Monday, December 23, 2019

Season’s Greetings; questions we have been asked …

Of late Margo and I have been asked many questions about what we are doing for Christmas, the New Year and beyond. At this time of year it is so different for each of us – Margo growing up in Warsaw and enjoying snow at Christmas whereas for me and my family, it was all about making jokes of a Santa Clause in traditional garb trying his best not to falter under the blistering Aussie sun. As you may recall Margo and I spent this time of year in Sydney only twelve months ago and the memories are returning with a vengeance. With snow on the ground all around us, a little warmth would be much appreciated. And yet the memories of that trip continue to linger if only for another chance to sit on shores of Sydney Harbor.

I was about to add how I sure wish we were both back in Sydney, but as they say, be careful what you wish for in case it comes true! No, reading each morning of the devastating bushfires that blaze out of control with some sources telling us the fire line stretches 10,000 kilometers does not seem too appealing. Like a jagged coastline weaving in and around headlines, the fire cannot be measured in straight lines but has to account for all the twists and turn it takes so I have to wonder about the longer term impact. Will we be able to see Australia’s famous bushland any time soon? Will the koalas, kangaroos and king parrots be welcoming us? Will we be able to turn around and see Sydney’s Opera House and Harbor Bridge all at once?

Then again, Australia is one of the most resilient landscapes on the planet even as it set the record for the hottest place on earth just a few days ago; the average across the continent touched 49.9 Celsius last time I checked and that’s 121.82 Fahrenheit! And that’s the average across a continent barely a few hundred square miles smaller than continental USA. But high temperatures only tell part of the story. The question we get the most living here alongside the Rocky Mountains is how could you possibly live in such a country? A desolate terrible island continent – how could you possibly love such a place? Is it possibly a foretaste of the inhospitable lands facing those planning on populating Mars, for instance? 

I first flew coast to coast in 1981 on a trip that would take me from Sydney to Singapore and then on to Europe. The flight would last 8 plus hours but for the first 5 plus hours we flew over Australia. Taking a southeast to northwest route and crossing at Derby, the one thing that struck me was that looking out of my window all I could see were waves of crimson earth. For hour after hour; you just don’t get to appreciate how desolate the country really is until you see it from the air. But at the same time you quickly come to understand why the country’s population clings to a few hundred miles of coastline along its south eastern shores.

Source: Getty

At this time of year with the fires raging up and down the coast and far inland, it’s hard to ignore the words of the poem “My Country” penned a little more than a century ago by a very homesick young lass, Dorothea Mackellar:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!
Yes, her beauty and her terror – until you drive over the crest of the highway to see the whole horizon ahead of you nothing but a billowing roiling cloudlike mass telling a story of its own: Devastation and loss. And yet, the country bounces back so quickly that in little more than a year, the leaves are appearing on blackened tree trunks and quickly mask all that transpired just a short time ago. My father spent many a day on the fire lines whether it was in the bush directly opposite our family home located as it was on the edge of a National Park or up at our holiday rental hundreds of miles up the coast. Blackened, blistered exhausted after dodging flames and yes, snakes too, there were many times where these fires only died down with a change in the weather. 

Drought, fires, floods and yes, flies and other pests – you can see it all back home in Australia. And it would be remiss of me not to highlight how California today shares much of the same flora as Australia thanks to the importation of Eucalyptus trees more than a century ago. Some disingenuous entrepreneur thought that their quick growth coupled with their straight tree trunks would make ideal railway ties, that is until California’s termites feasted on them faster than railway workers were able to set them in place. Today, we all witness dreaded fires up and down California’s famous coastline thanks to a much unwanted forest of Aussie imports! 

Before we get deeper into what Margo and I will be doing at this time of year – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the New Year and beyond, our conversations quickly turn to this time last year. In reality despite the headlines, it’s tough to ignore how different Christmas in Sydney really is – with summer temperatures pushing the mercury well beyond the century mark, it’s a time to enjoy the great outdoors with cricket, tennis and golf contests high on the list of pass-times that draw huge crowds. There is always an international “test match” between cricketing nations held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Australian Open tennis championships are taking place even as there continues to be a continuation of Golf Championships featuring many international golfing stars.

But most of all Christmas means family time. It’s the one big event of the year that brings together entire families. Australia, naturally enough, doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving and there are no other festivals around this time of year so Christmas is it! Gathered outside, ducking the ever present flies, families settle around tables enjoying everything that makes it onto the grill. These days, with the cosmopolitan makeup of the bigger cities together with the inclusive nature that comes naturally to all Australians, the Christmas Lunch is a time of celebration. And then, it’s off to the beach for a surf – there’s not too many places where you can say that.

For many Australian families it’s a time too to pack up and head to the holiday home for a much-needed rest. Christmas time is also the time when schools shut down and universities fall quiet. Anywhere from six weeks to nearly three months of down time means lots of holiday time that is spent either on the beach or on travel abroad. No matter where you might find yourselves at this time of year, if you listen hard enough there is bound to be a party of Australians nearby. For Margo and me, living in Colorado, it’s easy to suggest we look at Australia with rose-tinted glasses and in some respects we do. But Colorado is our home and we have spent many more Christmases here together than anywhere else. 

