Saturday, December 1, 2018

'Cross the sea; I am sailing!

After spending weeks ashore with family, friends and business associates we have been all at sea. Business hasn’t stopped, but it’s been a lot easier with so much fresh input to work with – Sydney provides such a rich backdrop to any conversation about technology and Margo and I have taken full advantage of every opportunity that has presented itself for us to see different sides of a very much changed city of Sydney. It has been five years since we walked the streets of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) and it’s hard to compare what were once familiar landmarks with the soaring skyscrapers that have essentially popped up everywhere we turn. 

Talk to Sydneysiders and it’s clear that it generates mixed reactions; cities are never finished, just ask your average Parisian. Then again, cities can leverage any natural beauty that they have inherited to present a fresh and sometimes even rejuvenated appearance. Sydney still has its Opera House and its Harbor Bridge, but as for everything else, well, the best that I can say is that it’s evolved. On the other hand, much of the charm that was Sydney in the 1980s is disappearing behind glass and concrete.



If London is undergoing a rapid transformation with multiple skyscrapers looking more like household appliances, Sydney’s reach for the sky is a little more organic. There is a certain symmetry developing even as the heights of these buildings continue to spread north of Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower, but what impresses most is that color is returning to the skyline. Not just sandstone facades but real colors and the impact recent changes in architecture are having is inescapable. 



Like a once great performer with a whole lot of new makeup liberally applied, Sydney always makes a stunning entry whenever it comes into view. All the structures that makes Sydney great can still be seen but the overall presentation is now a mix of traditional with modern and for all its quirks, to someone who has been absent from the city as long as I have, it’s still magical. And it all seems to work! As for the now pristine harbor, a deep blue under clear skies, there is no escaping its ability to contribute yet another color to the saturated canvass unfolding before you as you begin taking in the full vista that is Sydney. 

Of course, hanging out with my brother, Greg, and then with my high school buddy, Dave, cars have held center stage. As much as I like the architecture, when it comes to car talk then I am a sucker. Greg had the opportunity to spend track time out at the Sydney Motorsports Park, formerly Eastern Creek, behind the wheel of a very hot Holden V8 Supercar. Greg adapted to the car’s set up and before long, he was producing some serious speeds as he watched his lap times come down. “They told us not to try fifth gear,” Greg told me. “But after a couple of laps and with the encouragement of my instructor, I was given the OK to charge even harder and fifth gear was quickly selected.” 



It’s now only a matter of time before I can entice Greg to come to Colorado to drive Margo and my favorite circuit to the east of Denver – High Plains Raceway (HPR)! As for Dave, his hobby has been covered previously in posts to this blog as he has been racing in historical events for some time. Initially it was a Hillman Imp as I recall, but more recently he has upgraded to a 1960s era Mini. Apart from having a glorious home on top of Bilgola Plateau, Dave maintains an offsite garage complete with a lift of which I am most envious. A quick look around his facility and it’s easy to tell that Dave can pretty much fabricate anything he needs for his race car. Dave has been a passenger in our Dodge Viper SRT/10 roadster as we did a couple of more or less parade laps around HPR.   

Prior to departing for New Zealand we had ample time for breakfast alongside Circular Quay with no fear that our ship would sail without us. For this cruise, we had a balcony cabin on the Lido deck, 16 levels above the water line, with no other cabins above us. Knowing full well we would be sailing out into the Tasman Sea at a time when the weather can be very unpredictable, I have to admit, I was a little curious about how this vessel would fair. With something like 19 stories above the water but only 8 meters down to the keel, it was a modern-day, flat-bottomed, floating hotel. Ouch!   


Turned out it managed the medium swell we encountered with little fuss and it was more or less smooth sailing for the entire voyage. Even though summer is about to arrive, all too often we forget the southern latitudes New Zealand occupies and the weather is not only unsettled at times, but plain cold. As of this sailing, our ship, the Majestic Princess, is the biggest cruise ship in the Princess fleet but leaving Sydney Harbor, we caught sight of another ship that looked familiar and it turned out to be the former Princess cruise line’s biggest ship, the Sea Princess.


Times have changed and after two days at sea, we passed the Sea Princess, that is now part of P&O and based in Australia, but with the itinerary we had in New Zealand, we passed it a couple more times before we returned to Sydney. While Sea Princess was about 800 feet long carrying 2,000 passengers and with a gross tonnage of 77,000 tons, by way of comparison, Majestic Princess was over 1,000 feet long, carried 3,500 passengers (with another 1,500 as crew) and has a gross tonnage almost twice as much, 145,000 tons.

WiFi connections were good even with as many passengers and crew as there were on board. However, Princess changed the protocol from previous cruises to a more complex sign-off process catching many folks unaware, including me. Although Princess gives returning passengers a reasonable amount of free WiFi access, it is instantly chewed up if you don’t follow the sign-off protocol. One of the longest lines we encountered on the ship was the line winding its way to the Internet Café to complain bitterly of all the free minutes lost by nearly everyone onboard. Sure hope that Princess addresses this proactively, but if your plans call for a Princess cruise any time soon, be warned ahead of time. Read the instructions!


On the other hand, one of the more pleasant offerings Princess provides, where there are no lines involved, is the private dining opportunity you can reserve for a five course dinner – with cocktails and champagne – on your suite’s balcony. Being 16 decks above the waterline, our dining experience was spectacular and something Margo and I strongly recommend to anyone planning a voyage on these new “Royal-Class” of Princess Ships – Royal Princess, Regal Princess, and now, Majestic Princess. As it was, not only did we pick the right day when seas were calm and the skies clear of rain squalls but the soft, late afternoon light, provided all the ambiance we needed!

