A Quick Trip to Amazing Places

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November 18th, 2021

Welcome back, I say to you all. Whatever you do, avoid reading the words “Welcome back” and immediately tying it to the tune of the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme song. DON’T DO IT! That’s my advice. It’ll be stuck in your head for days. And for the record, the singer of that song you’re not supposed to think of was the great John Sebastian, who was also the singer for the band Lovin’ Spoonful, so you’re welcome for that little tidbit of trivia, as well. We’re off to a great start today.

I’ve been busy. How about you?

This past Sunday, Barbara and I ventured out into the world of travel again, staring wide-eyed at the changes made within the terminal and concourses at MSP airport. We were “only” headed for Chicago, a quick little trip by air, but even that seemed like ancient memories and a daring excursion. We wore masks, like everyone else at MSP and on the plane. It’s not a big deal. Doesn’t bother me a bit and it would probably stress me out beyond belief to be in any place like that without one. I still mask up just to go to the grocery store, although now the percentage of like-minded people there is about 30% with masks on. Maybe that’s why Minnesota just took over the “top spot” in terms of states that have had the largest surge of recent new cases of COVID. We, apparently, never learn. I’m tripled vaccinated and still wear a mask. So sue me.

The main reason for our trip was a concert. Talk about getting outside our comfort zone. A sold-out crowd at the enormous United Center, where the Blackhawks and Bulls play, and even though you had to wear a mask and show proof of vaccination to get in, once the lights went down many of the masks came off. Not ours.

More on the concert in a bit, but first a quick mention of what we did on Monday morning after a great dinner on Sunday night at an English pub called Elephant & Castle. I had a fine French Dip but in retrospect I should’ve followed my instinct and had Fish & Chips. I mean, really. It’s a pub. Don’t know what I was thinking… I was seduced by the thought of a fine bit of au jus.

On Monday morning (the concert was Monday night) we rented a car from a nearby Avis outlet in downtown Chi-Town, and drove down to the suburb of Aurora. Barbara had arranged a meeting with an investment analyst who covers her company, H.B. Fuller, and that would happen at a phenomenal facility they have there. It’s where basically all the adhesives and grouts come from for flooring materials. H.B. Fuller is a market leader in that category.

What an amazing place!

I got to sit in on a one-hour meeting with the analyst and members of the plant staff, going over the market, trends, and how they run the facility. It was fascinating. Have I ever mentioned how brilliant my wife is? I’ve heard her on phone calls and on Zoom meetings, but this was the first time I’ve ever been a “fly on the wall” in an actual meeting she was having. I listened and marveled at all of it.

After that, the Plant Manager and the Director of Sales took us all on an in-depth tour of the whole facility. They make many of the materials there, they store it all in a mammoth building, and they ship it out on big trucks that take it all to the far reaches of the country.

It was incredible. When we first walked into the main plant building just beyond the offices, it was like a scene from a movie where you just know the images are all computer generated because nothing could be that big, and nothing could be that well organized. But it was very real.

This is just one aisle of products. There are seemingly a million other aisles.

It went on forever, all coded and stored with complex software that “knew” where everything was. Forklifts moving all the time. Employees paying close attention to everything they were doing. It’s amazingly efficient and stunningly well run.

We toured everything. We got up close to industrial-sized mixers, huge packaging machines, and stood in amazement as pallet after pallet of dry grout were poured, bagged, stacked, packed, and then shrink-wrapped all in one quick process. The whole thing was incredible. No wonder why H.B. Fuller is such a leader in the industry and doing so well. My wife has something to do with that, by the way. She knows more about adhesives than I know about baseball. OK, maybe that’s not the right comparison, but she’s a genius. I’m floored by how much she knows and the insight she has.

The only hard part of the excursion was the “getting there” and the “getting back” in the rental car. Traffic in Chicago is legendary, and not necessarily in a good way. Once you get near downtown, it’s confusing and stressful, especially for a “small town” hick from the Twin Cities. We managed it, though, thanks to Siri and her knowledge on the iPhone.

After that, a quick bite to eat in the Executive Lounge at the hotel, the JW Marriott, and then an Uber ride over to United Center for the show. It was a night I’ve been waiting for. Like for about 15 years.

I think it’s been about 13 or 14 years since the last time the band Genesis had toured. I saw them for the first time in 1974, when they came to a smallish theater in St. Louis and Peter Gabriel was still the lead singer while Phil Collins was just a great drummer. I’d heard of the band from my sister, who was dating (and later married) a Scotsman who was a big fan. Mary was spending her freshman year in college at a school in England, and she sent me a cassette tape of the first “Genesis Live” album, which was interesting to say the least considering I’d never heard a note of any of the songs. I’d also never heard of the band. It was from another world, for me. It was mesmerizing. It changed my musical tastes forever.

