Category Archives: Uncategorized

England and Austria

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Worcestershire, England

On Friday, May 26, I rode into Washington with Robin, then hopped the Metro to National Airport.  I was headed to England via New York, and JFK flights later that day got goofed up, so I opted to head up early.  I planned to head to the Neue Galerie, the museum of German and Austrian art created by the Lauder (cosmetics) family, but some time-sensitive consulting work arrived in my in box just as we were leaving D.C.  By the time I finished my “homework” at LaGuardia, it seemed too late to head into Manhattan, then back out to Kennedy, so I hopped on the Q70 to one of my favorite E Pluribus Unum places, the Jackson Heights district of Queens.  The streets are packed with new Americans from all over.  Almost no one looks like me.  On the bus, the first T-t-S of the trip, with a jetBlue captain.  Turned out to be a fellow Minnesotan (ja sure you betcha, as we say in the Northland).  We had a nice chat about the airline business, careers, family.

Not surprisingly, there are a bunch of good ethnic restaurants in the area, and I tracked down a simple Korean spot on Broadway, Hae Woon Dae, and tucked into a spicy stew based around kimchee, the spicy fermented cabbage that is sort of the national dish.  Fortified (and sweating from the spice), I hopped the subway two stops east, then the Q10 bus, which lurches through Queens to JFK.  The airport-to-airport public transit fare was $2.75, and the glimpse of humanity in all its colors was huge added value.

Landed at London Heathrow at 6:50, zipped through border control, and onto the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station.  The day before saw a record high temperature in London, and it was still surprisingly warm.  My next train, west to Worcestershire and my dear friends the Crabtrees, departed at 8:18, so I headed out to get some cash, then back into the station for one coffee, then two.  In no time we were zipping west, past Oxford, through the timeless and verdant English countryside.  John Crabtree, who I have known since we met when both of us were guest lecturers in Australia in 1981, and his daughter Jessica (now almost 12), were waiting on Platform 1 at Worcester Shrub Hill Station.  Hugs, into the car, and home to their splendid old house in Crowle, a village four miles east.  John’s beloved Diana, sons James and Robert, rounded out the welcoming party, hugs and kisses.  It felt like home.

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At 12:30, John and I set out on foot for Chequers, the village pub that has been fancied up into a gastropub (nice, but I liked it better before).  Diana and the kids drove, and soon Diana’s friend Claire and daughter Olivia joined us at a big table.  Nice big lunch, pints, laughs.  Back home, nice afternoon nap, then at 5:30 we drove north to Birmingham and the Hippodrome Theatre to see Milongo, an energetic Tango presentation with Argentine and British dancers.  We arrived early and had a walk around.  John is a Birmingham native, a Brum, and has contributed mightily to the economic and social development of the city, including 25 years of service on the Hippodrome board (he would retire as chairman in four days).  The show was great, but Jessica was a bit bored, so we left at intermission and headed home.  On the way we passed a nearly completed, £14 million  training and care facility for Sense, Britain’s charity for the deaf and blind.  John has been on their board for years, too.  His commitments are many.  A true citizen, a righteous person.

It gets light at four in England in late May.  I slept two more hours, then grabbed a cup of tea, bowl of cereal, and hopped on young Robbie’s mountain bike for a slower gaze at the wonderful landscape, through villages like Broughton Hackett and White Ladies Aston, past grazing sheep and cattle, old churches.  Timeless and splendid, all the more on a sunny, cool morning.  Thirteen miles, a nice leg-stretch.

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Sidebar: Election Time in England

Regular readers know that I prefer the parliamentary system over the U.S. model of separate executive and legislative branches, and a day earlier had asked John and Diana about their constituency (“riding”).  I spotted an election notice with the riding name, Mid-Worcestershire, so I looked up who was running.  The incumbent was a Tory, and my eye then moved to Margaret Rowley, the candidate from the Liberal Democrats, a party closely aligned with my beliefs.  I looked up her website, read her ideas, and thought “I’d vote for her if I could.”  So I sent her a note:

Dear Ms. Rowley,
I’m an American, visiting long friends in Crowle, and just read the summary of your views on the LibDem website.  Too bad I can’t vote next month!
  I wish you and your party much success.

Within an hour, she responded (I simply couldn’t imagine a U.S. politician replying to a non-constituent, much less so quickly):

Dear Rob,

Thank you for your good wishes.  I too am sorry you can’t vote!  We seem to be suffering from the same phenomenon here that gave you Trump as president (whom I suspect you don’t support!) 

I hope to improve my vote from last time, but I suspect not as much as I should given the relative merits of the Party manifestos. In time, I believe that more people will realise we were right and we will eventually win through.

Regards, Margaret


 

It was a busy weekend: at ten we headed out, driving 45 miles southwest into the gorgeous Wye Valley, into a desigated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  And it was, just wonderful.  I was last in the valley exactly 40 years earlier, when I visited journalist Patrick Rivers and his wife as part of my dissertation research.  At 11, we met two more long friends, Andrew Manning Cox and wife Janet, with their golden retriever Humphrey.  We did a nice three-mile walk in the valley, crossing the river on a footbridge, and re-crossing on a hand-pulled ferry to our real destination, the Saracen’s Head pub, for Sunday lunch.  The place was hopping.  James, his girlfriend Immy, and Robbie joined us.  Another lively and fun repast.  After lunch we had to hike back up to the car, about 300 vertical feet.  Full of lamb, potatoes, and beer, it was a bit of a slog!

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John Crabtree and Andrew Manning Cox

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The Wye Valley

We were home in an hour, and into their swimming pool.  Nice!  Then a simple dinner, bit of television, and off to sleep.  A full day, for sure.

Monday was cloudy with the prospect of rain – more like real British weather – but I was able to crank out 12 miles on the bike.  Nice yaks with John and Diana in the kitchen, bowl of cereal, shower, and the whole family, save James (who was studying for senior exams), drove me back to Shrub Hill station.  They insisted in accompanying me to Platform 2A to see me off with hugs and kisses.  Such wonderful and special people, more like family.

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The milkman still visits!

I settled in, pulled out my laptop to write in this journal, and cued The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” perfect background to admire a paddock full of grazing sheep.  We arrived London Paddington at 12:30, to meet the next friend, albeit a newer one, Freddie Broderman, for lunch at 1:00.   Freddie tracked me down just as he was graduating from Georgetown in 2015, bound for a job in American Airlines’ Revenue Management Department.  After a year in Texas, he transferred home to England and now works in the European regional office.  We had lunch, beer, and a long yak about the airline industry.  He’s an interesting and perceptive young fellow, loves the business.

At 2:45, I hopped on the Tube out to my lodgings, back with Omar Merlo and his family in Kew (I had stayed with them in February, and was lecturing in his class at Imperial College the next day).  In a few months, their golden retriever puppy, Mr. Waffles, had grown to 65 pounds, and greeted me at the door.  Took a much needed nap.  At 5:30, Omar’s wife Carolyn, son Freddie, the hound, and I drove a mile to Richmond Park, and set off for a pond to see if Mr. Waffles would swim.  We took a wrong turn at the start, so it took awhile to get there, but it was a cool day and the park is such a lovely place, a semi-wild expanse in the middle of a huge metropolis.  As we approached the pond we encountered a large herd of deer.  Mr. Waffles was uninterested in them, but he liked the water.  We threw sticks far into the pond, to help him find his swimming legs, but he was content to wade.  We found the straight path back to the car, but it was still a five-mile trek, and all of us were nackered by the time we got home after nine.  Had a few slices of pizza and I headed to bed.

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Up early Tuesday morning, suited up, out the door to fetch milk and flowers for Carolyn.  When I got back, Mr. Waffles had a plaintive look and was whimpering softly.  Ah, I thought, you want breakfast, so I found the dog food and dumped it in his bowl.  When Carolyn came down, she said she fed him at five.  What a trickster!   Walked the short way to the Kew Gardens station and onto the Tube to South Kensington and the university.  I had time, so hopped on a shared bike and rode around Hyde and Green parks, grabbed a coffee, rode some more.

The morning reminded me that one of the joys of travel is experiencing ordinary life in a different place. It’s one of the reasons why staying with friends is such a delight, because you can walk to the grocery store, feed the dog, and do the dishes.  These experiences are at the polar opposite of most mass tourism, which guides visitors to a curated set of “sights.”  At its worst, this nodal approach presents the ordinary landscape and ordinary experiences as mostly worthless, a desert. I have long railed against that view.

