Louis G. Pol – The Traveling Dean

I began this blog in March 2013 because I wanted to document some observations about my travel experiences in India. As I reflect back on other travel taken prior to March 2013, I wish I had begun posting about my adventures in 2003 as I made my way to St. Petersburg, Russia, or 1992 during a trip to France and Italy, or in 1991 while travelling in Romania and Moldova. Oh, well…

I am the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (formerly Omaha University). I became the dean in August 2003, which means that at this point in time, March 2017, I have been the dean for nearly 14 years, a very long time in one place for a business school dean. The average stay for a business school dean is about 4.5 years. Prior to being named dean, I was a faculty member here, at Rollins College, and at Memphis State University, but not all at the same time. If you want to learn more about me, I am providing a link to my website http://cba.unomaha.edu/lpol. Also, you may wonder what I look like, so here is a picture.

dean-pol-full

As you can see, I am in my official dean uniform. The sculpture in the background is one created by Jun Kaneko. You should look him up.

My goal in regard to this blog is simple. I want to share my experiences with anyone who wishes to know more about the places I have visited. At the same time, if you continue to read, you will gain some insight into my opinions about the places I visit and the people I meet. From time-to-time, you will learn more as I offer comparisons of places, including those experienced before I began this blog. I will try to remain apolitical as I write about what I see, but I will fail at times. Keep in mind that it is March 2017, and remaining apolitical is most difficult.

Finally, I enjoy receiving your comments and corrections.

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Iasi Romania

I was in Iasi (pronounced Yash) Romania the third week of October, my first trip back in 20 years. I was there primarily to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Romanian-American Center for Private Enterprise, a business development center modeled after our Nebraska Business Development Center. The Romanian center is housed at Al I. Cuza University, the oldest state university in Romania (157 years old).

aerial_view_to_the_University_„A.I.Cuza“CRADIP

Iasi is a classic Eastern European city in the north eastern part of Romania. Just 25 miles to the east is The Republic of Moldova, which until World War II was part of Romania. The Russians and Germans were quick to re-make borders, although Eastern and Central Europeans are also good at boundary re-draws (remember the Austria-Hungarian Empire?). Iasi is also a short drive from Ukraine.

In the mid-1500s, Iasi became the capital of Moldavia, but when Romania was recognized as a country in 1862, Bucharest was named the capital of the new nation. However, from 1916 to 1918, Iasi was again the capital of Romania, during which time Bucharest was occupied by the German army.

Romania Map

Iasi is a beautiful city, known for its elegant monasteries, classic architecture, palaces, botanical garden, and friendly people. In the 25 years since my first visit to Iasi (1992), much has changed. Dreary streets and department stores are now teaming with people and full of a broad range of local and international products. Men, women and children are seen in fashionable attire, much like can be found in any other European or American city. Grand old buildings such as the Traian Hotel (designed and built by Gustave Eiffel) have been refurbished and modernized, at the same time retaining the cultural integrity of a city that is 500 years old. The Pallas Mall is a new 21st century addition complete with excellent restaurants (outdoor seating) and many shopping opportunities.

The best surprise of the trip was the front and back-of-the-house tour of the botanical gardens in Iasi. This garden is as good as one will find anywhere in the world. We had two guides, one specifically for me. He is a faculty member at Al. I. Cuza University, and his laboratory is located in one of the buildings at the gardens. His English is very good (I have no Romanian language skills), and our ongoing conversation focused on his research that centers on developing crop nutrients that do not pollute streams, rivers, and underground water sources. We also spoke a lot about the new and seasonal developments at the gardens (they were preparing for their annual end-of-October/November event that draws visitors from all over Europe), and the incredible hot pepper collection that I saw during the tour. The botanical garden dates back to 1856.

Al I Cuza University is one of five state universities in the city of Iasi (total student population 60,000; 23,000 at Cuza). Our first project at Cuza (1991) focused on making curriculum changes at the College of Economics, now the College of Economics and Management. Most of the planned economy elements were gone by the time of our arrival, yet their program structure and coursework had not changed very much. We worked very closely, both in Iasi and Omaha, with their team of faculty members to make the changes. Home stays for faculty visiting Omaha cemented our partnerships, and made lifelong friends of our visitors. The transition to our next project, establishing a small business development center, was a natural off follow-up our previous work.

