Keys Disease

Keys Disease
Battling Keys Disease at the Futura Yacht Club in Islamorada, Fla. three years ago.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Your Definition of Haves and Have Nots Depends on What You Have

A quiet afternoon on the sandbar.
I'm not the kind of guy who belly aches too much about First-World problems. At least I try not to be. My lawnmower issue of a couple weeks ago could, I guess, be categorized as a first-world problem. I mean, there are a lot of people out there who don't have either a yard or the wherewithal to own a mower to cut it. I guess to a person living in a cardboard box under a bridge, any problem I might have with my new $400 mower is fairly trivial. I'd have to agree.

Don't worry, this isn't another lawnmower post. I just present it as evidence that most problems are relative. To some third worlder, surviving by chewing the bark off a stick, would see not being able to find another stick as a huge issue. Me, not so much. I'm guessing you are right there with me.

On my recent trip to the Keys, I was with my friends who rent a place in Islamorada for a month every summer. I can pinpoint within a week the exact month they will be there by simply going from the weekend after Independence Day and tracing out the month on my calendar to a total of five weekends. Easypeasy. 

We were anchored on the sandbar about a mile off the beach of, what used to be the world-famous Holiday Isle, but is now called, ugh, Postcard Inn. Although there are boats anchored in the waist-deep water there every day of the week, Saturdays and Sundays will find as many as 200 smaller craft crammed into this rather tight area, each with its contingent of beer-swilling passengers and blaring music. The water around these boats is filled with people hanging onto anything that floats like survivors of a torpedoed trawler.

It is a social gathering of the haves. The degree of having is usually measured by the size of your craft (Insert your “size” joke here.) with the larger boats typically indicating those having more. From my perspective, if you have a boat and are on the sandbar in Islamorada, you certainly have more than I. But you might be amazed at the size of some of the boats, the age of those owning them and their stories.

On my first trip to the sandbar this year we met a 50ish couple with a boat in the 27-ft range. They were from Pompano Beach, Fla. They were spending the summer in the Keys. The boat they brought to the sandbar was their little boat. They also have a 57-ft boat that was docked a couple of miles away on which they were staying. Serious haves, right? The Kennedys might disagree.

On my last trip out to the sandbar, we met a family with a boat of similar size. The parents were in their late 40s with a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-yr-old son. They had two small dogs with them, one of which was a puppy with its leg in a cast. They were friendly, chatty people with whom we visited as we floated around on noodles with our beers. The dogs spent the afternoon on a huge float the size of a living-room sofa. Even the pets of a lot of these people are “haves.”

Driving home the whole first-world-problem thing: The wife related their latest story of woe. Seems they live full time in Miami, but have owned a weekend house in the Keys for more than 10 years. They are currently in the process of building a pool behind their Keys house. She regaled us with the misery of having the back of the house all torn up as this pool-building process drags on.

The really horrific part of the story is that while the pool excavation was going on two weeks ago, the pool builders cut an electric line running from the house to the dock. At the time, the pool contractor promised to get an electrician on site the following week to fix the problem. They returned this weekend only to discover electric to the dock hadn't been restored. The humanity!

Faced with not being able to lower the davits cradling their boat out of the water, they considered packing up and heading back to Miami. But, no, where there's a will and a wallet stuffed with 100-dollar bills, there's a way. Their solution was to have a generator delivered to the house. Using the generator, they lowered their boat, (I'm not making this up) named Positive Electricity, into the water, saving the weekend. Thank, God!

No question, having is a matter of perspective. And, no matter how much you have, you have problems. Last night we broke the cork off trying to open a bottle of wine to drink while watching the sunset from our dock. Panic was about to set in when I finally found a larger, better cork screw in the silverware drawer. Opening the bottle, I saved the evening.

Now that was a close call.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

My New Toro Mower: When More Expensive Doesn't Translate into Better

A representation of my old lawn mower.
I'm not the kind of guy who often suffers buyer's remorse. In the great scheme of things, I don't buy all that much to begin with. Since I can justify purchasing some must-have piece of video gear for one of my video projects (because, well, I've got myself convinced I can turn one or both of them into money makers) I don't lose much sleep over those purchases.

