Monday, October 14, 2019

Fall is coming … winter to follow, shortly!

What else can we say; bathed in sunlight one moment and then, in a matter of hours the temperature nosedives fifty degrees Fahrenheit and just like that the chill winds from the north arrive and snow follows. When we built our Windsor home we made sure we had fireplaces on both levels – real gas ones and not those decorative electric showpieces. Their backup batteries work just fine should we lose power, but fingers crossed in that regard; should we have had a couple of gas lamps installed while the contractors pulled all the lines?

Margo and I enjoy living in Colorado as it’s not just colorful but you do get to experience all four seasons and contrary to popular belief, when the snow falls it rarely accumulates to any extent and as a storm front passes we know with a certainty that give it a couple of days and it will be sunny again. Any reminders of the snow that just fell will only be visible in mounds piled high by the graders clearing shopping center car parks. I think the last memorable snow incident was way back in the winter of 2006 when three blizzards in a row hit Colorado’s front ranges and the accumulation saw snow piled higher than the roofline of our former home in Niwot.

I was reminded of this as it was one Christmas that my daughter Lisa spent with us and on her very first day, having picked her up from Denver’s airport, we drove to Niwot village only to be greeted with snow flurries. Let’s be quick about it, I said at the time as I have a bad feeling about this. Sure enough, by nightfall the first blizzard had arrived. Margo was in Simi Valley, but after three blizzards hitting us all flights to Denver were cancelled and with Christmas only a couple of days away, she rented a car and drove back weaving her way in-between storms across the Rockies. She made it in time. Yes, Fall is coming and winter will follow shortly.

Now, look at the difference – snow overnight changed the landscape completely. From eight degrees Fahrenheit to barely twenty! We had business to attend to in Boulder and elected to catch an earlier dinner nearby in order to get home before havoc was unleashed and yes, even as we were seated and prepping to dine, the wind changed direction and picked up velocity. You just knew something was about to happen! 

With each fall we tend to spend time enjoying the foliage as it changes color but all too often we forget that these colors are just a harbinger of more dramatic changes ahead. That night, around midnight, we were awakened by lightning and heavy peels of thunder – yes, we were witnessing that much talked about thunder snowstorm or simply, thunder snow, as the locals refer to it – the initial rain turning quickly to snow as the lightning flashes continued!  

We are about to pack our car and head over to the east coast. This has been something we have talked about doing for some time. When we had the company command center, we had planned to take it across country with the thought of using the RV as base camp for two HPE NonStop events but ultimately, talk subsided even as we sold the RV. Now, free of the financial overheads that come with owning an RV, we can stay in hotels. 

By itself, that proved incentive enough for Margo to look at her schedule and as it’s been some time since we last caught up with the Rosens – Robert and Randy – it seemed like now would be the perfect time. A weekend outside Washington D.C. seemed like a good way to enjoy the last remnants of fall. It’s also the ideal opportunity to see how our Jaguar F Type performs as a grand tourer, given how our BMW M4 left a lot to be desired in this respect. As for the Range Rover - well, how about next trip!

Some of you may recall I moved offices this year – from the second (main) level to the first (lower) level. Some of you may even recall that in the process of building the first floor, we decided to locate the bar, wine cellar, “high-tops” pub and media room but this is purely coincidence. What I have been doing is slowly going about the task of decorating the room which has turned out to be a fantastic place to work and it’s introduced a new discipline. 

A clean desk; well, occasionally, as I respond to the urge of simply resorting to chucking everything away. But the result is pleasing as it’s also representative of me clearing out my mind, emptying it of all distractions, right? Naturally enough, this is something I routinely do – cleaning my desk, that is - and to be honest, terrifies Margo as we have no clue as to what made it into the trash can.

What has transpired this week prior to the arrival of our first snowfall is that our friendly and indeed reliable handyman we turn to for help doing almost anything inside the house, re-mounted and re-positioned some of our artwork, put up a new clock on the main floor deck, installed new hangers for towels and yes, installed shelving inside the media room that will house part of our DVD and CD libraries – remember them?

Little silver disks that hold lots of data, right? Not going to discard any of them as some simply cannot be found on streaming services. Freeing up space in my office also means that I will shortly relocate my library of Road and Track magazines – thirty plus years of them –to the office although not sure I have the shelf space. Started rereading older stories from journalist Peter Egan; what a hoot!

When I began posting to our business blog, Real Time View, I suggested in the post of September 24, 2007 What did you have in mind, eh? that:

“As for the style of writing you will find in this blog – consider it as lying somewhere between Peter Egan’s columns in Road and Track (Side Glances) and Cycle World (Leanings) …
“I am a huge fan of the anecdotal style of Peter Egan …”

Not much has changed on that score and returning to the many columns Egan contributed to various magazines, not to mention the books that followed, I was reminded rather coldly that my own blogging life started back in 2007. So long ago! The good news for Margo though is that I am finally out of her office and that has warmed the cockles of her heart. Yes, fall is coming with winter not far behind. 

There has been some discussion as to when we last passed through Washington D.C. and our best guess was when we attended one of the HPE Regional User Group (RUG) meetings held in former offices of EDS in Virginia. It was 2015 as we can best recall and we drove there in the RV. It was at a time when we drove from Santa Barbara to North Carolina’s Outer Banks with just a stop to repack in Colorado being the only break in our travels. We both agree that this was the last time we had seen the Rosens and as we worked our way through calendars, it soon became time to realize just how rapidly the passage of time is progressing.

We did pass through this part of the country again in 2016, this time towing the Mini as we planned to catch up with former colleagues at IBM, but the meetings didn’t go off as planned. Margo often asks me, how many times did I fly somewhere to meet someone only to be informed that day that the meeting would have to be rescheduled? With hindsight, more times than I care to recount, but then again, that is business life on the road. Airport lounges, hotel lobbies and business foyers - looking back at my business travel rarely did anything go to plan. Sitting in my new office makes me smile as I look back to those times not because I miss it all, but rather, because I don’t miss it.