Yes, that is my brother Greg relaxing at the end of the table. And among the many questions Margo and I field at this time of the year has to do with our families. Greg is surrounded by his wife, Robyn and my sister Judy and closer to the camera but just out of view is our daughter, Lisa. This is such a traditional spread that is almost impossible to recreate in Colorado – spot the jar of Vegemite, the sausage and the chicken satay, the tomato sauce (not ketchup) and yes, bottles of  wine and beer. The beer is James Squire’s One Fifty Lashes of IPA – the name coming from the fact that it was the convict James Squire who, after stealing ingredients from the stores to brew the infant colony’s first batch of beer, was caught and the judge ordered him flogged with one hundred and fifty lashes. And yes, plus two barrels of the ale! Or, so the story goes ...

Heading into the city of Sydney for last minute shopping is not too different from last minute shopping in any other major city around the world. Except, that is, for the mad dash across any given streets and into the first air conditioned shop you can find. Sydney was under construction last year and while the trams have started running and more streets are closed to vehicular traffic, it’s apparently still very much a construction zone as overhead cranes continue to dominate the skyline. Then again, there were many highly-decorated Christmas Trees adorning almost every vacant space the city of Sydney affords.

 But then again, in my lifetime Sydney has grown from a city populated by barely a million residents whereas now, with 2020 fast approaching, the same city is host to more than five million Sydney-siders. And it’s still growing. In daylight, it seems to be heaving under the extra weight as tunnels continue to be drilled, structures continue to be torn down and yes, increasing less-tolerant Sydney-siders continue to yell for this or that! What I did miss seeing were the many fruit barrows that dotted the city streets that sold fresh produce picked up at the markets earlier in the day – fresh strawberries! fresh cherries! and much more!

On the other hand, Christmas by night is a revelation. A quick trip north to visit my cousin Mark and his wife Sue landed us in the middle of a proverbial wonderland. My brother had warned me that Margo and I might not be fully prepared for what we would see and clearly as we entered the street, we were not. Every imaginable Christmas icon and every possible combination of lights transformed the street into a northern hemisphere village. Even as the temperature still hovered around the century mark, it was hard not to feel transported to a very different place. And cousin Mark was right in the thick of things with perhaps the most ornate of presentations of all!

This year, it all starts with Christmas Eve as traditionally, for Margo it’s been all about the night before Christmas. We will be heading down to the home of our daughter Anna and her family. With three grandchildren there will be plenty of toys handed out. It’s a whole lot of fun for the little ones even as it will be borderline chaos for everyone else – fully expected and yes, a tradition that I am familiar with dating back to when all of the Buckle clan gathered at the Sydney suburban home of my parents. There isn’t any forecast for snow that I can see, unfortunately but hey, it’s Colorado so weather can change in an instant. Decorations are already hanging in our Windsor home even as boxes of wrapped gifts litter the floor of Margo’s office.

Then again, traditions very much have their place in all of our lives. You may call them routines or even habits and practices but there is something reassuring about re-enacting events steeped in our own families’ histories. In rural Colorado, there are fir trees liberally decorated in lights everywhere you turn and the short trip into Ft Collins one evening last week meant that for Margo and me, we saw that city beautifully illuminated for the very first time! Yes, it was a pretty sight.

But perhaps the biggest question asked of us at this time of year concerns the New Year. Where will we be celebrating? What parties will we be attending? For readers of posts to this blog who follow our travels each year, where we have been in 2019 will be no surprise.  Equally, it should be no surprise to read that Margo and I will be celebrating quietly, at home. For us and with only one exception, we have never made it to midnight on any previous occasion. As for the exception well, of course, it was last year on Sydney Harbor as we watched millions of dollars in fireworks erupt across the harbor and surrounds.

Even so, our thoughts will be returning to Australia as the news of fires continue to be posted with awful videos of blazes rising higher than Sydney’s Opera House – yes, walls of 70 meter high flames.  
And yet, it’s hard to forget a stanza in that poem by Dorothea Mackellar who captured the heartache along with the hope that has been ever-present across all of Australia at this time of year:

Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.

To all of our friends – and in this case, particularly our Aussie mates – we wish you the very best for the holiday season. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Cause the power you're supplying It's electrifying!

As a car-focused family and just one of many families that simply abhor flying for any reason, we are often asked about our thoughts on future prospects of electric vehicle ownership. Throw into this line of questioning autonomous vehicles and you get the picture. Surely, isn’t it time to modernize your vehicle purchase “metrics” to better reflect imminent changes? Even here, in Northern Colorado, any drive around our township will highlight just how many Nissan Leafs and Tesla Model S, X, 3s whatever can be seen standing on driveways. I have to admit, when Tesla first announced it is taking orders for its then-upcoming Model 3, it was hard to ignore the many texts I received from excited folks who had placed orders for this latest Tesla.

