The Casual Blog

Tag: Porsche

Carolina Ballet’s brilliant Beethoven, and a Porsche track day

Clara at VIR on May 19, 2012

Sally and I went to the Carolina Ballet’s final program of the season on Thursday night. Ballet has so much emotional power. How fortunate are the dancers who can embody it and touch us with it. As they move, our minds move and feel. Could it be our mirror neurons? Perhaps that, combined with a common tradition and vocabulary of movement. Maybe, when all the stars align, we connect at a fundamental level with the dancers and the dance, and are changed ourselves.

On Thursday, we saw the world premier of Robert Weiss’s new ballet, Beethoven’s Ninth, and found it very powerful. The music is iconically familiar, but apart from the familiar ode to joy, extremely strange. Weiss’s creation honors the tradition of the music, and also brings it into the present. He uses a large cast and a lot of movement. The stage surges with high-speed running, leaping, and spinning in every direction, creating tension and excitement. It’s wonderfully dense and complex, like the music. The work seems more about groups and relationships than about individuals. I thought it was truly brilliant. Is this possible? Could a work of amazing complexity and transcendent beauty shine forth in Raleigh, our sweet but modest mid-size southern city Of course!

On Friday and Saturday, I took Clara up to Virginia International Raceway for some track driving fun. Both days were mild and sunny. There were dozens of beautiful Porsches, along with quite a few BMWs and Corvettes, and onesies and twosies of other vehicles. I was paired with Mike T, a very experienced teacher and Corvette guy.

There are seventeen turns in the 3.27 mile VIR course, and each one is different. Mike expected me to know them by name, and have a plan for each one. As we did laps, we communicated through in-helmet headsets. He coached me through each turn and gave instant feedback, such as, “You turned in too early,” “You need to brake earlier,” and, occasionally, “That was good.”

Like a lot of accomplished people, Mike was a perfectionist, and it was difficult to satisfy him. I felt a bit discouraged. At times he seemed to be coaching me towards a high-speed disaster, which in retrospect I think was the result of my not getting some of his vocabulary. Anyhow, there were some close calls involving taking too much speed into corners. But as the laps accumulated, the percentage of good turns increased, and I was passing most of the cars in my group. Mike didn’t make me feel great, but he may have helped me move me towards the next level.

A post-drive neck massage

The road trip last weekend was great fun, but the many miles of sport driving left me with a stiff neck. It was difficult to turn my head enough to back Clara out of her parking space. After three days, it was not much better. I got to early bird yoga early to ask Suzanne if she had a recommendation for a massage therapist. She did, and also was so kind as to take the class through some neck and shoulder stretches.

The next day I got the first appointment of the day with Meredith at Hands on Health. I was impressed with the professional atmosphere. The place seemed like a PT’s office, with a reception area, waiting room, and offices for several massage specialist. Meredith seemed friendly and chipper, and turned out to know a lot about neck problems.

She worked on my shoulders and lower back as well as my neck. In spite of her friendliness, she was not all sweetness and light. Parts of the work were amazingly painful. This was deep tissue work. She located muscular knots, and spent time digging into them. She’d given me permission to ask her to stop, but I wanted to get results. But it was a struggle. I worked on breathing deeply.

But afterwards I felt much better. Massage, like yoga, is a thing that I used to consider somewhat bogus, and have gradually come to think of as a wonderful gift.

Thanks to killboy.com for the pictures of Clara on US 129, the Tail of the Dragon, on July 3, 2011.

A big road trip for the Fourth, including the Tail of the Dragon

For the Fourth of July weekend, I thought it would be fun to take a road trip to western North Carolina. It had been many moons since I spent time in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, and I’d never driven the serpentine roads in my beautiful Porsche. Sally was game, and so on Friday afternoon we loaded up and rolled out from Raleigh.

We spent that evening in Winston-Salem, where I grew up. We stayed downtown, and were surprised to find large numbers of young people eating at sidewalk tables and promenading. At our hotel, there was a convention of “greasers” into fifties/punk hair styles, big tattoos, and hot rods. I find big tattoos somewhat disturbing, but I found this group sort of cheering. These outsiders had some things to be happy about: something they really liked (cars and a certain look), the courage to come out proudly about their passion, and a community of like-minded people. It’s not easy being different.

