Kristin

Kristin
My buddy Kristin, with whom I'll be shooting some BEER2WHISKEY videos, and me at the awads dinner for this year's Texas Truck Rodeo.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Texas Truck Rodeo: Choosing the 2018 Truck of Texas


I'm not the kind of guy who wastes a lot of time. Well, at least I don't waste it doing stuff I don't want to do. Every time I gaze into a mirror – something to be avoided whenever possible – I come face to face with my mortality. I just don't want to squander any of the precious time I have remaining doing some stupid damn thing that I really don't want to do.

Some might consider bouncing around on dirt paths in trucks and SUVs a poor investment of time for someone with a limited number of grains of sand left in the proverbial hour glass. Drip, drip drip... But, I really didn't give a second thought to spending four days last week in Texas Hill Country just west of Austin at the annual Texas Auto Writers (TAWA) Texas Truck Rodeo. Its where the TAWA group of automotive media chooses the Truck of Texas every year. 


Indeed, I could have been doing something more constructive. Actually generating some income would have been a sensible alternative. On the surface it may look as though I was just messing around. After all, TAWA would have named the Truck of Texas with or without me, right? Right. I'm hardly a pivotal cog in that organization or in the operation of the Truck Rodeo. Truth be told: I'm a TAWA hanger-on. I'm one of the several out-of-state members who help flesh out its ranks, but the organization would soldier on quite successfully without yours truly.

In fact it did so for the 20 years or so during my sabbatical from its membership. I've only been a member again for two years. The main reason for my reprising my member role is the Truck Rodeo. It's an incredible event orchestrated with the precision of a Patton flanking maneuver. It's really a highly organized business with some trucks and off roading involved. For roughly 14 hours over a two-day period some 65 vehicles spread over 21 categories were driven and evaluated by 75 journalists. The manufacturers represented ranged from Alfa Romeo to Volvo.

Event organizers created three off-road courses with varying degrees of difficulty. Manufacturers decided on which courses its vehicles could be driven. There was a fourth street course, as well. 

We rated each vehicle in a half-dozen or so areas, such as performance, interior and personal appeal. After a total of 300-or-so hours of combined driving, TAWA named the Ford F-150 the 2018 Truck of Texas. The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport got the nod for the CUV of Texas, with the 2018 Volvo XC60 picking up SUV of Texas honors. We also named winners in each of the 21 categories.

To feel better about myself after taking four days away from my home-renovation projects and revenue-producing work to flog off-roaders around the Longhorn River Ranch near Dripping Springs, I did manage to find four stories to pitch to my biggest client. Two for which I already have verbal approval. I feel pretty confident the other two will be accepted, as well. These are story ideas I wouldn't have had otherwise. I also shot three videos for just3things. Oh, and I won a photo contest!

I had hoped to shoot a couple of videos for BEER2WHISKEY, as well, but just couldn't put that together. But, I did make some arrangements to shoot B2W videos in Dallas and Houston in the future. I don't have a time frame yet for the Dallas shoots, but Houston will take place in late January in conjunction with he Houston Auto Show.

Now, however, I'm back to reality. Time to turn the Truck Rodeo ideas into words on a page. Next up? The 2018 Hyundai Accent in Las Vegas. Work, work work.....

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Don't Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls......


I'm not the kind of guy who concentrates very much on my maladies. I've actually been pretty lucky in that department. Up until a year ago, my ailments have been minor, as well as few and far between. For at least 25 years, I worked without the net of medical insurance. I would go a decade or longer between doctor visits of any sort. I don't consider myself a macho guy, but always thought complaining to friends about my health as a direct path to looking puny. I have been pretty rigid in that belief.

My distended knee two or three years ago from a ladder misstep notwithstanding, historically there hasn't been much overtly wrong with me. As long as I kept my mouth shut, no one was the wiser that maybe I wasn't operating at full throttle.

All of that ended with the abruptness of being t-boned in an intersection when I hit the dreaded age of 65. It was like my body took account of itself and decided, let's serve notice to this chump that he isn't immortal. All right already, message received!

