Thursday, August 31, 2017

Where is U? Peruvian Teachers Strike Again!

Visiting Machu Picchu was a moving and emotional experience. I was overwhelmed by its majesty.   You can look at thousands of pictures and none, I mean none, will do it justice.  I won’t even try. You have to see it yourself. Not only  was  it a spiritual moment for me, but every Peruvian I met said the same thing. It’s a spiritual moment. And they all brought their hands to their hearts when taking about it. Everyone.  

So having toured and explored this amazing place for about five hours, it was time to head back to town.  A moderate wait for the bus and an uneventful ride down the mountain.  My son and I walk into town and proceed to Toto’s House Restaurant for some coffee and empanadas.  We have a few hours to kill and this place is perfectly situated for people watching.  Perfect.  An Incan quartet of pan flutes and guitars are playing for coins and selling CD’s.   Better than perfect.  We hang out here watching the comings and goings, listening to live music, talking and laughing.  That nice ache settles and another beer just might do the trick.  The beer is exceptionally good down there by the way.  

Finally it’s getting close to 4 PM and we have a train to catch. I had the hotel hold the bags and send them to the train station.  There they are, and now I’m schlepping around my suitcase and backpacks. They let us through the gates and the station is PACKED!  Oh and did I mention utter chaos?  That too.   Remember those striking teachers?  Yep.  The striking teachers are at it again. This time disrupting the rail service.  They put logs and rocks as well as parked trucks on the rails.  People are everywhere and more and more are coming through the gates.  There is nowhere to sit, people are camping in the gardens, under trees, all over benches and occupying every square inch of this place.  You have to plan your moves if a seat looks like it’s going to become available.   I pounced on a bench when a young lady stood up to stretch and she offered me a seat.  Ah. Bless you child!

So here we have hundreds and hundreds of people, all speaking different languages, mind you, sitting asshole to elbow, trying to;
 a) Listen to any news over the “loudspeaker” which it is an oxymoron because it was neither loud nor audible, even in English.  It was as if you were speaking through  a tired old speaker with a hole in it trying to talk over hundreds and hundreds of unhappy people while holding your hand over your mouth. And you were underwater as well.


b) Get some sort of answer from the overworked, exhausted, and just as much in the dark as we were, train attendants.   Those poor employees had no clue as to what was going on either.   They did not know when the trains where coming in. They were not getting any information from the Ministry of Transportation.  They were exhausted as we were.  We spoke to one attendant who had been there for 18 hours and had another four hour round trip ahead of her before she could go home.  

Now all of the food is gone because the mob is not only big but hungry as well.  We had a few leftover energy bars and lots of water.   But now those are long gone and the trains are not rolling in.   They are 6 hours behind schedule.  Yep.  Six long hours.  Wait! Hold it! And here comes a train.  The entire  station erupts in jubilation. But there are a lot train security and they are checking the tickets and times carefully.  Not our train.   Later on we met a bunch of kids from Ireland who missed that train  by minutes.  Those poor kids were devastated.  Soon we befriend a group consisting of an elderly couple from Australia, along with two teenage girls from Venice and Saskatchwan, who have coalesced into a traveling unit because of this shared misery, led by Bruce, a very tall man in a bright red jacket and big white straw hat.  And they were in the same carriage that we were in. 

People are starting to go from a spirited, we are all in this together festive mood, to edgy, then, angry, onto loud and finally everyone for themselves.  People are clapping and chanting.  Someone start shouting informacion! Informacion!  Others quickly join in.  My son and I along with our new traveling partners are able to find a quieter place in the station and wait there. We take the philosophical approach; nothing much we can do, out of our hands, oh well.  

Finally our train rolls into the station.  The carriages  are marked M, N, O, P, Q,R,S,T, V, W, X, Y, Z, L.   Oh, and we were all in carriage U.  Yep, carriage U.  The one that’s not there.  That carriage U.  They are checking your ticket and passport to the manifest and if your aren’t scheduled for that train and carriage, you are not getting on it.  Period. I’m going from attendant to attendant, dragging my suitcase and backpacks screaming Donde esta U?  Donde esta U?  Where is U?  Where is U?  They didn’t know where U was either.  They mostly spoke into their walkie-talkies and then said something to me in Spanish that I didn’t understand and walked away.  Great.  I keep an eye on Bruce in the bright red jacket and big white straw head to see if he has made any headway.  