As for being inside the ship, the major drawcard continues to be the three level piazza, where numerous bars and casual dining areas are easily accessed. As is the International Café that I frequent, in the wee hours of the morning, to catch up on work over a cappuccino and a fresh croissant! I am often asked about the difficulties of working from the ship and after a couple of trips out to sea this year I can honestly  report that in today’s “everything connected, everything computes” world we live in, it’s now just another remote location with very few downsides when compared to my other remote location in Windsor, Colorado.


On the other hand, I am much closer to a variety of restaurants and when the ship pulls into port, there are even more restaurants to choose from – while in Wellington, after chatting with folks we know, it was time to head to a Belgium restaurant for fresh New Zealand muscles and good Belgium beer. I have to say, I am a fan of Sydney rock oysters but at a couple of stops, we have tried the local fare and they are acceptable. Just as good? Not to my palate, mind you, but very close. On the other hand, it’s hard to turn away any dairy products, be it butter or cream, as they are simply unsurpassed by anything else we have tasted. Ever!

The one item that did surprise us was that while in Tauranga, reunited with a business colleague we have known for more than a decade, we were driven into a forest of Redwoods that had been brought to New Zealand in the early 1900s, now a tribute to the Forestry men and women who perished in both world wars.  These redwoods have thrived. Even though only a hundred years old and centuries in front of them, they looked spectacular and as we walked a trail, I was half expecting to encounter a bear or an elk. What was a little different from those forests in California we know so well were the sulfur hot springs that bubbled to the surface to feed small streams. But then again, we were walking in the shaky isles where the landscape continues to be redefined on a regular basis.



For a very long time I was a sailor. My first career change took me from Wollongong to Sydney to work for the container shipping division of P&O – Overseas Containers Limited (OCL). At the same time, I was crewing on a Peter Cole 40 foot fractional-rigged sloop as its sole for’ard hand. Sailing out of Middle Harbor Yacht Club we managed to put in enough races over the course of a long season to win the division one title a couple of years in a row.

I was reminded of this when spending time with my brother, Greg. At one point prior to my departure to the US, I gave serious consideration to buying a famous yacht, Inch by Winch. I was working for Nixdorf Computers and was a friend of a  mate of Joe Goddard Jr., who thought I would be the perfect “next owner” of this yacht as, you see, in a previous Sydney to Hobart yacht race, it suffered serious internal structural damage. For just Aus$100,000 it could be all yours! What a deal – so I took it out for a test sail and took with me, my brother who I put to work on a coffee-grinder winch. Ouch – he threw his shoulder out in a big way and to this day, he still winces and casts an eye in my direction. Thanks, brother! And no, I elected not to buy the yacht and that is perhaps one decision I regret to this day.

That was so long ago. Another lifetime, really! But as we headed for dinner the other night and I caught a glimpse of the harbor we would be leaving behind, it all came back. Margo’s and my reluctance to fly anywhere when we can help it is now very well documented and it will not be the last time we catch a ship instead of a plane. But to date, the most pleasurable aspect of this working BizCation has been reconnecting with so many of my former business colleagues, and in a way, Margo has been given an “education” into much of my life back here in Sydney during the turbulent days that were the crazy 1980s.

The world of IT is definitely not as much fun as it once was but then again, I still recall the last line of code I wrote back in 1979. It was June of that year and I was installing software at the Reserve Bank of Australia in Martin Place and I was adding function to VTAM (or was that BTAM?), a networking protocol typical of mainframes of the day. But just as with sailing, writing code is something I left behind a long time ago. Perhaps it’s time too to think about how much longer I throw cars around a race track? Maybe not yet – but as that time approaches, look for another post. For now, all I can hear are the lines from that Rod Stewart song from the 1980s:

    I am sailing
    I am sailing
    Home again
    'Cross the sea


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Big times and events; more to follow ...



In my previous post to this blog I talked openly of how it was our intention to absolutely immerse ourselves in everything Sydney had to offer; we hit the ground running and we haven’t stopped. While the pace has slowed considerably over the past couple of weeks, there has been no letup in the number of social outings. We have met with good friends and former colleagues even as have spent time “talking shop” with a number of them. The day job as it were is never out of mind and the mere fact of being in Sydney is giving me a lot of material with which to work in the coming months. Have I mentioned how much I really like Sydney? Have I also mentioned that after just three weeks away from Colorado, we miss our home in Windsor?


It was in my previous post that I observed just how crowded Sydney has become and how there are people everywhere you turn. Or that the city of Sydney is rapidly morphing from a village of single level dwellings to massive high-rise condos (alright, home units and apartments or whatever) are everywhere. It’s definitely not like Singapore and it’s not anywhere close to being comparable to Hong Kong and yet, there are similarities at first glance. A day doesn’t pass when I cannot count more than a dozen cranes dotted along Sydney’s skyline. All of which is to say, Sydney projects many faces to its audience and when the audience is mostly tourists the reciprocal responses of “wow!” and “oh, my gosh!” can be heard time and time again.




If it’s Sydney Harbor you long to see, take all the time you need. Take the slow ferry to Manly or anywhere else on the harbor for that matter. As time permits, take the fast ferry by all means but the slow passage from Circular Quay to Manly, passing the “heads” that lead into the open ocean, is a time-honored way to soak in the variations on display with each headland you pass. Sitting atop one of Sydney’s high rise office buildings, you can quickly see five headlands protruding into the harbor but I am certain there are many more than five. There has been a lot of work done to ensure the waters of the harbor are clean and it’s noticeable too – standing by the wharf in Manly, you can see all the way to the sandy bottom even as sizable fish swim freely between the pylons.

