “well before you were born.”  Dropped the wheels early because the Transport Geek wanted to ride the new TEXRail commuter line from DFW Airport to downtown Fort Worth.  A great ride on brand-new Stadler rolling stock.  Along the way, a nice T-t-S with another T-Geek, a MIT-trained electrical engineer, who grew up in a West Virginia railroad family, and spent a long career at Texas Instruments.

Two visions of urban mobility: the 1900-era North Texas Traction Company, and the modern TEXRail that connects downtown Fort Worth and DFW Airport

At 7:30, I flew southeast to Buenos Aires for my 12th appearance at the South American Business Forum.  Like every year, I was excited to be heading back to the student-organized conference that every year attracts 100+ motivated youngsters (half from Argentina, a quarter from the rest of Latin America, and a quarter from the rest of the world).  Two volunteers from previous SABFs, Milagros and Guillermina, picked me up at the airport and we zipped into town.  After a couple of wrong turns and some detours we arrived at our digs, the Art Factory Hostel.  The room was not ready, so I trundled down to the basement café and voila, there sat my long amigo Rick Dow (last seen three days earlier in Minneapolis!), who like me has become a SABF stalwart.  He arrived a day earlier.  We yakked a bit, had a cup of coffee, worked, and headed out for a good walk.  It was cool and overcast, and after hot summer days in the Northern Hemisphere, winter felt really good.  We grabbed some lunch at Petit Colon, a traditional café behind the opera house, then ambled back to the hostel.  Room was ready.  It was, like the rest of the place, spartan.

Views from downtown B.A.: the Argentine central bank at left, and a preserved facade in front of a new skyscraper

There was less than zero time to relax, because I was due to give a talk on leadership at a startup online travel agency, where another SABF alumnus now worked.  Rick tagged along, and we zipped in a taxi a few miles west to the offices of Avantrip.   Hopping in the taxi, feeling a bit stressed for lack of time, I had my first “Thanks, Don Miguel” moment in Argentina when I told the taxi driver our destination, in near-perfect Spanish; every so often, the lessons of Howard Hathaway (Don Miguel), the man who taught us Spanish on “educational television” in the early 1960s, come back with total clarity!

Emiliano greeted us when we hopped out of the taxi.  It was then time to stand and deliver.  Rick chimed in from time to time, and the talk went really well.  Said goodbye about 5:15, into a taxi and into rush hour, north to our dinner venue in the Palermo district.  The way-popular steak restaurant, Don Julio, had already booked up (even in a Tuesday night), but you could line up at 6:45 and likely get a table.  We were in the queue at 6:05, numbers two and three, right behind a friendly Argentine women who was a freelance producer of TV commercials.  We had a good yak with her.  The restaurant kindly provided free glasses of sparkling wine at 6:45, and by 7:00 we were seated, joined soon after by Jaime, a wonderful Argentine entrepreneur in his 70s (and the uncle of a 2018 SABF organizer), and Ary, a local director for United Airlines (our usual United host, Christoff Poppe, was in Chicago looking for a house, following reassignment to their corporate headquarters).

The audience at Avantrip

Dinner was long, ample, and as the Spanish say muy amable.  We talked about families, jobs, and lot about the Argentine economic and political situation.  All eyes are on Mauricio Macri, the center-right president up for re-election in a few months.  He has done a remarkable job of beginning a turnaround after 70+ years of goofy rule by the Peronistas, most of whom still believe in Santa Claus, along with a lot of corruption.  (As one practical example of Macri’s get-it-done approach, the city recently opened a truck tunnel on the edge of downtown that greatly reduced traffic congestion, noise, and smog; it was completed in a couple of years, and on budget, which never would have happened under the old regimes.)

The conference began Thursday morning, so Wednesday was a welcome “day off.”  Stop one was a couple of hours at a start-up company, Mudafy, that Rick and I have unofficially and slightly advised for a couple of years (another project of former SABF organizers).  Sort of like an Argentine Zillow, the company seems to hold promise, and it’s always fun to listen to youngsters building something with passion.   At 12:45 we walked a few blocks to La Rural, the biggest livestock show in a country that raises a lot of animals.  I had visited once before, in 2007, and was looking forward to a return.  Rick, one of my compadres at the Minnesota State Fair, was game, and in we went.