We had dinner with my old old friend (since fourth grade) J and his wife N. J was my hero as a kid: great at things like throwing rocks, building model fighter jets, and finding discarded Playboy magazines in the woods. He’s become a successful construction supervisor for commercial projects, and pointed out some of his projects on the Winston-Salem skyline. It was good to refresh on our history and to catch up.

On Saturday we took Highway 421 to Boone, and once there decided to take 221 south. The road wound through the green mountains. During this stretch, I experienced a Zen-like connection to Clara and the road. No thought, just driving. Shifting to third, back to second, back to third, back to second, for miles. It was strange and wonderful to have no schedule and no place we had to be. We drank in the rolling mountain vistas.

We had lunch in Blowing Rock at Louise’s Rockhouse Restaurant, where we sat near a group of State Troopers in the motorcycle corp. The vegetarian options on the menu boiled down to one: a grilled cheese sandwich. But the service was friendly, and it was a perfectly fine sandwich.

We took the Blue Ridge Parkway south to Asheville, stopping now and again to enjoy the mountain views. In Asheville there were lots of street musicians and artsy looking folk, and no shortage of veggie friendly restaurants. We chose the Laughing Seed, where I had an interesting cocktail with ginger liqueur called East of Eden, and a mushroom risotto. We stayed the night in a B&B called Reynolds Mansion, which is an 1847 house that reminded me of the Addams Family’s place, but with beautiful rooms. The breakfast featured poached pears and eggs benedict, and the host told an elaborate ghost story about a portrait of a star-crossed plantation mistress.

After breakfast we drove west through Maggie Valley, Cherokee, and Bryson City, where we bought sandwiches at a Subway, then headed northwest toward Fontana Village. About 18 years ago, we had a week-long family vacation at Fontana, and remembered it happily. A significant memory of the trip was how difficult it was to get there on the windy mountain roads in the minivan, and it seemed like a good idea to try those roads again in a better vehicle. It turned out the roads had been widened to four lanes for most of the trip, and the only exciting part of the journey there was the last few miles. We ate our sandwiches at Fontana and recalled the happy vacation with little Gabe and Jocelyn — river rafting, horseback riding, swimming, ping pong, and shuffleboard.

Then we went north to US 129 and encountered the Tail of the Dragon. We’d heard of the road, but weren’t certain of the location until we came to Deal’s Gap and saw several dozens of Harleys in the parking lot of the motorcycle motel. So we drove it. It was like skiing black diamond moguls. It whipped back and forth, up and down through the Nantahala forest, never straightening for any length. Like a mogul run, it took total commitment and focus. We were fortunate to find long stretches with no one ahead or behind. 318 curves in 11 miles. A major dose of adrenaline. It was awesome. Awesome!

Returning, mentally exhausted, we stopped at Deal’s Gap and I bought a Dragon souvenir tee-shirt and hat. We sat around for a bit with the bikers, and noted the things we had in common and the things we didn’t. In common: love for vehicles and the road. Different: facial hair, cigarettes, tattoos. Some of them were scary looking. But I felt I understood much better what they were about after driving the Dragon. Like the greasers, these folks had embraced their differentness and found a kind of community.

Sally served as co-pilot and navigator throughout. She had no interest in taking the wheel, unless I threatened to fall asleep, which I never did. Amazingly, she was cheerful throughout. She never once expressed fear or even hesitation at the speed. She was game, and brave. We talked for periods, and were quiet and peaceful for periods. I realized, once again, that she was the girl for me.

For the most part, we navigated the old-fashioned way — with maps. I have a Garmin GPS, which is useful for getting from point A to B, but not for finding interesting byways. We missed our turns a couple of times as we headed back east (poor signage, we thought), but never worried excessively. We spent the last night in Franklin, then took US 64 back across NC. Total mileage for the weekend was just about 1,000. We couldn’t get over what a beautiful state this is.

Facing facts — the car needed body work, and the planet does, too

Clara restored in a moment of tranquility

Facing unpleasant facts is no fun, but you generally feel better after you’ve done it. And so I’m happy that I got my sports car repaired this week. I’d had not one but two embarrassing parking garage incidents recently. In one, I took a sharp a turn at an unfamiliar entrance, and hit an unusually high curb, producing a horrible scraping noise and an unsightly gouge. In the other, I (partially) woke up in the middle of the night, thought it was early morning, and headed out for a swim at Pullen Park. In my dazed state I backed into a neighbor’s parked vehicle. This broke a tail light on my car and produced lesser damage on his bumper, which he eventually determined was not worth repairing, in view of other prior dinks.

