HCAYMAN

Seriously Irreverent Musings

Author: hkraushaar (page 1 of 10)

Lufting Great

Apparently the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend is a great day for a car show. Who knew. Patrick Long. That’s who.

Luftgekühlt 6, the sixth installment of the uber successful air-cooled Porsche show franchise, was held on the back lot at Universal Studios on the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend. It was not only great. It was a smash. Frankly, I thought Luft 5, which was held at Ganahl Lumber in Torrance, was an amazing event. I thought it would be tough to beat. I was wrong. Not a little wrong, but totally and completely wrong. Luft 6 was simply spectacular.

Leading up to the event, I was a little iffy about the whole thing. I just wasn’t feeling it. I have been to Lufts 1,4, and 5, and I have loved them all. But for some reason I was a little nonplussed about Luft 6. Maybe it was because I have been working too hard and traveling too much. Maybe it was because I have seen so many of the cars so many times. Maybe it was because I was not sure my 89 G-Body Carrera would be parked in the back lot. Whatever the reason, by the time we entered Gate 4 to get into the back lot, that old Luft feeling was back. Back in a big way.

A couple of weeks before the event, I got in touch with Marc, my high school friend and fellow Porsche enthusiast, who lives in Las Vegas, and asked him if he was going to Luft. He said, “Yes.” I asked him if I could tag along. He once again said, “Yes.” Marc is pretty well connected in the motor sports world, so I knew we would have full access to to all aspects of the event. That pumped me up a tad, but I still was not really feeling it.

Friday night Marc and I went to the pre-Luft event at the Petersen Automotive Museum and hung out with all the car folks. We were treated to a vault tour, which was led by Pete Stout of 000 fame. Pete is a self-proclaimed “Porsche Nerd.” He knows a lot about the history of the marque, ranging from street to track. We had a great time, but I was still not feeling it the way I had in the past.

On Saturday, I drove my Guards Red 1989 Carrera Targa to pick Marc up at the hotel, and then we drove to Gate 4, which is all the way around to the back side of the studio.

On the way, a couple of other air-cooled Porsches caught up with us. The waving started and the smiles were contagious. We took Barham down the hill and pulled into the left turn lane for Gate 4. While there, we were treated to the view of a line of air-cooled Porsches heading north on Barham that were lined up waiting to turn right into the lot. We made the left and got in line for entry. At that point, I was back. I was ready to have a great time.

We went thru the gate, were staged to be led to our designated spaces, and proceeded to drive thru the lot. As we passed each stop sign, my excitement grew. At the last stop sign, we were greeted by Pat Long, completely at ease, directing traffic, playing his role of host and master of ceremonies.

We parked, and just started taking it all in. From the outset, we new this Luft was going to be special. The area was huge, with enough different nooks and crannies that were visually disconnected to make it feel like many smaller shows instead of one large one. It also helped disperse the crowd, which was huge, as the event was sold out.

The cars were amazing. It did not matter that I had seen many of them before. I had never seen them is this environment. It made them feel fresh.

The cars showed off the air-cooled culture, ranging from 356s to race cars, from stock to outlaw, from road to off-road. There was something new around every corner.

Some were out on the main streets. Others were lurking on the side streets. All were pretty amazing.

We spent all day at the show, hanging out with some of the crew for lunch and then friends throughout the day. By the time we left, it had rained a bit, and most people had left, which gave me a chance to take a shot of my Carrera sitting all by itself on the backstreets of New York. How kült was that?

Portia Kind of Guy

She’s here. Pam has been waiting for her for quite some time. I do not think Pam truly believed she would ever arrive. Nor do I think Pam thought she would be named Portia, especially as I adore that name. Of course, I may never spell it correctly. I mean, Porsche is close enough, right?

Our grandchild, Portia “Porsche” James Powell was born a couple of days ago. Pam has been in heaven ever since. To be honest, so have I. Maturity, mainly mine, has a way of making the little things in life so much more important and enjoyable.

Henceforth, Pam will be Grammy Pammy. Grammy has special significance in our family. Pam’s mom, Sandy, arguably one of the greatest grandparents of all time, was referred to as Grammy. That was her wish. She lived up to it in every sense of the word. Sadly, Sandy passed away much too early, leaving the Grammy legacy that Pam is ready and able to embrace. Pam will be as good a grammy as Sandy.