To date, nothing is critical or particularly life threatening. In fact, some of it I wouldn't even be aware of if I wasn't visiting Doc Budelmann every six months for wellness checkups, which always include a blood analysis of some sort. When that post-visit phone call comes, my reaction is always, now what?

I won't go into the parade of niggling things that these wellness visits have unearthed, but they are piling up. I did have knee surgery back in March to remove a meniscus tear. (You can read about that here.) This knee thing was just one of the many afflictions rearing its ugly head when I turned 65. There has been a host of others.

The only reason I bring all of this up is, I am in the midst of eight days at home. Any period longer than three or four days is a real treat. I have been traveling nonstop for business, as well as fun, since the end of May. Stuff simply isn't getting done at home. Anyone taking an impromptu tour of my house would probably jump to the conclusion, I'm a hoarder. Stuff is piled everywhere. I have one room upstairs so full of life's flotsam, I can barely navigate through it. My kitchen counters are piled high with junk. I am in the process of ship lapping the ceiling in my great room, and the dining area is full of lumber, power tools and ladders. It's totally out of hand!

Because I have a fraternity brother arriving in two weeks to help me with the actual ship-lap application, I have a lot of prep work to finish. This week at home is my week to do it. I have at least a half-dozen assignments from my biggest client that deadline this week, too. I have two videos to edit: one each for my two video projects. And, if things work out as I hope, I'll also be videoing two or three segments for BEER2WHISKEY.

In other words, my plate is not just full this week, it runneth over.

But, in the midst of all of this, I have two physical therapy sessions plus an appointment with my orthopedist for my shoulder. I have a urology office dunning me with phone calls attempting to set up an appointment that Doc Budelmann ordered. And I have an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doc at the end of the month.

What the hell? I am a sinking ship with little in the way of cargo to pitch overboard.

So, yes, I'm a little stressed out. I'm weary of messing with doctors and squads of their henchmen. I just want to make some money and get a few things accomplished around the house. Fat chance!

The takeaway from all of this is, at some point things just fall apart. For me, it happened virtually overnight on my 65th birthday. I still don't complain about it much. I'm already busy enough without taking the time to whine about my seemingly endless string of less-than-significant medical issues.

Here's to your good health!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Time's A-Wastin' and I Hate It!



I'm not the kind of guy who wastes a lot of time. At least I have myself convinced of that. If I have stuff to do, I want to get it done. I'll wake myself up at four o'clock in the morning with thoughts of all the things piled on my plate. Does this cause some stress? Why, yes, it does. That I don't have an ulcer or a nervous tick of some sort is amazing.

Of all the things I have to do, producing work that translates into a payday is numero uno on the list. I often know when an assignment will be issued or a story idea accepted by my largest client. Usually these are fruits of some event they have sent me to cover. Other times it's because they have asked for a specific story, but I still must pitch that story through their third-party content organizer. On the surface, that may sound silly, but it's through this same content organizer I must submit finished stores and, most importantly, it's through this content organizer that I am paid. So, every story must begin at the beginning, which is submitting the idea for approval. When it's a story they have requested, I know it will be approved and I write it.

Despite this drive to get paying work done ASAP, I still manage to procrastinate when it comes to chores around the house, such as renovation projects and so forth.

I am less likely to put off doing work-type projects, but some are more important to me than others. My two video projects fall in right behind paying assignments in terms of importance. I have a backlog of just3things videos to edit. Currently, I have perhaps eight unedited videos for that Website. I make it a point to edit at least one a week. This isn't a huge effort. On average, editing a j3t video takes from 90 minutes to two hours.

Then there is my new video project: BEER2WHISKEY. This is for a YouTube channel of the same name. I post a new video there at noon every Thursday. Although, eventually I will have a series of shorter videos in the three-to-four-minute range, the videos shot and edited so far range from 9 to 15 minutes. These require three or four hours to edit.