For Margo and me, it is very much about the people. We have come to see the sights but we really have been looking forward to hearing the stories from family and friends we have just not seen for half a decade and you don’t really appreciate the passage of time until you are reminded at every turn that you have been missing from the scene for five long years! OK, so we get the picture now – consider us back. For the time being, at any rate! The niceties and politeness coming from everyone we have had time to meet is appreciated so much so that as you might have guessed as of this past weekend, it feels like we have never left.


A very long time ago the church that the Buckle family attended – Willoughby Gospel Chapel – happened upon a piece of land out in an area well to the north of Sydney and only marginally south of the mighty Pittwater harbor. It’s now a suburb called Ingleside and is adjacent to the up and coming suburb of Terry Hills. From the earliest years of my childhood, Saturdays were spent working on the construction of a dwelling complete with its own giant water cistern built into its foundations that was to be used as a campsite for the youth of the area. My good friend Dave drove Margo and me to the campsite and what a huge difference with many buildings on site and on this occasion, a group of youngsters enjoying themselves on the playing fields now groomed nicely where once there had only been a pile of rocks!

The rock I am standing on was where we all sat to have lunch every Saturday we were on site, working. My father threw his energies into the construction of the dwelling after having finished building our own home in the Sydney suburb of Lindfield a couple of years earlier. He joined the likes of Liv Clark, Keith Long, and many others whose names I have now unfortunately forgotten, but this was always the highlight of the week for me, particularly during the summer months as there was always time to walk through the bush as the tracks meandered down to creeks that then flowed into places like Church Point. Sometimes we made it to Coal and Candle Creek that opened up into a sizable estuary feeding Pittwater.

Lost in time however were the wartime stories of how troops were loaded onto the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in places like Pittwater, as the harbor is many times the size of Sydney Harbor but off limits to commercial vessels of all sizes. My father was shooting 16mm video when his activities came to the attention of the shore patrol and he was arrested as few people of those times possessed such video cameras. The records say these ships always spent time in Sydney but it wasn’t always in Circular Quay from what I could determine. There were even sightings of troops boarding the Queens as far north as Port Stevens and I sure would like to know about this as according to my dad, they really didn’t want the enemy of the day figuring out where exactly there leviathans of the sea were moored.




After two weeks with my brother Gregory and his family in the northern suburb of Beecroft where we became good friends with Tony over many cappuccinos in his Beecroft café, along with pizza and pasta, we headed to the coast. But before venturing any further into this escapade other than to give you a little hint as to what our new temporary abode was going to be, I can’t leave the topic of Beecroft without talking a little more about Tony.

He was a fun guy to get to know and archetypal of the small shop owner that dotted the Sydney landscape for many years. Even though he tried his hand running a bigger restaurant his heart was definitely in the small shop intimacy that comes with being able to serve coffee, wine and a little grappa. Next month we will be returning to Beecroft for just a little longer and I sure hope he remembers us as his coffee early in the morning was the best we tasted in all of Sydney.


Our trip to the coast took us to the home of David and Suzanne. David had been a good friend of mine back in my high school days and part of the reason for the trip down under was to join classmates for our graduating class 50th anniversary. You may recall my reference to David Roberts in posts back in 2016 and 2015 as Dave visited us in our Niwot home many times. When his enthusiasm over his new home bubbled into emails and texts, we knew we just had to find time to visit him and the generosity of Dave and Suzanne bubbled too as they gave us the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks with them in their new abode atop Bilgola Plateau.

To say that Margo and I were poorly prepared for the welcome we received would be an understatement as Dave and Suzanne opened their doors to perhaps the most magnificent home we have ever entered. Anywhere – and that includes the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a French seaside villa located at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera that we have visited numerous times!


If you have ever listened to a couple of verses in the Carly Simon song, You’re so Vain you will likely be familiar with the lines:


Well I hear you went to Saratoga
And your horse, naturally, won

Having lived in Saratoga, California, for as many years as she had done - yes, I know, a different Saratoga - I always think of these lines whenever talk of Saratoga comes up but how little I knew. You see, this past week was a big occasion for Australia. The first Tuesday of every November is when the nation comes to a stop. It’s time for yet another running of the Melbourne Cup. It’s a time to party and a time to dress up. And it’s a time too to have a little flutter on the horses. 

Dave took as to a fancy establishment in nearby Newport where the ladies competed for prizes in a fashion category and there were many outstanding examples of fashion that was easy on the eye. But it wasn’t the fashion parade that attracted Margo’s attention so much as the ticket she bought for the sweepstakes – a tradition dating back to who knows when – whereby you buy a ticket and draw a card or pretty much any slip of paper to see what horse you will be supporting when it comes time for the big event.


Margo drew horse #23 and with absolutely no knowledge of what it all meant, settled in to watch the race unfold with a glass of bubbly in her hand. As the horses turned for the final time in traditional fashion, the race to the line was a spectacle taking up the full width of the Flemington course. And out of nowhere, blindingly fast along the outside of the track, came #23 and it went on to win, naturally. I don’t think Dave quite believed it and kept pointing at the big screen telling Margo, I think that’s your horse! It was Margo’s horse after all … as they say, she scooped the pool and it was onto a magnum of Veuve Clicquot! The photo atop this post captures that winning feeling perfectly I think. We now have been informed as to who won the fashion contest – but we left early before the ladies of Newport got a little out of shape. Or so we were told after the event wrapped up.




