Saturday, March 10, 2018

“Franchise Cars” and the mistakes we have made …

I am not sure if we have made a mistake or not, but after owning almost nothing but black cars it seems red is now the color. The occasion that triggered the lineup above, right outside our new Windsor home, was basic – the Corvette was off to the local Chevrolet service facility to have it’s serpentine (OK, fan) belt replaced after fifteen years, a clogged air filter swapped out for a new one and yes, for the second time in its history, a fresh replacement battery. Against the cobalt blue sky we saw this morning after a number of really cold days, it was in stark contrast to the cars – as for the color of the house, well it kind of blended in with the scenery. As for the BMW i8, being a color other than red, it simply didn’t make the cut this time around when the photo was taken – but it wasn’t our fault. No mistakes were made at the time of purchase as there wasn’t an option to purchase a red i8. 

Car and Driver columnist John Phillips wrote in the January 2018 issue of the magazine, “Car enthusiasts are defined by their vivid mistakes.” For several years now, at this time of year, when it looks like winter has left us and it is the time for flowers to push up past the winter debris, I have posted about the four or five cars we should consider having in the garage. These posts now are a walk down memory lane for Margo and me but at the time, living out of two homes well, a home and a condo, meant we did have five cars and for a brief period, six. And there were always two and for another brief period, three, motorcycles.

Today, however, we have fewer cars and motorcycles than we once had but we continue to maintain a big RV – our company command center – along with a Featherlite aluminum car trailer. This seems to meet our needs very well as across the portfolio we have the RV, the SUV, the track car, the supercar and yes, the Mini Roadster which is our round-about-town car particularly loved when springtime truly arrives and the ragtop can be lowered. Far removed from either our Corvette or Viper ragtop roadsters, the Mini is still a six-speed stick shift and for the opportunity to row-your-own gears, it is a delight to drive. And "very torquey" at that, with its turbo inline four cylinder engine meeting the tarmac via tires that really grip and there isn’t a traffic light derby we can recall ever losing – at least for the first hundred feet or so. But the real purpose of the trailer is to give us a means of transporting our red cars either to the track, or as more often is the case, to business meetings and corporate events as finding parking for the RV rig often leaves us far from where we need to be. And it won't be long before another track season begins for the 'Vette.

NFL football teams along with other professional sports programs I seem to recall have an opportunity to tag a good player and call them “franchise players!” The concept is that, baring exception circumstances, the team elects to keep this player no matter what state of affairs exist concerning his playing status – he simply is too good to lose to free agency or anything else. Like a whole lot more money. At this time of year, when all you can hear on television sports programs is the upcoming NFL player draft, and with the thoughts of the cars we have garaged at the house (and offsite now at our new heated storage facility) still very much on our mind, I have asked myself, why haven’t I declared some of the cars we have owned through the years, franchise cars! Never to be traded or sold, but rather, kept until their replacement parts supply dwindles to where you have to know a person who knows another person who is good friends with yet another person who just might be able to find that part you desperately need.

Back when we did have a majority of black cars, the local exotic car showroom unloaded a selection of them on our driveway as part of the initial sales effort working to sell our home in Niwot. We sure were surprised when the eighteen-wheeler showed up on our doorsteps early one morning and unloaded a nice selection of cars – all white. So it seemed like a good idea at the time to insert our own black vehicles in with the group, alternating black and white. I would like to say that the F-Type Jaguar was ours, but it wasn’t. On the other hand, the Nissan GT-R and the Dodge Viper ragtop roadster didn’t look out of place behind the Maserati and the Lamborghini Gallardo. Of all of the cars, on that day of hijinks, my drive was the Gallardo, as our architect had taken it to show to a nearby client and couldn’t engage first gear – so he called me. Of course, I jumped and engaged first and drove it back to our home much to the surprise of those attending the event. “Who are you?” came the refrain from those who watched me step out of car. On my own driveway …

There have been numerous posts to this blog written around this time of year that takes stock of the cars that are either lining our driveway or are sitting curbside in front of our home or even parked in the garage. And on occasion that has led me to ponder that great question of what cars we need to own and yes, how many. More often than not the answer came to five and while this may seem extreme, at the time it has made sense. That is, until we hit a rough patch when all five cars need new tires, but that’s another story for another time. Whether you think it’s important to have a get-around-town car, something that is better suited to winter mountain driving or that it is really important to know the difference between a track car, a sports car, a grand tourer and an exotic may not be the real question, but then again, it is completely un-American not to have as many cars as you have garages. Sometimes, more!

If you missed any of them, perhaps the ones that really stood out were those of 2011, 2014 and 2017. Some of them only make oblique references to the collection but if you scroll through them, sure enough you will come across the references to what really is required when living in a state that has such extremes of weather. If you want to follow these links, you will get the picture, so as to speak:

March 13, 2017

February 15, 2014

Sunday, December 25, 2011

But here is the thing. If we could declare some cars as franchise cars, after all these years which ones would Margo and I choose? Well, to start with, we don’t have pictures of some of them, but the second Mazda RX7 I ever owned, the 1994 model that we called “the glove”, as it was a car that surrounded its occupants in a manner that was more akin to being swaddled than anything else. This was a car we should have kept and even today, as we turn up at road courses around the west, there are still a lot of these cars in the hands of bona-fide racers! But another car of the same vintage also is one that I know Margo will always cherish – her BMW 540i. Remember it? Before there was an M5, BMW responded to the inroads that Lexus and later Infiniti were making into the German Lux business by releasing “the Tiger!” Slamming a quad cam 32 valve 4 liter engine into the much lighter 5 series body while not having quite the impact that was made by Mercedes Benz when then independent AMG released “the Hammer” a hot-rod E-Class variant, but all the same, the Tiger was a whole lot of fun to drive and we kept it for more than a decade.

