Monday, April 18, 2016

100 posts and still counting …

In case you missed it, a quick check of the label Buckle-Up, to the right of this post (you will need to scroll down just a tad to see it), reveals that the count of posts published on this blog has reached 100. For a blog that has seen numerous changes in its primary focus, passing the 100 posts is still a significant milestone and one that doesn’t need to wait another couple of weeks before being published during the first week of May.

The really cool thing about being the writer and publisher of a blog is that I can pretty much set whatever deadlines I like and this is exactly what I have doing since the first post, all the way back in May of 2008. A mid-month post therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of my readers. However, looking back at all the posts, this blog has been about the journey and rarely the destination – at times the locations and events may have looked routine while at other times it all looked a lot more glamorous. But we have never stayed in one place for too long and there was always something new just about to happen. As I wrapped up each post there was always a sentence or two on what was coming next!

May will be the start of my eighth year of posting to this blog and with more than 200,000 words now “in print,” I have covered many topics. The focus has always been to write something topical but if you were to group all the posts under just three headings, then they would likely include food and wine, travel and yes, of course cars. All three are topics where my exuberance, indeed passion, is clearly on display. But perhaps, most important of all, these groupings also highlight the shared exuberance and passion of Margo’s and mine – if it is truly about the journey then it has been a shared journey. 

Margo and I share a great fondness for food and wine, whether fast food from a takeout alongside an interstate highway, or fine dining on the Côte d'Azur, we have taken nothing for granted and have enjoyed every bite. One of our most memorable images? During a cruise of the Baltic, we stopped by a port in Germany. There were numerous food trucks pulled up outside the dock’s gates and one was selling smoked eels. For Margo smoked eels were a delicacy. 

As she took the smoked eel handed down to her by the vendor, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a seagull as it headed right for her snack. Timing it, as best as I could, I swung my fist into the air! Aiming for the incoming bird, of course, but I missed it completely and hit Margo on the side of her head. The look she gave me was priceless and totally unforgiving until she saw another patron suffering a worse fate – losing their snack to one of the seagull’s compatriots!

We have sailed on several cruise lines including Seaborne, Windstar, Princess and Norwegian as well as on a Peter Deilmann river cruise aboard the MV Mozart.  We have also been aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise, but once was enough, – we were part of the first ever reported outbreak of the Norovirus (Norwalk Virus) and the less said about that the better. We have sailed on four and five mastered schooners and on one, we sailed across the Atlantic where on our first evening at sea we ran headlong into a force 9 gale – later upgraded to force 10! We have sailed up the Mekong River and into Ho Chi Minh City on perhaps the earliest voyage Princess Cruises made up this historic river. And yes, sailing out of Venice on a Seaborne cruise where everything was provided from martinis to caviar service, a pleasure we will not forget any time soon.      

Eating smoked eel from a food truck was an interesting distraction but then again, dinner at the La Chèvre d'Or, high atop the Mediterranean Sea in the township of Eze, is a must for anyone visiting Côte d'Azur. Michelin Guide gives the restaurant two Michelin stars and as an integral part of a hotel, Michelin describes the restaurant as, “An exceptional hotel demands an exceptional restaurant! An institution amongst the eating establishments of the French Riviera, Le Château de la Chèvre d'Or.”

Margo and I have visited the restaurant twice - first in 2004 and then again in 2010. 
On that second occasion it was with good friends, Brian and Jan Kenny, when it was part of the 2010 Grand Tour we did together that concluded with a track day on Germany’s famous Nordschleife, or North Loop, of the Nürburgring! And on Brian’s fiftieth birthday, no less! 

We never did get to stay at that hotel in Eze but perhaps, one day. Instead, we spent several days at our favorite hotel in the township of St Jean Cap Ferrat, the La Voile d'Or. 

