Sunday, June 21, 2020

Change is happening, gradually; is it time to end this show!

This past weekend we made the trip down to Boulder, Colorado. It would be a stretch to call this essential travel, but Colorado has been gradually lifting restrictions that kept us locked down for so long, so yes, there are more cars on the road. Given how temperatures had started to head well north of 90 F, and the surrounding lakes beckoned, it wasn’t just the presence of many more cars on the road as it was the abundance of boats of all shapes and sizes. And of course, there were plenty of caravans, fifth-wheels and RVs pulling out of driveways following a longer than usual winter hibernation.

It became quite a game for Margo and me to point out unusual cars as there were plenty of shiny toys to take in. Not clear whether there was a car show nearby but a mix of antique Fords, hot-rod Chevys and jaw-dropping exotica made for a fun drive down Colorado’s less frequented byroads. However, when we arrived in Boulder and looked up and down Boulder’s famous Pearl Street Mall, it was as if we had suddenly passed into the Twilight Zone. Virtually devoid of all foot traffic, it was a scene unlike any we had seen at any time in our twenty plus years of living along Colorado’s Front Ranges.

Looking west towards the mountains and over Broadway, seeing a car or two wasn’t out of the ordinary, but being able to take a picture with just one or two pedestrians well, reminded us of photos we have received from friends that were taken from the air. These photos highlighted empty airports and empty carparks alongside some of America’s most famous entertainment and amusement venues. It’s as if film-makers have descended on these popular venues, cleared them of all traffic all for that apocalyptic portrayal of a society snatched away. Bereft of anything looking like the usual foot-traffic expected at this time of year, simply walking along the Pearl Street Mall felt eerily unreal!

Boulder is a very big college town with Colorado University (CU) students usually flooding into bars and restaurants at this time of year, but the campus is mostly quiet. We have read that the gridiron coach is anxious to hold his first scrimmage for the year noting, as is usual at this time for the CU team, that improvements had to be made offensively, defensively and with the special teams. This left no doubt that the whole team really had to lift their level of performance before they achieved similar successes to teams decades ago. Who can remember the “Bedlam in Boulder” event when in 2001, a much lesser ranked CU Buffs knocked off the #1 ranked team in all of NCAA football - those dreaded Cornhuskers from Nebraska. Following that thumping big 62-36 rout, you couldn’t move on the Pearl Street Mall later that afternoon!

Students weren’t present in numbers but in a couple of places there were families out enjoying all that the Mall offers. There was even a lone street musician on hand to entertain those looking for something that would take their minds off the day-to-day worries that seemed to have infected all of us. Boulder was still one place where entrance into stores was being managed and face masks were universally being worn. Stopping for coffee at one small café meant pulling down the mask and as I was the only patron of the store, this was deemed OK so long as I stayed behind the clear plastic partition and maintained six feet of separation throughout the interaction with the barista.

I took the better part of an hour to traverse the length of the mall and I checked out a couple of the stores I regularly visit – couldn’t find a jar of Vegemite, mind you – but the unnatural mood of the place (with those melodious steel drums breaking through the morning’s stillness) left no doubt in the minds of any of the passing pedestrians. This show is becoming tedious and we all want to see change. There’s no doubt we have to move forward exercising a lot of caution, but the time looks about right to ease back into lifestyles we have all enjoyed for eons. 

The presence of a sole musician wasn’t the only visible sign of life, as we knew it. The bicycle tours around Boulder were starting up but again, with limited participants but overhearing the conversations, it was clear that there was an anxiousness to get started. Peddling along the cycle lanes so prominently marked in Boulder was further evidence that it’s really hard to hold back those who do want to take time to enjoy their time in Boulder. This is summer and businesses depend so much on tourism and with the student population not to be seen, just a handful of folks looking to cycle around the mall were a much-appreciated contribution to something that looked like change was beginning to take hold.

Coming so soon after we had driven to Estes Park and then just a short time later to Carter Lake, the uptick in traffic even to those much-hyped Colorado sites was a reminder that times can only get better. For those of us who lived through the eight days, 1,000 year rain and yes, the 100 year flood of 2013 thought that this was going to end Boulder’s popularity for some time. And yet, as road after road began opening up, the traffic gradually returned to normal and yes, laughter returned to the Pearl Street Mall. There was a cacophony of sound that would have easily drowned out the playing of a lone steel-drum and no need for football revelers for pedestrians up and down the Mall to realize that the trip to Boulder was worthwhile.

And yes, even as the crowds have yet to return, the beard is back!

When the job opportunity to move out of California and take up residence in Boulder came about, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The day I arrived for that final interview it was snowing and grabbing a taxi I wasn’t sure what to expect as we headed to the Mall. Just one street back from the Mall was the even-then famous restaurant, the Med, and that evening’s dinner, as the snow fell steadily, set the tone for the rest of my time in Boulder. There was a real buzz about the place with packed tables everywhere I looked and as the meals were brought to the table and as the conversations became even more energized, right then I knew I had made the right choice.