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Met Omar for lunch, and from one to three delivered a talk to MBA students.  At three I went back out on the bike, riding to Westminster, past Buckingham Palace, and back.  More than 20 miles, a good stretch.   As I was docking the shared bike in front of the school, a nice T-t-S moment.  A father approached me and asked if I knew the neighborhood, because they were looking for a playground for their five-year-old daughter, who looked seriously unhappy.  I told father and daughter that we would find one, and with a few taps on my iPhone we had them on their way to Hyde Park Playground, 0.6 mile east and north.  “I hope when you get there you’ll start smiling,” I said to the little girl, “because you look pretty gloomy right now.”  She finally smiled!

I grabbed my backpack, and hopped onto the Underground, east to Holborn to meet a former Cambridge student, Tim.  We’ve stayed connected for a decade.  The original plan was to meet at a pub on The Strand, but it was closed for a private function, so we ambled a block north to a wonderful tiny pub, the Seven Stars (established 1602), just across Carey Street from the Royal Courts of Justice.  Tim and I got caught up on jobs, families, a bit of politics.  Way interesting fellow, and a genuinely fine person.  We walked back to Holborn and parted, me riding west to Earl’s Court for a Indian dinner at the now-familiar Masala Zone (my fourth visit in under six months); as I’ve written, I’m not a fan of chains, but the place offers a sampler tray called a Thali that gives a lone diner great variety.  As often happens, the (Bangladeshi) waiter looked askance when I asked for some chopped green chiles, and later surprised that I finished them all.  I was full, happy, and tired.  Headed home, chatted briefly with Carolyn (Omar goes to sleep even earlier than me).

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Scenes on Carey Street: above, redundant pay phones outside the law courts; below, tribute to Sir Thomas More; bottom, tipplers across from the Seven Stars.

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Up early again, packed up, down to the kitchen.  Mr. Waffles did not fool me again!  Made some coffee, ate a bowl of cereal, hugged the family, and headed out, Tube and train to Gatwcik Airport.  Dropped my bag and at ten met Roz Chivers, a second-generation airline manager (her dad worked for the long-gone British Caledonian, Royal Brunei, and Virgin Atlantic) I met at London Business School in April.  We had a nice yak across a bunch of airline and non-airline topics.

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At 11:30 I hopped on EasyJet 8957 to Vienna.  A young Hungarian family with a 14-month-old joined my row.  I explained I was a grandfather, so crying or getting up and down didn’t bother me.  Dad said “she doesn’t cry,” and she didn’t.  But she did take a liking to me!  Bound for Austria, it made sense to cue Mozart, and soon I was tapping my foot to Symphony #41.

We landed in Vienna about 3:20.  I was pumped!  First visit in 46 years (on my very first trip to Europe, 1971).  Wowie!  Hopped on the nonstop train into the city (doh, the T-Geek could have saved $10 by taking a local train), then walked just over a mile to my Airbnb in the Erdberg neighborhood.  School had ended for the day, so there were lots of kids on scooters, alone and with moms, plus a few grandparents like me.  Erdberg was a slightly gritty (but not threatening) working-class neighborhood, a place where lots of men have tattoos and women smoke cigarettes while pushing strollers. (Indeed, it seemed like lots of Austrians smoke, so I looked up the stats, and indeed 24% of adults do so, compared to 15% in Germany and under 9% in Sweden.)

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Detail, my Airbnb apartment building

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The windows of Vienna.  So cool.

It was warm and humid, and I was sweaty when I got to my digs – a whole studio apartment – in in a pleasant old building on Wällischgasse.  So I stripped down, drank some water, and took a late but tonic nap.  At six I headed out, bound for the closest station of Citybike Wien, the bikeshare system.  It was several blocks, but in no time I was gliding along.  Citybike is cool, because 1) it’s completely free, and 2) the (free) time allowance is 60 minutes, not 30.  Only downside is the density and number of stations is relatively small – hence the half-mile walk to the nearest one.  I rode north then east, through the enormous Prater park to WU, the Vienna University of Economics and Business, where I would lecture the next evening.  The campus is brand-new and eye-popping, with buildings designed by several superstar architects, including the late Zaha Hadid.   Rode back, dropped the bike.

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Citybike Wien station

 

I was thirsty, so stopped at the Petrus und Paulus Stuben for a beer on their sidewalk terrace.  Way pleasant, beneath tall trees and across from a primary school.  I considered eating there, but decided to head “home,” wash my face, and put on jeans.  Gasthaus Bauer was right around the corner from my digs, and they also had outdoor seating.  The neighborhood is seriously off the tourist track, so my rough German came in handy for the beer and meal order.  And what a dinner: pan-fried fish filets (Zander, European cousin of the walleye, a species we treasured growing up in Minnesota), boiled potatoes, and three spears of white asparagus, all with hollandaise sauce.  So good.

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Ornamental detail, public school on Petrusgasse; left, girls’ entrance; right; Snow White and the seven dwarfs above a side door

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Public housing in Vienna does not look like public housing in the U.S.: scenes from the Rabenhof, built in the 1920s by a socialist municipal government, and still clean and well-maintained.

Up after six Thursday morning, on foot to the Citybike station, then to the Belvedere Palace, and famed State Opera House, then back.  Bought breakfast fixings at a supermarket and headed back.  Showered, did a bit of work, suited up, and walked back to grab a Citybike, then north to WU.  I was seriously needing coffee, do dosed up on a large Americano and brought this journal up to date.

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Belvedere Palace and gardens

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The Allies did not build monuments to European victory in World War II, but the Soviets did.

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The famous Vienna State Opera, Staatsoper

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Morning rush hour, the good kind!

At 12:00, I met one of my new hosts, Bodo Schlangenmilch, and we started chatting.  Ten minutes later, a longtime University of Minnesota colleague, Mike Houston, came in.  The U of M and WU have run a successful joint EMBA program since 1990, which is how I was invited.  We chatted a bit more, then walked to lunch, and another WU colleague, Barbara Stöttinger, joined us.  A lively lunch.  Barbara kindly offered a short tour of the dazzling campus, and off we went.  She forthrightly pointed out that some of the superstar-designed buildings already required remediation (why can’t famous architects get the basics right?).  After the walk, I headed back to the Marketing Department to work for the afternoon.

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Above, scenes from the WU campus

At 6:30, it was time to stand and deliver, to 32 EMBA students, almost all from either Austria or Eastern Europe (Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc.).  The program is clearly relaxed, because prior to my talk the class was tippling, and brought their wine and beer into the classroom.  They offered me some, but I politely declined.  Twenty minutes into the talk, Georg from Südtirol left the classroom, returning quickly with a glass of wine for the presenter.  I took a sip and they cheered.  Prosit!  It was a great class, lots of engagement, and the hard questions that typically only come from older EMBA students.  They are my favorite kind.  After the talk, I stayed around for another glass and a good yak with Ferenc from Hungary, Signe from Estonia, and several others.  I had planned to ride a Citybike home, but it was nearly dark, so I hopped the U-Bahn and bus.  Changed clothes and walked a block to another local gasthaus for a splendid filled schnitzel.  Slept hard.

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In the (relaxed) classroom

Friday was a free day, and I knew it would be a long one, because the overnight was not in an Airbnb or hotel, but a night train to Munich that would depart Vienna at 11:30.  But I still woke up at 6:30 and got moving, though slowly.  Out the door at 8:45 to the Hauptbahnhof (main station).  I suspected that Google Maps’ transit information was inaccurate, and that morning I noticed the disclaimer: “These results may be incomplete. Not all transit agencies in this area have provided their information.”  Yep.  I could have taken a tram from the Airbnb to the station in under ten minutes, rather than two subway rides.  Sigh.

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New construction near the Hauptbahnhof

At the station, I put my bag and backpack in a locker, and headed out, bike helmet and iPhone in hand.  Before grabbing a Citybike, I needed a coffee, and spotted a wonderful traditional Viennese café, the Goldegg in the Wieden neighborhood.  Zipped in for a café latte.  There was an old billiards table and some other things from the past.  A joy that places like that are still in business.  Hopped on the bike and rode north to the first stop of the day, the apartment building designed by the idiosyncratic Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.  Cool, but crawling with tourists, validating my point above about “nodal tourism.”  I took a few snaps and got back on the bike, riding north to stop 2, the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Dom), a Gothic fortress begun in 1137.  The tower lookout was not nearly as high as the one in Ulm visited six months earlier, but still afforded great views.  Check and done.