When the family asked me what I wanted to be called as I entered grandparentdom, I replied, “Gramps!” Then I thought about it some more, and realized that “Grumps,” was most likely more fitting, as on a really good day my glass reaches half empty. Normally it has a slight crack and the liquid just oozes out, making it tough to stay half empty. So I am Grumps, or probably, Grumpy, depending on the day. I do not care. I think it is great.

I spent most of the day working today. Pam left to go to Shelby’s some time ago. I needed to take a break and get away from work this afternoon. So I decided to drive over to Shelby’s, too. Fittingly, I opened the garage and backed my 89 Guards Red 911 Targa G-Body out and drove to Shelby’s, thinking how funny it was to be driving my Porsche to see Portia. It put a big smile on my otherwise grumpy face.

PJ Redux

As parents, we all remember the myriad of transitional objects to which our children bonded. Generally, the objects were used by our children to fill the void left by the natural lessening of the child’s dependence on the mother.

Our kids were no exception. Our older daughter, Shelby, had PJ, a stuffed rabbit given to her by my mother. PJ was named by its manufacturer, and the name stuck. Shelby kept PJ far longer than most transitional objects, as PJ actually attended Berkeley with her. PJ has resided with us, still a fixture in Shelby’s room, since she graduated from college 13 years ago.

Shelby is a thirty something woman now. She is over eight months pregnant with her first child, our first grandchild. We, especially Pam, are really happy to have a grandchild on the way. Pam’s nesting instinct seems to have resurfaced for the first time in thirty odd years, and she has been buying all the items we need for the nursery in our house. Items that seem to inevitably require assembly. Today we built the changing table. Next week it is the crib. Pam built our last crib. She did a great job, even though she was inside its four sides when she got it all together.

Though PJ has resided with us for the past 13 years, his memory still lives inside of Shelby, and his impact on her life continues to be felt. So much so that when she and Bryan were choosing names for their child, Shelby had two criteria. First, she wanted an alliterative first and last name. As her last name is Powell, she needed a first name that began with the letter P. Several family members talked to her about the potential abuse her child might endure going through life with the initials PP, but the warnings fell on deaf ears. Second, she wanted her child’s middle name to start with the letter J, as she wanted to call her child PJ.

Imagine that.

Disconnected. Sort Of.

I am sitting in front of a fire. Not a gas fire. Not an artificial fire. Not a wildfire. But a fire in our cabin at the Alisal Guest Ranch.

We are sitting in our room on a cold, blustery day in this little, yet well-known, guest ranch, helping our friends celebrate their daughter’s wedding. It is a magnificent place, nestled in the coastal hills of California about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara.

It is Saturday afternoon. It is freezing outside. We are killing time before we have to get ready for the wedding to begin. The Alisal is a rustic, yet real world, place. Our room does not have a TV nor does it have a phone. Having said that, it does have wireless.

Pam and I are TV freaks, or at least Pam is. I go to sleep every night with the TV and light on, as Pam watches whatever show du jour has captured her attention until she falls asleep. I like to use the TV as background noise while I read or work.

We got here yesterday, and last night after enjoying ourselves at a great rehearsal dinner, we went to sleep without the TV flickering behind our eyelids. I found it refreshing. Pam played about an hour of solitaire on her iPad.

This morning, we had a nice breakfast and chatted with friends. We went back to our cabin, and made a fire. We know very little about making fires. We sort of understand the concept of kindling and draft, but the reality is that without gas, we were somewhat uncertain as how to start,

My, how the times have changed. A generation ago, everyone knew how to make a roaring fire. Most homes had wood burning fireplaces that could be used on a daily basis. Today, burning wood in a fireplace is deemed worse than burning gas in an automobile. The country is replete with Spare The Air regulations, which limit when wood can be burned and prohibit wood burning fireplaces in new construction. It will not be long before the gasoline powered motors are prohibited in new automobiles.

I love the sound of my naturally aspirated, air-cooled flat six engine in my 1989 Carrera and the sound of my naturally aspirated, flat six water cooled engine in my 2015 Cayman. Both cars feature symphonic exhaust notes that tremendously enhance the driving experience, making it much more visceral. The same cannot be said for battery powered cars, despite their surreal acceleration, as their lack of sound detracts dramatically from the experience for me.

