Thursday, June 25, 2015

Die Summe aller Sinne

Picking up the new wheels at Autos of Dallas in Addison, TX
The Sum of All Senses. This was the advertising slogan back in 2004 when BMW introduced the Z4 roadster as an antidote to Porsche's Boxter. Forget about the "Ultimate Tanning Machine." That one was way too utilitarian, lacking all the emotion and panache that this two-seater is evoking and exuding.

And now I own one.

About two weeks ago I picked up my 2012 Z4, with a measly 15,500 miles on it, for an even measlier $29,880. It was an opportunity and a deal that I just couldn't pass up. The Miata—our/my dependable and fun companion for 23 years and more than 200,000 miles of its 210,000 odometer reading—had finally reached an age where needed maintenance and quite-likely repairs were going to start costing some real money. At the same time, the BMW came knocking at my door .... What started as a harmless look at what Z4s cost and what is available, I came across an online listing at Autos of Dallas for this amazing buy. Saving more than $20,000 for those few miles driven, for a car that is as immaculate as when it originally left the dealership in 2012, appeared almost unreal. Somehow it all worked out—flying to Dallas on award miles, getting the news that the car was actually $1,000 less than the internet price (who has ever heard of anything like that?), and then being able to sell the Miata the very next day to a used-car dealer in Lubbock for $1,500 in cash. Wow, what a flurry of activity.
Original poster for the 2004 launch of the Z4
By now, I have driven the Z4 for about 1,000 miles. First there was the drive back from Dallas to Lubbock, two weeks ago Friday. Oh man, I just couldn't believe how much more refined this car is in comparison to the Miata. Don't get me wrong: The Miata is a fabulous little sports car that is being taken to the track by myriad enthusiasts and that is simply a lot of fun, even if you don't race. I had even been looking at another Miata as the 4th-generation 2016 MX-5 had just been introduced. But this Bimmer is in a totally different league: It's what they call a premium roadster, and I have never owned anything like it. It is comfortable and stable, looks stylish, has more power than one can apply unless one wants to risk a ticket (around 250 hp), and runs as quiet and smooth even with the roof down as I would have never imagined possible.
Outside of Angel Fire, NM
I love the electronic hard-top—forget the Miata's manual ragtop that was always a struggle to get back up. The seats (red leather!) adjust in any which way, and of course they are heated. Oh my, the air conditioning works! And there is vastly more leg and trunk space than the little Mazda had. (I can pack my Ritchey, disassembled, into the trunk and still have some extra space, even if not much.) The mirrors electronically fold in when parking, and there are electronic things that I still haven't totally figured out. The sound system, with the top open, allows me to listen to even classical music and hear it!
The Ritchey fits in the trunk!
After that initial drive to Lubbock I was obviously tickled, and I was surprised by what I thought was  amazing consumption for such a large and powerful car. I thought that approximately 35 mpg were astonishing, what with an hour's worth of stop-and-go Friday-afternoon metroplex traffic thrown into the mix. In the Miata I could generally expect somewhere around 32 mpg, but that seldom included driving at 75 mph (or 80, as I did once the roads cleared up and I was beyond the Weatherford 65 mph zone).
And then I went on my first real road trip, up to Angel Fire, NM, for a race last weekend and then onward to Rico, CO, where I am writing this. So far I have driven about 650 miles on this trip, and there have been quite a few mountain roads (like the one from Mora up to AF, or the climb up here to Rico at 8,500 feet. I had the roof dropped the entire time, which doesn't help aerodynamics, and I've stayed just a little north of the speed limit on the entire trip. The board computer says that consumption sits at 39.2 mpg! That's unreal. The Germans are on to something. At this rate, I may have to go on a few extra road trips this summer/fall, especially since I can take my Ritchey along.
Above Abiquiu Lake in New Mexico
Die Summe Aller Sinne. I tell you, I am simply ecstatic over my purchase and am glad that I took this step that I had often thought about but never seriously contemplated. If road trips beforehand were fun, they are now simply a new experience, and I hope that this sensation will last for a long time.
5.9 liter/100 K equals 39.8 mpg—on the way to Cortez, CO
So, even though I am enjoying my time in the mountains tremendously, I'm already looking forward to the drive back home.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

