Monthly Archives: September 2019

Atlanta for the Day, Then Alohas in Hawai’i

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu

A week after judging in Texas, fall travel began in earnest.  Early on Monday, September 9, I flew to Atlanta for a one-day consulting assignment.  High point was a wonderful T-t-S with Ronesha, a Lyft driver who carried me from the big airport to a meeting a few miles away.  She was the definition of a go-getter, undeterred by some hard life experiences.  Ronesha was driving Lyft as a second job, to help with a down payment on her family’s first house; and she was finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology, “hoping to go on to get a Ph.D.”  We finished the chat with a yak about her oldest child, who had finished high school and was studying to be an aircraft mechanic.  She sounded a little tentative, almost apologetic that he wasn’t in a regular college.  “Wow,” I replied, “that is a great choice,” I said, adding that I knew something on the topic from a lifetime in the airline business.  It was a fine start to a busy week.

As they say in the South, “When you die, you might go to heaven or you might go to hell, but you’ll have to change planes in Atlanta”!

Two meetings later, it was already 5:00 PM, time to get back to ATL, then onto a big Delta 777 to Los Angeles.  A long ride, but it went quickly, with movies and a short nap.  Our 72-minute wait for a gate at LAX was a reminder that we Americans do not have enough aviation infrastructure.  Airlines get the blame, but U.S. airports are public entities.  Sigh.

Sigh again after we deplaned, a massive traffic jam on the airport access road (= not enough road infrastructure), another 30 minutes to get two miles to the hotel.  The original plan was to zip down to nearby El Segundo for dinner at cool Mexican place (Jack’s friend Matt works for the company), but it was late in L.A. (and three hours later at home) so I ambled 150 feet to a McDonald’s for a Big Mac.  Soon asleep.

But awake way earlier than I wanted, a reaction to the three-hour time difference; one of life’s mysteries is how I can cross six time zones over the Atlantic – as I would six days hence – and be totally fine, but get messed up crossing the U.S.  In any event, I was awake before five, so headed to the hotel gym and pounded out 20 miles.  Tonic.  Grabbed a cinnamon roll and milk at a nearby gas station, back to the hotel room, then out the door and back to the airport for the second stop of the trip, Honolulu, Hawai’i.  I hadn’t been for ten years, and was excited to be heading across the Pacific.  I was traveling west to do a day of leadership training for Hawaiian Airlines, so was on one of their Airbus A330s.  Service was so good; their flight attendants are almost all from Hawai’i, and their aloha hospitality is genuine, warm, and at the top of the charts for any carrier anywhere in the world.

Another wait for a gate on arrival at HNL, 40 minutes, but was in my hotel room before two.  Changed into my 20-year-old aloha shirt, light pants, and sandals, and set off for lunch at the nearby Ala Moana mall.  The food court had a bewildering array, including lots of Asian choices.  Settled on spicy pork ramen, slurping happily away.  The mall, loaded with all the upmarket brands (Fendi, Prada, you gotta) was teeming with tourists from all over Asia, especially single Japanese women in small groups.  Young Japanese women are either not getting married or marrying later, and they use their incomes to travel.  A lot.

Above, hotel room views, pick the one you like better: Los Angeles Airport, or Honolulu? Below, lunch and flora.

Sustained, I headed a mile to Waikiki for a walk along that storied beach.  It was such fun to be there, first time in 20 years.  I smiled, looked upward to heaven, and said a prayer of thanks when I passed Fort Derussy, the Army recreational facility in the middle of the beach; this was where my dad relaxed with his field artillery outfit in 1944, between Pacific battles on Kwajalein and Tinian.  Last stop along the beach was the fabulous Royal Hawaiian Hotel, “the Pink Palace of the Pacific,” opened in 1927.  It is like a museum.  We Brittons stayed there in 1999, and I wished I were billeted there.  Such a cool place.  Here are a few scenes:

Above, the main entrance to the “Pink Palace”; below, a lobby table and ceiling

Above, in 1935, Matson Line, the shipping company that carried people from San Francisco to Hawai’i before the airplane, commissioned a prominent fashion photographer to capture scenes from Waikiki; at right, a secondary lobby closer to the beach. Below, the hotel on opening night, 1927.

When I hopped on the #22 bus to head back to my simpler hotel, I tendered the driver $1 for a senior fare.  “Did you bring the senior with you?” he asked.  “Man, you made my day,” I said, “I’m almost 68.”  The bus was packed with a mix of locals and visitors.  Took a quick shower, drank a splendidly cold beer, and at 6:15 a former American Airlines colleague, Jon Snook, now COO of Hawaiian Airlines, rolled up in his Tesla.  I hadn’t seen Jon in a decade, and we had a great chat for two hours, over dinner at a very posh restaurant right on the beach.  Way fun.  Lights out at 9:30, and finally a good sleep.

