Cars Travel

A track day at Laguna Seca

On March 9 I was fortunate enough to get some track time at the famed Laguna Seca Raceway in Salinas, CA.  It was an interesting experience to say the least, and very different from driving at Thunderhill for past events. As a key point, it was remarkably cold at the track, never getting warmer than about 55 F, making the car develop as close to full horsepower as I’ve experienced but also making the tires a bit slippery for the first few laps.

As for the actual track, it seemed, well, small.  At Thunderhill there are over 3 miles of ground to cover but at Laguna Seca it is just a bit over 2 miles. That might not seem like much, but when the course is constrained and there are 25 cars on it each session, that’s not much room to move around. The biggest challenge I had was trying to find enough open road to actually hit the throttle and go.  Every few turns I caught up with the crowd and was stuck at the slowest speeds I’ve ever experienced on a track.

The car variety was fairly good: lots of Corvettes and 911’s as usual. The poorest example of a track car was the Toyota Prius that showed up in my group.  It drove a scorching 48 MPH on most of the course and seemed to give up after the first session, thankfully.  There were some Mini Coopers, again, not the fastest thing on the track. A good collection of Audi A/RS 4’s and BMW 3’s and 5’s were also around. Some older vehicles like a Ford Mustang Mach I, some kind of strange Lotus car and some older RX7’s and vintage racers were also around. There were also two race setup Dodge Vipers in attendance.  The three unique cars this day were the Ferrarri F430, the Lamborghini Gallardo and a “D” spec racer with a Kawasaki motorcycle engine in it that just tore up the track.

All in all, it was a good experience to learn the lines of a new track, get into new driving situations and generally get to feel a new track setup. The bummers were that there were way to many slow drivers in my group and the sessions were much shorter (15 mins) than they are at Thunderhill. I would probably go again but I’d want to move to a faster group. A quick view of some of the sights and sounds of Laguna Seca can be found in this short video I put together, so take a look.

Quick update: for pictures of that day that I didn’t take (or purchase) look here.

Laguna Seca: typical cars from Micah Stroud on Vimeo.

Rants Travel Work

Just Another Week in Texas

Getting stuffed into an airplane like sardines in a can.  Sweltering heat and humidity during the day with little respite at night.  Eating enough bar-b-que’d animals to cause a meat coma. Encountering more trucks than the entire population of some small countries.  Bouffant hair.  Strange looks from the country folk when driving a minivan.  Lots of NASCAR loving yahoos.  A crazy amount of turnpikes and toll roads.  Gas prices below $3.40 a gallon.  The worst B.O. ever on the cramped plane ride home.

What else could all of this be but a trip to Texas?


Rants Travel

Worst Chicken Fried Steak Ever

This evening I had dinner at a local Austin, TX restaurant: Threadgill’s

Their menu claims that the house specialty is chicken fried steak with gravy. Seeing this and being in a home style cooked meal kind of mood, I jumped at the chance to find a worthy competitor to the reigning run-of-the-mill challenger, found today at Chili’s. The walls were lined with pictures of various singers and bands that had played at the establishment and some of the online reviews for the place looked good, so why not try the “world famous” chicken fried steak? It was, in a word, bad. It was plain, soggy, tasteless and completely inedible. This is what I had been waiting for having sat on a plane for nearly four hours and waiting for my stomach to catch up with the local time?

Thinking that somehow I might be expecting too much, I turned to the small mound of mashed potatoes slathered in white gravy sitting next to the steak. Again, it was a vanilla mass of chewy goo. I looked around and saw that everyone else was ordering burgers or salads, so that should have been my first clue as to the “famous” part of this food order.When the waiter came around again (he seemed too busy to notice a solitary guest in his area and actually topped off my Sprite with water) I told him that I couldn’t eat the dinner and that I’d like to order something else. Puzzled, he scurried off and appeared again with a menu. The moment it dropped onto the table he evaporated and he was not to be seen again for about 15 minutes. Taking a chance, I ordered the second mistake of the evening: the hickory burger. I made it clear to the waiter when he finally arrived that I wanted something that could be done relatively quickly since it was now within one hour of their closing time. He said this would be no problem, then disappeared again into the wind.

Nearly 20 minutes would pass before I would see him again, and when he did arrive he looked at me and seemed puzzled. Oh, he said, you don’t have your dinner do you? I didn’t answer, but instead chose to stare back at him with a look that indicated my displeasure for sitting nearly an hour in a restaurant with next to nothing to show for it. Eventually he did materialize with the so-called burger, but again I was met with a mass of utterly un-taste-worthy food. And by this statement I mean literally it had no taste. I could be chewing on chicken, pork, bark, leaves; it really had no taste or texture beyond the hickory sauce. The final insult was delivered by the fries which were so soggy and unappetizing as to be all but skipped over.

My point in all of this ranting is this: when faced with the option of choosing hotel food, a predictable but lame chain restaurant, or a quirky local establishment pick anything but the local establishment if they have the words “world famous” anywhere in their menu. Because frankly, I’ve been to some pretty distant parts of the world and I can’t tell how this food offering was anything close to famous.

General Rants Travel Work

Thoughts on CES and Such

I have just about recovered from the ordeal that is getting ready for, staging, shipping, demonstrating, and tearing down a full show load out for CES.  I can’t say that I enjoyed it, or that I’d volunteer to do as much work again, but I’m glad its all done.

