Thursday, May 28, 2020

This too will blow over: welcome to the “Not! Normal”

When I came across this picture and the story that accompanied it, I couldn’t help myself and used it this past week in numerous updates I provided my clients. The heading alone tells it all – Is this all you’ve got? The photo won a prize in an Australian publication even though it was taken in 2011 and looked back on the aftereffects of a cyclone that hit North Queensland. “Shut the bloody door, there’s a breeze!” was all that was said when the photographer entered through the front door. “Basically, most of the house was gone except the front steps,” said the photographer.

“Laying back on his big old recline,” the photographer noted, “they all had beers and they’d partied all night. They had a generator which kept the fridge cold and they had plenty of meat for the dogs.” In times of crisis it’s always refreshing to see the beginnings of a fresh start and while these lads could laugh at the season, there was every confidence that they would be facing something new. And clearly, this wasn’t a time to reflect on the past but rather on what some have taken to describing as the “Not! Normal.”

The restrictions are gradually being lifted here in Colorado, and rules are changing daily. Still no access to restaurants and pubs, mind you, or to the shopping malls but otherwise, here and there is evidence that some semblance of life as we knew it is returning. In fact our local beer pub, the Mighty River, obtained permission to open on Friday, May 29th. The owners, our friends, The Millers’ sons are beyond happy!

Even with the restrictions my neighbor Steve told us this weekend that his Chevrolet dealership in Ft Collins had managed to sell 70 plus cars for the period. Took a lot of “junkers” in trade, he admitted, and they had in place sanitary teams to make sure cars on showroom were clean after every “inspection” but otherwise, the car-buying public was beginning to come back.

Opening of the local micro-brewery aside, the gradual lifting of restrictions that we see happening here in Colorado has meant that we have golfers routinely sidling past our home. It seems that absolutely nothing interferes with their round of golf. Even as locals here posted about the absurdity of it all, golf prevails. Having said that, it should be noted that Margo and I have never seen as many community members street walking, so as to speak. And yes, they come in all shapes and sizes and it’s about time we report some of them to the Lycra / Spandex police! It’s just not normal: Truly, is that all you’ve got?

The lifting of restrictions also means that we could take to the highways once again. There were still some issues to do with availability of restrooms and where best to find a good cup of coffee, but all the same, pulling into a gas station in Walden, Colorado that is at the junction of Colorado’s State Highways 14 and 125. The drive features a climb up the Poudre Canyon and crests Cameron Pass where the summit has an elevation of 10,276 feet. Snow lay thick all around us as there had been more snow falling over night even as down in the foothills, there was a healthy helping of rain that at this time of year (a little later in the year than normal), is most welcome.

The drive up the Poudre Valley is a much-followed ritual for Margo and me. It has become common practice that following the purchase of any car, we would make this trip a priority as the 100 miles of pavement between Ft Collins and Walden features almost every combination of corners, hill-climbs and long downhill runs as you will find anywhere in the Colorado Rockies. The road frequently narrows and there is one tunnel carved out of the mountain. Before the summit there is a sizable reservoir that attracts fishermen from the surrounding counties.

At this time of year, there is plenty of wildlife to see. On this occasion and being the third car in a three car convoy, we happened upon a number of bighorn sheep. One actually stepped out onto the road just as the lead car came upon the herd, but there were no incidents. While we carefully threaded our way around the other two cars that were now stopped in the middle of the road, we managed to photograph one of these magnificent creatures – threatening us with a head butt if the situation called for such a response.   

We have now accumulated a little over 2,000 miles on our BMW i8 Roadster. What do we think? How does it compare to our previous i8 Coupe? For starters, we were able to take the white coupe on long trips including a multi-week journey to Toronto, Canada. In the past we had done the same trip in our Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and before that, in our Maserati GT-S. There really wasn’t all that much difference between the GT-S 2+2 and the i8 2+2 as in both cases, we opted for smaller suitcases along with a couple of suit carriers. However, when considering longer trips in the i8 Roadster we will need to be prepared for the loss of the back seat due to the collapsible ragtop, but even so, we are going to give it a go this summer!

Turning to a more serious consideration and before we become the laughing stock of our friends, this BMW creation has two things going for it – it’s spaceship looks (that still attract onlookers whenever you stop for gas) and it’s engineering. It’s a hybrid but in such a pretty package you don’t need to apologize to anyone. Its engine doesn’t look all that promising on paper but put it into sports mode, fire up all the engines which then turn it into an all-wheel-drive vehicle, and it becomes a very serious sports car. Did we mention that it is a very comfortable mode of transportation?

By many standards, it can be considered a supercar not so much because of its outright performance but because of the total package BMW delivers. Yes, it has scissor doors as found on only the V12 Lamborghinis and it has the overall height you would expect on a supercar. In the right hands it has no problem keeping up with many of these cars even as it heads all of them when it comes time to compare gas mileage. We have returned figures as high as 70 mpg on some trips.

Then again, it’s no BMW M4 Competition either and the M4 Comp has a back seat as well making it a true 2+2 sports car. On the other hand, when it comes to our other sports car, Margo’s Jaguar F Type, we can pack a lot into it’s trunk as our recent trip to Maryland proved. When it comes time to consider what next as leases lapse, it may be a surprise to note that the Jaguar is looking more and more like the “keeper” while the BMWs will go back. And there’s a very good reason for that, for those who have been keeping up with the car rotations at Holen-Buckle garage.

