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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hot Flashes, Wet Spots and Tacos: Just Another Family Outing

Last evening much of my sister's family gathered at my favorite Mexican restaurant: Sadie's of Albuquerque.

I've written about Sadie's before. The food is excellent and the drinks potent. Two or three margaritas will have you sputtering Chinese.

Thirteen of us sat around a long table in the main dining room. Usually we are banished to a room in the back of the restaurant designed for large families. Kids run amuck as unaffected parents ignore them. It's like having dinner at Chucke Cheese's.

Last night was a treat as we sat among the general population. There were kids in the room, but, for the most part, they were at one- or two-family tables and under control. We could actually have conversations and hear one another. Wow, what a concept!

My sister's oldest grand daughter has a two-year old. It should be no surprise that he is a handful. He was in the hands of a sitter last night -- a situation as rare as a two-headed chicken. This not only allowed his mother to eat a hot meal in peace, we were all able to chow down without interruption. Usually assorted family members take turns attempting to wrangle him. Anyone who knows me won't have a problem believing that I am not among the folks attempting to keep him entertained.

Sadie's has become a family tradition for my visits. It is now a part of our Christmas celebration as well.

As dinner winds down, we top off our Sadie's evenings with some shots. For the past couple of years, most of us have chosen Hot Flashes as our shot. It involves sugar, lemon, bitters and Tuaca. For the uninitiated, Tuaca is an Italian orange-based liqueur along the lines of Grand Marnier, only a little sweeter.

We decided at our last Sadie's dinner that we needed a new shot to finish off future outings. I was tasked with researching and, of course, taste testing a new shot.  I can't imagine why they chose me.

Serious about my mandate, I relentlessly pursued a new family shot. This involved intensive experimentation. I am nothing if not thorough.

On my most recent trip into Greenville's Soby's last week, I asked the bar manager for her recommendation. The only qualifier was that it couldn't contain tequila. We all have someone in our sphere who has gotten sick on tequila and refuses to touch it again. A nephew fills that role in our family.

I had found a shot called a Wet Spot (one of a number of Wet Spot shots out there) that I really liked; but because it's made of Baileys and tequila, it was vetoed. Drat!

After some thought, Soby's bar manager wrote out the ingredients for the Applesauce shot. Containing Goldschlager, Apple Pucker and pineapple juice, it's a festive little liquid treat that I determined would please the entire family. I ran it by one of my nieces, who served as my sounding board as I slogged through my research; she agreed that it would be the ideal after-dinner shot.

As we waited to be seated for last night's feast, I decided to double check with the bartender that Sadie's had all the required ingredients. Much to my dismay, there wasn't a drop of Apple Pucker in the joint.

Our fall-back position was Wet Spot shots with my nephew getting a Kamikaze. My original sense was correct: Wet Spots were received with enthusiasm. So everyone lived happily ever after.

Because I promised her I'd put her name in this blog, Amy is the niece who served as my sounding board. Amy, Amy, Amy….

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Lazy Week in New Mexico or How to Nap Away a Vacation

As much as I would like to tell you what the weather is like in New Mexico, you can know as much as I do by watching the Weather Channel. That is to say, I haven't been out of my sister's house in two days. I haven't so much as looked out a window.

Historically, I channel my caveman whenever I visit my sister. I nap, I read, I over eat, and I soak up hearth and home.

By its very nature, Christmas is more family intensive than my visits other times of the year. This Christmas, however, is more family based than most Christmases. After the family being together on Christmas, the day after, all of the local family members gathered here to celebrate my sister's birthday that was actually Dec. 21.

Tonight, this same collection of relatives will converge on my favorite Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque for dinner. This has become, not only a Christmas tradition, but a regular part of my sporadic visits throughout the year.

Tomorrow night we are going to the home of one of sister's daughters to celebrate her husband's birthday.

All of this celebrating and partying is tough duty, but somehow I will rise to meet the challenge, despite it interrupting my napping. As you may or may not know, I'm not a professional, but I am a gifted amateur.

I haven't been totally ignoring my work responsibilities while vacationing. Between eating everything that isn't nailed down and snatching catnaps, I revised an assignment for my largest client. Today, I will punch up a piece I submitted to another client last week.

One negative -- and there are a lot of them -- of being a freelancer is that if I'm not working, I'm not making any money. I have another project I should be working on, but I may not so much as crack it until I get home.