They start closing the doors and I see my new mate Bruce standing by the last carriage.  L.  It dawns on us.  L is the new U. My son and I race to  Carriage L.  Bruce and his wife are boarding, I hear Bruce scream to the attendant those are my daughters.  More like grand-daughters Bruce’s wife snickered later.  The two young ladies from Venice and Saskatchewan get on the train.  I show my ticket to the attendant and saying, “U is L, L is U!” She gives us a weary smile and  lets us onto the carriage.  She doesn't even bother checking our passports. The doors close.  

We leave the station.  No actually we don’t, for some inexplicable reason, we wait for about a half an hour, and then leave the station.  We start chatting it up with our new traveling partners, swapping stories, and spend a pleasant train ride back to Ollantaytambo.  

Throughout this ordeal we kept in touch with David, The Best Tour Guide Ever, trading information about the travel delays and making sure we were all up to date.   The train pulls into Ollantaytambo at around 12:15 AM.   Beyond exhausted, we step off the train to be greeted by David, The Best Tour Guide Ever.  He grabs our bags and hauls them to his car.  We settle in and now we have to go into town and try and find a hotel.  Easy enough right?  Not when the only road leading into and out of the railroad station is blocked by a van that is stalled in the middle of the road with a dead battery which  is resulting in cars, vans, and busses all making a huge traffic jam.  David TBTGE, jumps out of the car, rounds up a few other people and pushes the stalled car out of the road.  

We finally clear the traffic jam and head into a very quiet Ollantaytambo.  David TBTGE, starts going up and down the streets pounding on doors of hotels and finally finds us two rooms at the Hostal Sumac Chaka on Calle Medio.  It was clean, it had a bed, it had a bathroom, it had hot water. It was inexpensive and vacant.  Boom, we pay the not so happy manager who was, prior to our, arrival fast asleep and are shown our rooms. I wash up and I am asleep in minutes.

One of the best days ever.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Yet Another Tent On The Beach Story

I love watching people put tents up on a wind swept beach.  It never gets old and the laughs are simply non-stop.  My latest sighting was on Footbridge Beach in Ogunquit, Maine.  A beautiful but breezy beach that my wife and I love.  We stay at the Gazebo Inn.  An absolutely amazing bed and breakfast.  My gold standard for hotels.   Anyway back to the beach.  Their breakfasts’ are off the charts.  Sorry.  The beach.   So a family strolls onto the beach carrying everything you can imagine.  They were very,  well let’s just say they could have stood to lose a few pounds and   maybe hit the gym every now and then.  The point being that they, in no way shape or form, had anything to do with the great outdoors.  And now of course, they are the proud owners of a brand new tent.  Sealed in the box.  Never opened.  The husband, who eventually proved himself to be extremely inept at tent assembly, was going to attempt to set up this tent on a windy beach.  Add to this his lovely wife who carried an adorable newborn in a sling across her shoulders.  And a beautiful young daughter of around 7 or 8.  

Dad attempts to open the box but is unfortunately thwarted by the steel band-like twenty layers of cellophane tape keeping it sealed.  No knife of course, so they start to tear the box to shreds finally get the tent out. Out billows yards and yards of mutli-colored nylon fabric and three, count them, three ridiculously long, jointed, elastic poles.  The daughter pitches in only to have dad poke her in the stomach with the poles.  “Thanks dad.”   The wife is reassembling the torn box and pointing to the pictures telling the husband what it should look like.  I don’t know what it looked like on the box, but what this guy was doing with the real thing didn’t resemble anything that I have ever seen.  

Ten minutes go by and those poles and yards of fabric still don’t resemble anything that could remotely be considered shelter.  This guy lives in a house, for most of the year.  What does he know about tents?  Finally something that appears to be a tent is up flapping in the breeze.  I haven’t seen the box but I’m pretty sure that the picture on it and that tent had little resemblance to  each other.  In fact, the two of the three tent poles were waving back and forth in the stiff wind looking like huge bug antennae.  I don’t know if it was my imagination but I thought my cell service suddenly got better.  

The husband must have compared the picture on the box to what he was sitting under and concluded that nope, doesn’t resemble the box. So out he pops, tears the tent down and starts anew.  The wife and newborn pick up the tent and begin to put it together; taking directions from the husband who is now looking at the torn box picture. After a few minutes they trade places and the wife begins to point at the picture and shout instructions to the husband.  The daughter wisely stays out of range of the tent poles.  Don’t forget the wind is blowing at a fair clip.  

