Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is Austin Texas a good place to retire?

Today we'll start my new series of a semi-in-depth look at cities I'm interested in for a 2nd retirement home (one will likely be somewhere in Virginia near my Jeannie is adamant that she will live near him in retirement, even if for part of the year). I'm starting with Austin as it's the only city on my list (so far) that I've actually been to. And, it starts with an "A". So....A-way we go!

I could type and type from memory (HA!) thoughts from my pathetic research, but the hay with that...I just copied a big blob from the Wikipedia entry (yes, I took the EASY way out, I know!) THANK YOU Wikipedia!

Austin (About this sound pronunciation ) (/ˈɒstɨn/ or /ˈɔːstɨn/) is the capital of the US state of Texas and the seat of Travis County. Located in Central Texas, Austin is the 11th-most populous city in the United States and the fourth-most populous city in Texas. It was the third-fastest-growing large city in the nation from 2000 to 2006.[3] Austin is also the second largest state capital in the United States.[4] Austin had a July 1, 2013 population of 885,400 (U.S. Census Bureau estimate). The city is the cultural and economic center of the Austin–Round Rock metropolitan area, which had an estimated population of 1,883,051 as of July 1, 2013.

In the 1830s, pioneers began to settle the area in central Austin along the Colorado River. After Republic of Texas Vice President Mirabeau B. Lamar visited the area during a buffalo-hunting expedition between 1837 and 1838, he proposed that the republic's capital then located in Houston, be relocated to the area situated on the north bank of the Colorado River near the present-day Congress Avenue Bridge. In 1839, the site was officially chosen as the republic's new capital (the republic's seventh and final location) and was incorporated under the name Waterloo. Shortly thereafter, the name was changed to Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas" and the republic's first secretary of state.

The city grew throughout the 19th century and became a center for government and education with the construction of the Texas State Capitol and the University of Texas at Austin.[5] After a lull in growth from the Great Depression, Austin resumed its development into a major city and, by the 1980s, it emerged as a center for technology and business.[6] A number of Fortune 500 companies have headquarters or regional offices in Austin including Advanced Micro Devices, Apple Inc., eBay, Google, IBM, Intel, Texas Instruments, 3M, Oracle Corporation and Whole Foods Market.[7] Dell's worldwide headquarters is located in nearby Round Rock, a suburb of Austin.

Residents of Austin are known as "Austinites".[8] They include a diverse mix of government employees (e.g., university faculty and staff, law enforcement, political staffers); foreign and domestic college students; musicians; high-tech workers; blue-collar workers and businesspeople.[9] The city is home to development centers for many technology corporations; it adopted the "Silicon Hills" nickname in the 1990s. However, the current official slogan promotes Austin as "The Live Music Capital of the World", a reference to the many musicians and live music venues within the area, and the long-running PBS TV concert series Austin City Limits.[10][11]

In recent years, some Austinites have also adopted the unofficial slogan "Keep Austin Weird".[12] This interpretation of the classic, "Texas-style" sense of independence refers to: a desire to protect small, unique, local businesses from being overrun by large corporations.[13] In the late 1800s, Austin also became known as the City of the "Violet Crown" for the wintertime violet glow of color across the hills just after sunset.[14] Even today, many Austin businesses use the term "violet crown" in their name. Austin is known as a "clean air city" for the city's stringent no-smoking ordinances that apply to all public places and buildings, including restaurants and bars.[15]

The FBI ranked Austin as the second safest major city in the U.S. for the year 2012.[16]

This last line intrigued me...of all the things I have been thinking are important in a place to live, I never really considered the overall safety. That's an interesting fact, considering that Texas is a right to carry (concealed weapons/open carry weapons) state. On one of my first trips there I was at a subway in North Houston getting a meal before we headed south to see our little brother Dave (my big brother Greg was with me). There was a line of people waiting to order, and probably 2/3rds of them had pistols on their hips, including one nicely dressed professional looking lady. It seemed very odd for me,a California resident, where people would go into HYSTERICS if they saw you carrying a weapon in public (even though it IS legal to "Open" carry an unloaded weapon). I'm betting "bad guys" don't live long down there...home robberies, car-jackings, etc...considering the large amount of the population who is armed in some manner. They (the "bad guys" must all come to California where they're safe ( kind'a political there).

