Saturday, August 8, 2020

Where our road is leading …

Another road trip has been postponed. Planned for next month it would have taken us up into the North West of the country, to the islands that lay between Canada and the US. We wouldn’t have gone through Seattle or Portland, but otherwise it had looked to be a good opportunity to revisit places we like. Unfortunately, there were no guarantees that the bars and restaurants we wanted to visit would be open. Even as we have been stocking supplies to safeguard us, the time just wasn’t right. Then again, those storm clouds appearing on the horizon are hard to ignore.

The effect of the global pandemic isn’t visible at all here, where we live. When you read headlines from newspapers published July 24, 2020, for instance, decrying the visit to the US by a couple of Australian politicians then you cannot help but wonder. After reading that headline Two senior Australian Government ministers will fly to COVID-ravaged US next week
I stepped out onto our patio and looked around. Poetic license by that Sydney newspaper, or written with all seriousness? COVID-ravaged US?

Margo and I live in the village of Windsor, Colorado. It’s a small town just to the south east of the much larger Ft Collins. Our home sits alongside the local golf course where there is an almost constant stream of golfers passing by. It’s a bucolic setting that lends itself to peace and quiet and yet, apart from the self-distancing the golf course imposes all by itself, there are no outward signs that anything has changed.

And here is the paradox; as with many other countries there is tragedy emerging from a number of hot spots, but for many of us living across the west, where urban living is far less dense then no, there is little evidence that much has changed at all apart from facemasks, which we put on to enter a bar or restaurant (Colorado edict), before removing them once seated. Having said this we sure do miss our road trips and perhaps even more, our time together in our cars. This latest postponement was understandable and yet, there were still signs of nostalgia in the conversations that followed.

These days, even as we look around us at golfers darting furtively across the fairways looking to play their next shot, it seems like road trips have taken an unexpected turn for the worse and time on track simply isn’t happening at all. It was two years ago that on August 8, 2020, that I posted Ridin’ the storm out … Little did we know at the time that it would be our last outing in the Corvette.

The road course at HPR had become Margo’s and mine favorite track and we enjoyed many weekends away from home camped out on the parking lot. Track weekends had also been the catalyst for buying our RV, but again, it had always been about the cars. That last outing saw us dealing with a different cloud formation as a tornado made its appearance. 

Margo and I happen to live nearby a local craft brewery. Launched by Dan Miller, the son of our good friends, Jim and Dale Miller, we were uncertain over its fate in these times. However, there were no signs of a COVID-ravaged US as we spent an evening with the Millers even though to go up to the bar to order drinks, a mask was required. And yes, many of the tables had been removed so that a degree of social distancing could be maintained. Once seated, with adult beverages on the table and discussions covering almost every topic imaginable well under way, it was hard to correlate this to anything that appears in newspaper headlines.

All of which makes the postponement of this latest road trip more puzzling. Understandable, mind you, but still puzzling! Mighty River, as our local pub is called, is now a favorite and it’s worth discussing at this point the many favorites we have enjoyed over the years, be that road trip destination, the hotels and restaurants or even the cars. We have taken a hiatus from track weekends for now. Will we ever return to the track? It’s still far too early to contemplate the future without a track toy but then again, the passage of time is certainly reminding Margo and me of tour times on track.

For a decade we had packed up our car and headed out to tracks across the west and looking back, it was something that was not a hobby so much as it was a shared interest in being able to empty our minds from all that we had been doing the week before. Over that period of time, we had tracked a C6 Corvette we had supercharged, the Infiniti G37S, a C5 Corvette Z06 and the Viper.

HPR may have been our favorite track, but when it comes to which car was our favorite car then hands-down, the best just had to be our fourth generation Viper SRT/10. Then again, it didn’t have cruise control so road trips had to include regular driver changes but then again, that was a burden Margo and I were quite prepared to share. 

When it comes to favorite destinations we have pretty much seen most of the US and Canada. We haven’t been to Maine and we haven’t crossed the Canadian prairies opting to skip both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. As for all the rest we have driven through them, enjoyed the sights and bought the tee shirt. There really isn’t one destination that stands out as our all-time favorite but there are still many places we want to see.

As for roads then there was the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap (US Hwy 129), the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray (Hwy 550) and Mulholland Drive, California (not forgetting Decker). And then there was the Moki Highway, Utah (Route 261) that over the course of just three miles dropped more than 1,000 feet with 10 percent grades on a road that was mostly dirt and gravel. If you have to leave civilization, concerned over the COVID-ravaged US, then there are plenty of ways to get lost on America’s highways.

No topic featuring a ravaged US could be complete without a reference to the biggest bike rally of the year. It was back on this weekend in 2011 when our road trip home took us from Omaha and Minneapolis to Sturgis. Back then, there were more than half a million visitors to this sleepy little village of 7,000. You can always tell when this event is about to happen as the many groups of motorcycles passing us on the interstate highway were heading north.

