Village People

Village People
No, this is not a Village People tribute band. It's from the Nissan-sponsored media build of a Habitat for Humanity house last year.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Toyota C-HR Event: Austin, Garrison Brothers, Angel Envy Rye and Bubble Wrap

2018 Toyota C-HR

I'm not the kind of guy who heads off to overnight destinations unprepared. I've been a road warrior for more than 30 years, and have racked up nearly 2 million miles on Delta alone. There are times when I only keep up with the day's date to meet the demands of my next plane ticket. When on the road, expect a pregnant pause if you ask me to name the day of the week. And, I don't travel nearly as much as some of my peers, and certainly not as much as I once did.

I've become fairly adept at packing. I'm hell on wheels gathering together what I will need for a two-night stay somewhere. Two nights is the common length of media car-event trips. Although some carmakers have turned their media events into one-night death marches, while others occasionally stretch an event into three or even four nights, two remains the industry standard. As an East Coaster, there's nothing like hopping on a plane at 5 a.m., spending six or seven hours on planes and in airports to reach a California destination, arriving at noon or so to wolf down a cold-cut sandwich, receiving an hour's indoctrination on some new vehicle, driving it for three hours, being fed dinner and then jumping out of bed the next morning to catch a flight home. Agreed, it's a first-world problem; but not much fun nonetheless. There's a good reason that two nights remains the industry standard.

Faced with a two-night outing, my packing skills know no equal. I am usually on autopilot when laying out the clothing I'll need. Two pair of underwear: check. Two shirts for dinners: check. A sport coat for dinners: check. And so forth. Now that I'm shooting video for, I must inventory and pack video gear, as well.

No matter the duration of a trip, I also always carry bubble wrap with me. It's part of that being-prepared thing. I stumble across a craft beer or hard-to-get bourbon with enough regularity on these trips that I've learned to be prepared to haul home a bottle or two in my checked bag. However, even with this level of preparedness, at times I'm not prepared enough.

A couple of weeks ago I headed to Austin, Texas with Toyota for the media reveal of its all-new C-HR crossover. (C-HR, incidentally, stands for "Coupe-High Rider.") From my previous junket to the Lone Star state a week or so earlier with Jeep, I was on a tear to secure a bottle of Garrison Brothers Bourbon. Carrying my standard-issue 12-inch by 48-inch sheet of bubble wrap, I felt as though I could easily meet the challenge of safely transporting a bottle of bourbon back to Greenville.

Lost a few hours in Banger's taproom that was within a block of our hotel.
Toyota hosted us in Austin's Hotel Van Zandt. Yes, that Van Zandt. Situated in an upcoming trendy area of the city, this hotel is surrounded by older homes converted into all manner of chic restaurants and watering holes. As one might expect with Austin as the event's home base, our C-HR drive took us into Texas Hill Country.

If since Toyota's announcement that it was deep-sixing its Scion brand you've spent some sleepless nights fretting over its demise, you only need look as far as Toyota's all-new C-HR to assuage your angst. The C-HR provides ample evidence that at least the phantasm of Scion lives on. Fully qualified to wear the Scion nameplate, C-HR exhibits Scion's two most prevalent traits: radical styling and somewhat tepid acceleration. Oh, and as with Scions of the past, it offers a value story, as well.

In fact, Toyota originally intended the C-HR to be Scion's first crossover. As for styling, it looks like the love child of a Nissan Juke and a Toyota RAV4. That's really okay, though. Toyota styling has always erred on the side of conservative. Think of C-HR as Toyota's version of your crazy uncle you give movie money to when company visits. It's fun and refreshing in a way, but will look a little odd when it arrives in showrooms in April parked between a Highlander and a Camry.

As with Scion's FR-S Coupe, Toyota defines C-HR's sportiness through its handling, rather than acceleration. Providing spirited handling, it corners sharply and without drama. Armed with what Toyota calls a “punchy” 144-horsepower 2-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission, the C-HR offers acceptable acceleration for urban street warfare. On the highway, it cruises effortlessly once up to speed, but requires a lot of runway to get around slower-moving vehicles.

Toyota will offer C-HR in two flavors: XLE at $22,500 and XLE Premium at $24,350. Every C-HR will come right out of the box with a standard pre-collision system with active braking and full-speed range radar-based cruise control, as well as dual-zone climate control and backup camera. All-wheel drive isn't available.

