Barley's

Barley's
Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

To Drive or Not to Drive: An Auto Journalist's Dilemma

A quick stop on our free day at the Hyundai Kona event to shoot a brewery video.
I'm not the kind of guy who eschews (I used that word to establish my writer bona fides.) driving in favor of flying. I know in my pseudo profession of auto journalist, it is almost blasphemy to utter the word “flying.” We are supposed to love driving above all else, right? Maybe yes, maybe no. For me writing about cars and the auto industry is a job and not a calling. I've managed to stay busy at it for more than 30 years – even making some money along the way – but that's as much due to inertia as anything else. There's a certain amount of comfort in sticking with a thing. I can't bring myself to change gyms. Change careers? Are you kidding!

Although most people I know in my age bracket probably haven't racked up the volume of road miles I have, driving over the years has mostly been simply to get me somewhere. It was cheaper or more convenient to drive than fly. Unlike many of my fellow travelers among the motoring press, when given the choice to drive or fly, I'll fly 98 percent of the time.

Most of us fly once or more each month as we follow the auto manufacturers media vehicle launch events like carnies chasing state-fair midways. It's a traveling roadshow that doesn't offer the choice of driving. It is physically impossible to drive from Cleveland to San Diego and then San Diego to Virginia in the same week between two- or three-day carmaker programs. It's science. It can't be done.

I muse about all of this today because tomorrow I am driving from Greenville, South Carolina to Durham, North Carolina for a Volkswagen program to drive the next Jetta. Roughly a 240-mile exercise, the trip should require less than four hours. Probably about what it would have taken for me to fly Delta from Greenville to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Durham. I had the option to fly; I chose to drive.

A 240-mile slog isn't unreasonable. This one in fact, is virtually all on I-85, which I pick up a mile from my house and runs smack-dab through the middle of Durham. How tough a drive can it be? Yet, I don't look forward to it. In fact, I'm dreading it to some extent.

My thought process when making the drive/fly decision wasn't so much weighing flying time against driving time as it was thinking about the possibilities of having my own wheels in Durham once there.

Since launching my YouTube channel BEER2WHISKEY, I'm always scheming to record a segment in the many different places I travel ostensibly for other reasons. Because my numerous car-intro trips each year are all over the U.S., they are excellent opportunities to shoot a segment in a faraway location I might not otherwise visit. For example, I was recently on the Big Island in Hawaii with Hyundai and shot a brewery video in Kona.

Without even looking to see what breweries might be close by the hotel in which VW is hosting us, I committed to driving instead of flying. Although there is much less to think about when flying to these events because the carmaker whisks us to and from the hotel, dragging my two Pelican cases of gear along on flights is a real pain. The downside is, once I arrive at the hotel, I have to come up with my own transportation to and from the brewery. Driving to Durham means tossing my cases of gear, as well as my rollerboard full of clothing, into the car and not worrying with them again until arriving at the brewery. And, I'll already have my brewery-to-hotel transportation. Easy-peasy.

As it turns out, there are a couple of breweries within blocks of our hotel. Without too much effort, I lined up the Durty Bull Brewing Company for an early afternoon shoot tomorrow. Because I'm covering the Jetta event for a client, it will be like double dipping. Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. I like that.

So, despite not being thrilled about driving, it makes sense on a couple of levels. It's not often my decisions make any sense at all; forget about making sense on more than one level.

Roll cameras!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Life Is Full of Little Hurdles


I'm not the kind of guy who expects to drift through life unmolested. Shit happens, even to the best of us. All things considered, I've danced between the raindrops about as successfully as anyone I know. Sure, there have been a few bumps in the road, but mostly these have been annoying rather than life changing.

For the most part, I have pursued the course of least resistance, taking one leap of faith after another to wind up where I am. The only job for which I ever applied that wound up doing me some good was with the Boca Raton News circa 1985. It could have just as easily been 1986. All I know is I turned 35 within my first year or so of working there. My first three or four years there were absolutely the best years of my working social life. My seven plus total years there launched me on my path for the next two-and-a-half decades, bringing me to today. I made friends there that I remain in contact with still. But, my Boca News days also altered my career path from reluctant salesman to wide-eyed journalist.

