29 August 2012

On the death of Neil Armstrong

I heard about Neil Armstrong dying Saturday afternoon and I felt sad, proud, and nostalgic.

People who don't remember the 60's (because of age, not other circumstances) don't understand how big a deal astronauts and the space program were.  They were the biggest stars, everyone knew them, everyone wanted to be them.  There were 4 channels on television and whenever there was a launch it was covered by ALL the networks.  I watched every one I could, I knew the names of the 7 original astronauts and I was especially proud of Gus Grissom since he was also from Indiana and went to Purdue University.  I remember the saddest day of my young life when Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a launch pad test on 27Jan1967.  I remember watching Borman, Lovell, and Anders circle the moon on Christmas Eve 1968.  And I for sure remember "Tranquility base, here.  The Eagle has landed."  It might have been 43 years ago but when I remember that it feels like it was yesterday.

I also have a once-removed connection to Neil Armstrong.  I was at Purdue from 1978-1982 and in the Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering department, which at the time was located in  Grissom Hall (after Gus, don't you know).  So, end of my Freshman year, finishing my first Aero class with Professor Hsu Lo.  It was his last sememster teaching, he was retiring, and the last class before our final he handed out papers to everyone telling them what their grade currently was and what they would get for the class depending on what they got on the final.  He then addressed the class. (Paraphrased)

"For this class I think B best grade.  A-students little too much egghead.  You can have fine career with C... C good grade.  1 of my Students get C my class, now President of Boeing Company.  Other you might have heard of, his name is Neil Armstrong."  Not said in a bragging way, just matter of fact.  And, Neil and I shared a grade.

RIP Neil, Thank You for your service.

29 July 2012

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

I'm skipping a few fun things we've done this year, and not yet telling some stories of other travels and adventures I've had so I can tell about a fun weekend where George and I drove to North Carolina to share a condo with a dear friend and her sister who we've known a little over a year that I met in an on-line book club-type thing and I end up buying (and wearing, in public) a kilt.

Wait!  What?  Really?  Well that doesn't sound like the Clay I used to know!  (There... does that cover your reaction?  That's pretty typical.)  Let me start at, if not the beginning, many years ago.

To hear George tell it, when we met Sophomore year at Purdue I was 1 step removed from a hermit, or a cloistered something-or-other that had a hard time speaking to other people and only did so under duress.  To be fair, that's the general opinion held by most Liberal Arts types about engineers.  Now, I was not your typical engineer, for example, I showered daily and washed my hair, read books other than text books (okay, Ayn Rand, but Atlas Shrugged wasn't a text book!), and did not spend an inordinate amount of time doing math problems.  And you know it's not true (right?) because if it was, what does that say about her, still with me after more than 32 years?

And people who know me well know that I might have been slow to get to know people and open up, but once i did I would not shut up, I mean, ever!  I still contend that Pay-At-The-Pump is one of the greatest inventions ever because then I didn't have to deal with people I didn't know!  I had close friends from Purdue, and a couple from work I talked to, but if I didn't have to, I generally didn't.  It started changing gradually, and I definitely noticed a difference, after attending "people skills training" (which might be the subject of another post some day seeing that the person who told me I needed it was not known for having said skills!) and as I started travelling more and working with people I'd never met before.

Separate from this we had a couple of friends who told us they had a book we just had to read!  It changed their sex lives!  READ THIS BOOK!  Um.... ooookay.  Somehow we never read it, with such a ringing endorsement too.  10 years later George got the audiobook and started listening as she drove all over Indiana with her role in Psi Iota Xi, and I started listening as I trained for a marathon on the treadmill in the basement.  And guess what?  No... it didn't change our sex lives, but the book was very good!  Thus began our Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) phase of reading.  Over the next several months I read little more than her books and since George likes to read multiple books at the same time and interrupt series with other books I finished the series (or what was available at the time) a full 2+ books ahead of her.  It had been fun to talk about the things we read as we went through the books together, and now I didn't have that.  Despite the fact I used to be so quiet and introverted I needed somebody to discuss these books with!

I looked around online and found different discussions then stumbled into the CompuServe forum (this is the place where all the nerds ask; Wait... CompuServe is still around?) where there were all sorts of people like me (well, okay, 99% women, but some men too) that wanted to discuss these books.  So I did... taking part in the discussions to the point I have since made over 1200 posts!  Another fun place online was My Outlander Purgatory and on a fateful night in March of 2011, when George was out of town, I saw there was going to be their regularly scheduled chat at 9 PM.  I signed on, introduced myself (Think of a typical AA scene in any movie.  "Hi, my name is Clay and I've been reading Outlander 12 months."  "Hi Clay!") and that was that.  I don't know that I have met and been welcomed as warmly by any group of people I did not know at all, ever before.  And that first night I met my friend Christie.