After our C-HR ride and drive, my driving partner and I returned to the hotel, regrouped and then headed to a liquor store about four blocks away. Well stocked, this purveyor of spirits had a healthy variety of bourbons. Among them were a couple of bottles of Garrison Brothers. Immediately scooping up one, I continued down the aisle in search of other hard-to-get treasures. I didn't find anything else of great interest on the bourbon side, but I did a double take as I strolled by the ryes. Can it be? I thought. I looked again; and sure enough, I was staring at five bottles of Angel Envy Rye: the unicorn of rye whiskeys.
Mission accomplished!
I hadn't seen a bottle on a store shelf in months. Knowing I couldn't leave without one, I grabbed a bottle and headed to the checkout. Setting my two finds on the counter, I suddenly realized I couldn't take a bottle of Angels Envy Rye home for me without checking to see if my buddy Jeff would want one, too. Calling him, I wasn't surprised when he told me to get it.

Despite my careful packing, I knew I only had sufficient bubble wrap to secure two bottles in my checked bag. The store clerk directed us to a FedEx store another block up the street where I invested four bucks in a 10-foot roll of bubble wrap.

As I struggled back to the hotel with my purchases, I suddenly realized that although I had room in my checked bag for my newly acquired stash, my bag tipped the baggage check-in scale at 43 lbs when I left Greenville. I calculated the three bottles would push the suitcase precariously close to the 50-lb weight limit. Well, nothing I could do about it now. If push came to shove when checking in the next morning, I'd remove my tripod from the bag and hand carry it on the plane.

Checking in the next morning, I smiled at the counter agent as I ally ooped my bag on the scale, admitting to her, “It's the moment of truth.” I watched in alarm as the pound count whirled upward beyond 50 lbs, landing on 53 lbs. Wide-eyed, I looked at the gate agent expectantly. She smiled, shrugged and said, “You're okay.”

(Insert sigh of relief here.)

Delta is far from perfect, but occasionally, it comes through.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Yep, It's Another Delta Story

I'm not the kind of guy who looks a gift horse in the mouth, but I have suspicions about Delta and my attempted use of a $1,000 voucher it issued to me for giving up my seat on a flight home from South Bend, Indiana last September. (Oh, and for the record, if you are going to strand yourself in an airport for eight hours, South Bend shouldn't be your first choice.)

If you tuned in today for the post on my Toyota C-HR trip to Austin a couple of weeks ago that will include the to-be-continued element from last week's post about wanting a bottle of Garrison Brothers Bourbon, you'll need to wait another week. With my back-to-back trips this week, and a couple of commitments battling for my time today (Sunday my Clanging Bell post-writing day), I just don't have the time that the C-HR post requires.

Back to Delta.

One of my fraternity brothers, part of the group I went to the Wyoming guest ranch with for years and Nashville with last summer, moved to Montana last year. He decided to organize a little trip out there in August for our crew of merry fools. He has secured a very nice cabin on a lake near his home for the overflow of guys he can't accommodate at his house. Near Kalispell, it's a gorgeous area. Upon sharing his idea, the majority of us immediately became hand raisers.

Learning that Kalispell has the closest airport (Who even knew Kalispell has an airport?) to the proposed lodging, I jumped on to see if Delta services Kalispell. I have been disappointed more than once this past year learning that Delta no longer services a couple of destinations hosting car events. Santa Barbara being the biggest shock. Last month my trip to participate in the GMC Sierra HD event in Telluride entailed flying a different airline for the outbound than the return trip because Delta has all but abandoned Montrose, Colorado as a destination.

Remarkably, Delta services Kalispell. I don't recall exact ticket prices from my initial visit to last Thursday or Friday, but a regular round-trip steerage ticket from Atlanta to Kalispell was less than $600. My Knoxville-based fraternity brother reached out to me yesterday regarding flights. He said that if I advised him of the flights I booked, he would book the same flights between Atlanta (ATL) and Kalispell. I responded that I would book the tickets today and let him know.

I logged onto this morning fully intending to book the flights. I submitted dates and airports involved, clicked on the “Money” (as opposed to the “Miles” key) and was preparing to hit “Search” when I noticed a line of script at the bottom of the form asking if I would be using a certificate of some sort. Because that was my plan, I clicked on it and was spirited to my “Wallet” page showing my available certificates and vouchers. I checked the box for the $1,000 voucher and was immediately transported back to a blank for page where I had to reenter all the airports-and-dates information. Hmmm...odd, I thought.

When the flights came up, the prices were 25 to 30 percent higher than the prices three days ago. What? Me thinks something smells a bit fishy. I then clicked on “Miles” to see what numbers came up. Delta wanted 65,000 Sky Miles for the flight. That's really, really high. These are flights are six months from now. I've never paid anything close to that for flights booked a month out.(Note: Since posting this, I've gone back and rechecked my numbers. Seems I was too quick on the draw and my tendency to assume the worst regarding airlines got the better of me. I first checked fares for Saturday-Friday. When I went to book, I looked at Saturday-Saturday. The one day's difference accounted for most of the cost difference. Mea culpa.)