This year has been tumultuous in that we flew back from Sydney, Australia at the beginning of the year. We then flew to Munich in March, Edinburgh in May and Amsterdam in July; three separate trips to Europe on business where much of the time was spent waiting. Separate trips in the US to Las Vegas, San Jose, Atlanta and Dallas where only the trip to Atlanta involved flying and it’s not all that difficult to imagine that 2019 has turned out to be a lot different to what we expected. Has Pyalla Technologies, LLC., become a “lifestyle company?” Not really …

However, what Pyalla has done for us has allowed us to enjoy business again and as we continue to celebrate the company’s tenth birthday – more of which you can read in the post of October 2, 2019, Ten years, and counting … working in “bizcations” when they make sense has definitely added to the enjoyment that being sole proprietors entails, giving us ample time to simply enjoy dinner out on our deck makes up for the multitude of sins that the passage of time has witnessed! Working too hard? Pushing the envelope and trying to accomplish the impossible? For Margo and I while we cannot complain there have been times when we wondered out aloud – what are we doing? Fall has arrived!

Unfortunately, even as we see the early signs that winter is only a couple of weeks away, oftentimes arriving in Colorado ahead of the calendar, the preparation for our roadtrip back east involves cleaning the Jaguar that was left outside. Looks like it did just fine and dusting away the little snow that the wind has left behind should be no problem at all.

Our state promotes itself as being Colorful Colorado and it never disappoints at this time of year. But there is a sense of melancholy all the same; another trip around the sun is about to be completed. “Remember all those things you were saving up to do well, the time has finally arrived,” Margo reminded me just a short time ago. “What are we waiting for now? It’s time to do those things we always talked about doing, so let’s put some adventure back into our plans for 2020!”

We had been talking about fall coming for so long as summer this year had been particularly hot and the prospect of cooler weather holding some appeal for us both. But as with anything that’s longed for particularly over an extended period, it passes by all too quickly. Margo and I continue to enjoy an evening martini and a glass of wine with dinner but it looks like these will be enjoyed in our downstairs pub setting. Nothing wrong with that mind you – the conversations remain lively, naturally enough – but as with all previous occasions when the snow first falls, it isn’t just a reminder that winter is around the corner, but rather musings on when exactly can we expect to see spring again?    

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Quite the year for Indy rookie, Colton Herta!

I cannot recall a time when I have thought about devoting a whole post to our Buckle-Up blog to just one individual, but now the dust has settled on his first year racing as a pro in the Indy Car series and Colton Herta deserves to bathe in the spotlight one more time this year. Oh yes, wouldn’t you like to know what is being talked about between father and son, above, but there is no denying the family dynamics have swung 180 degrees in a matter of months. No longer Bryan’s son, but now, when it comes to Colton, then it is Bryan who holds the distinction of being referred to as Colton’s dad!

And come a long way, the family has indeed managed to do in an amazingly short period of time. Our good friends, the Kennys, befriended us over coffee at a Starbucks in Simi Valley’s Wood Ranch shopping center. We did not realize at the time how close to royalty this new relationship would take us because at the time, the relationship was borne out of a shared interest in red Corvettes. Both our families drove their respective Corvettes and enjoyed many weekends out in the California desserts doing our best to imitate real race car drivers. Little did we know that it would be Jan Kenny’s grandson that would steal the show in only a few years’ time!
Of course, like every grandmother we know, stories began circulating that young Colton was a karting champ with an instinct for the winners circle. Indeed, as the family tells it, it would be Colton holding down second place during the final laps of his kart races until practically the last corner of the last lap at which point, he simply swooped past the other car to win, giving no opportunity for the car now in second to recover.  It would be a couple of years later, at the road course at Buttonwillow where Colton executed a last lap pass (with a nudge) to win and where Racer magazine reporter Robin Miller called Colton “the little assassin” to which Colton famously responded, on film that was televised, “I won’t always be little!” 

Royalty Check #1

Colton’s dad, Bryan, is indeed close to royalty status among the Indy family. It was Bryan who practically owned Laguna Seca, winning numerous races on that road course. Bryan dominated the Indy Lights series, was crowned champion and went on to win four Indy races. However, he may be best remembered by “the pass” when on his first outing at Laguna Seca and starting from pole, I recall, on the very last lap, Alex Zanardi passed Bryan as they entered Laguna’s famous corkscrew. Now it’s all in the past but for me, completing the pass by leaving the track just doesn’t count, but enough said, the results stand and Bryan’s fame only grew. Through into this Brian’s move to team owner and his choice of driver, Dan Wheldon, giving team Herta its big win in the Indy 500 which a short time later the team repeated, this time with Alexander Rossi as its driver and you see the status level Bryan maintains across the Indy family today.   

The most impressive part of Colton’s early career came shortly after he began driving open wheel race cars – racing in the Skip Barber F2000 series back in 2012 when he was still only 12 years old. Out of the blue and while driving home to Boulder, Margo and I took a call from Colton soliciting our support for an upcoming kart race. Even as he was driving in the Skip Barber series, the opportunity to go karting proved too tempting to resist and all he needed was just a little extra sponsorship money to make it all happen.

So yes, of course we were in and supported him to where his tires that weekend were courtesy of Pyalla Technologies “Track Days” – a reference to our own efforts and to this blog. Were we even thrilled to see our decals on his kart and have referenced many times since! But even then, all those years ago, Colton was fine-tuning his skills when it came to seeking out sponsors and gaining financial backing for his racing pursuits; today, I suspect the funding needed to get decals like those above plastered on his Indy car has gone up immeasurably!

However and here’s the thing; looking at him being “fitted” for his Skip Barber F2000 stead for the winter series 2012 – 2013 and then again back to the photo I shot of him walking to his kart prior to a big race in Las Vegas, he looks like a kid you would expect to find taking swings at a T-Ball game. But his goal of becoming a full-on racer has never wavered and the progress he made at an early age was as remarkable as it was inevitable.