Sadly, unintended or otherwise, one consequence of this global pandemic is that news just broke that the Med, along with its two sister restaurants, would not be reopening, no matter the outcome of any upcoming return to normalcy. It was our daughter Anna that first broke the news in her post to Facebook and with this news it was as though a small part of the Pearl Street Mall experience was gone as well. But the Med wasn’t alone in closing for good as the Mall has lost its only Starbucks as well. People, music and the food have played such a major part in ensuring the Mall had been the highlight for visitors to Boulder and with the quietness of the day that prevailed, it seemed that the soul of Boulder had departed. It will likely return but it will also likely be different as there’s no certainty that the venue will come back with the same feel as it once had and that’s the hard part to take when you think of normalcy prevailing at some point.

We continue to work out of our home office. Margo has her office on the main level whereas my office in downstairs next to the bar, wine cellar and our new media room. Appropriately enough, we both muse, and as each day winds down it’s always my last obligation of the afternoon to mix a martini for us both. Closure for the day with a timely chilled glass seems right and with it being the height of summer it also means time spent out on our deck. The days are long with the sun setting after 8:30 but with the skies still bright for much longer as evident with golfers still making plays along the fairway. But even with the 40 plus mile trip to Boulder behind us, getting back to work didn’t faze us in the slightest.

The reason we took that trip was for Margo’s benefit. After a long period of closure, her favorite hairdresser had reopened and the timing couldn’t have been better, according to Margo. There was much work to be done she had informed me earlier in the week. The bleached blonde look became a memento of the past – a reminder of our February South Pacific voyage – and as we were heading into prime conference season, the more professional look was being preferred. Will we ever get to these conferences planned for later in the year has us keeping our fingers crossed but already, flights in and out of Europe are beginning to pick up so it’s really anyone’s guess as to how quickly the business community embraces this evolving normalcy we are all part of. As for Margo and me, we remain flexible and quite prepared for whatever happens.

With cocktails behind us and dinner about to be served, it’s still worth noting that the show will likely be going on sometime soon but yes, whatever course it runs, for Margo and me it’s evident that we, like most of you we suspect, will find ourselves being entertained with a brand new show. Hairdressing salons opening, cafes happy to serve just a few customers and cars filling the streets are all harbingers of changes still to occur but it’s always good to know, this show – the very lives we live – will go on and with that, stay safe of course, avoid touching MEN (Mouth, Eyes and Nose) and we should get through it all, together.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Make way for the masked bandits: cutting loose, with caution!

These are the worst of times. It is without reservation that Margo and I extend our condolences to all those suffering pain at these times. It would be a simple matter to skip over the hard parts and to make light of the suffering many of you have been put through, but even as I begin to write this post, it’s no longer a matter of making it through this global pandemic as it is weathering the breakdown of society. It’s impossible to ignore that for us living in the US, there is much soul-searching to be done and our passage will not be an easy one. And yet, as with any journey, Margo and I are confident that in a country as bountiful as the US, we will make it through and life will be a lot different to what it is today.

Perhaps it was HPE CEO Antonio Neri who expressed it best when he wrote to his employees of how:

“The events of the last week have been hard for me to process. I’m sure you’ve felt a lot of emotions like I have – anger, disbelief, sadness, grief and frustration with the systemic oppression and racism that still exist in our society.

“As a global company, we have responsibility to help shape a world that is equal for all people. Our shared beliefs include a commitment to unconditional inclusion, to advocate within and outside HPE for equality – it’s time to lean into our belief to solve humanity with humanity.” 

There is little I would want to add to the above other than to reiterate, the US is a big, magnanimous country and this is not the end but rather a beginning and like all beginnings to outsiders it can look chaotic. But even as there is ways to go, Margo and I are confident that as Neri observed, we will solve humanity with humanity.

Many years ago, Jimmy Buffet recorded the song, A lot to drink about:

Hey, have you noticed that the world has changed
That the news is all bad
Well, I think it's time for a song about that …

Among the versus are a few lines that rank right up there with being among lines I really like: 

Millionaires losing everything.
Hey, welcome to the other side of life!
There goes the yacht, there goes the Rolls,
But you, you get to keep your wife!

Followed by:

Now, Madoff made off with all the money.
And his clients are down to skunk weed.
Repeat after me, it's so easy to see
We're only talking simple greed.

Clearly these words were penned during the height of the Global Financial Crises but it’s all rather sad to realize how well they resonate in these times. As for our martini, which now you may realize seems to offer an appropriate segue within this post well, it’s a Campari Martini with a Lemon twist. The bitterness plays well with the Vodka, thank goodness and for now, just has to be drink of the hour.

But you, you get to keep your wife! Not bad, eh? No complaints from my point of view. But gradually even with everything that is going on, Margo and I are about to get of the leash. In the last post you read about our trip up the mountains to Walden, Colorado. This time, it turned out to be our first trip of the season to Estes Park. We have always enjoyed the drive up the canyon that follows the Big Thompson River, a tributary of the South Platte River.