Having had three Corvettes to date (we enjoyed almost all of them), the C8 Corvette in Z06 format is a clear favorite for future consideration. There’s still the niggling thought over whether a previous model C7 Z06 may make more financial sense given the steep depreciation curve that always follows Corvettes, but it’s hard to argue against the C8.

Out on America’s highways there’s no accounting for what you may come across. We have encountered a moose in the middle of the road just as we encountered the bighorn sheep more recently. We have avoided rock falls and even deep drifting snow. But every now and then you come across something that makes you laugh and this pickup below brought a smile to both our faces as we checked out the strike marks. Not sure about the reference to hula dancers (very bottom) but then again, why not?

In the reflection you can just make out the presence of Li’l Pumpkin – our beloved Range Rover Evoque roadster. Over winter we really piled on the miles, but not so much of late. Margo and I have been following all the guidelines during this global pandemic and given how we have been working from home for many years now, much of what others are experiencing hasn’t really hit us. We have had separate offices on different floors for some time and I do walk into her office and interrupt her with my latest thoughts, but overall, it has been business as normal. That is, without the constant travel and this truly does make it “Not! Normal” for us.

We have adjusted too to the complete absence of night’s out at restaurants as well as afternoon strolls through the local mall. Gone to are out visits to the local gym, although to be honest we only manage to do this on cold days and that hasn’t been all that often this year. We do go for walks around the block but of late, we have found our strolls up and down the aisles of our local Costco more than making up for our absence from our neighborhood pathways.

What has become more of a routine than at any other time in the past is our four o’clock martini. It used to be five o’clock but we brought it forward an hour to give ourselves a little more time for conversations. This disruption to our former way of life has been pretty easy to handle but we both find it still very important to find time for each other. We read so much about the disruptions that come with being forced to live one on top of the other, but for us, with the work we do, this Not! Normal hasn’t been too big of an adjustment to make.      

There are the evening dinners on the deck given as how the weather has now turned distinctly warmer. Our friends in California continue to send us photos of the backyard grill and swimming pool and there is no discounting how jealous of them we become with each photo appearing in our messaging app. On the other hand, we can still laugh right along with them.

Our ex-neighbors and friends, the parents of the brewery owners, moved to Arizona and are reporting great weather there. We sometimes do a face time martinis with them, different from the past face-to-face, but not so bad!  There’s not much that mother nature can throw our way that we haven’t already experienced in the past and we too can laugh, perhaps more than others in these times (and we are not laughing at the seriousness of it all) that we too wonder what’s next.

America has taken a huge hit on its population particularly among the elderly and those with existing ailments as well as on its economy. But in the cycle of what historically has disrupted our lives for as long as history has kept records, we do know that this too will pass. When it all blows over and we come to terms with whatever appears as the new normal, we will adjust. Just today, for instance, Mastro’s in Thousand Oaks, California, will reopen and that is a huge win for society should your happiness include a great steak. So before the post gravitates to the maudlin side, let’s just raise a glass and reflect on where we all have come from and simply rock back and laugh. Is that all you’ve got?

Monday, May 18, 2020

The new normal; are you ready?

It’s been almost twelve weeks since we have been anywhere other than inside our Windsor home. Naturally enough, when we have left our home we have found barely-used backroads that extend our journey each time we visit the post office. Each drive has proved to be the highlight of the day. But not to push our luck too far, we kept those trips to a minimum even as we continued to shop nearby for basics. Meat, potatoes and vodka: The essentials, of course. But at least the weather has changed and we can enjoy dining alfresco. The occasion being celebrated above just happened to be the first time we took to the outdoors having seen off the last of springtime snowfalls.

We did have our lawn sprinklers turned on and we have witnessed our yard’s annual spring cleanup and the lawns have even been mowed. A sense of normalcy for this time of year, regardless! And yet, with so much being written about the “new normal” Margo and I cannot be the only ones wondering what this new normal might look like. What new experiences will we face and what new regulations will we encounter. Will we ever be able to just jump in the car and head out onto American’s highways? Or taking to the air for that matter, although as good friend Brian discovered during his regular commute to Long Beach that doesn’t look all that promising. Yes, that’s LAX with no activity to be seen.

The price of gas has dropped to unheard of levels and looking at the gas pump roll around, today I could barely tip the $20 mark to fill up the Jaguar. In previous times, we would have anticipated spending $50 each time we filled the tank, but then again, that was back when we could go somewhere. It’s still hard to fathom that gas is cheap, skies are clear of vapor trails and nights have become eerily quiet. No parties, no pub life and no boisterous get-together at our local restaurant. The new normal is looking rather dull.

The markets are telling us that they haven’t seen anything like this for many years. Forget the global financial crisis, SARS, 9-11 and more. Forget about oil crisis of the ‘70s and forget, too, the riots and protests that took place over these past couple of decades. Think instead of the great depression; a time we thought we would never see happen again. And yet, looking around our small city and at driveway gatherings of neighbors (all practicing distancing even as their deck chairs bookend eskies full of beverages) with cars whizzing by and couples out walking, it’s difficult to think in terms of normalcy.