New_2016_uniforms_for_Austrian_Airlines_(1)

The ride to Iasi was smooth and almost without delay. The Omaha – Chicago – Vienna – Iasi pathway minimized layover time, and I arrived at the new Iasi terminal (it has two gates now and flights on numerous airlines) reasonably well-rested. The all red uniforms of Austrian Air (Chicago to Iasi) are very cool. By contrast, my first trip to Iasi took the Omaha – Atlanta – Frankfort – Bucharest – Iasi route, and the Bucharest to Iasi leg involved an overnight stay in Bucharest and a six (or so) hour train ride from Bucharest to Iasi.

The time on the spent train to Iasi was very interesting. There were many stops, which allowed me to observe what life in smaller place Romania was really like. The sites that I saw between towns; for example, people, mainly women, tending to crops and vineyards, are images that I will carry with me forever. The large, and somewhat disorganized, crowds in the Bucharest and Iasi train stations made me understand clearly that I was in another place.

bucharest train station

Fly and Buy magazine (on United Airlines) appears to have replaced the Sky Mall as the way to purchase stuff while travelling by air. Under the magazine section ‘Good and Tasty’, one can buy cigarettes (e.g., Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, and Winston), and in another session expensive watches—14 pages (e.g. Zeppelin, Boss, Rotary and Aviator) are available. Gone are the opportunities to purchase gargoyles, yard art, funky lamps, and globes that also function as a mini bar. Oh, how I miss the Sky Mall.

Afghanistan Project

One month ago we learned that funding for a new project in Afghanistan had been secured. Travel has begun. One of our team members is in Kabul as I write these words. We will be in Dubai in March 2018. Please read the next few paragraphs in the link below to learn more.

https://www.unomaha.edu/news/2017/11/grant-will-fund-uno-effort-to-improve-business-education-in-afghanistan.php

Mexico

We were off for a few days to Cancun just in time for the autumnal equinox. Cancun exists because the Mexican government decided to create another resort region, an alternative to Acapulco. In 1970, the population of Cancun (there was no real Cancun) was three (yes, you read it right, 3), and those people were tending to a coconut plantation. Potential investors were leery of the project, so much so that the Mexican government had to fund the first nine hotels. Now, the Mayan Riviera has no trouble finding money to start new projects or to partner up on an existing one.

the-grand-mayan-riviera

The Cancun International Airport is conveniently located just south of the city, and on the north end of a run of resort properties that stretches south along the ocean and white sand beaches for more than 60 miles. The airport has done well in keeping up with rising passenger traffic. New construction and renovations have expanded capacity, and it is clearly designed with the comfort of tourists in mind. Shops and restaurants are spaced all around the airport. There are a lot of open areas and a good amount of natural light (big windows), a big improvement over my memory of this facility from more than a decade ago. My only criticism is that there are too many American places, including: Bubba Gump’s, Johnny Rockets, a Harley Davidson store, and Wolfgang Puck, which has multiple locations.

cancun-airport

Passport control at the airport gets an A plus from me. They get it. They process people quickly, use the latest technology, and employees are actually at work and not at lunch or wherever as often the case in places like Chicago and Newark. Customs checks move quickly as well, again in part because there is enough staff to handle the volume. The smart use of technology has speeded up the process in places like DFW, giving me hope that other U.S. airports will become more efficient in the future. I have trips to Romania and China coming up soon, and I will report on my experience in several airports.

Valentin Resort

Our destination was the Valentin Riviera Resort, just a short ride from the airport. It’s a very nice place with the usual multiple pools, swim-up bars, first-rate service, and very good food. Every form of entertainment was excellent. The mini-circus show, music, and dancing were staffed by talented performers from Cuba, Belize, Costa Rica, and other parts of Mexico. The day time entertainment was different. There was a lot to choose from (e.g. spin class in the pool), and some elements that are hard to avoid: ugly Americans who have had too much to drink and are too loud; who spend a lot of time entertaining others at poolside. I learned more than I wanted to about their personal lives.