Finally the tent is up. And NO it’s not.  Down goes the tent.  The husband now sits amid all of these poles and nylon and  pulls out his phone.  Then he starts to open all of the zippers on the tent to see if something is hidden under the flaps.  Finding nothing of value he abandons the zippers and starts in with the tent poles again.  Third time’s the charm and up goes the tent.  Finally figured out the little black tabs attached the tent to the pole.  

Eureka! The tent is up and my cell service is excellent.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lobsta For The Lazy-Ass; That Would Be Me

I’m currently on the Cape Cod portion of my summer.  It’s a great part; sun, beach, seafood.  Who could ask for more? I actually could ask for a better way   to get here than the usual practice of endlessly sitting in traffic for hours on end with two bigs dogs in the backseat, listening to the Beatles on Sirius radio and swearing to myself non-stop. But, that’s just me.  

Finally we get here and set up.  Get the dogs settled in and decide where we are going to eat tonight.  It’s going to be fish because why come to Cape COD and eat anything other than seafood?  It’s named after a fish for crying out loud. 

With very little prodding we decide on Captain Parkers.  If you’ve been here you obviously know what I’m talking about, but if you have not, it is an old school “lobsta”  restaurant; police patches from all over the world adorn the bar, nautical theme, and really great food.  And the best chowder for many years running.  It’s really good.  Order a bowl, not a cup, you won’t be sorry.  So thick, you can actually stand your spoon up in the bowl!

So after a moderate wait, it’s always busy so be prepared to wait, we are seated.  While we are perusing the drink menu I overhear the guy next to me order the prime ribs.  I roll my eyes and silently curse mankind.  Who comes to a fish place and orders meat?  The seafood is so fresh it's as if the oysters flung themselves off the dock and on to your plate.  Anyway, being on permanent vacation has caused me to be, slightly, a little bit,  ahhh, shall we say lazy.  Maybe a little more than a bit, but anyway I’m thinking lobster, but man I am beat from all those hours of sitting in traffic doing nothing but swearing to myself.  And after a few drinks I’m even lazier and lobster is even less appealing because frankly eating lobster is a lot of work.  I think I even read somewhere that because you have to work so hard at breaking off a piece, cracking it open, picking the lobster out that you actually burn more calories  than gain. Even with the butter.  It's like eating health food.  I could be making that up, but the fact remains is that it is a lot of work.  I want to simply stab a piece of lobster with fork, insert in mouth, repeat. Also, I hate wearing a plastic bib.  I’m in my early sixties, when I see I guy my age eating with a bib wrapped around his neck, I shudder.  

When the waitress comes over, I first tell her my tale of woe, driving all day, tired, and do they have anything that resembles a lobster that some else has done all of the work for me; i.e. picked out all of the lobster? Well, it is my lucky day because they have a steamed lobster that not only comes cracked, but the tail is split open.  Perfect.  I'm down.

The chowder is terrific.  Thick, creamy, full of clams.  Yum.  Lobster comes, I decline the bib and proceed to have at it.  I don’t even break a sweat taking that lobster down.  I make sure I finish all of the broccoli because of the health benefits, order a cup of coffee and we are done.   No wait, we are not done, because we want some dessert.  We decide on a brownie/ ice cream thingie.  How bad could that be right?  I like a few bites of something sweet after dinner.  Not much, one or two.  The waitress brings  this absolutely enormous bowl of ice cream, topped with a can of whipped cream, drenched in hot fudge sauce and of course, the brownie somewhere in there.  Seriously, this thing was gigantic.  Well, you know it is summer and I have been running again, ok can’t let a nice dessert go to waste.  We polish off the dessert and waddle out the door!  A great start to my Cape vacation! What's for dinner tomorrow?!!!  

Friday, August 4, 2017

August First Doesn’t Suck Anymore

I was a teacher for over twenty years.  For me it was a great profession.  Extremely rewarding personally and professionally, the knowledge that you are actually making a positive impact in children’s lives,  and a lot of vacations.  I’m a vacation kind of guy; I love my leisure time.  A lot.  Really. A whole lot. In addition to all of the usual holidays and vacations, and enough personal and sick time that you could make your own mini-vacations (but you didn’t hear that from me) that teaching offered, you had the holy grail of vacations.  Summer.  Ten week of uninterrupted, sun drenched bliss.  No work, all play, everyday. We all loved summer vacations. Right? I never met anyone, I mean anyone, that didn’t love summer vacation as a kid.  Why most people gave that up to get two weeks, begrudgingly  given to you, and you better not take two consecutive weeks, and make sure you check your phone every two-seconds, I’ll never know.  Or even committing the most heinous  sin of all, unused vacation days.   How is that possible?  Hmmmm.   Let’s see.  Would I rather occupy my time with some mindless bullshit, or do what I please?  I think the answer is obvious.