ANYWAY. Here is a month by month weather graph for the temperature and rainfall (with huge gratitude to for my poaching of their charts):

 Here's the Wikipedia bit on the climate (thanks again Wikipedia! Note: their month by month weather graph is embedded in this so just enjoy a different chart of the same thing):

Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches
Austin has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen: Cfa), characterized by hot summers and mild winters. Austin is usually at least partially sunny, receiving nearly 2650 hours, or 60.3% of the possible total, of bright sunshine per year.[67]
Austin summers are usually hot, with average July and August highs in the high-90s °F (34–36 °C). Highs reach 90 °F (32.2 °C) on 116 days per year, and 100 °F (37.8 °C) on 18.[68] The highest recorded temperature was 112 °F (44 °C) occurring on September 5, 2000 and August 28, 2011.[69][70][71]
Winters in Austin are mild and relatively dry. For the entire year, Austin averages 88 days below 45 °F (7.2 °C) and 13 days when the minimum temperature falls below freezing.[68] The lowest recorded temperature was −2 °F (−19 °C) on January 31, 1949.[72] About every two years or so, Austin experiences an ice storm that freezes roads over and affects much of the city for 24 to 48 hours.[72] Snowfall is rare in Austin; a 3-inch (7.6 cm) snowstorm brought the city to a near standstill in 1985.[73]
Monthly averages for Austin's weather data are shown in a graphical format to the right, and in a more detailed tabular format below.

I personally thought THIS bit (again, from Wikipedia!) is important:

Austin is known as the most bike-friendly city in Texas and has a Silver-level rating from the League of American Bicyclists.[citation needed] There are over 80 miles of bike lanes in Austin. Over 2% of commuters get to work by bike and many more Austinites ride for daily transportation needs, according to the American Community Survey. The North Loop neighborhood along with the Manor Road area have the highest bike commuting rates, with over 13% of residents biking to work in 2012. Biking is also very popular recreation-ally with the extensive network of trails in the city.[citation needed]
The city's bike advocacy organization is Bike Austin. Bike Texas, a state-level advocacy also has its main office in Austin.[citation needed]
Bicycles are a popular transportation choice among students, faculty, and staff at the University of Texas. According to a survey done at UT, 9% of commuters bike to campus.

Back to my thoughts: Being a QUITE large city, Austin has all of the sports, theater, shopping, dining, and whatnot that anybody could possibly ask for. I guess all that's really left to cover is real-estate (as in: can we AFFORD to go there?)

Here's a link to an article (too big to post here), but overall, it's not good. Unless you're moving there from a HIGH price area (such as San Francisco, or anywhere on the north-east coast I'd imagine).

The Incredible Shrinking dollar in Austin

In a nutshell, the median priced home is around $230,000 to $240,000 (cheap by our standards here in CA, and we're not even close to San Francisco!) But for a 2nd home? (for us anyway)...that's kind'a pricey, and likely more than we would like to spend (by about $230,000 to $240,000). For us, it would be a fairly long drive between Virginia and Austin twice a year (minimum). But not as long as it could be, considering I'm also looking at places in Arizona , Utah and Oregon.

At this point I can't even rank Austin, as I have nothing to rank it against. That will come in the following weeks as I review other cities of interest. And as always, PLEASE feel free to toss out other places that I haven't mentioned. Right now I'm WIDE OPEN (and I'm not saying they have to be IN the U.S., as there are plenty of Ex-pats out there living large in great weather with a substantially cheaper cost of living...places such as Belize for one).

And don't forget: this Saturday night/Sunday morning is the evil, dreaded, horrible, stupid, ridiculous, and LAME "Fall Back" time change. And thus, it will be DARK by freaking FIVE THIRTY come Sunday evening. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE this part of the year.

And did I mention that I think the time-change SUCKS?

Oh well....have a great weekend!


And btw, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Here's our pumpkins for this year (see below...we carve them the night before every year). It's always a competition between us....Jeannie did her's first and had it covered w/ the kitchen towel when I was going back and forth getting my dinner (Digorno Pizza)...and then I did mine, and THEN we light our candles and turn out the lights and can finally see each others. And I get out the tripod and take a few shots. It's as much a tradition for us as putting up Christmas decorations.