If the mighty 1994 RX7 was a glove then what could you call the 2008 Gen IV Viper SRT/10? It too quickly earned the glove tag as it was an even tighter fit when seated than the RX7. But when we consolidated homes and brought back to Colorado those cars we had in California, we faced the somewhat ridiculous situation of having more cars and motorcycles than we had room for – something just had to give. At the time we had two Corvettes, the Viper and a Nissan GT-R and the Cadillac Escalade. The Vettes were our track car but then it kind of got a little silly – the GT-R was our grand-tourer, the Viper our sports car and well yes, the Escalade was our around-town, all-season, SUV. But if the Viper was a candidate for being a keeper under the franchise banner then it was a car of a completely different color that really hit the mark.

From the time we first saw this Maserati it was controversial. It wasn’t immediately “love at first sight” – it was bright yellow, for crying out loud. As one Maserati enthusiastic suggested to us much later and after we brought it home, “you have to be very confident to drive yellow!” Over time it really grew on us and make no mistake about it, Maserati has the best exhaust note of any car we have ever owned and as best as we can tell it was a completely natural sound, not subject to synthesized augmentation as is often the case today with newer cars. We drove it everywhere – to Toronto and back, through the Canyon Lands and Natural Arches parks in Utah on down through Telluride. We drove it all over the west coast but as much as we were tempted, we never took it on track, although the only other yellow Maserati GT-S we ever saw was trackside, Sonoma, where a serious racer was indeed tracking it. 

So here we have it. Just the RX7, the BMW 540i, the Viper and the Maserati were cars we should have tacked on the franchise label. What of the Nissan GT-R? We had two GT-Rs, a 2010 and a 2013 and boy, were they fast. Wickedly quick under all conditions that gave us our first ever experience with a double-clutch automated manual gearbox. Diving into a turn and being able to pull back the levers and drop three gears in an instant – wow! But it wasn’t a car that you warmed to and after having had them in the garage for six or more years, we didn’t miss their absence even after a few days. And of course, the hole in the garage was soon plugged!  

It was on a weekend trip back from San Francisco, driving the Maserati, that we made the decision to buy the BMW i8. Well, to be truthful, not really. Margo and I faced a predicament. The day before we left for San Francisco we were shown a brand new Corvette Z06 in black, but with yellow double-stitching surrounding the plush leather interior along with yellow powder-coated brake calipers. The complete opposite color scheme to the Maserati. Why not buy the Z06 as a kind of complement to the GT-S, we thought? And then while on the road, our BMW salesman phoned us to inform us he had found the very i8 Margo had wanted and he was prepared to deal. Which car, we thought. As we pulled back up the driveway at the end of the trip, we had made the decision. We just liked Corvettes too much. But not everyone was convinced and on her way into the kitchen the following morning, Margo simply said, “we’re buying the i8!” 

Now that we have had the i8 for two years, does it earn the franchise tag? Well, no, actually. We love it and every time we drive it, we are impressed. But does it bring the same wide smile to our faces that the RX7 and Viper did all those years ago? And the answer is no, not quite! This may shock many car enthusiasts to hear, but what the i8 has kindled is an anxious wait for what’s next. This seems to us to be very much a case of work in progress and the fact that BMW didn’t want to sell the i8, just lease it, tells us that they want it back for some reason and we think we know why. The i8 is generating so much data about the car, and us, they want to run a whole bunch of analytics against its computers to see how it behaved under the stresses of daily life. However, it came oh so close to getting tagged with the franchise label. On the other hand, it was all pretty exciting the day we picked it up and it was left to Margo to make that all-important first drive home from our friendly BMW dealer.  

On the other hand, the i8 does represent the future but Margo and I aren’t really enthralled with all that we see. It may have looked right at home when we lined up all the black and white cars on the driveway as we had done only a short time before the i8 arrived. However, as one motoring journalist noted just this month, “We live in a time of unprecedented speed and power from even the most mundane new cars, but also a dwindling connection between driver and machine. New cars have grown heavier, more complex, and less engaging, their engineers seeking to eliminate the drawbacks of the average commute.” And we agree, wholeheartedly! “Performance has become less a metric for a company’s engineering skill than a solved-for-commodity, reliable and friendly.” Yuck; not a future for cars I am anticipating with anything close to the levels of enthusiasm I once enjoyed.   

Yes, car enthusiasts may very well be defined by their vivid mistakes and as we are car enthusiasts in every sense of the word, we have made many. We put on a lot of miles as we continue to cover a lot of territory ever since we elected to drive and not fly. And we love the journey a lot more than the destination and this has been true for us for decades. But even as we put a lot of miles on the cars and even as we adjust each time to the idiosyncrasies of the chosen car of the day, gloves or otherwise, we consider our mistakes and wonder. Could we ever live with just three vehicles? Or two, perhaps? At some point this is a conversation we have to have, but for as long as we are as young as we are today, that day is a long way off. And we are just itching to kick off our next trip and which car we take well, who knows. It just could be something entirely different, yet again!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Get on your bike, and ride!

This week, the weather warmed considerably and I was able to get back on my motorcycle – well to be truthful, Margo’s motorcycle – and drove it out of Windsor, Colorado down to Loveland, Colorado. We have leased a 1000 square foot heated facility where we can lockup all of our toys. The “shoes” we wrote about, in our last post, has seen new tires mounted to the wheels of the Corvette and along with the trailer the Corvette and motorcycle will welcome this facility as their new home. And it really is only a handful of miles away and is a vast improvement over where we had previously stored out RV and trailer. Oh yes, in time, the RV too will join the rest of the vehicles in this facility as soon as all the winter maintenance and repairs under way with the RV are completed. 

