Every Day is the Start of a New Year

2,307 days–from 8-Sep-06 to 1-Jan-13. Six years, three months, 24 days. 1,163 published posts–one post every two days (actually 1.98 days, or 47.52 hours). When I wrote that first post I had no idea how often I would post or how long I would stay with it. I planned to integrate A Foolish Consistency into my courses, without a clear vision of how that might happen. I imagined blog posts and comments extending spirited discussions outside the classroom, but I did not require students to read A Foolish Consistency. Compelled participation is low-quality participation. A few lively discussions ensued, some students used blog comments as a proxy for classroom participation (with my blessing), and some students continued to read and comment on my posts long after they left my courses.  As an extension of the classroom I give A Foolish Consistency a C grade–a 73. Just above C-.

If extending the classroom had been my only reason to write A Foolish Consistency I would have abandoned it long ago. Writing the blog helped me think through issues, indulge my sense of humor, advise prospective law students, and voice my views of matters large and small. Providing content was a chore from time to time, but every fallow period ended with a satisfying burst of posts. As a vehicle for self-expression the blog gets a solid A-. 91.

However–(you knew that was coming)–my production tailed off this fall. Teaching sixteen credits spread across six courses with five preps left little time non-course activities. I posted less often, and thought less often of posting. I was not driven to write. I was sanguine about failing to maintain my pace. I felt no expectation-driven pressure.

I’ve decided to change my relationship to A Foolish Consistency. How, I don’t know, but I want to move beyond self-imposed constraints on my voice. Knowing that students comprised most of my audience I held back, keeping distance between my posts and my self. I will no longer present this blog as an extension of the classroom. The aspect of A Foolish Consistency that I graded C- will exist no more. I don’t know what will replace it. Don’t expect an outpouring of my most private self. I’m changing the blog, but I’m not changing. I have no expectations about how often I’ll post or what voice I’ll use. But why not change? Announcing this on New Year’s Day is heavy-handed, but that’s mostly a matter of timing. Today’s the first day I’ve had time to write what I’ve been thinking about for weeks. As one of the smartest and most interesting people I met this semester wrote to me today, who says the new year is a time for resolutions anyway?  I can resolve to changing old ways whenever I want!

Happy New Year.

Dr. Silber

In September 1971, a few months after John Silber became its president, I arrived at Boston University as a freshman to attend the Division of General Education–DGE, or “Deege”, which the brochure described as “a two-year honors interdisciplinary program.” Forty-one years later, at the time of Dr. Silber’s death, I am a senior lecturer at the Boston University School of Management. To say 41 years later I am still at Boston University would imply, misleadingly, that I never left. I did–to drop out of BU after completing DGE, travel, return to BU and graduate, work, attend law school, work more–but John Silber’s force field was never far away.

To me Silber was brilliant, occasionally charming, irascible, aggressive, tough, and proud. Like most students I knew in the early 1970s, I loathed and feared him. He disdained our anti-war demonstrations and loosed the helmets, shields, clubs, and tear gas of Boston’s TPF–Tactical Police Force–to break them up. I was among dozens of students the TPF chased down Bay State Road; we were faster and escaped them by Kenmore Square. In the spring of 1974, when BU students engaged in their annual protest against the recently-announced tuition increases–back then tuition increases and anti-tuition increase protests were, like robins, harbingers of spring on the BU campus–a TV news reporter asked for Dr. Silber’s reaction. I recall that he said it’s fun and games for young primates. Have I accurately remembered this quotation’s dismissive disdain? The memory is vivid, but it’s also 38 years old. If he didn’t say it exactly like this, if the words I remember are the product of faulty synapses, those who remember Dr. Silber in those years would agree that if he didn’t say it, he could have. It sounds like him.

A decade and a half later Dr. Silber featured in one of the most remarkable meetings of my legal career. Congress Group Ventures, a real estate development company at which I worked as General Counsel, was negotiating a large, complicated real estate venture with Boston University. My boss Dean Stratouly and Dr. Silber had met alone some months earlier to paint the venture’s broad strokes, and now we were trying to fill in the details–which, as the saying goes, is where the Devil resides. A series of meetings between us lawyers had yielded more areas of disagreement than compromise, so we called a meeting of all principals.