This year, amid what some are calling the height of the global pandemic, the 2020 ride to Sturgis continued unabated although some of the planned activities were being scaled back. Expectations were that this year, the crowd would be cut in half but even so, there was no mandatory order to wear masks. And let’s be serious; who among us would want to challenge that many bikers. It came as no surprise then that our friends, the Millers, made it to the event as they trekked across the northern states on their way to Indiana.

As for their son Dan he opened up his Mighty River bar to a local radio station. They were broadcasting a pre-game broadcaster discussion and from where we were seated, it looked to be a lively affair. We never did find out the game that they were previewing but it had to be a local affair and here in Northern Colorado, there are plenty of sports still being played. A short drive to our favorite car wash saw us pass a local high school were the visiting team had been bused in and the game was under way. No spectators in the bleachers mind you, but then again, we haven’t seen too many attendees present for this game even at the best of times.

We hear so much about home field advantages. In cricket, the home crowd is often referred to as the twelfth man as the raucous nature in supporting its team cannot be ignored by any visiting side. It’s hard to imagine cricket, like golf, breaking any social distancing rules as the fielding side are so spread out and yet, there are still no crowds in the stands. Even as England played Ireland and is now playing Pakistan, it was all the commenters could do to instill a sense of excitement in those tuned into the matches. Seeing as we did the broadcast team at our local hunched around microphones as they were and without a mask in sight, well, it was hard to make out any storm clouds gathering nearby.

Our newly installed Weber grill is up and running but it’s not the only station we turn to for a sausage-sizzle. As we drove into a local burger place that we thought we could tap for a burger or two, we just happened to park alongside a C5 Corvette Z06. In torch red, no less and a perfect copy of the Vette we tracked during most of that decade of track weekends. We sold it last year along with the RV and trailer and who knew!

How advantageous having an RV would have been in these times. No need to worry about the absence of rest areas alongside the highway. No need to disinfect all the surface areas. And no, absolutely no need to be concerned about touching anything foreign at all – we would have been taking our home right along with us.

And this is the biggest stumbling block in the way of us taking to the road any time soon. Living outside of major cities and far removed from the COVID-ravaged US we are being warned about, Margo and I are still trying to make sense of it all. Our families express concerns about our activities – planned or otherwise – even as they are frustrated from our apparent lack of concern about it all. But then again, as we sit with our neighbors on driveways enjoying an afternoon cocktail party what else should we be doing?

The worst news of all happened just a few days ago. The magnum of 1993 Chateau Lafite had well and truly corked; a byproduct of the many moves we had made and of our inability to keep temperatures under control. Even so, we did have to snap off a picture as I tipped the bottle down the sink. On the other hand, the magnum of 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia held its ground and proved to be really good as did the magnum of 1997 Duckhorn Merlot. Fortunately, our driveway get-together ensured that there were plenty of thirsty neighbors on hand to share our two-out-of-three impromptu wine celebration!

Stumbling blocks aside and cognizant of the fact now that our last road trip was back in January when we took in the sites along California’s Pacific Coast, we really aren’t fooling ourselves. If you have read this post all the way to this final paragraph, rest assured we are taking this global pandemic very seriously. We have now been tested twice for COVID-19 with an early result in March informing us that we both had contracted Influenza B, but we are spending a lot of time at home. We are fortunate that for more than a decade we have worked out of our home offices, but all the same, like many of you we are social creatures who thrive on interaction with you all.

Where our road now leads, who can say? What car we will chose as we head out onto the interstate is still unknown but what we can say, we have never put less miles on our vehicles in all the time we have been married. Those clouds continue to billow as summer storms have erupted most nights but come sunset, the sky still paints a pretty picture. So perhaps, even as we all make adjustments to our lives knowing that returning to our former normal times might never happen, there will be less talk about the ravages of disease and more talk about how we all are keeping watch over each other. Here’s to many more sunsets yet to come!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Mid-Summer surprise and a pleasant one at that!

Surprises come in all forms. Sometimes it’s the uniqueness of the surprise while at other times, it’s the timing. An unexpected surprise is always a welcome distraction from the daily routines.  Just a few days ago Margo and I got to experience a very pleasant surprise and as for possible disruptions to our normal routines, well, we would just have to make do. No surprises here, as there really isn’t anything normal in this time of a global pandemic.

It was a Thursday afternoon when we texted our good friends Brian and Jan Kenny. They live in Simi Valley, down in southern California. I cannot recall the exact text that was sent but I suspect it had something to do with the arrival of our low platform bed. Moments later they responded with how they would like to see what we had just installed and without a second thought I suggested they come on by to see for themselves. Within seconds, they said OK!

Brian and Jan just love to fly and even though they had flown into Windsor once before it seemed to Margo and me that it had been ages ago. In the blink of an eye the response came back – surprise, surprise! How about we fly out to your place, tomorrow! And then the phone calls began in earnest. In business, there are many times where you do have to let your instincts take over and where you have to go with a program even if there is little data available supporting the program. And so it is maintaining friendships when all that is being talked about is social distancing.