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Hundertwasser apartment building

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St. Stephan’s: view from the tower, and below

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View from the tram

Stop 3 was lunch at a recommended spot, but it was a bit early, so I hopped on a tram that I followed the ring-streets that encircle the city core.  When we rolled past the opera house, I spotted about a dozen men dressed like Mozart standing in front, posing for tourist pictures, the Vienna equivalent, perhaps, of the naked cowboy in Times Square!  A couple blocks on, some fancy palaces (the Habsburgs owned some nice real estate), the Austrian parliament, city hall.  A good ride.  I mistakenly thought tram #1 would go 360 degrees around the ring, but the streetcar knew the way, and headed west.  European transit systems are dense and integrated (about that moment, I noticed that screens on the trams displayed real-time info on Citybike availability at adjacent stations, way cool), so I hopped on the U-Bahn, then a S-Bahn (suburban train), and by 1:15 was at Gasthaus Kopp in a residential area north of the center.

The Kopp was a triumph of web marketing and TripAdvisor mastery: a rather dumpy place in a modest neighborhood, with slightly alienated wait staff.  Food was fine, but the two dinner places in “my neighborhood” were way better.  It was Friday in Catholic Austria, so I had a nice plate of fried fish and salad, lots to eat.  Walked two blocks north, grabbed a Citybike, and rode down the Danube, past a bunch of river cruise ships, to the WU campus.  My iPhone battery was not going to make it to 9:00 p.m., when I would reclaim my backpack, so I circled back to the WU campus and paused for an hour to recharge both batteries and my body in the ExecEd offices.  It was good to chill.

At 3:30 I pedaled away on another Citybike and rode 10 miles through Prater, which is both a huge green space and an old-school amusement park.  Next stop was the amusement side, which has been in business since 1766, although likely without the thrill rides, games of chance, and the other Midway-like attractions.  Paused for a beer in the enormous Schweizerhaus beer garden.  While tippling, I did a bit of reading about Austria immediately after World War II.  I was unsure if it was occupied by the Allies (it was, until 1955).  And I learned that Austria was, on a per capita basis, the largest recipient of Marshall Plan and humanitarian aid, in part because of U.S. concern that the Soviets would exploit hunger and poverty and tip Austria into the Eastern Bloc.

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Scenes from the Prater

I took one thrill ride, the Prater Tower, which was way cool (and not at all scary; the kid next to me asked before takeoff if I were scared, and I replied no; but once we were flying he looked pretty tense!).   Had another beer and relaxed, watching the crowds pour into the park on a warm Friday evening.  I didn’t need a big dinner, but I needed to find a good place after Kopp, and with a bit of research I headed toward Sperl, a pleasant neighborhood restaurant (opened 1925) close to where I had morning coffee.  The inner garden was full but not packed, and I sat right down,  For about the same price as Kopp, Sperl offered tablecloths, a bread basket before the meal, and smiling waiters.  I tucked into the last of Spargelzeit: cream of asparagus soup and a (vegetarian) asparagus goulash with dumplings.  Yum!   A reminder of the density of European cities: the restaurant courtyard was tight against an apartment, and on the railing above us were drying swimsuits and towels.

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WU campus from the Prater Tower.  Whee!

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The famous ferris wheel at Prater

The T-Geek still had a bit of time, so I hopped a tram for a short ride in the center, walked the gardens of Belvedere Palace, and headed to the main station.  Grabbed my bags and made for the Austrian Railways’ (ÖBB) first-class lounge.  I had a ticket for a sleeping car to Munich, so got to use the lounge for a couple of hours, way nice.  The 11:25 to Munich was actually operated by Hungarian Railways, and the sleeping car was a bit dated, but comfortable.  My upper-berth roommate was Fabian, a researcher at an Austrian government agency, clearly a smart guy (he had been at Princeton in 2016).  I would have been happy to yak had it not been a way-long day, and in no time the lights were out.  It took awhile to fall asleep, but then I was in deep.  The porter brought coffee and juice at six on Saturday morning, and Fabian and I yakked a bit about the state of the world.

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Detail, Belvedere Palace

Hopped off at 6:20.  This trip had some long intervals, like a flight home six hours later, so I took a little walk across downtown Munich, past the cathedral and several other churches, and new and old city halls.  Hopped the S-Bahn to the airport, which was absolutely teeming.  Made my way to British Airways’ lounge, which contracted with American.  Alas, no shower, so I shaved and cleaned up as much as possible with just a sink, donned clean clothes, and flew to Philadelphia.

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The New Town Hall

 

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Old Town Hall

The last swell T-t-S of the trip was on the short flight home to Washington.  My seatmate David was from York, England, and it was his first trip to America.  He was so excited, and I filled him with tips on what to see in the capital region.  A nice end to a fine journey.  Had Henry and MacKenzie on leashes by six.

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Atlanta, Too Briefly

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Broad Street at mid-day; the place had young energy, diversity, and an agreeable scale, contrasting markedly with the verticality of the rest of downtown

Was up at dawn on Friday, May 19, dogs on leash for quick walk, then out the door for National Airport and my first visit to Atlanta since 2000.   Delta Air Lines’ main hub, the largest connecting complex in the world, was even bigger, and I was reminded of a great aphorism that actually predates the rise of U.S. hub-and-spoke airline networks: Southerners say that when you die, you might go to heaven or you might go to hell, but either way, you’ll probably fly through Atlanta!

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I had not taken a good look at the downtown in 30 years, so I hopped on their MARTA subway was in the city in under 20 minutes.  Hopped off at the MARTA “hub,” the Five Points station, and headed up to the street.  Jack Chapman, an Atlanta friend of our son Jack, had given me some recommendations on things to see.  He’s in commercial real estate, and presciently knew of my interest in the built environment (or else our Jack clued him in), so the tour was long on interesting older commercial buildings.

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The Eiseman Brothers’ clothing store (1900) was razed to make way for the Five Points subway station, but they presered this wonderful facade — a nice welcome to downtown

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The new football stadium for Atlanta

It was a quick trip, so I had a gym bag and backpack, but they were heavy enough to want to park them for a couple of hours.  Admiring the former head office of the old Citizens and Southern Bank (now part of Bank of America), I noticed two things: it was on the National Register of Historic Places, and it now housed the business school of Georgia State University.  I ambled in, took the elevator to the Marketing Department on the 13th floor, and introduced myself: “Good morning. My mother always told me there’s no harm in asking . . .”  In no time, Ms. Sharon walked me to the back room, and locked up my stuff.  Thanking her profusely, I promised to return by two.

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Outside and lobby views of the former Citizens & Southern Bank

It was so nice to be back in The South, where strangers on the street look you in the eye and say “hello” or “good morning,” no matter their color or yours.  An hour later, when I was taking a photograph of the historic Candler Building, a USPS truck driver smiled at me and said “That’s the prettiest building in Atlanta.”  Although such a place is fertile ground for Talking to Strangers, I did not connect.  I did, however, have a great look around downtown and a splendid lunch of pho at Dua on Broad Street.  Grabbed my stuff and headed to my actual destination, Emory University.  The Five Points MARTA station was closed (police on scene), as was the next one north, Peachtree Center, so I walked on to Civic Center and hopped the train north, then the #6 bus east to the campus and my digs at the school’s conference center and hotel.

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The Candler Building, once Atlanta’s tallest; Asa Candler was one of the founders of The Coca-Cola Company

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The Flatiron Building

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John Portman’s Hyatt Regency Hotel; back in the day, it was an architectual statement; today, not so much

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Belting it out in the midday sun

My roommate, longtime airline lawyer Gary Doernhoefer, was already in our room, working away, so I headed to the gym for some biking.  He was still on calls when I returned, but soon was free, and we yakked for about 90 minutes, catching up and prepping for a panel discussion the next day.  We were there at the request of our long host at Northwestern University, Anne Coughlan, who had organized a small conference on teaching distribution and sales strategy; our role was to discuss a cool multimedia case study of airline distribution, on which we three collaborated in 2015-16.

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Kudzu, “the plant that ate the South,” near the hotel; it is an invasive and highly aggressive species

At 6:15, Gary and I headed down to meet the attendees.  Had some nice chats, got caught up with Anne, and enjoyed a fine buffet dinner.  A couple of hours later, about half of the group headed to Wisteria Lanes, a bowling alley right in the conference center (how cool was that?).  I hadn’t bowled in more than a decade, and my arthritic knees made for a bumpy roll of the ball, but it didn’t matter – we were all pretty bad and we all had a lot of fun.