As a car-focused family we continue to be inundated with statistics on just how fast today’s electric cars have become and yes, given access to the full amount of torque on hand as soon as the “gas pedal” is slammed to the floor, the numbers speak for themselves. And now that Porsche has entered the fray with its Taycan - both Porsche and Tesla are out on track at the Nürburgring trying to outdo each other over fastest lap times – isn’t our pragmatism becoming somewhat flawed? Any lap time around the ‘Ring in the vicinity of seven minutes, naturally enough, is a lap time that cannot be ignored, right? Even the new Jaguar iPace is attracting devotees and if you are a decent driver with lots of track experience, you can fork out $600K plus to join those who would like to compete in these Jaguar SUVs at Jaguar-sponsored races as part of the ABB Formula-E track weekends. 

At recent conferences and events it has been hard to miss the promotional pursuits of major technology vendors and at the HPE big-tent marketing events held each year in Las Vegas, there were private briefings from Virgin team driver, Sam Bird - along with a HPE technician from the team supporting the Formula-E program – and their excitement over Formula-E couldn’t be suppressed. It was impressive gaining an insight into how competitive this Formula-E series is becoming even as it was hard to ignore the enthusiasm from those racing these electric formula cars. Sure wish each of them could pipe to the spectators the sound of the former V10 engines we so loved to hear back when BMW has one of the best V10 engines in the paddock. 

It still did not do much to persuade either Margo or me to jump onto the electric car bandwagon or, dare we say, become active participants in the electric car hysteria. In the latest issue of one car magazine a whole page was devoted to upcoming models of electric cars that featured horsepower numbers equivalent to 2,000 hp with absolutely unbelievable times projected for the 0 – 60mph dash. Exciting? Electrifying? Most definitely – for some and perhaps not us! Surely, if everyone is talking about Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) does this imply that Margo and I have our heads in the sand? Are we going to be the odd-ones out?  As much as BEVs are hyped today, there is a little wrinkle that represents a starting point; hybrids! As it happens to be, hybrids in technology just happen to be what Margo and I follow and write about so it should come as no surprise that hybrid cars appeal to us both!

When our local BMW dealer handed us the keys to their demo hybrid i8, we thought well, naah! This isn’t for us. Then we drove it and everything changed. At the time, we were giving financial information to the local Corvette dealer as we were negotiating the price of a black on black Corvette Z06 (with yellow stitching and matching yellow brake calipers) – a thing of beauty. But when it comes to beauty, we were wowed by the i8. Definitely not a track car, but then again, no slouch either. We were both surprised. Futuristic and yes, a little heavy but just the thrill of driving this i8 was unmistakable. It took a while to get the price right but we did end up leasing the “White Knight” and well, the rest is history. We drove it to Toronto and back and yes, we drove it multiple times to the West Coast. On our first trip to Texas, we averaged around 70 mpg even as we drove it “energetically!” Sometime later I managed to score a drive in the all-electric BMW i3 but it did nothing for me and I suspect that this essentially sealed the deal for us – hybrids were the future!

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in our daily business lives indeed not a day passes without some reference to Hybrid IT. Early on, Hybrid IT was about accessing multiple public clouds but today, it’s a reference to a data center with mixtures of traditional computer systems, collections of servers virtualized and running what is referred to as a private (on-premise) cloud as well as network connections to one or more public cloud service providers. This trend brings together the best of both worlds – the opportunity to keep running the applications already deployed while capitalizing on the cheaper storage and services that come with clouds. Of course there is talk that, eventually, all of IT will be running “in the cloud” and the data centers and mainframes we hear so much about will simply fade away – relegated to the technology scrapheap that is a reoccurring theme among all users of technology.

The similarities are inescapable – “it’s a software world, after all!” And if you still doubted this, imagine the surprised responses when articles began appearing questioning how IT professionals will respond when the cost of the processor chips falls to zero! Yes, zero; any wonder then that they are showing up in the vehicles we buy today, willy-nilly. When you consider the software in our “drive-by- wire” BMW i8 and yes, it has two separate gearboxes managed by a computer, the mere fact that is a reliable form of transportation is quite amazing. The vehicle is an automatic but with the option of being in sports mode where gears can be selected by column mounted paddles. The steering is electric as is everything else which, in eliminating the mechanicals reduced the vehicle’s overall weight, helping offset the weight of the battery pack, naturally enough. But it’s all about the software and should you be a member of the i8 Facebook community, you will know just how many “software glitches” have been reported by owners of the early models. 

When it came time to return the White Knight earlier this year, we “ummed” and “ahed” about with what to replace the i8 coupe – the newly released i8 roadster was a considerably more expensive vehicle and at first, not even considered by us as an option. While we had a 2015 coupe and experienced only the annoying issue of being unable to open the fuel cap when it came time to top up the gas, it had been smooth driving all the way. But what about another Corvette? 