It's supposed to RAIN here for Halloween...that will be something...we haven't had any appreciable rain for about a YEAR now (not kidding) and it rains on HALLOWEEN? Poor kids...we have a LOT of candy to give out too....we always get a LOT of kids. We'll see how this year goes. So get out there and ENJOY!


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where oh WHERE to retire?

First off, I have to admit that I'm making DISMAL progress on my backpacking writeup. And by DISMAL, I mean not very much. And by not very much, I mean zero. It's already fading away into another one of those 'did it really happen' vacations. Sure, between Greg and I we have like OVER 700 pictures. But unless I go to the file and LOOK at them, I can barely remember being up in the high Sierra less than a month and a half ago. I PROMISE that I will get working on it. Someday. When I find time (HA!).

But in the meantime, it seems we have a rather popular subject that has come up....WHERE to retire? It's a HUGE question. Jeannie and I have touched on it more than once, and up until her brother blew our "Hawaii" retirement out of the water by selling his condo and buying the VA farm, we had a plan. Now that plan is gone. The NEW plan is that when I retire (8 years from now, HOPEFULLY), we move to Richmond VA so she will be somewhat close to her brother. She will still have 5 more years of work, and she's pretty sure that won't be a problem. As for ME, the Richmond thing was NEVER in my plans. So I'm not very thrilled with the change whatsoever. I can do summers out there, but I have no intentions of doing winter. I grew up in Wyoming and Montana, and have already had enough winter for the rest of my life. I'm a "tropical" kind of guy. I like the ocean. WARM ocean. I like hills. Mountains. I like to be able to AFFORD to live (knocking out areas like San Francisco. San Jose (Silicon Valley), Washington DC....area's like that. Places where a shack cost's a fortune. And I don't want to live in a big city anyway. I like a lot of things about the San Diego area (specifically, Ocean, warm weather, hills/mountains in the area). But the high cost of living knocks it out of contention.

And so...we've been discussing some places, so today I'll list them, and start tracking temperature, WIND (I HATE WIND! After we leave here, I'll have had a LIFETIME of wind, and would like to go somewhere that it DOESN'T blow nearly every single day!). Feel free to toss out any places you've heard of or thought of....I'm WIDE open here, and can use the help! So...without further adeiu, here's the preliminary list (I've added some that I thought of since we began the topic to the list), not in any particular order:

Austin TX
I've been there twice, both for fairly short periods of time. Liked it. Hilly, hip-town (SUPER bike friendly, at least in town). 
Day/night temp for Friday: 83/63
Greeneville SC
Never been there, don't know anything about it other than what I've heard/read (cycling oriented, due to it being the home of Big George H). I did read an article the other day on Velo News about George's upcoming Gran Fondo, and how he's gotten a bunch of ex Postal/Discovery guys to come ride it (including the Devil, that is if USA Cycling decides he can...the ball is in their court). 
Day/night temp for Friday: 72/47

Scottsdale AZ
Never been there. Just know (from articles and such) that it attracts a lot of retirees. A bit further down in elevation than Flagstaff (ie: a bit warmer)
 Day/night temp for Friday: 92/65

Flagstaff AZ 
Same as Scottsdale, well...I have passed thru. I recall hills/Mountains in the area (good for Mt biking). Gets snow but doesn't last, one of the sunniest places in the US. 
Day/night temp for Friday: 70/40

Sedona AZ
I think this is near the Scottsdale area....somewhere in the middle of  Flagstaff and Phoenix. Good in the summer and winter I hear.
Day/night temp for Friday: 82/51
Portland OR
Been there for a week or so (my ship was in drydock). Liked it..but not entirely sure what it's like in the winter. It's been listed in more than a few articles about great places to retire.
Day/night temp for Friday: 60/50

Bend OR
Another place I've never been to, but I hear it's got GREAT mt and road biking. 

Day/night temp for Friday: 51/43
St George UT
Again, never been there. But Fatty (you know, FATTY? THE Fat Cyclist)...his friends Kenny and Heather live there...and Fatty and Hammer go there during the winter to escape the cold and ride it can't be too bad in the winter. I have a friend who goes there to hike around and such nearly every Sept (he went this year the week before my backpacking trip...if that had been called off I would have met him there to scope out the area). I'm intrigued by this it has WICKED AWESOME road and Mt biking! 
Day/night temp for Friday: 77/53

Any other places to add to the list? Any reason to take any of these off the list? I'm all ears!