With a spectacular view from its front lawn depicted above even as Margo,featured in silhouette, enjoys a refreshment while checking her email. However, discussions of food would be remiss if there wasn’t any mention at all of the many nights where there has been fine dining in the Holen-Buckle villa. Our home, Villa Lyon, as we call it, has held center stage on more than one occasion as we have entertained friends. 
The kitchen, modeled on homes we saw in the south of France is finished in a very French blue and yellow color scheme and it’s a rare occasion for guests to stray too far from where all the action takes place. Then again, dining al fresco beside the grill remains our preferred location when the summer days turn into pleasurable evenings and it is just the two of us sharing a meal.

Just this past week, we enjoyed a magnificent 36 ounce bone-in rib eye steak that we charbroiled on the grill and for 2016, yet another sign that spring has arrived. The very next night we grilled a 3lb 
4oz red snapper that had been delivered chilled on ice (and not frozen) to our favorite grocers. Wonderful! But that’s really only a part of the story where chapter after chapter has unfolded. 

Whether it’s food cooked at home and shared with friends, a quite seafood dinner for two on Australia’s Gold Coast 
or simply a plate of sardines grilled to perfection in Monterrey, California, every journey requires a stoppage or two to enjoy the local cuisine and we have been most diligent in pursuing such a task.

Then again, dining alfresco alongside the grill and next to the pool remains our preferred location when the summer days turn into pleasurable evenings and it is just the two of us sharing a meal. 

Margo and I do enjoy a fondness for travel and early in our relationship, opportunities to journey to parts virtually unknown became an integral part of our lives together. There was always, or so it seemed, a chance to try something different and being the very late 1990s and early 2000s, our business travel gave us so many mileage points there were few locations we couldn’t visit. It became part of the Buckle-Holen folklore that with the arrival of Thanksgiving and with neither of us having roots in American culture, we saw no downside of simply flying to Singapore for dinner. True, it was to the same little seafood shanty on Singapore’s southeast coast where we would feast on a variety of seafood. 

Departing on a Wednesday night we would arrive in Singapore Friday morning where we would take 24 hours to recoup but by then, it would be Saturday night so off we would head for our dinner – mostly, combinations of chili and pepper crabs! The next morning, being Sunday, we would return to Colorado with very few of friends being any wiser – and yes, we did this trip more than once and enjoying all cabin levels along the way thanks to the many mileage points we each accrued on business. It’s only recently that we have acquired a taste for turkey at Thanksgiving, but we haven’t completely ruled out return trips to Singapore. Now we have grandchildren to enjoy it may be a few more years before we pull out the calendar and begin checking airline schedules. And yet, maybe it's more likely a return trip to London or Rome or Prague ...

However, it is really our fondness for cars and for driving that has attracted the biggest readership to this blog. From not simply having cars, parked in our garage, to where we like to drive them on racetracks across the western states was a very big transformation in our lives. Whether it comes from being denied access to cars in our former homelands or simply a way to let off steam, there’s been no letup in the types of cars that have found a home in our garage and then made it onto track. Even as we look to the next eight years and the posts yet to be written, there’s no sidestepping the obvious in that there will always be a car or two highlighted in posts to this blog. 

It all came about by chance. Over a home cooked dinner with a former colleague from our days at Tandem Computers, we were asked whether we took our Corvettes to the race track. Are you serious, we thought, how can you do that – we aren’t racers? And, naturally, isn’t it very expensive? Turned out, there were clubs for folks like us and so we joined. At the time we were spending a lot of time in Southern California where there were lots of tracks nearby and, after only a couple of weekends finding our way, we settled into the program of High Performance Driving Events (HPDE) put on by the National Auto Sports Association (NASA). 

The second chance occurrence came as we stopped by our favorite Starbucks in Simi Valley, only a short time later. “Do you race that ‘Vette?” came the question from a Starbucks patron. Sure do, we then responded, and that’s how we first met Brian Kenny. “I have asked that question many times of ‘Vette drivers and you were the first to respond positively,” he later told us. And the rest, as they say, is history. Together, both families have participated in NASA events including Sonoma, Laguna Seca, Willow Springs, Buttonwillow, the high speed Roval at the Auto Club track in Fontana, Spring Mountain Motorsports Park, High Plains Raceway outside Denver as well as that other Roval course at Pikes Peak International Raceway south of Colorado Springs. We have often vacationed together the last time was to Zions National Park where together we walked it's famous "Narrows."

