…and then the table across the room broke into song.

We’re exploring restaurants within walking distance these first few days in Zagreb. Our excursions have been to places my lovely wife remembered well, or at least thought she did.

It appears the entrepreneurial spirit is bubbling here with places opening and closing, businesses being bought and sold.

Monday night we ate with the new owner of a small pizzeria downstairs. He offered to help us order when it became obvious that the instructions we had received were insufficient for the occasion.

He ordered ‘the lady’s’ first request – but chose something ‘spicier’ for the ‘gentleman.’ Pride of product. Pizza with uniquely Croatian sausage. Yum.

Owner for little over a month, he was learning the ropes of his new gig, thinking about changes and additions. Appeared young, yet not his first place – his first was a bar when only 22. A serial entrepreneur. A veteran. Eighteen hour days were exhausting, expected, maybe cherished. His own thing.

Friendly.

Wonderful.

I’m wandering knowing little more than ‘Hvala’ (thank you), and yet the people I meet are friendly, understanding, and outgoing.

This morning I was taught how to correctly purchase bananas and a tomato from the local grocer. “Teach?”  you might think, kindly not mentioning your concerns aloud.

Reaching my tomato at the bottom of my basket, the checkout lady  looked irritated (there was a long line) and asked something or other.

By something or other I believe I could roughly translate to “Why didn’t you do this right?”

I smiled, “English? Help?”

She laughed. Time was no longer an issue. She walked me to the scale where I should have weighed and labeled the produce. She did the tomato. I had to go back with the bananas myself, but immediately another shopper was helping me pull the label and push the buttons needed.

As there was a line I’d have expected grumbling. Instead smiles and hello. Pleasant.

Zagreb is a city that seems on the move.

During the flight over from London I conversed with a mechanical engineer who had left Croatia back in the 80s for D.C. and recently returned. He had missed the war and subsequent rebuilding and said the changes had been extraordinary, almost to the point of making the place unrecognizable. Scattered among conversation about the future of hydrogen power generation, business models, and places that we should not miss along the Adriatic, he mentioned that his countrymen were learning the ways of business quickly.

“But we know it is the United States that knows how to change the world with business. That is where we learn.”

Heady thought. Bit of a responsibility being an idea of opportunity, not just the place. Reminder that many in the world still look to the US, deficient as we may be, as the place where wonderful things can happen.

 

Last night fish was on the menu, a specialty here at a neighborhood favorite. Not be missed according to several.

We were there late, just before closing. A table of men off in one corner talking softly. A longer lasting date in another. White table cloths with private spaces created by small sails. Quiet. Romantic.

I’ve been last in to places before. Memories of being rushed.

Our waiter helped us decide. A nudge towards specialties and away from mistakes. There was pride when he presented each plate. Concern that we enjoyed, that we approved. Space to enjoy, take as long as we want. Fabulous close to the day.

And then the table across the room broke into song.

Wonderful, polished yet rustic tunes.

Years ago my good friend and I joined a barbershop quartet society. Breaking into song when we gathered became normal fun. Fond musical memories.

The fellowship was recognizable even if the melodies were not.

Funny how close to home one can feel when so far away.

 

Donuts

When I Googled donuts recently an old familiar name popped up.

LaMar’s.

Kansas City staple.

Glazed donut of the gods.

Warm when you pick them up and as they go down.

TJCinnamons was the only short term challenger for ‘perfect morning meeting food.’ That didn’t last long and is a whole different story.

Every time I live in a new city, I must search for the perfect donut.

Every city seems to have their own local donut hero. LaMar’s worked out of a converted gas station for years. You’d pull up on almost any morning to cars parked four deep. Like there was a gas shortage but for donuts.

This appears to be a real thing. Hadn’t thought about it before.

Growing up we were a Dunkin’ Donuts family – that’s where I acquired my addiction to the slightly more difficult to make french cruller. Delicate enough that you had to know when to order them. Even though Dunkin’ was a large chain, to me it was a counter, mom’s coffee and my french cruller. A chain store can be local when it is run well.

But in high school there were arguments in favor of Amy Joy. No violence, just an excuse for taste testing. Amy Joy had the benefit of looking like a local donuts shop, nice but worn. A funky sign. A place you want to stop at even though part of you is saying keep going.