Loving the spectacle, the sound, and the band

Since the last time I’d seen them, some stark differences were clearly evident and some things were exactly the same. Phil Collins, unfortunately, has been beset by a nerve disease that makes it impossible for him to play drums, or even walk without a cane. I knew, going in, that he’d be singing while seated in a chair. Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, on the other hand, haven’t changed a bit and are playing as well as they ever have, and the same goes for Daryl Stuermer, who has been the touring guitarist for the band for about a million years.

I was really impressed by United Center. It’s huge, and I’ve personally never seen so many NHL and NBA banners in one building, but I also only got to the old Boston Garden once (when I worked for Converse) and didn’t memorize it, so there’s that. It seems like the building is so new, but it’s actually been around for about 27 years. It’s well laid out, and they’ve done a great job in today’s world of making the entry process pretty seamless. You had to have a mask on to get in, you had to show your vaccination card (a photo on your phone worked) and the whole thing is paperless and non-contact. Cash doesn’t change hands anywhere in the building.

It was packed. We got there very early, around 7:00 for an 8 o’clock show, and there were already tons of people milling around and finding their seats. By the time the show started, I was so amped up I was fidgeting and nervous. We had really good seats, at what would’ve been around center ice for a hockey game, on the side, 8th row. Barbara was never really a Genesis fan, but she knew how important this was for me and she wanted to see it for herself.


It was magic. Phil is nothing more than a shell of his former self, but he gave it everything he could while seated in a chair and the crowd adored him for that. As Barbara said, “There was so much love in the building.” She also admitted to having loved every minute of it. I felt the same way.

To play live again, the band needed a new drummer, obviously, and a couple years ago Phil had mentioned to Mike and Tony that his boy, Nicholas, could handle it. They were, apparently, skeptical at first but he invited them to watch a show on his last solo tour, with Nic on the drums, and they bought into it. I’ll state this: Nic Collins is proof that DNA is an amazing thing. He plays like his dad. He hits the drums like his dad. He even looks like his dad. The kid is phenomenal and worth the price of admission all by himself.

So, basically, it was a pretty decent show. Right?

I was worried about the Uber ride back to the hotel, I’ll admit. It was one thing to get there early and have the driver drop us off a block away. It’s another to think about 18,000 people all leaving the arena at once and trying to find your Uber driver, if you can even get one on the app. They had it all figured out and it was really impressive.

A block from the arena, they’ve taken one of the secondary parking lots and turned it into an Uber pick-up location. There’s a large tent you enter, and you wait in there until your car arrives. Once your driver checks in, he’ll tell you what aisle he is parked in, and you already know what kind of car he has and what the license plate number is. You stay in the big warm tent until you get that notification, and then they allow you outside to find your car. Badda boom, badda bing. The whole thing worked like a charm. It was great to be back in the Uber world again.

It had been so long since I’d used Uber my app didn’t work anymore. Before we left the hotel I had to update the app and enter some new info. For one thing, my American Express card on the app was two cards ago! Had to update that because there’s no cash involved.

I think this guy was famous or something…

And just for fun, here’s a fabulous photo from inside the United Center. Some basketball player, I guess. Was he any good?

So all in all, it was a great experience. The factory tour, the concert, even the airports and Delta planes were as “comfortable” and safe as one could ever expect these days. We’re glad we did it. We’re thrilled we saw the show. Those old guys can still deliver it. Bravo!

On the book front, we’re still working on the cover concepts. When Barbara and I got to O’Hare to fly home, we stopped in a concourse bookstore to look at covers just to see what the trends are these days. Basically, the trends are “don’t be really creative, just be safe and make the title really big.” It was underwhelming. I’m not saying Todd Myers and I are “better” than that, but we aren’t saddled with a publisher who is afraid of being outside the box. The cover still has to entice the reader, and tell a bit of the story, but it doesn’t have to be vanilla in a world where wild flavors can still thrive. We’re working on it. Progress is being made.

I’ve been in contact with Outskirts Press to let them know I’m back and coming at them with a finished product. Still have to make a decision about hardback versus paperback, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. We will get there. It will happen.

That’s all I got. Next week is Thanksgiving and we have the entire Orlando contingent of Barbara’s family coming up to join us for the holiday, including the two princesses Bella and Stassi. Can’t wait!

Wish I could go see Genesis one more time, but I don’t see how that’s possible. That’s why we went to such lengths to see them in Chicago. It was a “Thank you, and goodbye” trip. Very heartwarming, and I’ll admit a few tears escaped from my eyes, but that’s another great thing about wearing an N-95 mask. No one can see you crying…

See you again soon. If you liked any of this, please be kind and click on the “Like” button below. And if you get a chance, go say goodbye to Genesis. You won’t be disappointed.

Adios. I’ll be back.