Together in our conference room were the present or former leaders of the institutions that had most shaped my almost 20 years in Boston: my bosses Dean Stratouly and his co-owner David Gardner, Boston University President John Silber and his lawyer Bob Popeo, the most powerful partner in Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, the firm I’d left to work at Congress Group, consummate political insider and Silber confidante Kevin White, and former mayor of Boston and then-current professor at Boston University. Present also were other powerful insiders and other lawyers, including me. David Gardner, in a wheelchair due to neurological illness, sat at one end of the table. Dr. Silber, a shortened and cuffed suit-jacket sleeve covering his stump arm, sat at the other end.  The meeting began with a recap of our progress-small–and disputes–significant–and it was not long before Silber and David Gardner, who was Silber’s intellectual equal, were arguing vociferously. Popeo, the combative lawyer political insiders hired when their world turned to dog doo, stepped in to ratchet back the tension and suggest topics for more fruitful discussion. White advanced his perspective on how things should unfold. The collective egos’ magnitude and personalities’ fire-power were enough to blow the windows out of the room.

We never closed that deal. Disagreements remain as to why.

In recent years I ran into Dr. Silber on the BU campus from time to time. I no longer loathed him, but he always reminded me of my shifting relationship with the school. He terminated DGE a few years after I completed the program; its interdisciplinary and counter-cultural ethos was anathema to his brand of intellectual rigor. Terminating DGE killed one of my defining links to Boston University. The University excelled, during the Silber years, at graduating students who left campus and never looked back fondly. From time to time BU sends email to DGE alumni. It comes under the heading of CGS, the College of General Studies–which, as anyone familiar with Boston University knows, is not likely to engender enthusiastic responses from alumni of DGE’s self-described honors program. BU’s low percentage of alumni contributions is a legacy that the University is managing, slowly, to eradicate. I came to the University too late to be among the faculty bruised by Silber’s rough handling over the years, but resentment still runs deep in some circles. He did not remember me, which was a blessing because remembering would involve remembering how he knew me. I know Boston University would not be the vigorous educational and research institution it is today without Dr. Silber’s tenure as president, a simple fact whose truth is reinforced every time I use FitRec, built on the site of the former Commonwealth Armory.

He was frailer physically each time I saw him, and emanated none of the combativeness I experienced in professional meetings two decades ago. In the end he was just a man. A controversial, polarizing, profoundly influential, consequential, memorable man. I’ve heard that he died with dignity, his intellect undiminished, in control until the end. I would expect nothing less.

Best Buddies Hyannis

Yesterday I completed the Wet Best Buddies Challenge Century, a 100-mile ride from JFK Library on Columbia Point in Boston Harbor to Craigville Beach in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. Rain was forecast, and the weather gods removed all suspense when rain started falling heavily at 6:15 am, 45 minutes before the official start time. I was riding with my friend Randy Carpenter and the Seaside Therapeutics team, most of whom bailed from the Century ride (one stated reason: “these conditions SUCK”)  and took the bus to the 50-mile start in Carver. Randy, his wife’s young Irish cousin Pauraig, and I stayed with the original plan and rode the entire route from Boston.

I’ve never biked so long and far in worse weather. It rained–steadily, spiked with torrents–for the first 55 miles and intermittently thereafter. We rode into the wind for the entire route save the stretch through Myles Standish State Park in Plymouth. At times the rain blew sideways, and as I came off the course the worst wind and rain of the day roared off the ocean, knocking down event tents, blowing down signs, drenching anyone not under cover, and creating havoc.