I joined the News as a display-advertising rep and popped out the other end as an automotive writer. It was, without a doubt, the biggest game changer of my life. Any other job I applied for and managed to somehow land was a clunker. Usually I was unhappy and my tenure short lived. Even my five-year sentence at the Palm Beach Post, fulfilling essentially the same role I did as auto-section editor at the Boca News, was a soul-squashing exercise in stick-to-it-tiveness that would have made the Old Testament's Job wince. Never before nor since have I worked with such a collection of miserable people. I made some good money there as a 1099 for the first three or four years (The only reason I hung on for so long.), but, my God, the jerks I had to deal with sucked every ounce of joy out of the experience.

A fine example of my parade of applied-for, self-inflicted bad jobs was my brief stay at a West Palm Beach public-relations firm 11 or 12 years ago. Holy crap, what an ordeal. Hired as a copywriter, I was elevated to account rep (A job for which I had no experience.) on my first day. It was the first day of the longest six weeks of my working life. The maniacal woman who owned, and still owns, this small company that she ruled with all the warmth and grace of England's Queen Mary was, perhaps, the most unpleasant individual I have had the misfortune of working with. (Although, with American Media's David Pecker in the mix, it's quite the horse race.) I can't share my nickname for this tyrant in polite company, but suffice to say, she earned it every waking moment of every day.

I didn't solicit the position for a few of the jobs I've held: Either someone came knocking on my door or I fell into them through some fortune of serendipity. Probably the most appropriate inscription for my gravestone is “It's not what you know, but who you know.” (Yes, I know: Who should be whom. But it doesn't have the same ring.) That was the case with my stint as managing editor for the car magazines at American Media, as well as my current post as a contract writer for Autotrader. At the former, my buddy Terry Jackson gave me the nod when he became editor and chief of Auto World. A conversation during a shuttle ride from some long-forgotten airport to an equally unmemorable hotel landed me the Autotrader gig. Both jobs were exactly what I needed when I needed them. Autotrader continues to be a terrific client.

Even my health has cooperated with my rather untethered lifestyle. Turning 65, though, was like running into a wall at full speed in terms of my physical health. Suddenly after decades of near-perfect health, things began to unravel. If there were some sort of frequent-flier plan for hanging out in doctor and hospital waiting areas, I'd be awash in points. But, even here, I haven't had to deal with anything life threatening. It's just the old machinery wearing out. Hell, no one lives forever.

All of this to report that I had to cough up $210 at the Kona Airport to check my three bags for their 120-mile or so trip from Kona to Honolulu on Hawaiian Air during my trip home last week. Despite this flight having a Delta flight number, my Delta Platinum status held no sway. The three bags that flew for free from Honolulu to Kona, suddenly were an issue when going in the other direction. Because a call placed at the Hawaiian Air check-in desk to Delta produced nothing beyond the information that it's against the U.S. Dept of Transportation regs to charge for bags on a return flight that weren't charged for on the outbound flight, I had to eat the $210 fee or cool my heels at the Kona airport for 9 hours while waiting for the first available official Delta flight out. After two weeks on the road, all I wanted to do was get home! Was I pissed? You could say that.

I have yet to battle this injustice. I will fire the initial volley this coming week by disputing the charge with American Express and penning a complaint to Delta. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Does "Weather.com" Imply Some Degree of Expertise About the Weather?

The World's Foremost Authority Professor Irwin Corey.
I'm not the kind of guy who worries too much about the weather. At least I'm not since moving from South Florida to South Carolina's Upstate. There's just something about living 200-plus miles from the coast that greatly diminishes the impact of hurricanes, no matter where they make landfall. “Let them eat cake,” is my knee-jerk reaction now upon hearing of a tropical storm turning into a hurricane and plowing toward the coast.

What has me pondering weather is my freshly completed Dallas trip to shoot segments for BEER2WHISKEY. I drove away from DFW airport around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, checking in for my flight home about 2 p.m. on Saturday. During that period I shot two Fort Worth breweries, two Dallas breweries and one Garland brewery, in addition to taking all day on Friday to slog the four-and-a-half hours to Hye, Texas and back to video a B2W episode with Dan Garrison of Garrison Brothers Distillery. Nearly all of the 600 miles or so I traversed around north and central Texas was in rain of Biblical severity.

Where it wasn't raining was the 40-or-so miles between Austin and Hye where the fog was so thick you could have cleared it with a shovel. Compounding the precipitation and condensation were temperatures in the 30s and 40s. The nasty weather was simply relentless.

