Friday, September 18, 2020

More normal? What will follow remains to be seen!

Standing in the checkout line at a CostCo this week, looking around at the patrons emptying their carts, Margo turned to me wryly observing that this is now looking more normal. Yes, our favorite brand of TP was readily available. And yes, the passage through the checkout stations and then on through to the exit for a final count of items, there was little acknowledgement that anything other than a kind of normalcy had returned. Yes, there were still a strong contingent of naysayers on social media dwelling on the downside of this global pandemic but to anyone living in Northern Colorado (NoCol), observing the bare minimum of social interaction anyway, it meant that well, it was getting harder by the day to see anything having changed at all!

During my early trips to Tokyo, Japan, I have to admit I was taken by surprise to see passengers on commuter trains and buses wearing masks. Turns out that for Tokyo residents, waking up of a morning with a sniffle meant that out of common courtesy you wore a mask. Better to  minimize the chance of spreading anything nasty than having every head turn your way should you happen to sneeze in the confined spaces of commuter carriages.  Indeed to these Tokyo residents, nothing appeared out of the ordinary when masked commuters entered transit hubs, banks and stores or places of work.

Clearly, we have left normal behind and are well into the process of adjusting to life that is a little more normal. This past week has seen Margo and me, heads-down at our desks, finalizing the September 2020 issue of our digital publication NonStop Insider. Now that the task has been completed, it’s been a time of sitting back, drinking coffee and skimming through magazines that I have ignored for some time. With the weather now a little more normal in that the snow that fell earlier in the week and with it, daytime temperatures hovering around freezing, the return to warmer weather has seen us stepping out onto our decks.  

By chance I picked up an older copy of Racer magazine – the May / June 2020 Return to Racing Issue.  As a fan of the articles by Marshall Pruett, I turned to his feature Dawn of a New Normal:

“We won’t forget the year when the world buried its foot in the brake pedal and brought out the red flags for auto racing.

“Fundamental alterations to how we go racing are guaranteed. But this experience will change us in other ways that aren’t fully known yet, carrying the permanence of a new normal as it’s established.”

Pruett then quotes Indy Car team owner, Chip Gnasssi, after he made the observation:

“We have no option but to take a fresh look at how we do the things we do. And all of us from the sanctioning bodies, to the tracks, to the team owners, to the engineers and mechanics, and everybody in between, has no option but to do the same.”

As for fresh looks at doing things including stepping up security trackside, a newspaper in Toronto published the cartoon above. A not so subtle reference to the up and coming Indy stars being as young as they are these days with many in the twenties and a couple just barely twenty. Pictured as the two “race babes” are Colton Herta and Conor Daly, with former Indy winner Hinchcliffe acting as the trackside reporter for NBC. As a historical side note, it was Hinchcliffe who won the pole for the 2016 Indy 500 but where it was team Herta with driver Alexander Rossi who won that year’s Indy 500, the start of an even closer tie-in with the Andretti dynasty.   

It is not always easy to take the words coming out of sports programs literally or to quickly apply to our daily lives. And yet, in all the conversations Margo and I have had of late it’s been hard to ignore the comments about what we are doing differently today. No more handshakes or hugs, no more sitting bar-side at your favorite restaurant and no more gathering as friends over small talk and chitchat. On the other hand, elbow bumps seem unnatural even as we have adapted to something more normal that gives us a form of contact that we have been deprived of for most of the year.

This past week two posters appeared on my Facebook feed that struck a chord. Next year will be a big year for me and even though Margo and I just cancelled our 2021 return BizCation to Australia and New Zealand we are both adamant that we are not getting old. No question about it, we continue to be in good health, to enjoy the work we do even as we plan our next road trip. However, we were only recently reminded that it was two years ago, this past August, that we spent our last weekend trackside. The red Vette was still our sports car of choice and on the Friday prior to the weekends outing with NASA – the National Auto Sports Association – I took Jim Miller out for a couple of laps. 