It’s as if every time we go to the post office, there is a nice new Corvette C7 Z06 parked outside. This is the previous generation of Corvette where the engine is still firmly bolted into the front of the car. When I looked up the prices being paid for these cars with barely a few miles on the odometer (think US$65,000 for 650 hp / 650 lb ft of torque) it’s hard not to think long and hard about the variety of choice that still exists in these times. The only issue is that there isn’t anywhere you can drive these cars – all the track-focused clubs are in hiatus. 

     "Every Saturday night
    I felt the fever grow
    Do ya know what it's like
    All revved up with no place to go ..."

Thanks a lot, Meatloaf! However, looking at this shiny new toy sitting idle by the side of the road only helped fuel wild thoughts of what the new normal will look like. Will our garages just be used as longer term pantries and will our living rooms be turned into showcases for our cars, as things of beauty? I have often thought that garages should all lead to lower floor display areas complete with pub settings, big screen television sets and a myriad of ceiling lights to ensure no shadows fall on any of the cars on display.

Oh, what a lovely Nissan Sentra – when did you get that? And as for that Ford Transit, well beautiful! Your Honda scooter looks right at home next to the coffee table. As for color I see that they are all blue – is that to better coordinate with the backsplash you chose for your wet bar? On the other hand, a couple of outdoor deck chairs and a cooler and we should be right to go, don’t you think?

The new normal: Houses inside garages and garages inside houses! You can’t drive them anywhere so perhaps they do become works of art to be admired and talked about over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Then again, surely not! For a minority of the population this has already taken place but for the rest of us, will our new normal return to anything like we were used to? What’s more, will the primary purpose of our vehicles be to complete our daily commute to the office? Will we return to that competitive pursuit of an unrestricted parking space? As we begin to adjust to the new normal, perhaps none of this will be the subject of conversations at all.

What the new normal may look like is the prospect of bringing everything to us – our work, our education, our essential supplies. Why would we even need a car? What could possibly entice us to leave “fortress home?” Will we even need streets and roads or will these simply deteriorate further with potholes capable of consuming anything that comes across them. I recently posted a cartoon that depicted society transitioning from a predominantly cube environment to where, equipped with mobile devices, we transitioned to a working life that could best be described as free range.

If you are a regular reader of Margo and my digital magazine, NonStop Insider, you will have seen reference to this cartoon in our regular column, Social Media Round-Up. But given the topic of this post it kind of fits in well with the subject matter and as such, worth re-posting. What the new normal will not look like is anything related to how we went about our lives in the past. In the proverbial blink of an eye, governments have proved once and for all that society can be cajoled into change that otherwise would have been inconceivable just a month or two ago. It’s all for the betterment of society. Well, perhaps it is and perhaps it isn’t; only time will tell and by that, the passing of a lot of time.

For twelve weeks Margo and I have adjusted to working from home with few breaks. Ever since we created our company, Pyalla Technologies, LLC, we have been able to enjoy frequent road trips. Looking back through our calendars from late-February to mid-November we attended regional and international conferences, symposiums, events and yes, boot camps. Almost one a month for nine plus months! To say we enjoyed the escapes that these road trips provided us would be an understatement. These became the focal points around which we built all other planned activities.

Note to readers - we purchase in bulk and did so 

before news broke of a scarcity of meat due to COVID-19
Free range possibilities? To be honest Margo and I have been practicing a free range lifestyle for more than a decade. Camped in our former RV or residing in a five star hotel, it didn’t matter; WiFi meant we continued working. While out on America’s highways we familiarized ourselves with the restaurants we liked, and subsequently frequented, be they a quick bite at a truck stop or fine dining at Mastros. These days, it’s all Zoom even as we wait for news to break as to where we can find the best cuts of meat. The most recent trip took us to the big store, Costco, where we snagged (forgive the pun) prime beef, good Aussie lamb and a bunch of brats. The Holen-Buckle family will be dining well over the course of the next couple of weeks. 

Throw into this mix a couple of bottles of wine and a selection of Vodkas and yes, it’s fine to fine dine at home. We used to eat at home on a regular basis but it was equally as true that we dined out a lot. When it comes to new experiences, if we are to be completely honest, we can certainly make any necessary adjustments to be able to dine at home more often than we have done in the past. No worries on that score. Just as we can adjust to finding the longest route possible between our home and the local post office. However, what this boils down to is that life has changed and whether it is to be viewed as being a lessening of life style or simply a diversion remains to be seen. For now, Margo is only too happy to give the time we have spent together a big thumbs up!

Perhaps the biggest difference we have experienced of late is the difficulty in maintaining contact with family. April is always a big occasion for Margo as it is the month her daughter Anna celebrates her birthday even as it is in April that all of Margo’s grandkids celebrate their birthdays as well. We had always planned for multiple trips to the home of Anna and Erich but this year, there was a big delay. Only this past weekend were we able to drop of the gifts even as we had to sit at a separate table, the better to practice self-distancing. And this is where the new normal really hit home for Margo and me.