Getting back on the motorcycle and picking up once again from where I had left off last year, was enjoyable. I don’t what it is about riding a motorcycle but it certainly is outside of the ordinary. Helmet firmly tightened and my reinforced riding jacket and my much-loved boots brought back memories of so many rides over the past twenty years here in the US. Our sole motorcycle is a Yamaha V Star 1100 that is close to being the smallest motorcycle we have owned and yet as a middleweight cruiser, it is easy enough to maneuver and while down on power and weight, is proving to be a fun ride!  

There is a lot of history behind the photograph headlining this post and taken during the last months we spent residing in our former home in Niwot. The Honda and the Yamaha depicted – what are referred to as metric cruisers – have covered a lot of miles. As for the ride this week, properly attired as I was, getting back onto the saddle for a late winters day ride was not only enjoyable and memorable but having just celebrated another birthday, let me briefly relive my past in a way that surprised me. Someone once said you never forget how to ride a bike and for me, this seems so obvious. From my late teens into early adulthood, I have been riding motorcycles on two contents – on the left side of the road on one continent and on the right side for the other. Surprises? It was if years indeed decades just fell away!

Experience, they say, is everything. And in my early days, I learned a lot – whoever said, slow in, fast out, never gave me this message or taught me how to handle corners – and tore up a lot of clothing. I learnt the hard way and for a short period of time, riding in Sydney, I owned a Honda sports bike and a Yamaha moped (with the moped acting as my backup) but even so, there was a brief time where both modes of transportation were in the shop being straightened. So much for having a Plan B – ever tried taking off your glove while on a moped? Not recommended …

The big Honda depicted above was traded for the Mini Roadster just a few years ago. What a change – as a ragtop two seater and the smallest Mini on the road – we still enjoy the wind in our hair even as we have the A/C running and the satellite radio tuned to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville radio station. I loved that big, almost two-liter, Honda as my very first motorcycle had been that Honda sports bike although this model, a late 1960s “250cc” Honda CB72. Weighing almost nothing when compared with today’s sports bikes, it would barely be given a second glance by todays riders. And in the days when highways in Australia were not regulated or policed, I was able to pull 100 mph across on the top of Wollongong’s Mount Ousley Road. Yes, for two years, I commuted between my northern suburbs Sydney home and the steelworks in Wollongong where I was a “Computer Cadet” on a two year apprenticeship in technology. 

But those days ended when I took my first job in IT that had me working out of an office in the Sydney CBD. I sold that Honda after one really big shunt that had my father pull me aside to tell me, that’s enough! So, no more Honda CB72! Fast forward some thirty years and there I was, freshly married to perhaps the most adventurous young lady I have ever known who bluntly informed that if I was going to get another motorcycle then she would be getting one, too. Where we do we get lessons? This was all the way back in 1999 but we waited until late 2000 before we summoned enough courage for each of us to buy a motorcycle.

When you step onto a motorcycle and venture out onto America’s highways you immediately immerse yourself in an entirely different culture. The biggest, meanest, most-tattooed biker, coming towards you, will lift his hand from the handlebars and give you a friendly wave as he passes by. When it comes time to refill the gas tank, other bikers will wonder across for quick, “howdy,” oftentimes flash an even bigger smile as Margo removed her helmet, and ask quite politely (at times), what bike is that? Do you ride it?

Kitted out and all dressed up, as Margo had had her Yamaha customized to her taste, and dressed in full rider’s leathers as was he custom, they would ask, “do you really ride it?” Back in the early 2000s you rarely saw a woman riding a cruiser but today, they are everywhere you turn. So much for twenty years of riding as the lone, “lady of the lanes!” But just as it was when Margo took the Corvette on track, a day riding the bike was an opportunity to clear the head and distance yourself from the cares of the day! Once astride the motorcycle, staying alive was the sole order of the day!

Times are changing. We are now grandparents and there is a lot of time devoted to helping out with three youngsters under five. And with responsibilities comes caution and so the days of riding the Colorado front ranges are coming to an end even as still enjoy every ride I take no matter how long the road. Perhaps the Yamaha and the Mini are destined to be replaced by something that is a cross between both as we still keep a watchful eye on the Slingshot trikes that we often see touring the mountains. But it is still not a firm consideration at this point and until any decision is made on the front, I will keep taking advantage of any sunny days to go for a ride!

I recently read in Fortune Magazine of an executive of Adobe stating that “we are the CEOs of our own ideas” and I really warmed to this observation. In our daily lives, Margo and I continue to set an agenda that allows us both a lot of freedom. As a writer and do need to read and I do need to converse with others. And I do need to “take it all in,” as it were, as there really isn’t any other way to prepare to write – innovation takes many forms and creativity has many guises but it all takes work. And I have so many ideas …

We used to have a saying in technology about “garbage in / garbage out” and today I know it applies equally well to the work I do for my clients. Coming up with the story lines is always a challenge but getting out and about on America’s highways, no matter the mode of transportation, is by my reckoning the best formula for ensuring there is only minimal “garbage out.” One big idea I have is to make sure we see the West Coast from top to bottom and with a couple of business meetings coming up, this may just work out but no, the motorcycle will have to stay in storage for that trip.