Here's my beef (You knew there was going to be one, right?). As I prepared to pack the day before my flight to Dallas, I went the Website of the Weather Channel to check out the Dallas-area forecast for the week. Silly me.

Weather.com. Sounds like an authoritative site doesn't it? I mean, it has “weather” in its URL. It's operated by the Weather Channel, for crying out loud. “The Weather Channel” would indicate that it specializes in weather, yes? Perhaps I'm just jumping to the conclusion that when it posts forecasts, they might possess some degree of reliability. But, that's just me.

I would love to be able to go back, snap a screen shot and include it here of Weather.com's 5-day forecast for Dallas 20 hours before I landed there. They sort of had the precipitation right; although there were a couple of days where their guess on its rain probability was down to 20 percent. There was never a snowflake's chance in hell of it not raining in Dallas last week. Zero, zip, zilch, nada! Rain is too timid a term for what went on there Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning. It was rainageddon. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria! You get the picture.

So, I'll give Weather.com a B minus for its precipitation prognostication, but what's a weather forecast without predicting some daily high temperatures? Here I would have done as well asking the 5-year-old girl across the street for her guess, after, of course, explaining to her what temperature is.

With all the authority of Baghdad Bob, Weather.com promised afternoon temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s (67 to 71, to be more exact). On Wednesday it was actually 39 degrees. On Thursday it was 41 degrees. And on Friday it was a relatively balmy 52 degrees. How is it that an outfit specializing in predicting the weather missed the next day's (20 hours later to be more precise) by about 30 degrees? 30 degrees!

Where was Professor Irwin Corey when I could have used him?

There's no such thing, really, as an exact science. But, science is science. Is meteorology a science? I looked it up. ScienceDaily says it is, along with just about every other Website. Well, apparently not.

College campus visitor: “Hey, excuse me. Can you point me toward the Meteorology Department?”
Helpful student: “Sure, it's right there between the Astrology and Palm Reading departments.”

As many times as I've been burned by Weather.com under similar circumstances, it's prediction for Dallas temps didn't strike me as ridiculously optimistic. I've spent a lot of time in Dallas. It gets cold, but this time of year afternoon temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s aren't out of the norm. I packed accordingly. In the words of Bugs Bunny, “What a maroon.”

Fortunately, I planned on wearing long-sleeved, collared shirts for the video shoots and packed those. I also always have a wind breaker/rain jacket in my suitcase. I wasn't left completely at the mercy of the elements and Weather.com's lackluster experts. But, damn close.

Next time I'll consult the Psychic Channel. At least in addition to a Hail Mary forecast I may also get some idea of when I'll meet the woman of my dreams.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Cute Nurses, A Room in I.C.U. and Three Days Up in Smoke: My Recent Surgery

Free at last, free at last: thank God Almighty, free at last. A parting photo of my bed.

I'm not the kind of guy to hang around hospitals. Chances are pretty good that if you find yourself checked into a hospital, I won't be visiting you unless you owe me money. Then I will be there in a nano second, arriving with your check book in hand. I don't want to be in the hospital, be around a hospital nor drive by a hospital. If I find a photo of a hospital with a red circle with a line through it, it will appear immediately below this paragraph. NO HOSPITALS! Get it?

It's not that I personally have had a bad hospital experience. During the last half-dozen years of my father's life, while I was in high school and until I was out of college, he spent a lot of time in hospitals. He had a bad ticker was scheduled for his third open-heart surgery when a heart attack took him in his early 50s. There were significant periods during those years that my mother and I spent a lot of our time in hospitals. But, that in no way scarred me. It was more than 40 years ago.

In fact, until last week, I had clocked exactly one night in a hospital in my 66-plus years. I'm fortunate that I've never been hospital-class sick. I've had fewer than 20 stitches in my life and never a broken bone. My knee surgery (Read about it here), roughly a year ago, was the first procedure for which I was put under. That one night I did spend in the hospital was for a concussion caused by falling off a seesaw backwards on my head in the second grade. Yes, at one time I did my own stunts. The result is the man you see before you today.

So, basically my brush with a hospital last week sent me into uncharted waters. Here's the scoop....