If we are now looking long and hard at what commentators are calling the new normal then we aren’t truly ready. Then again, can we call anything we are witnessing as being normal? Are we doing normal a disservice to all that normal implies? Truth is, we are forever changed and anything resembling normal will take eons to define itself. And when normality returns, it will do so at different time for each of us. 

Margo and I liked the past and even as we are doing our very best to make adjustments we keep asking ourselves, what new experiences will we face and what new regulations will we encounter? Even closer to home we continue to ask ourselves, will we ever be able to just jump in the car and head out onto American’s highways without a worry in the world? Given the look Margo gave me as I took one last photo of grandchild, daughter and mom, this new normal has a ways to go before we are fully at ease with the changes we have had to endure. I guess it’s a thunderous big no to the new normal and a silent plea that all we took for granted for so long isn’t lost to future generations.  

Friday, May 1, 2020

The journey and horizons never quite reached ...

A journey always has a beginning; a starting place, or even a starting point in time. Journeys have us excited with anticipation as much as leaving us dreading the thought of being away from home. There were times in our lives where we have stepped away from daily routines to go somewhere, anywhere and whether it’s visiting family and friends, attending a business event or simply exploring a line drawn on a map, there is always that moment when you start your adventure.

In business all too often we read of a company describing its business plan as a journey. At some point an idea flourished that developed into a product or service over time. Customers were won over by something unique, timely or simply an opportunistic way to beat the competition. Business journeys however are littered with detours and plenty of accidents. How often have we read of a business becoming a train wreck?

And yet, business journeys are spelled out in excruciating detail with an expectation that target markets will be impressed by our mere presence. Then again, there is always the pride a company exhibits whenever it talks - more than likely as desserts are being served - of its business plans initially being mapped out on the back of a napkin.

It is our lot these days to be practicing self-isolation. Quarantined behind the very same door we so often look back at when starting a journey.  The global pandemic has us looking for new ways to keep our minds active even as our refrigerators offer a depressing summary of the detours we are routinely making. Nothing but ice cream, cheesecakes, chocolate frosting and soda; ignoring the refrigerator has become an art form.

It is at these very difficult times in our place of abode when thoughts of freedom take hold. The freedom of the open road, seas and skies; it doesn’t matter your preference, but just the thought of taking those first steps away from the front door that we are longing to do.

From childhood, it’s been all about the open road. Family vacations up and down the coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Sedans, station wagons, caravans and holiday rentals! As a family, we did it all and I remember all so well when somewhere outside of Newcastle, dad’s Holden hit 90 mph on a straight stretch of road.

Perhaps he should never have done that as it made a long-lasting impression on me and just like Toad of Toad Hall in Wind in the Willows:

“Wonderful! Spellbinding! Outrageously magnificent! Was there ever such a master of motorcars as Toad of Toad Hall?”

It was definitely serendipitous that a column in Road and Track featured remarks by a motoring journalist about the nearby challenging roads and of how many roads he had driven that had made a lasting impression. Having just moved to Tennessee from California, he was finding the time to drive fabled roads for all those who enjoy the journey. Of course, one road connecting Tennessee to North Carolina stands out from all others. Deal’s Gap or as it is better known, the Tale of the Dragon.  Deals Gap is a mountain summit less than 2,000 feet high mind you, but US Highway 129 climbs and descends this summit in a series of never ending corners.

Margo and I have driven over the summit from both directions. First it was me handling the mass of a Cadillac Escalade and then it was Margo’s turn. Beginning our journey late in the afternoon and approaching it from the Tennessee side, Margo had the benefit of tackling these turns in our Nissan GT-R and I am still not sure how that all came about.

Nissan or Cadillac? Supercar or a truck? Didn’t really matter in the end as the journey entertained us both regardless of who was driving what and there are always photographers set up alongside the road willing to take photos of whatever passes by.

Growing up in the state of NSW, wasn’t all that unlike growing up in California. The only big difference is that very few highschoolers in NSW could afford a car or even lived in a family that allowed them to drive the family car. If you wondered what the significance of the Honda motorcycle (below) - it is almost identical to my first motorized vehicle. At a cost of AUS$250, way back in 1969, it marked the beginning of a journey that shows no signs of ending to this day.

I never did get a motorcycle license all those years ago as having a license meant that you could lose it for any offense. But a learner’s permit in those times you couldn’t lose, no matter what traffic offense you may have committed. As a mock cafĂ© racer, this Honda CB72 was equipped with clip on handlebars, rear-set foot pegs and controls, drum brakes that barely did anything at all and a pair of Dunstall 1 into 2 un-baffled exhausts, one for each cylinder; wicked!

For a small displacement motorcycle, it was very loud but it handled beautifully and easily accelerated to 90 mph. I know as on one occasion, with a passenger aboard (and with no passenger set of foot-pegs), I uncorked the bike on a trip down the Pacific Highway. Recklessness was the half of it but youth knows no fear.

The trip started in the suburb of Waitara, and the destination was just past Chatswood. It was a Sunday night and church had finished and it was the only means of transportation to take one young lass back to her home in Willoughby. However, as I passed the railway station at Turramurra I smiled as unexpectedly, the crowd that had just alighted from the train, all began cheering. Had to be the bike, right? Had to be my skilled execution of the difficult turn across the railway line? Well, not exactly.