Should we trade our old Corvette Z06 for another new seventh generation track-focused Corvette Z06? What about the ZR1 – a real supercar if ever there was one! However, when it came time to show up at the dealer with the i8 coupe that last time, we elected to do nothing. We had leased a Jaguar F Type and were in the process of replacing the Jeep SRT with a Range Rover Evoque so, what the heck, why did we need another vehicle? But then, a matter of half a year later, the earth turned substantially on its axis. We made that heart wrenching decision to sell our company command center – the RV – together with our car hauler and yes, the 2003 Corvette Z06.   
Even for us Fools for NonStop – check the tee-shirts – it was a tough call when we finally decided to part with the rig. Our good friends had opted out of track weekends and that essentially diminished the social aspect of the sport for Margo and me, adult beverages and grilled steaks notwithstanding. On the other hand, the market for such big rigs is almost non-existent so we were beginning to run out of ideas when a casual conversation with Steve, our Corvette sales manager, triggered a series of events that led to us swapping it all for another hybrid vehicle – yes, an i8 Roadster that sat on the showroom floor for nine months and was given such a price reduction that we were able to lease it for the same amount as we had leased the i8 coupe! We swapped the White Knight for the Black King! Just think about it – for a list price some thirty percent more than the coupe, you could get a roadster that didn’t have a back seat, no roof and diminished luggage space – a true deal, eh?

And what about BEVs? Was there ever consideration for leasing a pure electric vehicle – did Tesla come into the picture at any point, for instance? What about that Jaguar iPace? But here’s the thing; we live in the western state of the US, where roads go on forever. For Margo and me it’s always been about finding that perfect backroad that takes us two hundred plus miles into the middle of nowhere. Blame it on the “wanderlust gene” – yes, it does exist, identified as the gene variant   DRD4-7R that we both believe was passed down from our respective parents – but just the thought of heading out the front door is enough to get us anxious to just well, leave! It’s not a bad attribute to have even if it has driven our respective families a little crazy from time to time. 

We have the good fortune to be living in Colorful Colorado and so there really isn’t any need to hide our wanderlust. Everyone we know takes to the mountains at every opportunity and any time of year. Just in our small crooked street here in Windsor, happily enough called Sanctuary Drive, we have a mix of Maseratis, Porsches, BMWs, Jaguars, Audis, Corvettes and track-ready Camaros and much more – and this is just in the surrounding twenty plus homes that have sprung up since we moved in. Maybe it’s time to hold our own “Coffee and Cars” Saturday afternoon. But electric cars? Haven’t seen any as yet, but they will probably turn up. On both occasions we walked away from buying the Series Seven (C7) Corvette Z06 instead preferring the i8, but what about the new C8 Corvette mid-engine offering? Couldn’t you have waited? Readers of posts to this blog may recall our liking for a mid-engine vehicle and have frequently written about the Audi R8 and the Lamborghini Gallardo so wouldn’t this latest addition to the Corvette family be of interest?

Longer term, perhaps. But for now the i8 answers the immediate question concerning mid-engine placement but there’s more to the story. As already noted, when it comes to hybrid we are big fans and when it comes to software we have a lot of experience. The first batch of C8 Corvettes features millions of lines of “new code” – the transmission control unit (TCU) alone has two million lines of brand new code - all to handle torque delivery through different transitions. So when it comes to the long view we are taking, it doesn’t rule out the C8 Corvette, but we would like to see the specifications of the yet-to-be announced C8 Z06 which many Corvette pundits believe will be a hybrid along similar lines as our i8. That is, mid-engine driving rear wheels and electric motors adding torque (and some power) to the front wheels. Goodness knows how many lines of new code that will involve so it’s a much longer term prospect. Having said this, this latest Corvette admittedly is a pretty car …
I have left to last comments about autonomous driving. Simply put, I suspect that this is a long way off given the amount of one step forward, two steps back we read about today. Driver-assist will continue to develop but the reality is that given the real world we live in there is simply too many variables and I have to believe the insurance companies have yet to come to terms with suing a robot. When you go on track in any of today’s modern cars, once you have learnt “the track,” you begin turning off the nannies that constantly step in and overrule your decision making – want to wear out your front brake pads? Leave the nannies on and you will be very surprised at how much behind the scenes brake steering is being attempted. No, if you are a driver, then autonomous driving as it stands today will intercede at disturbing times – no, I don’t want to slam on the brakes right now? I am in the middle of a no-lift lane change and yes, I know I will safely clear the car ahead in my current lane. But no, up come flashing red lights and in some instances on hard go the brakes. Stupid …

Autonomous cars may make it onto our roads in one capacity or another but their presence will be limited. Possibly limited to small city centers and limited to just one car type. Why am I so hard on autonomous driving and the cars so equipped to step out into the traffic – it’s the software! We just don’t have fast enough processors to handle every potential vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication it would take (even with 5G or 6G), and we don’t have standardized infrastructure in place that would be mandatory for such vehicles to operate safely. At best, we will still be required to sit in front of a steering wheel, feet close to the controls and yes, paying attention to our surroundings all of the time. Perhaps Boston Dynamics will succeed in having us all purchase only robotic dogs in the future!