Valentin Resort 2

I did an unscientific observation study in an attempt to estimate the percentage of persons who sport tattoos. My friend, Mike, and I have been talking about the seeming uptick in the number of persons who have tattoos, and earlier this year we attempted an unscientific observation at the pool of the apartment complex in which I live. The only better place to observe inked-ness would be at a nudist colony. This time I was more cognizant of biases and observation errors. I sat in the same place (bias) and simply counted and scored ‘yes’ if the person observed had at least one tattoo that I could see, and ‘no’ if … I may have missed some (bad angle of observation, bad eyesight, or they had one in a spot not observable at all). Well, of the 63 persons I observed, 28, 44.4 percent, had at least one tattoo. Keep in mind that this was a somewhat older crowd. I am fairly sure that younger persons are more likely to be inked. More on this in another post.

KC Royals Tat

My book for this trip was Elizabeth Pisani’s “The Wisdom of Whores.” Pisani is a medical demographer and epidemiologist, someone of my ilk, who has studied the spread of AIDS within multiple countries. Pisani’s reports on science being hijacked and denied by politicians and religious leaders who have agendas to sell. She writes of success and the value of collaboration in addressing serious health challenges. I have been just lucky in recent months. All of the books that have been recommended to me have been very good.

It was home again for just a few days. My next stop was Chicago in early October. I am not going to post about this one given that I have written about Chicago on several other occasions. I did read Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” It’s a good book to read if you are a leader of anything. However, you may disagree with some of his recommendations. A few of my colleagues who have read this book like the concepts and lessons, but fear that if one does all of what Lencioni recommends, even more dysfunction might occur. You can decide for yourself.

Next Stop, Iasi, Romania.

We Built That City, She Hates That Song

It was back to San Francisco in mid-August, this time with Janet and friends to enjoy contemporary art, good eats and a visit to wine country.  By the way, the title of this post refers to the song, “We Built This City” (on rock on roll) by Jefferson Starship (known as Jefferson Airplane back in my day).  Anyway, Grace Slick, lead singer and heartthrob for the group, is reported to having stated that she hates this song.  It was played way too many times on the radio back then.  She now spends her time painting and has produced some really nice work (http://www.areaarts.com/grace-slick/).

Grace_Slick_RCA_records_publicity_photo

In reference to art, our gang had the chance to visit with Fletcher Benton at his studio on Gore Avenue.  Fletcher is an American treasure, a man of great talent who has been most creative and quite prolific in his lengthy career.  I am adding two links to videos, one that shows his sculptures and one in which he discusses his philosophy about work.  (His philosophy https://youtu.be/hf_D91pH5pc; and his art https://youtu.be/UkPQE-UaUzE)  Even at age 86, he goes to the studio to work four days every week.  As he notes, we never know when the gremlin (a great idea or inspiration) will appear, and if we do not show up we will have missed an opportunity.  This philosophy is so true in all aspects of life.  Spending time with Fletcher and his assistant Michael was the highlight of our trip (for me).

Fletcher_BW

We have several pieces of Fletcher’s work both in and outside of our building, Mammel Hall.  The outside work, four large steel pieces, is part of Fletcher’s Alphabet Series.  Many of these pieces were created in the 1990s, although he continued to produce large as well as smaller versions of the letters after 2000.  I am including pictures of two pieces that are displayed on the east side of our building.  Guess what these letters are.  Thousands of people drive or walk by these works of art every day.  It is a joy to know that those lives have been made better as they pass by and view this great work.

Fletcher Benton T & F

Fletcher became well-known as a sculptor as sculpture art, in part, turned toward Kinetic pieces in the 1960s.  He had been primarily a painter before that time (he still paints) but had not enjoyed as much success as he hoped for.  However, once his kineticFB Kinetic work appeared in just a few shows, he became well-known and very much in demand.  Many of these pieces can be found in museums and galleries throughout the world.  However, by the 1970s, his interest in kinetic art waned, and he turned his attention to the alphabet, numbers, and large steel sculptures whose geometric shapes, balance, and colors make us think and smile.