Saturday morning we tucked into breakfast, then convened at nine.  Anne, Gary, and I presented for an hour, I listened a bit more, then ambled back to the bus stop, the MARTA train, and flights home via Charlotte.  A long run for a short slide, as the saying goes, but it was well worth it.

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The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) campus is adjacent to Emory University

 

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St. Paul, Minnesota, and Montreal, Quebec

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Original oil painting of former Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy at the Montreal Athletic Association

The first day of May started inauspiciously.  The plan was a nonstop to Minneapolis/St. Paul arriving in time for lunch with nephew Evan Kail, then coffee with longtime friend Mike Davis.  But tooth #8 had other plans; the pain started a day earlier, and was accelerating.  At first I thought “ride it out,” but by 7:45 I was in the car to the dentist that installed a new bridge less than a year earlier.  Nope, they said, not our problem, so they called a nearby endodontist who could squeeze me in that morning.  Good luck.  And that clinic was wonderful, very professional.  I was out their door at 11:50, after a successful root canal.  Drove home, took the dogs for a pee, and set off for the bus stop.  At non-rush hours I have to walk about 0.8 mile, and did that in under 10 minutes, just before the #721 bus pulled up.  Caught the Metro to the airport and departed Washington at three.  Oh, yeah, in between I managed to write an 800-word op-ed for a client.

Arrived in my native Minnesota at 5:15, in spitting rain just above freezing.  Picked up a rental car and zipped into Minneapolis.  Things got a lot better when I arrived at the Black Forest Inn, a German restaurant and bar I have frequented for 46 years, 6 years after German immigrant Erich Christ opened the place (he’s still in the kitchen almost every day).  We started tippling there in the summer of ’71 because they didn’t ask we 19-year-olds for ID.  Seven years later, we got engaged there.  The place is woven into me.

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Scenes from a favorite place: the view from our table, and (R) the table where Linda and I were engaged

Ten minutes after I sat down, long friend Bob Woehrle and wife Paula arrived, and we had a fabulous couple of hours, mostly talking about books, as well as a fine dinner.  My tooth was still sensitive, so a trio of soft foods, Königsberger Klops (German meatball), spaetzle, and red cabbage were just the ticket.  Drove back to their house in Roseville and clocked out.  A long day.

Up at six Tuesday morning, cup of coffee, bowl of cereal, short yak, then out the door, south across St. Paul for my debut at the University of St. Thomas, a small Catholic institution not far from where we lived 1978-87.  Met host Jon Seltzer, like me a Minnesotan retired from a long and varied corporate career, and delivered back-to-back talks on airline alliances to undergrads.  At noon we hopped in the rental car and motored a mile east to the Green Mill Inn, a pizza joint and tavern we frequented through the years (I remembered walking there with Robin and Jack in their double stroller).  I hadn’t been there in nearly a decade, but the place was unchanged.  Had a pasta lunch and a great yak with Jon, dropped him back at St. Thomas, and motored to the airport.

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The view from our St. Thomas classroom

Plan A was to fly standby on a Delta nonstop to my next teaching, at McGill University in Montreal, but the flight departed full, so I reverted to Plan B, American to Philadelphia and north to Canada.  We took off from MSP to the northwest, and I saw lakes: Harriet, Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and on the western horizon the huge Lake Minnetonka.  I thought to myself, as I did several times earlier that day, that Minnesota will always be home.  It was a feeling identical to what I read an hour later in a novel about a woman returning to her native Iran after years in California: “The rush of sentiment that her girlhood home aroused in her was reassuring and soft.”

Another superb example of the public art program at Philadelphia Airport; this is “Frosted Pink Lipstick,” multimedia, by Jesse Harrod

Arrived Montreal about 10:15, hopped the express city bus into town, then the Metro two stops and a short walk to the hotel.  Head hit pillow 11:45 and the sleep was so deep that I was vaguely disoriented at 7:15 Wednesday morning.  But the morning mission quickly came into sharp focus, and I was out the door and north on Sherbrooke for stop 1, breakfast with McGill prof and friend Bob Mackalski at the historic Montreal Athletic Association – today known as Club Sportif MAA – a storied sports institution (the club won the Stanley Cup before the NHL existed).  We had a great yak and a solid breakfast, my tooth feeling much better.

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Montreal is a well-known for outstanding public art; these painted moose are all over downtown

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On the way to breakfast, I spotted this totem pole in front of the Montreal Museum of Art; totem poles are the work of First Nations from coastal British Columbia, in western Canada.  This was the work of a young artist whose story is here

Stop 2 was a case-study presentation to 30 students from McGill’s MBA in Japan program, a course I knew because I taught in Tokyo a decade earlier (Jack came along, and I remember it as a truly colossal trip).  Except for two Canadians, an American, and a Dutch fellow, the class was entirely Japanese, older, bright, accomplished.  They were a pleasure.  After the talk we had an early lunch, listed to the dean, then walked across town to The Vatican.  Wait, what?  Well, if you enjoy ice hockey, it was a lot like approaching St. Peter’s Square, for in front of us was the marvelous Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, or the Habs are they are known locally.

Bob had organized a tour of the arena, and I was reveling in it.  Our tour leader, Gabriel, filled us with facts – the 4-centimeter-thick ice is made once a year in early summer, built in layers; there’s a seven year waiting list for season tickets; every game has been sold out since 2004; the press gallery way, way above the rink is the biggest in the NHL, holding 300.  Along the way, I saluted the memory of a junior high and high school friend, Bill Nyrop, who went from our neighborhood rink on Arden Avenue to the Habs, playing on three Stanley Cup teams in the 1970s (sadly, Bill died in 1995 at age 43).  Before, during, and after the tour I yakked with students.  Here are some scenes:

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Peeled off at 2:45, back to the hotel for a bit of work, then out the door for a ride on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare system.  I head west to the pleasant inner suburb of Westmount and a bit further, then reversed course, most of the time on dedicated bike lanes separated from the busy Maisonneuve Blvd.  It was rush hour, and a surprising number of people were returning home by bike.  Cool!

At 5:15, I ambled into McLean’s Pub on Peel Street for a Cing à Sept (literally Five to Seven, a distinctively Quebec phrase) with the MBA class and some local McGill MBA students, both part-time and full-time.  It was sorta like speed dating: in less than two hours I spoke with more than a dozen bright young people: Sasha, a Serbian-Canadian whose parents took the family away a year before civil war in the early 1990s; Scott, a Quebecois whose mom worked in the Air Canada real estate department for 38 years; Nishant from India, who studied at Virginia Tech before McGill; Chris from Philadelphia; Mai from Tokyo, who worked for Nissan in brand management and who lived in San Francisco as a young child; and several of the other Japanese students.  The chat with Mai was interesting and at the end a bit troubling, after she told me “my grandparents were at Hiroshima and got bombed.”  Whew.  But she was so matter of fact, smiling, as if to say “stuff happens.”  She told me both grandparents were healthy throughout their long lives, and grandma is still alive.  Whew, again.

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Old frame, new wheels

 

At seven, I hopped back on the Bixi, east on the Maisonneuve bikeway to the Latin Quarter and one of my favorite places, Saint-Houblon (literally St. Hops, as in the beer flavorant), a bar with a dozen craft beers from Quebec and some simple but refined cooking.  I sat at one of the large communal tables in the center of the main floor.  Across from me, four young people were chatting and I overheard them wondering about “loonies and toonies” (Canadian for their $1 and $2 coins).  It was a T-t-S opening, and I jumped in.

They were lawyers from the U.S. in Montreal for a meeting of the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association.  One from South Dakota (with her non-lawyer boyfriend), one from Hawaii, one from, well, I forget.  Beth from Sioux Falls was closest to me, and we chatted a lot across a bunch of topics, of course including Linda’s work and career.  It was a wonderful half-hour.  After they left, I walked over and said hello to the young fellow who was my waiter on my last visit six months earlier.  He remembered me. “Yes.  You were sitting on the same stool . . . You are a teacher, non?”  As on my previous visits, I looked around and quickly concluded that I was the oldest person in the house by at least 30 years.  I enjoyed a couple of beers and tucked into a wonderful plate of rabbit meatballs on homemade spinach pasta.  By the end of the meal, I was plumb wore out: it would be hard to imagine a day when I experienced more human interaction.  But I had to ride a mile or so home, so I did.