I feel the same way about gas fireplaces. Everybody has them now. Our daughter, Shelby, and her husband, Bryan, just installed one in their house. Pam is lobbying to put one into our fireplace, too. I sat in front of Shelby’s and Bryan’s fireplace on Christmas Day. It was pretty. It threw off heat. But something was missing. Sound.

Pam and I are sitting side by side in comfortable chairs in front of the fire in our room. A real fire in a wood burning fireplace. A fire we successfully started without gas. Pam has broken down and is watching Netflix on her iPad, while I peck at the keys on my keyboard. The fire is beautiful. The heat is palpable. The smell is amazing, though we may be wearing it to the wedding. Most important is the sound. The cracking and popping of the wood, the whoosh of the air as it goes up the chimney make the experience real, not sterile.

This is an unbelievable guilty pleasure. The weather has limited our activities, but I am thoroughly relaxed and comfortable. I could have gone to the Library at the Ranch to watch NFL Wildcard Weekend. Yet, I am so much happier here. I keep looking at the clock, wishing time would pass more slowly, enabling me to spend more time this way. This is something I never do. Something I wish I could do more of at home.

I am totally in the moment. Yes, it is not politically correct. Yes, it is indulgent. But it is so satisfying. I have not just parked myself in front of a fire for years. I feel the same sense of relaxation as when I am driving my Porsches over the backroads and twisties. There is no noise from the TV in the background. I am disconnected. Sort of. And, I like it.

When I’m Sixty-Four

I have been thinking about this song for 51 years, ever since the Beatles released it in 1967. It stamped sixty-four into my consciousness at a time when thirty was considered over the hill. Initially, it only lurked in the recesses of my mind and took a back seat to forty-five, which was my age in the year 2000. In my teens, twenties, thirties, and early forties I would focus on how old I would be when the new millennium arrived. Somehow that event held much more significance to me. Not anymore.

The millennium came and went. It was pretty much a big ado, like every other new year, about nothing. Even the computer systems took it in stride. Now it is just a distant, and mostly faded, memory. Not surprisingly, 2019, the year in which I turn sixty-four, took the place of the millennium in my mind.

Not for much longer, though. 2019 is upon us, making me just a couple of months shy of sixty-four. It also makes the song, or at least its chorus, way more important to me. Sixty-four is a pretty insignificant age, as far as ages go. Being sixty-four means I have been able to buy movie tickets at the senior citizen price for four years. It means I have been eligible to join AARP for 14 years. That’s about it.

Thanks to Messrs. Lennon and McCartney, though, sixty-four has always been a very significant age to me, at least psychologically. It is a veritable yardstick in my mind, one I need to measure myself against. It is a symbolic gate, a gate through which only old people pass. It marks the point at which QTR no longer refers to Qualified Tuition Reduction for me or my kids, but instead refers to Quality Time Remaining. It is the age in which I may have to start taking New Year’s resolutions seriously, at least the important ones. It is the age that is forcing me to ask myself if I am still needed and relevant.

Or not.

I am a happy, boring guy. I do not want to make any significant changes in my life, though change has a way of creeping up on all of us. I am content with where I am. With all due respect to Messrs. Wiseman and Nichols, I have no interest in going Rocky Mountain climbing, skydiving, or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, though a few track days in my Porsche would not be a bad idea. Most of my body parts still function. My wife, Pam, is a saint, and despite my more curmudgeon like tendencies, continues to keep me current and relevant. I have two great kids, who actually still seek my advice. I have great friends. I enjoy my work. I have hobbies. Heck, I even have a great dog.

So instead of letting the specter of sixty-four weigh on my mind any longer, I am planning to embrace it for what it is – much ado about nothing, hoping it will become as faded and distant a memory as the millennium. In essence, I plan to live like I am still sixty-three.

There is just one problem with that, though. Shelby, my older daughter, is pregnant. She is due in April. Sixty-four will now be marked indelibly in my mind as the age in which I became a grandfather, making it truly significant for me.

Happy New Year!

Maliburned Canyon

It’s been quite a while since I drove my 89 Carrera in and around Malibu. First, I got busy. Then I drove it to Rennsport in Monterey at the end of September. Then I got busier. Then its battery died. Then Malibu burned. Then I went to Australia. Then I got a new battery. Finally, on the weekend before Christmas, just about three months since my 800 mile jaunt to Rennsport and back, I had time to get the 911 onto the twisties above Malibu.