I outlasted the ride. I didn’t enjoy it. Riding wet is uncomfortable, but I reached an equilibrium in which I was as wet as I was going to be, I wasn’t cold, and the worst hassle was poor visibility from the rain on my glasses. Riding into the wind, on the other hand, sucks out one’s soul.  When you ride a lot you expect to move at a particular pace when you expend a particular amount of energy. A headwind mucks it all up. It’s like running in wet sand. You move, but not as far or fast as your body believes it should move. I respond by plowing ahead, grinding out the miles, keeping a rhythm–increasingly difficult as calf and thigh muscles turn against you–, and taking whatever progress I achieve. All of which is monotonous. Randy rode faster than me and Pauraig rode not as fast and I cycled alone most of the last 50 miles. I latched on to a few pace lines but they were problematic. Riding a pace line with strangers requires blind faith in their road sense. To avoid the rooster tail of spray from the front rider’s wheel you couldn’t ride directly behind,  often making the draft negligible. They were also just a bit too fast for my comfort. (For non-bikers, riding in a pace line involves drafting–riding in the vacuum–created by the rider directly in front. Riders in a pace line typically pull the line for a few miles, then drop to the rear of the line while the next rider pulls. Drafting saves enormous energy and allows a group of riders to travel much faster than any could travel alone.)

I was a lone cyclist, dotting the route a half-mile intervals with other lone cyclists, earning none of the benefits of riding in a group. The experience did yield an interesting lesson in relativity. Route signs announced when 20, 15, and 10 miles remained, and marked each of the final 5 miles. I’m good at estimating distances. I can eyeball a half-mile across a stretch of open land with respectable accuracy, and cycling a flat road I know the difference between 0.5, 1.0, and 1.5 miles. But not toward the end of yesterday’s ride. Those last five miles were nautical, or Jupiterian, or some unit of measure other than the statute miles I’ve known my whole life. Mile 96 was longer than mile 95, mile 97 longer than mile 96, mile 99 longest of all. When I mentioned this later Pauraig agreed with Irish lyricism: I know what a fookin mile is. Those were not fookin miles! 

All for a good cause. The event raised over $4.5 million for Best Buddies.  Those aspects of the event under Best Buddies’ control showed thoughtful planning and professional execution. The State and local police kept us riding unimpeded through almost every intersection between Harbor Point and Craigville Beach. The five rest stops were awash with appreciative and helpful volunteers. The food was abundant and healthy. The post-ride shower ranks among my personal all-time top five. The Plain White T’s–a new band for me–were terrific, with tight musicianship, great harmonies, and catchy original tunes.  Tom Brady raised tens of thousands of dollars by throwing autographed footballs into the crowd at $1,000 a pop. (I deliberated raising my hand to receive a ball. While I weighed how cool it would be to catch a football thrown by Tom Brady against how I would explain to Judy that on top of everything else I spent $1,000 to catch a football thrown by Tom Brady, he ran out of footballs.) The logistics of delivering tired riders and bicycles back to the starting line at the end of the day were flawless.

Ride + one day the soreness is gone from my legs, my bike is clean and lubed, and I’m left with satisfaction for honoring my commitment to ride the Century, pride for completing  it in foul weather, and gratitude for the friends and family who supported me with their donations and encouragement. Would I do it again? Ask me in eleven months.

Goose-Stepping

By the time we returned to I-95 traffic was heavy, but moving at 40 mph, picking up speed after the I-95/I-93 interchange. We sailed along to South Lynnfield, where traffic slowed inexplicably. Traveling in the far left lane we saw why: a family of geese, two adults and three goslings, standing adjacent the jersey barrier in the highway median. We stopped, as did the car in the middle lane, as the geese paraded before us across the Interstate. In the rearview mirror I saw cars in the right lane moving along, their drivers’ views of the geese blocked by the cars stopped to their left. After the geese cleared our lane I said “I don’t want to see this” and started forward. I saw the lead goose step into the right lane. The first car swerved right to avoid them and the car behind it, far enough behind the first car for its driver to see the peril and without a tailgater to crash into its rear, stopped just short of where the geese finished strolling across six lanes if I-95 rush-hour traffic–without losing a feather. The Miracle on Blacktop.

I said “I hope they didn’t leave something important on the other side.” Judy said “yes–like another baby.”

The Burger and Fries Anniversary

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. Early anniversaries connect with traditional gifts–years one through five are, respectively, the paper, cotton, leather, fruit or flowers, and wood anniversaries. Every-year traditional gifts end with the 15th,  or crystal, anniversary, showing up on the fives–2oth = china, 25th = silver, 30th = pearl.* Married on 24 May 1980 we celebrated our 32nd anniversary, which we celebrated by crawling through traffic on I-95 north and a spontaneous side trip to the Beacon Grille in Woburn, a town northwest of Boston best known as the locus of the toxic tort litigation against W.R. Grace that was the subject of the book and movie A Civil Action.