As one of its frequent fliers, I have an innate distrust of all things Delta. Depending on your point of view, I had a ridiculous or positive experience with Delta on Friday evening. I have upcoming flights from Greenville (GSP) to Los Angeles (LAX) that span Monday to Wednesday. Well after those tickets were booked for a Honda event, I received an invite to a regional Hyundai event in Raleigh, NC beginning that Wednesday. The only way I can arrive in Raleigh in time is to go from Atlanta to Raleigh, rather than going on to GSP and trying to fly to Raleigh from there.

Over the objections of the Hyundai travel adviser, I booked my Raleigh flights from Atlanta on Wednesday and then back to GSP on Friday. This left the Wednesday segment from ATL to GSP in place, but unusable.

As I was walking around downtown Greenville late afternoon on Friday, I received a text message from the Hyundai travel adviser telling me that Delta was raising a stink over what it considered a double booking. As a longtime Delta frequent flier, I knew I would have better luck dealing with Delta than a travel agent. Airlines absolutely despise travel agents.

Calling Delta, I explained the situation to the agent. I wanted to depart LAX on Wednesday and rather than to continue from ATL to GSP, I would board the booked flight to Raleigh instead. My ATL to GSP ticket would go unused and Delta could resell the seat. Because of all the video gear I now carry, I have to check a bag. I would get the desk agent in LAX to check my bag from LAX to Raleigh. Simple, yes?

To us mere mortals, this sounds perfectly reasonable. At least it does to me. Why should Delta give a damn that I wasn't going to use my ATL to GSP seat? In fact, doesn't it benefit Delta to be able to sell that same seat again? I basically just handed Delta $300. Would it cost Delta any more to check my bag through to Raleigh rather than GSP? I can't imagine it would. But, suddenly we were at an impasse. I was told they would allow the double booking, but the only way to get my bag all the way to Raleigh was to check it to ATL, pick it up there, recheck it to Raleigh and then reenter the terminal through TSA during my 75-minute layover in ATL. The only way I could avoid all of this, the Delta agent advised, is to combine and reissue the ticket. Charging me change fees and penalties to do so. Yep, Delta took what wasn't a complex issue to begin with and turned it into a major (and expensive) ordeal.

I didn't attempt to throw around my Medallion status, nor the fact that I've logged just short of 2 million miles with Delta. I didn't rant about never flying Delta again nor any of the other silly things I was so tempted to do. I played the victim card. I explained to her that the tickets were purchased separately by two different clients, and that neither would be willing to shoulder the change fees and penalties of which she was speaking. Either I would have to personally pay the extra expenses, or the trip to Raleigh would need to be canceled completely. And you know, I added, if my Raleigh client re-books the flights, it will be on whichever airline absorbed US Air and its routes. I'd rather fly Delta, but it would be out of my hands.

After two pow-wows with her supervisor, the inclusion of some other agent in another department and about 25 minutes of my time, Delta had canceled the ATL to GSP leg of my Wednesday trip, opening the way to check my bag from LAX to Raleigh. This was achieved at no cost to me, nor anyone else: a one-time favor, I was told.

There was absolutely no reason for all this drama. It was a simple problem with a simple fix. I can't imagine that similar situations don't play out each and every day. Why wouldn't Delta have a remedy, other than an expensive ticket change, in place? On one hand, the Delta agent at the call center went above and beyond the call of duty to work this out. On the other hand, there shouldn't have been anything to work out. The entire airline industry in general and Delta specifically is organized with no other goal than reaming the customer at every opportunity.

So, when the cost of a flight six months out mysteriously jumps 25 percent over the period of three days and the only variable is the form of payment from cash to a Delta credit voucher, it triggers my Spidey sense.

Perhaps I'm just a cynic. If so, I've earned it.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

From San Antonio to Comfort in the Redesigned 2017 Jeep Compass

I'm not the kind of guy who raves about this or that hotel. I stay in a lot of hotels, spas and resorts all over the place. Most of them are truly high-end properties that excel in pampering their guests. Generally, carmakers take very good care of us when hosting a media event. I'm not jaded by any stretch of the imagination. I still appreciate the level of service and comfort of the beds in a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton, but long ago I ceased being dazzled by them.

So, it's something when I'm sufficiently impressed with a hotel to say so. In this instance, the lodging is San Antonio's Hotel Emma. In the past year I've stayed at Emma with Infiniti, Kia and, most recently, Jeep. To say I really like this property doesn't even come close to describing my enthusiasm for it. Located on the far north end of San Antonio's famed River Walk, it occupies the former home of the Pearl Brewery in the trendy Pearl District. Built in the 1800s, many elements of this historic structure have been preserved and integrated into the hotel. Everywhere you turn, history is staring you in the face.