I began my drive early on Saturday morning with an easy ride up Pacific Coast Highway to Ollo to attend the PCA LA monthly breakfast. It was the last breakfast of the year and the turnout was great. The selection of cars in the parking lot was even greater, as there were GTs galore, including several 3s and 3RSs, a Carrera and a 2RS, which was somewhat unusual, even for Malibu. The lot also had a couple of McLarens hanging out with the Porsches. All in all, quite a display.

After a fun breakfast, it was time to drive. I had no intentions of hitting it hard. I just wanted to zone out on the backroads above Malibu. Somewhat morbidly, I also wanted to see just how beaten up the canyons were after the horrific wildfires in November. I had seen my fill of burnt landscape on the news, as we all did at the time, but I wanted to see it first-hand.

I headed north on PCH. Past Las Virgenes Canyon. Past Pepperdine University. Driving past beautiful coastal scenery spared from the ravages of wildfire. As I got close to Kanan Dume, random areas reflected the destruction caused by the fires. I did not see burned homes or structures, just a few splotches of darkened acreage.

I continued up PCH until I turned inland on Encinal Canyon, one of my favorite roads and one of the most scenic drives in the area. Normally when I drive Encinal, it is an adrenaline pumping, exhilarating experience, as I drive with a grin plastered on my face, with my engine screaming, with my windows down, and with my iPod cranking. This time was more than a tad different.

I did not grin. My adrenaline did not pump. My engine did not scream. Obviously, I was not exhilarated. Instead, I cruised in awe. The news coverage had informed me of the thousands of acres burned. But those were just numbers. Logically, I could interpret the scale of the event, but I really could not imagine it. That all changed during my drive, I just gaped at the scope of the destruction, the charred ground, the barren hillsides, and the remnants of burnt trees. A few times I had to not so subtly remind myself to look at the road, as I just kept staring at the hillsides.

My intent was to take Encinal to Mulholland Highway and traverse it past Kanan, head down the Snake, go past the Rock Store and then take Las Virgenes back to PCH and then head home. I knew that the fire had burned the terrain around the Snake, and though the fire had burned right up to the Rock Store, the iconic moto hangout situated on Mulholland, had survived. As I got to Kanan, though, I knew I had seen enough. I no longer had a desire to see more destruction. I just wanted to get home. So I omitted the Snake and the Rock Store, turned onto Kanan and headed back to the coast.

It was a somewhat somber ride home. I was lost in my thoughts, at times driving well below the speed limit, as I processed what I had seen. I could not imagine what it was like to live in the area or to try to fight the fire.

I did, thankfully, notice that there were pockets, tiny pockets, of green along the way. I tried to keep my focus on those pockets as I drove home.

Night and Day in Bondi

We are in an Uber heading to Coogee for another one of Kim’s scheduled walkathons.  This one will take us from Coogee to Bondi Beach.  It is Sunday, the day after our trek to Manly.  Kim has said this one is more like the mythical stroll along the bike path I fantasized about the day before.  Or at least that is what I inferred from our discussions at dinner last night.

Last night we Ubered to Bondi Beach for drinks at the Iceberg Pool and then dinner at North Bondi Fish.  It was excellent, and we had a good time.  The Iceberg pool is freezing, as it is filled with sea water.  It is one of the most magnificent settings for a pool that I have ever seen, as it juts out into the Pacific with waves breaking over its walls, threatening to swamp the swimmers.

But that was last night.  As we exit the Uber today, I am a little leery and more than a little sore.  Today’s walk is a paltry 8K on, as Kim assured me, paved surfaces.  The scenery in Coogee, at the start of the walk, is magnificent.

As we walk, we pass many beaches.  Kim, who vacationed here, in January, pointed out all the areas in which she has swum in the ocean and all the pools in which she has swum.  I couldn’t help it, but the image of the 60s movie, The Swimmer, starring Charlton Heston, flashed through my mind as she pointed out each of the locations.

Kim was right.  The walk was paved and, though we went up and down, it was pretty close to a jaunt down the bike path in Santa Monica.  Whereas the scenery on our walk from Spit to Manly had a nature preserve feel, the walk from Coogee was pure beach.  The scenery, in every sense of the word, was spectacular.  While not crowded, the path was full of beach people, from musclebound Muscle Beach types to families, with every other type in between.