In the meantime, I'll work to finish reading the second book of this trip. I wonder what's for lunch.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Story: A Gender-Confused Santa?

WARNING: The word Christmas is used liberally in this blog.

I'm sitting in my sister's living room in Los Lunas, New Mexico as I write this. It's Christmas Eve. In my family we still call the holiday, Christmas. It's not the Winter Holiday or Winter Solstice or some other politically correct nonsense mandated by liberals in an effort to remove the Christmas story from the season while attempting to make Christmas appear more inclusive.

But I digress…

It was about 10 degrees when I awoke this morning. There is still two inches or so of snow in the yard thanks to a rare snow storm that shut down much of the state on Thursday. Ideal Christmas weather, particularly if you are safely hunkered down all warm and cozy where you need to be.

I typically spend Christmas -- there's that dreaded word again! -- with my sister and her family. I've probably only missed two Christmases with them in the past 28 years. It's part of my Christmas tradition.

It was in the late 80s and I lived in South Florida. I made my usual flight that took me from West Palm Beach to Dallas and then on to Albuquerque. Well before 9/11, people greeting arriving passengers could still do so in the gate area.  

I stepped off the plane and walked down the jetway. As I entered the gate area, I noticed a Santa Claus greeting people as they came out of the jetway. He was busy with a couple of little kids and I attempted circled around them. Suddenly Santa broke away from the kids and tried to cut me off. I continued moving to my right with Santa pacing me.

With arms wide open, he was attempting to hug me. I finally reached the rows of chairs, changed directions and tried to get around Santa's other side. I just remember thinking, there is a gay Santa at the Albuquerque airport and he's zeroed in on me! Suddenly he didn't care about passing out candy to the arriving children, instead had become obsessed with me.


Then like a life preserver tossed to a drowning man, I heard my sister's voice. I turned and spotted her among the crowd. She was surrounded by other family members. One was a niece who was operating a video camera. My sister was dressed as Mrs. Claus. She was shouting, "It's Dean; it's Dean!" Dean being my brother-in-law.

Yes, my sister and brother-in-law had dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus. They came to the airport a couple of hours before my arrival and passed out candy to kids before coming to my arrival gate to greet me.

It will remain one of my favorite Christmas memories.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rain Drives Me Into a Movie Theater: My Take on Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Yesterday I did something I don't do very often and went to the movies.

It was a nasty, rainy day in Greenville; I had out-of-town company; and I decided to hang out in the dark for three hours.

Having read the book, I was Jonesing to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I wasn't disappointed.

As a guy, I didn't mind the couple of brief glimpses of nudity nor the sporadic violence. Warning, though, there is a rather graphic rape scene that isn't for the feint of heart. Otherwise, it could almost be a PG13.

At two and a half hours, it didn't seem particularly long as I was watching it. This despite the fact the first 30 minutes was a bit slow.

I never saw the subtitled version. As much as I wanted to see this book as a film, I can't abide subtitles. I know people who have seen it and raved about the spot-on performance of the actor portraying the female lead character. I thought the English version was pretty spot-on, but can't make a comparison.

There aren't any laughs or much else that will have you feeling uplifted as you exit the theater. However, it's a good way to burn up a few hours on a miserable afternoon.

I'm looking forward to seeing the second book make its film debut.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Shout-out to the Steelers as I wrap Up a Florida Boondoggle

Enough bellyaching about the Steelers!

James Harrison hasn't endeared himself to anyone this year; me included. It was a cheap hit on Colt McCoy and Harrison was rightfully suspended for a game -- what, as it turns out, is a very significant game to the Steelers playoff positioning.

Perhaps James will finally get himself under control. He's been fined enough this year to pay for a kid's college education. Maybe the suspension will finally hit home. It certainly will have had a major impact if Pittsburgh loses tonight.

Three weeks into this season I was beyond convincing that the Steelers would be, in any way, not just heading to the playoffs, but contending for the No. 1 spot in the AFC. They must, however, get past San Francisco tonight -- a tall order, particularly with Roethlisberger hurt, as well as Pouncey and Harrison out. But as one of my Steelers buddies said, "Tis the season for miracles." I believe; I believe; I believe…

Yesterday was certainly a day of miracles. The only thing that would have made it a clean sweep is if the despicable Patriots had lost. There is very little in life that gives me as much pleasure as watching that snot Brady throwing a tantrum on the sideline. I wish Denver had been able to reach deep and hand New England another loss. Oh well, life is full of disappointments.

