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!

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 café 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?”