After a solid winter with above average snowfall, the river was running high and by the time we reached the reservoir at Estes, it was clear that there would be a lot of tubing and kayaking once summer takes hold. On the day we drove to Estes it was announced that Trail Ridge Road would be opening and that the Rocky Mountain National Park scenic loop connecting Estes Park to Grand Lake, Granby and then back to Denver would be opened.

However, with plenty of ice on the road it will be a while before we venture up and over this pass – it is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. If you are in the neighborhood, it’s a must-drive 49 mile road of which 11 miles just happen to be above the tree line. Perhaps we will revisit taking this journey towards the end of July.    

To those readers who look for a car update, then let’s cut to the chase. This Jaguar F-Type never ceases to impress. We have had the opportunity to drive many cars over the twenty plus years Margo and I have been married but this one looks like it’s going to be a keeper. How often have you read of this happening? Still a couple of years away but it become cause for serious consideration as a long term sports car. If it wasn’t for the news of the Corvette C8 coupe then this would have been an easy decision to make, but then, who knows? In the past, however, we have made numerous interesting decisions concerning the cars we have parked in the garage.

As we walked away from the car park at Estes we were struck by how quiet the place had become. Very few people walking the street and even fewer places willing to take anyone inside for a meal, drink or trinket: Not like the Estes Park we know! Oh well, social distancing is still being practiced but the number of people we encountered not wearing masks was definitely on the rise. Then again, having time alone to just sit by the stream that flows through the township was priceless and we knew that shortly, all this was about to change. Even as we were happy to continue isolating, throwing further caution to the wind and cutting loose seemed imminent, indeed.

With summer on the way and the prospect of entertaining friends drawing near, it was time to start thinking about finishing the furnishing of our outdoor patio. We had the builder extend the concrete pour to give us more of a focal point and so, after much deliberation, the chairs and wood-fired pit arrived. We previously had a high top table, a hand me down from Margo’s kids, we wanted to work into the area and yes, we have a free-standing bar on order.

An outdoor mat has been rolled out and the big outdoor umbrella on order will be arriving shortly and with its assembly complete, it should lead to plenty of opportunities to entertain our friends in the fall. However, this is till all very much work in progress but Margo and I are looking forward to the first opportunity to fire up the pit and cook us some S’mores. As for the small Coleman grill upstairs well it’s looking like it’s seen its last days so a much larger Weber 4 burner grill will likely appear very soon.

And now, continuing with this posts’ abbreviated car themes, with summer around the corner we continue to capitalize on sunny days by taking out the BMW i8 Roadster. There’s nothing quite like it on the road and we rarely come across another i8. All of which is to say, we are now in multiple minds as to what comes next after all for those keeping count, it’s now ten months and we haven’t bought a car. Having said that, we took our BMW M4 Competition into the shop for a full service and while there we walked the showroom floor. Ahhh – temptations! But we didn’t give in this time.

However, it’s very hard to look past the i8. There are many critiques of this car who will tell you it’s lacking power and yes, the distance covered in battery mode only is not that great. To all of these critiques all we can say is that you are missing the point. This vehicle is a thing of beauty; a spacecraft that has landed in our driveway. When we bought the i8 coupe it took only a matter of weeks before we sold the Maserati GT-S as we no longer were driving it – all of our time was spent behind the wheel of the i8. Naturally enough, with the roadster the M4 and the Jaguar F Type are both getting a little nervous.

We may not be ready for S’mores and the grill is still to be upgraded but that doesn’t mean we don’t have time to grill and on this occasion, it was time to grill a true Aussie burger “with the lot!” Yes we ate these burgers with the local brew and I did manage to put the bun on top, cut it in half and then eat by hand. How else do you eat an Aussie hamburger? So, what went into this gastronomic delight?

There was the patty of course but there were also onions, grilled pineapple, bacon and an egg. Under the patties were lettuce, tomato and pickled beetroot. That’s right: beets, pineapple and an egg! When I was a young lad spending time on Manly beach it was a tradition to buy this burger and wash it down with a can of pineapple juice. Back then it was only available in cans and the combination made the trip across the hot sand and the blistering bitumen to the café, wearing no shoes, worth all the temporary pain we suffered.

Margo and I no longer head to the beach to catch the surf. For that matter, we don’t even head to the clubhouse for a round of golf. Spring continues to hit us hard with afternoon storms – not quite the ferocity of those we experienced in Sydney a while’s back – but all the same, violent enough to send the golfers running for shelter. On the other hand, with every opportunity that presents itself we head to the garage and take to the road. 

We still exercise a degree of caution with every trip we take and our masks are always at hand. On the other hand, with winter now long gone and the temperatures regularly climbing above 80, there’s nothing as satisfying as responding to the call of the highway. Our last road trip was back in January and that’s just too long ago to even suggest it was in recent times. So here’s to cutting loose and to that next adventure that always begins where the driveway meets the road!