Of course, any trip to San Francisco involves deciding what to do when there is not enough time to do all that you want to do.  Finding a good hotel location is important, especially in a city where parking is very expensive.  We stayed in the Hotel Zephyr on Beach Street, just a short walk from Fisherman’s Warf, and a 15 minute street car ride to Globe Life Stadium (we caught an afternoon game between the pathetic Giants and the disappointing Cubs, great fun!).  We could see Coit Tower a short distance away from our hotel window as well as the bay on the opposite side.  Coit Tower (unpainted reinforced concrete) was built in 1933, and is another excellent example of the classic art deco buildings constructed in the 1920s and 1930s all over the U.S. (think about the Empire State and Chrysler buildings also constructed about that time).  Coit Tower stands out because it is 210’ tall.  It dominated the North Beach skyline until the major San Francisco skyscrapers were added later in the 20th century.

Coit_Tower_San_Francisco

Yes, we went to Napa and yes we visited too many wineries.  We chose to visit four, and were free to consume as much wine as we wanted because we had a driver who picked us up in Vallejo after a relaxing ferry ride and drove us wherever we wanted to go. We walked everywhere else that day, thus no driving by any of was needed (no designated driver). A suggestion to readers: visit only two wineries in one day.

One afternoon, after a walk though Chinatown, we ate at the House of Nanking.  This restaurant has a small footprint and excellent food.  Their salt and pepper shrimp mixed with mushrooms was quite a treat.  We were waited on by Peter Fang, a well-known chef and businessman.  He and his daughter, Kathy, are probably known by some of you. http://houseofnanking.net/

House of Nanking

The walk back to the Hotel Zephyr from the House of Nanking is only 1.1 miles (walk everywhere if you are able), and takes you by two classic churches, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Peter and Paul.  Another walk took us by the Hungry I Club, made famous in part by comedian and provocateur Lenny Bruce.

Hungry I Club

Lastly, my book for that week was Carlo Rovelli’s Reality is Not What It Seems, The Journey to Quantum Gravity.  Rovelli is a good writer and is adept at bringing a clearer understanding of relativity, quantum mechanics and several other scientific theories to people like me who are not educated in the physical sciences.  He takes us on the great ride of scientific discovery from Democritus to Plato to Zeno to….Newton to Einstein to…finishing with the next important scientific questions that beg for answers.  Get a copy.

If You Are Offended by Nudity, Turn Around

It was back to Texas in July. One of those nasty north Texas hailstorms had totaled my dad’s roof, and it needed fixin’. Roof replacement is tough work especially on a sunny Texas day when the ambient temperature hits 100 degrees. I was not on the roof though watching the crew try to stay cool caused me to wonder how I ever did outside work (road crew and hod carrier) in that relentless beat down environment. Well, Pops has a new roof and none of the workers fell off.Into_The_Blue_(1245678376).jpg

Each time any of us plans air travel, we know that it is possible to have delays. I know delays. I haven’t been on a flight from Omaha to Dallas that has left on time in many months. This time, bad weather in Philadelphia delayed our plane’s travel to Chicago (then to Omaha) and the delay rolled downhill as our inbound flight was late. The ground crew did a great job in turning the flight around, almost.

There was a discrepancy between the actual passenger count and the official list of passengers (one more person on the aircraft versus the official list). Time passed, and then we did a roll call, yes a roll call! Aaron, here, Anderson, here, Butts, here… About midway through the roll call, a crew member came on the horn to announce that they had figured it out and we would soon be underway. An uneventful push back took place.

But, it was not over. Guess what? The list was right. We had too many butts in seats. After pushback, yes, out in the middle of the tarmac, some genius realized that they were on the wrong flight. And, you have guessed correctly, we rolled back to the gate. No one said anything. No cat calls, no booing, no hissing, and no tweets, just relief that the culprit had self-deported, and departed. Imagine what it might have been like had that passenger been sitting next to Ann Coulter.

