Back Home to Minnesota, to Teach at My Alma Mater

A painting of St. Anthony Falls, the main reason for Minneapolis’ location on the Mississippi; the art was in the lobby of the Minneapolis Club,


Travel in the last quarter began on Monday, October 7.  Flew home to Minneapolis/St. Paul for talks at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, landing in clear skies and warm for October.  Hopped on the Blue Line light rail into downtown Minneapolis.  I had an hour to kill, so ambled into the central library, a place I often visited when doing research in high school.  The library is on the same site of the building I visited, but its new incarnation dates to 2006, with a design by the architect superstar Cesar Pelli.

Harvest time in the glaciated landscape of western Wisconsin


Atrium of the central library; at right, a statue of Minerva that I’ve known since I was a child.

Continued on, across the Mississippi, past a couple of almost-original flour mills and other buildings from the 1880s, when the city really began to grow, thanks in large part to a St. Anthony Falls, at the time the largest hydropower site west of Niagara.  Paused for a nice T-t-S with fellow watering his lawn.  A Minnesotan, he had lived in Australia for a decade, and the house on 5th Avenue SE for 30 years. At six I met longtime friends (and overnight hosts) Deb and Phil Ford for dinner at Alma Café, a great place to eat.  We tucked into a fine meal (and some terrific desserts) and got caught up after a year.  Drove home, yakked for a bit, and clocked out.

Along the Mississippi, just upstream from the falls

Statue of a wheat farmer along historic S.E. Main St.; at right, the Pillsbury “A” Mill (1881), for 40 years the largest flour mill in the world.

Chefs at Alma Cafe; I’ve adopted my friend Jan Meurer’s practice of thanking the cooks when leaving restaurants with an open kitchen, and these three appreciated the gesture.

Up early Tuesday, out the door a few blocks to France Avenue and onto the #6 bus I well remember from childhood (we lived less than a mile from the bus stop where I waited).  I was happy to see the bus fill up, almost all young men and woman commuting to jobs downtown.  Public transit in the Twin Cities works well, and people use it.  All good.

Paused for a large cup of coffee in the atrium of what was in my day called the IDS Center, a skyscraper, then rode an escalator to the second floor, falling into Minneapolis’ vast skyway network, a series of inside walkways and enclosed bridges that run more than a mile north-south and another mile east-west.  When it’s below zero, or 90° F and humid, the skyways are quite an innovation!  Ambled for a couple of blocks on skyways to the Minneapolis Club, for more than a century the elite power center of the city.  At 8:30 met long friend Mike Davis, formally Judge Michael J. Davis, Senior Judge for the (U.S.) District of Minnesota.  We had a nice breakfast and a good chat (I first met Mike in 1973, when he hired Linda to work at a poverty law office).

Above, one of the many skyways downtown; below, new tall buildings attest to a strong economy — Minneapolis/St. Paul has long had a diverse and vibrant business sector.

I peeled off at 9:45, hopped on the light rail a few stops to the University, and from 11:15 to 12:30 delivered a talk to undergraduates in Prof. George John’s marketing principles class.  George and I hopped in his car and drove across the river for lunch in a Chinese restaurant.  He’s an interesting fellow: born in India, grew up in Brunei (his dad worked for Shell Oil), came to the U.S. to study, and stayed.  We talked a lot about university policy and governance, and returned to a theme Mike and I discussed a few hours earlier, the sustainability of higher education.

George kindly drove me back to the Fords, I yakked briefly with Phil, then headed out on his bike for a 23-mile ride around Minneapolis’ famed urban lakes, then east to the Mississippi, south, then back west along the Minnehaha Creek, a little stream I’ve known all my life.  Yakked with Deb and Phil for an hour, then borrowed their car and headed to dinner at one of my fave eateries anywhere, the Black Forest Inn.

Minnehaha Falls. Well familiar as a child, I had not seen this cascade for almost 40 years.

Spent a colossal couple of hours over Oktoberfest beer and dinner with Edina High School classmate Guy Drake, formally Reverend Guy.  We’ve known each other since 1961, but were never that close.  We reconnected at one of the Class of 1969’s informal reunions at a suburban bar in 2016, and when I saw him at the 50th Reunion in July I suggested we get together.  Whew, what a conversation.  Guy was always seriously creative, a performer: theater and music.  He had a modestly successful duo with fellow student Tom Johnson, and they recently reunited – after Samsung had basically stolen one of their tunes from 1970 and used it in a TV commercial.  There were plenty of other stories, including his ordination as an Episcopal minister at age 60.  A lot of dimensions to that man.

Rev. Guy Drake

Out the door at seven Wednesday, three blocks south to Wuollet, one of the world’s great bakeries, for a raspberry and cream cheese Danish, then west past the shopping area of my childhood, 50th and France, to Starbucks for a large coffee.  I knew I was in Minnesota when I saw a 30-ish man cleaning up a small spill he made on the milk and cream counter.  People on the East Coast almost never do that.  It made me smile.

Breakfast time; worked hard not to get the laptop keys sticky!

I worked my email, then hopped on the #6 bus downtown.  Like the day before, it was packed with young people heading to downtown jobs.  Changed to the light-rail a mile or so back to the university, worked a bit, and from 9:55 to 11:35 delivered the airline-pricing talk to full-time MBAs in Mark Bergen’s class.  After class, I was working my email on a bench outside the classroom, and fell into a sort-of-T-t-S with one of the students from the morning lecture.  He grew up on a farm in southeast Iowa, studied chemical engineering at Iowa State, and now was looking for a job with either 3M or an ag firm.  We had a nice conversation, ending with me: “Please tell your mom and dad thank you from me.  If not for them, we wouldn’t eat.”  He said we would relay my gratitude.

At 1:30, I met former airline colleague Ann Hathaway, friend since 1984, at Birchwood Café, a pleasant place a couple miles’ walk from campus.   We had another fine chat, a lot about the recent memorial service for her mother, who lived a good and long life, nearly to 96 (regular readers of this journal may recall my mention of my grade-school Spanish teacher, Don Miguel; he was Ann’s father).  Ann drove me back to campus.  At three I hopped on Nice Ride, the local bike share, for a quick swing around the East Bank Campus of the university.  Brought this update current, and from 5:45 to 7:30 repeated the airline pricing lecture to part-time MBA students – a very vocal group.

A little flora and fauna enroute to lunch at Birchwood

High point of that talk was a special guest, Emily Sheppard Bevan, daughter of my dear (and now long-departed) friend Jack Sheppard.  Emily is considering a MBA, and Mark and I welcomed her to the classroom.  Once done, we hopped in her car and zipped east to downtown St. Paul, for a late dinner with her mom Martha, and Emily’s husband Michael.  We had a fine meal and a great conversation, cut a bit short from my fatigue.  Emily kindly drove me all the way to Deb’s and Phil’s house.  I revived a bit after donning my pajamas, so we talked for awhile.

Up at first light Thursday morning.  It had rained overnight, and the streets were still wet, but I wanted a last ride on Phil’s bike, so headed out.  Rode up and down every one of the eight streets in the Country Club neighborhood of suburban Edina, an old and leafy district where we lived from 1959 until 1966.  Zig-zagged a bit through parts of the adjacent suburb of St. Louis Park, then back to 50th and France for a big cup of coffee and an apple fritter.  A fine ride.

Back at the Fords, I showered, had a last chat with my friends, then hopped on bus and light rail back to the airport – for the second year in a row, I did the whole visit on the Twin Cities’ fine public transit network, at a total cost of $11.50, including the bikeshare!  Flew back to Washington.

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