I didn't have time to find the wind and such for these places. Also I already noticed (it's mid Oct) that Bend OR might be pretty chilly's the coolest of the list (so far). But I'll watch it for a while before scratching it from the list. And actually I'm totally up for more places on the east coast, as I'll likely be commuting to/from Richmond to escape the cold...and driving clear across the country might be prohibitive, even if my car gets 50mpg.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bye bye old friend

I got back home from Colo Springs last Friday afternoon. It was a good but uneventful trip (we got everything done that was planned and more, so that's good). The weather was great right up until Thursday mid-morning when the storm hit. It was raining pretty hard nearly all day after that. Schriever Air Force Base is a different sort of base than the usual run of the mill military base. As far as I know there is no exchange or comissary. There are work buildings, and that's about it. But those are inside a 2nd fenceline. First you enter the base thru one of 2 gates where they check your ID. THEN you drive to one of the giant parking lots surrounding the 'inner base', park, and walk walk walk to the large turnstile building. There you badge in and pass thru one of about 30 turnstiles (meant for LOTS of people to be coming/going at the same time). Then you walk some more to your work building. In cold or crappy weather this rather sucks, all you can do is dress warm and enjoy the walk if you can. It really sucked on Thursday afternoon. We weren't prepared for rain at ALL. By the time we got back to the rental car we were quite wet.

As in S.O.A.K.E.D.

Possibly DRENCHED even. And we were also a bit chilly, as the temps had dropped with the storm and was maybe now in the 50's. Ok, it was more than a bit chilly. We were COLD (and WET, in case I hadn't mentioned that).

But we survived, and the ONE good thing about going on work-trips is PER DIEM. We're on "actuals", so we have to provide reciepts for everything. There is a max for daily food expenditure, but we shoot for the sky and try to spend it all every day. Translation: we eat like KINGS. FAT KINGS. Well, not me (fat) but other people. My aging tapeworm is still up to the task and able to handle $66 of food a day (not without some difficulty though). It's almost a disappointment to come  home to "real life" and look in the freezer and make a chicken pot pie for dinner, after eating lobster(s), bone-in rib-eye steaks, Brazillian BBQ, if it's pricey and good we're all over it... all week. But other than THAT it's always great to be back home. And quite honestly I can't eat like that all the time or I would die young. Well, not necessarily young, as I think I'm kind'a already past that point....but not old either (whatever that is).

But I digress. On Saturday I was able to slip out for my weekly Saturday morning club bike ride. Usually I really look forward to these rides, however since around mid July my riding time has really dropped. Mostly due to's been rather crazy, and my week-night rides have almost entirely disappeared (I normally ride on Tues and Thurs after work for about 2 or so hours). Along with those weeknight rides has gone my fitness. One ride a week isn't enough to keep me even level on the fitness I've been backsliding these past two plus months. And the numbers in my club ride have fallen, and some mornings there's only 2 or 3 of us. If the other one or two are 'fast guys' then I'm in a heap of trouble, and they're going to be bored as they completely destroy me whil'st chatting it up. And after sliding backwards for this amount of time, there's no way I can even hang onto their wheels at their pace for 60 miles. Or even 30 for that matter. Then I get huge guilt as they are continually waiting for me, so I end up breaking off going solo, leaving them to whale on each other and let me die in solitude.

AND SO (boy, do I really get distracted or WHAT!)...AFTER my ride of death and doom, I crawled my way back home about a half hour later than I had hoped for. Had about a 3 minute shower, grabbed a bottle of water and away we went. You see, Jeannie was taking her car to be put down. In almost any other state, her 1991 Teal Green Dodge Stealth (read: rocketship) would be just fine. Yes, it burned some oil. But here in California, we have smog checks every other year. We have limped and cajoled her car past smog by some miraculous means these last many years, but not this year. It failed hard. So we took it in to find out what it would take to fix it...just a valve job or an entire rebuild/new engine. The Bad news: entire engine. It was leaking oil past the piston rings AND valves. I found a total rebuilt engine for a little over 3 grand, and then to have the old engine pulled out and all the parts moved over to the new engine and reinstalled, was another $2500. So for around $5500 her 24 year old car (which was in FABULOUS condition outside and in except for the oil burning) we'd give it a new lease on life. But Jeannie decided not to put any more money into her old friend (she's had it since before we ever started dating). Over the years we've had the clutch replaced, the drive shafts (front wheel drive) replaced, manual transmission worked on (1st gear problem) and many other smaller tires, battery, etc (new tires weren't cheap either...those babies are rather wide sports tires...I think they were "fifties").