After the rains

Yes, that's the South Plains right now
The Texas Hill Country is still being hit by the last remnants of tropical storm Bill while the metroplex is slowly starting to emerge from the severe beating it has taken. Lubbock had a bit of weather action just east of town tonight, and when I just took out the trash I felt a few tiny sprinkles that felt as if flies were hitting me head-on, but there was that faint yet tell-tale stripe of cerulean sky on the western horizon. For now, I believe, we're done with the rain.
Farmers finally are hitting the fields again
Don't try ploughing with your Jeep
After those three—or was it more like almost four?—years of drought that left my lawn in a permanent state of paralysis, the past three months have brought an inordinate amount of rain to the South Plains. Actually, it's been record breaking. Within a month we went from being deep, deep in the dumps of a historic drought to allowing fireworks to be launched during the upcoming 4th of July festivities. It's like the oil industry in the Midland/Odessa area: It's boom, or it's bust. Forget about moderation.
Playa lakes eat fields; look at the erosional pattern here
This morning I went for my usual ride out to The End of World. I'm happy to report that it hasn't come any closer to us—still 16.8 miles from the house. I took my time and stopped a few times, marveling at how the recent rains have shaped our environment. The playa lakes are back, natural depressions that from the air look like Minnesota's land-'o-thousand-lakes. Fields have been battered and are waiting for the farmers to re-till and re-build the rows. Here and there some green is starting to tentatively crop up, and if I'm not all wrong our crop of tumbleweeds will be stellar this fall.
A bit of green fuzz is starting to show; if the weather holds, this will be one beautiful field in a month's time
This field needs a make-over—badly!
The farm-to-market roads have taken a hard hit. New potholes are everywhere, but at least we can see them now. Two days ago I had to carefully roll through some standing water and managed to hit a few new craters. Bar ditches have become temporary wetlands, with occasional waterfowl amusing themselves in the canals. If one stops and listens carefully into the wind one can hear the thousands and thousand of frogs that have hatched from, well, I don't know what. 
STOP!!! It's The End of The World!
Returning from The End of The World—disaster once again averted!
A new crater (and lake) at the intersection of FM 179 and Woodrow Road
At least nobody died up here during those recent deluges, and the farmers have been markedly restrained in their bitching about how there was too much rain, too fast, how the temperature was too low for proper planting, how they will have to switch from cotton to grain, etc. etc. Same song, slightly different lyrics. It's fun to watch it all from the saddle of a bike where mosquitoes don't start feeding on you (try to go for a quick pee at The End of The World!). But I do have to say that I am looking forward to my field trip to New Mexico and Colorado beginning tomorrow—less humidity, fewer bugs, and maybe even some trees!


OK, so I was dead wrong: In the middle of last night we got hammered by yet another violent thunderstorm. I had been hoping for an early morning ride today before skipping town, but I think I leave rowing a boat across inundated intersections to somebody else.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Voss Menagerie

Sly, my resident fox
Shortly before I left for Europe I had procured a cat trap from our local Animal Control to catch a black tomcat that appeared to live underneath my backyard shed. That cat would look at me with one of those languid glances when I came out of the house to take my trash to the alley, or just to shush it away, and I was tired of the damn thing crapping in my yard. So I decided to catch the cat. The only thing was, the cat was smarter than I and managed to get to all those pieces of salmon and other goodies without triggering the trap. That SOB! The trap went back to Animal Control after a week.
Foxy Lady, Sly's betrothed
And so I came back to Lubbock last Tuesday, expecting "my" cat to have found a mate and sit in front of the shed, playing with kittens. As it turned out, even if the cat had been there I wouldn't have been able to see him because the weeds—after all the rain that Lubbock had received in May—were in places hip deep! It took me two days to get everything chopped down and reclaim at least the ground of my yard. And then I saw him: Sly, the fox.
The fruit of their love: Heartbreaker
First I wasn't sure what that animal was that I happened to glimpse out of the corner of my eye while I was writing an e-mail or something like that. The next time I saw the mystery animal, I quietly got my camera and took the first pics. On Facebook I asked, "What is this?" I had never seen a grey fox like this, always the lower-to-the-ground red variety that one finds in Europe. I suppose the tail is a giveaway, but a fox in the middle of the city?
And so the FB comments started to pour in. Some of my friends suggested calling Animal Control, many more advocated leaving the animal alone, somebody came up with the great name Sly, and lots of them pronounced me "lucky" for having a fox in my yard. Not many of my posts have drawn a response like that (30+ at the time of this writing).
Tonight I was sitting here at the dining room table, and one again I saw the movement out of the corner of my eye. When I looked over, I realized that Sly had multiplied! Instead of one fox, there were two. No, make that two-and-a-half, as a cuddly fur-ball was jumping around, too! It's a fox refuge! In the late afternoon light the whole family had come out, with Heartbreaker (appropriately named by David Lurz) hopping around Foxy Lady (named by my neighborette two doors down, Janet) who'd occasionally groom the pup, while Sly ( thank you, Mr. Campos, for that perfect suggestion) kept a watchful eye on the whole situation. I finally opened the door, very gently yet fully expecting them to immediately seek refuge under the shed. Well, not so: They are a curious bunch. Of course they were wary, but they were also curious and not so sure what to do when I started talking to them and taking photos. One step back, one step forward, then another. Ears straight up, eyes totally trained on me, wondering what that weird two-legged animal was that didn't shoot at them (like my neighbor Ted had told me he had, with his pellet gun).
My mind is made up: They can live under my shed. The cat is gone, and I haven't found any fox crap yet. The Texas Department of State Health Services hasn't recorded any instances of rabies within a 150-mile radius around Lubbock so far in 2015, so I think I'm safe. There's something very soothing about these stealthy animals, and the intimate connection to the wild is something that one doesn't find to this degree too often while in the city.
I may have already named them, but they will not be pets. They are wild animals that have found a refuge, and maybe we can live in close vicinity for a while. I'm already looking forward to the next time when I see Heartbreaker bounce around in my backyard.
Incidentally, fox and the German Fuchs are obviously closely related. Sabine made me aware that her family name, Voss, is the low-German variant of Fuchs. Now, isn't that interesting that the fox family moved into my 'hood?