Colton persisted and battled tremendous odds to make it out of karts and into the junior open wheel events. What was his record first up in F2000? With the Skip Barber series, he was very much finding his way and following twelve races he won just once but experienced four podiums. The following year, 2013, stepping up a class to Pacific Formula 1600 he participated in fifteen races, winning ten of them while adding six poles, ten fastest laps and winning the series. Yes, all while still only 13 years of age!
And yet, as you look at the photos included so far, it’s still all so innocent looking; being fitted for that Skip Barber ride, Colton barely looks able to drive such a vehicle let alone take it on track to compete with other drivers much older than him and yes, let alone attacking and winning on unfamiliar tracks. Margo and I have been discussing the age old “nature versus nurture” argument but ultimately it comes down to a very deep desire on the part of Colton to just go out and win. From the earliest exchange we had with Colton his career goals were very simply – to become a full time race car driver and to compete at the highest level.

Margo and I also discussed me writing this post as there were multiple story lines playing out. When he began competing in the F2000 series he had to sit out the first race as he wasn’t old enough to compete and for the remainder of the series, he just didn’t have a competitive car. Remember that, at this stage, there is no free ride and his program was being run on a shoestring, even as he was getting an opportunity to learn tracks that would later set the stage for much greater achievements.

It was during this time that he got an opportunity to fly down to Sepang, Malaysia, for a weekend racing in the AsiaCup Series. This was his international debut and the weekend proved to be a turning point as, in an unfamiliar racecar up against 20 year old racers at mid point in their season, he scored a win and a second on the Saturday followed up by two more podiums Sunday. Apparently, he then told family he needed to buy another bag to bring home the trophies! 

However, what followed can only be called extraordinary. For the following two years and at the tender age of 15 and 16, he left the US for England where he gained a ride with the Carlin group. To put it all in perspective, Colton drove for Carlin Motorsport – the same outfit that nurtured the early development of both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. Not only did he adapt to living by himself in a foreign country, although there were many family visits to help ease the transition, he started winning races; four of the last eight races to finish third overall. 

As for his competition, some of them are becoming better known to the rest of us as he began winning – having turned 16 he won 7 races, took 7 poles and was on the podium 14 times beating out the likes of Lando Norris (currently a McLaren F1 driver) and taking home the winner’s check.   

Royalty Check #2

Returning to the US for 2017 and an Indy Lights campaign, he connected with none other than George Steinbrenner IV – grandson of legendary Yankees baseball team owner, George Steinbrenner. George is a little older than Colton but not by many years and few people realized that the grandson had a real interest in race cars with a number of his relatives competing in the sport.
Colton and George had developed a friendship dating back to Skip Barber days so with George’s help a team was put together and Colton campaigned for two years in Indy Lights, finishing runner-up in the series at the end of 2018. His most memorable month was May, 2018, when he won all three races at the historic Indianapolis Speedway – two on the grand prix road course and yes, the Freedom 100 on the big oval itself!
As the end of 2018 rolled around and the Indy Lights program concluded and Margo and I having already booked the weekend at Sonoma to watch the final Indy race of the year, who just happened to get a ride in the big leagues but Colton! We just happened to time it right to see his very first race in Indy and yes, he was only 18 years old. 

We had parked our RV alongside the Kennys where a Herta compound of sorts had formed and on numerous occasions it wasn’t unusual to walk into Colton lounging on chairs, consuming lots of protein, playing video games and in general being indistinguishable from any other teenager present for the race weekend. And yes, we had the opportunity to be introduced to George as well - before he cut his hair.
A normal teenager that is, until they called for the drivers to participate in meet-the-fans to sign autographs! Yes, it was beginning to get very serious and with the help of George Steinbrenner IV, a deal was cut with Harding team owner to put a team together to race all the Indy races in 2019 – Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Originally, the plan was to field two cars but ultimately it came down to having Colton as their driver and did he deliver!
On the second event of the Indy schedule, a first time appearance at the Course of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, Colton surprised the world to win his first Indy race at 18 years of age! This was only a few weeks after he drove a BMW M8 GTE car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race that is part of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where as one of four drivers he won the GTLM class beating out the Corvettes, Porsches, Ferraris and Ford GTs. And oh yes, he set the fastest time during the race for his class.

What did Bryan Herta have to say following Daytona? “You always worry because that’s the nature of it, right? You have no control so all you can do is worry,” said Bryan Herta to Indy reporters. “But this was just such a huge opportunity for him to be part of this program with BMW RLL, and you know this was just a chance for him to grow and learn to continue to evolve as a race car driver. To win the race was more than you could really dare to dream, so I’m just very happy for him.” As for the win at COTA, it was Bryan talking to Racer again who said, “It’s amazing. Really super proud of him. Colton won the race — feels like Christmas to me.” 

Unfortunately, as for his Indy team during the rest of the year, they simply didn’t have the financial wherewithal to effectively compete with the major teams and he suffered from a number of Did Not Finish (DNF) results – six DNFs meant he only finished 11 races. However much of that was forgotten on the Sunday afternoon of the season’s last race at Laguna Seca where Colton had a perfect weekend. 

Colton had topped the practice time sheets, secured the pole position and, starting from the front led all the laps (except when in the pits for tire changes and gas refueling) to finish the winner. This was at the track where his father Bryan had achieved so much success, but when television asked Colton if the track owners should name some part of the track after the Hertas, Colton responded, “why not all of it!” Tight from the get-go, Colton had to fend off a pack of swarming bees and he did just that much to the chagrin of his fellow racers all waiting for a misstep to be taken. 

In summary for his rookie year, Colton won twice, secured three poles (probably most important of all), had 3 Top 5s, 8 Top 10s and led 144 laps, all as a rookie. He finished runner up in the Indy Rookie stakes and if it wasn’t for the DNFs – the most memorable was his last lap heroics on the Texas Speedway – who knows how the season would have finished. But it does beg the question when so many bonus points are handed out each weekend for things like pole, fastest lap, leading a lap and yes, leading the most laps, shouldn’t a rookie score a few extra points for winning as a rookie and securing poles as a rookie – after all, he only missed out on winning the Indy Rookie prize by 5 points!

Royalty check #3

Enter Mario Andretti. “The kid’s fast,” was one comment Mario told an interviewer after watching Colton become the faster Honda qualifier for the Indy 500. There is no question about the Andretti name or the heritage of the family. Under son Michael, it’s all been arranged. Colton will be a part of the Andretti team racing under the new banner of Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Racing and starting next year while still 19 years old, the future looks very bright for Colton and the entire Herta family.