As for the near future and considering our desire to eventually reduce the number of cars we lease, it’s looking more and more likely we will reduce the number to just three cars. With winter setting in there is plenty of opportunities to talk about what comes next and if we are serious with hybrids then the next SUV will likely be a hybrid leaving us open to just one nice car. When you consider we have the BMW i8 and the BMW M4 Competition, this pretty pale blue Bentley Continental Margo sighed heavily over represents something that’s simply less expensive … it is pretty, isn’t it? And it’s not a BEV and there’s no attempted autonomous driving feature onboard. Possibly the last of this era: What do you think? From White Knight to Black King to the Blue Fairy; makes sense doesn’t it? Perfect! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Trying times on the road to Burlingame, California!

It didn’t come as a surprise, but when our third snowstorm of the season bore down on us it was the third such event for the month of October. Thi latest snowstorm followed the absence of any snow in September which was a little out of the ordinary. However, plans had been in place for Margo and me to drive back to the Bay Area to attend a symposium and the sight of snow falling a matter of days before we planned to depart was a little unnerving to say the least – what would it be like up in the mountain passes that stood between us and sunny California?

As we had only just returned from our week long trip to Washington DC, it would also represent an opportunity to sample both coasts of America even as it meant adding five thousand plus miles to our cars’ odometers. All the same, it meant not just a change of clothes but a change of vehicles. We enjoyed the time spent in the all-wheel drive Jaguar F Type, but for this trip we opted for the Range Rover. Though we had to be judicious with what we packed in the small spaces provided by the Jaguar at least the Range Rover had a back seat so space didn’t present the same issues as we had experienced with the Jaguar. 

Colorado’s climate is well documented, but all the same, it never ceases to amaze us. Blink and the weather changes; prolong your stay for twenty four hours and you might experience all four seasons. By way of explanation, when we left it was following a morning that registered just 6 degrees and yet, when we returned it was back up to balmy 72 degrees - all measurements in Fahrenheit.  

Colorado’s front ranges are considered high plains with much of it better viewed as high desert – there is next to no humidity and when the sun comes out, the rays simply slice through whatever snow was left lying on the ground and within a day there is little evidence of any prior snowfalls. So it was when the day came to depart for the Bay Area, the temperature was still very cold but the roads looked clear. Just as we left, the first of the early morning golfers were back out on the course!

Unfortunately, Wyoming apparently didn’t read the memo concerning imminent sunshine. As we crossed the state line driving northerly on Interstate 25 (I25) blowing snow whipped up by fierce
gusts made driving extremely hazardous. As in the past, we were hoping not to experience trying times on this portion of the highway but then again, it’s late fall and was to be expected. The big overhead illuminated signs were flashing updates informing us to expect wind gusts reaching 60 mph plus on Interstate 80 (I80) all the way to Rawlins. Ouch; good thing we hadn’t contemplated tackling this journey in our former company command center as the big RV had a much higher center of gravity. On the other hand, we were supported by Range Rover’s immaculate all-wheel drive system and it never put a foot wrong.

We have now nicknamed our Range Rover, “Pumpkin” and for obvious reasons. As this was the time for Halloween it seemed more than appropriate. Orange and black – you can’t get anything more traditional than that when celebrating Halloween. 

Parked just off the intersection between I25 with I80, temperatures well below freezing and so many miles yet to travel it was all rather ominous and as many winter crossings as we have done in the past twenty plus years, no two crossings have ever been the same. Hold on tight; stay focused; drive to the conditions and at all times concentrate on situational awareness as there is a steady lane full of big-rigs alongside you! And it was tough going for an hour or two until Laramie, Wyoming, had well and truly faded in our rear-view mirror. 

Margo and I have often used our time on the road to discuss everything from the latest technology offering from HPE or the newest feature introduced on its NonStop servers to the color scheme for a guest bedroom. Furniture too always generates a lively discussion as in the two years living in Windsor and far removed from the times in our Niwot home, we have moved from over-the-top Province (with a dash of Tuscany) to urban modern where functionality and flow have prevailed. No conversation these days concerning décor touches the flamboyant but rather, hones in on the overall integration with the look-and-feel we had pursued from the very beginning. Imagine a cross between a high-rise condo and an owner’s balcony stateroom on a cruise ship! Yes, we got it!   

By the time we crossed into Utah the weather had turned in our favor. There was no more blowing snow as we enjoyed extended periods of sunshine that stayed with us all the way to Burlingame, California. This was a business trip after all but time away from the desk (and the keyboard) means time to simply muse on events happening all around us. As for the traditional conversations they too took a turn as we examined, a little more objectively, the business relationships we have developed over the past decade. The major reason for us stepping back from our track day outings (having now sold the RV, trailer and track Corvette) was driven by the desire of Margo and me to stay in business. We have some very serious obligations to a number of major technology companies and should there have been an incident on track that might have interfered with delivering on our promise then our outlook for the future may not be as rosy as we might have imagined.

