Sunday, December 11, 2016

This year’s last crossing of the great divide …

It was quite a quandary as we were getting ready to head back to northern California. We were to spend a week in the Bay area, first in San Jose and then, later in the week, Palo Alto. This is a trip that has become a regular occurrence for us as the major HPE event focused on NonStop systems (formerly Tandem Computers) takes place in November of each year. Restarted after a brief hiatus, this event has grown and it seemed it would set another attendance record yet again. Should we drive our BMW i8 and save money on gas or should we take the Jeep and be better prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us?

This time last year we had run headlong into a winter blizzard as we left Reno, Nevada, and headed into California. The forecast had looked reasonable – a snow front was moving into the Sierras west of Truckee, suggesting that Donner Pass would be problematic but we had just replaced all four of our all season tires on the Jeep with a fresh set and while not really a “sticker set” there weren’t too many miles on this set of rubber. As you may recall from the post at this time last year,
Yes, we have enough! the title of the post best sums up our experience. When it came time to head out of Boulder we elected to drive the Jeep. 

There’s a lot we can say about the Jeep. It’s now three years old and it has covered 80,000 miles in its short time with us. Mostly on interstate highways where we can still eke out a stunning 18 mpg, it’s as comfortable as any vehicle we have owned even as it is more than capable of handling anything we encounter. And this would be our last crossing of the great divide for 2016. The Jeep’s 6.4 liter “hemi engine” that gives us almost 500 hp (at sea level and that’s a 390 in old school lingo) never embarrasses and yet again, it delivered. We dodged a little early weather as the trip began but otherwise, it was smooth driving all the way to San Jose.  

There are times when you can call an emergency and there are times, well, consider it more of a nuisance. An inconvenience, if you like. After about an hour heading north on Interstate 25 and closing in on the Wyoming border, Margo looked at her hands in total astonishment. She had not put on her jewelry realizing all too late that she had left all her rings and other sparkling accouterments on her make-up table. With our home still on the market and showings likely to happen while we were away from the home, what to do?

A quick call to family saw to it that everything left on the make-up table would be securely put away but still a major event, meeting colleagues, with nothing that glistened. Wasn’t going to happen, was it!?  A circumstance that I cautioned Margo would only ever be accommodated once, we stopped in at the delightful old town of Park City, Utah. Without breaking the bank, Margo quickly found jewelry she liked and a dress ring was purchased. It was a crafted one-off and with a measure of relief, Margo was pleased that nobody at the event picked up on anything unusual about Margo’s accessories. Or, lack thereof.

At his time of year, driving across the salt flats that border the southern extremities of the Great Salt Lake, the weather can turn ugly very quickly. With many miles to cover before we pulled into Reno, we left Salt Lake City early only to catch the sunrise as we passed the Bonneville Salt Flats. Pulling into a rest area I was able to walk out to an expanse of water not usually visible at other times of year and took the photo above. After a day of driving across Wyoming’s high plains with little to see but its never ending expanse of sage bush, the picturesque vista that unfolded before us was perhaps the most beautiful landscape we had ever encountered driving across the salt flats.   

Reno was windy. We stopped by an outlet mall we had passed numerous times but it wasn’t pleasant to be outdoors. So we decided to check into our hotel and make our way down to the Grand Sierra Resort (GSR) and have dinner at Charlie Palmer Steakhouse. We had dined numerous times at Charlie Palmer at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas and found it to be a good steakhouse but in Reno? Well if you absolutely have to then it’s OK but it’s not a steakhouse we would recommend.

On the way back to Boulder we again stayed in Reno and on that occasion we went to the Harrah’s Steakhouse on the recommendation of good friends and while it was better than Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, neither held a candle to the Mastro’s steakhouses we have grown to really like. Then again, this is one of the real pleasures we derive from our frequent road trips – checking out the steakhouses along the interstate. If you really want a double cut pork chop with all the trimmings that’s grilled just right, then try the restaurant in the DoubleTree Hotel by the airport at Salt Lake City. It used to be a Hilton, but after the change of brand it maintained an overall high standard in its restaurant. 

The picture of Margo above was taken after we had just split a bone-in ribeye at Charlie Palmer Steakhouse and it was immediately clear to us that, well, it had been frozen long before it made the grill (as was the case, too, at Harrah’s) and for us, that’s a real downer. But it was enjoyable all the same and kicking back with only a short drive to San Jose ahead of us, we weren’t going to complain to anyone. 