I recently retired and have rather taken to retirement life.  As a former teacher when August first came around, I got a sense of dread.  You know, the little bit of queasiness in the pit of your stomach.  Any teachers reading this, you know what I mean.  September is right around the corner and its back to work time.  Plus the added bonus of August flying  by fast AF, Well, you get what  I mean.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like going to prison, in fact, I loved my job a lot, a real lot. I was lucky; it wasn’t work for me.  But, I still got those August First Blues.  

No mas.  August first has come and gone with nary a whimper. Hell, I’m writing this a few days after the first and everything is cool.  The sun still rises and sets.   August first?  I laugh at August first.  Yes, I know, it was only a few short months ago that I would never look August first in the eye and sneer, but times have changed.  I’ve moved on.  To my  former teaching colleagues and other teachers who may be reading this as well, I wish you an easy August as you wind down the summer and get back to teacher mode.  Yours is one of the hardest jobs out there and you all do it so very  well.  Your time will come when every day is Saturday, but until then enjoy every moment you have in the classroom.  You really make a difference.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Peruvian Teachers Rock, Literally and Figuratively!

My first introduction to the Inca culture was a long time ago in sixth grade.   It wasn’t part of the curriculum, but rather something that my crew and  I discovered during indoor recess.   Way, way back teachers actually trusted the kids to play without adult supervision while they enjoyed their coffee and cigarettes during lunch hour (oh and it was a real hour).  Back then, teachers weren’t paid a whole lot, and most if not all had to work two or even three jobs to make ends meet.  So a real, uninterrupted lunch hour was sacrosanct.  

On rainy or snowy days we had indoor recess.  For us, indoor recess meant hanging out in the library.  We weren’t nerds, oh no, we were geography experts.  We would search the National Geographic magazines for pictures of naked women, and then project the picture on the movie screen using this old time machine called an opaque projector.  It made indoor recess tolerable to say the least.  We never got caught, but I suspect that if we did, we would have gotten off with just a promise to knock it off and never do that again (sure, uh-uh, right). 

One snowy day, during the geography quest,  while I was searching for our favorite pictures, I came across an article about Peru.  I was stunned when I first saw pictures of the Incan ruins.  No, it wasn’t because of the naked pictures,  they didn’t have any, but the absolute grandeur and majesty of the terraces, temples, and ruins of the Inca.  I thought to myself if only they had some pictures of… No actually I thought that this would be a cool place to see in person.  

I recently retired and was looking for an interesting place to visit.   My first thought was to visit Azerbaijan; a small country in the Caucasian Mountains in central Asia.  It is a very friendly, western looking country with a great food scene.  Oh, and it was on the Silk Road so it had a lot of history as well.  That idea got shot down and plan B was Peru.  My son, and traveling partner, made all of the reservations and off we went.  

Our first adventure in Peru was a bus ride and tour of the ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the Cuzco region of Peru. Cuzco was the capital of the Incas.    I felt fine for the first day but the next morning I was suffering from altitude sickness.   Too bad for me because the bus is here and now it’s off to Pisac.    We are above 11,000 feet and we have to climb even higher to go over a mountain.  The bus is swaying back and forth, the roads are all mountain switchbacks, (fun in a sports car, not so much in a rickety old bus) and I’m starting to get worse.  I quickly motioned to the guide to stop the stop.  Silly me.  Who stops a bus on a narrow mountain road in the middle of nowhere? No one I know.  Soooo I  became the guy on the bus that we all hate.  Yes, the one who despite all of the warnings about altitude sickness, and throwing caution to the wind by not taking altitude sickness pills, promptly throws up on the bus.  Lovely.  The lady in front of me kindly offers me an altitude sickness pill.  I’m usually loathe to accept drugs from strangers but would have welcomed cyanide at this time because I was  mortified.  Lucky for me it settled my stomach, helped along by a huge wad of coca leaves that were stuffed into my cheek.  

Mercifully the bus ride is over  and here I am staring at some of the most beautiful ruins in the world.  The Incas were an amazing people who despite not having a written language, the wheel, or metal tools, managed to create one of the greatest civilizations in the world.  They left us a magical world of terraces built into the sides of mountains, granaries, temples, housing, art, science, astronomy, botany, and much more.  