Severe pain came from the logistics of getting people (namely me) and equipment (some 80+ boxes of it) to and from the show.  As the largest single event in Las Vegas, CES is uniquely positioned to stress out every part of the infrastructure needed to travel, house, transport, and sustain a group of nearly 200,000 people for a week.  As much as I dislike the driving situation in the Bay Area, I now have to thank Las Vegas and their elegant street construction planning for reminding me of how much fun driving 5 MPH for an hour can be.

I now get to start planning for the next series of events, customer contacts, and traveling.  One can only hope that things go smoother the next time around.  A little less smoky smell and a lot more sleep per day can’t hurt, either.

Rants Travel

Grr! Holiday Air Travelers

I had to fly to Orange County, CA for work today and I thought that I’d have a pretty clean trip, what with it being Tuesday and all.  The day started off simple enough: get up at 5:30am, get to the airport by 6:10, and on the plane by 7:30.  No security lines, no delays, no parking issues.  This seemed great.

But when it came time to fly home tonight, via LAX, I could see the problems mounting.  Awful traffic getting to the airport (not unusual for LA), really crowded check-in areas in most terminals, spotty seating at the food court, and a band of unhappy and obviously very non-regular-travel-savvy people at the gate complaining about lost luggage, TSA confiscations, and the way the airports work.  When I arrived back in SJC I found a snarled traffic line leading well up into the 2nd story of the parking garage, people pulling into and stepping out of every possible space (just in time to be nearly hit by the cars), blinkers turning on in both directions, slow/lost drivers, and the general inability to understand how to get out of the airport.

Oh how I long for the ability to fly myself to and from smaller airports to avoid this nonsense.  People could save themselves, and more importantly me, a lot of headaches if they would just research the airport website and see how things work now, rather than tie up everyone as they wander around aimlessly looking for that perfect parking/storage/surprise space.  Geez!

General Travel

On the Track with the C6

I had the opportunity this past Thursday to go out to a real, honest to goodness race track and do some laps with the C6. This is the first time either I or the car has seen a track, so it was a lot of new-ness all around.

The track was Thunderhill and it was truly in the middle of nowhere, nearly 3 hours away (by my driving) from home. The track was full of twists, turns, and straight-aways and provided more proof that I have a much more powerful car than I am a capable driver. It was humbling to see so many cars blasting around the track at speeds far greater than I could hope to acheive in one short day.

It was a good experience and I should probably go again, but I think I’ll need some professional instruction first. This time was interesting, but with help I’ll bet I could to a lot more. I certainly now know that my car can do more.

C6 on the track

Rants Travel Work

Back Home for a Bit

I have finally returned from my whirlwind tour of Europe and NYC.  Although my body isn’t sure which time zone it’s in, I am sure that I’m home again.  Where else can you say that the taxi drivers speak less English than they do in other countries?

I’ll be travelling again later this week, but hopefully this stop will be long enough for some clothes washing and a little sleep.  Yawn is the order of the day, for sure.

General Travel Work

Lost in the Netherlands

On stop 2 of my long work trip I managed to get seriously lost driving from Amsterdam to Eindhoven in the Netherlands.  This seems to be a pattern with me and going places for work stuff these days: get off the plane, get in a rental car, drive around lost for hours.

In this case the rental car was a super crappy Mercedes A class mini-econo-box with a stick shift and a top speed of 130kph.  I did eventually make it to my hotel around midnight for a meeting the next morning at 9am.  But I proceeded to get lost searching for the next hotel in Amsterdam, so it seems that my navigation skills are sadly lacking.  Ditto on reading Norse road signs.

General Humor Travel

Nuggets of Strange Wisdom

I have been flying around quite a bit recently for the job and found that if I sit quietly in the cab or bus to and from the airport I can pick up on some remarkable gems from the local population. On tap from this weeks trip is this little nugget:

Don’t marry an American woman. They expect too much and are just too hard to deal with. I’m 56, retired, and moving to Thailand. Those are the women to have. My girlfriend is 26 and she’s thankful for the little things. That’s how a woman is supposed to be. And boy does it get the blood rushing again, if you know what I mean, even for an old guy like me.

This really isn’t my type of advice, but someone out there might find it useful.  Feel free to discuss it with your significant other and let me know how that goes.

Rants Travel Work

Why Commercial Flights Suck, Again

This week I took a series of flights from San Jose to Austin, Texas, then on to Denver, Colorado, and back to San Jose again.  I shouldn’t be surprised at it any more, but the terrible conditions that now exist in airports is quite appalling.

Previously I would almost never check my bag.  Now, because I’d like to have toothpaste and shampoo available when I fly I must check bags in.  This leads to more time in line, more chances for missed flights, and of course, lost or severely delayed luggage.  Going through Denver, I experienced the severe delay and ended up leaving the airport far later than planned (1 hour later to be exact).

On the trip back I witnessed a conversation between a TSA agent and a weary traveler in the screening line.  In short, the agent told the passenger that if he had only limited his carry-on fluids to 4 ounces (or thereabouts) he could have gotten them on the plane.  In fact, the agent said that the TSA would have allowed the passenger to take on more than one container, perhaps shampoo, mouthwash, and toothpaste, if the passenger had been more smart about the packing.  In the end, the passenger departed with no toiletries.

At Denver I was given the choice to fly on my scheduled flight, but have my baggage arrive on a much later flight, or wait around for the later flight and go with the same plane that had my bag.  I took the later, and that was a huge mistake.  Nearly 3 hours late and a nearly unbearable wait later, I finally got on a plane an headed home.

The moral of these stories is to fly without toothpaste, shampoo, or any of the other comforts of home.  Give up trying to make things work the way they once did (and should again) and demand that hotels start providing these goods for the traveler.  Only then will some sanity return to commercial air travel.