The skies were even more ominous than that depicted at the top of this post. Not influenced by fire as much as by converging weather systems that were not normal for that region of Colorado at that time of year. Symbolically, after a fashion, a tornado just happened to sweep past the track and, completely unaware of its potential for destruction, I completed the lap. Time to seek shelter!

On the other hand as not normal as this was, the symbolism had more to do that it would prove to be the last time I blasted around High Plains Raceway (HPR) and while I had the notion that indeed this may prove to be the case, I also happened to think that there would be more events to come. Ten years’ of weekends that normally saw us heading to a race circuit somewhere out in the western states for a combination of socializing and on track shenanigans, had come to an end. 

NASA certainly stood by Margo and me as we slowly advanced up the ranks. And our thanks to Ryan Flaherty, John Matthew and Fulton Haight as well as to instructors like Steve, Mike and Tom. When you encounter a group director with the name Maddog, you know you have to be on your best behavior. There were occasions when I wasn’t particularly behaving at my best but even then, a day or so later, Ryan would call me and walk me through whatever issue I had at the time, spending his own time to encourage me to keep at it! 

Which leads me to the second poster that caught my eye the same day! In these times when so many of us argue over this precaution or that, it’s really a time to weigh our option. Priorities are becoming quite different even as CostCo continues to build up its inventory of items that complete disappeared from the shelves a short time ago. We have finished our downstairs storage area – carpets, storage racks, and more – and even as we find ourselves referring to it as our thrift shop or even the downstairs pantry, we now ensure it’s always kept well stocked. No hoarding mind you, but enough good to ensure we are OK. But then again, what’s OK? I guess this is the message of that second poster.

We aren’t quite yet at the point where we can say we have arrived at the new normal. I am not sure we will fully appreciate the new normal when it does arrive as it’s probably going to be a moving target for at least the next two years. However, I am quite OK with living in the more normal circumstances we encounter up here in NoCo. The forest fires seem to have died down even as there remains a hint of burnt pine needles in the air. Parts of the sky remain hazy but even with the presence of forest fires we shrug our shoulders and dismiss them with the thought that after a dry summer, they were expected. They are just another part of normalcy we live through each year. 

It’s been quite a while since I referenced Colton Herta, the grandson of our good friends the Kennys. This weekend began the beginning of the end for the 2020 Indy series with just five races left to run. Colton had worked his way into fifth place overall but then, in a difficult first race on Saturday he slipped back to seventh place in the standings. Still, with the potential of ending the season possibly as high as third, Sunday was going to be challenging as rain was heading towards Ohio. 

Fortunately, Sunday started out well for young Colton and for the Andretti team of which Colton is now an active participant. In tricky conditions that brought out the red flag for the first group of qualifiers Colton, running in the second group ended up the fastest on track securing P1 for the race. After a season without a podium and far from normal for Colton and the Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport it spelt a return to what we all expect from Colton. But then again, there were 75 laps to complete only a matter of an hour or two later in conditions that seemed to be changing by the minute. 

For anyone that follows a favorite team or sporting identity, there is nothing more nail-biting than watching events unfold where they look likely to win! Motor Racing is nothing if not entertaining and on occasion it delivers something exciting. I once drove from Edmonton, Alberta, as winter was still hanging around, to Long beach to watch a Formula One event on the streets of that seaside town. Yes, Mario Andretti just happened to have won but the significance of this win escaped me at the time. 

It would be more than two decades later that I sat in the stands at Monte Carlo to watch the 2004 Formula One event that was won by Giancarlo Fisichella, an upset win as Montoya took out Schumacher in the tunnel while under a full course yellow! Racing is always full of drame as the hours unfold. Then again, even as we sit at home glued to our television sets, there were no surprises this Sunday; Colton won the race.

“That was sweet!”