Cars have played a dominant role in posts to this blog. Indeed, shortly after creating the blog posts we realized that featuring cars was central to growing the readership – people we know and with whom we work have shown an interest in knowing more of what we do in our spare time. For many of them, taking time out to drive their cars and to enjoy roadtrips was part of who they were; cars were never our hobby as I am often reminded, but rather represented an extension to our family. In all seriousness, over the years, we have viewed our cars as others would their children and as sad as that may appear, it has its upsides. 

While cars and children generate the same demands – they need to be fed, housed, bathed when new and yes, taken for a “walk” every now and then cars don’t make all that many onerous demands. Dashboard lights tell us today when we need to replace a tire even as another gauge warns us that shortly, we will run out of gas. I guess you could argue that children can make similar pronouncements; feed me and yes, I need new shoes! 

It’s hard to say whether or not we truly have put our track days behind us. Every time an email promotion of one event or another arrives I tend to wax morosely. Yes I can get a tad cranky as I know that it is completely out of bounds to consider taking any of our current cars to the track – oh, the downside of switching from a Capital Expense (CapEx) to an Operational Expense (OpEx), if you like, as we no longer purchase but lease. Essentially we have copped to a consumption-priced model – paying a flat fee for a service that in turn, allows us to consume or enjoy (however you prefer to call it) them on as casual a basis as you can imagine. While our business continues to bring in the bacon (or should I say, the gas) this will remain the model for some time, but it doesn’t lessen how cranky I can feel. Then again, there’s a reason why the community so often tells tales about cranky old men – I wonder if it has anything to do with confiscating their horses?

And so the conversations continued as we drove deeper into the arid space that fills the spaces in between the Rockies and the Sierras! If it’s cars and crankiness and even customizing the new home that frame more than one conversation there is one other C-word that enters the conversation as well – cruising. For the past couple of winters we have jumped ship, literally. In the winter of 2017 / 2018 we sailed to Hawaii and then in the winter of 2018 / 2019 we flew to Australia where we sailed to Tasmania and then to New Zealand. With winter fast approaching where will we winter in 2019 / 2020? Our friends already have inkling as to what might transpire but it’s a plan that for now is very much a work in progress. More importantly perhaps are our plans for the winter of 2020 / 2021 as there are places we haven’t visited in such a long time where we do need to make a return visit. But only, of course, if I stay off the track and can keep writing.

Our trip across the western half of America drew to an end. Crossing San Francisco’s famous Bay Bridge – renewed in recent times and gone are the memories of the lost spans following the earthquake of 1989. Driving into the Bay always brings a smile to our faces as Margo and I have many fond memories from times spent in this part of the country. While smoke haze could be seen we were very fortunate not to see any of the terrible fires ravaging the region a little to the north of the city, but all the same, conversations did turn to what can be done to mitigate the dreadful side-effects of having nurtured so many eucalyptus trees. Essentially an invasive species not native to the region, these Aussie imports should be ripped up and sent packing.

When we decided to take this trip in the Range Rover there was an element of uncertainty. This vehicle had the smallest engine and yes, it’s a convertible SUV – who buys a convertible SUV these days? As we have stated more than once, who buys a hardtop coupe yet buys a ragtop SUV? It turned out to be a pleasant surprise as the road noise proved to be less than what we had experienced in either the BMW M4 or the Jaguar F Type. As for gas mileage it was out front on that score as even with its additional weight, it only sipped on the gasoline that was made available.

The symposium has run its course and we have safely returned home to Windsor. With a number of food items remaining in the fridge it was time to cook up some “bubble and squeak.” If this is unfamiliar to you then anyone with ties back to the old country knows all too well what a comfort food it happens to be and while tradition calls for the addition of leftover cuts of lamb or perhaps beef, we went with chicken with lashings of sweet onions and BBQ sauce. What a combination and one we knew we wouldn’t encounter out on Americas highways, whether we traveled west or even east. 

The Range Rover had to be thoroughly washed and its various fluids topped up – that image of this vehicle being one of our children continues to linger. Winter didn’t put us off our game nor did it detract from the fun that always accompanies any crossing of the west at this time of year. As we looked at photos from friends looking out of plane windows as deicing took place or standing in line waiting to clear security, travelling by car can be fraught with mischief at these times, but what an escape it is when you get to drive! 

Taking one last photo of how Colorado snaps back as quickly as it does from winter’s early clutches; just happened to catch Margo driving by in the M4. The call of the grandchildren remains irresistible and Margo enjoys her time with them. One day they too will be looking at cars and that will be an interesting time – I wonder if we will be consulted? There is a similar amount of joy and indeed satisfaction that cars and children create. And with that, it’s time to eat – can I get a second plate of bubble and squeak? 

How about breakfast tomorrow? Ahhh - perfect!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Perfect days in Washington, DC.