An exception was the nearly $50, I wound up spending to secure a $3 adapter plug to go from the back of my new four-station wireless-mic setup to the mic jack in my video cameras. In one of my recent disappointments with Amazon Prime's delivery service, they missed their two-day guaranteed delivery by a day, which meant a $31 package of two apparently platinum-plated, diamond-studded adapter plugs was delivered to my mailbox the day I left on a 10-day trip. While I was gone, vandals stole the mail out of the roadside mailboxes of half a dozen houses along my street, mine being one of them. I got back on Amazon two more times, ordering much less expensive versions of the pilfered plugs only to discover both times that they didn't fit. My total outlay at that point was roughly $45. I finally found the only Radio Shack still in business within 50 miles of my house about 20 miles away. An hour of my time, a couple gallons of gas and $3.48 in cash, and I finally had the part I needed.

I'm still fuming over the entire affair.

I also can justify purchasing tools. I do a lot of renovating around my house. I learned long ago that any job can be made easier with the proper tool. I'm all over easy. Nail guns, table saw and all the other power tools one might need for a job never fall under the want-or-really-need purchase test.

When I do buy something – almost always online – I do a lot of price research (my $31 dumb-ass adapter-plug purchase notwithstanding). I look on Amazon. I look on ebay, as well as other sites. I usually know what I'm buying and that I'm getting a good deal. End result: I'm happy with my choice.

That is, until now.

A couple of weeks ago, unforeseen circumstances forced me to buy my second lawn mower in three years. Quite happy with the Toro with its Kohler engine and front-wheel drive, self-propelled feature that I bought at Home Depot three years ago, when faced with replacing it, I decided to step up a little. I bought another Toro, but this one has a Briggs & Stratton engine, electric start and rear-wheel drive for “better traction on hilly surfaces.” I now live in lawn mower hell.

The electric start is terrific, by the way. Well worth the extra $40. The issue is that before using it the first time, it needs to be charged for 24 hours. I have nowhere outside that I can leave anything other than an automobile or anvil unattended for 24 hours. So, I rolled it into my dining room and charged it there. I'll charge it every three or four uses in my carport going forward.

The electric starter and a fuel cap that is much easier to seat and screw back on than the one on the Kohler engine are the only two bright spots on my new mower.

There are a couple of issues with the new mower, but all roads lead to its rear-wheel-drive configuration. Whether RWD is the problem or it just that this mower's RWD is so crappy, in no way shape or form is it easier to use on hilly surfaces than my previous FWD mowers. It's not just a bit less efficient, it just plain sucks. I don't exaggerate when I write that I probably work twice as hard with this RWD mower than either of the two FWD mowers I've owned since living at my current address.
My new $400 death machine.

The only semi-flat spot on my two-thirds of an acre is where my shed sits. It represents perhaps 10 percent of my yard. All the rest is hill. That means that over the course of 45 percent of my lot (uphill versus downhill), I have to put forth a lot more effort now than before. I was able to mow the entire yard in about 90 minutes without stopping. It now requires about two hours or more because I have to stop, shut off the mower and rest half a dozen times. It goes like a bat out of hell mowing down hill, but who needs that? I have to physically push it going up hill and sprint along behind it going down.

Not only that, my back is killing me within the first 15 minutes. The handle is positioned so low, I literally must slightly bend at the waist to use this thing. It has an “adjustable” handle, but an airline seat has a greater range of recline than this handle has adjustment. I'm only 5 ft-8 in tall! I can't imagine someone 6 ft or taller using this mower without having a chiropractor on hand.

I've named this piece of shit, The Widow Maker.

I envision the day when, unable to reach me for a week or so, one of my friends decides to stop by my house to check up on me only to find me lying in the dirt that is my front yard with my decomposing hand still gripping the handle of old Widow Maker lying on its side next to me. My house will have been ransacked, my shed emptied and whatever test vehicle I had will be long gone. But that damn mower will still be there, taunting me.