Colton led every lap apart from the laps as the race leaders made their pit stops. It was as clinical a win as I have ever seen with the distance separating Colton from the other placegetters clearly visible as he crossed the line.  With the laps winding down and with the appearance of being caught by fellow Andretti team members, Colton was in fuel save mode. On his radio, asking for when he could return to racing (as those Andretti drivers closed the gap), it was with a sigh of relief when, with about three laps to run, his crew chief gave him the signal to go race.

Nothing like a quick chat with the "boss" 

And race young Colton certainly did, quickly pulling away from his adversaries. Yes, he won; pulling away and in so doing closed the gap between himself and the driver in third place in the championship. It’s always good to be greeted by the boss and team owner Michael Andretti couldn’t be more pleased to see three of his drivers make it to the podium for the very first time in forever. Then again, it was history too after a fashion:

 “The last time Andretti Autosport swept the podium was in 2005 at St. Petersburg when Dan Wheldon scored the win and fellow Andretti teammates Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta – Colton Herta’s father – followed to sweep the top four finishing positions for what was known as Andretti Green Racing at the time.”

The significance of that F1 win by Mario all those years ago then hit home. Hertas and Andrettis have enjoyed close relationships for a very long time and it’s only normal then that Colton has found a home with a winning team. From seventh place on Saturday night for Colton it meant a jump up to fourth on Sunday afternoon. In times when there’s so much that is normal and where conversations oftentimes harken back to when it was normal, the sense that we were seeing something a little more normal was encouraging.

And the drama continued as the week unfolded. It was as I was reading a digital update from Racer, news came that perhaps Colton now have bigger ambitions than simply finishing this year’s Indy series in third place. Marshall Pruett, once again, led with a heading
Formula 1 still on Herta’s radar

 “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack,” (Colton) said. “I think it would have to mean either being with a top three team or incentives of, if I do good enough, getting to a top three team.

 “So I think if having that U.S. driver can push the market forward and drive the market, I think it’d be very beneficial for Formula 1.

“I’d love to give it a shot; I think you’d be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “But if I don’t, I think I’m going to be just fine and enjoy driving IndyCars just as much as I’d enjoy being in a Formula 1 paddock.”

Maybe just maybe there’s more to that connection with Europe and F1 in Colton’s friendship with Mario after all!

It’s only a matter of days now before we head to Southern California (SoCal) where the forest fires have been more extreme and not to be trivialized in any way. Returning to the highways for only our second roadtrip of the year in a way further highlights how life is becoming a little bit more normal. There is a long way to go and there’s no discounting the tragedy that has been faced by many families around the planet. Shocking, and heart-braking, to say the least. This experience will change us in other ways that aren’t fully known yet … What will follow in the months that lie ahead isn’t clear but there is a growing sense of us becoming adaptive to our changing circumstances.

At the very least, our cars will have masks in the door pockets and we will be carrying plenty of hand sanitizer. The only question we have been asking ourselves is whether or not we should have been doing this all along? Perhaps what comes next is simply a greater appreciation for keeping our neighbors safe and isn’t that something that none of us will be tired of doing any time soon? And when it comes to winning, isn’t taking simple steps like this all that counts in our life race?

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Seen fire, seen rain; seen sunny days I thought would never end!

I recall a television show on the ABC channel (no relation to America’s ABC network, but rather, the Australian government service) simply called Australia you’re standing in it. I also saw tee shirts while travelling that took it a little further: Welcome to Australia; you’re standing in it! You can read into this what you want but the thought being conveyed was that well, if you are looking for something new and different well, you have come to the right place.

I was reminded of this momentarily as I looked out of my home office window. What I saw I will address a little deeper into this post but suffice to say, Colorado can almost lay claim to exactly the same sentiment. As the lock-down we all associate with the global pandemic has gradually eased and there’s more confidence among Coloradans to simply grab a mask and step outside, it’s good to see that creativity always finds a way.