Bryan Herta continues to be part owner of the Andretti Herta Autosports Indy team, where Bryan fields Marco Andretti so it’s hard not to notice the many connections with racing’s royalty. Whether you consider Bryan or even George part of Indy racing royalty as yet, you cannot deny the presence Mario has whenever he walks into any venue and oh yes, my time in the back seat of a Honda two-seater Indy Car was with Mario behind the wheel. Margo and I have not made any plans yet to see Colton race in person but then again we have never been to Indy so who knows what might transpire late May of 2020. In the meantime, if you lost track of the events and of the wins and podiums, this summary (that doesn’t include his time on track in Malaysia) may be a great ending for this somewhat unusual post!

Perhaps it’s fitting to return to Colton and to Mario when in a recent broadcast Mario left his script to talk about Colton. And potentially, F1 – seriously? I don’t believe that is on the agenda for now as I understand that Colton really likes being at home and having home be his base.

But then again, in racing, nothing is ever set in stone and who knows, maybe we see Colton and Lando going head to head in F1. As 2019 came to a close one thing we can be assured of though, Colton is no longer little!

Monday, September 23, 2019

One more sweep alongside California’s colorful shores!

There are trips we take where we just going through the routines and where the time away from home is dedicated to working with our clients. And then there are other trips where we continue to be very much business focused and yet the scenery we pass is inescapably beautiful. Margo and I spent many years living in California – both in the surrounds of Los Angeles and San Francisco – where the simple beauty of California’s coastline never failed to delight us. Of course, it helps when the weather lends a helping hand and for this trip, the ocean fog left us alone. 

Coming from Australia naturally enough I discount the beauty California affords those who visit its shores as there really is nothing that comes close to the golden beaches of Sydney, but then again, I am sure there are those who will argue fervently that California has everyone beat. However, with summer coming to a close, this trip was as much about where we dined and what we dined on as it was about taking in the sights, but then again, they proved too hard to ignore! As we made our way along the California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway, it became perfectly clear to both of us that this was scenery you could never tire of witnessing!

We had a busy schedule all laid out that involved us meeting with clients as well as attending a major HPE-sponsored event put on solely for the HPE NonStop vendor community. After more than four decades and following the decision by HPE that NonStop would be core to its future software offerings, there have been major investments made in NonStop, but this is not the post to talk about that aspect of our business trip. No, as the company planning division so vital to the functioning of Pyalla Technologies came to conclude, if we bookended our business activities with weekends, we would have time for a couple of leisurely meals with business colleagues and friends.

One of our dearest friends for many years now has been the Kennys – Brian and Jan. Even as our time would be spent almost entirely in Northern California, on this occasion we were going to make sure we had time to celebrate an early birthday with Brian and we started early with breakfast on the beach. As for the venue for such an occasion, the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach proved an excellent choice (and one we can recommend) even as it provided the backdrop that we never tire of, no matter what the events of the week had delivered.

Birthday with the Kennys has been featured in previous posts as in 2010 we were on track with them at Nürburgring, Germany and in 2013, we again celebrated, but that time, on the beaches surrounding Sydney, Australia. And tradition has dictated that celebrating Brian’s birthday wouldn’t be complete without a birthday dinner followed by cake! As we returned to spend more focused time with our clients in the Bay, I have to thank our company planning division which by now, if you haven’t guessed, is headed by Pyalla’s own Cofounder and COO, Margo!

If there was a theme that developed during this latest excursion to the West Coast it began on California’s beaches. Yes, this trip certainly became one where food and wine were the highlight. Up and down the coastline there are numerous villages you just have to stop in and check out … for no other reason perhaps then to sample the freshly roasted coffee many of them still take time to do despite the ever-present Starbucks green-umbrella flanked stores. One such little township we always find time to visit is Cambria as it represents the starting point for any tour along California’s most picturesque coastal highway 1 or, as it just happens to be, the best part of the Pacific Coast Highway.

In Cambria you will find Linn’s of Cambria that happens to be a combination restaurant, coffee shop and patisserie. It’s famous for individual serving sizes of various fruit based meringue pies. Lemon, raspberry and on this occasion, along with a traditional Rasberry Meringue Pie they were serving Olallieberry Cream Puffs so we chose one of each. If, like Margo and I, you aren’t familiar with the Olallieberry, it happens to be the marketing name for the 'Olallie' blackberry that is a “cross between the 'Black Logan' (syn. 'Mammoth'), developed by Judge James Logan in California, and the youngberry, which was developed by Byrnes M. Young in Louisiana.” Today, it’s cultivated by Linn’s of Cambria and if you want to taste one of their pies together with this puff, you will just have to pay them a visit.

For many years, a drive to Cambria was something we did frequently when we lived in California and the town changed little over the years. The eastern end of the town has come on a lot through the years but it is still the old part of Cambria we like the most and while we have only stayed there once, it is the Rigdon Hotel we can recommend – the rooms are massive particularly if you select one of the king size rooms! But Cambria is really only the start of highway 1 and it’s most famous home happens to be just up the road – the Hearst Mansion or should we say, the Hearst Castle!  

However, it’s not the towns or the castles that are the main attraction but the highway itself. As has been so often said in posts to this blog, it’s not the destination but the journey itself and to that end, it all comes down to the path chosen and while this is a reference to California Highway 1, it can never be referred to as the path less chosen. On any given weekend it is a major tourist attraction and following an extended period where it was closed to traffic, it’s recent reopening meant the lines were long but for all those in vehicles making this highway the feature of a day’s outing then yes, it was always about the vistas that kept on changing with every turn on the road.

And did we mention the bridges? They too just have to be seen to appreciate the work that goes into keeping this highway open for all. The trouble with this highway is that it is built on the very edge of basically sand hills and with each winter storm, each bushfire and yes, mudslides that inevitably follow bushfires and winter storms, devastate the road. On our last trip down under, we drove on a highway south of Sydney that routinely was affected in the same manner to where the solution became one where the highway was rebuilt on stanchions anchored to the seabed and away from the coastline itself. Unfortunately, this is California and I can only guess at the uproar that would come should California Highways try to do something similar to mitigate the usual almost annual rebuilding of this fabulous highway that is California Highway 1!  