Above, brainpower at Mudafy; below, artists and cow-washing at La Rural

It was awesome.  We ambled through buildings filled mainly with beef cattle, but also saw some poultry (missed the sheep).  High point was reconnecting with Antoinette Huffmann, Tony, who I met at La Rural 12 years earlier.  She and her family raise a relatively rare French breed called Blonde d’Aquitaine, so it was easy to find her (the various breeds are all co-located).  She didn’t remember me, but we three immediately fell into a long conversation about the economy, her story (she’s in her mid-70s, and emigrated from Belgium in 1946 at age 3), her early life as the only girl in the family, and animal husbandry – including a long graphic discussion of the reproductive biology of their breed.  Country people are nicely matter of fact on such topics!  We said goodbye, and headed to a late lunch outdoors.  Tony appeared again as we were eating, and we yakked some more.

Antoinette Huffmann; below, a few more glimpses of La Rural

Hopped into a taxi, back into heavy traffic, and after an address snafu on my part arrived at the SABF launch party downtown, plunging into introductions and early discussion.  At one of the several downtown buildings of the host institution, the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology (ITBA), we met students from Canada, South Africa, Argentina, Costa Rica, Lithuania, and more.  Walked back to the hostel, washed my face, and Rick and I headed out to dinner with some other SABF alumni, 12 or 15 of us at a big table in a serviceable Italian restaurant.  Last stop of the day was a bit of cheerleading for the 2019 organizers – as is the custom every year, Rick and I did our best to rev them up for the coming three days of hard work.

Up early Thursday morning, out the door, onto buses to the auditorium of Buenos Aires’ modern city hall, for a plenary day.   To say the first speaker rocked it would be a huge understatement – every few years the SABF manages to land a superstar, and in 2019 it was Nicholas Negroponte, longtime director the future-wow Media Lab at MIT.  As you would expect, he was a stellar and provocative speaker, and in retrospect we could have spent the rest of the day discussing the three main ideas he launched.  But we didn’t, and of the remaining seven speakers, five were complete failures: pompous, off-topic, deceptive, or all of the above.  Whew.  Then again, as Rick and I have long understood, much of the genius of the event takes place in informal conversation between students and young adults who have fire in their bellies about improving the world.  Rick’s job at the end of the day was to summarize and guide the conversation, and he did that masterfully.

Professor Negroponte captivating the SABF audience

We hopped on buses, back downtown to a simple restaurant for a group dinner.  As in previous years, Rick and I ordered wine and beer for those at our big table; that night it was Sofia from Colombia, Pedro from Chile, Lucas from Argentina, and several others.  We had a great time; high point and huge coincidence was that Lucas on my left and Pedro on my right were both volunteers at prisons, working to help people who most of society has forgotten or would like to throw away like garbage.  Remarkable young people.

Pablo, your scribe, and Lucas collecting bottles for recycling!

The Friday sessions were held at one of ITBA’s buildings not far from city hall, and were a mix of student presentations, group activities, and, at the end of the day, mentoring sessions (Jaime, Rick, and I joined several Argentine executives and leaders in hosting six or seven students).  A few hours earlier, during lunch hour, I did something I had wanted to try for awhile: a “pop-up” 20-minute seminar, that day on crisis management.  It was great fun, about 20 students piling into a small classroom.

That evening, Rick and I walked across downtown to one of our favorite restaurants, a simple parrilla (grill) called El Establo.  Great service, fair prices, and food way better than Don Julio.  We tucked into more steak (as I’ve written previously, I eat almost no steak back in the U.S.), and shared a nice bottle of Malbec.  Fortified, we headed out to the SABF party at Honduras Hollywood, a nightclub in Palermo.  The place was hopping, and Latins being Latins, Rick and I were on the dance floor in no time.  My knees creaked, but I could move my other joints pretty well (the next day a youngster told me “you can dance better than I can!”).  We only stayed about 45 minutes, but earned a lot of cred from the students.

Above, big times at El Establo; below, a scene from the SABF party

Day 3, Saturday, back to city hall.  Morning student activities were varied.  Rick and I met a young city planner, Pablo, and after about 20 minutes of conversation about city progress (the new mayor is of the same party as the national president), he offered to show us the building, designed by the prominent Englishman, Sir Norman Foster.  The afternoon sped past, and soon it was time for my annual (since 2011) big task, summarizing and closing the meeting.  Check and done, hugs to people, and into a car to the airport.  Flew to New York Kennedy, landing at dawn.  Hopped train, train, and bus across Queens to LaGuardia.  Took a needed shower in the Admirals Club, worked for several hours, and at noon flew home.  A great trip.

Buenos Aires City Hall; below, Pablo, one of many enthused and committed young municipal officials

Students at the Sunday morning freelance activities; below, at left, some nice ideals, and at right promises that the Buenos Aires government would deliver — these posters are all over town, and when a project finishes, they add a check mark. Nice accountability.

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E pluribus unum on the New York MTA E Train beneath Queens; below, Manhattan from above

 

 

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