There are many reasons why one travels to a distant city for the sole purpose of enjoying the company of friends. While at it, you can also take time to visit the city’s main attractions. Spontaneity is a gift most of us enjoy even if it leaves us feeling a little guilty at times – surely, there are other priorities. Throw in the decision to drive to that distant city and you have all the ingredients of a delicate time out spent solely on finding ways to experience life far different to what has become routine.

For this particular weekend, Margo and I drove to Maryland to experience some of the best that Washington DC has to offer. It would have been easy for us to call this post Three Perfect Days in DC, but that heading has already been used by one of the major airlines and leaves unsaid much about whom we visited. In this case it was our good friends, the Rosen family – Robert and Randy. Gracious in their hospitality and over-the-top when it came to putting an itinerary together for the short time we spent with them.

Our route to Maryland took us out onto Interstate 70 for the majority of the trip that is, until we detoured south through Nashville and Knoxville as we wanted to hit Boone, North Carolina, and from there, find our way onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. As you can tell from the photo atop this post, the trees were very much highlighted by the colors of fall. Don’t ask me how best to navigate your way onto the Parkway even when you start from a township like Boone that boasts its close proximity to that stretch of road, as it’s a trip through the hills on unmarked roads. But find it we did and it being a Friday, the traffic was very light and we got to see it in all of its glory – something not quickly forgotten.

The detour didn’t delay our arrival by all that much. In fact I think we were only a matter of a few minutes either side of the scheduled arrival time. Having been a reader of many of these posts over the past few years it came as no surprise to find that Robert and Randy had lined up a first night dinner at one of DC’s most famous restaurants – the Prime Rib. It bills itself as being among the top five romantic restaurants in the US even as it promotes its ZAGAT award for being the #1 Steakhouse in Washington! It’s also one of the few remaining restaurants in Washington that mandates men wearing jackets. As for the ladies, well that is an entirely different story and given the number of Washington’s elite present that Friday night, for privacy reasons all I can add is that the jewelry looked very expensive. On the other hand, it’s a shame the ladies couldn’t afford more material for the frocks they chose to wear …

However, Washington D.C. is much more than good restaurants. And yes, we did enjoy cocktails at The Prime Rib, by the way. Next day, given that it was Saturday, our first full morning in D.C. was rather busy. Taking the metro into the heart of the city our first stop was the Library of Congress – not so much for the books, artifacts and mementos but for the architecture. Tucked away in the basement was a small anteroom where there was an exhibit featuring the life and times of Bob Hope and that was well worth the time we spent absorbing all of his accomplishments.

We did climb to the top and onto the observatory where we could look down on the reading room, but again, to think of how early in the life of this democracy space was set aside so as to not lose track of what were critical works of the founding fathers is impressive to say the least. Standing at the entrance to the former office of the Librarian – yes, it’s moved across the street to the new, far less charming building – we can only guess at the conversations that transpired within these walls.  

On exit, we headed back to the Metro but not before we had a chance to take in the Capital as well as the Supreme Court. We were fortunate once again as the crowds were pretty light and this afforded us many photo opportunities and as it had been more than two decades that had passed since last either Margo or me had been in D.C. it was pretty cool seeing these prominent edifices once again. The biggest change of course had to be the security as there was evidence everywhere you turned that precautions were in place to stop anything tragic developing and it is a sad commentary on our times to note that the most powerful democracy on the planet is ringed behind metal road-traps and immovable bollards.     

There was a reason why we headed back to the Rosens that afternoon and it was for Randy’s chicken dish – wonderfully prepared, tabled and accompanied by a dry Gewurztraminer. However as good as that dinner was the events that then followed were spectacular. We had tickets for a performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where we would be participating in a special celebration of the one hundredth birthday of Nat King Cole. The National Orchestra was on hand together with a small ensemble of traditional musicians of the times – drums, piano, slap bass and guitar.

The real treat came when Nat’s younger brother, Freddy Cole, now just eighty eight years old made an appearance and while the venue experienced microphone issues for his first two songs, when it came to the finale and through the graciousness of fellow participant, Patti Austin, who held her own microphone up to Freddy, we all got to hear him loud and clear. As for the other participants at this event we were privileged to hear arrangements from not just Patti but from Eric Benét, Dulé Hill, and BeBe Winans.

Prior to entering the concert hall we had enough time to cross over to the newly opened The Reach where there was an art exhibition featuring the works of President George W Bush. Irrespective of your political leanings, you would be very surprised to learn that with this exhibition, Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors you will view a collection of portraits by President George W. Bush that will surprise for their authenticity. To say the day ended on a high note would not only be passé but miss the point entirely – all of us need days and evenings like this to remind ourselves of just how all-encompassing the nation’s capital really is; to date we have visited three continents in 2019 but we count this first day among the highlights we will not forget.  

For Margo and me, 2019 really started late 2018 and it’s as if we haven’t stopped moving – leaving Australia in January, then spending a week in Munich in March, Edinburgh in May, Amsterdam and Budapest in July with trips to Las Vegas, Dallas, San Jose and Atlanta all thrown in for good measure has meant we have seen a lot of the world. Shortly, we leave for San Francisco for perhaps our last road trip of the year, but what stands out for us is that at all of these destinations, it continues to be the people we meet on these trips we remember most of all. And to think, our perfect days in Washington D.C. has only just begun and yet, remembering all of this is perhaps the best way to segue to what transpired Sunday. 