After exploring the town, having a light bite to eat and some souvenir shopping(found out how to identify real silver from fake) we get back onto the infernal bus and we are off to visit Ollantaytambo. 

We had heard from some sources that the teachers in the Cuzco region were striking because of low pay.  Apparently going to the university for five years nets you about $500 a month as a Peruvian teacher.    Even though the cost of living is lower in Peru, $500 a month anywhere in the world is lousy pay.  All of a sudden the bus stops in the road.  I see a group of schoolchildren, dressed in their uniforms, holding signs,  walking towards the bus.  Ah, how charming. Then, immediately behind them the adults, only they are holding rocks and boulders in their hands.  Uh-oh.  Angry, underpaid, overworked teachers.  Who, incidentally, had been on strike for months.  I’m thinking to myself, “Barry, how do you say I am a teacher in Spanish?”  Just in case they start throwing rocks at the bus.  Repeat after me, Yo soy un profesor! Yo soy un profesor!  Lucky for me and the rest of the people on the bus they started throwing the rocks and boulders onto the road.  This was the only time that I was happy that my wife wasn’t with us.  Sal is a staunch supporter of the teachers’ union and was a very active in her local.  She would have been the first one to jump out of the bus and join the protest.  Finally the mob slowly passes, followed closely  by a battalion of very unhappy looking police in riot gear.  

Sooooo, now we are in the middle of the road, in the middle of Peru, and the road is covered with rocks and boulders.  What do we do?  Well we had two suggestions.  The first was let’s walk and hour and a half to Ollantaytambo.   An easy hour and a half jaunt on foot with a nice kicker of an eight to nine thousand foot altitude and carrying a load of photo equipment and a fifty pound suitcase.  Already I’m freaking out.  The other suggestion, was, “Hey! How about if WE clear the road?” So that’s what we did.  We all piled out of the bus and cleared a path of about two to three hundred yards of rock strewn road.  The passengers in the other buses and cars in back of us joined the party and in the matter of minutes we cleared the road.  

Back in the bus and on to Ollantaytambo.   Those rocking good teachers?   They came back to haunt us a few more times. I'll tell you about that later.  


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Introducing Barry 2.0.

Let me preface this essay by saying that I recently retired as a teacher.  It was a great job. I loved it. 

Let me preface this essay by saying that I recently retired as a teacher.  It was a great job. I loved it. 

I must say that this retirement business is pretty cool.  I mean, I’m enjoying it.  Immensely.  I feel that I have hit the reset button and have morphed  into Barry version 2.0.  Barry 2.0 has a totally different mindset than the former, working at a job, Barry.  Here is an example.  The day after my final day at work, I caught a cold.   The old version of me would have ranted and raved.  “Those little germ factories! Had to give me cold.  Blah blah blah.  Lost a week of my precious summer vacation!”  Right?   Not Barry 2.0.  Nope.  “Cold? Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to stay home, binge watch Netflix, and nap, la-de-da.”  See, much improved.  I got up at 11:30 this morning.  Who does that?  Retired Barry 2.0 does.   

And that’s not all.  I can plan stuff without having to fit everything into one summer vacation.  Usually, I run around so much during the summer that instead of being rested, I’m exhausted at the end of it.  First day back from summer vacation, I want to faint.  I have to take a nap every day for a week just to get back to something that resembles normal. Not any more.  Uh-uh.  Now I can go on vacation in the fall.  Awesome!  

The old me would start losing his mind as soon as August hit.  June is a chill month. July, very languid and relaxed. August? It flies by, fast AF, and before you know it, I’ll see you in September.  What? Where the hell did the summer go?  Now? Every day is Saturday, every week is vacation week.  And I’m a vacation kind of guy.  So Barry 2.0 is liking this a lot.  

Old Barry would  balk at going to  a concert or a hockey game in the middle of the week.  “I have to call in “sick,” make up lesson plans, and besides it will take me FOREVER to recover.  Barry 2.0?  Not only am I going to see a concert during a work week, it’s going to be on Sunday!  And speaking about Sunday.  No more  Sunday night dread!   Barry 2.0 no longer deals with that shit.  Uh-uh. A thing of the past my man.  A thing of the past.  

Before the update, people would come up to me and ask what am I going to do after I retire.  Most wanted me to get a job.  Ah, hello?  I am retiring from a job.  I am retiring from a job that I love, to get a pay cut, and work in something that I will most likely hate?     I was hard pressed to figure that out.  The point of retirement is NOT to work.  Even the old version figured that one out.  