Beyond the physical structure and its elements, service is topnotch, the bar remarkably well stocked and the rooms exceedingly comfortable. Although not part of the hotel, at one end of the building is the Southerleigh Restaurant, which is actually an upscale craft-brew pub. Hotel Emma is about as close to flirting with heaven as I want to get right now.

On this latest trip to experience the redesigned 2017 Jeep Compass, I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with the hotel's general manager Bill Petrella shooting a couple of just3things segments. A congenial host, he keeps all the balls in the air for this smooth-running operation. In less than 20 minutes, he delivered j3t segments on the River Walk and the Pearl District. Nailed it!

I arrived early on day 1, leaving me plenty of time to shoot the video I needed around the hotel. Dinner that evening was in the hotel followed by a visit to the Sternewirth 1883 for some small-batch bourbon and a few laughs. There was plenty of both.

The next morning we received the 411 on the Compass in a presentation lasting about an hour. Then we paired up, mounted up and headed off to sample this compact crossover in action. Our drive route took us out into Texas Hill Country where we eventually wound up at the Flat Rock Ranch near Comfort, Texas for lunch. Here Jeep had set up an off-road driving loop where we could really put Compass to the test.

Among the redesigned Compass takeaways is that this is a much improved vehicle. My driving partner and I judged its acceleration somewhat sluggish when trying to pass slower traffic. This may well be more of an issue with the 9-speed automatic transmission than with the 180-horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark 4-cylinder engine. We found the powertrain much more spirited in the 4X2 Compass with a 6-speed automatic transmission that we drove back to the hotel that afternoon. Otherwise, there are no big buts in describing the updated Compass, whether discussing handling, ride quality, fit and finish, or amenities.

The reason for the 9-speed automatic (4X2 editions come standard with a manual 6-speed), of course, is fuel economy. Here the 4X4 Compass turns in more than credible numbers for its segment: Best in class, says Jeep. In the 4X4 with 9-speed auto tranny, the government estimates 22 mpg in the city/30 highway/25 combined. This is about the same as the significantly lighter 4X2 versions whether equipped with the 6-speed manual or automatic transmission.

Offroad, Compass is all Jeep. Offering Selec-Terrain, the system includes modes for snow, sand/mud, rock, as well as an automatic setting. The Compass Trailhawk also offers 4-Lo for really serious offroad crawling.

Boasting more than 70 safety systems, Compass also offers a wide range of tech features anchored by FCA's 8.4 Uconnect systems interface with an 8.4 in. touchscreen. Nicely crafted, the interior is comfy and surprisingly quiet. Pricing begins at $20,995 for the Sport 4X2. Loading up a Limited 4X4 with all the bells and whistles will top you out at around $34,700.

For dinner that evening Jeep walked us around the building to the front entrance of Southerleigh. The food was terrific, as were the craft beers brewed on site. After dinner it was back to Sternewirth 1883 for a nightcap. I confess, I have enjoyed Garrison Brothers Bourbon from time to time. Crafted just west of Austin in Hye, Texas, this is a sippin' bourbon of the first order. I almost always order a tumbler full when I can find it. 

I must admit, however, I had never paid much attention to its bottle before settling onto a bar stool that night in San Antonio. I think it's a work of art. I decided at that moment I needed a bottle for my liquor cabinet at home. Because I had a 4:30 a.m. shuttle to the airport the next morning, there wasn't anything I could do about it at the time. But acquiring a bottle was high on my priority list for my next Texas visit.

To be continued in next week's Clanging Bell wrap-up of the media event for the all-new 2018 Toyota C-HR in Austin.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Taking the Telluride Challenge in the 2017 GMC Sierra HD

The Sierra HD my driving partner and I drove from Telluride to Paradox, CO.
I'm not the kind of guy who balks at a little cold weather. In fact, I like getting into the snow and cold now and then, if I'm prepared. So, I didn't hesitate accepting when Autotrader asked me to head to Telluride, Colorado for the media launch of the updated GMC Sierra 2500 HD pickup in mid February.

That I live in South Carolina where winters consist of average daily high temps in the mid 50s, and nights in which the lows only sporadically drop below freezing, had no impact on my decision. I have a leather bomber jacket that escapes my coat closet maybe three or four times a year. I own six sweaters and might or might not make a full rotation through all of them during any given winter. But, freezing temps be damned; I was going to Colorado!