Did you ever meet somebody and know, instantly, you're gonna be friends?  That was Christie.  Same age (roughly, I won't say who's older), same sense of humor, same age kids, both ecstatically married to their best friend from college, we just clicked.  We saw each other every week at MOP, we chatted, met up in Atlanta at DragonCon (and met Diana Gabaldon at a brunch we went to), again in December in Ohio when they were visiting Jay's dad, and in Birmingham, AL when we went to the Indy car race.  So, Outlander starts out in Scotland and George and I had discussed going to a Scottish Highland Games sometime, Christie was interested, and The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is 1 of the largest in the US, and it was roughly 7-1/2 hours from both of us.  So plans were made, a condo was rented, and on 12Jul12 we drove to Linville, NC.

(Let's see... This covers me talking to people I don't know well, meeting up with new friends and going to the Highland games... okay, just checking)

Friday was rainy and we were sorting out what we wanted to do, we ate lunch, went hiking in the Linville Gorge (beautiful park, we want to go back someday), saw a bear driving back from the park... well I didn't, I had my eyes closed, but everybody else did, had supper, played games, and talked late.  Great start to the weekend.

Saturday was rainy when we got up, but what better weather to go to Scottish Highland Games than Scotland weather!  Here was the view as we settled in to see the massed bands play.

It was very cool seeing the massed bands play around the track.

There were tents for all the different clans represented around the outside of the track, I never knew there were that many!
Clan McBean was proud of Alan Bean!

So my heritage is pretty much a Heinz 57 mix of more than I know.  But I thought I'd check and see if my name was associated with any clans.  It wasn't but it was what's called a District Family name.  Concentrated primarily in lowlands of Scotland my name is associated with the Ayrshire district south of Glasgow.
We saw this girl, dressed this way (!) in the restaurant Friday in Linville.  Apparently there are a lot of Nymphs at Highland games.
So when we first made plans to go to the Highland games George and others made comments about me getting a kilt.  And of course everybody laughed, I did too, but the more I thought about it the more I thought WTF?  What do I care if people laugh?  If George likes it, and more importantly if I like it, I'm gonna do it!  Well, with no clan affiliation it was not really possible to find my plaid, and really, how practical is it to have a wool... anything?  Other than hand knitted socks of course.  So I looked at these Utilikilts.  Of course George was taking pictures and she especially liked this one with my shorts around my ankles...
I ended up with a black one.  Still a little shocked I did it and wore it out to supper that night!  Since we've been home I've worn it around the house.  But there is a Grandfather Mountain Marathon I'm seriously considering running next year and we saw several guys running in kilts this year, so if I run that next year?  I'm wearing my kilt.

So we woke up Sunday morning and my first thought was SHIT!  Time to go home already?  Also, it was the first clear morning we had since we'd been there.  These are some views from teh balcony of our condo.

We decided to go hiking at Grandfather Mountain National Park before we headed home.  Beautiful country, beautiful views, beautiful trails. 

Christie looking at the split in the rock.  Could this be where she'd find Jamie?
Christie and I consider going through the rocks together...

At the top of Grandfather Mountain is a mile high swinging bridge.  George does NOT like heights, but she did it!
Beyond the bridge you could walk out on the rocks beyond.  George and Fran decided crossing the bridge was good enough for them but Christie and I continued on out a little farther.
Here is proof that George was on the bridge!

As we were on the bridge you could see weather moving in quickly.  We decided to go back to eat lunch and head home.
A view of the Highland Games from the top of Grandfather Mountain.

As we drove home we talked about the fun we had at the Highland Games, the beautiful country in the mountains of North Carolina, the bear we (okay... they) saw, the fact that I not only bought but wore in public a kilt.  But, like everything else, the real fun was sharing it with good friends and making memories with them.

22 July 2012

Well THAT took a long time...

I seem to remember saying that I wasn't sure my blogging would continue once I got home from my mega-trip.  I guess that was an understatement.  I haven't blogged since early April... that was over 3 months ago!  Where was I?  Oh yes... I had just returned from an IndyCar race in Birmingham, AL.

I will probably discuss this in more detail some other time, but I have been a fan of Indy car racing for a long long time.  I was born in Indianapolis and remember listening to the cars practice as a little kid playing in the back yard, and every Memorial day growing up, no matter where we were, we were listening to the race on the radio.  My first race was the 1966 Indianapolis 500 that Graham Hill won (who was always my mom's favorite driver), I've been to every 500 but 2 since 1981 (more on at least 1 of those 2 later), and have been to several races at Kentucky Speedway.  So I am a fan, and probably more than a casual fan, but I had never seen a road race with Indy cars before.  We had discussed going to the Alabama race since it started and this seemed like a good year.