In the previous post I wrote of how it’s hard to put up an argument against an invite to join friends, colleagues and associates for a little bubbly but how little we knew as in Sydney, with the Aussie dollar faring as poorly as it is against the almighty US dollar, it seems a day barely passes where somehow or other a glass of bubbly finds its way into our hands. We have caught up with our really good friends, Dieter and Chris who invited us to their penthouse condo overlooking the harbor at Balmoral even as we have caught up with the “old boys club” of former Nixdorf folks all of whom had worked at one time or another for Dieter who had been Nixdorf’s Managing Director. Truly, a big thanks to Kevin who seems to muster a good group of folks whenever we are in town.

But perhaps the highlight of the week came when we had breakfast in the northern suburb of Hornsby, followed by a train ride to Beecroft to pick up a couple of items, then on to North Sydney for lunch with former IDC Vice President, Len Rust, before catching a ferry to Manly for a stroll along the Manly Corso and then it was dinner in the beachside community of Collaroy with Paul Matthews and his lovely wife Georgina. Paul joined IT only a few months before I did so we have much the same backgrounds but Paul went on to create a business that still sets a benchmark for very clever entrepreneurship. On the other hand, I actually met Georgina long before that as the two of us both worked at Overseas Containers Limited in Bridge Street, deep in the heart of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). Who knew that after the decades had passed we would once again be able to catch up to share stories and be able to laugh hard and long well into the evening hours.


Whether it was time spent with my brother Greg and his wife, Robin, or simply hanging out with Toni in his coffee shop. Whether it was the fun times we are now having with David and Suzanne at their fabulous home or with Dieter and Chris – and yes, their Balmoral condo is simply amazing with its views straight out the heads of Sydney harbor. And too, whether it is with colleagues Paul and Georgina or Len or Kevin there is only one constant. The sheer joy in being able to catch up on five years of happenings; of five years of absence and yes, five years of well, so much has happened, hasn’t it! In closing it is all too easy to simply sit back and say well, we could have done all this over the phone or via skype but in reality, we simply couldn’t have.

It’s the sum of what we see in the faces of our friends, what we feel in the smell of local cooking and the sights of an ever changing vista. It’s all of this and much more … yes, these are big times but they are also the best times and for that the caste of hundreds we have met all played a role and for that we are forever grateful. The hospitality of Sydney is being showcased for us and there is no way we could ever say enough thanks to communicate all the joy we have experienced.  We are just so thankful to you all!



Monday, October 29, 2018

Cool time in Olde Sydney Towne


Stepping off the plane Thursday it all came rushing back. We had just arrived in Sydney and after the long flight across the Pacific all we wanted to do was grab a big Aussie breakfast. Right from the very get-go, we wanted to absolutely immerse ourselves in everything Sydney had to offer and we hit the ground running and we haven’t stopped. All right, we have had a couple of laid back afternoons but for the most part, I can honestly say I haven’t walked this much in years. Sydney does this to you as it draws you away from wherever you have landed to see the sights and to soak up the atmosphere. It’s one of the few places on earth where the weather is absolutely perfect and even as our first few days saw cloudy skies overhead, it was still a great time to be out and about!

Five long years had passed since our last trip to Australia and the mere thought of this we both found quite shocking. It had never been our intention to delay our return by this amount of time but now that we are here, it seems like we never left. However, let me just clarify that somewhat. The city we left back in 2013 was a familiar place, but when we stepped back onto Sydney’s thoroughfares, so much has changed. It’s not just the changing shape of the city’s skyline as that’s always been in a state of flux but rather, it has been the little things. The suburban trains look different. Mind you, they look nicer and the walkways go further than I recall. What is standing out is just how crowded Sydney has become. There are masses of people everywhere you turn and when you travel along the main transportation corridors, there are high-rise apartments and flats going for miles. What has been built around the 2000 Olympic Games Stadium is mind-blowing.



Our time in Sydney kicked off immediately upon arrival. There was a huge industry convention that was being held at the Sydney International Convention Center (ICC) for the banking industry and I was going to be writing articles for a daily magazine. I had initiated the conversation with my colleagues at Banking Tech / FinTech Futures and they welcomed me as part of the writing team covering the event. As the convention progressed I found several of my feature stories included in the daily publication, with at one point one story being promoted on the publications front pages. It was tiring but it was engaging all the same.

For the duration Margo came with me to the conference, spending her time at a coffee shop inside the mall straddling the shores of Cockle Bay to the south of Darling Harbor. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would walk from the ICC to the coffee shop where we would then walk to one of the waterfront restaurants for lunch. In one way, it was a pleasant and gradual way to step back into the hustle and bustle of Sydney business life. On the other hand, we ended up walking miles before finding familiar landmarks and eateries we had once known so well, but with the convention wrapping up just a short time ago, it’s back to living as we do back in Windsor Colorado – working with my clients from early morning through to the afternoon and then spending a leisurely afternoon visiting one attraction or another.


I have always viewed the world as one homogeneous environment crisscrossed with many well-worn pathways established long ago just for the purposes of visiting new places. I have always thought of myself as part of the planet more so than just being from one country or another. Put it down to having done eight international moves but also put it down too to my wife, Margo who brings a distinctly European perspective to life.

Having lived more of her life in cities and inner city suburbs, she is very much at home checking out the displays in delis as well as sampling the local coffee, beer and yes, very strange meats, cheese and olives. Not for her is a fixed routine but rather, a life liberally sprinkled with “tasting times” where samples of other’s daily routines can be enjoyed.   Be it an early morning walk to a coffee shop visited by locals about to board commuter trains or the local ferry boat or a night out on the town, Margo has always been up for the occasion.