Above, you don’t find pounded breadfruit at a convenience store on the mainland; below, the view from our Tuesday dinner table.

 

Up at 5:30, to the gym, then breakfast, then out to Hawaiian Airlines Cargo, my host group.  Met leader Brad Matheny, set up my show, and had a quick tour of their facility.  In the 50th State there are no roads between islands, so the airplane is an important part of logistics (ordinary white bread, for example); they also carry a lot of goods to and from the islands from cities in East Asia and the South Pacific, and the mainland U.S.  At nine, it was time to stand and deliver, three back-to-back sessions.  After Brad introduced me in the first session, two women came forward and, in true Aloha spirit, placed two garlands around my neck.  I wore them all day.  The three audiences were engaged.  Wonderful people, and so diverse.  The local population is probably the most culturally and racially varied of any American city.  Looking at the human rainbow, I was reminded of a great article I had read a few months earlier, “Want to Be Less Racist? Move to Hawaii.”  So interesting.

The day sped past.  At 5:30, we hopped in Brad’s Mini Cooper and zipped back to Waikiki for dinner at Roy’s, a well-known spot.  One of Brad’s directors, Dana, met us, and we had a swell dinner and great conversation.  They are fine people, at a fine airline.

Up early again Thursday, back to the airport.  My flight was not until two, but I had fixed up a short meeting with another former AA colleague, Brent Overbeek, who leads Hawaiian’s revenue management and network planning team.  My Lyft driver was another joy.  Henry was 72, and from Vietnam.  He joined the South Vietnamese Army in 1966, age 19, and because he spoke English he did a lot of translating, all until the South collapsed in 1975.  Henry was jailed for two years.  When released, he knew he needed to escape, “because if I stayed they would have treated me like an animal.”  So he hijacked a fishing boat (“no one got hurt”), put his wife and son aboard, and sailed three days to Thailand.  They arrived in Honolulu in 1977, but Henry lived most of the intervening years in Southern California.  Quite a story.  E pluribus unum.

Henry Le

After yakking for 45 minutes with Brent, I walked across parking lots and ramps to the airport, worked for several hours in the Admirals Club, and hopped on Hawaiian Airlines flight 90 to Boston; it’s the longest domestic flight in the U.S., but it went pretty fast, and even bolt upright I slept about five hours.  Quick connection in Boston to jetBlue, zippy flight to Washington, and was hugging the dogs by 8:55 AM.

Above, my ride east to Boston; below, a wall of Massachusetts innovations and firsts in Boston Logan Airport.

 

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Summer Traditions in Minnesota and Texas

World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off judges Jack Britton and Eddie Sandoval discussing matters of the day prior to the start of the 46th annual event in Brady, Texas

Was home from South Carolina for four nights, long enough to tidy up the yard, do a little business, and watch Dylan and Carson head back to school (already in 6th and 4th grades).  On Wednesday, August 28 I flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul, first stop in a two (or three, depending on how you count) stop itinerary.  Unlike the class-reunion visit a month earlier, Twin Cities weather was glorious: blue skies, breeze, temperature barely 70° F.

Talking to Strangers on the Metro to the airport, three questions for my fellow passenger: 1) how fast does it go? 2) how much did it cost? 3) did the wounds on his knees come from a crash? Answers: 45 mph, north of $2500, and no, they were from rock-climbing!

First stop on the first stop was literally in front of 1032 Goodrich Avenue, St. Paul, the bungalow that was our first house.  I had a bit of time, and walked around the block, admiring the neighborhood with its mix of modest and bigger homes, and the maple and other trees planted when we lived there, 1979-87, to replace tall elms that succumbed to disease.

Second stop was lunch with a long friend, David Herr, a law-school classmate of Linda’s 45 years ago.  We’ve stayed connected through the years.  He’s had a distinguished career in litigation, and has done a great deal of writing on legal education.  We had a long lunch, rambling across a bunch of topics, not least the joy of keeping busy in our seventh decades.  In mid-afternoon, I motored north to my overnight digs with two more long pals, Bob and Paula Woehrle (I’ve known Bob since 1963).  I suggested a bike ride to Bob, a keen cyclist (keener than me), and we set off for a nice spin around Lake Como, one of St. Paul’s smaller urban lakes.  We had a beer when we got home, then headed out for early dinner, back to Grand Avenue in the old neighborhood.  Was asleep early.