As traffic lights at the next suburb, Pymble, turned red I dutifully braked to a stop. It was then that a Highway Patrol Mini Cooper S, with sirens and lights roaring and flashing, pulled across the front of me. “Didn’t you hear my siren? Didn’t you notice my lights?” Well, actually without a working rear view mirror (both removed, what’s behind me is not important, as someone once said) and an un-muffled exhaust, well no, I hadn’t noticed a thing … seriousl! Follow me to the Pymble Police Station as I am going to have to lock you up - but then the journey took an unexpected turn.

As we pulled away from the curb, my passenger wasn’t quite quick enough in lifting her feet off the road depositing her brand new shoes planted and upright in the middle of the highway. Without giving it a second thought, I executed a perfect 360 turn back to where the shoes stood, by which time the Policeman took another call and waved goodbye.

As for the court appearance and the subsequent fine, I had to commit to not ride that bike for three years, which by the time of the actual court appearance, I had already sold. Troublemaker? No doubt! At that point, I had discovered cars and bought my first one – a Holden Torana GTR. A precursor to Holden’s SuperV8s that soon followed!

It took a couple of posts on Facebook to remind me of this story and I just couldn’t leave out the most challenging ride of all. Cresting Macquarie Pass along the Illawarra Highway running between Wollongong and the Robertson pub proved to be an awesome challenge. Even today:

“The road is narrow, and for the most part has no center-line; although center-lines have been recently added in a couple of sections. The pass is quite notorious for accidents due to its nature, and drivers and riders are required to be cautious.”  

Every Friday night, motorcyclists would gather along Wollongong’s Crown Street and then head off south before turning west up the mountain. I had run a little late as I was still fitting new accessories to the bike but as I made it into Wollongong, watching the tail lights of other bikes disappear into the night, my headlamp stopped working. No worries, I would tackle this climb to Robertson – my first time ever on this strip of pavement – riding blind. I made it, but no beers that night and shaking like a leaf, I made it safely back down the mountain … who knew?

My time spent in Australia seems so long ago. Memories are fading; merely shadows in a distant past with little chance of recalling the specifics in any detail. It was the start of the journey and for that there is still a fondness for the Lucky Country that’s inescapable. My daughter Lisa has taken up residence in that off place so there will surely be more journeys still to be taken that will bring me back to Oz.

Journeys took on a whole new meaning when I arrived in California. As for challenging roads there were none more accessible than those along the coastline. Of course, Highway 1 – the Pacific Coast Highway – is an all-time favorite and there is no better way to enjoy it than from the seat of a convertible. I have driven it in a Mustang convertible, a Viper roadster, Vette Z06 and yes, even our  much-loved Pontiac Solstice. Each and every time it has been a different experience.

Then again, for those who are familiar with the canyons around Malibu, there is always Decker and then Mulholland Drive. Rarely an opportunity to travers Mulholland was missed and even as it crossed some major canyon roads, it was the drive you just had to do whenever you had a new car. There were photographers set up on the descent down to Mulholland’s famous Rock Store and after each drive, you always checked out the photographers’ web site to see if you made the cut. Which we did more than once: As for that Viper roadster, it was always able to catch the eye of the photographer if not the ear.

A lesser known story is that our plan to trade the Solstice for the Viper in 2008 didn’t come about as we liked the Solstice too much and kept it for quite a while. When it comes to our journey with cars, this proved to be a major detour as it marked the beginning of Margo and my retention of a total of six cars for an extended period of time. Who knew; it’s America and cars continue to play an important role in the lives of many Americans. Given the relative inexpensiveness compared to other markets, why not have options when it comes to beginning a new journey?

The Cache la Poudre River Canyon that starts in Ft Collins and takes you all the way up to Walden is perhaps our favorite summer-through-fall Coloradan journey. It’s about 100 miles long and closely follows the Poudre River. As for its name, Cache la Poudre River Canyon literally translates to "the powder's hiding place" or so we have been told. As for the Peak-to-Peak highway that climbs past 10,000 feet and traverses the mountains between Golden and Estes Park, it’s an absolute must in the fall.

Mulholland Drive, Tale of the Dragon, Poudre River and not forgetting California State Route 35 (or, as the locals call it, Skyline Boulevard) or even the drive to the top of Pikes Peak. Further north, there is the drive down the Simon Fraser River connecting the mountains of Alberta to the harbors in British Columbia; all of the journeys that come to mind along these beautiful yet challenging roads. The good news here is that it’s a big country and America has still many roads left to explore. And that’s just west of the Mississippi.

Thinking back on the many road trips Margo and I have taken has led to a desire to do even more road trips and in this time of sadness when so much around us is changing, we cannot help but think it’s getting close to when we can once again, venture out onto the highway.

Journeys do have a starting place and more often than not reference a point in time. But journeys do not necessarily have an ending. How often have we read of trips being about the journey and not the destination? It may surprise you that in business, even as we so casually reference the journey our company may be on, there is rarely any reference to an end point – business wants to keep on, keeping on (as the bunny reminds us each time he comes on screen).