My friend Christie told us about a contest where we could win 2 free tickets, so I entered, and entered George as well even though she wouldn't be able to go.  And she won!  We never win anything!  I was outside cutting the grass and she came out... "Did you enter a contest for race tickets?  In my name?  Well... you won."She was then eligible for the grand prize... and she won that too!  2 free tickets (for all 3 days), free VIP parking, 2 free Paddock Club passes (free food and drinks, seats right above the pits, access to the garages and work areas for all the race teams), a Red Diamond Pod coffee maker and "6 month supply of coffee" (I don't think they realize how much coffee we drink), and a "hot lap" around the track on Saturday morning!

Jeff came to our house from Indy on Friday afternoon and we headed for Nashville.  Trouble ensued (see last post) and we got in very late Friday night.  But all was not lost because we got to take Dave's car!

A Nissan  370Z 6-Speed Manual!  Yowza!  I promise I was nice to it, but it helped show me I can NEVER have a car like that of my own, I am sure I would get in way too much trouble with it.  Since I wasn't quite sure where we were going, well except for my trusty Tom-Tom, we left very early and drove like a bat out of hell (but not too fast... ;) ) to Barber Motorsports Park.  Now, I LOVE the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I still get goosebumps driving by the track, I love the history, and all the ceremony before the 500, but this was simply the most beautiful racetrack I had ever seen in my life.  It was like a beautiful park... with race cars!  And everybody, I mean everybody!, was friendly.... with race cars!  We parked, and here was my initial picture after parking:

We were a little pressed for time, we had no idea where we had to walk to and no idea how long it would take to get there and I was told there was a hard deadline for when I had to be to the appointed place.  This was, however, nothing, at all, like the initial impression of Indy.  I can't find a picture that does it justice... I will have to work on that, but it does not look like this.

We found the appropriate gate and I got in line and I needn't have worried, it was somewhat unorganized.  I didn't realize how many "hot laps" there were, there must have been 50 of us in that line!  They had 2 2-seater Carreras and 2 4-seater Panameras.

Driven by instructors from the Porsche Sport Driving School you could hear the cars accelerate hard off the line and return ~2 minutes later after a lap.  I realized pretty quickly that the people getting in the Carreras were either pretty women or rich man.  Being neither I adjusted my expectations accordingly.  As I was standing in line I saw a shorter guy walk past us inside the track and I thought "Holy shit!  That's Arie Luyendyk!"  If you are not a race fan, that name might not mean much to you, but he won the Indianapolis 500 twice and holds the qualifying record of  >237 MPH.  This was the car I rode in.  I hoped for a front seat, but no joy, no matter, it was fun in any case.

DO NOT WATCH THE FOLLOWING VIDEO IF YOU GET MOTION SICK.  I don't and it almost made me queasy!  I loved it, and wanted to record some but it interfered a little with enjoying it.  I was just glad to hear I wasn't screaming like a little girl as I recorded.

A view of the Paddock Club area we sat in.

After my lap we walked around the pits and through the area behind the paddock where people worked on their cars.  I liked the Mini!

Another view of the park like area around the track

We then went through the museum, which was THE best race car/motorcycle museum I have ever seen.  I will include a couple of pictures but they do not do it justice.

I think Arie was stalking us...

At one point a guy from the museum came out "The Penske team is available for photos and autographs!"  Of course I was thinking I'm too old to ask for an autograph!  But I should have got one for our school's auction!  In any case we got this cool picture from about 6 feet way.

More pictures as we walked around the outside of the track, I have no idea what that first one is, or the last one.  But people are taking pictures and talking about it so I guess they got what they wanted.

A picture of Will Power in his garage area

Then there was a sports car race with 80+ cars of different classes, from Corvettes to Mini's.  We watched the start of the race and 25 minutes later, after about 1/2 mile of racing and 20+ caution laps, we called it a day and went to the hotel.  The Indy car race was the next day.

That night we were invited to supper at my friend Christie's parent's house.  (Is that enough apostrophes?  Too many?  Hell I don't know)  I didn't  take as many pictures at supper and visiting, that would just be creepy.  But here's one of Christie and I and 1 of Christie's parents.  We had pork barbecue, cole slaw, and beans.  We had a lot of fun, then went to BWW for a couple of beers.

Sunday was race day and the cars were so fast it was hard to get pictures of them.  I have several pictures of empty track where I can tell a car is just to the left!

A couple of pictures of the paddock club area where we sat.

Winner - Will Power!

So, all in all a great experience.  A great race, a beautiful track and museum, I got to see how beautiful Alabama is, another fun trip with Jeff, I got to drive Dave's 370Z and ride in a Porsche Panamera at 122 mph around the track (I did not go that fast in Dave's car), I got to see Christie and meet her parents, sister and daughter, and find out (again) how great my friends are!

I'm planning on it!  Next spring I think for next year's race...