We left home for the drive to Maine about 4:20 and were mired in I-95 traffic within a few miles. Our plan was to shop for dinner when we exited the highway in Gray, Maine and eat as the sun set over the lake. Our door-to-door travel time is typically between 2 3/4 and 3 hours. After 55 minutes yesterday we’d covered about 17 miles, with the worst traffic ahead. We’ve driven this route for years, and for years when we noted the Beacon Grille’s pleasing and prominent sign plastered to the side of a suburban office park we said “we should eat there sometime.” But driving to Maine the restaurant is too close to the beginning of the trip and returning it’s too close to home, so we keep driving.

Until yesterday. We could spend another hour crawling to the I-95/Route 128 split, where traffic usually thins, or spend an hour at Beacon Grille and reach the split in 15 minutes. We exited I-95, wormed our way to the office park, parked in front of the restaurant, grabbed seats at the bar, ordered burgers and fries (not on the dinner menu but they made them anyway), and relaxed. We celebrated our 30th anniversary eating asparagus risotto and mushroom ravioli at Ristorante La Loggetta in Cortona, Italy overlooking the piazza at twilight. Although not as picturesque our dinner at Beacon Grille provided another of the fun experiences that keeps a marriage going for 32 years.** (And the burgers were quite good.)

*Judy would dissolve with laughter at the implication we actually observed these traditional gift themes.

Haunted

The accident that killed Boston University students Daniela Lekhno, Roch Jauberty, and Austin Brashears, seriously injured Meg Theriault, and injured four others has haunted me since I read the news early last Saturday. Smart, opinionated, engaged, passionate Daniela impressed me indelibly when she was my student in spring 2011. Trite as it is to say, I cannot believe she is gone. She was not on a law track but I hoped to persuade her to take one of my electives because I wanted to experience her again as a student. Her loss, and the loss of those who died with her, is beyond measure. The world is a poorer, meaner place because of it.

I am haunted also by the randomness of this accident’s consequences. Apparently the van hit gravel on the side of the road, the driver over-corrected, and the van rolled. At 21 I was in a similar accident. A group of us–I recall 8 or 9–were driving from Boston to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in my friend’s cargo van, which had two bucket seats in front and nothing but space behind.  On I-95 about 50 miles south of D.C., around 6 am, a gust of wind rocked the van, pushing it to the right. The driver turned the wheel to the left to pull us back into the passing lane. The van’s steering linkage was loose, the front wheels did not respond immediately, and he turned the steering wheel more. The van started to skid to the right so he turned the wheel right, but too hard. The van swayed right, swayed left, started to lean, and flipped. I remember the loud bang each time we hit, and wondered if there would be an enormous final crash when a tractor-trailer plowed into us or we burst into flames. There wasn’t. The van came to rest on its side in the breakdown lane, its nose pointing at the southbound traffic. Inside was a jumble of people, backpacks, sleeping bags, and suitcases. Someone opened the rear door. We helped each other outside. The driver and front passenger exited through the opening left by the shattered windshield. The van was destroyed. The van’s battery–it lived behind the driver’s seat–had torn loose and strewn acid around the interior–something we discovered later when holes appeared in our jeans and jackets. We were shaken and bruised, but the worst injury was to the van’s owner, a small cut over his right eye from flying glass that required one small bandage. Eight or nine people, two seats (the driver and front passenger had buckled their belts shortly before the crash because of the strong winds buffeting the van), everyone else sitting or lying around an empty cargo space, and no serious injuries.

It could have been worse, but it wasn’t. There’s no reason. There may be explanations for escaping unscathed based on how everyone was positioned inside, and why the doors did not open while we rolled, and the light early morning traffic, but those are all random distinctions. There’s no meaning as to why one accident ended in tragedy and another ended as a colorful tale from my youth. This juxtaposition haunts me. Not every accident like this tears out the hearts of the victims’ families, friends, and community. It is unspeakably sad that this one did.