I laughed, I cried, I kissed 400 bucks good-by.

Watch for it on Craig's List next April.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Glamping with Subaru and Crosstrek in South Dakota: Second Stop in Destination Hat Trick


I'm not the kind of guy who doesn't like to get back to nature. I'm willing to flirt with the great outdoors to a limited extent and under very specific conditions. After asking my first (and key) question, “What is the bear situation?” I am ready to embark into the wilderness, if satisfied with the answer.

Yep, this is roughing it.

Although not new, there is a trending experience for the tenderfoot who believes roughing it is using hotel-supplied shampoo. It's called “glamping.” Pseudo camping, really, it involves upscale camping with most – if not all – the modern conveniences. My 79-year-old sister just spent a night or two being pampered glamping in the New Mexico mountains for her 59th wedding anniversary. How rugged could the experience possibly be, right? Right. 


So, I didn't hesitate a second when Subaru reached out with its invite to the media launch of its redesigned 2018 Crosstrek. The catch: Accommodations would be tents in the tradition of glamping. Although I don't consider glamping much of a draw, it is certainly different as auto-media events go. Typically we are housed in four-star resorts or hotels where staff fall all over themselves meeting our every need. While glamping might not be an enticement, it certainly offered a refreshing experience. 


Moreover, I found myself seduced by the location: the Black Hills of South Dakota. After nearly 30 years of attending carmaker media events, which overlapped 10 years of traveling with the TV travel series “Discover America,” I had only ever been to S. Dakota once. I've been to Alaska half a dozen times and Hawaii with at least equal frequency. When would I ever get to S.D. again? Additionally, Subaru tossed around the name Deadwood, as well as Mount Rushmore. I was hooked.

In fact, I was so eager to go, I opted to take a sabbatical from my annual Keys trip to attend. As things developed, I felt compelled to accept an assignment from a client to attend a Hyundai event backing up to Subaru. Now I wasn't simply talking three days off for Subaru, but a total of five days. I wasn't happy about the development – well, other than ultimately making some money for the Hyundai portion of the trip – but it is what it is. I had been committed to the Subaru trip for weeks, and I never say, no, to a client. I was sad to see my Keys trip slowly evaporate, but work is work.

I'm one of those people who tends to over pack a bit for just about any trip. I was totally overwhelmed when faced with packing for three totally different kinds of trips in three diverse locations. I had to pack for the laid-back Fla. Keys, glamping in the wilderness of S.D. and the business-casual event in San Diego. I also had to drag along all my video gear for just3thingsvideo.com. Decisions had to be made and compromises forged.

Early Monday morning I drove the two hours from Islamorada in the Keys to the Fort Lauderdale airport for an 8:30 a.m. flight. I flew from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta, Atlanta to Salt Lake City and Salt Lake City to Rapid City, S. Dakota. Yep, Delta doesn't regularly fly into Aspen, Colorado and never flies into Santa Barbara, Calif., but it does have regular flights into and out of Rapid City, S.D. Who knew?


Upon landing in Rapid City, I was whisked by car the 50-or-so miles to the campsite just outside of Deadwood. In the early planning stages of this trip, I was optimistic that I might be able to line up an on-camera interview or two in Deadwood as travel segments for just3things. These hopes were soon dashed, though, when I realized I wouldn't have a lot of free time. Also, I couldn't find anyone associated with Deadwood to help with the endeavor. In fact, Deadwood was one uber-size disappointment. Deadwood from the TV series of the same name is long gone. A couple of big fires over the years took out the original buildings. A Tombstone experience it's not. The oldest building on its “historic” Main Street is from the early 1900s. It is shoehorned among casinos and T-shirt shops. Disappointed!

The morning after the "big" storm.