I know what you are thinking.  Barry 2.0, you suck!  Perhaps I do, but  you too will be here soon enough. In the meantime, I’m going to buckle up tight and enjoy the ride.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Lime Rock Park; The Most Fun You Can Have With A Helmet On

Recently I went to an autocross event at Lime Rock Park.  Lime Rock Park is a phenomenal road race course located in Litchfield County, Connecticut.  It’s a gorgeous venue and a great track to enjoy racing. I saw Paul Newman win an SCCA race back in 1986.  It’s been something that I had wanted to do for a while, but never found the time.  Well folks, now that I am retired, every day is Saturday in my world, so I signed up.  I had just finished breaking in a ’17 Subaru BRZ, and I was ready to see what this thing could do.  It’s a great car to drive.  I have a thing for little red sport coupes and this is by far the best one I have owned.  I ordered it with a manual transmission, as well as upgraded brakes(amazing), tires (meh), wheels (cool looking) and shocks (freakin’ awesome).   A great car to drive around in.  It is MADE for driving. It really has no other use. Beautiful lines, very comfortable seating, nice cockpit layout and the clutch and transmission are very light and quick.   And it is light!  2800 pounds give or take.  

So off to Lime Rock Track at seven in the morning.  It was a wonderful ride up, talking, listening to the Beatles on the radio.  Beautiful day.  We get there and are introduced to the guys that are going to run the event.  Great guys; a lot of racing knowledge between them.  We are broken up into two groups; the noobs, me and 11 other people, and the people with some experience.  
They tell us to inflate our tires to 40 psi to increase negative camber, which is when you see the top of tires canted towards the center of the car and the bottoms are splayed out.  Bottom line, it puts more tire on the road, which in turn increases grip, and that’s is going to be something that I want a lot of today because the BRZ is going to get thrashed around and I don’t want to make an idiot of myself in front of a group of strangers with some fairly nice cars.  I’ll get to those in a bit. The fairly nice cars, not me making an idiot of myself.  

So of course I miss where the air pump is and have to drive around the paddock.  Which wasn’t a bad thing because there was a Ferrari Club racing event on the main track.  Now THAT is an expensive hobby! And that is coming from someone who has a few pricy hobbies himself.   In addition to buying a good Ferrrari,  you have to trick it out, suspension, fire suppression, tires, tuneups, parts, spares; the list is endless.  And did I mention expensive?  But they put on a great show.  Fun watching these gorgeous cars racing wheel to wheel.  Now I am next to last in the air line.  Finally add some air, check the pressure and back up to the course.  And of course I miss the walk around on the track.  I get there just in time to here the instructors say all right lets get on the track.  Ahhh.  Ok, I can do this.   Luckily I’m in the last group so I have some time to figure out whats what.  There is an elevation change, a chicane (sort of like a slight zig-zag in the road, very cool), a sweeping turn and  a tight one.    

Meanwhile before my turn, I’m checking out the other cars and people.  Mostly guys, but a few women were the crowd.  A couple of Porsche Boxsters, a Corvette, a Toyota MR2 (I love that car), another BRZ, a really nice ’02 Honda S2000, as well as a few Minis, and this dude who sort of reminded me of Doc in Back To The Future,  with a one-off, hand built car frame thing. This “car” was all open, no roof, no fenders, no doors, seriously no car, just a frame with an engine.  And he wore a full race suit.  Guy must have sweated out  gallons; it was an  uber hot day. A Mustang GT,  and even a lady in a Volkswagen Passat, whom I will come to hate. More on that later.  The stars of the day, IMHO, were a perfectly restored ’67 Jaguar XKE, and a ’71 Triumph TR6 (another fav car of mine).  These were in mint condition.  Just beautiful cars.  

Finally my group is getting called to get onto the track.  I put my helmet on, snug but comfortable.  The worst part is the heat.  It was in the eighties that day  and very muggy.  That bucket on your head heats up right quick.  Buckle up and we are off. Hit the throttle, bring the tach up to about 6500 RPM’s and shift to second,  and that’s pretty much it.    Basically you never get out of second gear. The track it short enough, and challenging enough that second gear is pretty much all you need.  However, when they reconfigure the track, third gear becomes an option.  But you remember that lady in the Passat?  Well, guess who didn’t get a chance to snick it into third gear because of her.  That would be me.  We will get back to that.