The only real consideration that they had to give to this sudden development was the weather. On the previous occasion, they had flown south and well below any of Colorado’s 14ers. It would be this route they would take once again – over Phoenix, Gallup and around Santa Fe. However, the afternoons in the weeks’ leading up to this surprise had proved stormy and even as we talked on the phone, a quick look outside saw yet another storm cell developing.

Fortunately, the systems stabilized and we had an almost perfect three day weekend and watching as Brian landed his Cessna 182 at our local airport, we were still pinching ourselves over just how quickly this little endeavor had come about. Then again, the Kennys like the Buckles are never shy about making quick decisions. Recent experience in business left no room for dillydallying (yes, we have flights booked for a trip to Germany even if the likelihood of the event being held is in jeopardy), but there are times when you just have to make up your mind. And quickly: Spontaneity rules, OK!   

If the true purpose of the trip was to check out our new bar, then the trip had to be a success as we welcomed Jan and her Margaritas. We don’t have a swimming pool and we don’t have a hot tub but all the same, with or without paper umbrellas, the drinks Jan made certainly contributed to getting the day off to a good start despite the lateness of the hour. Somewhere, along some longitude, it was five o’clock somewhere.

Naturally enough, we had the neon in place that when lit, said exactly that. You may have missed reading the previous post so here it is again but this time, from a slightly different angle. And wait: We are now looking for neon that says something like the Bar / Pub Down Under as this is our downstairs outside summer-only gathering place. There is a custom neon vendor just down the road so a visit is now definitely in order. 

For some time now we have had house guests. When others may have been tempted to pull up the drawbridge and flood the moat, we had already extended a welcome to our dear friends Jim and Dale Miller. Jim and I had first met in the late 1980s when both of us were working at Tandem Computers. We attended the same introduction to Tandem courses for sales and marketing folks and while in Cupertino, California, Jim had arranged for a couple of rounds of golf on popular courses including Castlewood and Pasatiempo.
It had been Jim and Dale’s hospitality back in 2016 that first exposed Margo and me to the city of Windsor and following the sale of our Niwot, Colorado, home in 2017, we bought a home, then under construction, that was on the same fairway and not far from where they lived. They were adjacent to the tee box whereas we were adjacent to the green. No sooner had our home been finished and we had moved in, the Millers sold their home and moved to Arizona. However, with their families deeply ensconced in Colorado, spending summer in Colorado seemed natural enough when you consider how seriously hot Arizona can get at this time of year.

Having two families staying with us in the middle of the global pandemic might not appeal to everyone, but as it happened, both the Buckles and the Millers had been tested the week before and were given the all clear. A few days earlier, likewise the Kennys we given the all clear. You cannot say enough in these times about the sheer joy of having shared social interaction and watching the girls enjoying adult beverages masterfully mixed by Jan was not just a surprise but a circumstance that warmed our hearts. You just have to wonder though – and this is as much editorial as I care to provide – whether this nasty virus will be with us for a lot longer than presently thought and that any future social interaction involving friends and family are all going to require a doctor’s note before any festivities can begin.

Kind of reminds us of our childhood when heading off to school for the first time. On the other hand, here in northern Colorado you really have to look hard to find evidence that there was a global pandemic under way. For Margo and me very little has changed in terms of our daily routines. We still shop for food, visit the post office regularly and dine out occasionally. Yes, there is the presence of the ubiquitous face mask but even so, once in a restaurant, they are quickly put to one side. Pulling up to the gas pumps at our local Costco there is no requirement to wear masks at all as the distance between cars at the pumps is already well beyond six feet.  

No visit by the Kennys to our Windsor home would be complete without a roadtrip. Once again, it was a drive up to Estes Park this time, via an alternate, lesser used road. As Estes Park was absolutely packed, we decided not to hang around for too long, but rather look for scenic spots where we could pull in to enjoy the view. Of course, one regular stop for us whenever we have the Kennys here is the old church along the peak-to-peak highway. On this occasion we elected to drive the BMWs and they looked right at home in the church’s parking lot.

The Kennys have never driven the same car twice whenever they visit us. It’s a standing joke amongst the families that there will always be a surprise awaiting them once they step into the garage. While they had heard about our BMW i8 Roadster, this trip gave them a chance to put a lot of miles on the clock and predictably enough, over dinner that night, talk was centered on just how and when the Kennys might be tempted into acquiring one for themselves. It always happens. Cars were what started the friendship and it was our collective fondness for cars that fueled our interest in track days as well as long trips on different continents.

While we entertained the Kennys, grandson Colton Herta was hard at work piloting his Indy car around Road America. Coming away with a 4th and a 5th place finish over a double header weekend earned him the nickname of Mr. Consistency. With four rounds completed he was the only Indy driver to have four top 10 finishes including 3 top 5. This was enough for him to be in second place overall, but unfortunately, after the Kennys returned home, the following double header weekend in Iowa was eventful in other ways that ended up costing him a couple of places in the championship standings. There will be more on this in a subsequent post so look for a more complete update shortly.