American has always been on a journey. There has always been a sense of needing to explore. To seek adventure and to push the boundaries wherever possible! But did we ever experience quite the epidemic that has now so captivated us all? Historically, there have been much worse epidemics, but none of us ever lived through them.

It’s a new experience for us all. And yet, the thirst to go outside has rarely been slated and so, as talk of lifting restrictions and of changing rules to guidelines, then perhaps it’s a positive thing to once again consider hitting the highways and continuing the journey we all enjoy taking. Perhaps, it really does come back to whether indeed, "Was there ever such a master of motorcars as Toad of Toad Hall?”

Friday, April 17, 2020

The things we do for family …

At a time when social distancing has us hunkered down, it’s been a time for catching up with my family in Sydney. There is almost ten years separating me from my younger brother, Greg. Well, nine years and four months actually. There’s only a few days short of two years separating me from my younger sister, Judy. For as many years as I can recall, it’s been my brother Greg who has been the better looking brother, but with the passage of time, we are beginning to look similar.

In many ways, it’s as if our genes are kicking in and we begin to look more like Buckles and clearly of a lineage that we can trace to East Anglia, the mighty river Deben and to Woodbridge.  This particular river winds its way to the English Channel nearby to Felixstowe. Decades ago, I drove to the small town of Woodbridge where grandfather Reginald Victor had spent his youth before migrating to Australia. Having heard all the stories from him through the years the mighty river Deben left a lot to be desired.

On the other hand, there are other family members who see many traits influenced by my mother’s family. Of solid Irish stock, with roots going back generations and where at one point the family had an interest in the Royal George Hotel. Then again, the only references to such an establishment I could find was of a hotel of the same name to the south west of Wagga Wagga and in the township of Urana. Somewhere along the way we were part of the Clancy Clan, or so I heard as a child and to this day, Australia’s most famous bushman, Clancy of the Overflow, I have to believe had to be an ancestor.

Maybe in putting this short update into this post will lead to other family member enlightening me further, but for now, I kind of like the fact that Judy, Greg and I have ties to old Australia as well as to England and beyond … and when I came across this reference, it explained a lot –

Sir Cuthbert Buckell (or Buckle) was a 16th-century English merchant and Lord Mayor of London. He was born in Westmorland, the son of Christopher Buckle. He was a member of the Vintners Company of London. 

Not so much the reference to being the Lord Mayor of London, but rather, his membership of the Vintners Company of London –

… the Company gained a monopoly over wine imports from Gascony. Also, it acquired the right to sell wine without a license, and it became the most powerful company in the wine trade.

Makes complete sense, as best as I can tell … a love of horses on the part of my Mum’s family and then an interest in adult beverages on Dad’s side: Horsepower and wine? Who knew! But wait, there’s even more to this story of family influence given the vocation to which the Buckle family spent their time during the twentieth century.

There exists a strong tie the Buckle family has had to printing dating back to grandfather’s 1902 Apprenticeship in England. With a starting salary of just one shilling (English) per week, it was expected of him to not only learn the trade of printing but to help out in the printers home. It was only twenty six years later that my father, Roy Buckle, began his own Apprenticeship for seven shillings and six pence (Australian) per week; so much for wage inflation. Dad would continue as a printer for the rest of his working life with the only exception being the war years in the 1940s. 

As the article above tells the story, there was more than dad involved in the paper, the Advocate, as he joined his father at this establishment before younger brother Ernie and then elder sister Irene followed him into what we now know was the precursor to the information age. This was a career that spanned 58 years and as I look back at his history with printing, I recall thinking of how I never wanted to work for that many years. Oh well; fifty years on and here I am still writing for a number of digital publications. What’s dad checking out? In his later years he was the only to be trusted proof-reading and correcting railway timetables.  

Graying and receding hairlines aside, the Buckle boys have a long association with Information Technology (IT), but of late, Greg has taken on the responsibility of managing a number of retirement villages. Margo and I had the opportunity to tour these villages when we were last in Sydney and it’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly. One thing did strike us both though is once Greg had found that a site had a kitchen it took little time to pass before he organized dinner socials.

However, in these times where we are subject to a changing world driven by a global pandemic we cannot escape, Greg has taken extra precautions not only for the benefit of retirees but for his family as well. To this end and to better ensure his protective mask did its job, he decided to shave his beard. Looking not unlike the shorn sheep that he showed us when we visited Greg’s wife, Robyn’s, family farm outside of Forbes in country New South Wales. Not in a bad way, mind you, but different nonetheless.

I have to admit it took a while for me to come to terms with Greg’s appearance even as I was unsure whether it was an improvement or not. However, I did understand the logic of it all. Appearance aside, I still couldn’t figure out whether this made him look older or younger. For as long as I can recall the Buckle boys always had beards!

Was it our country heritage and our ties to our Irish ancestors or did it have more to do with our possible ties to Westmorland with its close proximity to Scotland.

There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
                                                  Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms”

For the sake of completeness, there were stories emanating from the Buckle side of the family that alluded to previous generations as new arrivals in England simply because, as Huguenots and escaping France, seeking religious freedom seemed logical. However, did we arrive in England or did we come down from the Scottish lowlands?