So I’m on the track getting the feel of it and taking the car maybe fifty percent of what I perceived to be the limits of it.  Of course I was wrong because that car has skills.  The instructor motions me over to tell me a few tweaks to help my technique.  Where to brake, turn, what angle I should be taking.  I’m so amped up on adrenaline I nod my head as if I’m actually following him, and he sends me off.  All right, what the fuck did he say? A few more laps, I’m getting more confident, the car is behaving well and I haven’t spun out.  All good.

Mike, the head guy, is another Subaru fan so we get to talking and I ask him to jump in and show me the course.  He tells me when to brake, where to break, where to point the car, when to accelerate and when to back off.  We go around the track a couple dozen times and every lap I feel more confident and start to hammer on the Subaru.  He’s coaching me through every inch of this course.  Freakin’ awesome.  The car is amazing.  I was pushing it to my limits (not the car’s) and maybe a bit more.  I don’t believe I scratched the surface on how wonderfully the car handles.  Next round I’m on my own.  Accelerate, point the car, brake, let up, accelerate repeat. Only once did I feel the rear end breaking loose.  I went into the corner a little too hot.  I felt the rear end slightly break, but then the stability control kicked up and then sent me on my merry way.   Being a noobie, I didn’t want to switch it to track mode.  There was literally nothing that could happen there that could damage the car, so you really can have fun without worrying about getting into an accident. The only thing that you could damage would be your ego.  Which can’t be said for the poor ( metaphorically speaking) Ferrari guy who crashed his car on the track.  He damaged his car and his ego. That, was an expensive weekend for that dude.  

Now we are going to do some time trials with the winner getting bragging rights and invited back for a championship run. Cool.  Something to work for.  You get five laps of which the first one is the warm up, the next three are timed and the last is a cool down.  One car at a time and I’m in the back of the pack.  Finally my turn.  I take a nice, leisurely warm up lap until the turn coming into the starting line.  I nail and come in hot.  Backoff through the chicane, aim for the cone, stand on the gas, get ready to hit the brakes hard, turn, let the inertia power you the through the turn, accelerate, shoot out of the turn under full power, here comes the other chicane, off the throttle for a nano-second, right-left-turn-turn accelerate, here comes the sweeper, point, wait, brake, turn and so on.  Second time through I am screaming through the chicane and SHIT! Hit a cone.  Two second penalty.  In autocross 2 seconds might as well be two years.  Wah, wah.  One more run and the cool down lap.  My times for this were 21.4, 21.7 and 21.8 (plus two for the cone) seconds.  The winner was 19 and some change.  It put me in the higher end of the pack.  For a first time noob?  It’s all good. 

Last phase the track is reconfigured to have both left and right turns as well as elevation changes AND a reasonably long straight away that the instructor said that you might want to try shifting into third.  Of course I want to give that a try.  Get up enough speed to hit third gear?  I’m in! Oh, remember the woman in the Passat?  She was in front of me.  She  was driving the track like it was a jaunt to the grocery store.  This track configuration was so much fun.  But she was In front of me taking her time, hitting the brakes when she shouldn’t have and checking out the scenery.  I would slow down, get some distance, then have at it.  Nope, she was tootling along, la-de-da and I was running out of track before I could shift into third.  Yeah, I know, first world problems, I get it.  

Anyway, it was an amazing day. Learned a lot about the BRZ, saw some cool cars and just had a ball.   Looking forward to doing that again so I signed up for the advanced course in September.  That will be all one-on-one coaching plus skid pad.  That is gonna be fun!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Gloria Scott; July 28, 1926 to February 3, 2017

So here we are standing around my mothers’ grave and, even in death, she is the center of attention.   When she walked into a room, it lit up, and she owned it.   She was brash, blond and bold.  Vain as the day is long, the worst cook ever, the most amazing secretary, a good mother, loved my father dearly,  and could talk your ear off.  She never held back.   And did I ever tell you she could hold a grudge?  Oi Vai.  Though,  if she loved you, it was for life.  

She used to tell a story about wanting to join the USO  and entertain the troops during World War Two.   She was a looker, had spunk, and had a beautiful singing voice.  It was probably around 1944 after she graduated high school.   Her father nixed the idea saying, “A goil hasta woik,”  thus dashing her hopes for fame. The consolation prize was having her in the room shmoozing,  telling jokes and stories, and entertaining us.    