Up Thursday morning at six, quick cup of coffee, then back onto the bikes and five miles west to the Minnesota State Fair.  As regular readers know, I go back every year (as an adult, I think I’ve only missed one year, in the mid-1980s).  It was another perfect summer day, sunny, cool, breezy.  What has become a core group – Bob and Steve Schlachter from the 1960s, Rick Dow from Northwest Airlines in the mid-80s, and Randy Essell, a former AA exec I met in the mid-90s – assembled for the second year in a row at the Salem Lutheran Church dining hall for a caloric breakfast.

The country in the city: experimental corn growing adjacent to the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. Simply called “the farm campus,” it’s next door to the fairgrounds. At right, a forested bike trail a mile from the Woehrles’ house. Both scenes were less than six miles from downtown.

Above, the fair team; below, more creative and healthful cuisine (we did not sample it!). At bottom, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fish pond, a longtime fair fixture.

We then walked across the fairgrounds and spent more time than usual, a welcome increase, in the animal barns, admiring the stock and yakking with a few owners.  Then back across to the Horticulture Building to admire enormous pumpkins, vegetables, and other plant life.  Next, by formula, a mid-morning respite at the stand of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild for some samples (the state now has 145 craft beermakers, astonishing).  Then a few zigs and zags for mini-donuts and corn dogs (we insist on the Pronto Pup brand).  Into the art show, then creative activities to admire quilts, pickles, embroidery, and dozens of other handicrafts.  Then a last stop for another beer, where we had a nice T-t-S with Lynn, Eileen, and Larry, originally from Williston, North Dakota, but longtime Twin Citians; like me, Lynn and Larry had Montana roots, grandparents owned a big spread in the far eastern part of that big state.  Check and done.

Above, all things porcine: a champion, a sculpture, a sow and hungry piglets angling for an available teat. Below, Zia, a 22-year-old Paso Fino, one of the first breeds imported into the U.S. (Columbus brought mares and stallions).

Above, State Fair treats, liquid and solid. Below, prizewinning peppers.

Above, a fine specimen of crop art (that’s Lin Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton), and handicraft in a medium new to me, arranged embroidery thread. Below, more Minnesota creativity.

Bob and I rode home, grabbed a tonic nap, yakked a bit.  Paula made chicken salad for dinner.  They are literate people, and we always have plenty to talk about.  Asleep early.

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The local StarTribune newspaper had been warning about huge waits for airport security, so I got in line at 6:06 Friday morning, for an 8:20 flight to Dallas/Fort Worth.  But there was no line, which gave me plenty of time for a huge Starbucks and some work.  Landed DFW, picked up a rental car, then picked up son Jack: we were headed, as judges, to the 46th World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas.  Pumped, as we are every year!

Above, Minneapolis, blue and green; below, Starkly different heartland landscapes from above: corn and soybean fields on the township-and-range land grid in Iowa, and the dissected Llano Estacado region of West Texas

First stop, again for the second consecutive year, was a buffet lunch at India 101, a vast restaurant near the airport.  Not just lunch, but lunch with longtime American Airlines colleagues Nisha Pasha (from Chennai, formerly Madras) and Ken Gilbert, who I saw in August.  Jack had met neither, and we had a swell meal and conversation.

A thunderstorm rolled in while we were tucking into our daal and mango lassis, which slowed freeway traffic to a crawl.  We crawled for about 90 minutes, well to the west of Fort Worth on Interstate 20.  The road finally emptied, and I could set the cruise control at 80, 5 mph over the speed limit.  Whoosh.  By tradition, we stopped for shakes at a Dairy Queen enroute, in Cisco, Texas, then zoomed south.  We were at Brady by seven, into the gym at the Holiday Inn Express, then down the road for dinner at Mac’s Barbeque.

Up early Saturday morning, back to the gym, showered, and out the door.  For years the cook-off was a single day, but this was the second year it was a two-day deal.  First things first: the traditional judges’ brunch, first chance to reunite with pals and Texas good ole boys (and gals).  This was my 29th consecutive visit, and Jack’s 12th, so we knew a lot of people, and met some promising rookies, like Santiago, newly hired as the chef in the local hospital, and Dr. Bell, a young doc recently relocated to town.  Then over to Richards Park, hopping with cookers.  On the first day, we judged beans, chicken, and pork ribs, and had some good conversations.  It’s always wise to avoid political discussions in Texas, but I did need to ask veteran judge and Native American Eddie Sandoval (of the Mescalero Chiricuahua tribe), about Donald Trump’s “Send them back” remark.  He smiled, turned toward Washington, and advised the President, “You go. And take your wife with you.”