Following my move to California in 1989 that eventually proved to be permanent, there wasn’t any opportunity lost or excuses made whenever thoughts turned to spending a day in Monterrey or in having lunch in Carmel. I have to admit early on it was always a stop by Carmel’s mayor favorite jaunt, Hogg’s Breath Inn. Clint Eastwood sold it back in 1999 but up until then, there was always the chance to catch a glimpse of the “Man with No Name!” The food wasn’t that good but as for the atmosphere, the pub certainly had its charm. But on this trip, we stopped by a pub that was down in the basement of a local mall off Ocean Avenue – Yeast of Eden. 

There is always a sighting or two of an interesting car and this time, parked outside an art gallery was an Aston Martin slathered in paint that for some looked artistic but to Margo and me, absolutely ruined the Aston. Then again, there was the usual mix of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys – the last mentioned in racing livery and representative of a time when Bentley was better known for its racing heritage. Then again, just up the road was Monterrey’s most famous attraction, right? I am talking about the road course at Laguna Seca that would be the home for a weekend of the last race on the Indy series calendar.
With business wrapped up in the Bay and the time with HPE at its new San Jose headquarters behind us, our drive back home to Windsor, Colorado unfolded without incident. For this trip we had elected to drive our recently leased BMW M4 Competition and while this car lived up to its own racing heritage, it wasn’t quite the grand tourer we expected. Removing as much sound proofing as BMW had done to help lighten the vehicle meant that on many of the concrete interstates we encountered we couldn’t hear each other talk. Then again, this had the effect of letting us take in more of the scenery as we did take roads a little less travelled as we made our way home via South Lake Tahoe – a return to driving parts of US Highway 50. 

We overnighted in Park City, Utah, which also allowed us time to walk along Main Street and to check out the restaurant scene. This time – yes, it was only our second time to Park City having zipped past it on previous trips along Interstate 80 – we found The Riverhorse on Main. A round of old fashioned followed by filets and then topped off with a blueberry cobbler well, what can we say? We have found our new best steakhouse in Utah! It’s going to be hard to plan future trips across Wyoming and Utah without stopping in at this Park City steakhouse. Even though the tables were all full, we enjoyed ourselves eating at the bar which surprisingly isn’t all that strange for us and a style of eating we have now replicated in our Windsor home. Stop by, when you have an opportunity and we will provide you with a round of old fashion cocktails as well!     
Before wrapping up this post it wouldn’t be fair or indeed appropriate given our travels if we didn’t mention what transpired for the Kennys immediately following our time in California. References to racing heritage without a pause for a quick update on the Hertas, the Kenny’s son-in-law Bryan as well as grandson, Colton wouldn’t be a good way to end this post. Needless to say, throughout the course of 2019 there has been numerous references made to Bryan Herta and his son Colton or, as they now are saying, Colten Herta and his dad, Bryan, but with Colton an emerging star on the Indy Car racing scene, it just happened that his star shone very brightly this past weekend.

From the time they rolled his Indy Car #88 off the trailer for testing, it was fast. Colton topped the timesheets in early testing sessions even as fellow Indy racers were a bit concerned about their own rides. Famous racers like Australia’s own Wil Power struggled initially, but not Colton. By the time official practice sessions began, Colton was in full control of his car and set times to match. But even so, testing and practice aren’t the real deal as teams test different setups and tire combinations. However, comes the time to qualify, Colton topped the time sheets again and landed his third pole position of the year.   

I will be writing a more complete post of Colton’s first year as a full time Indy Racer shortly, but suffice to say that in a year when the Rookies made their mark – four of them battled each other throughout the year – as this final race at Laguna Seca got under way, Colton was the only Rookie with a win and the only Rookie with three poles. P1 is important as starting at the very front of the grid means first sight of the very first corner and a chance to escape any chaos that might erupt as the adrenalin kicks in. While there were no crashes at the start, Colton demonstrated that he was going to be a force to reckon with during the race as he held his line and forced Kiwi driver, Scott Dixon, into the dirt. Not this time and yes, remember the Texas Speedway!

How did it all turn out? Well yes, Colton won his second race of the year – the only Rookie in his class this year to win a race, let alone two and yes, the only Rookie to be on pole and he managed that three times. So what was the reaction from grandparents Brian and Jan? Perhaps it was a fitting exclamation point to our time in California for them to send us a photo taken as Colton sat with his car and the winner’s trophy. And as the weekend news cycle continued, Colton is now part of the Andretti racing team and with that, who knows what will transpire next year. As for Margo and me, we still have a couple more trips to complete before 2019 comes to an end and yes, there are still many more restaurants to sample, but for this most recent trip, we definitely enjoyed times where we had our cake and yes, ate it too!  

Monday, August 26, 2019

The song remains the same …

I was reminded of this title when I came across a Led Zeppelin DVD – it’s the name of the video of a live concert by that group filmed back in 1973. A soundtrack album of the same name was released a little later, in 1976 – and it wasn’t long after that I returned to Australia and with each Christmas, I found a new Led Zeppelin album under the tree.

“I had a dream
Oh, yeah
Crazy dream, uh-huh
Anything I wanted to know
Any place I needed to go
Hear my song”

Even now, there are radio stations in some cities that do little else but playing tracks from these albums for commuters who are leaving their offices and drive home. Perhaps it is a little melodramatic to kick off a post with these words but the more things change, the more they stay the same or, to be more precise, plus ça change, plus c’est la même.

Before you move on to another post maybe it is a bit extreme to combine songs by Led Zeppelin with expressions by the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. On the other hand, this month has been rather traumatic if not indeed eventful as it most certainly was, life changing. Margo and I are on our second leg of downsizing and for us, downsizing takes many forms. On this occasion, it’s all about modes of transportation and from a high point where we had three motorcycles, an RV and an SUV, a car-hauler trailer, a sedan / limo, three sports cars and a track car, there are decidedly very large holes in our non-collection.