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More public art, and in this case participative: 21 Swings, described as “an exercise in musical cooperation; read the story here

Thursday was well and truly a day off.  I could have taken morning flights home, but I am slowly learning not to rush off (it’s taken awhile!).  So I donned bike shorts and some warm layers on top (it was 40° F) and hopped on a Bixi, coasting down the hill and headed for Ile-des-Soeurs (Nuns’ Island) in the St. Lawrence.  Unhappily, access to the island was limited to way-busy streets choked with trucks and cars, so I pointed the bike toward the wonderful bikeways that line both sides of the historic Lachine Canal.  A much more pleasant ride north and east to Old Montreal, up the hill, and back to the hotel, stopping for breakfast at – where else – Tim Horton’s.  The line was long, but as I waited I conjured the thought I have every time I’m in Tim’s: every single one of the Canadians in the place have health insurance, recognized as a basic human right (coincidentally, later that day, “my” House of Representatives voted to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, which wasn’t even close to Canada’s model of universal coverage).

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External stairways are a distinct feature of Montreal row houses; more on the phenomenon here

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Old Montreal is full of wonderful buildings like this

I showered, changed clothes, worked a bit, and still had plenty of time before I needed to head to the airport, so I hopped on the Bixi again, retracing my earlier route and going a bit further along the canal.  It had warmed up, and lots of people were out strolling and cycling.  At noon I grabbed my suitcase and ambled down St.-Mathieu to lunch at Pho Nguyen, a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall.  Tucked into a small bowl of pho, grilled chicken, salad, yum!  Jumped on the #747 bus to the airport, flew to Philadelphia, then home.  A great trip.

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Five days after posting this entry, the Montreal Gazette published my essay on 50 years of travel to that city; you can read it here.

 

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New housing in new and recycled buildings along Lachine Canal

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Just a piece of the growing skyline; when I snapped this pic, I remembered my common refrain for U.S. conservatives: they don’t seem to have trouble keeping the lights on in this social democracy . . .

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And the last word: your scribe at the dais in the Canadiens’ press conference venue!

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Philadelphia and London

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The view from my room at London Business School

Second-quarter travel began April 3, with a short flight to Philadelphia.  Standing on the airport rail platform waiting for the train into the city, a young Cornell student asked about fare payment.  Philadelphia’s SEPTA public-transit system is still in the 19th Century, cash only, no ticket machines, and while she was asking about nearby ATM machines, I remembered the Venmo app I now had on my iPhone (thanks to Jack and Robin), another one of the cool new ways to send and receive money.  I offered to front her $8 in cash and she could pay me back via Venmo.  A few minutes later, she said she was having trouble with the app, so after we got on the train I gave her my business card and said email me and I’d send an address for the eight bucks.  She didn’t look like a scammer – Indian-American electrical engineering student at Cornell – but, well, I got taken for a ride.  That’ll happen to trusting folk.

I hopped off at University City station and ambled a few blocks north, across the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus, to my digs.  In four or five previous appearances in Prof. Americus Reed’s MBA branding classes, he welcomed me to a comfy basement room in his house, but this time he had budget he needed to spend, so I checked in at the Inn at Penn, a quite posh place.  Met Americus for dinner and a good catch-up.  He’s a way-interesting guy, with a full schedule of research, consulting, and teaching, the kind of guy who can get along with four hours of sleep.  Whew.  Toward the end of the dinner, conversation turned to the new administration in Washington, and Professor Reed said that he found the current national situation sad; sad, too, he said to see the U.S. brand diminished in the world.  Yep.

Up early Tuesday morning, literally across the hall to the hotel gym, breakfast, then a nice amble around campus, through the place that changed my life when I joined a summer Wharton postdoc program in 1983.  I still remember the call from Linda, telling me I had cleared the waiting list; I was in a Colorado hotel room, and I felt like a helium balloon, floating upward.

I taught a morning class, and at noon we ambled a couple of blocks to the White Dog Café and lunch with Pat Rose, one of the people who 34 years earlier admitted me to Penn.  We’ve stayed in touch through the years, and it was great to catch up with her.  Hustled back, taught an afternoon class, worked a bit in Americus’ office, then peeled off.  At four, I met one of my Penn classmates, Jim Cohen, with whom I reconnected a year earlier.  The rain had stopped, and we sat on the patio of The New Deck Tavern, opened 1933, and covered a bunch of topics (I especially liked the discussion of algorithms for self-driving cars, and how to write code to make ethical decisions).  Jim was within weeks of retiring, and as he described it, “the universe just realigned” with him securing a great gig, playing slide guitar in a Linda Ronstadt tribute band.  Jim then he broke into harmony: “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.”  Wonderful!

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Jim Cohen, Wharton classmate, successful business owner, and professional slide guitarist

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Philly is much more vertical nowadays; below, scenes from the Penn campus

I was headed back to the airport by train, and on the way to the U City station I detoured to a walkway bordered with memorable quotations about women at Penn, including this: “My mother, a 1930 Penn grad, remembers being chased out of class by a male professor who shouted at her “I don’t teach women.”  We’re progressing, albeit slowly sometimes.  I then detoured to the statue of Benjamin Franklin, founder of the university in 1740; on the plaque was a quote from his colleague Washington, who described Ben: “Venerated for benevolence, admired for talents, esteemed for patriotism, beloved for philanthropy.”

Flew to London Heathrow, hopped on the express train and the Tube, and in no time was in South London for a meeting with the founder of Entrepreneur First, a very cool company that helps start-ups start up.  I met Matt Clifford two months earlier at a conference in Oxford, and it turned out that my young London pal Scott Sage knows him, so we three gathered for a chat.  Their offices were in the former Peek Freans biscuit (cookie) factory in Bermondsey, a nice bit of recycling.  The yak was simply fascinating, ranging cross a bunch of topics that aimed toward the future.  When we left, I told Scott that I’d relish a conversation like that every morning, to keep our minds fresh and open.

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The low hum of brainpower at Entrepreneur First

Scott and I walked to the Tube, and rode across town to Baker Street.  He headed to a conference and I walked a few blocks to London Business School for my annual visit to Europe’s best.  Like 2016, they offered a modest room in a sort-of-dorm adjacent to the school, but this year it was truly a room with a view, a gorgeous window framing Regents Park.  I changed clothes, washed my face, took a 20-minute nap, and headed out for an afternoon on London’s great bike share system.  Did several loops around Regents Park, past the giraffes of the London Zoo and the posh homes fronting the greenery.

Wandered a bit more, then, perfectly timed for the start of rush hour (not!), I headed to the Stephen Friedman Gallery, where Eleanor Crabtree, the daughter of longtime chum John Crabtree, works.  It was totally spur of the moment, and when I got there she recognized my name but not me, because the last time I saw her was, I think, 1991!  Notwithstanding the sort-of-ambush, she was charming, and took time to show me around the two large gallery spaces on opposite sides of Old Burlington Street in Mayfair.  I rode back to LBS, worked my email a bit, then headed out for a pint and early dinner in nearby Camden.  Was asleep before 9:30, dozing hard.

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Sculptures from German artist Stephan Balkenhol, who carved the figure and the base together from a single piece of wood.

Up Thursday morning, out the door to find breakfast fixings, back to the room, work a bit, then at 11:30 I gave a talk to the school’s Marketing Club.  LBS is global on steroids, and after the talk I ate a sandwich and visited for an hour with my host from India, plus youngsters from Ukraine, Russia, Japan, China, Brazil, and even Michigan.   It got me thinking that I may need a new abbreviation, WJMP, What the Jet Makes Possible, shorthand like T-t-S.  From 2:30 to 3:30 I gave a talk on airline revenue management to Oded Koenigsberg’s MBA class (Oded, an Israeli, is one of my fave hosts).  After class, the plan was to head across town to the new Design Museum in Kensington, but one of the students, Patrick, wanted to continue the conversation.

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London’s blue plaques, marking history, are legendary; I somehow had never noticed this one before, close to the Baker Street station (SOE was the World War II entity in charge of espionage and sabotage); all of us are pretty happy the Telemark mission succeeded.

I’m glad I said yes.  After changing out of my suit, Patrick and I ambled toward the Baker Street Tube station and zipped into a Pret for a mango smoothie and a long yak.  He’s 35, a retired British Army captain (son of a lifer and brother of an officer who lost many of his charge in Afghanistan).  Super-interesting fellow.