Our plan was to walk to Bondi and then meet Kim’s friend, Anna and her brother, Joe, at Shuk Café,a local place for brunch.  Of course, Kim did not tell us just how far into Bondi we had to walk.  I assumed we would be eating in the touristy part of Bondi.  I was sorely mistaken as we continued to walk right past that area into the more residential areas surrounding the world famous beach.

As we walked, the weather changed.  We had bright sunshine while we walked to Bondi.  Once there, the clouds rolled in and we were splattered with rain drops.  We arrived before Kim’s friend and waited.  Judging by the crowd, Shuk, an Israeli restaurant,  was a popular destination.

While we waited we shared a couple of Danish, and I had a coffee, a long black, as the Aussies refer to an Americano.  The Danish were great, as was the coffee.  Soon, Anna and her brother arriced, and we were seated.  We had a great time.  The food and company were great.

Pam ate Teff pancakes, which she loved, Kim had scrambled eggs and toast, which she liked, and I had Sshakshuka, a new dish for me, that I really enjoyed.

We finished eating and Anna drove us to Watsons Bay, where we planned to catch the ferry to Sydney Harbor.  There had been some speculation that we might walk to Watsons Bay, but thankfully we were driven.

Watsons Bay is a cool little area.  We had drinks at the Watsons Bay Hotel prior to boarding a ferry to head back to Sydney Harbor.  While sitting in the hotel patio, we shared a table with a a couple of nice people and enjoyed our time there.  The ferry ride back to Sydney was fun.

A Manly Walk From Spit

As I stare out at the ocean as I sit on the ferry that just departed from Manly and is taking us to Sydney Harbor, I reflect on how Pam, Kimberly and I got here.  It was not easy.  Kimberly has been working in Brisbane since May, and Pam and  I flew to Australia to visit her.  This was our second day in Australia.  It felt more like our tenth.  I couldn’t even remember what I ate for lunch the day we arrived.  I was that tired.

As I have written about before Pam likes to walk while on vacation.  I like to sit on my butt.  Kim likes to walk even more than Pam does.    For months Kim and Pam have been planning our first few days in Australia.  Their planning did not bode well for me.

Yesterday was bad enough.  Pam and I landed in Sydney around 11 AM, and Kim met us at the airport, having flown in from Brisbane.  The rest of the day passed in a blur.  We walked about 18,000 steps all around the Sydney Harbor.  We ate lunch at a restaurant in the Rocks area.  We saw the bridge and the Opera House.  We toured the botanical gardens.  We drank beer at the bar just outside the Opera House.  I was jet lagged and had a sore foot, which I seemed to have injured before we left, and struggled to keep up with the two of them.

Today was tougher.  Last night we discussed today’s activities.  They involved walking, lots of walking.  Kim said it was about a 10K walk from Spit to Manly.  We were going to Uber to the starting point in Spit.  I was debating whether I would just drop them off and Uber to Manly, as I was questioning just how far I wanted to walk.

We spoke about it some more, and Kim intimated that I should start with them and then decide what to do.  I visualized a stroll down the Santa Monica bike path alongside PCH with access to facilities and Uber, should I want to bail out along the way.  I said so.  Kim, having completed the walk before, seemed to agree.  Or at least she did not disabuse me of my misguided notions.

As I sat in the ferry thinking about my conversation with Kim the night beofre, I felt that her lack of concrete information about the difficulthy of the walk bordered on elder abuse.  When I called her on it, she simply stated that she had forgotten the details.  I somehow doubt the veracity of that statement.

The Uber driver dropped us off in Spit.  I made a few jokes about salivating on the way.  We left the Uber, and began our walk by traversing the Spit bridge.  Once over it, we were on the edge of the water.  I quickly realized that any hope for a simple stroll down a bike path was a pipe dream.

Pam and Kim walked along the trail.  I plodded behind them.  I was still jet lagged.  My foot still hurt.  To top it off I was ill prepared for the walk.  I was not hydrated.  I was not carrying any water.  With all due respect to the Grateful Dead, I was not anaesthetized, as I was not living on reds, vitamin C or cocaine.  Instead, I was fueled with a couple of dollops of chocolate and some caffeine.  Not exactly good preparation for what I was experiencing on the walk.

I had planned for an Uber assisted stroll.  Instead I found myself in the middle of a 17,000 step, three hour walkathon with enough elevation changes to climb 35 flights of stairs over rocky, irregular terrain in a nature preserve.  Uber was not an option.  I would have needed to be airlifted to a place with roads and cell phone reception before I would have a chance to even request a ride.   I had been suckered into this, and Kim knew it.