Finally, it was time to sit back and relax (no Sudoku again, come on SWA bring it back!). I eased back into the book, House on Fire, a great story about how science, innovative thinking about the spread of a specific disease, and good judgement were brought together to eradicate smallpox in Africa and India. I know what some of you are thinking. This dude is weird. How can a book that tells the story behind the eradication of smallpox be interesting? You will just have to trust me, it’s a very good read.

Have you ever asked yourself about the three digit identification number found in the wheel well and other locations on commercial aircraft? What do those numbers mean? Perhaps you haven’t thought about it, until now. If you follow that number (go to a list of airlines, click on an airline, and then click on the three digit ID, https://www.flightradar24.com/data/aircraft/), you will find type of aircraft (e.g. B737), serial number, age of aircraft, today’s schedule (all origins and destinations), a schedule two days in advance, and the flight history of the past week. Click again and you can see flight router, number of miles, average flight time, and for completed flights graphs of altitude and speed changes for each flight. Wow! Perhaps this is more than you will ever want to know.

I have described my many visits to Dallas and north Texas before, and I will spare you news about any trips to Whataburger, the driving habits of cowboys, or Big Tex. One item of difference on this trip is notable. We decided that it was time for a road trip in and around the small towns that surround Denton, Texas. My dad lives in Sanger Texas, not far from Lake Ray Roberts which is a very cool place for boating, fishing, and just hanging out. On the other side of the lake is Pilot Point, an old haunt for Bonnie and Clyde. The 1968 movie about them was in part shot in Pilot Point (one of the bank robberies). We also saw Krum, Ponder, Gainesville, Bolivar, Vally View…, all interesting places in one way or another.

Bank

My favorite spot was found by accident driving along on a barely-paved country road. Coming up over a hill and through the dust kicked up by the previous vehicle, we saw some incredibly bright signage. Several as yet unclear images stood in the front yard of a good-sized ranch. We were curious. We drove into the ranch entrance (the gate was open) only to find a sign, “If Nudity Offends You, Turn Around.” Stunned, but not deterred, we drove on, a bit. Well, it was the world famous Adult Bike Rally right there in the Texas countryside. Naked and tattooed people on Harley’s, who would have thunk it? Sometimes, but only sometimes, I miss Texas.

Adult Bike Rally - Texas

The Long, Very Long, Train Ride

Elevated Train in NYC

I think that I know where my interest in train travel originated. My first memories as a young child are of the three family house in which we (my mother, my grandparents, and I) lived in the Bronx. We were just a half block from what was then named the Third Avenue El (elevated), now called the IRT Third Avenue Line, and there were two big treats as I recall.

The first was hearing and then seeing fire trucks roar into our neighborhood to put out fires on the elevated tracks. The passenger cars on the train threw off a lot of sparks, now and then causing a small blaze on the wooden track supports for the rails. The fires never lasted a long time, but the resulting cacophony of cars, fire trucks and people was exciting and never got old. These events convinced that little boy (me) that I should be a fireman when I grew up. Perhaps if I had continued to live in that part of the Bronx, I would have become one – I so much wanted to drive a hook and ladder truck.

The second big treat was taking a ride on the Third Avenue El. Generally, we were dressed nicely for such a trip, and I would get all wired up as we walked the short way to the train stop. I am sure that I was almost impossible to be around as we walked up the stairs to the platform. Mind the gap? Not me. I kept wondering what it would be like to be down in the pit with the railcars hurtling toward what would certainly be my demise. Perhaps once or twice my grandmother or my mother gave thought to letting go of my hand, just to see what might happen.

Janet and I have been talking about a major train trip (west coast) for several years, and in mid-March it finally happened. We flew to Chicago. Our destinations were Seattle, San Francisco and back to Omaha riding The Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle), The Coast Starlight (Seattle to San Francisco) and the California Zephyr (San Francisco to Omaha). Like that little guy more than 60 years ago, I was wired.