It all started with the return from lease of the big BMW 750Li (not sure why we ever leased that vehicle), then the sale of our motorcycles in the months leading up to our departure from our former, rather oversized, Niwot home. This past week however, saw a lot of movement. Yes, we sold the RV, the car-hauler and our track Corvette Z06. We now have an SUV, a roadster, a sports car and a GT. 

In the world of RVs there is a saying that you should buy your last RV, first. In other words, don’t work up to the RV you really want as buying intermediate models will see you burning through a whole lot of cash. On the other hand these same people say that there’s really only two events involving any RV that should excite you – the day you buy your RV and the day you sell it. Our motive for buying the company command center was twofold. We wanted a little more comfort trackside when we attended track day events and we wanted a vehicle we could take to major industry events, including regional HPE user group meetings. But suffice to say, I am neither handy with tools nor am I really competent to oversee a combination of vehicle and house that befuddles the daylights out of both Margo and me.

You want a hot shower while you have both A/Cs running? You want to make coffee while you have all the lights on and are working with your PC / Laptop? Power management becomes as much an art form as it is a science and guesswork dominates nearly all discussions followed by, “Well this should fix it!” Even so, Margo has enjoyed more cold showers through the years in the RV than during the early days camping by lakes or the mountains in southern Poland.

The main contributing factor to our misunderstanding of how things worked was also attributable to the fact that at any one point in time, three maybe four items we depended on were simply broken. We didn’t take our RV off the show room floor, drive it to a picturesque lake, and then sit there for endless days. No, we drove America’s interstates crisscrossing the country on a regular basis. In so doing, we shook to pieces nearly everything bolted to the chassis. 

Our good friends whom we met as a result of our track weekend jaunts are still very much our friends and more often than not these days, our travelling companions even if the things we do are not NASA events anymore. Following our return from Las Vegas and the big-tent marketing shindig that HPE throws each year for its customers and partners, we took stock of our situation and weighed the prospect very seriously, mind you, of simply planting the RV in Las Vegas and treating it like a second home. We sure do like the restaurants and every now and then, there is entertainment we like. It would also make it a short drive to the tracks where together with our friends we would enjoy the excitement of driving fast, safely.

However, last year our good friends sold their Corvette leaving us with the option of soldiering on by ourselves, but after doing so for just one more time well, it was simply no fun at all. Shaking martinis with no one to share stories with didn’t seem ideal. With this in mind, the decision took shape – should we sell our track car and if so, do we then sell the trailer and oh, by the way, could we find a market for our lovely company command center? There is an absolute truth that is acknowledged by all RVers and one that is likely the third important saying – when you buy your RV, it better be with cash you can afford to throw away. No magic here, RVs are a rapidly dwindling unrecoverable expense and should never be considered as an asset.

There is one upside from our friends exiting track events. Yes, these friends of ours are Brian and Jan Kenny whom we have referenced with regularity, bought an airplane and now fly here for visits. The good news too is that we welcome them with open arms with no intention whatsoever of following them into plane ownership. And yet, watching them take off led to us wistfully watching their plane disappear into the horizon wondering whether we too should take up flying. But saner heads prevailed and so, the RV has gone and the big rig is no more. 

“Any place I needed to go; hear my song!” Looking back at posts written this year I can recall the time in Sydney, Munich, Edinburgh and more recently, Amsterdam, Vienna and Budapest. Throw into this mix the trips to Las Vegas and to Dallas, Texas, and you see the predicament. For Margo and me, avowed non-flyers and avid drivers, well the options were pretty thin this year and planes returned to being our most frequently selected modes of transportation. 

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the time with friends and colleagues, on the contrary, we really liked the ease with which we slipped back into this constant travelling mode. We even came to realize that we don’t need as many bags as we had at first thought. And yes, always buy the cabin “adult beverages” option when travelling on Viking River Cruises! And as for my song, it’s neither a quiet lament nor a bold and rousing anthem. 

In some ways, it’s a whimper – we should have gone down this path a long time ago but like all RVers we know; stick with it, as yes, it gets better! Not! For a family whose first action whenever emergencies arise is to grab the phone, we became a family whose only path to freedom of the open road was paved with checkbook entries. Talk about the proverbial disappearance of cash these days well, we know exactly where it all went!

Ahhh – but did I also mention just how good it was to be able to roll into a campsite, press the button to automatically level the RV before dropping the support legs and then extending as if by pure magic, all four slideouts? After long hours behind the wheel focused on little more than what is ahead of us on the road, do nothing other than setting up for the night is true relaxation.

Hooking into 50 amp “shore power” and connecting to the water and sewerage services and then pulling out some chairs to watch the sunset – it was highly pleasurable, indeed. We saw the outer banks off North Carolina and we stayed in Zions National Bank where our RV was truly just 36 feet long. And a couple of inches! We saw the magical early morning lift-off by hundreds of hot air balloons in Albuquerque and we listened to the rains in West Virginia. It was a charmed life, sampling so many different worlds and yet, never leaving North America.

“Having recently given up boating, Toad's current craze
is his horse-drawn caravan. He persuades the reluctant
Rat and willing Mole to join him on a trip.
Toad soon tires of the realities of camp life,
and sleeps in the following day to avoid chores.”

From “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, perhaps one of the best insights into the delights of camping whether it’s under canvas or a 400+ square feet RV. At all costs, avoid chores even as it really does seem to be a craze among retirees to head for the open road at the wheel of an RV or caravan.

Perhaps you can put it down to the influence of both sets of parents as on Margo’s side, her Mom and Dad simply loved to go camping in the woods. As for my own parents, they bought a caravan, borrowed my car and drove it to a beachside town where they parked it, permanently. Visiting it each summer and then on weekends as time permitted, I think the thought of having a caravan as a second home influenced some of my early thinking. Eventually, my parents sold the caravan and I can distinctly recall how happy they were to no longer be in possession of a summer home by the seashore.

Our home here in Windsor Colorado seems devoid of panic of late – there is no surprise calls for immediate remedial actions to be taken with the RV. No new tires for the trailer and no damage needing to be repaired on the Corvette. All rather simple, by comparison! Then again, have we really given up track day outings? Have we decided rashly to offload a perfectly good track-day toy? We definitely have cars that can do double duty on track days but I am not all that sure Margo would be thrilled to hear me raise the matter. For now, it’s all a done deal – and by this I mean that yes, we are done!