But part of what I enjoy about my car (Clara) is her beauty, and I knew I would never feel good trying to ignore the damage. So I contacted the good folks at State Farm insurance, and I found my way to Paragon Collision, which specializes in body work with loving care. The repairs took two weeks and two substantial deductibles, but it was worth it. Clara is gorgeous again.

I was sorry that my neighborhood gym, Rapid Fitness, closed this week. It was not a beautiful gym, but it was fabulously convenient — right across the street. And it was good enough to inspire me to regularly get up at 5:30 a.m. for a workout. It provided my introducing to spinning, which raised my heart rate to new heights. They are planning to open a less convenient replacement gym late in the summer. We’ll see.

Much more dramatic events were unfolding across the country this week, including floods on the Mississippi and killer tornadoes ranging across the country. On a quick trip to Dallas, I came in behind a massive hailstorm that totalled half the cars in the Hertz fleet at DFW and took a large number of planes there out of commission. The next day, when I was there, the skies were clear. The flight back was bumpy.

According to the NY Times, there is not a scientific consensus that the rash of bizarre weather disasters is associated with global warming, but you wonder, right? Anyhow, there is scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, and that absent dramatic change more disasters lie ahead. The News & Observer reported this morning that Republican presidential hopefuls, including those who have previously acknowledged the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, are now taking the position that science is wrong and there is no problem. One party operative said that a requirement for these Republican candidates to succeed is to oppose all solutions.

This is really appalling. To some extent we all step around hard problems, and kid ourselves about unpleasant realities. But this is huge — bigger even than mass catastrophe for the human race. We’re facing, or in the midst of, a mass extinction of species comparable to the end of the age of dinosaurs. Self-delusion is unacceptable, and willfully obscuring reality is reprehensible. We’ve got to face facts, and get to work on possible solutions.

A note on corporations and on a Porsche museum

Last week the Red Hat senior management team met for two days in Raleigh. We’re an international company with management that’s widely distributed, and so there were a few team members that I had not met before, and others I got to know better. They were for the most part lively and interesting.

So what is a corporation? In our meetings we spent some time discussing public ownership and shareholder value. But the profit motive is generic. Just as every human has to eat, every corporation has to make money. There are many ways to do those things. There are also many attitudes and activities that make a corporation, or a person, distinctive. The reason the workers get excited about coming to work (if they do) is something other than the excitement of enriching investors.

Red Hat has a lot of people who are passionate about their work, in part because of the exciting technological challenges, and in part because of a set of widely shared values. Our open source products grow out of values and customs that include transparency and collaboration. This is one of the things about the company that I find distinctive and inspiring, but it also presents challenges. In acting as an attorney, there are obvious limits to transparency, because attorneys must take account of and honor competing values, including confidentiality. There’s a built in tension in the value sets that’s challenging.

A special treat of the meeting was dinner at the Ingram collection in downtown in Durham. It’s a semi-secret institution that turned out to be a proper museum devoted to my favorite automobile, the Porsche. It had some 35 vintage and rare Porsches along with a couple of stray but also gorgeous new Ferraris. The Porsches included several historic 356’s, many variations of the 911 (though they didn’t have anything to line up with my particular 911s (Clara)) a Carrera GT supercar and a recent GT3. Some of the examples took years to obtain. They were all lovingly restored and displayed. One could trace the stylistic touches through the years that connected the designs organically, like DNA.

The Ingram collection could be viewed as conspicuous consumption that takes the category to a whole new level of wretched excess. But it felt more like the Rodin sculptures at the NC Museum, or the Frick collection in NYC. Frick’s former house, a mansion facing Central Park, contains a collection of old master and Impressionist art that is pound for pound one of the best in the world. I presume, without having studied the issue, that Mr. Frick was a robber baron with the worst of them. But whatever his personal failings, his collecting became itself a creative act. And so has Mr. Ingram created a sort of collective work.