On the other hand, we may not be covering as much distance as we did last year but even as we pull out the maps and begin to set plans in motion, I have my fingers crossed that there is still one more great ride to come! We have the Rockies just a stone’s throw away and there are still backcountry roads not ridden. And the Yamaha just needs a minor tune as winter transitions to spring but after that, well I hear the highway calling! With my atop the motorcycle and Margo behind the wheel of the Mini, roof retracted, we should make a fine pair. And yes, to my fellow riders, of course, for 2018 – ride safe!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The “lady” has new shoes …

Margo and her shoes – no question about it, Margo really does like her shoes and with her handbags to match she has put together quite the collection of fashion accessories. Now fully ensconced in our new Windsor home, we are still working on just how best to store them both as our walk-in wardrobe lacks adequate display space for her growing collection. On our recent “bizcation” aboard Star Princess, Margo had plenty of opportunity to wander the decks, all decked-out herself!  On a more somber occasion, a few years back, when we both attended a memorial service for my father down in Sydney, it was only “the nieces” that picked up on the shoes Margo wore for the occasion and all I can recall is them forming an entirely new opinion about their auntie!

But in our family, it is shoes of a different type that frequently generate the same level of excitement and enthusiasm. And 2017 proved to be a year when we spent more on these different types of shoes than Margo budgets for in any given decade. Ouch! We are talking about tires for our cars and for as long as I can recall, we have called them shoes. Perhaps it is the reference to wheels being shod with new rubber that creates the association with real shoes or perhaps it is simply a matter of not being able to take a car out on the road because it isn’t adequately shod, but all the same, in our family buying new shoes for the car, as much-anticipated as they often are, just doesn’t generate the same degree of enthusiasm from all of us.

Just this week, it was another lady, our pretty red with black trim track-oriented Corvette Z06 received its latest pairs of shoes and they certainly brought a smile to my face at least. What is it with red and black? Last time on track it was almost impossible to “romp on the gas” as the rear end would simply break away from lack of grip. Many of our friends who track Corvettes are puzzled by our ongoing preference for these Bridgestone Potenza RE760 Sport as the Treadware number stamped on the tires is pretty high (i.e. at 300 you would expect these tires to be hard) and yet, after a lap or two, they get really sticky and do the trick. I often come off track and return to the pits and scratch my head and yet, the confidence I have with these tires remains very high!

We are looking forward to spring this year and while we will not be pursuing an ambitious program we are still planning on doing three or four outings, mostly at our local track here in Colorado that is just beyond Byers – the High Plains Raceway (HPR). We have lost count how many laps Margo and I have done on this track but we have to be close to 1,000 by now and it takes little time for us to sort out the flow of the track and begin to exploit the many turns included in the circuit. And of course, we are always circulating on the full course, which is 2.55 miles start to finish. Recording times below two minutes is the goal for most of us, weekend track enthusiasts, and for both of us this remains a goal that is out there that hopefully, we will be able to get close to recording.

As an introduction of what a day at the track looks like, the last time we were camped at the track with our good friends from Southern California, Brian and Jan Kenny, we were able to take a few photos – all of them when it was Margo’s turn to get behind the wheel and as we now are about to put the new shoes on the Corvette, it seemed only appropriate to look back at how the Corvette looked with new shoes.

Safety has always been a priority for us so we added the harness bar and the six point harness only a short time before this outing and to make it conform to the standards our good friends at our club, the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) – and no, not THAT NASA – we had the Corvette seats modified so the anti-submarining straps came up through the seat
  and not over the front lip of the seat as this allows the harness to work properly should it ever be called upon to restrain you in any shunt you may be involved in. 

Once strapped in the car, on this occasion Margo had agreed for me to come along for the ride. I really like to do this as I get a real kick from the way Margo approaches this track. It always takes Margo two or three laps to line the car up close to perfectly and thereafter she is quite capable of holding her own with the other drivers on track in her category. 

Margo is now in NASA’s HPDE 2 group which means she runs with Group 1 and 2 drivers, the difference being Group 1 must have instructors whereas Group 2 you are on your own. And while both groups don’t allow passengers when on track with NASA, weekends often start with Friday open-track days where the opportunity to take a passenger is something track management monitors and with all the laps we have both done, there is never any issue with Margo taking me along for the ride as she has done with business clients on occasion.

We have tow hooks permanently affixed to the chassis so that should the worse happen, we wont add any further damage to the bodywork and since we have had them installed, we haven’t had “an off” that required attendance by the tow trucks. What we have done to turn our lovely Corvette into a track car is pretty basic. The fluids are all changed at the start of each year and we monitor them as the year progresses but typically, they stay true all year. The specs of a number of the fluids – brake fluids in particular – are upgraded in order to tolerate higher temperatures and we have upgraded the brakes, both rotors and pads, with a more track-oriented focus that in our case includes drilled StopTech rotors and Hawk High Performance Plus. And then we have had a more aggressive alignment performed resulting in a little more toe-in, more aggressive negative camber and a pretty well maxed-out castor. All to help us be able to turn-in a little more aggressively! 

But having the right shoes definitely helps as well and this is where we inspect the Bridgestones before and after each outing. The primary goal is to return to the pit with all four tires having the same pressure, which in our case is about 36psi coming off track. Which means going out with slightly different pressures left to right and I remember that “left is light” and when you look back at the track map, you will see why – so going out, it’s 32psi right and 30psi left! And of course, there are very few occasions where you don’t find Margo also inspecting her shoes which on this occasion meant a trip to Jimmy Choo on our last trip to Las Vegas. “No, I don’t have any good sandals but these will do the trick,” I seem to recall …

One aspect of HPR that we really like is that there is almost nothing to hit should you ever get to experience an “agricultural excursion.” At the very bottom of the track, depicted on the track map at turns 6 (Danny’s Lesson) and then the complex of turns 9(a), 9(b) and 10 (To Hell on a Bobsled) – all the turns have great names, by the way –there is nothing but deep, oozing mud and encountering any of that stuff can put an end to your day pretty quickly. 