We have learnt so much even as we have enjoyed every outing immensely – who would have guessed!  And in the meantime, found time to drive both of our ‘Vettes, the Viper, and even our Infiniti G37 Coupe as we progressed up through the ranks of the HPDE program. There are still plenty of new tracks we would like to visit, with top of the list being COTA – the Course of the Americas, outside Austin, Texas. But all in good time, of course, and as the situation arises. There’s really a third coincidence in all of this and that is visiting these tracks, mostly in summer and in the desert, led us to where our company bought an RV – now, the company command center. Taking it to customer, industry and vendor events has become a lot more doable (and enjoyable) as a result, and there’s no end in sight of the program that sees us crisscrossing the country every summer. 

I often think back to the cars I shouldn’t have sold and top of the list was my early 1975 Holden Torana SLR5000, but since a lot of what has been written in this post has been in threes, the other two cars would be the 1994 Mazda RX7, affectionately known inside the Buckle-Holen family as “the glove” because of its compact interior, as well as the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT/10. All of them brought smiles to our faces and yes, looking back at all three they were very much track-focused vehicles with the Torana proving successful at Mt Panorama, Bathurst, the RX7 winning almost everything (including Bathurst 12 hours where it totally dominated from 1992 to 1995) and the Viper? Well it won a lot (including dominance at the Le Mans 24 hours from 1998 to 2000). Again, across all those years, who would have thought?

As for the next 100 posts the die is already been cast – another business trip back east following several business trips to California. And while little has been said about the Vette, for as long as we continue to go to the track to unwind, lay down a couple of laps, it will continue as our go-to track ready vehicle. What more can I say? 

With that, consistency reigns once again – I am closing with a few sentences on where we will head to next. No surprises in doing this, I suspect, but for everyone who takes the time to read these posts rest easy, the next 100 posts will surely come and then, who knows, with a little extra time on my hands in say, four or five years’ time, the chapters appearing here may find themselves included in the book I long to write. Anyone care to take up the movie rights? Thought not – but the story will remain the same. As will the leading characters and with that, this chapter closes.   

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Yes, it’s the gypsy in me!

There’s no letup in the passion Margo and I share for cars and the open road. Any opportunity at all to set aside the tools of daily life and head down our driveway to connect with the rest of the world and we both jump at every opportunity on a moment’s notice. March, as is usual for us over the past couple of years, proved to be no exception and in fact, really was a continuation of February as the boundaries between months didn’t mean that we had to abandon a trip. Quite the contrary, no sooner had we pulled back up the driveway as February ended than we were packing up and preparing to leave.

Itineraries have always been subject to change. Our plans have had an element of fluidity to them for as long as Margo and I have been together. A planned trip to California or to Nevada can be aborted as we fly to Italy or Singapore – a circumstance that has happened more times than we care to recall. But it’s all been good clean fun and we have never regretted any changes that eventuated, no matter how far along with the planning we may have been. The call of the open road to destinations infrequently visited, along routes only vaguely recognizable is all part of what keeps us as active we are – yes, we are different from most people we know. And yes, our passions for cars, road trips, and sites that are located off the beaten track show no signs of letting up!

Well, that highway moon is calling …
But I'm like the wind and I just keep blowing free
Must be the gypsy in me

The garage today houses a somewhat eclectic mix of vehicles that in all seriousness I am not sure how they came together the way they have. There’s the Jeep SRT8, a Cooper S Roadster by Mini, a Maserati GT-S and a Corvette Z06; not forgetting the Yamaha V-Star 1100 motorcycle that is in urgent need of a major tune along with some minor repairs following a bad case of gravel rash. Four wheels or two, there’s truly nothing we like more than to be spontaneous when selecting a vehicle to drive or ride but when it comes to the month of March, the choice for long distance driving always comes down to the Jeep. It turned out to be the right choice as the weather turned nasty across the Rockies and on more than one occasion we held on while we experienced one wild ride after another!  