Then again, Greg and I (as indeed did our father), liked the occasional wee dram of single malt whisky that originates in the Scottish highlands. Then again too we both enjoy the finer points of Rugby having both played for our school back in our teens. France, Scotland, England – maybe it was the influence of the Buckles after all that brought out the Rugby Mongrel in both of us. 

Horsepower, Wine and Rugby – did I mention Greg is as much into cars as I am and only recently came purchased a Nissan 370Z Nismo to which he has added a few touches? Yes, it’s all making sense. Not to put to finer point on it, this is where our paths begin to diverge. As was the case with my father, Greg is mechanically minded whereas the only instrument I know I can use with confidence is the phone.

Greg tinkered with early VW beetles, then Holdens and more and I don’t think that there is all that much that he doesn’t know about cars. During that last trip to Sydney, Greg did hand over the wheel of his car for me to take a lap of Bathurst’s Mt Panorama race track and at no point did he look comfortable with me doing the driving. And take note; I am only including this picture (below) as I think we can safely say, it may have been the only time Greg ever followed the 5 kph speed limit!

However, in these times where Margo and I have cars being fed by battery tenders with no option to take a road trip, I don’t think Greg is similarly garage bound as he is supporting essential services. On the other hand, he may be exempt from the restrictions in place. The demands on his time, overseeing retirement villages where the aging population must be at risk, may see him making the commute.

None of this should be taken at face value, mind you, as facts are hard to come by. But in these days there is just a bit of fun, indeed intrigue, wondering through the pages returned by your favorite search engine. When it comes to climbing through the branches of any family tree, it’s way too easy to end up going out on a limb. Lord Mayor of London? Clancy of the Overflow? In this instance, I am sure that this may indeed be the case and yet, plenty of opportunity to speculate, right?

And so it is, against this background, heritage and indeed tradition and in full support of my brother, I have followed suit and have shaved my beard. Ahhh, the things we do for family!  When it comes to going out on a limb, what can I say? The family has already voted but that’s a story for another time. All I am looking for now is any comments you care to make as to whether the beard comes back or I stay clean shave - what do you think?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Recouping, relaxing and ready for what comes next!

As dawn broke the other day it was a spectacular reminder that, despite our worst fears, the sky really isn’t falling nor is the earth coming to a standstill. Given all the headlines, including those telling us we are on a war footing and facing an invisible enemy, there is still beauty all around us. I am not trying to trivialize the pain and suffering many of us are experiencing other than to just take note that this too will pass …

Too simplistic? Too insensitive? Well, not exactly! Being a couple that survived a month on a Princess cruise in February with little more than a bad case of strep nevertheless, just two weeks later, we were diagnosed with the flu. In our case, it was only Influenza B and we were advised to self-quarantine for a fortnight but as that came to an end, we felt no better. Blood was drawn and x-rays taken but we look good (as far as that all goes) and yet, sad to say, we are a little more lethargic than we normally are at this time of year.

I wasn’t spending too much time looking to the east as dawn broke. Rather, it was a case of getting up early as our local big-box store, Costco, was letting in seniors an hour or more sooner than regular opening hours. Walking into the store we were stunned to see row upon row of paper products. The aisles were literally impassable as toilet tissue, facial tissue and paper towels rose from pallet after pallet. Wowie! Oo-aaahh, my precious!

Paper products, wine, coffee and even whipped cream made it into our trolley as did some eggs and flour. You know, the basics. If we are too hunker down for another month, we could at least bake bread, shake cocktails and pour wine and yes, have whipped cream on top of our home baked cherry pies. There was a quip made somewhere suggesting that whereas in the past, witches could easily be detected by pushing them under water – if it didn’t kill them. Today, in this environment, a witch can be just as readily detected - if they put on no weight at all! 

We have some very sad news. Well, at least on one front. While at Costco we stocked up on spirits – all the big bottles we could grab. These are the 1.75 liter deals so in went two Bullitt Rye, two Tito Vodka, Two Kettel One Vodka, Gin, Whisky, Vermouth and much more – dark cherries included. Did I mention cherries a short time ago? Well, we had it all until coming out of the doctors following our last check up, we got the call that we still had stomach / gut issues and back onto antibiotics we went.

Fair enough but then the penny dropped. With these antibiotics it would be ten days without alcohol! Just looking at it on the shelves was too much so we put it all away, storing it out of sight in a large drawer! Makes all of our diligence not to miss a deal on alcohol seem a moot point. But then again, we only have a few days to go – anyone near Ft Collins wants to drop by for cocktails? You would have to proactively practice social distancing, of course but we could shake a few!

Sipping a cocktail while nibbling on cheese and sausage tidbits, all very sensible! And did I mention, enjoyable? This has been a regular practice of ours since we finished our media room and bar. For a couple of weekends we have been binge watching programs from all over the place starting with popular series filmed in Australia before moving on to serials from New Zealand, Scotland, North Wales and finally London. 

Who would have guessed? Seems as though there are really good shows that are filmed in places other than Hollywood or Vancouver! As for favorite shows there was 800 Words (NZ), Loch (Scotland), Hidden (North Wales) and yes, Winter and Deep Water (Australia). Sure did make our self-imposed time of quarantine pass by quickly even if binge watching for a weekend without cocktails was less than ideal.