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The view from the bar at the Woodins Shades in Bishopsgate

At about five I hopped on the Tube to Liverpool Street station, paused for a pint at an atmospheric (and jammed) pub, bought some sandwiches for dinner, and got on the train for Harwich and the ferry to The Netherlands, once again to avoid paying the confiscatory UK departure tax (ransom).   The Stena Line boat was much more crowded than on previous crossings.  On arrival in Hoek van Holland, a bit of stress, because the train line was closed, so had to hop a bus to near Rotterdam.  Happily, road traffic was light, and happier still was a Talking-to-Strangers encounter with a Dutch couple who owned a small organic livestock farm in Norwich (England), raising 25 Shorthorn cattle and pigs, selling directly to a local butcher, the kind of direct agriculture that is slowly taking root.  We talked about the benefits of clear provenance (I kept thinking that people might say “Well, Bessie sure is tasty,” or “that haunch of Wilfred hit the spot”).  It was a lovely bus ride, more so because respectful Dutch teenagers gave up their seats so the couple, I would guess in their mid-70s, could sit down.

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Tight fit: trucks on the ferry

Hopped on the train at Schiedam, changed at Rotterdam Centraal, and in no time was at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  Along the way, as I always do, I admired how the Dutch manage water, zipped past huge greenhouse complexes, spotted old windmills in the distance, and smiled at how their language is sort of like ours: Calamiteitendoorgang = emergency exit!

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Ships, trains, and planes: the thriftier way home!

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The Netherlands from above

Flew to Philadelphia, down to Washington, and had Henry and MacKenzie on their leashes by 6:30.

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A bit of inspiration at Philadelphia airport: the truths are indeed self-evident, but we’re still working on the equality part.

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Farewell to the Circus

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[Once in awhile, I’ve motivated to post a thought or experience unrelated to my mobile life.]

On Saturday, April 1, granddaughters Dylan and Carson, wife Linda, and I drove to downtown Washington to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  After 146 years of continuous service, delighting millions of people, especially children, “The Greatest Show on Earth” was folding the tent, and we watched one of the last performances of the farewell tour.  Before we left home, I told Linda I was likely to cry at the end.  I did.  I wept in the middle, too, and now, five days later, as I write this.

We knew it was the end.  The New York Times delivered the bad news some months ago.  On the circus website, CEO Kenneth Feld wrote, “After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year. Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”

The last show, themed “Out of This World,” was the sensational mix of acts (minus the beloved elephants) that made it “the Greatest Show on Earth” for decades.  The performers were not digital compositions nor recorded and replayed in front of us, but talented, committed, sentient fellow human beings who clearly loved what they did.  We applauded the clown; the aerialists; the Torres family from Paraguay with their motorcycle ballet inside a metal sphere; big-cat trainer Alexander Lacey; and so many more.

But as much as their dazzling work made us smile, I kept getting sad.  Sad because I had been attending the circus for more than 50 years, and taking children and grandchildren almost every year for nearly 3 decades.  Sad because live entertainment is so special, so different from the stuff on screens small and large.   Sad because a whole lot of folks will lose their jobs — not just the performers and their support teams, but food vendors and ushers, and others who depend on the circus.  What will happen to the Kazakh horse riders?  The clowns?  We can hope many will find other work, but perhaps not.

And I’m mad, at the people and groups who helped bring down a great institution.  If our granddaughters hadn’t been with us, I would have been inclined to put a cream pie in the face of the PETA jerks who were protesting, the self-righteous carrying signs that said “Ringling beats animals.” As a precedent matter, it seems counterintuitive that circus people would mistreat the animals on which they depend; indeed, there’s a rich array of fiction and nonfiction literature documenting the special bonds between circus animals and their keepers.

Our relationship with other species in the animal kingdom is complex, and PETA tries to pretend otherwise.  I am no deep ethical philosopher, but given the growing volume of research on social interaction in plant communities (see, for example, The Hidden Life of Trees) and the possibility of sentience in individual living flora, it seems pretty hard to draw distinctions, except on simplistic lines (e.g., the cuter the animal, the easier it is to defend; no one cares much about maggots).  As I am fond of saying to pre-empt the discussion, “carrots have feelings, too.”

As I wiped back tears, I wanted to jump onto the show floor to thank even just one performer for all the times that their work and that of their colleagues enriched our lives over all the years.

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The last appearance of the Ringling Bros. elephants, 2016

 

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Two Quick U.S. Trips: DeLand, Florida, and New York

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Spring blossoms, DeLand, Florida

I was home for most of March, teaching an intensive short course at Georgetown the week of March 6, then catching up.  On Friday, March 24, I hopped the Metro to the airport and flew south to Orlando, into early spring in Florida.  Pressed through the hordes of visitors headed to see Mickey, Minnie, et al., picked up a red Ford Mustang (for some reason, it was cheaper than the little cars I prefer, but still got north of 30 miles per gallon), and drove north 50 miles to DeLand.

DeLand is the total opposite of the image that “Florida” conjures: densely vertical beachfront cityscapes, choked freeways, odd politics.  There’s only one high-rise in the entire town of 30,000, a dorm for Stetson College, the former Baptist liberal arts school (enrollment = 3,000) that – together with Volusia County government – anchors the local economy.  No traffic jams, and 25 mph speed limits.  And a decidedly progressive vibe, thanks to plenty of academics.  The downtown is returning to life (albeit without much retail), and the old neighborhoods are filled with farmhouse style dwellings and lots of bungalows.  Plus, of course, the verdant vegetation that makes the state so special.  Not long after crossing the city limits I felt very relaxed indeed.

I was soon on N. Clara Avenue, hugging Magda, daughter of my longtime friend Herb Hiller.  It had been way too long, almost nine years, since I visited them, especially because Herb was a great mentor and friend when I was in grad school in the mid-1970s.  Now almost 86, he is still going strong, busy, focused, and articulate.  Herb was taking a nap, so after visiting briefly with Mag (talented in her own right, a great singer/songwriter) I plopped down on a couch, dogs Napoleon and Rooster on the floor beneath me.

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On the kitchen table: citrus from a backyard tree

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Rooster, one of three new BFFs

Herb’s wife Mary Lee arrived about 3:45, and we started the first of several wonderful conversations in their kitchen.  Herb joined us, as did Mag and her daughter Wyatt, already 14.  We talked and talked, ate a nice salad and Moroccan bean casserole.

Herb (who graduated from Harvard Law but never practiced) worked in Miami’s fast-growing tourism industry through the 1960s, then at the dawn of the mass cruise-ship trade, then into the Caribbean – all conventional models.  Herb and I have been long friends not least because we have for decades shared a vision of sustainable tourism based on a very different model of authentic local experiences.

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In the mid-1970s, when we advocated that approach, people thought we were nuts, or as Herb wrote at the time, “communists, vegetarians, Luddites.”  We don’t feel smug that our vision has come to be widely embraced, but we are certainly pleased.  So we talked a lot that weekend about tourism development (the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation), and Herb’s efforts to nurture small-scale tourism in rural Florida, much of which has been oriented to the bicycle.  We are, in brief, simpático.

Was up at dawn the next morning, out the door for a splendid amble around downtown and the neighborhoods north of the center, back for a cup of coffee, then back out with Mary Lee and the dogs for their A.M. constitutional.  We met friend Dave, visited the art studio of Tony Eitharong (where Dave helps out part time), and headed home for a bowl of oatmeal.  Herb and I yakked a bit, headed out to buy some beer, then west to the St. John’s River, Florida’s 300-mile wide waterway (for years Herb and Mary Lee lived on an island in the river north of DeLand, where it’s called Lake George).  Yakked some more on the riverbank, then back into town for a quick wander around the Stetson campus and a serendipitous chat with another colleague (you could tell we were in a small place!).

Florida like it used to be:

Houses

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In the artist’s studio

After a tonic nap, we drove south a few miles to Cassadaga, a former “spiritual encampment” (think psychics and such) for dinner at Sinatra’s, in the old hotel (which regularly offered séances and the like).  Back home, Mag baked cookies for dessert, more yakking, and off to sleep.  Sunday morning, another walk, without and with the dogs.  At 10:30, longtime friend, former island neighbor, and lawyer Bill arrived with some legal documents to sign.  We had breakfast of homemade raisin bread, a meal that conjured memories of wonderful repasts at Herb’s old house in Coconut Grove, Miami, and a good yak with Bill, a native Floridian (it’s always great to meet those folks, rare the state).

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At noon, I hugged Herb, Mary Lee, Magda, and even the dogs (including Mag’s cute Stevie), hopped in the Mustang, drove south to the airport, and flew home.  A great visit with a wonderful comrade.