Our campground consisted of about 40 guest tents, a registration/logistics tent, a kitchen tent and a large common tent with sofas, chairs and a couple of big flat-screen TVs. There were also trailers housing bathrooms and showers. An open-air dinning area projected the misplaced optimism of the event planners that we would be greeted with blue skies. Although we were never rained on at meal time, storms pounded us both nights I was there. So severe was the storm the second night, a few people bordered on hysterical. After nearly 25 years in South Florida and riding out several hurricanes, I didn't see what all the hubbub was about. I finally got to the place where I didn't even take my pool furniture inside for a category 1 hurricane. But, for the uninitiated, it was a closer brush with nature than they wanted.


Having contributed heavily to the past several years of Subaru sales growth, Crosstrek is an important vehicle for this Japanese brand. Totally redesigned, the 2018 Crosstrek is the second Subaru to ride on the brand's new Global platform that increases crash-energy absorption by 40 percent. The 152-horsepower 2-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine is 80 percent new and 26 pounds lighter than the previous powerplant.

Either a 6-speed manual (standard in the base and Premium grades) or a CVT (available in Premium and standard in Limited trim) distribute engine power to all wheels. Active Torque Vectoring, first introduced on the WRX and WRX STI, is now standard on all trim levels. The government puts fuel economy for the manual at 23 miles per gallon city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined. Those numbers increase to 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway/29 mpg combined for the CVT.


Subaru stretched the wheelbase more than 1 inch, translating into that much extra rear-seat legroom. Among some of the higher-tech goodies are Subaru STARLINK multimedia interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and available EyeSight driver-assist technology with adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

Subaru laid out a rather extensive drive route that included a large percentage of dirt and gravel roads. Its X-Mode helps on ultra-slippery surfaces at slower speeds and 8.7-in of road clearance provides some piece of mind over rock-strewn roadways. We found Crosstrek to be surprisingly quiet and quite comfy on paved surfaces. Off pavement, it was stable and well planted. Power is a bit lacking and a CVT, while delivering impressive fuel economy, doesn't squeeze the most out of the four-banger's 152 ponies. The manual delivers the more satisfying drive from a performance perspective.

There's nothing like an early morning stroll in the wilderness, coffee in hand, watching the sunrise. It was a nice contrast with sitting on the dock, glass of wine in hand watching the Keys sunset. Don't feel too sorry for the lost days of my Keys vacation. I've already booked flight back in August.

The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Beer2Whiskey


I'm not the kind of guy who backs down from a challenge; well, unless it involves some sort of high-noon shootout on Main Street. In such instances my fight-or-shuffle response defaults to shuffle. Once upon a time it was fight-or-flight, but my days of running, skipping or even brisk walking are about over. Nope, these days it's shuffle.

I'm in the process of launching – trying to launch, really – a new video project. Just3thingsvideo.com isn't going away. In fact, I have at least a dozen videos shot that require editing. I'll be adding several more this month as my travels take me to the Florida Keys, as well as Deadwood, South Dakota and San Diego. The new project will be something in addition to j3t. But, I am struggling with it.

Since I wrote my first post for Clanging Bell seven years ago, several followers (Several is more than three, right?) have urged me to write a blog on craft beer and/or bourbon. You may well find this surprising: There are people out there who think I'm an expert of some sort on craft beer and bourbon. To them I say, drinking my fair share of both doesn't make me an expert any more than a guy who religiously goes out every Saturday and shoots a 110-stroke round of golf is an expert golfer. Although I certainly enjoy craft beer and bourbon, consuming both on a somewhat regular basis, I am far from being well versed in either.

That's the first reason I haven't launched a beer/bourbon blog or Website. I'm no expert. I know what I like, but that's about the extent of it. The second reason I don't have an alcohol-centric blog is that even I grow weary of writing. I can barely spool up the enthusiasm to write one post per week for Clanging Bell. Many weeks I write four or five auto-related stories or car reviews. Even my well of creativity has a bottom to it. There was a day when I didn't even log on to my PC on the weekends. Those days are far in the past, but I still need some down time. I abandoned GreenvilleInsider a year ago because I couldn't write enough content on my own to keep it relevant. I don't need an additional blog, no matter the subject matter.