The skies dawned overcast with a fine mist prevailing. It wasn’t long before the mist turned into a steady downpour of rain. Perfect for heading indoors once again and to what better place could we drive than to the outer fields of Dulles International Airport, Virginia, where the Smithsonian Institution has set up their Air and Space National Museum or, more correctly, the Udvar-Hazy Center and the companion facility to the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC. We arrived as the worst of the rain came down and we weren’t prepared for what we were to see. Even though we had walked through the Smithsonian’s air and space exhibit on the Mall, the Udvar-Hazy Center was a completely different establishment, completely mind-blowing in its scope. The numbers simple don’t do the museum justice but to have complete histories of all forms of flight so readily accessible says a lot for what the Smithsonian stands for – capturing the crucial moments in history that we all can relate to – in an entertaining yet educational format.   

From the Space Shuttle Discovery to the Concorde to the Super Constellation that was the stalwart aircraft of airlines including QANTAS prior to the advent of the jet age. Looking at the Super Connie that seated only 60 or so passengers, depending on configuration, it was no wonder flight was for the privileged (and elected officials). It was also very clear that major technology advancements were triggered by global conflicts during the twentieth century so much so that it was remarkable that in the early days of WWII there were still biplanes and yet, as that conflict came to an end we had jet engines and rockets.
When you look at the Mercury and Gemini craft and the total lack of creature comforts they provided you just have to step back in awe at the speed of progress achieved in the 1960s. To think that mankind indeed landed on the moon and that they were able to return when you look at the computer systems involved – and numerous systems were part of the exhibition – you have to acknowledge that really, there’s no way you would want to be an astronaut. 

On the other hand, looking at the International Space Station and it’s many elements together with the fact that creature comforts have only moderately improved we still have a long journey to take before any of us will dig deep and pay the stipend to enjoy a few moments in the darkness of outer space. Then again, there is a reason why we still call space the final frontier!

On the other hand, being up close to the spy jet, the fabled Blackbird SR-71 truly sends a tingle up your spine – to be able to cross the United States in under two hours! You have to ask yourselves, whatever happened to that technology and why can’t we fly like that anymore? As a final look I had to take in the sight of the exploits by balloonists, including the free-fall to earth by the parachutist Felix Baumgartner who stepped outside his gondola even as it was entering the stratosphere to descend to earth breaking the sound barrier on the way down from 127,853 feet (free-falling a total of 119,431 feet).

If Friday night was prime rib and Saturday night was chicken then Sunday night it was all lobster as Clyde’s restaurant – a favorite jaunt for many locals – was celebrating lobster-fest! Can’t recall the exact weights but Margo and I enjoyed lobsters that were in excess of two pounds (one kilo). Each! And we still wanted more! As it was getting close to Halloween, the decorations were evident everywhere we turned but once again, our hosts Robert and Randy excelled in pulling off another great day in DC.

However, perhaps the best was saved for last as it included two complete surprises, with venues both public and private. Who couldn’t have guessed a tour “Behind the Scenes” of the National Cathedral could be as enthralling as it turned out to be; while we didn’t climb the bell towers we did manage to get to the roof for a view of all DC. Again, Monday isn’t a day of heavy foot-traffic so we had a lot of the important spaces available for an extended tour as it was clear our guide was having the best time of all – walking across the catwalk directly beneath the rose window had me holding my breath.

Monday night was perhaps the most extraordinary of all. The Rosens took us to a neighbor’s house that was a theatre wonderland. Not just because it had a theater in the home featuring dual 35mm projectors but because it housed ancient music boxes, coin pianos, carousel organs and much more. All fully restored and in some cases, one-offs to the extent accessing the paper / fabric rolls that carried the tunes had to be reconstructed and in some cases, emulated in software. 

The sound these instruments produced is mind boggling to say the least and as I looked around the collection of rolls, together with vinyl including long forgotten 78s, CDs and DVDs and everything else that filled many rooms it soon made sense that even the Smithsonian was familiar with the collection and frequently had our host, Matthew Jaro, visit their collections to help validate material.

Walking through the home, it was truly a wonderland but then again, it simply added to the magic that truly is DC. From the well-known structures of government to the museums and cathedrals, to the history of flight and the history of America and yes, even the history of music, Margo and I couldn’t have asked for more perfect days in DC. 

It is a wonderland and perhaps at times out does anything that Disneyland or Universal can provide – fantasy ultimately is no match for reality when viewed this way. Not sure how long it will be before we return to DC, but we have to accept, it won’t be another two decades before next we make the journey to our adopted country’s capital city. And we simply have to add, it won’t be too long before we see the Rosens visiting us in Colorado which leaves us to ponder; what constitutes perfect days in Colorful Colorado!