The last travel of the quarter was a day trip to New York for a video interview for a consulting client.  It hopped but and Metro to Union Station, and onto the 8:10 train.  It had been about two years since I rode Amtrak, and I growled to myself as we formed a long line to board the train, contrasting too much control (queueing, and ticket checks, ostensibly for security) with the openness of European train stations.  The Berlin Hauptbahnhof is arguably as vulnerable to terrorist attack as Washington Union Station, but the platforms are completely open.

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The tracks were as bumpy as ever, but the train was on time and spotlessly clean inside.   The ride is not especially scenic, but there were moments: crossing the Susquehanna River at the top end of Chesapeake Bay; apple trees in blossom along the Schuylkill River just north of center-city Philadelphia; and the brilliant contrast between the flat, empty wetlands east of Newark and the soaring Manhattan skyline on the horizon.

Arrived New York Penn Station on time at 11:21 and walked a few blocks north to Han Bat, a Korean restaurant I’ve enjoyed a few times over the last 25 years.  At 11:40, my friend-since-1961 Tim Holmes joined me, and we tucked into a spicy lunch (kimchee and more) and a lot of banter, jumping through five-plus decades, back to sixth-grade art appreciation with Miss Feltl, forward to his music-writing gig for Sony (he just finished a press release marking Loretta Lynn’s 85th birthday).  Tim always marched to a slightly different drummer, and I’ve long appreciated his perspectives on life, society, and politics.   An hour or so later we ambled up Sixth Avenue to my gig and parted.  As I have written many times, it’s a great joy to stay connected with long friends.  On the way north, I gave an attaboy to a young guy who thumped the back of a van that had driven through a red light.  The driver stopped, and a lively exchange ensued.  The kid struck a blow for order in the face of chaos.  Excellent!

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The video production crew had set up in the Presidential Suite of the New York Sheraton, which would have been posh save for all their kit, duct tape on floors, etc.  For the first time in my episodic on-camera career, a tech applied face make up (whew!), and off we went.  Took 30 minutes, slam dunk.  At 2:15, I met an airline colleague for a coffee in the lobby, a nice chat, then walked south on Seventh Avenue, through the circus of Times Square, and on to Penn Station.  Geographers like all places, but each of us gets one pass, and I always use mine in The City That Never Sleeps.  Just too frenzied and uncivil.

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The sign business: a growth industry in Times Square

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Hopped the 4:05 train back to Washington.  My client kindly upgraded me to business class, where the seats and amenities were identical to coach, which got me to musing about the last time I was in “business class” on a U.S. train: summer 1962, to and from visiting relatives in Chicago, aboard the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha streamliner.  It was called the parlor car back then, and as I lurched home I did some Googling; sure enough, found two images of the Hiawatha’s “Skytop” parlor car, lovingly restored by a group in Minnesota.  Trust me, the parlor car looked nothing like where I was sitting:

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Thanks to Railroading Heritage of Midwest America for this memory!

Waiting for the Metro home, I had a nice T-t-S with a North Carolina family.  As I always do when I see visitors who seem lost, I asked if I could help.  They were completely turned around.  But they were going where I was going, so I simply said, “Follow me.”  We had a nice visit while waiting for the train and on board.

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A Week of Teaching in London and Oxford

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Rural England?  No, Richmond Park within metropolitan London

I was home from Germany but nine days, and on February 19 flew to London, arriving in Monday morning rush hour.  Hopped on the Underground at Heathrow (cueing the Beatles into my ears, as I always do), changed trains twice, and was soon at the Kew Gardens station.  I was bound not for botany, but the home of Carolyn and Omar Merlo, the latter my long host at Imperial Business School, and, more, a good friend.  The Merlos moved into a larger house a year earlier, and invited me to stay on a short trip back then; this six-night invitation was hugely generous.  I arrived in time to walk the kids, Sophie, 8, and Frederik, 6, to the Queen’s Church of England School a few blocks north and west.  Leading the parade was their new golden retriever puppy Mr. Waffles, 12 weeks old.  He was a magnet of attention.  I met a few moms that I met before (school was still in session at the end of June 2016).  Walked back, changed into jeans, and zipped out on Omar’s mountain bike, north into Richmond and the vast Richmond Park.  It’s like being in the country.

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Mr. Waffles

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Sophie’s welcome

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Pathway on the south bank of the Thames near Putney

Past noon I suited up and headed out.  First stop was lunch at Masala Zone in Earl’s Court, a frequently-visited venue in London; it’s a chain, but the food is good and you can have a sort of sampler plate (called a thali).  Zipped east on the Tube and at 2:45 met friend Jan Meurer, retired from years at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.  He was curious about my classroom gigs, so I had invited him to team teach a class in the air transport program at Cranfield University, 50 miles northwest of London.  It was my third visit but his first, and first in any classroom anywhere.  My role over a cup of coffee at Euston Station was to calm his butterflies!

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I’ve long admired the Tube workers who do stuff like this!

A school driver met us at Milton Keynes station and provided useful running commentary on MK, a “new town” of about 300,000 (I had been there several times, but his knowledge was great).  At Cranfield, we met Prof. Pere Suau-Sanchez, a friendly Catalan.  Pere provided his personal assessment of Brexit, with Jan lobbing in a few thoughts – it’s been interesting to get the non-British perspective, which is generally “why did they do that?”  Jan and I agreed that the class would be a non-lecture, each of us speaking for 5 minutes, then the remaining 100 for student questions and comments.  It worked superbly, his European perspective providing a nice counterpoint to my U.S. view.  Students mobbed us afterwards.  Taxi back to MK, fast train to London, hug at the station, and onto the Overground train home to Kew, plumb wore out.

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Jan Meurer’s professorial debut; he’s a natural

Up Tuesday morning for a long visit with Carolyn’s mum Maureen, visiting from Melbourne, Australia (I met her in 2016).  Walked with the kids and Mr. Waffles to school, ate a bowl of cereal, did a bit of work in my room, and headed out.  I had not ever been on the campus of University College London (two days hence I would lecture at UCL, but on a different campus), so I spent a couple of hours wandering around.  At one point I found myself in the Physics building, a place with lots of history, not least good Professor Higgs, who discovered the subatomic particle named for him.  The corridor hummed, not with brainpower (although that seemed likely), but with lots of equipment inside locked laboratories.  I spotted something called the Optical Tweezer Lab.  Say what?  Curious, I looked it up on Wikipedia: a tightly focused laser beam capable of holding microscopic particles stable in three dimensions.  Little tweezers!  In a main building I spotted the names of Joseph Lister and Jeremy Bentham, just two of many famous scholars at UCL.  Way cool.

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Mr. Waffles’ teething, and a close call!

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Sophie and Freddie

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University College London

ucl-diptych

Because my new iPhone has lots of memory I have downloaded more apps useful for travel, including one for the London bikeshare system; and because T-Mobile provides free data in 140 countries I could hire a red bike from my phone, and did so at UCL, riding two miles south to my lunch date with David Holmes at The Wolseley, where we had eaten several times before.  A repast with David, who had a long career with the U.K. Department of Transport and British Airways (where I met him in 1994), has been an annual tradition for nearly a decade, much anticipated, for he is another of my many windows on Britain.  We caught up on family, Brexit, U.S. politics, and more.  As always with David, I learned lots of stuff, for example, that King George III, who Americans revile and who was not much better regarded in Britain, is currently being “rehabilitated.”  Maybe not so bad, the thinking goes, for his willingness to learn English (previous monarchs from the House of Hanover spoke German), support for the emerging sciences, and other positives (I wasn’t convinced, but listened attentively).  David also has a fine ability to recall curious phrases from his past: he told me about a senior civil servant who, on the eve of discussions with a U.S. delegation, described Americans as “deeply alien”!  All in all a fine lunch and stimulating banter.

We parted at 2:45 and I hired a bike for a two-mile ride east to my 18th visit to the London School of Economics.  Traffic was absolutely nuts, which required both defensive cycling and some bold (though wholly legal) moves.  At 3:30, met a new LSE host Rocco Macchiavello, then delivered a two-hour presentation on airline revenue management.  Peeled off after six, onto the Tube and home to Kew.  Dinner was at Tap on the Line in Kew, the only licensed pub on a London Underground platform; tucked into a pint and a yummy pork pie with mashed potatoes and buttered kale (also trendy in Britain!).  The Merlos head to bed early, and I joined that routine.

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The view from the handlebars; cycling in London means keep your wits about you!