My primary-care physician, Dr. Budelmann, complained I wasn't including interior shots in these posts, so this is for you, Doc!
Having lived in South Florida for 25 or so years before moving to SC, my winter clothing received even less of an annual workout. I owned a fair collection of winter garb while in Fla. only because of my travels with "Discover America" when I worked on that TV series. We taped episodes year around and a bundle-up wardrobe was a must. Here's the thing about owning winter clothing while living on Florida's Gold Coast, it lasts forever. And, I mean, forever. I have snow pants, fleece jackets, boots and sub-zero-rated coats still stowed in a cedar chest that I've owned since 1992. It all looks like it just came out of an LL Bean mailer. I've accumulated even more from time to time as chachke on winter carmaker media trips. My cedar chest of winter finery runneth over.

Yep, it was stunning!
Because of all the gear required for shooting segments of on these trips, I already need to drag along a bag large enough I must check it. So, I was spared agonizing over taking just a couple of things that would fit in a carry-on, or stepping up to a large bag and taking a bunch of rarely used duds. Even then, though, winter apparel is heavy and thick. I was still forced to pick and choose among my collection of cold-temp gear.

My invite to this event was late in arriving. Actually, I received it after the registration deadline. GMC made room for me on the final wave of media, but the tardiness resulted in problems with booking flights. Telluride and Montrose are the local airports; however, both are small, offering few flights in and out. Delta, my airline of choice, has limited service into Montrose, but those flights were all booked.

I don't like flying across time zones on airlines on which I have no clout, but I was forced to fly United out and American back. Not only did I have to pony up $25 each way for my checked bag, but I was denied all the courtesies of being a status flyer on Delta. I felt like the Irish on the Titanic. (I'm sure if my plane went down in the water somewhere, the supply of life vests would have run out long before they reached row 29, where I sat.) Before boarding the first plane, I downloaded several episodes of a TV series from Netflix on my iPad for the trip, and made the best of it. Oh, the humanity. 

One of our modes of transportation to dinner the first evening.
Telluride and its surrounding area are absolutely gorgeous this time of year. GMC bunked us at the Lumiere Hotel. I probably couldn't locate it again if you put a gun to my head. Ideal for the witness-protection program, it's one of a gaggle of look-alike lodgings packed around the base of some mountain in Telluride. I probably heard the mountain's name, but it's lost on me now. Quite beautiful in its own right, though, Lumiere was an ideal jumping off point for the trip's activities.

On the first night, GMC loaded us on one of the enclosed gondolas going up the mountain. At the first stop, we degondola'd and transferred to an open sleigh pulled by a snowcat. On up the mountain we climbed to the Gorrono Ranch. After drinks at an outdoor saloon, we adjourned inside for a terrific dinner. Reversing the process, we returned to the hotel in time for a libation or two in the hotel's well-stocked Bijou Bar.

The updated GMC Sierra 2500 HD Denali was the star of the show. We received a brief introduction to some of its finer points and specifications at a presentation our first morning. We then paired up, mounted up and drove the trucks to Paradox, CO for lunch.

Qualifying the Sierra HD as updated is its next-generation Duramax 6.6-liter turbo-diesel. You could spend a day going over the Denali versions we drove with a magnifying glass and a tape measure, and not find enough changes to warrant the search, save the re-engineered engine and refined Allison 1000 six-speed automatic tranny. Oh, and there's a functional hood scoop now, too. But, hey, in the world of full-size pickups, changes are few and far between. In this case, taking the Duramax up a notch or two more than qualifies as a major upgrade. 

Our intrepid little group of snowmobilers.
GMC managed to devote a four-page press release to the diesel's many improvements. Even I was a little blurry eyed by the end of page two, but here's the CliffsNotes version....

More than 90 percent of the parts in the revised Duramax are new. Peak torque is up 19 percent to 910 lb-ft, and is delivered from 1,500 to 2,850 rpm. You could jerk the bicuspid out of a Tyrannosaurus Rex with that much grunt. Horsepower is up 12 percent to a class-leading 445 hp. A variable vane turbo (Don't ask.) delivers better engine braking and helps with a 35-percent reduction in emissions. Extra acoustical material around the engine bay hushes noise from that quarter. Hustling engine output to the wheels is a beefier six-speed Allison 1000 automatic transmission. GM isn't talking much about towing limits, but the engineers concentrated on providing safe, effortless and quiet performance at 25,000 lb; so, we'll go with that for the time being. Because the government doesn't measure fuel economy for big trucks, no clue what sort of mileage this bad boy delivers. 

You can get into a Sierra HD for just under $60,000. The Denali versions we drove rang the register north of $70,000.