For us, most of the fun takes place on the tight hairpin at turn 8 which requires some serious braking and a really good look over your left shoulder and on more than one occasion, I have dropped a tire or two – once spinning out completely! But no harm was done other than having to pull a whole lot of muck and grass from the radiator opening. For Margo, it continues to be very much a rhythm track and sitting alongside her this outing, she quickly became one with the track and the amount of energy she exerted was minimal even as her speed continued to climb with each lap!

 Depending on the club we happen to be spending the weekend with, our time on the track is usually limited to either twenty or thirty minutes and if you think for one moment that isn’t all that long, just try staying completely focused on your car for that long. There are two really good reasons why you take a performance car to the track and that is that everyone is going the same way (hopefully) and yes, you can go as fast as you like! We often talk to drivers who are new to the track and they talk about how quickly they can drive the front range “Peak to Peak” highway but in all reality, they have no idea what it really is like on track. 

Oftentimes joining more experienced drivers on track, in no time at all a train of cars forms behind these first-timers and it takes a couple of outings if not weekends before you come to understand your car and then the track. Margo and I vividly recall our first weekend on track at California’s Big Willow – the infamous fastest track in the west at Willow Springs – and as we departed for home we both were visibly shaken by how much we had to learn. But time and laps are good teachers and now Big Willow is one of our favorite tracks.

There is always one more lap to go once you pass the final start / finish line and it’s the cool down lap that at HPR takes us all the way around the track before we find the exit to the pits. It never ceases to amaze us just how competitive some drivers on track can be as it has been on our cool down lap that some of them elect to pass us – as they all have on-board video recorders I guess it is that one opportunity to pass Margo. As you may also recall, the license plate surround on our Corvette points out in jest, “You have just been passed by a Grandparent!”

But the cool down lap is when you take a good look at all your instruments – the Corvette has a heads-up display that shows revs, speed and transmission temp which we watch like hawks. Before we upgraded to the Tick Performance Adjustable Clutch Master Cylinder Kit on hot days we would find the clutch pedal going all the way to the floor leaving us with no options to change gear but with that simple upgrade, we haven’t experienced any further trouble no matter how hot HPR temperatures climb to. 

 Climbing out of the car and coming back down to earth all the while chatting away with those who have come to check you out and to make sure you stay hydrated, is always a time to reflect. Margo and I talk over every session on track and when we go out together, whether it is Margo behind the wheel or me, we always see adjustments we can make to either our lines or our speed. We are always asked “how fast did you go” and we have to admit, we are never sure but that really isn’t the point.

All through the times we have spent on tracks around the country, what the real point has become is that we get to relax. Surprised? Well, what we mean as time on track requires our complete attention, so much so that what may have been worrying us all week is no longer a concern. Work-related issues simply fall by the wayside and for Margo and me it’s a real treat to be able to put that all behind us. And of course, when it comes to putting things behind us, then there is one thing Margo likes doing more than being on track - sling over her shoulder one of her favorite bags and her most recent purchase is one that she cares a lot about. Yet one more impulse-buy on our last trip to Vegas; I guess what you buy in Vegas ends up never staying in Vegas!

And now, its back to thoughts of accessories and those all-important shoes for the Corvette – watch for posts later this year as once again, we relax behind the wheel, keep an eye on our lap times, enjoy the company of friend and oh yes, continue to end each day with our traditional martinis, no matter how hot it might be on track.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Oh, restless spirit …

January is always a time to reevaluate priorities and to put into place plans for the coming year. When it comes to the business of Pyalla Technologies, LLC, we are both fully engaged now with Margo working hard to establish her latest venture, the monthly digital publication, NonStop Insider. As a result of working the way we do, we are discovering just how flexible we can be with our time; yes, we can work at any time, almost anywhere and this month we put this into practice. Call them BizCations, as we are want to do, but the bottom line remains the same - we fill our waking hours with work even as the scenery keeps on changing and for that, we have no complaints!

As for our plans, it all happened rather quickly. The need to meet with clients in Los Angeles mid-January and then late-January left two weeks of “calendar free space” and, with no appointments we decided to, once again, take to the seas and see how well we could work far from shore. We had done it once before, but only for a week and you can read about that in the November 5, 2014, post,
The A, B, Zs of Fall! This time we would double the time at sea and it would be a test of how disciplined we would be not to mention how practical it was to depend on the vessel’s Internet capabilities for an extended period of time.

We have been sailing with Princess cruise lines for a very long time and our status gave us a combined 500 minutes of free internet access, but with so many passengers on board, it turned out that early mornings worked best. Princess has an International Café that serves Lattes and pastries around the clock so from 4:00am onwards, you would find me working from my new, impromptu desk. And yes, it all worked out and a number of our clients, until I updated them on our return, were unaware of our newly equipped remote office!

By chance I came across the poetry of Tyler Knott Gregson, whose poems can be found on the web and among her short verses, this one struck a chord:

Oh restless soul, oh wandering spirit, come, and breathe a spell.
Come, and gently fall into peace.
This is what you were seeking, this, is home.

I have always been fascinated by ports and terminals handling container ships. This fascination dates back to when I worked for Overseas Containers Limited (OCL) as they first entered the container shipping business back in the late 1960s.