 Food is a constant whenever we entertain the Kennys and this weekend was no exception. Lots of grilling took place even as we squeezed in a return trip to the 801 Chop House in Cherry Creek, just south of Denver proper.  Our new outside bar may have been the center for all social interaction over the weekend but there was just as much time spent hanging around the grill. A little bit of history was created this time around, as we grilled on our trusty Coleman propane grill for possibly the very last time. As much as this had been our mainstay grill while camping out in our RV, after three years it was time to move on to something a little more permanent.

We had hoped that our new Weber Genesis II four-burner grill would have arrived before the Kennys flew in, but it wasn’t to be – it arrived just after they left. This is a grill and the pictures may not do it justice, but this bad boy is 65” wide (1.651 meters for those who are metric challenged). During the construction phase of our home, we had made sure the builder ran gas lines to both upstairs and downstairs patios but the decision has now been made to install the Weber upstairs. By the time you read this hopefully the plumber will have been around to connect it to the mains natural gas supply. It really didn’t look right sitting inside the garage!

A good surprise is always something that you enjoy. Participating in such a complete surprise, as was the case with the unexpected arrival of the Kennys, is even better. Having other friends on hand as was the case of our current guests, the Millers, simply added more spice to the occasion. It was a fun weekend and one where business and the crisis in healthcare were put to one side, albeit for just a couple of days. But the biggest surprise of all was possibly the simple fact that even in times of a global pandemic, good friends can spend time safely socializing when steps were taken to test for the virus. And be clear of any presence of nasties.

One thing that needs to be said, however, as a surprise it provided a wonderful distraction even as we were neither careless nor unaware of our surroundings. Sensibly conducted, it’s good to know we can still have a little fun even as we know we can still enjoy each other’s company. Mid-summer surprises just have to be the best! Spontaneity has always been both family’s strong points and being able to respond just as important. When it comes to entertaining good friends, it’s good to see that the wings of spontaneity haven’t been clipped. It was only a few nights ago that we had our outside party lights installed and suddenly, our new bar was transformed into a Tiki Bar – one that we know for sure, the Kennys just have to fly back to fully enjoy. Yes “the Tiki Bar is open; come on in and open up your mind!” 

Friday, July 10, 2020

When you are in a hole and need to get out, stop digging!

Anyone care to guess who is in the hole? I am grateful to my sister Judy for finding and then emailing me this photo along with a couple of other photos that truly were a blast from the past. Given the nature of some of the other photos that accompanied this particular picture I can pretty much tell where it was taken and when. It was during an annual vacation the family took to Avoca Beach, on New South Wales’ central coast just north of Sydney and it had to be around 1958. I would like to say that my family should have always dug a hole for me, set me down in it and then came back for me later in the day just to make sure I didn’t get into any untoward mischief.

The arrival of this photo was appropriate for the times. Living far from any beach and tucked up alongside mountains any opportunity to just leave the house and meander wherever, until we came across sand seems rather at odds with our circumstance. While the news about the global pandemic streams into our home each night, the reality is that life has changed and I have serious doubts as to whether it will ever be the same. Short trips up the mountain are OK but more adventurous outings appear to be more challenging. Then again, I looked to be safe down in that hole and without a care in the world.

It was without thinking too much about the circumstances of our time that Margo and I headed to our Chase bank’s local branch office. The bag Margo was carrying courtesy of HPE wasn’t to hold misbegotten funds seized during a raid. We were not there to cause mischief but rather to conduct normal business routines. However, the very fact that we, along with several other patrons, all showed up wearing masks wasn’t something we could simply ignore. The photo opportunity just spoke to us and that brief period of levity was enough to ensure we really weren’t stuck down a hole.

Here in Northern Colorado, businesses are all going a little overboard with the way they are interacting with their customers. While Margo and I understand the new normal we are living in these days, we aren’t too sure that it’s helping our mental state all that much. Take for example the steps some vendors are going to as a demonstration of their concern over our wellbeing including doing everything they can to help us. Pulling into a gas station I couldn’t help but notice that if I called the garage while pump-side, someone would rush out and fill my tank. And yes, this could be seen happening at a pump a few aisles down.

With the cars we now have and gas readily available and still a lot cheaper than we have seen for many years, the temptation to take to the hills proves irresistible of course practicing social distancing (except when passing other cars). We tend to avoid weekend road trips preferring instead the relative calmness of weekday travel, but nevertheless, Colorado’s popular tourist attractions continue to draw a crowd. It’s always busy up at Estes Park for instance and the drive to Walden along the Poudre River, continues to attract the fishing crowd with barely a trickle of water left untouched by lines and lures.

What has also picked up are the many impromptu car shows for which Colorado is also famous. On our last outing, the Top of the Rockies Corvette club showed up and lined up in a parking lot adjacent to the Estes Park Police Station, they were hard to miss. No C8s for those interested in seeing the latest iteration of Corvette, but plenty from this millennium. Of course, Margo and I had to walk the length of the lot even as more Corvettes began arriving. For Indy 500 fans there were two Indy Pace Cars from different decades.