If you've ever experienced the joy of my company at a meal, you know I am always the last one to finish. This is true whether it was just you and I, or a 500-person banquet. As everyone else ordered coffee after desert, I was still working on the main course. Few were the meals that I didn't launch into a coughing fit of varied severity. The medical term for my affliction is Zenker's Diverticulum. I have no clue who Zenker is; but if I ever run across him (or her), I'm going to kick his ass.

In layman's terms: I had a swallowing disorder caused by some little flap in my esophagus not operating properly. It's caused by acid reflux, which I didn't even know I had. Apparently the sneaky little bastard comes out at night to reek havoc with the esophagus, leaving scar tissue behind. Who knew?

Growing somewhat worse over the past couple of years, I decided to bring it up to Doc Budelmann, my primary care doctor, during my last visit in September. That got the train rolling. First stop: an upper GI. Because of my travel schedule, I didn't see Doc Sellner, the ear, nose and throat surgeon, until late October. Then more traveling, the holidays and blah, blah, blah, meant the surgery not being scheduled until the beginning of this month.

I kept my impending surgery pretty much on the down low. Some of the Wednesday Night Irregulars were aware of it, primarily because I needed a lift to and from the hospital. I told my Autotrader editor only because I didn't want an assignment with a deadline during my three-day recovery springing up. And, I told my friend Amy in Florida, who holds the much-sought-after, esteemed role of executor of my will. My Sunday beer-drinking pal Big Jon (and our bartender) also knew because I had to present some reason for drinking mainly water the day before the surgery. No small feat of will, it being Super Bowl Sunday and all.

I did not inform my sister's family, most of which is in New Mexico more than 1,500 miles away. They were not pleased when I finally fessed up after arriving home from the ordeal. My reasoning was, what would they do but worry, which they (particularly my sister) would have done like they were trying to medal in it. It would have meant someone – probably me – would have had to keep them up to date on my condition and so on and so forth, the thought of which was exhausting.

I didn't want visitors. Nothing I hate more than entertaining people from a bed with my ass hanging out. I didn't want colorful “get well” helium balloons tied to my bed. I didn't want flowers or cards decorating my room. All I wanted was for the whole damn thing to be over. My phone and Kindle were fully charged, and I had downloaded several episodes of a TV series I wanted to watch from Netflix. I was good to go.

My buddy Jeff drew the short straw, serving as my ambulance driver and the repository for my personal belongings during the surgery. He picked me up at my house on Monday morning around 9:00 and hung out at the hospital until after 3:00. Nurses ushered me into the prep room around 10:15 and then into the O.R. around 11:30.

Doc Sellner is a relatively young guy with a great bedside manner. I liked him immediately at our first meeting. That he's a big Steelers fan doesn't hurt either. He advised me earlier that morning that the surgery would take between 20 minutes and three hours. The person making my cable-installation appointment provided a tighter window. The huge swing in time was based on whether he would be able to perform the procedure by going down my throat or through it. Down: quick. Through: long. As it turned out, it required about 30 minutes because of the amount of scar tissue. But, it was down rather than through.

As with my knee surgery, in the recovery room I transitioned from sleep to wake in a heartbeat. The second I opened my eyes, I was totally coherent. Because I spent more than three hours in the recovery room waiting for a bed to open, I discovered many patients don't wake up knowing where they are or what is going on. It's like an anvil dropped on their head as they were taking their morning walk. A younger lady in the bed next to me was so out of it she kept trying to throw herself off the bed. The recovery-room nurse I shared with her couldn't do anything else, but hold her down and try to calm her for about 10 minutes. At one point, I thought I was going to have to get up and help.

As the hours ticked by in the recovery room, I began stressing. I hadn't been to the bathroom in six or seven hours. Mother Nature wasn't just calling; she was screaming like her ass was on fire. I was also stressed over the fact that my buddy Jeff had to still hang around with my bag full of belongings in his care. He hadn't signed on for all-day duty. As my anxiety grew my blood pressure began to escalate. My anesthesiologist happened to walk by, glanced at my blood pressure reading and immediately ordered some sort of meds to calm it down.

Finally, around 3:45, I was wheeled out of recovery. I had been in there so long that when one of the other recovery-room nurses was passing around a birthday card for the staff to sign for a co-worker's birthday, I piped up that I thought I had been there long enough to qualify. That got a smile, but I'm not confident she was amused.