Once reality set in, I settled down and focused on the walk.  Arguably, it was one of the most magnificent walks I have ever taken.  The scenery was amazing and the foliage was beautiful.  We climbed and descended.  At times we were amidst the trees with no view of the ocean.  Other times we walked across sandy beaches.  Unfortunately for me, the path was U shaped, and I could see our ultimate destination way before we arrived there, a destination that appeared tantalizingly close but stubbornly refused to get any closer with each step I took.

We met many nice people on the path  There were options to take side trips along the way.  We did not take them. The direct path was enough for us.  A trio of walkers, opting to take the detours and explore the various nooks and crannies,  passed us multiple times.  It  became quite a joke when they passed us for the fifth time.

Eventually, we made it to Manly, and after a trip to the tourist information kiosk we found ourselves ensconced at Hemmingway’s overlooking the ocean.

Manly is a great beach town.  It has a great vibe and lots of street vendors.  I found one that was selling a tee-shirt with an image of a hand painted 911 on it that made my day.  It also made the artist’s day, as I bought it.

Hemmingway’s was touristy but decent.  The best parts about it were the view and the shirts worn by the staff which had a sage Hemmingway quote on the back, reminding us to listen before we act, earn before we spend, and, most importantly, try before we quit.

While sitting on the ferry watching the sailboats, I mulled that quote over for a bit.  Soon  I realized that I had had a great day.  Great enough to almost forgive Kim for her blatant omissions.

May I See Your Visas?

Pam and I had just walked up to the Virgin Australia check in counter at LAX.  We were feeling pretty smug, as we were able to use the priority line instead of the one for schleppers, the one we normally use on our infrequent flights.  Pam handed the Virgin Australia representative our ticket information and our passports.  The representative then said,  “May I see your visas?”  Confused, Pam and I just looked at each other.

When it comes to travel, Pam is super organized.  I am useless.  When checking in, 99% of the time Pam responds with, “I have the information right here.”  This time she said, “We are only going to Australia for two weeks.  Do we need visas?”

The representative responded, “Yes.”  Pam and I looked at each other again, this time with a sinking feeling in our guts.

Our daughter, Kimberly, has been living and working in Australia for almost seven months.  She had visited the country twice before moving there, and we were en route to Australia to visit her.  Pam and Kim had planned the entire trip.  Throughout the process, Kimberly had never mentioned that we needed a visa just to visit the country.  They had discussed Kimberly’s issues getting an extended work visa at length, though.  Later we found out that Kimberly had applied for a travel visa before she went to Australia the first time.  Of course, she neglected to tell us about that.  Pam, and especially I, would discover that this would turn out to be the first of many of Kimberly’s omissions over the course of our trip.

After a brief moment of panic fueled by the fact that our plane was leaving in an hour, we asked, “How do we get them?”

The Virgin representative said that we could purchase them on-line for $20 each.  She went on to say that if we chose to do that we would have to leave the check in area, apply for the visa, and then get back in line once we had them.  She ended by saying, “I can do it for you if you want to pay $40 each.”  Obviously, we opted to pay double.

While we waited for her to finish our transactions, we noted with some morbid satisfaction that we were not alone.  Other travelers were purchasing visas, too.

We completed the check in process and headed off to our gate.  While we were walking, I was wondering about the other words uttered by the Virgin representative when telling us our gate number.  She had said, “It is a virtual gate.”

Pam did not hear her say that.  I did, but I am a clueless traveler, so I had no idea what she meant.  I would find out soon enough.

We had checked into terminal 3 at LAX, but our flight was leaving from the Bradley terminal.  We walked to Bradley, went through security then walked and walked to our gate.  Once there we found seats and waited.  Our flight was leaving at 11:00 PM. on a Wednesday night  It takes 14 hours to fly to Sydney, but we would not be landing in Sydney until Friday morning at 11:00 AM, after taking the 19 hour time change into account.

When we got to the gate we were happy to note that we had priority boarding.  I was still wondering what the Virgin representative meant by a virtual gate, as it looked normal to me.  We found out right after we started boarding.  Instead of going out the terminal, walking down a jetway and boarding a plane, we went out the door and were herded onto a bus configured like a tram.  I wondered how we were going to drive to Australia.  Then it dawned on me that any value we had from the priority boarding was gone, as many, many people were crammed onto the bus and it was unlikely order would be reestablished when we got off.