It all seems rather surreal to be walking the streets of Estes Park with our facemasks as we practiced social distancing. However, while everyone seemed to be consciously watching out for everyone else, all bets were off when lines formed at the lights controlling sidewalk crossings. Oh well, at least they got it half right, but all the same, it was a little off-putting so we didn’t stick around for that long. It seemed that there were many others prepared to dig holes for themselves and for Margo and me well, that was OK. 
The good news was that Claire’s Restaurant looked to be open serving patrons seated outside on their deck. For those who may not be familiar with Estes Park this is a popular destination if you’re looking to relax over a weekend brunch and on the many occasions we have made this our destination Claire’s has been serving two-for-one mimosas. On this latest drive into the town, we skipped brunch preferring instead to complete the highways 34 and 36 loop. Starting in Loveland and finishing in Boulder, the route never fails to deliver something of interest and the last time we drove it, we encountered big horn sheep. But not this time …

Part way up highway 34 there is a cherry pies store that sells everything from cherry pies and cherry strudels to cherry jam and more. On this most recent outing, we came across an impromptu gathering of Can-Am Spyder trikes or three-wheel vehicles or whatever. They are still hard to categorize but as the biker demographic continues to age, there is now a wind-in-your-face option for everyone! I know for a fact that Margo gets very nervous each time I encounter these groups as this looks to me like the solution to a question I am not sure I am even allowed to ask. Having sold our last motorcycle, what do we ride next?

The bad news here is that there are many options with vehicles like the Slingshot and the Vanderhall entering the market, but as tempting as each of these offerings may be, the circumstance isn’t quite right to begin eyeing the helmet, jacket and boots sill sitting in the garage. There have been other projects keeping us busy on the home front so perhaps Margo has a point in redirecting my attention away from the road. On the other hand I am sure I can find a sympathetic audience to my cause – if I am to stop digging and leave my hole I cannot think of any better mode of transportation bringing more fun to the equation than one of these cherry-colored trikes.

This past week we added a fourth bar to our home. We have arguably three bedrooms and four bars which raised more than an eyebrow among my family members back home in Australia. Despite my explanations I am not sure I effectively conveyed the right message but it’s simple really. On our main floor we have a small butler pantry and wet bar combination in the passageway between the kitchen and the dining room. And yes, we had a similar set up in our former home in Niwot so no real problems here, I suspect.

Also on the main floor we have an outside dining room where we eat meals during the summer months and there you will find a Tommy Bahamas’ rolling wooden party cooler that also serves as a plating area when cooking at the grill. Fill it with ice and it is the perfect place to store beverages and to keep meats chilled. On the lower level we have a proper bar that we use all year around and then there’s the recent addition of another serving bar on the downstairs patio that is again, for summer use only.

Even with this explanation and the comparisons made to our former home I am bound to get more questions so I will just stop digging, once again!

Practicing social distancing, quarantined in our home as it were doesn’t mean we cannot continue to grill. Fortunately we have ready access to superior prime beef in Colorado and so prime tenderloin regularly makes it onto the menu. Nothing like a tall filet mignon at day’s end! On the other hand, there are now plenty of real world sports returning to television. Watching the Indy Cars run around the Texas Speedway and then, just his past weekend, around the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit, I have to say it is so much better to see real cars again than those virtual cars of the previous months. Although, I have to say, I wasn’t expecting to see Kiwi V8 SuperCar champ Scott McLaughlin do as well as he did – two wins, as I recall.

Of course, our friends Brian and Jan Kenny have grandson Colton Herta back on track and after two events, he lies fourth in the championship. Here’s to an even better year than 2019 when he won three poles and two races as a 19 year old. While twitter is alight with references to HertaMania 2.0 – a reference to former times when his father, Bryan Herta, raced Indy Cars – it’s for good reason. No one expected such great results from the youngster as quickly as they have happened. But it is one picture of Colton that I really like and it wasn’t too long ago that I lobbied for its return – Colton’s Mohawk!

Yes, that’s Colton and I am not all that sure how I came across this photo. From the very first time Margo and I met Colton his grandmother cautioned us that he was very much a free spirit and coloring his hair and cropping it had become routine.  There is another reason for me to include this photo of Colton and it has nothing to do with racing or vacations or trips to the mountains. Reflecting on the direct impact of the coronavirus on us all and of the changes it has made to our everyday lives (to where we are gradually if not grudgingly accepting as our new normal), finding humor in anything at all is difficult.

By the time you read this post, Colton will be back on track this weekend at Road America where he will be competing in a double-header event and where last year, at this circuit, he secured the pole. Our best wishes go out to him for a successful and safe weekend.

It’s proving hard to simply pick out anything without risking offending someone – when did we get so polarized in the comments we make? The simple reason for me to look at this photo of young Colton, as I have done this week, is as a result of my sister also including one other photo in her email. You can say, it struck a chord. Yes, Colton; back in the very early 1950s I was photographed sporting one of the earliest renditions of a Mohawk! Check out, too, the attitude of one so young even as my paternal grandmother looks as pleased as can be. And with that, I will return to my hole as I am now ceasing all further digging!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Change is happening, gradually; is it time to end this show!