My wife grew up with Jack’s Donuts in New Castle, Indiana. These things are huge, weighty and slathered in maple frosting. Good, solid, keep you going through the day, farm-country donuts. I’ve never been to Jack’s to get donuts. They magically appear at breakfast when we are visiting.

In Bloomington there’s a family argument actively percolating between Cresent Donuts with their marvelous blueberry cake and Square Donuts with the most amazing bavarian cream I have ever experienced.

I tend to give the edge to Square donuts. Cresent aaaaallllllways seems to be out of blueberry. Square made me a bavarian when they were out, special, just for me. I am now loyal. For those of you who haven’t noticed, this is a lesson in branding. :)

So in Oakland/Lake Merritt I’ve found Colonial with a sturdy, nice cruller. It has the bonus of being near the bottom of the hill. Somehow the donuts have the magical property of making me forget I’ve got to walk back up the hill.

I’m not sure what kind of donut city San Francisco is yet. With their focus on coffee (Peet’s is a marvelous change of pace) I would think there would be donuts everywhere. Maybe not. Round things roll down hills.

What’s your favorite donuts place?

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The Swing of Urban Life

I’m getting back into the swing of living urban.

Coffee shops and a killer french cruller within walking distance. Sounds of human life drifting in on morning breeze. Alternate Tuesday street cleaning and parking tickets…

My wife and I started out on the Plaza in Kansas City. Relaxed compared to hard core Chicago city life, but a great all night coffee shop for late night talks between newlyweds. Waitresses that let you nurse a cup knowing your tip would rent the booth.

Been a long time since kids and yards came calling. Since our focus shifted from ‘worldview’ to ‘family view’ where teacher meetings, softball, and scouting beat a night out every time.  Our move to the Chicago of skyscrapers and jazz clubs became real life with neighbors and life-long friends.

Quiet nights of Mancala. Long walks on dark streets. A dog, two cats.

Sometimes loud, laughter filled nights of Euchre.

The move to Bloomington and university life last year short circuited our risk of empty nest syndrome and we’ve been adapting to the town’s little-city-big-city lifestyle. Things to do, small distances to travel. Nice.

But Bloomington is not urban.

For now I’m waking up in Oakland in the delightful Lake Merritt district.  The reasons I’m here are unfortunate – my daughter fell down a flight of stairs and broke both her elbows – but I’m enjoying being with my kids and getting back to city life. Miss my wife dearly, but she’s tied to a desk while I’m tied to the internet.

Amazing how locationally independent those routed electrons can make an old working stiff.

The news is good for my daughter. Always an overachiever, she was told by the doc a few days ago that ‘if you’re going to break your elbows that’s the way to do it.’ No casts, no surgery, just rehab. So my job is simplified. I’m back to being dad, driving my son-in-law to where he teaches and my daughter to her directing gigs. (That’s right – I’m back to driving kids to school and practice. :) )

It’s nice to see how they’ve adapted to their new home.

A reminder of how adaptable human beings can be. Life changes, so do we. Some of us go complaining, others go searching. When you stuff us close together you either get smiles and the best of humanity working together or you get snarls and the worst of it.

I’ve not quite caught the urban beat, but I can hear it pounding and it makes me smile.

A Question of Streamlining…

In the Managing Technology and Innovation MBA course I am teaching this summer there is a paper due at the end of term that has a minimum and maximum page count. One of my more talented students asked me if there is a penalty for going over the ten page limit.

Thought my reply might be of interest because it applies to writing in general and business writing in particular:

One question I ask when reading a paper is: “Could the writer have found anything that distracted from their primary points to cut?“  My experience indicates that the answer to this question is usually yes when the paper falls within length guidelines and almost always yes when it runs longer than guidelines.

This is not to say that what you might need to cut isn’t interesting or in some way important. Or that you won’t have to rewrite a sentence you like to be shorter. It’s a question of streamlining – removing extraneous information so that your key points come across more clearly.

I personally hate editing my own writing. Takes a lot of effort to get the points down on the page.  Unfortunately, I’ve also learned over time that my work tends to improve If I assume that the first edit should target a 30% cut in words.  Very painful – but it does force a thought process that is necessary when you think about the one truly limited resource you are dealing with – the reader’s attention span.

So – is there an automatic penalty for going over the limit? No. I always will admire a point well stated regardless of length. However, it would probably force me to go in and show you what I would have cut…

Of course, the above deserved further editing itself. Ah well.