Cocktail hour before dinner our first evening.
Managing to tape three just3things segments and my standups during the lunch break (I'm wasting away from not being able to eat lunch on these ride-and-drive days.), I was able to take advantage of GMC's offer to snowmobile in the afternoon. I hadn't been on a snowmobile in 15 or 20 years. Pressed for time, we did an abbreviated 90-min route, but what a rush!

For dinner that evening, GMC hauled us back up the mountain in multi-passenger snowcats to Alpino Vino. Situated at nearly 12,000 feet, this 28-capacity restaurant specializes in wine and five-course dinners. It also lays claim to being the highest-elevation restaurant in the U.S. It was quite an experience. It is also the only time in my life that a high altitude has affected me. Halfway through my second glass of wine, I was positively loopy. I wasn't alone, however. Half of our group was struggling to stay awake and upright before the main course arrived.

We skipped the usual after-dinner drinks in the hotel bar. I for one, was more than ready for bed. An uneventful trip home -- albeit in steerage -- was exactly the ideal way to wrap up this Colorado winter adventure.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I'm Knee-Deep in Laptop Hell!

I'm not the kind of guy who has an abundance of patience with technology. I think I'm correct when I say that it's supposed to make our lives easier, right? So, here I am struggling with it and ready to bitch slap an orphan.

I set a series of dominoes falling nearly two weeks ago when I downloaded the latest update of my Corel Videostudio X9 Pro editing program. What a colossal misstep. I haven't been able to edit a video since. I have spent countless hours exchanging e-mails with Corel's customer service and technical service people, while following their instructions to solve the problem. All of it for naught. The program still crashes every time I attempt to string together two edited clips.

Because I had the purchase of a new laptop better suited to edit videos on my to-buy list for 2017 (See last week's blog post here), I decided to go ahead and buy it now, download the latest version of Videostudio (X10) and just start over.

I choose an msi P Series laptop. I did as much research as I was willing to do over two or three days early last week. I know; I have friends who are thinking, why in the hell didn't he buy a Mac? The answer is simple: money! I didn't want to spend $1,200 on a laptop I'd want to replace in three or four years. I work for a living.

I purchased the still-sealed-in-the-box msi from a vendor on ebay. I'd done business with the same vendor before. It was shipped out the next day via UPS. Because I calculated it would arrive while I was in Chicago last week for the auto show, I had the package drop shipped to my closest UPS center for pickup. Retrieving it was the first thing I did Saturday morning.

Returning home from the gym (Despite my scale telling me a different story, I actually still think my daily workouts are accomplishing something.), I was ready to set up my new purchase and get cracking on editing a video or two. There's a knee-slapper. It's 9 a.m. on Sunday and I have yet to even re-install my editing program on the new laptop.

All day yesterday – and I mean, all day – was spent saving documents, photos and videos to my external hard drive. I have judiciously backed up my laptop to this hard drive at least once every two weeks for years only to discover none of it was on the external drive. Well, the recycle bin was with its gazillion bytes of crud, but that was it.

No doubt, if I were at least somewhat computer savvy, I could have done something else, but I wasn't in the mood to do the online research required to shortcut the task of saving the documents I wanted from my previous laptop; so, I went through my directories saving things manually. I began around 10:30 a.m. and finished up around 7:30 p.m. That was Saturday shot to hell.

Here I am on Sunday morning installing some of the things I use on the new laptop and waiting for Corel customer service to open so I can get them to allow me to re-install my X9 before I can purchase and install the X10 upgrade. The $1 million question: Will I actually be editing videos by this afternoon?

It's a mystery.

The next step: How to get my dual monitors working with the msi? So far: no joy.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Last Week I Spent Money As Though I Have It

Why, oh why did I download the latest update for my Corel Videostudio X9 program?
I'm not the kind of guy who makes big purchases without agonizing over them for days, weeks or even months. This goes for house projects, as well as the acquisition of material goodies. I had been noodling over my upstairs bathroom remodel for more than a year when I finally pulled the trigger on that. Although I knew what I wanted and needed to do for months, I didn't put the plan into motion until I accidentally stumbled across a couple of the more expensive components at ridiculously reduced prices. A $289 vanity top and sink for $59? Yep, I'll take it. Time to make the donuts.

I wasn't always so deliberate and reasoned in my spending. For years, I was the king of instant gratification. Waking up one morning a decade ago to find myself wallowing in more than $20,000 of credit-card debt, transformed me into a more reflective consumer. I began considering purchases in terms of needs rather than wants. Of course, I'm a creative guy with an uber capacity for convincing myself a new pair of athletic kicks is a need rather than a want. But, I've significantly tempered my impulse buying. In things financial, I've become annoyingly patient in my twilight years.

If you follow this blog with any degree of dedication – bless your heart and please find a hobby – you know that the preceding two paragraphs must be leading up to a commentary on some recent purchase. You would be correct; two, in fact.