This time, in Sydney, we are thoroughly enjoying the hospitality provided by my brother Greg and his wife Robyn. Set up as we are with an office and easy access to a variety of shops, working life has taken on new meaning here in Sydney. Whereas my colleagues in North America are hunkered down for the winter, summer is just around the corner here and that means festival time in Sydney as company after company begins their annual holiday celebrations that for the most part, are celebrated on the waters of Sydney Harbor.



And it’s hard to argue against an invite to join friends, colleagues and associates for a little bubbly along with a couple of Moreton Bay’s ever popular bugs. Talking about bugs, if your preference is for more local fare you can try their cousins, the Balmain bugs, but either way, Sydney-siders fuss over them the same way our friends in the Chesapeake fuss over soft shell crabs and folks in New Orleans fuss over their crawfish; you just have to be here and try them before you pass any judgement over our taste in crustaceans. 

Then again, we have already eaten our fair share of John Dory and Flathead fish grilled and deep-fried and, barely a day ago, we had a late afternoon lunch at a restaurant right beside Manly’s famous beach. There is something tantalizing and simply guilt-laden to be enjoying so much sunshine as we devour yet another fish lunch accompanied by a good dry Hunter Valley rose. I know this may not be everyone’s cup of tea but on this occasion, it was a perfect lunch for the both of us.




After lunch we strolled around to Shelley Beach only to find the Kiosk has been replaced by something serving up much lesser fare. Oh well, Sydney life continues to evolve and businesses keep changing hands. Elsewhere I have posted about the ever changing Sydney skyline mentioning in passing how even though in general it looks familiar, close up so much has changed and there are a lot more changes on the way judging by all the cranes we saw dotting the landscape. While the SIBOS event was being held, we made it a point to count how many cranes we could see and on no occasion did we count any less than ten cranes surrounding us.

But then again, could we have expected anything less? Sydney continues to invest heavily in infrastructure and it shows. It is still very early days in our Australian adventure with a side trip to Hobart, Tasmania, as well as Auckland, New Zealand, very much in the plans, but about those trips I will write in another post. As for right now it’s back to our temporary office to wrap up a couple more articles I need to complete before the weekend arrives. All I want to add at this point is the photo below just as a reminder to all those hunkering down, experiencing the coldness of the onset of winter in North America, down-under, as summer approaches, Sydney is every bit as beautiful and warm as any postcard depicts. Only better in many respects! Only possible regrets to be heard being expressed by Margo or me – we should have made this trip a long time ago!  It’s just so cool to be back in Olde Sydney Towne.



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

It might be bigger in Texas but Sydney, here we come!

I love Texas, no doubt about it. Each time we pull out of the garage to head to Texas it’s always the start of something special. I first re-located to Dallas Texas in 1977 and spent nearly three months living out of a condo, right beside Love airfield, somewhere in and around the triangle bordered by Mockingbird Lane, Lemmon Avenue and Inwood Road, which has changed a lot with the passage of time. Just watching the private jets fly into Love Airfield each Saturday morning, one after the other after the other, was more than enough incentive for me to get up and go back to work, come each Monday. So, no surprise here, our first trip of October involved a run down to Dallas for client meetings.


Whether it’s the many lakes that dot the landscape or simply the wide open spaces that are apparent everywhere you turn; everything happens within the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex and whether your tastes see you heading to Ft Worth’s stockyards or to Arlington for a Texas Rangers baseball game or to the billion dollar Dallas Cowboys stadium or perhaps watching NASCAR racers happens to be your thing it all happens in and around Dallas. Of course, the freeway interchanges continue to take our breath away as does the rampant sprawl of industries. For those not familiar with the service roads paralleling the freeways then yes, be surprised, as these service roads can have more lanes than you find on other cities freeways.


For the forty plus years I have been going to Texas it’s always been about the people. And it’s still the people that bring me back to the area. Whether it is for business and a user event (such was the case earlier this year when the HPE NonStop users got together for a HPE and third-party vendor presentations) or a client meeting or simply finding time for coffee with former clients and current prospects, we can anticipate an enjoyable time in Dallas. Well, almost all the time.

Our previous trip in the BMW i8 hybrid resulted in me having a minor fender-bender trying to cross all those service lanes before finding the exit that allowed an underpass U-Turn. But after a couple of days in the body shop, it’s all good and yes, like new! Do we still like touring in the i8? Let me come right out and say this up front - we have never enjoyed any other touring car more than the i8. I'ts fabulous! This trip back to Dallas was in part for redemption and suffice to say, after a couple of days on the freeways, we returned home none the worse for wear. But yes, we still like the people of Dallas.

Our journeys to and from Dallas always mandate a night’s rest in the township of Amarillo. This time, we tried a new hotel that just happened to be alongside The Big Texan Steakhouse so how could we not check out this establishment? We often watch the television show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives or, Triple D, as host Guy Fieri calls it and while this particular restaurant hasn’t been featured as best as we can tell, it certainly could easily fall into one of those three categories. Not strictly a tourist trap as there were mostly locals, it is only a place you go to once or twice. On the other hand, perhaps it’s not the food that keeps bringing me back to that Triple D show but rather, Guy’s 502 HP 1968 Camaro roadster.