Next stop: I.C.U. Yep, I.C.U. Although the operation hardly qualified as major and I had come out the other end with flying colors, there was a small chance of things going sideways, suddenly affecting my ability to breathe. Doc Sellner was adamant that I needed the sort of one-on-one care you only get in I.C.U. I had a big, bright corner room with several windows, a sink, a toilet and a comfy recliner. I was living large! It was like being on vacation without the sunshine and beer...and food.

I wasn't allowed so much as a sip of water until Tuesday morning. My nurse that day was an older, experienced lady. My night nurse both nights and my daytime nurse on Tuesday and Wednesday morning were both, young, cute and easy to make laugh. They soon discovered I was a low-maintenance ward. Because it was I.C.U., I had to be attached to a heart monitor and some sort of monitor to track my oxygen intake. I also had a blood-pressure cuff that automatically took my pressure every hour during the day and every two hours at night. I also had wraps hooked to an air pump massaging my calves to prevent blood clots. The nurses would personally check on me every 90 minutes or so. When I was awake, that often meant they'd take a temperature reading, as well as an unscheduled blood-pressure reading. They never failed to apologize for not being able to do more for me. The truth is, I was as healthy as they. Other then emptying my urinal, there wasn't anything I needed or wanted that I could have. I could get out of bed, but that entailed a nurse unhooking and re-hooking all manner of gadgets.

Doc Sellner ordered a morphine-based pain med, if I required it. I didn't, but I asked for it around 9:30 Monday night in the hopes it would make me groggy to help me sleep. It didn't do anything. I mean anything. It didn't take the edge off my throat discomfort, make me groggy nor provide a buzz. It was as though I was participating in a blind-drug test and was in the placebo group. I'm not sure exactly what the typical reaction to morphine is, but I sure didn't have it. All it did was affect my oxygen intake to the point the oxygen-monitor alarm began sounding. Suddenly I was breathing through an oxygen tube. That didn't help my chances of sleeping either. I slept not one wink the first night.

My getting sprung was handled like a flight delay at the airport. It continued to be postponed in increments. First it was after noon on Monday and then after dinner and then Tuesday morning. The doc had warned me that it wouldn't be Monday morning and to not even ask, but as Monday passed, it became increasingly apparent that it might not be Monday at all. Finally at 7:00, I texted Jeff, telling him to stand down. I didn't expect to be released that evening. Still somewhat optimistic, I waited until after 8:00 to tell the night nurse that if I was going to sleep that night, I would need a sleep aid of some stripe. She offered to call the doc.

She returned 10 minutes later with the offer that I could either get a sleeping pill and spend the night with an after-breakfast release, or I could go home that night. Well, the go-home-that-night ship had sailed. I wasn't going to try to scramble someone at 9:00 at night to come get me. I opted for the sleeping pill and Tuesday morning departure. I clocked about five hours of sleep Tuesday night.

When my night nurse opened my room door at 6:00 Wednesday morning, I was fully awake, and ready to rock and roll. After taking my vital signs, I had her unhook me. I dressed and plopped down into the recliner. I realized I needed to ask her something. Rather than ring the call button, I opened the door to my room and skipped out to the nurses station. Three or four staff were huddled there talking. They broke into applause and my nurse remarked that I was the first patient to ever skip out of an I.C.U. room.

They rushed my breakfast of grits, yogurt and some other nearly inedible things. It was my first cup of coffee since Sunday morning. Perhaps the best cup of coffee in my life!

By 9:30 a.m. I was home and cranked back in my recliner. I had an assignment due on Thursday morning, which I wrote that afternoon. Back in the saddle again.

I am currently on what they call a full-liquid diet; although I cheated last night and had spaghetti. I won't officially be on the soft diet until my appointment with Doc Sellner at noon on Tuesday.

But things couldn't be going any better.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Well, At Least I'm Not in Detroit....


I'm not the kind of guy to wallow in leisure. Sure, I can goof off with the best of them. I judiciously guard my slacker credentials, but I do reach a point of feeling guilt when I go more than a couple of days without doing something productive. This is particularly true if there are things that I have left unfinished.