Particularly with things related to my work, creative Russ can be quite innovative at convincing myself an item is a need rather than a want. In addition to a couple of house-remodeling projects on my radar for 2017, I entered the new year with three major purchases queued up for the attention of my meager disposable income: a new(er) smartphone, a new laptop and a new mattress for the master bedroom.

The smartphone and the laptop I can drop into the easier-to-justify, work-related column. Yes, I use my smartphone for personal communications and other assorted bull shitery; but in my industry, social media is the newest shiny ball and even those of us who question its value in marketing new cars, must have the tools to play the game. Anyone who seriously believes that a person tweeting a photo of a new car model with some caption is going to motivate some follower to buy said car is out of his (or her) cotton-pickin' mind. But I digress. 

Yep, I do love the larger keyboard on the iPhone 6.
I am always an iPhone generation behind. I bought a refurbished example of the 5S when the iPhone 6 launched a couple of years ago. When the 7 launched, I began watching ebay for bargains on the 6. Last week I found one for $199. I bought it. I fully expect the photos to be better. I also hoped the significantly larger keyboard would reduce my frustration and stress when typing insipid captions for the expected Instagram posts on the car events I attend. Receiving the phone on Friday, I was out bright and early on Saturday taking it to a local ATT branch for activation. After using it for something shy of 24 hours, I must admit, the larger keyboard alone is worth $199.

In this tale of the cash-register tape, the iPhone is the more frivolous, less-considered purchase. In fact, had I realized when I ordered it that I would be forced to buy a new laptop in the same week, I would have back burnered the iPhone purchase. I would have struggled with the smaller keyboard and screen for another six months. In reality, it was more a want than a need.

Here's the 411 on the laptop. My current Toshiba is at least four years old. It still functions perfectly well – albeit rather ponderously – for 80 percent of what I need. More than a week ago, however, when I opened my Corel video-editing program, a message flashed that Corel had an update that I should download. I did. And, I haven't been able to edit a video since.

For eight days, I was in daily e-mail contact with a Corel tech-support person. I assume Kevin is actually Deepankar because I would e-mail him at 10 in the morning after I attempted his most recent suggested fix, and he would respond with the next suggestion at 2 or 3 a.m. the following morning. On the positive side, he was relentless in providing suggested fixes. And those suggestions contained very detailed steps for accomplishing them. He took nothing for granted in terms of my technical illiteracy. He didn't begin his instructions with step 3, so I had to research how to complete steps 1 and 2. Nope, he walked me through each and every step.

After a week of this, however, we were wading deeper and deeper into the weeds. He had me setting up new administrator accounts on my laptop and flipping switches on, what I assume were, basic operating programs. Nothing worked.

Because acquiring a new laptop was on my 2017-purchase list, I decided to bite the bullet and move up to a computer better suited for video editing. I won't go into the details of this purchase until I have a chance to work with it for a few days. That won't happen until next weekend.

Bottom line: In week 5 of the new year, I satisfied two of my big, planned 2017 purchases. I'm not happy about this. There can always be a shortage of gigs when earning a living in the gig economy. I no longer take even my best client relationships for granted. Here today and gone tomorrow is pretty much how it works.

So, I will be a bit jittery for the next several months until I get these items paid off. Home remodeling projects will need to wait until the spring. And, as for a new mattress, I can live with the one I have until the fall, or sleep in the guestroom. Adapt and overcome is now my mantra when avoiding taking on new debt.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Most of My Efforts to Be Productive Last Week Were Stymied

I'm not the kind of guy who would rather sit around than do something. Well, that's a sweeping statement that isn't entirely true. Sometime between 4 and 7 p.m. every day, I power down my PC, climb the steps to my living room and crank back in my recliner for an evening's TV watching. Even that statement isn't completely true. Two or three afternoons a week my PC is dark by lunch time as I redirect my efforts to tackle a house project. But you get the point: I do sit around most evenings – if not at home, then entertaining a bartender somewhere.

This past week was alarmingly quiet, disconcerting even, in regard to paying work. Planning on being in Portland, Maine with Dodge for the Challenger GT media event for the first three days at the week's front end, I had budgeted my work to have those days free. Weather of some sort had Delta canceling my original flight out of Greenville-Spartanburg to Laguardia and then my backup flight was canceled, as well. The best Delta could muster were backup, backup flights that wouldn't have gotten me to my destination until mid afternoon on Tuesday. Because that was the driving day for the event, there wasn't much sense in going.