My time with OCL was way back in the early 1970s, when container shipping was still a novelty. Long before the construction of the very large Botany Bay facility you will fly over on your final approach to Sydney International Airport these ships would sail under the Sydney Harbor Bridge and dock at a small facility in White Bay. As a sailor, I just couldn’t wait to get onboard to take a look and when the opportunity presented itself, I was hooked and asked for a transfer to the London head office – an approach that turned into reality and laid the foundation for the wandering that to this day simply hasn’t stopped!

This January, as we sailed out of the harbor at San Pedro, we were passing a complex made up of two ports – the port of Los Angeles and the port of Long Beach that are the two biggest container terminals in the US. Combined, they would be in the top 10 worldwide and the perpetual movement in and out of the facility meant that cruise ships as big as the Princess Star had to do some pretty tricky backing in order to safely leave the port, but as the sun was setting and the lights came on, Margo and I felt right at home on the ship – yes, this is what we had been seeking; this is home! Or, so we thought at the time.

 As it turned out, the two weeks kicked off with us celebrating our wedding anniversary and ended with Margo celebrating her birthday. Having advised Princess of these dates we ended up eating a lot more cake than we have in years but it was a fun time. Each bar we stopped by over the course of the evening was only too happy to pull out from the counter yet another treat. In the picture above we were seated by the Crooners Bar that became our late night retreat. 

Before going any further, we did manage to burn through all 500 minutes of free Internet access across the two weeks so if we plan on doing anything longer it may be a bit of a challenge, although, as Margo noted on more than one occasion, the discipline we would maintain meant that we didn’t have to be checking our email every hour or so. Well, I tried! Bottom line, in this respect, I only stepped away from the laptops and phones on weekends which I rarely do back on shore. As for Margo then there was plenty of time for reading.

Our destination would be the major islands of Hawaii and given that it is the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere, breaking away from the clutches of winter seemed more than appropriate. As we drove away from our Windsor home, it was 8 degrees, Fahrenheit. By the time we arrived in San Pedro, it was a balmy 70 degrees, with the forecast for the voyage suggesting that we would be enjoying even more balmy days of 70+ degrees. While the sun managed to break through the clouds on occasion, the first two days at sea were cloudy with the wind whipping around the deck all the time.

As for the seas, well we were sailing through 20 foot swells and it was fun to listen to passengers complaining about how rough the seas were and of whether or not the ship’s master could do something about that. At one point, he did come over the ships coms channel to note that well, this is the Pacific (and not the Caribbean or the Mediterranean) and it was winter so yes, the movement onboard wasn’t entirely unexpected. As for Margo and me, we barely noticed it, but it was a reminder that on deep water voyages the sea can be very restless!  

Another short verse from the same poet seemed more than appropriate for the times:

A time for movement,
and a time for sitting still.
We need both of these.

Once we had arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, the seas abated considerably so we were able to enjoy an extended long weekend cruising among them. Our first stop was Oahu, where we took advantage of the ports close proximity to Waikiki and walked along the foreshore to take in the view of the former volcano that is now Diamond Head. With wall-to-wall hotels lining the beach, it proved difficult to walk along the sandy beach without having to step onto the beach.

For me, the destination was always going to be Duke’s – romanticized in songs and, to my way of thinking, symbolic of a laid-back lifestyle - I hoped to enjoy a quiet drink alongside the sandy shoreline. Having enjoyed lunch a couple of times at Dukes in Malibu (and seeing another Dukes on Kauai), for me this was a must. Despite the overcrowding evident everywhere you turned in Waikiki, we managed to get inside of Dukes and found seats that let the day ebb away. Finding a time for sitting still was priceless!

By contrast, even with the number of passengers onboard the Princess Star, there was plenty of open space. Dining was casual even as it was what it was – large scale catering with meals dumbed down to the point where eventually, we gravitated to the specialty restaurants where there was more spice and yes, way less noise. Having spent a lot of time on much smaller vessels, it takes a little getting used to and so much has changed from when we first stepped onboard a big ship. But again, that is what it is all about – for the price you get a little more than what you expect and it is that little more that brings you back to these big ships on those occasions when you want to do a little more than zip around a few ports in seven days!

Cruise lines such as Princess still hold formal nights, but to be honest, it is still very casual and marginal when it comes to dressing up, so as to speak. Having said this, it matters little what others may be doing as whenever Margo dresses for the occasion, she steals the show. And this voyage proved to be no exception. When the camera caught up with her, those behind her complained that it wasn’t fair, as obviously, Margo had experience when it came to posing and I was asked more than once, how many times has she posed for fashion shots!

All good fun of course and none of those around us ever asked her similar questions about me but that is neither here or there – and I have to admit, I didn’t see another passenger decked out in Prada the way Margo was on formal nights. The disappointment for me was that the formal nights proved to be just a little too casual so Margo left the “red-sole shoes” in the wardrobe! We ended up not liking any of the ship’s photos, so here is a snapshot I took of Margo on our first formal night.

Each day we docked in an island saw us hanging back until late in the day. We have spent time on all the islands so for us it was more a case of checking out the area around the dock. Hilo, on the Big Island for instance, saw us walking for miles which could have been a good thing, I suppose, but there were surprises, too. On the island of Kauai, we docked in the port of Nawiliwili where we found the sprawling Marriott hotel just around the corner. On first sight, it didn’t look all that impressive but up close, and looking out over the port, it proved more opulent than we had initially thought. And did I mention that is where you will find Duke’s on Kauai, but unfortunately, we had arrived well before it opened for patrons. Then again, anchored offshore of Lahaina, Maui, with whales clearly visible nearby, we had to take the tender to shore and this time we found ourselves rooftop atop Mick Fleetwod's restaurant, Fleetwood's on Front Street! 