Itineraries do change. While there was reference to our next trip to Scottsdale, the original plan had been to head to Chicago, Illinois, and then on to Columbus, Ohio, for business. There were gatherings of the Regional User Groups (RUGs) for the NonStop community, but one of my clients stepped in and asked me to cover for him at the RUG meeting in Scottsdale instead. The late change meant rebooking hotels and what a surprise. Spring Training was underway and Baseball’s “Cactus League” was pulling in the usual crowd such that the price for an overnight stay in Scottsdale had skyrocketed. Ouch! Fortunately, our client stepped up to the plate, as it were, and covered our hotel expenses.

If the above pictures aren’t familiar, the trip to Scottsdale saw us arriving from the North East whereas the return trip would be by the North West. Mountain snow and the difficulties passing through Glenwood Canyon following the landslide covered in last month’s post, meant we had to head south on I25 to connect with I40 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where after crossing the rest of New Mexico and a sizable portion of Arizona we turned south on I17 for the final leg into Scottsdale. Driving through Arizona meant we could take a slight detour into Winslow, Arizona, whereas the return trip would include a drive through Death Valley.

Standing on the corner of Winslow Arizona simply called for a photo and yes, against the backdrop of Zabriskie Point, a picture of Margo framed against an otherworldly landscape just had to be snapped. Winslow was saddened of course by the passing of the Eagles founding member, Glenn Frey. It was Frey who helped out Jackson Browne complete the song, Take it Easy that starts one verse with

Well, I'm a standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see

and then completing the line with

it's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford / slowing down to take a look at me.  

Look carefully at the photo and in the background, between Margo and the statue, you will see that girl peeking out from the driver’s side of her Ford. As for Zabriskie Point, well that’s a movie Margo hasn’t seen, but I did when I was a wee lad attending Sydney University. Of course, as a result of our visit, Margo is more than anxious to see the film even if the reviews weren’t that kind.

As we returned to Boulder from our travels through Dallas and New Orleans we tiptoed between snow storms, the evidence of the most recent storm present everywhere we looked. As we turned into the driveway of our home, snow was still piled high around us. Turned out it had been quite the storm but it was also an indicator of much worse to come. Heading south to Scottsdale did take us away from the worst of the weather forecast for the mountains, but we drove headfirst into winds that kept us very much alert. For many miles we watched as the big rigs swayed between lanes on the interstates. On the other hand, as the temperature in Scottsdale climbed through 80 degrees F, we headed to the nearest air-conditioned mall.

In Scottsdale and Las Vegas, we enjoyed fine dining at Mastros – a stalwart for us whenever we visit a city where Mastro has a restaurant. Readers may be familiar with the glass structures that make up the $9.2 Billion privately funded City Center on Las Vegas Boulevard. In the heart of the center is Crystals, the retail and entertainment heart of the development, and Mastro is easily recognized as most of the seating is within the “bird cage” structure suspended over the lower floor gallery. Looking up from the restaurant, the glass roof reveals the Veer Towers, a condominium that lean away from each other in a somewhat alarming manner. Unfortunately, not everything in the center went to plan as the Harmon Hotel (yes, a planned non-gaming hotel in the heart of the strip) had defects during its construction and before it was opened was torn down! The only reminder that there ever was such a place is the road, W. Harmon Avenue that was rerouted through the center.

Our trip to Las Vegas was part of an ongoing evaluation of where we would likely set up our winter residence going forward. Still very much in the preliminary planning stages, our company command center looks to be the ideal second office and given the amount of time we spend in Las Vegas, not having to winterize, store and then “summer-ize” the RV seems to have an upside we are keenly evaluating. But where would we site the RV and how close to the strip would we really like to be? On this trip we headed far from the bright lights and deep into the desert west of the city. An attractive facility set up in Pahrump seemed a likely candidate, but after spending two nights 50 plus miles from the strip, we have ruled it out. 