Suddenly I found myself at home with three open days. It was, until I considered the impact on my earnings or lack thereof, glorious. I basically did nothing but go to the gym on Monday and Tuesday. At the request of my Autotrader editor on Monday, I did write a short news piece and submitted it. That took me all of 30 minutes. Otherwise, all was quiet on the Greenville front.

By Wednesday, though, I was boring myself and had to do something productive. I wrote a car review of the Chevy Cruze Hatchback in the morning (You can find it here.), and installed the final few pieces of baseboard in the upstairs bathroom in the afternoon. I had been holding off on the baseboard chore because it meant hauling my power miter saw from the shed to the carport and working outside. Most of last week featured Chamber of Commerce weather. With the sun shinning and temps in the mid 70s, I had no reason not to drag out the miter saw. Nearly three hours and sixteen cuts later, I had installed the less than six feet of remaining baseboard. Oh, I suddenly remembered why I had been putting off that project: 16 flipping cuts!

Thursday I decided to edit one of the half dozen or so unedited just3things videos I have stacked up. Once every two or three months when I spool up my Corel Videostudio editing program, I get a message to download a new update to the X9 Ultimate version I use. I always click on the “download” icon, wait for 15 seconds for the download to do its thing and then push on with my editing project without incident. Not so this time. The download seemed to complete and I began work on a video. With the second or third edit, the program froze and then closed itself. This repeated for another three or four attempts. Most of my Thursday was spent trying to overcome the glitch. I finally gave up, and shut down my PC.

On Friday, I did everything I could think of to get Corel working. I even went back and reset my PC to the day before I downloaded the update. Nothing worked. I finally decided to uninstall and then reinstall X9. I found my Corel license agreement with my number, logged on to Corel and found, to my horror, that there doesn't seem to be any path to reinstall the program. Contacting Corel customer service about the issue, I'm still waiting for a reply. Fingers crossed that they reach out on Monday.

Traditionally Saturdays are my do-nothing-without-remorse day. Some Saturdays, I don't even power up my PC. I go to the gym, lounge around, watch a movie or two in the afternoon and think about dinner. (Wow, maybe I sit around more than I think.) This past Saturday, however, I planned on doing some long-overdue cleaning/rearranging in my work area.

I was in and out of the gym by 9:30 a.m. Checking my phone for e-mails before leaving the gym parking lot, I was surprised by a reminder that the deadline for an Autotrader story was on Monday at 10 a.m. What story? Autotrader uses a third-party outfit to receive and accept story proposals, as well as receive the story once finished. This entity notifies me when Autotrader has accepted a proposal and alerts me to the deadline. Then, two days before the deadline, it sends a reminder. I received the reminder that morning, but had never seen the original notice of acceptance. Scrolling back a week, I couldn't locate the assignment-accepted e-mail. For whatever reason, the original acceptance notification never came. Spilled milk. I suddenly had an assignment due on Monday morning.

Rather than beginning my office clean-up project when I returned home, I used the two hours remaining before lunch to knock out and submit the story. I didn't actually begin working on the office until about 2:00.

I pity the sanitation worker tasked with dragging this thing full of books out to the truck.

As with every home project I undertake, my office clean up exceeded the time I had budgeted for it. I had three bookcases in my office crammed with books, press kits, office supplies and other assorted flotsam accumulated over the past five or six years since my last big clean up. Feeling like Cinderella as I carted armload after armload of junk up the stairs and out to my garbage can, all I could think about was hunkering down in my recliner with a movie and a glass of wine.

The biggest part of the chore was moving one of the bookcases out of my work space up to the upstairs spare bedroom. As part of that project, I decided to move the remaining two bookcases to different locations in my office. It meant unloading all three bookcases. Not only do I now have roughly 70 novels that look like they just came out of the Amazon box stacked up on the floor, I carted shelves of crap out to my garbage can. The books must go, but I can't bring myself to just pitch, what must be, $1,500-$2,000 in books. Next week I'll reach out to the library and see if I can donate them.

I did toss all manner of car-related books, manuals, press kits and so forth that I hadn't used in years. I wish I lived closer to some of my auto-journalist peers because I'm sure someone would have taken a lot of this stuff off my hands. I'm not a saver nor a hoarder. I have little sentimentality for things I don't use. But even I felt a little guilty about a few of the items I pitched. My thinking: Either I toss this stuff now or some poor, unsuspecting family member tosses it after I shuffle off this rock.

I worked until around 6:30 and still have a few hours of work to finish up. But the garbage can was filled to the brim – no doubt whichever sanitation worker attempts to wheel this can out to the truck will be flirting with a workman's comp claim – and must weigh 200 pounds. I'm going to struggle to pull it up the driveway to the street for pickup on Monday.

So, in a week in which I had little real work to do, I did manage to occupy myself. I always do.