She was a voracious reader and gifted to me the love of reading.   One of my first memories is taking the bus into downtown Bridgeport and going to the public library.   Big lobby,  polished wood and brass, very, very quiet.   I was maybe five.  We walked up to this huge circular desk, a large silver-haired women behind it, bustling around doing book things and such,  and my mother tells me we are giving the books back.  WTF?  Or the whatever the five year old equivalent of WTF is,  I screamed out, “It’s mine!” My mother and I literally had a tug-o-war with the book in the middle of the library.  People shushing us left and right.   I won the tug-o-war and proceeded to throw the book at the silver haired lady and hit her in the head.   As I was being dragged out, I distinctly remember screaming, “I hate you. I hate you!”  But I'm never without a book!

Being from Brooklyn she fancied herself as a tough, savvy, street-smart, woman.  Oh, she was indeed.  She had such a passion about  jewelry.    She loved it so much that she got into the business  or as she would say, “The biz a neese.”   Why she said it that way, who knows.  She relished going into New York on buying trips.  She especially enjoyed handeling(negotiating) in a man’s world and holding her own.     For her, she got a thrill out of not only picking out the jewelry, but negotiating and matching wits with the seller on price.  She LOVED a bargain.  She was  extremely generous with her stuff.   She was always giving away something; a charm, a chain, some earrings.  She shared her love of jewelry with others. 

I can never remember a time when music was not on the stereo.  She was proud of that stereo.  Music was always on. Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Vaughn Monroe, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, crooners and big band.  Oh and Barbara Streisand.  Oh my god, Babs was her bomb.  And yes we had a stereo when no one had one.   It was a mahogany RCA console with brown and gold grills.  My mother was, we shall  put it mildly, cheap.  Very, very cheap.  A tightwad if you will.  This was an unprecedented extravagance.   It sat as the focal point in the living room for a long time.  It did have a stereo speaker that they ended up buying separately.   When they got it home it didn’t sound as well as it did in the store.  I'm sure at the time they didn’t want to spring for the extra cost of the speaker but as soon as she heard a low sound quality, she and my father marched back to the appliance store and bought the speaker.   They came home from the store, speaker in tow, laughing hysterically about woofers and tweeters.  That’s all we heard all week woofers and tweeters.  When guests came over, yup, you guessed it, woofers and tweeters.  I still laugh when I hear that term.  

Because of the woofers and tweeters, I have loved music all my life.  It’s one of the things that I could never live without.  When I was twelve she asked me if I wanted to take up a musical instrument.  I immediately said, “The drums!”  She said absolutely not.  Too noisy.  So I got private saxophone lessons.   I hated that instrument.   Mercifully after a year of torture, it was over.   But later on I took up the drums. And, the guitar as well.  Thanks mom.  

As talented as she was, she was not without her faults.   She was an abysmal cook.  Horrible.  I prayed that my parents would go out on the weekend so I could have a TV dinner.   Once in junior high she gave me a sardine sandwich for lunch.  Who does that?  I couldn’t trade it for anything.  Took one bite, threw it out and was starving all day.  I’m famished by the time I get home.  “Why did you give me a sardine sandwich?” I cried.    “I thought you liked them.” She replied,  “You had a sardine the other day and you said it was ok.”  I thought that was just idle chatter.   I never dreamed she would turn that into my newfound culinary must-have.   Her disdain of cooking led me to become a pretty good cook.  And that love of cooking was passed on to her grandchild Aaron.  And speaking of grandchildren she loved them so much.   Joshua, Todd and Aaron.  She always asked for them first when we talked.  

She was an exceptionally   vain woman.   Never leaving the house without her face on.  Always dressed to the nines.  She was contemporary and stylish.  With a dash of extravagance.   Well, maybe more than a dash. Actually, a lot more.  Even a walk to the mailbox was an ordeal because, “Maybe I should  meet someone on the way, God forbid, and she sees me looking like this.”    My father adored her.   Anything you want hon.  Anything you want.  She doted  on my father to the ends of the earth. The sun rose and set on my wonderful brother Steven.  It broke her a bit when he passed.   But she was a “tough broad” as she was fond of referring to herself, and life for her resumed. Sadder, but I could always coax a laugh out of her. And she loved to laugh.   

All of the gifts that she gave me and made me who I am do not compare to her last one.   Her last gift to me on the day she passed away was our first grandchild.   A little girl.  In twelve hours I went from profound grief and sadness to profound joy.   Somehow she knew it was time.   And that kind of sums her up.  My mother always loved to get in the last word. I love you mom.