Of the things I like to do, writing a post for this blog is at the bottom of the list. That's why, despite making a vow to write a new post every week in 2017, I'm back to writing two or so a month. As I am doing today, I typically write for Clanging Bell on Sunday mornings. If I'm jammed up with paying assignments or behind in editing videos, that's what I do on Sunday mornings rather than create a new blog post.

Bringing up the rear in this creative scrum is writing car reviews. Many weeks I knock out as many as six or seven assignments for my biggest paying client. Even I can grow weary of writing about cars. I need to massage a different area of my creativity. After writing two or three thousand words of auto content for pay, I just don't have the steam left in me to write another eight hundred words on some new car I have just driven. Does that make me a bad person?

So, back to my opening statement that I don't like to waste time. I don't. I don't like covering the same ground twice, either. Although I didn't post anything new to Clanging Bell last week, I did write a new post last Monday morning. I just didn't post it to the blog.

It was a nine-hundred-word rant on the Steelers refusing to leave their locker room for the national anthem before their game last week with the Chicago Bears. Having been a Steelers fan off and on for more than half a century, I was more than disappointed by their actions last week. But, I decided as I prepared to write my very first post to this site six or seven years ago, that I wouldn't use it as space to air my political views. Who cares anyway, right?

So, I did write about 900 words last week, but after thinking about my pledge not to politicize Clanging Bell, I didn't post those words to the site. After a full week of reflection, I made the right choice. Now, though, I am kicking myself for wasting the time to write that post. 

I do hate wasting time. I say that as I prepare to head to my Sunday watering hole Smoke on the Water in downtown Greenville for a couple of beers. Here's the thing: Now that I have my BEER2WHISKEY channel on YouTube, sipping a beer or two is really research, isn't it? I'm honing my craft. At least that's how I'm going to look at it going forward.

I'm not wasting time; I'm doing research! I feel better about myself already.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

And the Beat Goes On: Fighting the Good Fight on YouTube


I'm not the kind of guy who obsesses about things. But, when I need to be, I am focused. The past couple of weeks I have been homed in on getting my YouTube channel up and running. Not just running, mind you, but humming right along. I am pouring huge amounts of time and treasure into this project. I believe in it. If it doesn't do everything I want it to do, it won't be because I didn't invest the sweat equity or the capital.

I have six segments in the can, of which four are edited. Two are posted. You can see them here (I hope.). For the present, Thursdays at noon will be the schedule for posting new videos. I already have another “Fiji Brothers Panel” video on deck for this coming Thursday. The following week I will post one for the Islamorada Beer Company. If you visit the BEER2WHISKEY YouTube channel, click on the “Subscribe” tab. Apparently 100 is the magic number of subscribers allowing me to do a few unique things with the channel. I was on the channel this morning and I have one subscriber. One down, 99 to go!

I am not abandoning just3thingsvideo.com. In fact, I have a fresh video on how to get the most out of a Jimmy Buffet concert nearly edited. I will post it in the next day or two. I have at least another six or eight segments shot. I just need to find the time to edit them.

I continue to struggle with all of the nuances of YouTube as a platform. It's easy enough to post videos on YouTube, but to establish a presence there is a whole different cat. The people I know who are truly successful there don't do much of anything else. I, on the other hand, have other things to do. I still need to earn a living.

My goal is to transform both of my video projects into their own brands. To do that, sadly, I'll need to broaden their reach through social media. To be honest, I'd rather slam my hand in a car door than invest even 30 minutes a day flitting around all the social media sites promoting my projects. I really don't want to be one of “those people.” But, it must be done.

I think my solution to the social media issue is to hire some entity to handle most of that end of things. I am constantly dunned by companies in India claiming to have the answer for making my projects successful. I have no clue why India is the Promise Land of social media, but when I was a project editor for a book publisher while still living in Florida, we would outsource some of the projects to a company in India. They did an acceptable job. So, I'm not ruling out India.