We still have a large storage facility that we will be releasing shortly. We have cleaned it all out and together with all the items we found in the garages underneath our RV are very thankful that we have a lot of storage off of our basement. It will take a few weeks to scrutinize it thoroughly enough to determine everything that can be donated to charity – and there will be a lot no doubt – and there is still the small matter of the vendor taking away our RV as it sits awaiting pick-up. But it will happen very soon as we can’t imagine any agency buying it just leaving it with us …

One final thought. Summer is almost over and we are beginning to see the first signs of fall. Leaves on the trees nearby are already turning yellow and morning walks are being done wearing hoodies. Seasons come and go and change continues to happen with regularity. Perhaps it was time for a change and yes, perhaps simplification is as good as it’s cracked up to be. For Margo and me it really is the end of a chapter but even so, as for storylines, with the passing of chapters there is a similarity between them. As for the constant, well, its travel so now you will find us planning our next moved - figuratively as well as literally. Yes, definitely, when it comes to the two of us, the song remains the same!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Europe and yet another “Grand Tour;” traversing Europe’s heartland!

Over the years, Margo and I have ventured overseas on one kind of trip or another and looking back through the posts to this blog, there has been more than one occasion where we have declared the adventure to be a Grand Tour! This time around, that’s exactly what the tour company called it and whereas in the past we have written about our journeys in Europe as involving cars and trains, well, this time it was all about boats. River Cruise vessels of the Viking line were our primary mode of transportation and the timing was such that we were able to catch up with friends, colleagues and business acquaintances at both ends of the trip.

We are always talking about the need to live adventurous lives and this theme has surfaced in a number of posts of late. Truth of the matter is that the need to add a little adventure into our daily routines is very important as our lives these days are driven by the need to come up with fresh content. Our list of clients has grown and unfortunately, each of them needs unique story lines from us. Fancy that; you think the one story a month would suffice. Apparently, not – but not to take anything away from the challenge of supporting clients, it’s also provides us with a lot of fun and we are frequently rewarded with a kind word here and there. But adventurous lives call for adventures and 2019 has proved to be the year of adventures for Margo and me and no, we haven’t been enjoying a year of living dangerously and we are far from pursuing risky business, but the miles have begun to take a toll on us both. We are now officially dieting!

Our grand tour started in Amsterdam and just a canal or two’s distance from the Rhine River. One of the most noticeable benefits from being in Europe is that you can step out of your hotel room late at night and still find good restaurants serving dinner. On arrival we had had to rush as we were catching up with friends of friends who did a great job entertaining us and showing us a side of Amsterdam that was new for us and no, there we no lights involved. Just small lots, by the river, where Amsterdam’s apartment dwellers could retire to on a weekend and tend to their gardens! The simple dwellings erected on these lots were very basic and, in some ways, completely off the grid. And yet, they represented a true escape from city living and as such, in their own way, were a source of relaxation for those lucky enough to have scored a plot. 

We had made the decision to arrive in Amsterdam a full two days before our Viking River Cruise vessel was scheduled to pull onto the Rhine River. As seasoned travelers, we always consider it prudent to arrive a little ahead of schedule in case there were difficulties arising “en-route!” Turned out, it all went smoothly but only up to a point. On arrival in Amsterdam, passage through immigration was a nightmare and for whatever reason, it took us more than an hour to pass through the gates, but the relief was only temporary as Amsterdam baggage handling was experiencing difficulties such that it took almost another hour before our bags arrived. To think, we had been travelling for less than twenty four hours and already, we were exhausted. Then again, we were in Europe and we could eat at pretty much any time of night so it wasn’t all bad.

In the lead up to this trip, we had spent time driving around the western states of the U.S. as we had made commitments to participate in a number of IT industry events. We had elected to take advantage of our company command center, as this particular RV when all the slideouts were extended, provided us with 400+ square feet. Luxury, indeed! Now, fast forward to our lovely Viking River Cruise vessel – the good ship Gefjon, named after the Norse Goddess of the Plow, which Viking continues to refer to as a Longship - gave us all of 135 square feet. And this was an upgraded room with a French Balcony. Fortunately the layout was such that I could continue to work and each afternoon, hunched over the keyboard of my laptop I continued to provide unique story lines to my clients.

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Our departure from Amsterdam was just a few minutes shy of midnight and with everyone having retired for the night, I pretty much had the upper decks of the Gefjon to myself. Sailing out into the Rhine Canal on our way to join the Rhine River and standing, as I was, on the unlit sun deck taking in the sights as we slowly pushed our way upstream, proved to be challenging. It was cold with a light rain that gave the shadows an ominous feel about them – as if at any moment our longship was about to hit an unsighted obstruction. Amsterdam is rather rigid after a fashion, with plenty of rules that need to be obeyed, but standing on the sun deck at night on an inky waterway there was no escaping the somberness of the occasion. Being of sound mind and having seen enough, I retired for the night!

This was the third time that we had travelled to Europe in 2019. Only a short time ago we were in Scotland and a matter of just a few weeks before that, in Munich. For a family firmly committed to avoid overseas trips at all costs, we were faring pretty poorly this year. On the other hand? Adventures we have had, without a doubt, and at this point it is worth pointing out that with the business model we have developed, we have to pass on our thanks to all those at HPE that we work with as well as to our clients. Without these vendors, none of this would be possible! Now, having thanked my sponsors the reality is that even as these trips to Europe have had their upsides, it is never far from our minds that with each morning, there is work to be done. As we moved slowly out of Amsterdam, we were still able to publish our July issue of the digital publication, NonStop Insider where Margo continues as the Managing Editor.