Walking through the small town of Louisville in Boulder County, the main street has been closed with the pubs and cafes prospering from a new way of doing business. There are still county-dictates that mandate walking up to the host wearing a mask but once seated, inside or out, masks can be safely removed as distancing is practiced. It seems a little weird at first but then again, we are just so thankful that there is still some sense of normalcy creeping back into our lifestyles. 

We have enjoyed such an extended period of sunshine now that it’s almost a cliché to say, have a nice day! On the other hand, we have had an extended period of high temperatures with nearly all of August spent in the 90s F. July, either, wasn’t any cooler. Considering winter lingered longer this year, we weren’t all that concerned about the presence of warmer weather but then again, do nice days ever become too much of a nice thing? As the songwriter noted, sunny days do end.

With the lack of enthusiasm to travel pervading most discussions, Margo and I cannot recall a longer period of time where both of us could be found living together under the very same roof. And yes, happy. Upon returning the first week of March from our cruise on Princess to the South Pacific, we have been housebound. Worse than that, we have sadly watched one vacation and even business milestone pass by leaving us with nothing else to do than enter web sites and look for refunds. Fortunately, almost every vendor helped out, with the only exception being Iberia airlines.

While not the best choice of photo for this post, it tells its own story. Just after midday, the skies grew so dark that it was difficult to see very far. Out on the highways those cars with auto lights had them turning on and the only evidence of the presence of the sun was an eerie red spot that broke through the haze, but only occasionally. Colorado, just like California, is on fire. Lightning just happened to strike a little to the west of us, equidistant to both Ft Collins and Loveland, but the smoke plumes thickened rapidly as the fire doubled in size in a matter of hours

As evening descended, we elected not to dine outside and not to fire up the grill but to enjoy a simple pre-dinner drink followed by meatloaf, veggies and French fries, close the drapes and do what teenagers do. Just hang out with our friends, the Millers, who are almost at the end of their time with us. Jim and Dale are about to complete their move to Arizona and it’s been fun to have them around as they take that big jump from being Coloradans to being Arizonians. 

When we woke Sunday morning, every item left outside was covered in ash. Burnt pine needles could be found everywhere you turned. It was a dystopian scene reminiscent of our worst movie experiences where the end of the world was being revealed. Of course, this was not the case neither was it a time to dwell too long on all that is wrong with the world today! Later that day, the darkness continued and yet, there was still time for Margo to simply smile and be thankful that the last of our lawn food had been applied – more on that, shortly.  

Fortunately, for us Coloradans, with only minor disruptions to our lifestyles, we can still head out, relax and in general, find the time to simply sit to watch that world pass us by. We may not be standing in Australia and we may not be true Coloradans even after having lived here for more than two decades, but we can still enjoy the delights of Bondi. Not the beach, mind you, but a local bar in Ft Collins that the locals simply cannot pronounce correctly referring to it as Bind-ie and not Bond-eye!

Conversations at home of late have frequently turned to whether living in the US is our long term goal. One of the trips we had planned for 2021 that we have now cancelled was to Australia and New Zealand. While it was to be a working trip where I would continue to blog for business, it was also a time to check out
whether or not we could live in either place. It’s tempting to daydream of life by the beach where real coffee is brewed and where the wines on offer are superior to much of what is released up here, in North America.

Then again, we have become too vested in the US to make such a return to my home a possibility. Our extended stay in Sydney back in 2018 / 2019 taught us one thing and that was the Aussie $50 spent down there went about as far as a US $20 up here. That good coffee and those fine wines did come at a price and even factoring in the exchange rate, the reality is that both countries have become relatively expensive destinations. To say that we miss the dining in Sydney and indeed Auckland as well and the variety of seafood on offer, is true and yet, we have been able to feast on some really good lobster and muscles of late.

