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 …

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