Life on the Road: Munich Airport Chapter

IMG_2550Munich       In the curious way that the regional government of Puglia, Italy was reimbursing the Scuola di Bollenti Spiriti for my ticket, the rigid, sometimes almost irrational, rules meant to stop corruption that if the traveler, that would be me, left before Saturday, which was both the earliest time allowable and the latest possible departure time possible, or after Wednesday, which was the latest possible departure, and the only one available given the new daily nonstop flight from Munich to Houston, this lucky traveler ended up in the Munich Airport for about 13 hours or would only be reimbursed for 50% of the cost of the ticket.  The hot spirited students and David Tozzo of ACORN Italy all believed that my best course was jumping the metro from the airport to town, but more travel without an intended purpose had no appeal, so to me the airport itself seemed a better alternative.  The one cardinal rule in my home is never, and I mean never, miss a flight home!

And, it could have been much worse.  I had landed and would depart from the new Munich Terminal 2 Satellite, as it was called.  Believe me, I had more than enough time to inspect the model along the concourse.  Landing at 830 PM, my first lucky break was charming my way into the Lufthansa business lounge, though in all truth it was less charm than the charity of the attendant for my hopeless situation, who nodded me in.  The scene was sort of what one might expect of German rathskeller, except very well lit and almost all men, but that may be how German rathskeller’s work.  Free wi-fi, beer, and pretzels?  How bad could that be?  A too short hour later, and I looked around and I was one of less than 10 people.  Ten minutes later there was one woman and myself there.  By 10 pm, they had rolled up the sidewalks in this airport to my surprise, and we were in for a long night.

Drifting down the concourse trying to look nonchalant as the pair of police walked by, I saw a German sign for a McDonalds that perhaps in German was saying it might be open for 24 hours and was 5 minutes away.  Who knows?  I never found it.  It might be an urban airport myth or sly German humor.  I did find something better perhaps.  The Munich airport had allowed a furniture design company to turn a space into a haven for the lost and damned of sorts with hard lounge chairs, some desks, and what not.  These were my people it seemed.  At the high point there were 7 of us and at the low point only 5.  One couple for a while, but then they disappeared.  Two floor sleepers.  A young man with jogging pants that read “NYATHLETE” in capital letters.  And, then two light sleepers, myself and an in-transit passenger from Africa.  Later,  I found there were even sleeping “cabins” for 10 euros an hour not far away past the giant Camel Smoking Lounge, which seemed strangely inappropriate in the modern, clean setting, and totally unused.


An airport official came by once seemingly to count heads.  No police problems.  At 1AM a skateboarder made the entire concourse, and I wonder if he had planned the escapade forever.  I nodded to the occasional cleaners with their sturdy 8-wheel carts.  At 5 AM a worker in a Segway turned on coffee machines.   I couldn’t help but remember flying regularly on the last available night flight in my brief collegiate career from New Orleans to New York City’s Kennedy Airport and catching Carey Transportation to New York Port Authority in order to wait overnight for the first bus to western Massachusetts in the morning.  I would often wander around 42nd Avenue, maybe watch a movie to kill time in the smoking balcony available in that century, and then later sleep on the benches at the terminal in between thumps from the police batons as they ordered me to move until the bus rolled out.  I can’t imagine ever allowing my own children to have done that knowingly, and I wonder at how different the times were then in the mid-1960s where my parents would have booked the flight simply assuming this was part of my life’s experience, as it certainly was.

I’m not recommending this as the preferred way to travel, but as life on the road goes, it could have been worse, and I’ve been there and done that, and though I’m many hours short of sleep waiting for my plane from Germany to Texas to New Orleans, this was actually OK in its own way.





My First Day as a Professor at the Scuola de Bollenti Spiriti – the School of Hot Spirits!

class at Bollenti Spiriti

class at Bollenti Spiriti

Taranto   The Scuola de Bollenti Spiriti, which is translated as the School of Hot Spirits, is an unusual name which may strike you as different, but in this case that’s a good thing because it is different and in quite a good way.  The school took applications from all over the state of Puglia, receiving some 600 total applications for only 30 slots in the school, for young people between about 18 and 30, and sessions lasting from November through January.  I think the rate of acceptance in Harvard University is actually higher than that on a percentage basis!  The students get accommodation and lunch money, but are not paid.  The hot spirit speaks to the seriousness of purpose and the passion – and I found intelligence – that they bring to finding a way to both learn and make a difference in their communities.  What a novel and unusual concept, and what a good one!

the room where we were meeting in the center at Villa Castelli

the room where we were meeting in the center at Villa Castelli

            My mission impossible in two-days was to give these great men and women not only an introduction and history to community organization, but the story of ACORN and ACORN International, and some real tools that they might be able to use in building organization in their own communities throughout Puglia.  They were a sharp and snappy group as you might expect, and kept trying to jump ahead for previews of coming attractions even as I tried to steer them step by step through the process.  Not surprisingly they started more at the “reform now” part of the concept than with the “community organizations” segment found in the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now!

            As always, dues was a surprise, but they had their minds wide open, not only because they wanted to create social change and power, but they also want to get paid in this area of huge unemployment.  They pushed back, but they wanted to believe, and that’s more than enough to work with in planting the seeds of passion for organizers.

            I saved the exercise where they got to try door knocking with each other until the end of the day, when even hot spirits have been known to flag.  First one side of the room would be the organizers, and then after ten minutes we reversed the players, so that the former pretend-“members” of the Villa Castelli community where we were meeting, suddenly turned the tables and became organizers.




We had moved the meeting in the afternoon from the theater space in the community center where we were meeting to the municipal hall where the mayor and council of Villa Castelli hold their meetings.  We did this because there were 6-person, 3 on 3 street soccer matches that were scheduled for 4pm and there was a fear that they might be too loud for our hot spirits.  The shrill sounds and excitement of the door knocking role plays were so loud in the municipal hall that in truth it might have been wise for us to move the organizer training to the municipal hall so that our noise didn’t disrupt the young soccer players in the street.

We would not want any young people to get hurt because we were training the hot spirits to be such passionate and effective doorknockers and future organizers!

the 3 person street soccer games organized after we finished

the 3 person street soccer games organized after we finished