AmtrakAmTrak Zephyr

The first part of the trip was not without a bit of excitement. Our friends at Southwest Airlines thought they had lost Janet’s case. How do you lose luggage on a direct flight, we asked? Well as we learned 45 minutes later, the bag had only been misplaced (what’s that?), and our hosts blamed the TSA for the snafu (we blame the TSA for a lot these days, bad weather, bad breath…). Any way. There was no apology but we did get a $50 voucher, a reasonable recovery from a mistake.

I love taxi and Uber drivers. Many are a lot more interesting than many of the people I see day in and day out (sorry). Our Uber driver from Midway to Union Station was Syedalay, a most interesting chap. His father was a pilot for Pakistan Airlines (PIE) in the early days after the split. A few plane adventure stories were told. Janet and I just listened and thought, oh my. Syedalay originally came to Long Island from Pakistan, and had moved to Chicago only three years ago. He has three children and we heard a lot about them as well.

Union Station in Chicago is a cool place, and is in the process of getting much nicer. It has a great hall with a very high ceiling of glass. The stone carved walls and support structures give it a very classy look, yet not stuffy. It is fun to walk around, check out the shops and eateries, and make your way to the platform when your train is called.

Train travel is different. While I understand the need to move around the country quickly, plane travel can be very boring. Flight delays, flight diversions, passenger ejections, punch-ups, bag searching, TSA pat downs, and the child that won’t stop screaming all have their place in that world, but something is missing. If you really want to see our country (or another country), really interact with fellow passengers, and really kick back and relax, get on a train for somewhere. And, if you take a really long trip, you will see a bit of everything.

A few suggestions for those of you who are considering a trip. First, if you expect to arrive on time and it is a long trek, then you have recently hit your head on something. You will be late, but the delay may well be worth it. The first leg of our trip, Union Station in Chicago to King Street Station in Seattle was scheduled at 45 hours, give or take (2,206 miles). A big mudslide in Montana led to a 15 hour delay. So, while we missed some of our planned sightseeing in Seattle, we saw stunning views in western Montana that we would normally miss because it was night. Some of the Amtrak staff told us they had never seen these views.

Second, the sleeping rooms are nice, but very cramped space wise. Your big tent that you camp in is roomier. And, you can poop and shower at the same time (the commode and the shower are in the same space). So, I suggest that you get off the train for one or two nights of the trip and snag a hotel. The trip will be a bit longer and more expensive, but you will have more fun.

Third, as soon as you stow your gear in a sleeping rooms or in coach, get on down to the observation car, (and, if you are going from Seattle to Los Angeles, run down to the parlor car it’s a real treat). Many people who travel on trains are fascinating. The former science reference librarian at the University of Wisconsin – Madison had great stories about faculty and students. I met two Amish guys who were talking smack to each other. I met a turkey farmer from Provo Utah who told me about how mechanization of his business has made things better, and worse. He’s a Republican, but told me that President Trump scares him. He has a congenital heart defect, and is worried about health insurance. Also, enjoy the views. The mountain and river scenery is incredible. We even got mooned by two dudes near Grandby, Colorado.

Parlor Car

Fourth, get off of the train and walk around when train officials announce that you can. You will have to walk around the smoke clouds from those who run off the train at any stop allowed to smoke a cigarette. The two Amish guys mentioned above had really cool pipes. Get back on the train on time. Some passengers were late returning to the train in Whitefish, Montana. We did not wait for them.

Fifth, check out the very, very cool train stations. There is a lot of train station refurbishing going on these days, and these former transportation palaces are the scene of architectural designs that can only be found in a few places in the U.S. these days.

Sixth, be observant. After the first night of travel I woke up just west of Minot North Dakota. It was deer, donkey, and snow along with farm fields of oil wells, oil storage facilities, and wind farms. Later on we passed near the largest wind farm in Montana.

Finally, take some interesting reading material. Yes, you will get talked out. The drinking and the card games will get old too. My book for the trip was Ghost Map, a fascinating story about the effort to eliminate Cholera in nineteenth century London. It’s a reasonably quick read, if you like science, especially epidemiology, buy it and read it.