We continue to fare well when it comes to meals. Making bread from scratch just has to be done if for no other reason than to fill the void in our home with amazing scents. Margo has turned her hand to making pies, pancakes, Aussie scones (helped out with copious amounts of strawberry preserves and clotted cream) and yes, bread. It took little motivation by Margo to bring me into the kitchen at these times. You say fine dining and I say, pass the bread!

Who would have ever predicted that an extended period spent at home, recouping and yes, relaxing could prove to be this enjoyable? To put it another way, since arriving back in Windsor February 29th, we haven’t been anywhere else but at home. No road trips! No conferences or symposiums! No forays up into the mountains. It is such a sad and indeed forlorn sight to see a garage where battery tender chords are splayed all over the place. To think, spring is now officially upon us and the cars are all gassed up but that’s it. Silence in the garage as if the cars know that they have been sidelined indefinitely.

Whenever we do make something special it’s also an occasion to pull the cork from a good bottle of wine. On the occasion when pasta was being served we pulled the cork from a bottle of 2001 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I chose the 2001 as I didn’t want to disturb the 1997 and 1995 vintages we still have in the cellar. Did you know that in life, there is only one thing you should never plan on leaving to your kids - that being, your wine cellar!

Sadly, April is a birthday month for Margo’s family – her daughter and all three grandkids were born in April! Margo is filling a box with gifts but we are unsure as to whether (and when) we will be able to deliver them – social distancing continues as we make sure none of our bugs get to the kids! This weekend Margo was talking with her family - using Hangouts – not even close to being able to hug the little ones.  

Here they are during happier times, playing on Halloween!

On the other hand, during these times, having a well-stocked pantry is a godsend even if the stack of Coffee K-Cups rises from the floor and touches the ceiling. No way could we remain self-quarantined if we somehow managed to run out of coffee! We have always maintained a well-stocked pantry and I have often wondered was it really necessary but for now, I am so pleased that Margo always planned for the long haul.

It is a sobering time for all communities. No matter which continent you happen to have made your home, there are restrictions in place aimed at protecting each of us from this global pandemic. In my last post I only briefly mentioned coronavirus but now its impact on society as a whole cannot be missed. Practicing social distancing? I wonder what it will be like when it is all over?    

For me, there is comfort in knowing we have jams and preserves to see us through to Christmas, at the very least. However, sad to report, we have run out of Vegemite. No kidding – there goes the damper with Vegemite and cheese. Oh dear, we are doing it tough, I know, but then again, we really cannot complain as fortunately, as a couple, we do like spending time together.   

Latest favorite has been Apricot preserves with aged cheddar. Margo and I have kept an eye out for any potential overeating occurrence and to date, we have done OK. Then again, that pantry continues to be a strong drawcard whenever we tire of sitting on the couch, binge-watching a television program from who knows where. If only I could put into practice social distancing from the pantry! And our bathroom scales are out of sight having been pushed deeper into the closet.

Living in semi-rural Northern Colorado we have been buffered from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Barely had the sun come up then the golf course green keepers were hard at work preparing for another day of golf. Those enthusiastic golfers wishing to get in a morning round couldn’t take carts onto the course as social distancing was in force.

Watching them, scattered across the fairways, did bring with it a sense of normalcy even if anything normal could be associated with these times. And yet, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future even as we give thanks for being able to enjoy a sunrise. You just know that this one will be followed by another and then another … 

The biggest paradox of these times however is obvious everywhere you turn. In Colorado the price of gas has continued to drop and filling up the car can be done for less than $30.00. Premium gas for just a tad over $2 per gallon: Unbelievable! And very few cars lined up for their chance to fill up. In these times we have saved a proverbial fortune in gas having just topped up the tank in one car, one time, this month.

This week I was reminded of my family heritage. The Buckle family was always into cars – my earliest memories of my father were of him changing a head gasket on a 1930s-vintage Essex (look that one up!). At that time, his younger brother, David was living with us and my earliest memory of Uncle David was that each month, or so it seemed, he showed up with a new car. As for my other uncles – Ern and Ken – there seemed to be a constant parade of cars with Uncle Ern, in particular, fond of British imports!

What triggered these memories was news just arriving of my Uncle Ken turning 100. And looking pretty good at that; the Buckle family enjoys longevity and so I am constantly reminding myself that perhaps I have a ways to go and maybe that 30yr mortgage isn’t so ridiculous, after all. Having said that, I am only too pleased to send a big cheerio to my uncle Ken! As they say, now that he has batted his way to 100, he can go chasing runs …

The timeliness of this news from my Uncle Ken at this time was just another reminder too that even as we remain housebound, recouping and yes, relaxing thoughts of being ready for what comes next aren’t too far away. Cars may be on the driveway ready to go but so too are we. Temperatures have climbed into the 70s – maybe I should wash and polish the cars. Then again, snow is once again being forecast for the weekend. So much for living in Colorado.

What that next chapter holds for Margo and me isn’t all that clear as of right now, but one thing is for certain; not only will this too pass, but perhaps more importantly, memories of today will fade away replaced with new memories formed in times that by all accounts will be vastly different from anything we have experienced to date.

Stay safe. Practice self-distancing. And wash your hands!