Seated in the upper deck, by the railing and next to the trophy head of a Moose, the atmosphere captured what is the essential Texas – loud music, loud conversations, loud clothing and well, everything that is loud! I am not saying Texas is overly noisy but rather, there is an infectious enthusiasm coming from everyone that is hard to repress. I am not one of those individuals who view this as necessarily being a bad thing as after all I was once called an “introvert, in a loud and noisy way!” On the other hand, the sheer joy coming up from the ground floor was every bit as Texan as you could find anywhere in that great state.  


Back in Windsor, Colorado, there were two major events taking place. The first was the completion of the lower level of our house. After five months, it’s all done except for a minor cosmetic tweak here and there. As for the second event it just so happened that the sons of our good friends, Jim and Dale Miller, opened their brew house just three blocks or so from our home and of course, we just had to find our way to the door pretty much as they opened. Indeed, we first arrived two days before they opened to find sons Dan and Tim hard at work but still, with time to pour Margo and me a beer and we do believe that with the tip, it was the very first they received at their bar, the Mighty River Brewing Company.

Since it opened we have found ourselves spending a quiet hour or two over a pint chatting with friends and neighbors. Just this weekend, food trucks begun appearing so now we can grab a little BBQ as the situation dictates. Overall, our little community needed a place like this that we could walk to and now we find that a pizza and pasta place is about to open, what more could we want? Rumor has it that a small café / coffee shop is also planned and that would pretty much complete the creation of the small village atmosphere that Margo and I were hoping would develop in time. It sure makes our small investment in our home within the Highlands Meadows golfing community look a whole lot smarter!


As for our new walkout lower level, it was always our intention to build out a place where we could entertain on a larger scale. Our former home had a dedicated home theater outside of which was a separate bar area and while we found the setup to our liking it didn’t do a whole lot to fostering a cheerful social environment. So now, rather than the traditional home theater room, we build a media room that opens to the bar area where we have included wine coolers, refrigerators and even a small wine cellar. The plan calls for adding a high-top table and stools and a drinks and nibbles caddy.

As for the rest of the space then the major feature is our new office. Much larger than the space we had been using upstairs it now affords us the ability to work together on joint projects even as our former main level office becomes a library and home work area and a quiet retreat for Margo whenever she needs to escape her loud and noisy husband. Overall, this walkout lower level affords us a lot more separation from our area and that of the space where we will entertain. That’s the plan, anyway, and in time we will just have to wait and see how it all turns out. While some of our furniture is in place there are still our paintings to be hung as well as a couple more objet d’art to be deployed. As for drapes and curtains, they will be installed in the New Year.





I like Texas as it’s one of those places where winter rarely has an impact on daily routines. It can get cold and on occasion, Texans are subject to the dreaded ice-storms that turn every one of their freeways into skating rinks. But they aren’t as common as hot August nights and that first time to Dallas was in August and for all of August’s 31 days, the temperature never dropped below 100 F. Not even at night time as I recall – the air mass hovering over Dallas was being fueled by even hotter temps in the gulf.

However, here in Windsor after an all-too-brief autumn, it’s started to snow. Perhaps a little earlier than expected, but looking out of the window this weekend, all we could see was the white backdrop that is so familiar to Coloradans during winter. Fortunately, this will be the last snow we will have to deal with for quite a while. As much as I like driving to Texas, tomorrow we fly to Sydney, Australia, and Margo and I simply cannot wait till we step off the plane to Sydney’s warmer weather. Yes, it’s springtime by the harbor. Well, perhaps in a few days’ time that is as the forecast for our arrival Thursday morning is for thunderstorms.


 It just so happened that many events came together over a short period of time that rather than planning on travelling to Sydney multiple times over the course of just a couple of months, we will be making just the one trip. My daughter Lisa will turn 35, my high school mates will be holding our 50th anniversary school reunion, there is a major financial institutions trade show in Darling Harbor, and yes, we are going to take a short boat trip to Auckland and then on to Wellington to meet with good friends and clients. 

Given all of this it seemed prudent to also plan on staying for the Christmas and New Year holidays as the last time I was in Sydney as the year wound down was way back in 1988. Thirty years away from Sydney except for the occasional business trip, has passed, oh, so quickly. Too quickly in many respects as I have missed too many Rugby tests and too many Cricket matches not to mention the famous Great Race – the Bathurst 1000 road race.


 
Will there be more than a couple of nostalgic moments? Of course! But then again, I knew that this would take place as the almost-gypsy lifestyle Margo and I have embraced in our later year’s leaves us with little time to simply sit and watch the grass grow. On the other hand, this trip to Sydney will ensure we do get to spend time with so many friends that we haven’t seen in quite a while that perhaps this little piece of home life in the antipodes will be all the medicine we need to remind us both of just how many options we have to where we live and work. And play and entertain. And yes, laugh and cry at all that we have seen and done and all that we have missed out on.

Our bags are packed and shortly our other daughter, Anna, will be dropping by to take us to the airport. Tonight we aren’t flying but rather checking into an airport hotel so tomorrow, there will be no rushing around, madly panicking as we check in at the airline desk. With that, all we can add is to wish all our friends and neighbors here in Windsor, Colorado, a Happy Thanksgiving and the best of times for Christmas and the New Year! See you all again in 2019!


Thursday, September 20, 2018

That “flying fickle finger of fate” together with a little serendipity and a whole lot of good fortune!



There is a lot of truth to the saying, “being in the right place at the right time” and you can tie yourself up in knots trying to figure out just how it all happens. But as I look back through the years at the people that have entered my life it’s all happened without any planning or scheming and yet, many of these accidental encounters have turned out to be life changing. Top of the list, naturally, was how Margo and I met – me from Sydney, Australia, and Margo from Warsaw, Poland. Even as our paths had crossed almost the day I stepped onto the campus of Tandem Computers, the journey wasn’t linear by any means.