We have both been busy writing and editing articles for our digital publication,

NonStop Insider. This may not be too everyone’s taste as it’s a technical publication but if you haven’t given it a look, then maybe it’s something you might want to do. As editor in chief, Margo always writes the opening editorial and together, we are having a lot of fun pulling each issue together. I only mention this as the upcoming issue completes four years of publication and it has truly helped grow our business. 

More than that; writing can be therapeutic. In these times where thoughts about the global pandemic are never far from our minds, it’s an opportunity to pursue topics that are far removed from what we see on the news or read in the papers. With our trips all cancelled and our thoughts turning to moves overseas, it’s a relief from instability that finds a way of creeping into daily conversations. Yes, like many of you I suspect, our conversations often stray into areas that are dark, but for Margo and me, it’s only fleetingly as we are both good at coming back to what counts most of all. We have a home. We have a family, we have friends and we can still move around the countryside. And we have each other.

We have seen fire and now we see rain. Yes, today what the weather forecasters had predicted came about. From temperatures this weekend in the 90s F, there was an almost 60 F drop in temperature overnight. Awakening to early morning rain we soon saw it turn to snow. In the first weeks of September? Really? Whereas Australia, your standing in it may be a truism, Colorado, your weather will change (where all four seasons can happily happen over any 24 hour period) is definitely equally as good a truism as well.

The backyard and the furniture we have on our lower deck soon were dusted in white. For a short time, it was coming down heavily but for now and apparently for the rest of the day, we will continue to see light snow falling. As for the rest of the week, temperatures will once again climb so that by the weekend, it will be back in the 90s F. The good news is that our application of lawn food happened at exactly the right time as the overnight rain and now, the light snow, is making sure the grass gets a good feed.

We have cancelled trip after trip this year but that doesn’t mean we have ruled out travelling entirely. Having enjoyed the company of the Kennys here in Windsor only a short time ago, we have now made plans to drive to Simi Valley for a short visit - yet another bizcation if you like. Hopefully, our route will take us past the Aspens as they turn yellow even as it takes us well off the beaten path. It will be a return drive through Durango, CO, and then on to Scottsdale, AZ. It was on a July weekend way back in 1993 that Margo and I together with colleague, Brad Poole, traveled almost this exact route as we took the license to extend a business trip to simply enjoy a road trip together.

To think that this was almost thirty years ago is mind-boggling. Then again, the seasons come and go and time becomes our enemy. That trip back to Australia and New Zealand that we had planned was to mark passing of a major life milestone, but even as we cancelled it, we knew that we couldn’t cancel that inevitable transition. In a blog post I asked the question as to whether with age came wisdom or whether it simply meant we were getting old and among the responses was the comment that old wise people derived wisdom from what had been. Today, it’s more important to have new wisdom than anything else so I guess I have to own up the fact that wisdom has escaped me and yes, I am simply old.

“You don’t stop racing when you get old; you get old when you stop racing.” This simple truth appeared in my twitter feed and it was what prompted me to write this post. Margo and I no longer spend time on the track even as we both admit that we miss the social aspect of club outings but when a pickup towing a racecar passes by we both get a tad misty eyed in seeing someone else heading out. However, what hasn’t left us is the thought process that takes place as we consider future vehicles – do they have an infotainment center or soft leather seats or even ease of access?

For both of us it’s about the driveability, the handling and the overall performance of the car. Even as the snow abates and we look out onto the driveway and think about which car we will take on our upcoming trip to Simi Valley there really isn’t all that much to discuss. It’s got to be the BMW M4 Competition. Will have to get the snow off the car, of course, but we have grown very fond of this car and come sunshine, we will be back on the road. And we will have to keep watching those weather forecasts in case this foretaste of winter turns into a regular occurrence.

Yes, over these past few weeks, we have seen it all. We have seen fires ravish our forests and sunshine that has baked the black top. We have even seen hard rains that turned to snow. But with each change we saw, there was an unmistakable end. All we can do now, thank goodness, is to look ahead to the drive and trust we will see nothing but sunny days ahead, yet again.