Hawaii Islands are mountainous having all formed from volcanic eruptions. And it shouldn’t surprise any visitors to these islands that in winter, it’s not the seas that are restless but the skies as well. Each day we were ashore we encountered rain but these downpours were nothing more than passing squalls. However, they did make the sky look moody and from the shore, looking out across the sea to adjacent headlands or even nearby islands, it looked as if at any time a major storm would develop. They never did and even when we were caught out in the rain, we never stayed wet for too long as the temperatures, often nearing 80 degrees, ensure it all vaporized quickly. However, walking along the shore, keeping an eye out for changes to the weather, gave us opportunities to take a picture or two of our ship.  

Returning to dry land just a few days later and picking up where we left off, it was yet another line of verse from the same poet that really hit a nerve:

We may head back home,
but we’re leaving one behind.
Pieces of us stay.

Yes, there is a ring of truth to that – even as Margo and I talk about the two weeks break to our schedule – pieces of us do stay wherever we set foot. Not sure I can properly explain this, but I do feel that home for us will always be just over the horizon. And as we found the time to work and to read and to just unwind as we whiled away the hours, I guess the only thing I can now say is that yes, everyone needs to find the opportunities as we have been doing and to acknowledge that truly:

Oh restless soul, oh wandering spirit, come, and breathe a spell.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The year that was … new beginnings and other great adventures!

We had been dreaming of a white Christmas, and yes, just the day before Christmas, the skies grew gray and then down it came. It snowed all night so when we awoke Christmas Eve, there it was! Indeed, “The snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.” Packing the Jeep with food and gifts for a Christmas Eve celebration at our grandkids’ house was a first for us at our new place in Windsor as this was the very first time we were carrying items out of the house and to the Jeep! Yes, a pleasant change from all the months were it had become a case of moving items from the Jeep into the house. 

The Jeep has taken a beating over the last year as the workhorse for all that the move entailed. First it was moving precious belongings to a storage facility and then moving them out of storage and to the new house. And then it was piled high with cardboard cartoons as it ferried material back and forth between the house and the local recycling center. Finally, it became the go-to vehicle to carry new furniture and shelving between local retailers and the house – thank goodness for the Jeep. As this was an office move, as much as house move, it was the Jeep that carried all of our most valuable assets – files and old magazines.

However, there isn’t really anyway to discount just how meaningful Christmas truly is for Margo and me as it was nineteen years ago that Margo made a much earlier move out of California to Colorado in the lead up to our wedding and so, at this time of year, there is just a little nostalgia that creeps into our conversations. Not to mention, where did those nineteen years go, by golly!

Margo takes it upon herself to make sure we always have enough treats for Christmas. Not surprisingly to read, for Margo it is a repetition of rituals dating back to her youth in Warsaw, Poland. Yes, it was platefuls of deviled eggs that had her attention when I snapped the photo above, but rest assured, this wasn’t the only thing Margo was working on. There was also borscht soup, some pierogi dumplings and a strong vinegar-flavored bigos.

Whatever your cultural heritage, there was definitely something on the table that you would enjoy and with a mixture of Australians, Poles and Germans happily celebrating the time-honored Christmas Eve feast, even with the addition of three grandchildren all under five, it was an enjoyable time. On the other hand, returning to our home for a quiet cocktail reminded us why it is good to be a grandparent …

On the other hand, it wasn’t until after the New Year celebrations had ended that we were able to finally pull out of the refrigerator a prime piece of beef – a 3.4lb bone-in rib-eye steak. Paired with a fine bottle of 1998 Henschke Keyneton Estate (Shiraz / Cabernet / Malbec blend from South Australia’s Barossa Valley), it proved to be an enjoyable evening and yes, a very peaceful way, for a belated welcome celebration of the New Year. Even though this bottle had been moved a number of times, it had stood up very well and was a wonderful drop of red. Shame we have no more of this particular vintage but then again, it is always good to drink old wine.

Apart from time spent with the grandchildren, New Year celebrations this year were rather muted with just the occasional outing with good friends. We are most definitely settling into our new surroundings and have several friends now as neighbors. And the more we chat to folks the more we come to realize that the “Car of the Estate” is most definitely the Corvette. And the runner-up award would have to go to the Mini!

Each day we pass an open garage there seems to be a Corvette parked inside, so many in fact that I simply have lost track of who owns what. But it is nice to know nearly every neighbor is a car family and to hear that the neighbors now constructing the house right alongside us apparently own a very large car dealership in Ft Collins. And oh yes, it is a Chevrolet dealership where they are selling new Corvettes! 

Given that I am always multitasking it shouldn’t take anyone by surprise to see that my desk is always liberally littered with publications and printouts. It was Harold Geneen who headed the conglomerate ITT at its peak who once observed, "You can know a person by the kind of desk he keeps. If the president of a company has a clean desk then it must be the executive vice president who is doing all the work.”

Business never slowed this holiday season. The first week of each month sees Margo and me working on a digital publication simply called, NonStop Insider. If you want to take a look at what this publication looks like (and to check out Margo’s editorials), check out this link: and make sure you scroll down the home page to where it says, Read the latest edition of Insider.

We have been publishing this digital magazine for a year and a half now and as tough as it is to coordinate and as much work as it necessitates as we lobby our colleagues for articles, it is keeping Margo and me very much engaged with the HPE NonStop community. And just a short time ago I noted in a post to our NonStop community blog of how it has been thirty years since I first walked into the North Sydney offices of Tandem Computers. If the passage of nineteen years bothered me at all, then thinking about thirty years passing by isn’t something I am prepared to dwell on for too long.