And then there was the chance encounter with John (JR) Robinson in the offices of Nixdorf Computers at a time when his company was just three people and the future looked anything but assured. It was JR who encouraged me to go to California to join Tandem Computers and work on a mutually beneficial program featuring his product. In the 1960s we called it “the flying fickle finger of fate,” according to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and it has become very noticeable through the years!

However and completely unrelated to work or to any IT projects I was associated with at the time, just by happenstance, I ran into a fellow Corvette owner sipping a latte at the Starbucks in the Simi Valley’s Wood Ranch shopping center. “Do you race that Corvette?” The question came from out of nowhere, but looking at the tables there was only one table occupied. Without missing a beat, I turned and responded, “Yes, I sure do!” This was the summer of 2008 and Margo and I had only just started out driving on track with the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) and we had managed all of one track weekend.



So yes, we raced the Corvette, although technically, we were participants in the more educational-focused High Performance Driver Event (HPDE) program. “Well, come over here and join me for coffee,” was the immediate response. “I have asked everyone who has driven a Corvette into the parking lot whether they race or not and you are the first to say that you do! Let me introduce myself; my name is Brian Kenny.”

Fast forward ten years and Margo and I find ourselves camped trackside at Sonoma, alongside the extended Kenny’s family as we watch the Kenny’s 18 year old grandson, Colton Herta, participate in his inaugural Indy race. Yes, following two years racing Indy Lights cars at 16 and 17 years of age, having competed in Europe in the UK-based MSA Formula series at 14 years of age, finishing third in the series (remember, he was just 14 and the youngest in the series) where he shocked the Brits scoring four victories to finish third overall and along the way, helped the United States win the Nations Cup.

The following year and still in Europe, he raced in the
Euroformula Open Championship at just 15 years of age, finishing third in the series with four victories, six podium finishes and five pole positions. All while spending most of his early teens away from family and friends even as he still had to attend to his school work. How many of us would have been prepared to do that and yet, it’s really what commitment is all about and Colton certainly was committed at this stage and was doing all he could do to establish himself as a potential future professional race car driver.  


Along the way, as the picture above so clearly depicts, with Colton holding onto the winners check, he beat out Lando Norris (the chap on the right of the picture) who only recently was promoted to the big leagues in F1, becoming a full time driver for McLaren in 2019. Let’s remember this picture, as I am sure one day their paths will cross again – maybe at the Indy 500 in a couple of years’ time given all the rumors circulating about McLaren’s entry into Indy racing.

But this weekend, the accomplishments of the past four years will be little more than distant memories as he steps up to race in the big leagues full time next year. Yes, he will be a pro racing Indy cars. Fortunately to us and again, purely by happenstance, as the Indy Lights program wrapped up two weeks ago, an Indy team gave him the opportunity to race in the last race of the Indy series of  2018 as a way to introduce him to the senior program.



And yes, you could have found Colton Saturday morning, under the tents in the middle of the vendor stands, tableside together with Wil Power, Tony Kanaan and the rest of the pros, signing autographs. At one point in the practice sessions he topped the leader board with the fastest lap time set in his Chevy powered car carrying the number, 88. It was only for an instant and by the time I pulled out my camera, his time had been eclipsed. As a rookie, his goal was to simply to take it all in and not mess up as the series final has four drivers in contention for a series win and that was very much on his mind!




In the ten years that conversation about racing Corvettes has led to us spending numerous weekends in Las Vegas, more dinners that I care to recall at Mastro Thousand Oaks, as well as Las Vegas and yes, even vacations together. Readers of post to this blog will come across numerous references to the Kennys throughout the decade that has passed and together Brian, Jan, Margo and I have vacationed in Europe and Australia even as we have spent time in Zion National Park and even in Albuquerque for the Hot Air Balloon Festival. This weekend, again all rather serendipitously, I was able to cross one more item off the list – I rode in a modified two-seater Indy car around Sonoma.

Honda has a program “Ride of a Lifetime” and I scored a ride – yes, I paid for it well, actually, it was a father’s day gift from Margo – but it didn’t come about without yet more input from that flying fickle finger of fate. When I logged onto the web site, I could book a seat almost anywhere Indy races were being held except Sonoma – seat time was sold out. So I emailed the Kenny’s son-in-law, Bryan Herta, who co-owns the Andretti – Herta team whose driver just happens to be Marco Andretti.

Over the course of just a few short years, Bryan Herta Autosports (BHA) has chalked up two Indy 500 wins, first with Dan Wheldon and then with Alexander Rossi – both wins coming as a result of clever strategy decisions made race by Bryan Herta. Yes, for the upcoming Indy series final race here in Sonoma, son, Colton, will be on a different team than dad, Bryan. “It’s just a business,” was the only response I got from Bryan when I asked him about that on the Friday night of race weekend.




On the other hand, Bryan’s intervention on my behalf secured me a ride in the two-seater Honda-powered Indy cars, a guest of Andretti’s. And yes two-seater Indy cars are managed by the Andretti team as a joint undertaking with Honda. And my driver when the day finally arrived? None other than legendary, Mario Andretti himself! A man of few words, mind you, but there I was behind the helmet of one of the most famous racers of all times having won Formula One, Indy and just about everything else.