We like to call these excursions abroad BizCations, and the phrase isn’t without merit. According to recent business travel publications, you may already be familiar with the StayCations and DayCations and BizCations simply represent an opportunity to explore new places even as business pursuits continue. They represent a welcome brake to the normal nine-to-five, working week routines (does anyone still do that in these days of the “gig society”?) and Margo and I have readily adapted to this new travel trend. We passed through a lot of locks  particularly as we made our way between the Main River and the Danube – a couple of which towered 80+ feet above us – and it reminded me that oftentimes, to get to where we next want to be, we need a bit of a boost to make sure it happens. We work, we play, we travel and on occasion, we simply just sit still. And on this adventure we did it all!

Having left the locks on the Main- Danube canal, it was the cities on the Danube we were most looking forward to as our previous attempt to sail down the Danube left us tied to the dock in Vienna, neither able to go forward or backwards with the Spring runoff rising all boats. However, before leaving the canal, we just had to visit the township of Nuremberg as it has historical significance. I had eaten Nuremberg sausages many times so it was a good opportunity not only to hear more about the town but to try Nuremberg’s favorite meal – sausage and sauerkraut, with a beer. With the old town of Nuremberg dating back to the Middle Ages and with clever fortification (it was never conquered), a lot of post war effort went into returning the city to its former glory and today, it is a must-visit place. And for the history buffs, yes this was where the post-war trials were held and where the former leadership was held accountable for the atrocities they instigated and oversaw. 

However, it was the opportunity to enjoy a side trip to Salzburg that really sealed the deal for us when it came to sailing with Viking River Cruises. Even as it required a two hour bus trip, who would want to miss out on visiting the city that provided the backdrop to the musical, Sound of Music. Our walking tour took us to many of the places, fountains and gardens featured in the musical even as we were able to walk by several hotels that could be good places to stay if the opportunity ever presented itself for us to enjoy an extended stopover in Salzburg. I know that there are family members who would have liked to have joined us for lunch as we dined in the world’s oldest restaurant dating all the way back to the ninth century but more impressive still? We were entertained by Salzburg soloists performing live all the songs from the Sound of Music.

One disappointment, perhaps? There wasn’t enough time to climb up to the fortress and walk its battlements. This was something I did back in 1983 and the views were spectacular. Oh well, next time. On the other hand this trip was planned in order for us to take a look at a small portion of Germany’s famous Romantic Road that starts in Füssen and ends in Würzburg – not a long drive by any stretch of the imagination for us living in the western states of the U.S., but one that takes you on a trip through history and for us, the road to Salzburg included many miles of this most famous road. What do you reckon? When it comes to choice of vehicle it will either be a new BMW i8 Roadster delivered in Munich (of course) or a wonderful white 1971 Mercedes Benz 450SL with burgundy interior. It will be a hard decision to make so stay tuned! Whatever path we go down, the Romantic Road is one bucket list item we would like to check off at some point before they take our drivers licenses from us.

Viking River Cruises gave us two full days to enjoy the sights of Vienna and we took full advantage of this opportunity. There is a back story here as the first river cruise we ever did was with Peter Deilmann Cruises on their sole river cruiser, the MV Mozart. Unfortunately, our booking was early April and that year, the snow continued to fall even as we set sail from Passau. We managed to get to Vienna whereupon we were advised that the river had risen to heights that prevented the MV Mozart from going forwards or backwards so, would we mind spending a week in Vienna? And oh yes, we will bring the music to you each night! Hard to resist, I know, but we had been looking to travel the full length of the Danube all the way to the Black Sea, but not to be.

Imagine then our surprise to read only a short time ago the Crystal River Cruises launched their river itineraries featuring a completely revitalized MV Mozart having acquired it from a now defunct Peter Deilmann Cruises. What was unique about this vessel is that it was built as a double wide river cruiser and that is why it could only sail on the Danube which features doublewide locks. However, don’t plan on booking any river cruises on the MV Mozart in 2020 as it is being rotated out of the fleer as Crystal add four new singlewide river cruisers to replace it. This is why we just have to tip our hats to the AMA river cruise line having just introduced their own doublewide river cruiser – the AMAMagna. We tied up alongside it and made our way through it to the dock and Viking shouldn’t have done that; in RV-parlance it was like walking from a modest Tiffin RV to a luxury Prevost RV!   

Vienna and then Budapest that followed were once again, absolutely wonderful places to visit. As the centers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire they had much in common at some point, a competitive thread emerging in the process. You build a palace and yes we will build one too! But for us, it was the Demel coffee house in Vienna that remains the highlight even as in Budapest, it was the citadel atop Buda. When it comes to Demel, don’t sit outside on the sidewalk (a recent addition), but rather enter the shop and find the passageway that leads back to a handful of tables all fronting the kitchen where chocolate delights are being created and yes, strudel, too, naturally enough. You may have to wait for the table but watching the craftsmen work their magic over rich cups of Vienna coffee (with whipped cream) and a Vanilla slice is heavenly. Not to mention, a great substitute for lunch!

We last visited Budapest in April, 2003, and a lot has changed and yet, looking up at Buda from the Danube, you could easily imagine it as it was in the nineteenth century. The skyline remains mostly unchanged with a new hotel springing up here and there. While not in the photo, the Four Seasons is the place to stay and if you have as yet not made plans to visit Budapest it would be our recommendation. It is situated across the river in Pest and remains one of the grand hotels of the region. In Budapest, the BizCation kicked in once again and yes, there is nothing better to do when stepping off a boat than to spend time with the locals and business acquaintances of ours just happened to have time available to show us around. The view from the citadel was magnificent! There is much more we could talk about but in reality, I will leave further coverage to other posts. Suffice to say, in closing, at this time of the year emulating our cruise is problematic. 

Leaving Vienna for Budapest we were advised that we were the last vessel to pass through the shallows of the upper Danube – requiring at least 290 cm of water under the vessel, we made it through with just 292 cm and yes, authorities closed the river to all vessels no sooner than we had made it through. It was a sad sight indeed to see vessel after vessel at rest in Vienna for the remainder of the season. Bus fares, anyone? Overall, this grand tour was one of the most exciting ones. Most of the time we had great weather, sunny skies, and balmy temperatures where service from Viking River Cruises was exceptional. When it rained one day the ship provided umbrellas, allowing us to take a colorful picture of the folks returning from the tour.

So, yes, our adventurous life definitely continues with further chapters yet to be written!