Leaving Pahrump we drove through Death Valley and that was truly a wild adventure. When people refer to a desert bloom, we weren’t all that sure what they meant, but now we do. Even though our timing for the drive was just a few days after the bloom, it was surprising all the same to see waves upon waves of yellow flowers carpeting the valley. Seated on a rock and looking at flowers all around me it was hard to visualize Death Valley as a place early settlers feared but I rode a motorcycle through much of the valley back in 2004 and even though it was a couple of weeks past the end of summer, it was still very hot and proved to be a pretty miserable adventure.

We had taken the Jeep for a reason and I had packed our usual winter “protection” – shovels, tire chains, candles, extra bottles of water, etc. I was about to leave it behind but Margo reminded me that to date, with winter very much retaining a firm grip on the landscape, perhaps I would upset the travel gods if I changed the routine. The good news is that we didn’t have to touch any of it but the bad news was our return drive was going to provide an early indication that winters firm grip was about to tighten in ways we hadn’t witnessed in a decade. True, the desert bloom we had just driven out of was a rare occurrence but what was only a matter of a week away was going to be much worse.

The meeting in Scottsdale had gone well and even though it was a first for me in terms of giving a presentation developed by someone else, I was able to put my stamp on it and walk through the material as though it was my own. If we had complained about the high cost of hotels in Scottsdale, one of the contributing factors for us to take a closer look at Pahrump was that the hotels in Las Vegas were outrageously priced and then we realized it was going to be St Patrick’s Day, and when we did manage to make it onto the strip not surprisingly it was awash in green. 

While it shouldn’t have come as a surprise all the same, following closely behind a bus calling for “Quiet! People onboard being cured of hangovers” (check the photo) represented an escalation we had not preciously witnessed. Oh well … but it was St Patrick’s Day after all. While I cannot say that this was something we considered extraordinary or a situation that called for emergency actions to be taken, it was still surprising to see and we both wondered about which members of society would be inside the bus! Nothing truly prepares you for what you can see in Vegas.

I had lived through two previous blizzards – those of 2003 and 2006 – but nothing really prepares you for what transpires. My daughter Lisa was with me for the blizzard of 2006 and it was a time when Margo was out of town, settling into a new job that had taken her to Simi Valley. I had just picked up Lisa from the airport the day before and that afternoon, as we hit the stores for the foods she liked, a light snow began falling. It’s hard to describe but after two days, the wind whipped snow had climbed to roof height along the southern side of our home. Fearing the worst, and with all air travel to Denver cancelled, Margo rented a car and drove home so I faced the task of digging out a path for her from the road to the garage.

But the blizzard of 2016 came with a vengeance. No light snow but rather a wet evening as first rain descended, but then, with nightfall, heavy wet spring snow fell continuously through the night and for all of the following day. Driving was out of the question and a business lunch was cancelled. The storm eased and temperatures climbed out of the teens for a day and then another storm hit but this time delivering a lesser blow. All the same, we continued to dig out from the snow that was now piled high around us. Several pictures were posted to our Facebook pages but of them all, the one below tells the story best – yes, our spirits were definitely chilled by the blizzard of 2016.

Well, that highway moon is calling
like some lover from some other land

I've got the wanderlust
It's somewhere else or bust

That gypsy in me

These words come from a song by Bonnie Raitt we heard on the radio as we were driving between Scottsdale and Las Vegas and it brought a smile to both of our faces. Yes, the gypsy in me can equally be applied to Margo and me, and for good reason. The passion to drive and to see the land runs deep and shows no signs of ebbing any time soon. Even now, humming the melody to myself. April will be a quiet month for both of us as we ease into springtime but then, with May, as it will be with June, well yes, that highway moon is calling! And we cannot resist …