It was interesting that the collection not only discourages photographs, but goes so far as to impound cameras from its guests. I can understand the need to be security conscious, but I wondered if anything else was going on. It did occur to me that if class warfare ever breaks out, the mobs with pitchforks might show up in a state of dangerously high excitement. But they might settle for a Porsche.

Clara, a car, goes to the track and does what she was born to do

My car, Clara, had her coming out event this week — a track day at Virginia International Raceway.  After several weeks together, I knew she had many virtues — beauty, sophistication, and awesome power.  Clara is the ultimate product of generations of  German engineering genius   a 2006 Porsche 911 S,in a particularly lovely color, lapis blue.  Is this just a car?   You could say so, and certainly, it serves as transportation.  But viewing her that way seems overly crude.  She’s a work of art.

But calling her art suggests stasis, and her nature is kinetic.  She was bred for speed and agility. She is a sports car.  It would be a waste to treat such a machine like any old car.  Thus I felt a certain responsibility, as her new owner, to get her to the track and let her do what she was born to do. I was happy to sign up for the PCA event at VIR, near Danville, Va.

VIR is a world -class road course.  3.2 miles, 180 feet of elevation change, curves of every description, surrounded by forest and countryside .  As a driver in the novice class, I was assigned an experienced teacher, Glenn Mead.  There were a few rules about such matters as passing and emergencies.  But no speed limit.

We did four half-hour all-out sessions.  Like all drivers, Glen and I wore helmets, and we communicated via a wireless system.  Soon Glenn found a few things he liked about my driving, and several that could stand improvement.  At each of the turns, he was looking for the perfect turn.  I hit a few, and he effusively praised these efforts.  Others were not so great, and he made sure I knew it.  The point of the perfect turn, I eventually realized, was to carry and keep as much speed as possible.  Glenn encouraged greater and greater speed.  It occurred to me that he was not only a good guy, but also a brave one.

After a few imperfect turns, I realized that there was an aspect of Clara that was frightening.  I could not sense the limits of her power, and could not tell where I would lose control.  At each turn, the margin of error was thin.  And I didn’t really yet know Clara’s characteristics of balance and handling.  At one point, Glenn reassured me.  “This car is a ballerina,” he said.  “She’ll do what you tell her to do.”

She was, and she did.  We had a few squeals and skids, but we worked on technique. It got better and better.  I got a big dose of adrenaline, and also the aesthetic pleasure of some beautifully shaped turns.  Clara did what she was born to do.

More fun at Red Hat, trying Mirage, yoga, and mindful driving

After the intensity of the trial in Texas and a great win, it was another intense week back at the Raleigh office of Red Hat, digging out of the pile of backlogged work and dealing with new emergencies.  Not for the first time, I felt on Friday as though I’d done a months’ worth of work in a week.  The range of activities was typical, but as always, varied — from solving specific IP problems to formulating strategy to addressing customers’ legal questions to being interviewed by reporters to writing and editing for opensource.com to drafting commercial agreements to dealing with management challenges — and along with these dozens there were literally dozens more still on the short term to-do list. I deal with one interesting issue after another, some of them important, all day every day.  I am never bored.  Is it stimulating?  Yes.  Exhilarating?  Yes.  Stressful?  Yes.

So as a matter of surviving and flourishing, on weekends I try to find some space to recharge and rebalance — some social time, some time alone, some time to care for the mind and body.  As to the social part, on Friday Sally and I went to Mirage, a  brand new club on the ground floor of our condo building which was having its pre-grand-opening.  It’s large (capacity 650) with a dance floor, large island bar on the ground floor, sushi bar in the back, second floor balcony space with another bar, and various side rooms.  The decor uses Egyptian motifs in a Vegas way, large video projections, a mirrored ball, and the waitresses in short gold-plated dresses.  The over all effect was glitzy but not gaudy.  We ran into Charles, who did a short speech as part of the dedication, and Ann and several people who live in the building.  We enjoyed talking to friends.  The sound engineering seemed good — very loud, but somehow tweaked so that it was still possible to talk.  Also, happily, the sound was not audible in our apartment.