Before we made it into Reno, somewhere out on Interstate 80 between Elko and Winnamucca, Nevada, we pulled into a rest area we had seen on previous trips and Margo pulled together an impromptu lunch. Good restaurants are few and far between in the miles that separate Salt Lake City from Reno. With cheeses, fruit, dips and some crackers, she did a pretty good job. The only real problem continues to be the wind and with the much cooler temperatures northern Nevada was experiencing, it wasn’t all that pleasant to be outdoors.

But we managed and we both took it in stride. Sure beats stopping one more time at McDonalds although, we have to admit, they seem to have got themselves sorted out and the fair was fresher than we had experienced on previous crossings to California. The conversations that passed between the two of us frequently returned to where we would prefer to live. Clearly, with grandchildren in Boulder, Colorado, there were going to be caveats. However, could we see ourselves living in northern California yet again?

From my perspective, I really do enjoy the many road courses that are easily accessible in California – from Laguna Seca to Sonoma to Willow Springs. All great venues, of course, and known around the world for their diversity of track layouts. And then there is the Auto Club “Roval” in Fontana as well as Buttonwillow at the lower end of the San Joaquin valley. Further up that valley lies Thunderhill and a road course we have yet to visit but we hear it is much like our home course here in Denver, the High Plains Raceway.

And then we arrived in the Bay. It only took a few brief minutes before our conversation turned to complaints about the traffic and about how rude and impatient the drivers had become. Everyone wanted to race and nobody gave an inch and as for speed limits. Forget about it … On very few occasions did this experience last all that long as over the next hill the traffic came to a complete halt as one traffic jam after another brought the aspirations of any young Mario Andretti to an end. No, not for us and all we could think about were the lines of a song about how you can never go back. Or perhaps, you can never go home. And no, perhaps we should reconsider our own Boulder home – something like, this house is not for sale!

It must have seem strange to our fellow participants at the HPE event in San Jose to hear that during the time before the event officially kicked off and again, after the event wrapped up, we still liked to walk the nearby malls. Valley Fair has grown considerably in the years we have been absent from Cupertino and when it came to the development across the street, Santana Row, well that too seemed to have expanded as well. But there was still time to grab a sandwich and to have coffee and of course, walking away from Starbucks on Santana Row, I couldn’t help but notice the cup of iced water alongside the larger-than-life chameleon which seemed more than appropriate as it had warmed up quite a bit since we first arrived. 

Could we live in one of the condos bordering Santana Row? In a heartbeat, in many respects, as long as treated it solely as our winter residence. There are still the grandchildren, remember, and Colorado in summer is still a magnificent place with late spring and early fall among the most colorful places in all of North America. But then again, with car yards featuring every known manufacturer, stretching for miles along Steven’s Creek, surely that would be an attraction in and of itself? Wasn’t it these showrooms that enticed Margo and me to buy our first real cars – a BMW 540i for Margo and then not that much later an RX7 twin turbo for me? The times, they are a changing, unfortunately, and the lines of cars stationary on Steven’s Creek Boulevard put a quick end to any such thoughts.

Having caught up with colleagues in Palo Alto and having stopped by Margo’s niece who so kindly gave us an escorted tour of Apple’s current Cupertino headquarters (including an evening meal in the Apple cafeteria), we headed out to Sacramento. There would be one last stop to catch up with dear friends who really were the instigators in my making a permanent move to America back in the early 1980s, Larry and Kathleen Lynch (creators of the CIMS job accounting solutions eventually purchased by IBM and now a part of Tivoli). As for the remainder of the trip, it was incident free and pulling back into the garage of our Boulder home, almost 3,000 miles later, the cloud of uncertainty seemed to come down a little lower as we mulled over what was really going to happen.

Starting the fourth year of having our home on the market we have been asking ourselves, would we ever find a family that would enjoy our home as much as we have? Looks like it may never happen but then again, second prize isn’t all that bad; we get to live in our home and will definitely enjoy the coming winter months. On that note, I raise a glass to everyone and wish them the best of Christmases yet to come. Cheers to all our dear friends, colleagues and family and our best wishes for the New Year!