Above, at the judges’ brunch

 

Above, at left, veteran judge Paul McCallum of Grapevine, Texas, sampling beans; right, appropriate stuff in Eddie Sandoval’s back pocket. Below, Eddie’s big-ass Ford pickup (that’s a protective “cattle guard” in front, useful in case you hit a Black Angus at 75 mph!)

Above, Judge Jack Britton conversing with two rookies, identifiable by the goat horns around their necks; below, anticipation and satisfaction at the spigot.

Later that day, an urban male couple from suburban Austin spotted “Judge” on my shirt, and asked about how to raise goats.  They had recently acquired some land in the country, were keen to put it to use, but had no clue.  My advice was simple: “You boys need to get hold of what’s called the county extension agent.”  They wrote down the advice.  By five, Jack and I were smoky, sweaty, and sorta worn out.  Revived with showers, we headed into town for Tex-Mex at La Familia, home for football on TV, and lights out.

Back at it Sunday morning: gym and hotel breakfast, next a good driving tour of Brady (population 5,500), then back to the park.   We had some time before “work,” so I wandered around the site a bit, yakking with cookers from two well-known teams: Cook n Co out of nearby Goldthwaite, Texas, and the Waco Boys, perennial characters easily identified by their team color, bright orange that adorns shorts, boots, aprons, the works. Enjoyed a long chat with a rookie cooker from the Waco Boys squad, a firefighter from Lubbock, Texas.

The last operating sand pit on the outskirts of Brady, Texas; once thriving, sand mining has moved west

 

Jack headed out at eleven to judge cooking rigs, and I judged Bloody Marys (0.25 ounce in a straw was all that was needed).  Then we judged “mystery meat,” which is never a mystery, and this year it was quail.  Neither Jack nor I were assigned to judge dessert, but we managed to sample some wonderful cobblers, and an outrageously good banana pudding (known in much of the South and Southwest as “naner puddin”).  Mid-afternoon, a big thunderstorm brewed up.  Jason Jacoby, a local businessman, declared “Gonna rain like a cow pissing on a flat rock.”  And it did.

Sunday morning, goat on the grill at the Cook n Co campsite

After thanking the lady at left for keeping things tidy, she told me, with some pride, that this was the first year the City of Brady allowed women to collect the garbage. Progress. The crooner at right ended her set early when the thunderstorm approached. “It’d give new meaning to the phrase ‘electric guitar,’ I offered. “Yessir,” she replied, “I think I’ll just unplug and plop my ass down.”

Finally, we got to goat.  I’m now a senior judge, so first task was to judge nine entries in the Super Bowl, an elite category open to any first-place finisher the previous 45 years.  Man, those winning cookers know goat, but one was a total standout.  So good.  Finished up with 22 samples in the main event, finalists from 220+ entries.  Tallied the scores, assigned gold, silver, and bronze medalists, done.  Jack and I said goodbyes, hopped in the car, and drove home.  Traffic was light, and including a stop at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas, and a needed pee for this old man, we were “home” in north Dallas by 8:15.

Your scribe and son, two generations of goat expertise!

 

High cuisine in the Heart of Texas: banana pudding, first-place winner in desserts, and the champion in the Super Bowl of goat.

Judging table still life

The new landscape of Texas energy: wind turbines near Comanche, Texas; the state best known for oil and gas now has 26,000 megawatts of wind generators, the equivalent of about 50 ordinary power plants.

Home in that case was the pleasant residence of Julie and Les Ciesielski, longtime friends (Jack and their son Brad have been buddies since age four).  We had a good yak with them before needed sleep.  Julie prepared a hot breakfast Labor Day morning, some more visiting, then out the door at 7:30.  Jack’s flight was at 10:20, and he wanted to see our old neighborhood, and other parts of Richardson, Texas.  We had a great drive down “memory lane.”  Then pedal to the metal to DFW, dropped him, hugs.  I had a couple of hours, so drove around American Airlines’ huge and impressive new corporate headquarters, grabbed a Starbucks and did some work on my laptop, dropped the rental car, and flew to Washington.  A great “two-fer” trip to my two homes, Minnesota and Texas.

Above and below, scenes of American Airlines’ new headquarters, near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

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[A little note about place names in post above: you’ll notice that I append “Texas” to the town or city, even when it’s clear that the place is in the Lone Star State.  This is a long and endearing tradition, rooted in the remarkable pride Texans have for their special place, and it bests my writing style that always seeks to eliminate unneeded words and redundancy.   Maybe the reader knows Dallas is in Texas, but to me it’s always Dallas, Texas.  Or Houston, Texas.  Or one of my very favorite place names, Rising Star, Texas.]

Image result for texas flag

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