I won't get to see much of tonight's game no matter what happens. I have a flight tomorrow out of West Palm Beach to Atlanta. That means a wake-up call. Then I have the two-and-a-half-hour slog from Atlanta's airport home. I have out-of-town company arriving tomorrow afternoon, and all of the entertaining that entails. No rest for the weary…

In the meantime, the weather in FL is near perfect. It's a bit windy, but otherwise gorgeous. It must be somewhere…

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves: A December Break in Florida

I'm basking in the cloudy, rainy skies of South Florida. It's been nasty here since my plane touched down Thursday night/Friday morning. Actually things look pretty good today and should remain so for the balance of my visit.

I am being dispossessed today. I'm staying with friends, but out-of-town relatives are arriving at PBI this morning necessitating the transfer of my luggage and me to the home of other friends.

Ah, the life of a Gypsy….

Mostly unstructured, this trip has been lots of lazing around punctuated with lunches at Asian restaurants, copious amounts of wine and even a turn or two on the dance floor.

Last night I attended what amounted to an ice skating recital of the daughter of some friends. Not the way a hip, man-about-town guy like me normally spends a Saturday evening -- usually I'm sitting at home eating spaghetti and watching rented movies. The ice rink, however, sold beer -- $10 for a bucket of five long necks -- so we made a party out of it. It was followed by a real Holiday/birthday party.

Finally getting a little sun, and a cookout with friends are on today's agenda.

So much to do and only one of me….  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Democracy on the Highway: One Man, One Car, One Vote

I made the 160-mile slog from Greenville, SC to Atlanta's airport this morning for an over-night trip to Austin for a Chevrolet Malibu hybrid ride-and-drive event.

As I motored -- when you write about cars for a living, you can use motor as a verb without sounding too much like a pretentious wonk -- across I-85, I pulled up behind a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla putzing along at about 65 mph in a 70 mph zone. That this clown was going 5 mph below the speed limit on an expressway wasn't so much the issue as his doing it in the left, passing lane.

Was he passing anyone? Well, no he wasn't.

He poked along for probably six or seven miles -- for about two of those miles it was with me flashing my brights behind him. For much of this time he was pacing the very last wheel of an 18 wheeler in the right lane. You could have drawn a straight line from the back edge of the 18 wheeler's trailer to his shoulder.

What finally inspired this fool to speed up a little was that the 18 wheeler came up behind a slower moving truck and started to pass. The Corolla had been off the truck's trailer for so long that the truck driver apparently forgot he was there.

I'm sure the Corolla's driver needed a clean pair of tightie whities before it was all over with as the 18 wheeler and Corolla swerved back and forth for about 5 seconds. The Corolla driver finally accelerated enough to get past the truck, but still didn't move into the right lane. He dropped back to 65 mph and continued cruising. I took advantage of a break in the right-lane traffic to pass the Corolla on its right and get around it. The 20 or so cars backed up behind me were not quite as lucky.

Why do some people insist on plodding along in the left lane when they aren't going fast enough to pass most right-hand traffic? Do they not notice a line of cars behind them, or is it that they just don't care?

Why are the cars they are usually driving some old P.O.S. covered with dings and peeling paint, rolling along on a donut spare tire?

I have a theory.

I call it the Populist Left Lane Corollary.

I believe a vehicle on the highway is the great equalizer. No matter your station in life, the depth of your assets, the size of your bank account, your good looks or lack thereof, or the cost of the vehicle you are driving, you have the same rights on the highway as every other motorist.

That rich guy in his Bentley or Mercedes-Benz 500S has no more right to his little piece of the road than an unemployed ditch digger chugging around in an old Dodge Cornet that he borrowed from this brother-in-law.

In other words, the highway is one place in life where anybody who is usually a nobody is always somebody.

They putz along in the passing lane holding up traffic because they can, and there's not one damn thing anyone can do about it.

Regardless of what kind of rolling dung pile they are driving or how many fast-food bags and wrappers are heaped in the backseat floor or what sort of sticky goo covers the seats or how much black exhaust billows out of the tailpipe, they can drive in any lane at pretty much whatever speed they can muster. And, by God, nothing is going to move them.

It's just a theory….