Which brings us back to my wobbly new video project. It will have a craft beer and bourbon – well, craft beer and whiskey – theme. I have secured the domain name, if I choose to create a Website for it. If not, I'll probably just post videos to YouTube. 
Yes, I carry bubble wrap in my suitcase to carry home treasures like these.
It's an ambitious undertaking. I intend to have multiple participants each segment and at least two cameras. I am already gathering the gear, including a second camera and a four-station audio system. I still have a few other items to acquire, as well as having a logo created and so forth. The deeper I get into it, however, the more massive the challenge of actually getting it off the ground appears.

My fear is that it will turn into a real time eater. Lining up the first segment has been a frustrating exercise in absorbing the word, no. Well, not that anyone has come right out and said, no; but what should be a fairly straightforward decision-making process on the part of beer experts, craft breweries and distilleries, so far has morphed into a cremation-or-burial level decision for the people I have approached. Even people who have shown great interest in the abstract, suddenly began stuttering when I contacted them later, attempting to pin them down.

I am plowing ahead because I think it's an idea with merit and some earning potential, but, to date, nothing has validated my optimism. If it succeeds, great; if not, I'll have some gear to unload on eBay and a nice, worthless logo.

Cheers!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Hero? I Think Not; Just a Victim of Circumstance

Me mugging it up with the 2018 Toyota Camry in Portland.
I'm not the kind of guy who is comfortable with uber-long absences from home. I define uber-long as anything over 9 or 10 days – and even that's pushing it. Three days, five days or even seven days are well within my comfort zone. Even when relaxing on vacation, anything past seven days can bump up my levels of angst and stress.

I am currently on day 13 of a 15-day sentence away from home. I am bonkers! How did such a thing happen? you may ask. Aren't you master of your fate, captain of your ship, king of your castle? you might add. Why, yes I am, sort of, to a point. I certainly don't have a significant other to whom I answer or feel the need to discuss plans. That in and of itself makes life less stressful and puts me in a better position not to have to spend more time away from home than I prefer. But, at times, I can screw things up all on my own as they just spiral out of my control.

A number of forces conspired to put me in this position. I am basically a victim of circumstance. At the heart of it, though, I am simply too loving, loyal and reliable for my own good. There, I've finally admitted it.

Here's how it went down....

I visit my sister and her family in New Mexico twice a year: Christmas and again sometime in the summer. Nearly a 1,600-mile trek, I am no longer keen to drive it, take the bus, train nor hoof it. That leaves flying.

Because I must bear the burden of the ticket price (very rare for me), I always book early to minimize the cost whether in Sky Miles (Delta speak for frequent-flier miles) or dollars. This means booking not just weeks, but sometimes several months in advance. I book the trip for 10 days just in case a carmaker media event crops up during my stay that a client asks me to attend. I can zip away for three days in the middle of my New Mexico stay and still have seven days to spend with family. Yes, I'm a peach.
My Goddaughter and I celebrating her Masters Degree at a nineties theme party in Albuquerque.
I booked my summer visit from June 9 through June 19. A few weeks after booking this trip, Toyota sent out invitations to its 2018 Camry media launch. Although it offered multiple waves, I chose the first wave, which meant flying to Portland, Ore on June 5 with a return home on June 7.

No problemo, right? I get home the afternoon of June 7, have that night, as well as the night of June 8 at home before heading to New Mexico on Friday, June 9.

Three weeks later, a client forwards an invite to me, requesting I attend. It's for the 3-day Audi A5/S5 Sportback media launch in Seattle beginning June 7. Freelancing is never saying, no. Not ever. If ever offered an assignment as I lie gasping for air, clutching my chest on my deathbed, I will screw up the last dregs of my strength to squeak out a raspy, HELL YES! Get it? I never say, no.

That's not to say I've never turned down such an assignment. I am this client's last-ditch go-to for carmaker events. Think of it as if I was part of some sort of homeland defense unit. This client wouldn't call me up until the enemy was storming the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. I'm that far down the pecking order. Consequently, often I don't receive these invitations until two or three weeks before the event. So, there have been a couple of times I've had to turn down the assignment simply because I was already booked on conflicting car events.