Imagine my level of discomfort, staring at the unfinished ceiling in my great room every time I crank back in my recliner. It still needs painted, the trim added and the light fixtures installed. Then there's the upstairs hallway where I need to install the sliding barn door for the bathroom and put down the new wood floor. I've had the paint and light fixtures for the great room for three months. I've had the door, hardware and wood flooring for the hallway for longer than that.

I hate leaving projects half finished. It bugs me. However, with every renovation project requiring more than a day or two, I reach a point where I can exhale, feeling a degree of accomplishment in completing a big step in the overall process. That's the point I reached in the hallway when I completed its ceiling. And, it's the point I reached in the great room when I got all the tongue-and-groove beadboard nailed up. I needed a breather after both those steps.

But, now it's been three or four months since I picked up a nail gun or turned a screw. I'm feeling guilty. This is compounded by the fact that I have just completed the second week in a three-week travel-free period. Three entire weeks at home! That just doesn't happen. I'll be here nearly all of next week, too. My oh my.

Yes, I have been cranking out two or three paying stories each week for my biggest client. But even that doesn't seem like enough coming off December, which was my worst revenue-generating month in more than a year and a half. I have some serious catching up to do.

I feel lucky not to be joining many of my peers in Detroit this week for media days in advance of the opening of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), or what most of us call, the Detroit Auto Show. Or, what I call, hell on earth. A few unveilings have already occurred, but the bulk of the press conferences will be Monday and Tuesday of this week. I am so glad to be covering the show from the warm, cozy confines of my in-home office. I will be generating some income writing about several of the vehicles introduced there without enduring the pain of actually being there. And, make no mistake: It's painful!

Think of three or four thousand jackasses stampeding from one end of the show hall to the other every 15 or 20 minutes for the next big reveal. Half these people are to automotive media what the accordion is to chamber music. My dead cat could get credentialed for the Detroit show. Each press conference is like a rugby scrum. Teasing the attending press by providing seating for maybe 5 percent of the crowd, the carmakers create Black Friday-like mob scenes when they begin passing out whatever giveaways they are providing.

Media days for this show ought to be treated like a White House presser with a pool photographer and videographer. Everyone else could just stay home, rather than climbing over a thousand lunatics fighting over a table full of ball caps.

Yep, I'm glad not to be in Detroit.

I'll make a little money Monday and Tuesday writing about the show, but then what? It will be a short spurt of activity followed by three days of recovering and beating myself up because I'm not sufficiently motivated to return to one of my house projects.

I am doomed to this period of self loathing. Of course, it could be worse. I could finish out the week kicking myself in the ass for wasting three days in Detroit. Now that would be a real tragedy.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Wasn't the Best of Years, But a Damn Decent One!


I'm not the kind of guy to dwell on the past; but, because this is New Year's Eve, it seems appropriate, obligatory almost, to blog about the year that's closing out at midnight. Plus, slacker Russ is running the show today and doing a year-in-review wrap up saves me from dipping into my rather shallow creative well to come up with a blog-post idea. It's a win, win, win, win......or something like that.

First and foremost, let me apologize for another spotty year of Clanging Bell posts. In January of this year, I posted that I would strive to do better, promising to crank out a CB post per week. Looking at the 2017 count, I see that this is post No. 31 for 2017. Somewhat better than a post every two weeks, it falls far short of the one-per-week promise. I am crestfallen....well, not exactly, but I had really intended to knock out a blog post a week. I won't make excuses beyond saying, I have been sufficiently busy this past year that some weeks – 21 to be more specific – I just didn't have the time or energy or motivation to write a post. It has been a pretty good year for paying work. That's a good thing when you are a freelance journalist. It wasn't my best year, but it was a good one. I'm blessed that at the ripe age of 66, there is still an employer or two out there that values my work enough to compensate me for it. Even I grow sick of writing. When I'm busy writing for profit, I just don't have enough steam left in the boiler to do it for fun.

I've also been grinding away producing content for just3thingsvideo.com, and, during the last three or four months of the year, I made a big push to launch my BEER2WHISKEY YouTube channel. I will be promoting both projects in a big way in 2018. Stay tuned for more info. In the meantime, it doesn't cost you anything to subscribe to BEER2WHISKEY. I urge you, when you finish sleeping off the Clanging Bell-induced coma reading this post will probably induce, to go to YouTube, search for BEER2WHISKEY and subscribe. Here's a bit of an incentive: This spring there will be a subscribers-only BEER2WHISKEY sweepstakes for a $2,000 Katzkin leather interior. Who wouldn't like to have that, right?