This past weekend we made the trip down to Boulder, Colorado. It would be a stretch to call this essential travel, but Colorado has been gradually lifting restrictions that kept us locked down for so long, so yes, there are more cars on the road. Given how temperatures had started to head well north of 90 F, and the surrounding lakes beckoned, it wasn’t just the presence of many more cars on the road as it was the abundance of boats of all shapes and sizes. And of course, there were plenty of caravans, fifth-wheels and RVs pulling out of driveways following a longer than usual winter hibernation.

It became quite a game for Margo and me to point out unusual cars as there were plenty of shiny toys to take in. Not clear whether there was a car show nearby but a mix of antique Fords, hot-rod Chevys and jaw-dropping exotica made for a fun drive down Colorado’s less frequented byroads. However, when we arrived in Boulder and looked up and down Boulder’s famous Pearl Street Mall, it was as if we had suddenly passed into the Twilight Zone. Virtually devoid of all foot traffic, it was a scene unlike any we had seen at any time in our twenty plus years of living along Colorado’s Front Ranges.

Looking west towards the mountains and over Broadway, seeing a car or two wasn’t out of the ordinary, but being able to take a picture with just one or two pedestrians well, reminded us of photos we have received from friends that were taken from the air. These photos highlighted empty airports and empty carparks alongside some of America’s most famous entertainment and amusement venues. It’s as if film-makers have descended on these popular venues, cleared them of all traffic all for that apocalyptic portrayal of a society snatched away. Bereft of anything looking like the usual foot-traffic expected at this time of year, simply walking along the Pearl Street Mall felt eerily unreal!

Boulder is a very big college town with Colorado University (CU) students usually flooding into bars and restaurants at this time of year, but the campus is mostly quiet. We have read that the gridiron coach is anxious to hold his first scrimmage for the year noting, as is usual at this time for the CU team, that improvements had to be made offensively, defensively and with the special teams. This left no doubt that the whole team really had to lift their level of performance before they achieved similar successes to teams decades ago. Who can remember the “Bedlam in Boulder” event when in 2001, a much lesser ranked CU Buffs knocked off the #1 ranked team in all of NCAA football - those dreaded Cornhuskers from Nebraska. Following that thumping big 62-36 rout, you couldn’t move on the Pearl Street Mall later that afternoon!

Students weren’t present in numbers but in a couple of places there were families out enjoying all that the Mall offers. There was even a lone street musician on hand to entertain those looking for something that would take their minds off the day-to-day worries that seemed to have infected all of us. Boulder was still one place where entrance into stores was being managed and face masks were universally being worn. Stopping for coffee at one small café meant pulling down the mask and as I was the only patron of the store, this was deemed OK so long as I stayed behind the clear plastic partition and maintained six feet of separation throughout the interaction with the barista.

I took the better part of an hour to traverse the length of the mall and I checked out a couple of the stores I regularly visit – couldn’t find a jar of Vegemite, mind you – but the unnatural mood of the place (with those melodious steel drums breaking through the morning’s stillness) left no doubt in the minds of any of the passing pedestrians. This show is becoming tedious and we all want to see change. There’s no doubt we have to move forward exercising a lot of caution, but the time looks about right to ease back into lifestyles we have all enjoyed for eons. 

The presence of a sole musician wasn’t the only visible sign of life, as we knew it. The bicycle tours around Boulder were starting up but again, with limited participants but overhearing the conversations, it was clear that there was an anxiousness to get started. Peddling along the cycle lanes so prominently marked in Boulder was further evidence that it’s really hard to hold back those who do want to take time to enjoy their time in Boulder. This is summer and businesses depend so much on tourism and with the student population not to be seen, just a handful of folks looking to cycle around the mall were a much-appreciated contribution to something that looked like change was beginning to take hold.

Coming so soon after we had driven to Estes Park and then just a short time later to Carter Lake, the uptick in traffic even to those much-hyped Colorado sites was a reminder that times can only get better. For those of us who lived through the eight days, 1,000 year rain and yes, the 100 year flood of 2013 thought that this was going to end Boulder’s popularity for some time. And yet, as road after road began opening up, the traffic gradually returned to normal and yes, laughter returned to the Pearl Street Mall. There was a cacophony of sound that would have easily drowned out the playing of a lone steel-drum and no need for football revelers for pedestrians up and down the Mall to realize that the trip to Boulder was worthwhile.

And yes, even as the crowds have yet to return, the beard is back!

When the job opportunity to move out of California and take up residence in Boulder came about, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The day I arrived for that final interview it was snowing and grabbing a taxi I wasn’t sure what to expect as we headed to the Mall. Just one street back from the Mall was the even-then famous restaurant, the Med, and that evening’s dinner, as the snow fell steadily, set the tone for the rest of my time in Boulder. There was a real buzz about the place with packed tables everywhere I looked and as the meals were brought to the table and as the conversations became even more energized, right then I knew I had made the right choice.