I immediately agreed to attend the Audi event and then had to try to figure out how I would overcome the logistics. Never, ever say, no.

What I wound up doing was blowing off my return flights from Portland to Greenville, and then flying on Wednesday the 7th from Portland to Seattle. Friday the 9th was to be the travel day home from Seattle. Luckily, I always book my longer flights out of Atlanta, rather than Greenville/Spartanburg. I can drop off whatever test car I have at the airport, picking up a replacement on my return. Unfortunately, though, my flight out of Atlanta to New Mexico was at 11 a.m. on that Friday.

My only choice was to hop the red-eye from Seattle to Atlanta on Thursday night. Delta checked my bags all the way to New Mexico and, once landed, I had three hours to make that flight. The one big fly in the ointment, however, was that my flight to Portland at the beginning of this mess was out of Greenville/Spartanburg, but my flight back from New Mexico at trip's end terminated in Atlanta.

I had to work out with the vendor supplying me with test cars to pick up one car in Greenville and drop off my replacement car at the Atlanta airport two weeks later. Geesh.

There you have it: my loyalty to my client, love for my family and reliability in my work ethic drove me to a 15-day absence. I'm no hero; just a victim of circumstance.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fighting the Good Fight, or I'm Mad as Hell and I'm Not Going to Take It Any More!

Residential use? I think not. This isn't the Cleavers preparing for a picnic.

I'm not the kind of guy who yells, “Get off my lawn!” at the neighborhood kids. Actually, the neighborhood kids here are pretty respectful of other peoples' property. Of course, you could make the argument that my moonscape of a lawn doesn't warrant Defcon 2-like policing, and you would be correct. Anything short of driving an M2 half-track onto my grass...er, weeds...umm dirt would have little or no impact upon its condition. In fact, conspiracy-theory wackos, convinced we didn't actually land on the moon in 1969, believe the event was staged right here on little-ole earth, and suspect my yard served as the set. Drop by and I'll present you with a faux moon rock.

I must admit that the two-thirds of an acre upon which my Greenville home sits hasn't received much of my attention beyond mowing every 10 days or so from the start of April until mid October each year. From the time I purchased the house in the late spring of 2007, my only real cash investment in landscaping upkeep has been sporadically cutting down six or seven tall pine trees scattered around the property. (I still have two to go.) Otherwise, the only treasure spent has been on gas and mower maintenance, as well as barrels of weed killer.

The simple truth of the matter is, I have bigger fish to fry. Most of my energy and all my spare change have gone into remodeling projects inside the house. Ultimately, the inside is what will sell it once on the market. I'll address the landscaping if and when the inside is completed.
At the moment, this is the sign sitting on the corner of my property.
The other issue with focusing assets on the landscaping is, at least a dozen times since I moved into the house in the winter of 2008, some public entity has arrived on the scene to dig things up. ATT, Sprint, Greenville Water, the South Carolina DOT and other assorted felons descend on my property to lay cable, pipe or whatever. Although they do often stray inside my actual property lines, they mostly tear things up within the setback. Mine is a corner lot; so, this means they strip mine within the section of land roughly 15 feet from the edge of the two streets bordering my property. I don't exaggerate when I say that I have yet to get through 12 consecutive months without my lawn being violated in some way.

At this juncture, you might jump to the conclusion that I'm not particularly vigilant regarding what goes on outside my home. I do keep my head down and my powder dry, but that doesn't mean I don't pay attention. Because many of the homes around me are rentals, I historically have let minor annoyances slide, knowing most of the tenants last no longer than a year. The house behind mine has hosted more than a dozen renters in my eight years here. No matter how bad they are, I know these people will be gone in six or eight months.

As you see, my default attitude where my neighbors are concerned is one of laissez-faire. What sort of behavior on the part of a neighbor might motivate me to take action? I'm glad you asked. That's the real topic of this essay.