The Vrgin representative supervising the loading made very sure that the entire bus was filled to capacity.  It was so crowded that the last woman to board was not even all the way into the bus as the doors began to close with her backpack about to be caught between them.  I was standing near the door, mainly so Pam and I could exit in a heartbeat when we stopped.  The woman was unaware that her backpack was hanging out until I gently tugged it (and her) completely into the bus.

We were driven quite a long way across the airport, finally stopping at a building in the middle of nowhere.  We disembarked from the bus and walked up a long ramp, only to stop near the top.  We stayed there for about 15 minutes, wondering if we were in the right place and if we would ever board the plane.  Pam handles these situations better than me.  I was starting to get grumpy.  I was tired of standing and my backpack was digging into my shoulders.  Eventually, the line moved and we boarded the 777 to take us to Sydney.

We opted to fly Premium Economy, as we felt that Economy, aka Coach, would be too cramped and Business Class too expensive.  As we settled into our seats, which provided only a modicum more space that Economy,  I was beginning to wonder if the upgrade was worth it.  About 5 minutes later, just after our dedicated flight attendant, Alexandra, asked us if we would like a drink, I knew it was.

The flight was long, but very pleasant.  We landed in Sydney and met Kimberly, who had flown into Sydney from Brisbane, where she works.  From there it was a taxi ride into Sydney so we could begin our vacation  in earnest.

 

Not A Twain Wreck

I should have known it it all along.  Most likely, Pam did.  We went to see Shania Twain at Staples last night, and, frankly, I did not know what to expect.  We had never seen her perform live before.  Sure, we knew, and loved, her vintage music.  We are not alone, as she probably is the biggest selling female country music artist of all time, though I suspect Taylor Swift would eclipse her if she stayed country.  But all of that is moot.  Recently, Shania has had personal tragedies that have kept her out of the limelight and possibly affected the quality of her voice.

These events definitely affected her music.  In the 90s she was the queen of pop country, turning out one extremely pleasant song after another.  Songs that were fun to listen to with light lyrics and catchy tunes.  Songs that were so good that they even inspired guys to sing about feeling like a woman.

Recently, she released Now, her first album in years.  We received a copy of it several months ago, as it came with the tickets to her show.  The first time each of us listened to Now we were unimpressed.  Gone was the sweet, high pitched voice.  Gone were the catchy tunes and simplistic lyrics.  Gone was the country, though there was never a ton of country in her anyway.  Gone was the pop.  In its place was a cathartic expression of life accompanied by a deeper, more mature voice.

After listening to Now several times in preparation for the show, we realized that Now also had substance.  It grew on us, as we kept listening to it.  We just weren’t sure how it would translate to a live show, and how it would coexist with her earlier works.  We also were concerned that her new, lower voice would not work when she sang her older material.  It turned out we had nothing to worry about.

Her show was spectacular, in all senses of the word.  Maybe, just maybe, the 100+ shows she did in Las Vegas several years ago had something to do with that, as this was a production with a capital P.  Every aspect of it was superb.  From the staging to the sound and the visuals, from the backup singers to the dancers and the band, everything was perfect.  The mix was remarkable, enabling all vocals and instruments to be heard clearly and distinctly, not something we usually experience.  Her entrance was fitting of Rocky Balboa or Apollo Creed.  It was a focused assault on our senses, fueled by drummer Elijah Wood’s rhythmic, spiritual beating on drums located at the back of the arena, providing all the pulse pounding accompaniment Shania needed for her long walk through the audience before getting to the stage.

As she sang the opening bars of her first song, Life’s About to Get Good, we had a feeling we were in for a treat.  And by the time she got through Come on Over and Up!, a couple of songs later, we knew it.  So did everyone else in Staples.

Pam loves productions like this.  For her, last night was a party, an exuberant expression of art and music.   I am usually a bit less enthusiastic about productions like this.  Generally, I like stripped down, acoustic performances.  Generally, I like the absence of costume changes.  Generally, I avoid shows with dancers, as they usually take away from the music.  Not last night.  Shania’s show featured everything I profess to disdain, including umpteen costume changes.  I liked, no loved, it, despite, and maybe because of, its production quality and the showmanship she possesses.  And, yes, she can still sing.

 

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