As I wrestle with the social media issue, I still must shoot more segments. This is no small feat. Not only must I convince breweries and distilleries to participate, the panel format I have established requires I have a sidekick. This is a major hurdle when shooting outside Greenville, SC. It means finding a person I actually want to be with on camera who has the time to shoot a segment or two. At this point, I am forced to restrict my shoots to locations where I have a built-in sidekick. Otherwise, I must get them to the location, as well as house and feed them. I'm not in a position to shoulder that expense, yet.

Yep, I still have a lot to work out. But, it's Sunday, my beer-drinking day. No better opportunity to ponder the possibilities and make a decision or two than over a delicious craft beer.

Cheers!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Creating a YouTube Channel Is Not for the Feint Hearted


I'm not the kind of guy who spends a lot of time futzing with social media. This, of course, renders me a dinosaur within my field and among the carmakers to which I must appeal. Despite the fact that a fair amount of it is more activity than accomplishment, companies like to see themselves mentioned as often as possible whether that really translates into sales or not. At this point, no one actually knows. But this narcissism on the part of auto manufacturers has created a sea change in my industry to which I have been slow to adapt.

I do have auto-media peers who successfully navigate the sea of social media, but the investment of time and treasure it requires is staggering. So, I muddle along doing a few Instagram posts (Which allows me to also share those posts on Twitter and Facebook.) each month on my iPhone 6, and call it a day. My seven followers seem to appreciate my effort.

My lack of social-media skills, however, does have some negative consequences for me. Whenever I do wade into a social-media project, what would take someone familiar with the various platforms an hour to do, takes me days. It's just another reason I basically avoid social media.

I am in the process of launching a second video project. I will continue expanding content on just3thingsvideo.com, but I will now also be producing videos for BEER2WHISKEY. These will be videos dedicated to introducing viewers to various delicious adult beverages, craft breweries and distilleries. To date, I've shot six B2W segments and edited three of them. The two craft breweries I videoed in Islamorada, however, may be history. Hurricane Irma is crashing through the Keys as I write this. The fate of Islamorada Beer Co and the Florida Keys Brewing Co is uncertain at this writing. Fingers crossed!

In terms of how I make these videos available, the big difference between j3t and B2W is, j3t videos are posted on a dedicated Website, but I am hosting the B2W videos on a YouTube channel. At least I'll be hosting those videos on YouTube if I can ever get the damn channel set up and operational.

I was supposed to be in South Florida much of this week and all weekend. The Miami International Auto Show was to kick off this weekend with Saturday designated as media day. The show invited me to attend. I was to fly down early and stay late to spend some time with friends. Tuesday I was in the midst of packing for my Wednesday morning flight when I received an e-mail that the show was postponed due to Irma, and all the media flights had been canceled. Suddenly I found myself with a few unexpected, unbudgeted days at home.

With only a couple of assignments due, I had some extra time to devote to creating my new YouTube channel. I thought I'd have the channel up and running with at least the three already edited videos posted by now. I crack myself up.

I have spent roughly eight or nine hours attempting to set up the channel. “Frustrating” doesn't begin to describe the experience so far. I am ready to body slam an orphan. Every inch of ground gained has been met with stubborn resistance at a level equal to the Japanese defending Iwo Jima. It has been a slugfest of Biblical proportions.

Sure, there are videos posted on YouTube supposedly engineered to help the feeble, ignorant newbie create a channel, but half the time what they show in the tutorial isn't what I see on my channel as I vainly attempt to follow along. Just setting up the banner art was an exercise in patience, restraint and uber research. If I possessed my father's temper, I'd be typing this post on my trusty iPhone because my home laptop workstation would be a pile of bits and pieces in the corner of my office. Should my left arm feel this numb?

I will walk away from this challenge for few days. The Steelers play their first game of the season this afternoon, after all. I need to knock out an assignment for a client on Monday. Then I'm gone for three days for a Lexus event in San Francisco. The earliest I will get back to working on the YouTube channel is next weekend. I have revised the B2W channel up-and-running date from today to December 1. And that's not a shoe in.