Our new house – yes, clearly our new home – has a main floor office which Margo and I are extremely thankful we persevered in having built. Who needs more bedrooms on the main floor when a main floor office means it is only a short walk to the kitchen. The morning commute? Well, what can I say; should have looked into doing this years ago! 

Perhaps it was part of the festive season. Perhaps it was being reminded more than once to sort it all out. But no matter; while Margo was attending to the grandchildren I grabbed the ladder, some pins and a hammer, and hung the last picture that made up the three piece collection. It now frames the staircase that descends to the basement and features the piano, the violin and the bass. All by the same artist, a favorite of Margo and I, Sabzi, who paints abstracts that are full of color and life with just a touch of romance.

You may also notice that we have some of the curtains installed. Finally. But there are still a lot more drapes and curtains to come as they continue to miss-measure and miss-supply them but, hopefully, in a month or two, we will have the rest of them delivered and installed. We are quickly running out of patience with the temporary blinds that have been hung in their place but it seems that the fabric we liked, well what can we say, we used up the entire inventory on hand. Watch for more complete images of the final results in future posts.  

In December we took very few road trips. I arrived back in town following my short trip to Madrid early December and we have been here ever since. So it has been a period punctuated with short trips to Starbucks as we went about our final shopping excursions for the year. Being as cold as it was outside there was no need to worry about the coffee being too hot as it seemed only right to be drinking extra hot coffee as snow fell outside. And of course, we also had to dress for the occasion.

However, being at home for the duration meant we spent time not only writing the articles for our new digital publication but also sitting quietly at our desks ordering more and more stuff online from Amazon. Mark this as a first: Margo and I had something delivered every day during the last weeks of December. Be it an occasional table, a wool rug or runner, or even kitchen appliances and household consumables, we gave Amazon a run for their money and it really worked.

We even scored a free runner as Amazon dispatched a second runner when they realized they had lost the original somewhere in transit. But when both showed up, Margo explained to them in no uncertain terms that they would be losing a lot of money if they wore the return shipping charges so yes, they gave in and we kept them both!

Christmas Day however proved to be an especially quiet day. The highways were practically empty. Shops were shuttered. People had all headed inside. Nowhere was this more potently illustrated when, on a whim, Margo and I returned to Boulder to walk its famous Pearl Street Mall only to find absolutely nobody strolling along the thoroughfare. It was extremely cold so that may have had something to do with the absence of foot traffic but the skies were blue and there was an abundance of sunshine. So we had the whole place to ourselves.

For a short time, that is. After walking just three blocks, we gave up and hurried back to the warmth of our Jeep. Yes, just chalk it up as one more trip in the Jeep although it is now better equipped to handle the season. We put on new tires (Yokohoma), replaced the rotors (StopTech) and pads (Hawk) and with almost 110,000 miles on the odometer in just four years (since we bought the beast), contrary to the expectations of all those off-road pundits that questioned our sanity in buying a Jeep, it hasn’t missed a beat.

Yes, it was around this time last year that I was involved in a traffic incident that took the Jeep off the road for a month but here’s the surprise. It came back from the body shop in better condition than when we first picked it up new at the dealership – the body shop had gone over the alignment of the body panels and lined them all up properly. Wow! And now, with new tires and brakes and a fresh wheel alignment we should be good for another 100,000 miles.  

Like almost everyone else on the planet, we watched the New Year celebrations beamed to us directly from Sydney. Each year this extravaganza seems to outdo the show of the previous year. Even as they continue to search for new and novel ways to integrate both the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House into the fireworks display, it is hard to argue with the finished product. Watching it on our laptops, Margo and I “Ooohed and Aaahed” with the best of them as each burst of color erupted on our screens. So much so, in fact, that we have put the wheels in motion to return to Sydney to see it for ourselves next year!

The plans are very much in the conceptual stage with a couple of dates already being penciled in on our calendars but it has been many years since we last returned to Sydney and Margo has never seen the city in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year. Just to see Santa’s ringing their bells outside shops and railway stations all dressed in traditional European winter attire, is a sight not to be missed! It was all the way back in 2013 that we last returned to Sydney and for a couple who routinely visited the city two or three times a year for almost a quarter of a century, it simply is a case of being away from those far-off shores for way too long. 

Yes, this has been the year that was – the sale of one home and the construction of another; three months living out of trailer parks as we dealt with one failure after another with the RV, our beloved company command center. Too many times to Las Vegas in the heat of summer as well as not enough time in Colorado’s overlooked State Parks. On the other hand, we saw the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque even as we turned in to Zion National Park for a breather. I did have to fly as there was a trip to Dallas and another to Madrid.

The good news is that as 2017 came to a close, business picked up and we enter 2018 with all the clients we wanted – yes, our books are full. And that’s always a nice position to be in as the year unfolds. It turns out that Sydney will not be our only trip overseas this year as there will be a couple more and that is most unusual for us but about those adventures we will leave to another time.

And as for the cars, with winter they are on battery tenders in the garage and a forlorn lot awaiting the first signs of spring and yes, 2017 was the first year we didn’t buy a car in all the years we have been married! Run; the apocalypse is about to erupt. Just kidding but it only added to the overall novelty of the year where so many different and unexpected events took place.

And with that, it’s time to head back to the kitchen for a slice of cheese and a quiet drink. So yes, as we raise a glass to all our friends and everyone who reads these monthly posts, our best wishes to you all and may the year be prosperous as it is kind to each and every one of you!