The Sunshine State

downtown-fort-myers

Whoops. I just remembered that I made a trip between my Denver and New Orleans ventures, to Ft. Myers, Naples and Venice, Florida. This was the first week in February. The purpose of the travel was twofold: visit with several alums/donors/potential donors and attend a fundraising conference (just looking for ways to extend my skills). There were a few exchanges/observations that are worth noting.

We have all been the victims of a rude person who in a very public place either makes or takes a telephone call and speaks loudly, very loudly, in an effort to impress the surrounding passengers/hotel guests, all of whom really don’t care. You know the type, the one who boasts about the size of the deal, at least in the many of thousands of dollars, as well as its complexity. The deal also requires their considerable skill because (fill in the name) is such an (fill in the obscenity). But, every once in a while someone, an innocent bystander, will say out loud, “I don’t really care about hearing your____,” and the jawing begins. Well, early in this trip Mr. “Aren’t All of You Impressed With My Business Deal” had it out, verbally, with Mr. “I Really Don’t Care, You Moron.” The exchange gave all of us in earshot a much appreciated break in the tedium connected with travel, and in many ways the back-and-forth was funny. (No fight broke out, but we had not yet boarded the aircraft.) When that kind of exchange is experienced early in a venture, the lure of more entertaining possibilities is strong.

5th-Avenue-South-shopping-restaurants-Naples-Florida

Because my visits included time with prospective/actual donors, my partner at the University of Nebraska Foundation was along on the first part of the trip. The schedule also called for three hotels in five days, an arrangement that I can usually avoid, but not this time. In addition, I had more shuttle/cab rides than usual. Some of you know the book, Working by Studs Terkel. In that book, he chronicles the working and personal lives of people employed across a range of professions (read it if you have not). Terkel died in 2008, but during his life he showed great skill in asking the right questions and then bringing the day-to-day activities of hard working people to life so that we could understand who these people are. Terkel is also a great inspiration to all of us social scientists who believe in ethnographies and the power of telling a good story. During my travels, I try to find people who are not like me in any way, and ask them questions about their lives.

stretch-limo

Taxi and limo drivers are most interesting, especially those who are from another part of the country or another nation altogether. On this trip there was Mike, a Brooklyn-born dude who moved to Ft. Myers 25 years ago. He arrived at the hotel in a stretch limo, and I was his only passenger (great for conversation). I learned about his time in the construction business, his move from Brooklyn, his views about the world in general, and the odd arrangement among taxis, limos, and the local airport authority. Then there was Chuck. He had moved to Florida from Michigan 13 years ago (to care for an aging parent), and now drives a taxi but only part of the year. When the weather warmed (in North Dakota), he planned to return to Williston to drive heavy equipment in one of the oil patches. He told me that he would stay there, again, until the ground was frozen and then it was back to Ft. Myers to drive a cab.

Then, there are just the normal observations; that is, what did I see that caught my attention. First, the options for airline services at the Ft. Myers airport (proper name: Southwest Florida International Airport, RSA) seem to be increasing. In addition to the usual suspects; e.g., American Airlines, the possibilities include: Air Canada, West Jet, Sun Country, Airberlin (German), Silver Spirit, and Alegant. Activity at the airport is increasing, but it still is most convenient with respect to passenger pick-up and drop-off and access to rental cars.

Ft. Myers is populated in part by an aged population (yes, folks my age and above), many of whom are snowbirds, or simply travel back and forth frequently between Ft. Myers and some other place ‘up north’. Flying to Omaha through Midway I observed a wheelchair traffic jam in preparation to board my flight, nine in all stacked up in formation. The wheel chair passengers were all patiently waiting, some with families, for a flight to a place whose high temperature that day would be less than that experienced in Ft. Myers. Many did not look very happy. Perhaps it was the wheelchair effect or that they were leaving nice weather for who knows what. We should get used to this scene. The U.S. population is aging quickly and a good size segment of the older population will continue to travel by air. More wheel chair traffic jams are inevitable. I just hope that when my time comes, and it will happen soon enough, that my ride will be cooler than the ones currently found at the airport.