Simply watching him walk up to the race car you have just sat in, pull up his drivers suit and then jump into the seat ahead of you, well who knew? There would be four two-seater Indy cars on track that day and I scored Mario! Not only that, but the outing is for just one lap around Sonoma however, as I was first in line, not only did they put me in Mario’s car but as he needed to warm up the tires, I did two laps – a warm up followed by a high-speed lap. And what laps they were! Yes the car was fast but the amount of grip and hence the ability to brake and corner are simply unimaginable until you have ridden inside an Indy car!



As much as this weekend has been about Indy cars and back-seat rides and about Bryan Herta and his team (and yes Marco qualified in the “quick six” for the first time that I can recall), it has mostly been about Colton Herta. And while he did top the leader board with one quick lap early Saturday morning, when it came to qualifying the setup of his car wasn’t to his liking as it caused considerable understeer to be generated. This didn’t help and when he pitted and put on the sticky red tires, it got worse. “Too much grip from the reds meant I couldn’t turn – the rear was just gripping too well,” said Colton afterwards.

So he didn’t make it out of the first qualifying series but will he change the setup? “Don’t think so; as the race progresses and tires degrade, the understeer will likely go away and maybe I will have a car I like!” I would like to say that being at Sonoma isn’t all about racing, but then I wouldn’t be providing an accurate report. Yes, it’s all about the thunder of 900 hp Indy Racers barreling down the short main straight before driving up through turn one and then into one turn after another all taken at speeds not even the two-seater Honda driven by Mario could emulate.  



It’s also about the time waiting in between sessions and thankfully, we have our company command center with us as we were at business events during the days leading up to this weekend’s event. So in that regards, waiting isn’t all that bad with all the mod cons of home within reach. Margo and Jan Kenny did make it to a nearby winery for a little wine tasting but it is all about the event. I have to admit with all the fires that scorched Napa and Sonoma I was a tad concerned about the current vintage but it seems like the grapes are doing just fine as the photo Margo shot for me clearly illustrates.

So what was the final race of the series like? How did Colton go and yes, who finally won the title for 2018? History will record that this Indy race was the last to be held at Sonoma as a new deal has been cut to run this race at Laguna Seca going forward. Fortunately, history will also record that in the very first Indy race at Sonoma, among the drivers was none other than Bryan Herta and so fittingly, it was the younger Herta closing out Indy at Sonoma. However, it was also a first after a fashion as the race held four descendants of other champion racers as joining Colton in the race was Graham Rahal, son of Bobby Rahal, Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi and of course, Marco Andretti son of Michael Andretti and grandson of Mario – a historic occasion all around.  

Before the race, Colton was happily eating lots of protein and taking it easy. Around noon I caught up with Colton biting down on a steak and when I asked him how he felt, his response was minimal as it was succinct, “ask me again in a couple of hours but for now, I am OK!” I didn’t get to see him again until after the race when he returned to the Kenny’s RV where we were all sipping martinis, as usual. Dropping into the nearest chair, he was spent. Never mind that he had driven some 80 plus laps among the best Indy racers on the planet. 


In the Indy Lights series just wrapped up Colton finished second overall with the winner being a young and really good racer, Patricio O’Ward. Together, Patricio and Colton would be on track racing for the same team and against all odds, Patricio made it into the final six Indy racers for the “Quick Six” race for pole where he finished up fifth. Colton had nothing on offer with the set-up he had and qualified nineteenth. Things didn’t go any better for Colton in the race and Patricio found it difficult to stay with the leaders, although he did finish in the top ten.

But then again, this taste of what lay ahead for both young racers became a lot clearer following the Sonoma Indy race – a new team was announced and they had chosen both Colton and Patricio as their drivers for 2019.For the previous two years, both drivers had raced in Indy Lights under the umbrella of Andretti but with Colton racing for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing and the relationship between the young Steinbrenner and Colton was easy to see. As the news broke of a new team ownership pairing coming together, Steinbrenner partnering with relative Indy newcomer, Harding Racing, this announcement didn’t come as a surprise for many Indy followers:



With neither racer yet to reach 21, the creation of the team with these sends an ominous warning to the rest of the Indy racers that fresh talent is coming to play and they are part of a team that doesn’t take losing easily – just look at the success of Those Damn Yankees over the years! Writing about those Yankees, at the time of the announcement the Yankee baseball organization gave Colton the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at Yankee stadium and again, I have to wonder, was that an accomplishment on Colton’s bucket list? When Colton’s picture appeared on the Jumbo-Tron, look closely as he was already being identified as the Harding Steinbrenner driver of car #88!


When Colton’s picture appeared on the Jumbo-Tron, look closely as he was already being identified as the Harding Steinbrenner driver of car #88! And what else did Colton get to do while with the Yankees? He just tweeted: "Thank you very much @Yankees was able to hold Babe Ruth’s last home run bat from 1922!!"


I have had many items on my bucket list, but being able to cross off the list, running in an Indy car with Mario Andretti driving was definitely a check mark I didn’t think would ever happen – I saw him race in the F1 event at Long Beach back in 1977, so it has been many years. And then there was spending a weekend with a team that ran Indy for the very first time only to win even more accolades as future winners for a brand new Indy team well, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Talk about that fickle finger of fate! Who could have guessed the weekend would deliver so much for the families involved. In an Indy car, with Mario Andretti? You have to be kidding, right, and yet it happened! And oh yes, Margo visited Cline vineyards and returned with a great bottle of red so there will be much to celebrate in the coming days. Well done the Kennys, the Hertas and the Andrettis! Well done Steinbrenner and Harding! And yes, well done Colton!  


And I need to thank the many parties that provided photos for this post - Brian Kenny, Racer Magazine and AutoWeek