I got over my mad at the Steelers for their National Anthem shenanigans. I purchased my Villanueva jersey and then skipped a couple of weeks of watching the games. I guess I showed them. Anyway, I'm back in the fold. They are going to the playoffs having handily won their division by beating the other three division teams twice. Well, they have yet to get their second win over the Browns. That's scheduled today. Because only a handful of Steelers starters will participate in today's game, the Browns may just rack up their first win of the season. Then again, maybe not. They are the Browns after all.


When I turned 65 in 2016, my body began breaking down. Healthy as a horse for 65 years, my 2016 birthday was like hitting a wall. Stuff just started going wrong. I did have knee surgery this past March for a meniscus tear that developed about two weeks after my 65th birthday. A number of other maladies of varying degrees of seriousness that reared their ugly heads during the past several months will be addressed this year on a first-come-first-served basis. I'm just happy to still be upright and taking solid nourishment.

I am knee-deep in renovating my home. The big project this past year was covering the great-room ceiling in tongue-and-groove beadboard. That was a job and a half. I still need to paint and trim it out, but the big job of actually installing the beadboard is finished. I still need to finish the upstairs. That will involve replacing the carpet in the small hallway with hardwood and installing a barn door for the bathroom. I have all the materials to tackle this part of the job. I just need a week or so of down time to do it. I will finish both of these jobs in 2018. Then it will be on to rehabbing the kitchen.

So, that was basically 2017 in a nutshell. All in all, a pretty good year. I expect 2018 to be more of the same. I have four BEER2WHISKEY shoots lined up at craft breweries in Houston this month in conjunction with the Houston Auto Show. I also have Jeep and Infiniti media launches I am attending. Of course, all of these are in the same week. Figures, doesn't it? The story of my life. But, quite the story it is.

Here's to a happy and prosperous New Year!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Renovating the Living Room Ceiling: I'm Too Old for this Crap!


I'm not the kind of guy who can look at some sort of correctable flaw in his house and leave it, well, uncorrected. I love renovating my house. If I had unlimited funds and time, I'd be tinkering on some project every day. Sadly, even when doing the work yourself, refurbishing a house requires mucho dinero. If you had a chart with two circles on it, one labeled “Freelance Automotive Journalist” and the other “Money in the Bank,” rarely would the circles come remotely close to touching one another; forget about them ever intersecting.

Consequently, serious renovation projects must be planned and budgeted. I typically begin buying materials and required tools not already in my inventory weeks or months ahead. Depending on the project, however, sometimes the space required to store this stuff is well beyond the storage capacity of the 1,100 or so square feet of my home. That was one issue with my recent living room-ceiling renovation. 
Every couple of years I get to patch all the cracks in the interior walls.
Built on a fairly severe hill, my 60-year-old house apparently is in constant flux. Settling a little each year. Although the brick foundation has so far been immune to whatever is going on structurally, I am constantly repairing cracks here and there in the interior walls (particularly spider webbing from corners of door frames and windows), and planing down the tops of upstairs doors that suddenly begin sticking.

I'm not a fan of popcorn ceilings. Popcorn is that drywall finish containing little chunks of some sort of acoustic material that is sprayed on the ceiling after the drywall has been finished. It basically is used to mask half-assed drywall finish work on the ceiling the same way an orange peel spray is used to hide finishing imperfections on the walls. 
Hate the damn popcorn.
Having spent some time running a drywall operation in South Florida, I am more sensitive than some to poor quality drywall work. My house is full of it. It was obvious to me when I purchased the house 9 or 10 years ago that there were problems with the ceilings upstairs and down. Both bedrooms on the third level have a popcorn finish so thick it looks as though it was ladled on with a trowel. The ceiling in the downstairs great room was just the opposite. Here the popcorn was so thin, it was obvious that it was done by some sort of do-it-yourself sprayer rather than a commercial one.