But she decided and that was that, there was no convincing her that she should just fix it and drive it the next 8 years  here (how much time I have left to retire I HOPE at 62), put the rest of her money away (she's already saved enough to buy a new car as she knew this day was coming for many years now), let it earn interest over the next 8 years, and THEN sell this one with the rebuilt engine for whatever it's worth at that point, and still have all her money to buy a nearly new car 8 years from now.

And's her car on it's final morning in our care:
I took this shot just before heading out on my bike ride. There they are, talking it sliver Jetta TDI wagon and Jeannie's rocketship. I got my last speeding ticket in that car, about 9 or 10 years ago (doing somewhere around 80 in a 55 zone...long story). This car BEGS to go fast. It doesn't even run very good until you get the rpm's up around 3000, THEN it leaps forward and really takes off. And being low and sleek it corners GREAT, with those big fat sport tires.

In  California they have a plan to get "Gross Polluters" off the road...a buy-back plan. You submit your failed smog test results, and they eventually (took about 2 months) send you the paperwork. Then all you have to do is pick one of the "auto-dismantelers" from their list, and drive it to them (no towing allowed, it must be in running condition). They will then process your paperwork and eventually give you a check for $1000 (unless you're lower income and then you get $1500 for some reason).

So at 11:30 am we took off headed north, with Jeannie on her VERY LAST DRIVE EVER in her beloved Stealth. I was following close behind (as her registration expired in Sept) and just wanted to make sure we didn't get pulled over on this final voyage. We had to drive it about an hour north to Paso Robles, which was the closest dismanteler. Being as I had run late in my bike ride I didn't get any food (we had to be up there BEFORE they close, as it takes over a half hour for the paperwork, and there are others there ahead of you likely, which there were).

This shot was taken w/ Jeannies cell phone (has a crappy little camera....not even a smart's her work phone) of me in MY last drive EVER in her car. I was driving it onto the scales for weight....for some reason they weigh it with me IN the car, then I drive it off the scale and park it (very sad) and then step back ONTO the scale for them to weigh me (like I even register on this HUMONGOUS scale). No idea what that was all about. I parked her car next to all the other sad cars, awaiting their turn at becoming organ donors. Her car was BY FAR the nicest one there. The guy who came out to start our paperwork even commented that he doesn't see many cars like this. Most likely we could have sold it somewhere for more, but in CA it's almost worthless if it won't pass smog, and we weren't going to deal with the hassle.

And so....we drove off with check in hand, her teal green Stealth whimpering as we left. By now it's been stripped I'd imagine...body panels (all in great shape) going around the country to fix the few remaining Stealths still out there, along with any other needed parts (the seats were immaculate, and the dashboard was even un-cracked). Sad. Just sad. And it wasn't even my car. I've been hammering the miles in my Jetta since 06 (I'm up to 222,000 miles already) and only occasionally drove her car. When I did, it was ROCKET time. Somebody has to burn out the 'gunk'...and Jeannie drives it like I drive my Jetta (like a little old lady). But it's gone use crying over spil't milk. My battle to get her to fix it was lost, and I promised her I'd not give her any more grief over it. She is already looking for the car she wants (a 2013 VW Passatt TDI) and true to my word, I've already found her a few nice ones...the best option is down in Arlington Texas (about $2000 cheaper than anything even remotely near here)...and I was willing to fly down, get the car and drive it home (about 1400 miles, figure I can do that in 2 days). But she had now decided to wait until the 2015's are out in full force, thinking it will drop the 2013 prices more (this 2013 is actually two years old as they come out with the new model WELL before the end of the year). It's black with a beige interior, and FULLY LOADED with every option you can get. It's a REAL nice car..much nicer than mine (that's ok...I still love my little mileage king!). Being a diesel like mine, and even though it weighs a lot more, has way more horsepower and is bigger, AND an automatic transmission, it still gets in the 40's mpg on the highway, 30's in the city. Just a great car. But we'll see...she wants to wait, so we (she) waits.

And thus...the ONLY car I've ever known her to have is GONE.

Goodbye my old smokey friend! May others live on by your passing!