Here's the back story: When I moved into my home in 2008, the house across the side street from mine was occupied by an 84-year-old guy, who had owned it since honorably separating from the Navy at the end of the Korean War. Last year he apparently died at the ripe old age of 92. Clearly chain smoking and bitching 24/7 are pluses for longevity. After his death, his fat, chain-smoking hillbilly of a son, who also resides somewhere in this neighborhood, sold off his inherited house for the tidy sum of $29,000. No doubt in celebration of his windfall, the son waddled off, purchased a carton of Pall Malls and case of PBR, and partied like it was 1959.

Obviously, this was his house to do with as he pleased, but as the only house that has sold in this neighborhood in five years, $29,000 doesn't make for a good comp. I was ticked, but optimistic when it appeared the new owner was renovating it to flip. I even turned a blind eye when a crew of guys sans protective gear or even breathing masks stripped the asbestos siding from the house, tossing it in a dumpster that wound up who knows where. New roof, new siding, new paint, new wood deck on the back: The exterior was looking great. There was a lot of construction activity inside the house, as well. I had visions of the house reselling for four times the purchase price.

Sure, I thought it odd that it looked like the same crew of guys did the roofing and deck, as had replaced the siding, but I didn't give it much thought. Once the house appeared finished, there didn't seem to be much activity over there. I began to worry when a “For Sale” sign didn't appear in the front yard. I began noticing a heavy-duty diesel pickup truck or two over there from time to time. I thought they were merely contractors working on the interior. Silly me.
The poor quality of this photo is from being shot through my front-porch screen.
About three months ago, the side yard facing my house was suddenly full of heavy-duty pickup trucks and construction trailers with back hoes and so forth. Every night at least four or five diesel pickups and three or four trailers of some sort were parked there. Hmmm....me thinks this smells like a business being operated out of this house.

Around 6:30 each morning, it's like the staging the Normandy landing over there. In unison, all the diesels fire up and then idle for 15 minutes. There's beeping as they reverse to hook up trailers, guys are barking instructions at one another, and four or five sets of headlights blast into my bedroom windows. After the trucks depart with their respective loads of equipment and personnel, the lawn, which has yet this season to feel the sting of a mower blade, is strewn with all the flotsam one might expect of a construction site. There are big wood spools, like the coffee table in your first apartment, laying around along with lengths of cable and other assorted junk.

A month or so ago, as I was working around my shed, the owner wandered over and introduced himself. Turns out, he owns a cable-laying business in Atlanta. His only customer is Comcast. The house across the street is his South Carolina satellite office. A crew of his day workers, who look suspiciously like the same guys who did all the work on the exterior of the building, use it as a bunkhouse.

His main reason for approaching me was to ask if I had seen any suspicious activity around his house the night before. It seems someone hooked up one of his trailers and drove it off. About two weeks later, there were several sheriff's cars over there along with a CSI vehicle. Apparently he was robbed again. A real tragedy, right?
The carnage has now seeped into the lot behind him, as well.
There is a vacant lot behind his house. A week or so later, I saw him overseeing the cleaning up of that lot by the two brothers who own it. Evidently he either purchased or is leasing the property because now one of his trailers is parked on it. I fully expect him to eventually fence it in to try to secure his equipment.

I have been seething over this for three months. Last week I finally reached out to the zoning folks with a written complaint. This area is zoned residential and there is no way what's going on over there falls into a strict definition of residential. If this was within the city limits, I'm sure something would be done; however, this is the county, and I would guess things are a bit looser here. We'll see.

This was just the first of what may well be many shots fired in this struggle for truth, justice and the American way.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wasting Away in TV Land, or A Few Shows to Watch in Your Spare Time


I'm not the kind of guy who pretends to be a highbrow. That's not to say I might not like the opera or ballet, if exposed to live performances on a regular basis. I do appreciate classical music when hearing it live. Sure, I could see myself sipping on a glass of Weller 12 Year bourbon, surrounded by $10,000 of audio gear blasting out a little Tchaikovsky as I pondered the world and my place in it. But, in truth, there are other things, sadly quite pedestrian in nature, that I'd rather do in my spare time.

I find myself in the midst of a three-week run at home. Not only that, but paying work has become alarmingly scarce. In other words, I have some time on my hands. I am catching up on editing just3things videos and work around the house. Typically, by 4 p.m. or so, I am settled into my recliner in front of the TV.