Sadly, unintended or otherwise, one consequence of this global pandemic is that news just broke that the Med, along with its two sister restaurants, would not be reopening, no matter the outcome of any upcoming return to normalcy. It was our daughter Anna that first broke the news in her post to Facebook and with this news it was as though a small part of the Pearl Street Mall experience was gone as well. But the Med wasn’t alone in closing for good as the Mall has lost its only Starbucks as well. People, music and the food have played such a major part in ensuring the Mall had been the highlight for visitors to Boulder and with the quietness of the day that prevailed, it seemed that the soul of Boulder had departed. It will likely return but it will also likely be different as there’s no certainty that the venue will come back with the same feel as it once had and that’s the hard part to take when you think of normalcy prevailing at some point.

We continue to work out of our home office. Margo has her office on the main level whereas my office in downstairs next to the bar, wine cellar and our new media room. Appropriately enough, we both muse, and as each day winds down it’s always my last obligation of the afternoon to mix a martini for us both. Closure for the day with a timely chilled glass seems right and with it being the height of summer it also means time spent out on our deck. The days are long with the sun setting after 8:30 but with the skies still bright for much longer as evident with golfers still making plays along the fairway. But even with the 40 plus mile trip to Boulder behind us, getting back to work didn’t faze us in the slightest.

The reason we took that trip was for Margo’s benefit. After a long period of closure, her favorite hairdresser had reopened and the timing couldn’t have been better, according to Margo. There was much work to be done she had informed me earlier in the week. The bleached blonde look became a memento of the past – a reminder of our February South Pacific voyage – and as we were heading into prime conference season, the more professional look was being preferred. Will we ever get to these conferences planned for later in the year has us keeping our fingers crossed but already, flights in and out of Europe are beginning to pick up so it’s really anyone’s guess as to how quickly the business community embraces this evolving normalcy we are all part of. As for Margo and me, we remain flexible and quite prepared for whatever happens.

With cocktails behind us and dinner about to be served, it’s still worth noting that the show will likely be going on sometime soon but yes, whatever course it runs, for Margo and me it’s evident that we, like most of you we suspect, will find ourselves being entertained with a brand new show. Hairdressing salons opening, cafes happy to serve just a few customers and cars filling the streets are all harbingers of changes still to occur but it’s always good to know, this show – the very lives we live – will go on and with that, stay safe of course, avoid touching MEN (Mouth, Eyes and Nose) and we should get through it all, together.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Make way for the masked bandits: cutting loose, with caution!

These are the worst of times. It is without reservation that Margo and I extend our condolences to all those suffering pain at these times. It would be a simple matter to skip over the hard parts and to make light of the suffering many of you have been put through, but even as I begin to write this post, it’s no longer a matter of making it through this global pandemic as it is weathering the breakdown of society. It’s impossible to ignore that for us living in the US, there is much soul-searching to be done and our passage will not be an easy one. And yet, as with any journey, Margo and I are confident that in a country as bountiful as the US, we will make it through and life will be a lot different to what it is today.

Perhaps it was HPE CEO Antonio Neri who expressed it best when he wrote to his employees of how:

“The events of the last week have been hard for me to process. I’m sure you’ve felt a lot of emotions like I have – anger, disbelief, sadness, grief and frustration with the systemic oppression and racism that still exist in our society.

“As a global company, we have responsibility to help shape a world that is equal for all people. Our shared beliefs include a commitment to unconditional inclusion, to advocate within and outside HPE for equality – it’s time to lean into our belief to solve humanity with humanity.” 

There is little I would want to add to the above other than to reiterate, the US is a big, magnanimous country and this is not the end but rather a beginning and like all beginnings to outsiders it can look chaotic. But even as there is ways to go, Margo and I are confident that as Neri observed, we will solve humanity with humanity.

Many years ago, Jimmy Buffet recorded the song, A lot to drink about:

Hey, have you noticed that the world has changed
That the news is all bad
Well, I think it's time for a song about that …

Among the versus are a few lines that rank right up there with being among lines I really like: 

Millionaires losing everything.
Hey, welcome to the other side of life!
There goes the yacht, there goes the Rolls,
But you, you get to keep your wife!

Followed by:

Now, Madoff made off with all the money.
And his clients are down to skunk weed.
Repeat after me, it's so easy to see
We're only talking simple greed.

Clearly these words were penned during the height of the Global Financial Crises but it’s all rather sad to realize how well they resonate in these times. As for our martini, which now you may realize seems to offer an appropriate segue within this post well, it’s a Campari Martini with a Lemon twist. The bitterness plays well with the Vodka, thank goodness and for now, just has to be drink of the hour.

But you, you get to keep your wife! Not bad, eh? No complaints from my point of view. But gradually even with everything that is going on, Margo and I are about to get of the leash. In the last post you read about our trip up the mountains to Walden, Colorado. This time, it turned out to be our first trip of the season to Estes Park. We have always enjoyed the drive up the canyon that follows the Big Thompson River, a tributary of the South Platte River.