Up early Wednesday morning and out the door before the kids, with Omar to Imperial for a full day of three lectures, a total of six hours to stand and deliver.  A long day, needless to say, and I was happy at 6:15 PM to zip down Prince’s Gate to South Kensington, Tube to Victoria Station and a suburban train south to Clapham Junction.  A few minutes before seven I was at an agreeable small Italian restaurant and hugging a longtime American Airlines colleague, Denise Lynn, and her husband Danny.  Denise, a native of England, had been working a six-month temporary assignment as head of HR for Virgin Atlantic Airways (her boss, CEO Craig Kreeger, is a long mutual friend).  We had a fine dinner, and got caught up after about four years.  Lots to talk about.  Home by ten and fast asleep.

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Brainpower at Imperial College London: the robot can play ice hockey!

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I have long admired late Victorian and Edwardian architecture, especially polychrome brick

Back to school-walk routine Thursday morning, then home to work.  Suited up and out the door at 11, south to the suburban rail station at North Sheen, east to Vauxhall on the south bank, and a mile south to lunch at a longtime fave Indian restaurant, Hot Stuff.  I had not been there for almost two years, but owner Raj Dawood remembered me, and we had a nice yak.  He had suffered a lot of misfortune in the interim, losing his grandmother, his mom (who founded Hot Stuff in 1985), and two kids.  And he was limping with gout.  It’s hard to deliver sympathy to a person you don’t know well, but I did my best, offering prayers for comfort and reminding myself of my good fortune.  Tucked into a spicy chicken dish and lots of naan.

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Raj Dawood of Hot Stuff

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Land values are making Lambeth vertical; indeed, Raj reckons he’ll be squeezed out in two years

Said goodbye to Raj, and as I walked away I almost tripped over Owen’s dog Biscuit.  Who’s Owen?  Another stranger, of course.  We chatted a bit in front of Hot Stuff, and he asked me where I was headed.  I told him the Tube station at Oval, a mile east, and he offered to lead me there.  We had a great yak.  Owen was in his mid-70s, had lived in Lambeth for more than 50 years, and thus had seen a lot of change.  Two datapoints: his father bought a row house in the 1960s for £18,000; the houses lining the streets on our path were now selling for £1.2 to 1.5 million.  Owen was a lifelong builder; his father emigrated from Jamaica.  A nice stroll.

Hopped the Tube east and north to Canary Wharf, the high-rise office complex east of central London that looks a lot like a U.S. downtown.  Up 38 floors to the new “campus” of the University College London School of Management to deliver a one-hour lecture in Omar’s core-marketing class from 3:00 to 4:00.  Worked for a couple of hours, admired the stunning views of the city, took a quick nap sitting up, and repeated the lecture at 6:30.  We zipped out at 7:45 and home to Kew, in time to read Sophie three chapters in a book (on my visit the previous summer I apparently made an impression as an expressive reader!).

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The west view from Canary Wharf

Up Friday morning, now firmly in the family routine, off to school with Sophie, Freddie, and Mr. Waffles.  On the way to school, Sophie asked if I would read more chapters that night, and I replied that we would finish the book.  She smiled.  Hopped onto the Tube, east to Gloucester Road.   It was the first sunny day since Monday, and a good time to bike a few miles, even in coat and tie, so I hopped on a red shared bike and set off through Kensington Gardens and Green Park.  Stopped briefly to say thanks at the memorial to the RAF Bomber Command, admiring Churchill’s words from September 1940: “The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.”

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Mr. Waffles slowing traffic!

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Part of a large bronze in the Bomber Command Memorial

I rode on up the slope to Notting Hill, arriving at a pleasant fish restaurant 20 minutes early.  I sat at the bar and thumbed through a book on English watercolors, filled with splendid work.  It was one of those moments when to celebrate our long cultural heritage and hope we are able to persist as a species, if only so talented artists can create more works of beauty.

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William Turner of Oxford, “Donati’s Comet,” 1859; coincidentally, the original is two blocks from son Jack, in the Yale Center for British Art

At 12:30, met young friend and mentee Scott Sage (frequently in these pages) and Sir Geoffrey Owen, my original host at the LSE.  I had wanted to get those two together for awhile, and was glad I got to be there.  Sir Geoffrey knows a ton about the U.K. economy and in 2015 published a book on the high-tech sector, a focus of Scott’s investment expertise.  We talked along those lines, as well as politics here and in the U.S., and a sobering few minutes on how people displaced by technological advance will find new work.  A totally stimulating conversation, one we could have continued, but Scott had an appointment and I had a third class at UCL, so we parted.

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Zipped across London by Tube and delivered another quick talk; the two classes the previous day were mostly comprised of East Asian students, but this class was virtually 100% Chinese.  A little way into the talk, I noticed in the second row a plump fellow texting.  I called it out, and he looked mad; by his attitude he appeared to be one of the highly privileged.  Toward the end of the talk, he was back texting again.  After questions and applause, as students departed, I confronted him for his rudeness.  I generally let those things slide, but simply could not.  I pointed out that I was there as a volunteer.  His apology was insincere.  Grrrrrrr.

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The east view from the UCL B-school “campus” on the 38th floor

Omar had some additional work, so I peeled off.  The Jubilee (Tube) Line was closed, so I took a rather circuitous route home (Omar opted for Uber).  Omar made a wonderful pasta dinner for the family, and we had a splendid time before and during the meal.  It is so nice to stay with a family.  After dinner, as promised, I read Sophie the remainder of her book, and kissed her goodnight.  She would be at Olivia’s house for a pajama party the next night, so I told her I’d see her again later in the year.  Everyone was headed to sleep, and I joined the procession, because Saturday would start early.

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Friday commuters on the London Overground

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Sophie and Omar on the piano, top, and her cardboard rocket, created for Olivia’s “space party” sleepover

Early, as in 5:40.  Out the door, onto the Tube toward Paddington Station.  Along the way, some delays, and had I not been able to use my iPhone to access the Internet, I would have missed the 7:21 train to Oxford (thanks T-Mobile, again!).  Happily, I made it with five minutes to spare.  Arrived Oxford about 8:15, well before the 9:30 start to “Oxford Inspires,” a conference on entrepreneurship at the Saïd Business School where I was due to speak.  So I headed for a short ramble about town, my first visit since 1977.  Made it to Christ Church College, which is where David Holmes studied.  Grabbed a coffee and a sweet pastry and ambled back to the B-school.

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People began to arrive, and I struck up a nice conversation with Giles, a young high-tech fellow from the West Midlands (one little piece: his father worked for the British Railways prior to and during privatization, and as a kid Giles had the rail equivalent of the free airline travel that our kids enjoyed).  We covered a lot of ground in a short while, and soon were joined by V.R. Raghavan, a retired lieutenant-general in the Indian Army.  His daughter Nina was attending the conference and he “tagged along.”  Great conversation, including some wonderful glimpses of modern management in a major armed force.  Soon Dagmar, an Oxford Ph.D. in computer science joined.  Whew, a great start.  I attended a morning session on social-impact investing, listening to presentations from a woman whose company finds work for women after they leave prison; a wheelchair user who started an Airbnb-like service for mobility-compromised travelers; and a Somali who built an economical way for migrant workers to remit funds home.

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Said Business School, University of Oxford

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Yakked with several youngsters during lunch, and from 2:00 to 4:00 was part of a session on marketing and products, though my talk focused on managing in turbulent times.  Unhappily, during the panel discussion the moderator kept asking his questions rather than welcoming audience queries, but it still worked.  Last session was a keynote from Matt Clifford, of Entrepreneur First, a company that supports engineers and computer scientists to build tech companies from scratch.  Matt graduated from Cambridge in medieval history (proving my point that specialized knowledge can be overrated), and delivered a brilliant talk called “The Disruption of Ambition.”  He told about “technologies of ambition,” from literacy to military education, to management education.  Matt said “Power used to lie in the hands of people writing cheques; now it’s in the hands of writing code.”  Whew.  The day ended with refreshments, and lots of youngsters sought me ought for varied advice, mostly on studies and career.  Hopped the train home with a “laptop” dinner of sandwiches and salad.  The Merlo house was already quiet at 8:45.

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The luxurious life of the itinerant professor: laptop repast on the train

Up at seven Sunday morning, cup of coffee, hugs to Carolyn and Omar, and out the door toward Heathrow.  Standing on the above-ground Tube platform at Kew I gave thanks for friends like them.  It was pure joy to stay with a family for six days, to get in their rhythms and learn from them.  Flew to Kennedy, then on to Washington, and was home by 5:15.

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jan-feb-routes

Travels in January and February

 

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