I woke up early on Saturday and started to head over to Pullen Park to swim some laps, but then checked to see whether there was a  yoga class at Blue Lotus, which is next door.  There was:  Yvonne was scheduled for 8:00 to do an hour and a half open level class.  From past experience, I’d learned that open classes with Yvonne are fairly advanced classes, and for less advanced students, there’s no quarter given.   So it proved to be.  Yvonne likes to share inspirational words on such themes as oneness and truth, and she pushes the class past known limits of strength and flexibility.  After the first half hour, I wondered whether I could just hang on to the end.  I did, barely, soaked in sweat.  But I felt good the rest of the day.  I have no well-developed theory of why yoga helps over all well-being, but for me, it does.

I took my little German sports car out for a run in the afternoon.  Just east of Raleigh, Old Milbournie Road winds through farm fields and pastures, forests, lakes, and country stores.  It’s got some great curves and hills — an excellent road for just driving for fun.   When I got there, there was a caravan of minivans and pickup trucks led by someone proceeding 10 miles under the speed limit (45).  I had in mind the possibility of exceeding the speed limit (no worries — not too much), but this was clearly  not going to happen, so I tried to practice patience and enjoy the beautiful countryside.  Coming back, though, I had a stretch of the road to myself.  I felt the subtle weight shifts as the vehicle took the curves at speed, and the G forces as I accelerated out of them.  The sound of the exhaust note rising and falling as I shifted between third and fourth was like music.

Forbidden love: a new car

After several weeks of searching,thinking, and fretting, yesterday I acquired my dream car, a 2006 Porsche 911 Carrera S coupe, lapis blue metallic, well equipped.  This has been an undertaking fraught with hazards, including moral, social, financial, and physical ones, and I’m still not sure I’ve sorted them all out.  But there’s no question that the car itself is a thing of rare beauty, grace, and power.  It’s fantastic!

Some of the reasons not to get a sports car are obvious.  They’re impractical, in that you can’t easily haul groceries or building supplies, much less more than one passenger.  Their ride is less comfortable.  They’re expensive to acquire, maintain, and insure.  They tend to attract speeding tickets.  But some of the hazards are more insidious.  Most people think they know what a Honda Accord signifies — reliable transportation.  People may make all manner of other assumptions about sports cars and their owners:  e.g. they’re selfish, greedy, wasteful, egotistical, or vain.  A buyer of a certain age may be viewed as having a mid-life crisis.

Like lots of stereotypes, these may have some basis in fact.  I was disturbed last year to learn that most BMW owners are Republican.  Not that there’s anything wrong, nothing else appearing, with being in the loyal opposition.  But I had never associated the two brands in my mind, and was concerned that I, a stedfast Dem, could be tagged mistakenly by association with my car.

Any problems of mistaken identity are apt to be magnified with a car that’s more rare and powerful.  Getting to the multiple meanings of the Porsche brand would take a master semiotician.  But the word is generally taken to be a synonym for expensive sports car, with all the negatives that can imply.

My earliest yearning for a Porsche 911 is too far back to clearly remember.  My had plenty of early Calvinist training in repressing such desires, without examining them too closely.  There was the realm of fantasy, and the realm of real life, which were quite separate, and Porsche belonged in the former.

The repressed longing bubbled up a few weeks ago when I was thinking aloud with Sally about replacing my BMW, which was coming to the end of its lease period.  I went down the list of possibilities, including keeping the very fine BMW, and noted as one very unlikely possibility trying to find a Porsche for the same amount of money.  Much to my surprise, Sally said, “Just do it.  If you’re every going to do it, now’s the time.”  At once a weight was lifted, and I saw clearly:  I would undertake the search for a Porsche I could both love and afford.

Buying a used car sports car was a new thing to me, and much more complicated than buying a new car, or even buying a typical used car.   The search took energy and commitment.  I spent many post-midnight hours on autotrader, cars.com, and other sites,  reading ads and reviews.  Porsches are highly customized vehicles, with many varying options, but even allowing for that, people had widely varying ideas of what their cars were worth. I eventually got a feel for the market, and began to look closely at particular vehicles, and finally to do some test driving.   I had some great conversations with my car guy friends about the pros and cons of particular cars, and about bargaining strategy.  The cars I drove were, without exception, amazing.  The challenge, though, was to find one that was, for me, perfect.

I did it.  On Friday I flew to D.C., paid the money, got the documentation, and drove home through the mother of all I-95 traffic horrors. Thanks to my seller, John, for being a great first owner.  He clearly loved this car, and he asked me to if I would, too.  I do.