After a solid winter with above average snowfall, the river was running high and by the time we reached the reservoir at Estes, it was clear that there would be a lot of tubing and kayaking once summer takes hold. On the day we drove to Estes it was announced that Trail Ridge Road would be opening and that the Rocky Mountain National Park scenic loop connecting Estes Park to Grand Lake, Granby and then back to Denver would be opened.

However, with plenty of ice on the road it will be a while before we venture up and over this pass – it is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. If you are in the neighborhood, it’s a must-drive 49 mile road of which 11 miles just happen to be above the tree line. Perhaps we will revisit taking this journey towards the end of July.    

To those readers who look for a car update, then let’s cut to the chase. This Jaguar F-Type never ceases to impress. We have had the opportunity to drive many cars over the twenty plus years Margo and I have been married but this one looks like it’s going to be a keeper. How often have you read of this happening? Still a couple of years away but it become cause for serious consideration as a long term sports car. If it wasn’t for the news of the Corvette C8 coupe then this would have been an easy decision to make, but then, who knows? In the past, however, we have made numerous interesting decisions concerning the cars we have parked in the garage.

As we walked away from the car park at Estes we were struck by how quiet the place had become. Very few people walking the street and even fewer places willing to take anyone inside for a meal, drink or trinket: Not like the Estes Park we know! Oh well, social distancing is still being practiced but the number of people we encountered not wearing masks was definitely on the rise. Then again, having time alone to just sit by the stream that flows through the township was priceless and we knew that shortly, all this was about to change. Even as we were happy to continue isolating, throwing further caution to the wind and cutting loose seemed imminent, indeed.

With summer on the way and the prospect of entertaining friends drawing near, it was time to start thinking about finishing the furnishing of our outdoor patio. We had the builder extend the concrete pour to give us more of a focal point and so, after much deliberation, the chairs and wood-fired pit arrived. We previously had a high top table, a hand me down from Margo’s kids, we wanted to work into the area and yes, we have a free-standing bar on order.

An outdoor mat has been rolled out and the big outdoor umbrella on order will be arriving shortly and with its assembly complete, it should lead to plenty of opportunities to entertain our friends in the fall. However, this is till all very much work in progress but Margo and I are looking forward to the first opportunity to fire up the pit and cook us some S’mores. As for the small Coleman grill upstairs well it’s looking like it’s seen its last days so a much larger Weber 4 burner grill will likely appear very soon.

And now, continuing with this posts’ abbreviated car themes, with summer around the corner we continue to capitalize on sunny days by taking out the BMW i8 Roadster. There’s nothing quite like it on the road and we rarely come across another i8. All of which is to say, we are now in multiple minds as to what comes next after all for those keeping count, it’s now ten months and we haven’t bought a car. Having said that, we took our BMW M4 Competition into the shop for a full service and while there we walked the showroom floor. Ahhh – temptations! But we didn’t give in this time.

However, it’s very hard to look past the i8. There are many critiques of this car who will tell you it’s lacking power and yes, the distance covered in battery mode only is not that great. To all of these critiques all we can say is that you are missing the point. This vehicle is a thing of beauty; a spacecraft that has landed in our driveway. When we bought the i8 coupe it took only a matter of weeks before we sold the Maserati GT-S as we no longer were driving it – all of our time was spent behind the wheel of the i8. Naturally enough, with the roadster the M4 and the Jaguar F Type are both getting a little nervous.

We may not be ready for S’mores and the grill is still to be upgraded but that doesn’t mean we don’t have time to grill and on this occasion, it was time to grill a true Aussie burger “with the lot!” Yes we ate these burgers with the local brew and I did manage to put the bun on top, cut it in half and then eat by hand. How else do you eat an Aussie hamburger? So, what went into this gastronomic delight?

There was the patty of course but there were also onions, grilled pineapple, bacon and an egg. Under the patties were lettuce, tomato and pickled beetroot. That’s right: beets, pineapple and an egg! When I was a young lad spending time on Manly beach it was a tradition to buy this burger and wash it down with a can of pineapple juice. Back then it was only available in cans and the combination made the trip across the hot sand and the blistering bitumen to the café, wearing no shoes, worth all the temporary pain we suffered.

Margo and I no longer head to the beach to catch the surf. For that matter, we don’t even head to the clubhouse for a round of golf. Spring continues to hit us hard with afternoon storms – not quite the ferocity of those we experienced in Sydney a while’s back – but all the same, violent enough to send the golfers running for shelter. On the other hand, with every opportunity that presents itself we head to the garage and take to the road. 

We still exercise a degree of caution with every trip we take and our masks are always at hand. On the other hand, with winter now long gone and the temperatures regularly climbing above 80, there’s nothing as satisfying as responding to the call of the highway. Our last road trip was back in January and that’s just too long ago to even suggest it was in recent times. So here’s to cutting loose and to that next adventure that always begins where the driveway meets the road!