I had only lived in the house for a year or two when cracks began appearing in the vaulted living room ceiling. With my eye always on selling this house, I had to address the cracks. As I saw it, I had two possible courses of action: Remove the popcorn and refinish the ceiling, or install an all-new ceiling over the old. In the end, I opted to install a new ceiling. 
I gained my framing chops for building my shed from first building a pony wall in the great room.
When planning a project involving a new skill, I find a smaller project in which I can try out my hand at the new skill while overcoming the learning curve. Before I built my shed, I built a pony wall behind the TV in the great room. Before installing a tile back splash in my upcoming kitchen redo, I installed a small one in my upstairs bath remodel. And, so forth.

I tested my tongue-and-groove bead board chops on the small ceiling in my upstairs hall. What I learned from that experience is that installing bead board is pretty straight forward, but a larger area requires at least two people. The length of the hall ceiling was about 6.5 feet and I struggled a little getting the boards in place, balancing a nail gun at the same time and then nailing the boards. No way I could handle anything longer by myself. 


Three-quarters of an inch thick and roughly 5.5-inches wide, the boards come in 16-ft lengths. I needed enough of them to cover a 400-sq-ft area. There simply was nowhere in my house I could stockpile that much lumber. What I needed was just-in-time delivery. I have a fraternity brother in Dayton, Ohio who is semi-retired. Ports has visited me in Greenville a couple of times over the past two or three years. He offered to drive down and lend a hand. We agreed upon a five-day window in October. A trip to 84 Lumber set me back around $1,100, but material delivery was arranged for the day of Ports arrival. I spent the morning of the eve of his arrival picking up some scaffolding rented for a week.

My shed was burgled during an extended trip from home a few months ago, and most of my power tools, including my air compressor and nail guns, disappeared. I had replaced the chop saw, table saw, compressor and finish nail gun in the weeks leading up to scheduled date for the ceiling job.

Early on I made the decision I wouldn't endure the mess or take the time to remove the popcorn surface. I decided instead to nail 1.5x.75-inch furring strips over the popcorn. And then nail the tongue-and-groove to the furring. I worked off and on doing that in my rare moments home for the month before Ports was scheduled to arrive. I also took down the ceiling fan and the three recessed can lights.

On the day of Ports' arrival, my carport bristled with lumber and my dining area was crowded with power tools. With all the confidence of someone who has no clue what he is talking about, I had assured Ports we could knock out this job in about 16 hours. I based my estimate on the three hours the upstairs ceiling required. What a moron. By the end of day one, we had maybe 15 to 20 percent of the ceiling completed. Absolutely nothing in this house is square or plumb. By the end of day 2, we had maybe 60 percent finished.

Between the walls not being quite square and some of the boards not being exactly straight, meant we couldn't just cut a 10-ft length of board and expect it to fit flush. Some boards, when set flush on one end would have a quarter-inch gap separating the tongue from the groove on the other end. It was maddening.

Meanwhile, you have two guys over 65, balancing on ladders and scaffolding trying to fit these boards together and nail them in place. It was a miracle neither of us was killed. The rented scaffolding should have been easy to assemble and adjust. It sure looked that way on the video I watched before renting it. Of course, the scaffolding in the video was brand new. What we had was beat to heck. Pieces had to be pounded into place with a rubber mallet. At one point when we were attempting to increase the height, it simply exploded on us, with its parts falling in all directions. Ports got one of his hands caught in it, badly pinching a finger. As he danced around with one hand grasped in the other yelling he thought saw God, I admonished him not to go into the light. Oddly, he didn't appreciate my humor. 
Toughest area to reach was over the stairs.
We began the work on Wednesday morning. By Saturday morning we only had the small section over the stairs left to do. There are about seven steps that go up to the third level and then five steps that go down to the bottom level from the main floor. This small section was left for last because we were having trouble figuring out how we would deal with the stairs in terms of somehow reaching the ceiling. Originally, I planned on using the scaffolding for the stairs going up. We would adjust one side to sit on one of the steps while the other side rested on the great room floor. On the stairs going down, I would put an extension ladder on the top stair, leaning the ladder on the wrought-iron banister running along the upstairs hallway.

In the end, we went to Home Depot and purchased four concrete blocks, which we stacked in two piles of two on the stairs going up on which Ports stood. I took the leaning ladder on the stairs going down. It was a little exciting, but worked fine.

We were done with the job by about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon and downtown celebrating with a few beers by 2:30.

I still have to paint the ceiling, install the new lighting and ceiling fan. Ports will return this spring to help me install the trim. But, the worst is over...I hope.