The next six years would include challenge, growth, and loss for our family. In the fall of 1995, I began my MBA studies at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), an experience that would bring me a graduate degree and many lifelong connections, none more rewarding than getting to work with Dr. Rachelle Katz, the Associate Dean of the College of Business Administration and the MBA Director. From my initial days as a grad student all the way to my chairmanship of the LMU MBA Alumni Board of Directors, hers was support I could always count on.
Partway through that first semester my boss and mentor, Margaret Snow retired amidst the tumult ASUCLA was experiencing at the time and as a result, I was named the Interim Student Union Director. The old adage of “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” could not have been more aptly applied and though it might be debatable that I became stronger, I did survive and began a thirteen-year run as the director that would define me as a leader and a contributing member in my field.
Loss would come in early July 1997 when my mother, Mildred “Midge” Mann would leave us to manage our lives by ourselves, creating that hole that we all feel when a parent passes on. Less than a month later, my Uncle Bob (Sam) Merker would pass away in Las Vegas. The next ten years would bring more loss like this, as that great generation reaches the end of their time with us.
By early 1998 I was on track to finish my studies and graduate in June and so planning began for a grand trip to celebrate. By now it should come as no surprise that that trip would involve going to Europe. I don’t recall now what led us to pick England as our destination, but once it was decided logistics for the trip fell into place. As we’d not traveled extensively by train before, and the prospect of driving on the wrong side of the road seemed daunting, we determined to use public transportation as much as possible.
Using London as our gateway, we planned to spend about 25 days traveling, with stops in Bath, York, Blackpool (to visit Lynn Whitehead, sister of our brother-in-law David Kelly, and her husband Tony), Chester, Dublin (to visit the Canavan family), and Paris. Prior to the weekend of our departure, my Dad came up from San Diego for a visit. One of my fondest recollections is our visit to Tommy’s Burger stand on the corner of Lincoln and Pico in Santa Monica that Saturday for one of his favorite meals, the greasy spoon chili burger they are so well known for.
Properly fueled up, we departed around 8:00 pm from LAX on Virgin Airlines. Jessica, now ten years old, was particularly enthralled by the individual seat back entertainment center provided to us, making the flight to London a smooth one. Upon landing at Heathrow around 3:00 pm the next day we immediately climbed aboard a bus for Bath, our destination for the next three nights. This made for a long first day, but followed a pattern we’ve developed (particularly when we use Frankfurt as our gateway city) where try to stay in a smaller town about an hour away.
This would be my third visit to Bath (1977 and 1979). It is a beautiful small town (population under 100,000), first established as a spa by the Romans not long after their arrival in Britain, becoming popular as a spa town during the Georgian era, and named as a World Heritage Site in 1987. Using Rick Steve’s advice, we booked our stay at the Holly Villa Guest House, a short walk from the downtown bus station.
We would spend a busy two days in Bath, the first roaming the town and taking in the Roman Baths later in the day and evening (in order to see them at night). Our morning excursion took us to the Museum of Costume, a fascinating exploration of clothing through the years in Britain.
We spent the afternoon down by the Avon River, which flows through the middle of town, exploring the Pulteney Bridge, completed in 1774 and one of only four bridges in the world with shops across its full span on both sides.
Hunting for a unique souvenir to take home with us, we settled on a Fire Insurance Mark, a lead plaque displaying the mark of an insurance company. Placed on the front of the insured building, it was a guide to the insurance company’s fire brigade, which were used in the 18th and 19th nineteenth centuries before municipal fire services were formed. Ours is still hanging on the front wall of the Wade Street house in Los Angeles, protecting it from the ravages of misfortune.
Dinner that night was modern Italian at a place called Café-Uno. I don’t recall it as anything more than a decent meal that ran us 43 pounds or 71 dollars at the exchange rate at the time. This would be a theme for us during the trip, consuming a range of food, most of which would have seemed inexpensive at home and paying a pretty good price for it.
The second day we decided to head out to Avebury to view the largest stone circle in Europe. Constructed around 2600 BC, the monument features a large henge (a bank and a ditch) with a outer stone circle and two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the center of the monument.
Located less than thirty miles outside of Bath, it would take us most of the morning to get there, requiring a commuter train to Chippenham, a local bus to Avebury and a short walk to the monument site. This then is the downside of using trains as your primary mode of transportation in Europe. If you are just visiting the big cities, they are efficient and easy. If though you want to travel to smaller towns, or take day trips, they become cumbersome and time consuming.
It was a warm, blue sky day and we took our time wandering the monument site, touching the stones, trying to picture how they got there and how they may have been used nearly five thousand years ago. We walked back into a Avebury (a very small village) and wandered through the small Church of England parish church there and its graveyard and then started our journey back to Bath.
Arriving back in town late in the day, we stopped for dinner at the McDonalds on the way back to Holly Villa. We retired early that night in preparation the next day for our trip by train to the historic town of York. It had been a very good start to the trip, one of many we would take until the day would come when growing up, school and the distance that living puts between us makes family vacations no longer something to take for granted.