I need a beer.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Circle of Life or, In This Case, Death


I'm not the kind of guy who puts much faith in fate. We won't wander into some sort of existential quagmire here, but I think we pretty much determine what happens to us through our decisions, as well as our reaction to things that happen around us over which we – nor anyone else, for that matter – have much, if any, control.

In my mind, serendipity, rather than fate, plays a far bigger role in our lives. Was it fate that determined I'd never find a woman with whom I'd spend my declining years? I don't think so. It was good luck. In any case, here I am, unencumbered with a joint decision maker gumming up the works and complaining about hair in my ears.

Whether fate or serendipity, I have returned to a period in my life that I never thought I'd revisit. Here's the back story.....

My father was a Lutheran minister. This was a late-life career choice that had our family moving every three-or-so years as he completed college on the G.I. Bill, attended seminary and took a call at the two churches in which he ministered, the last of which was in Louisville, Kentucky. There was a funeral home nearby that church. It was there that probably 3 out of 5 funerals my father presided over took place. To say he knew and was friends with the staff there would be an understatement. He probably officiated at a half dozen funerals a year there.

If I pondered it sufficiently, I could probably remember whether it was during the spring of my senior year in high school or my freshman year in college, but the precise time reference is incidental to the story, and I just don't have the motivation or energy to think that hard. The point is that in the course of overseeing someone's send off to the afterlife, my father mentioned to the owner and funeral director who had asked about me that I was struggling to find summer employment. (Yes, this was at a time when kids over the age of 16 were expected to have summer employment.)

Thinking about it for a moment, the funeral director told my father he was a man down and had a spot for his young son, who he knew to be charming and hard working; a “highly motivated go-getter” was no doubt bandied about more than once.

So began my three-month apprenticeship at a funeral home.

A surreal period in my life, it was both strange and fun. Because of my age at the time, I immersed myself in the experience with a degree of irreverence. Not yet 21, death wasn't on my radar. Like string theory, mortality was something for someone else to consider and debate.

As I think about it, my three-month stint was more than likely during the summer of 1970. Not only were there no cell phones, Internet, answering machines and even beepers were technologies of the future.

My primary role at the funeral home was to spend every-other night and every-other weekend there. If a late-night call came in regarding a loved one's passing, my job was to phone whichever licensed mortician was on call that night, roust him out of bed and have him come to the funeral home to get the meat wagon, then accompany him to pick up the stiff.

I likened my workload to that of a firefighter: Days of little action punctuated by sporadic activity. That is to say, many days and nights I was there didn't produce much in the way of activity. In the back of the funeral home was a two-bed dorm where I and the other guy, who covered the nights and weekends I wasn't there, slept, showered and so forth. It had a TV with cable service. My evenings there were typically filled with TV watching. A couple of times a week, one or more of my friends would drop by with a pizza. Other nights, I was on my own. I occupied some of my idle time thinking of different ways I'd like to answer calls when they came in. The one that sticks in my mind is, “If you're soon to join the dear departed, we've got the equipment to get you started.” I crack myself up.

All things considered, it was a positive experience, not only providing an array of war stories with which to entertain friends over the next few years, but also providing experience with death and grieving that you can only get through facing it day after day.

So far behind me, I hadn't really thought much about the experience for years. Not until I became good friends with a couple who have become increasingly more involved in a funeral home in which they were nothing more than mere investors three or four years ago, did my own brush with the funeral-home business surface among my memories.

In the past couple of years they have gone from being behind-the-scenes money people in the enterprise to taking over the day-to-day supervision of the business. Just a week or two ago, they moved the business into a much larger space and added a crematorium. Needless to say, bidness is boomin'.

I never ever thought I'd be back here, but I will be helping them out occasionally. I'll be filling in when their need for an extra hand coincides with me being in town. I've run some errands for them and worked a funeral where – like riding a bicycle – I easily reprized my apprenticeship role by standing by looking solemn during a funeral viewing and service.

Fate or serendipity? Who knows. But, I've purchased a black suit and am ready to go.

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.