Not a huge expenditure in my annual budget, but one that I could transform into some needed cash for the aforementioned home-improvement projects, is the $200 per year I shovel at Netflix and Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime does have some added value, of which I make good use as I order lots of stuff from Amazon, taking advantage of Prime's free two-day shipping. Each month Prime also allows me to download a free book from a selection of six to eight novels its editors assemble. I also, however, make good use of Amazon's selection of movies and TV series that are free to watch through Amazon Prime. This, of course, is Netflix's core business.

From the time I hop into my recliner around 4:00, until I prepare dinner around 6:30 or 7:00, I'll binge watch three or four episodes of some TV series provided by one of these two content services. Some are Netflix or Amazon originals, some are recently aired series I just missed on regular cable or network TV, and some air on channels I can't find or are unfamiliar with.

Both download-viewing services now allow members to download certain TV series and movies to a device for future viewing. I usually have four or five episodes of some TV series that I can watch on airplanes when traveling.

Here are a few of the series I keep up with on Netflix and Amazon:

Bosch (Amazon) – Based on the series of novels with Bosch as the protagonist, each season is a collection of eight or so episodes based on one of the books. Well structured, written and acted, its a great way to get through a rainy Saturday.

The Man in the High Castle (Amazon) – To be honest, I have no clue what this series is about and I've watched two seasons. The premise is that the Germans and Japanese won WWII. Japan controls everything west of the Rockies, while the Nazis control the rest of what was the U.S. But, this is some sort of alternate universe among other universes of which we are aware because some guy (the man in the high castle) has canisters of films revealing the other realities. Admittedly, this is something I only watch because I can. I am so confused by what's going on, I find it almost unwatchable at times.

Patriot (Amazon) – I was turned on to this quirky series involving a CIA operative with his father as his direct supervisor by some of the PR guys at Honda. He is a reluctant agent undercover with some sort of provider of oil pipeline materials. Two oddities about the series that are fun are the fact that the agent composes and sings songs about his spy work, as well as whenever someone in the pipeline supply company talks about anything work related, it's just double talk. Some of this is simply hysterical.
The core clones of Orphan Black. My favorite: Helena on far right.
Orphan Black (Amazon) – This is the one show I always try to convince people with Amazon Prime to watch when the topic of TV watching surfaces in conversation. The premise is that as babies, several female clones were released into the population in different locations and into different situations. All are unaware they are clones. They begin stumbling across one another and linking up to save themselves and defeat the corporation that made them. The writing and acting is brilliant. Thanks to modern computer tech, several of these clones can appear on camera at the same time and interact with one another. You would never know you are watching the same actor assume all of the clone identities. My favorite of the clones: the Ukrainian assassin.

Goliath (Amazon) – This is a Billy Bob Thornton vehicle and it is an excellent drama. There is only one season (so far), but the stage is set for more to follow. The premise of the first season is a disgraced, down-on-his-luck attorney assembles a rag-tag staff to take on a big corp in a wrongful-death suit. It's gritty, gripping and good.
She can eat my brain and solve my murder any time.
iZombie (Netflix) – This is a series originally airing on the CW network. The premise is that some combination of a tainted recreational drug and an energy drink was consumed by a bunch of people attending a party on a yacht, turning them into zombies. The show's protagonist was turned into a zombie by one of the party goers and wakes up on shore the next morning craving brains. Long story short: She parlays her medical school experience into a job at the county morgue, where she dines on the brains of murder victims then assumes their personalities. Her morgue boss is aware and supportive of her situation. She partners with a homicide detective to help solve the murders. It's nothing short of escapist fun.

Iron Fist (Netflix) – A Netflix project, this Marvel production is everything we've come to expect from Marvel. I'm not a comic-book fan boy. I never spent much time with comic books as a kid and, certainly not as an adult. I don't know how closely the TV series follows the mythology of the comic-book series, but the show is entertaining and the resident hottie is a Japanese martial arts master. It doesn't get much better than that!