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tis the Season: GM and Costco Team Up to Make Us a Deal

Everyone loves a deal. If you are a member of Costco, you can get a great deal on a GM truck or SUV and a $500 gift card from Costco to boot. Sounds suspiciously like a deal to me. I've included the highlights in a short piece for Here's the link:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Steelers Will Be the Death of Me

The best and the worst thing about this Sunday is that the Steelers aren't playing.  It's the best thing because I don't have to worry about suffering a stroke as the offense squanders the efforts of one of the best defenses in the NFL to bungle its way to a one-score win or loss; and the worst thing because Sundays just seem empty without Steelers football -- even in July!

I totally missed the game this week because it was aired on the NFL Network. NFL network? I could have gone to a watering hole somewhere to watch, but Thursday night was my first night at home in a week and I wanted to stay in. Moreover, the Steelers played the Browns, the punching bag of the AFC North. It should have been a slaughter.

That the Steelers offense managed to fumble its way into keeping Cleveland in the game until well into the fourth quarter, made me all the happier I didn't have to try to keep from popping my cork for more than three quarters. How in the world do you get to the 2-yard line with a first down and not punch it in against the Browns? The Browns for the love of God! I am mystified and profoundly worried for the playoffs.

So, let's talk Steelers and the playoffs. It seems at least somewhat unlikely that the Steelers will win its division. The Ravens would have to seriously implode for that to happen. After they skate through their game with the Colts today --the score is 17-3 Ravens as I write this, the Ravens will have the same win-loss record as the Steelers with the rankings advantage of having beat the Steelers twice. Unless you count Cincy, the Ravens don't have a serious opponent left in the regular season; the Steelers still must get past San Francisco.

More than likely the Steelers will get into the playoffs by way of a Wildcard berth -- unless, of course, they implode. Even if they lose to San Francisco, they should still be able to stumble their way to a win over Cleveland and St. Louis.  

Steelers won the 2006 Super Bowl from a Wildcard spot. I don't care how they get to the playoffs as long at they are there. They don't seem to care how they get there either.

In any event, it will all be over in less than 60 days.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Plan Looked Good on Paper: Some Things You Simply Can't Control

I made a quick detour on my way home from Florida and the Scion iQ event last night. I flew in and out of Atlanta on this trip. After landing, I made the 30-mile trek up to Marietta where the Greater Atlanta Automobile Media Association (GAAMA) was hosting its annual holiday party.

Never one to miss a party, I arranged my flight's arrival into Atlanta to provide me with just the right amount of time to land, taxi to the gate, make the journey from my arrival gate to baggage claim, retrieve my bag, get to Park N Fly Plus, pick up the GMC Terrain SLT I had booked for this week, and then slug my way through the city to reach Marietta, making my grand appearance at the GAAMA gala.

I allowed nearly two hours for all of this.

So far, so good.

Regrettably, a couple of factors escaped inclusion in my planning.

I didn't realize until I was boarding the plane in West Palm that I wasn't dressed for a party. Even an automotive media group has the basic standards of propriety. Here I was decked out in sneakers, beach pants and a tee-shirt from the Blue Star Brewery in San Antonio. The temperature was in the 80s when I left Florida, but in the 40s in Atlanta.

So there I was in my underwear in the men's room at Park N Fly Plus with my suitcase balanced on the sink trying to fish the appropriate shirt, pants, boots and sport coat from it. Removing shoes and socks then putting on socks and boots without your bare feet touching the floor is no small challenge. I'm a guy; I know what goes on in public men's rooms; I'm not putting my feet on that floor!

Having managed to don more appropriate attire, I got in the Terrain and headed out, only 20 minutes behind schedule.

Inputting the address of the Hilton Marietta Conference Center where the party was located into the Terrain's Nav unit scrubbed another five minutes off my time. I also had to set the Terrain's outboard mirrors, tune the stereo and adjust the seat. My watch's second hand continued its relentless sweep around the dial.

Finally underway, in my planning I had not paid proper respect to Atlanta's rush-hour traffic into which I was miserably mired. Rather than try to take the direct route through downtown on I-75, I hit I-285 in the hope of avoiding at least some of the slug-like flow.

For the most part the traffic kept moving, but not as rapidly as the hands on my watch. Coming over a small hill, all I could see for miles was the red glow of blinking brake lights engaging.

North of the city I did merge onto I-75 and was making somewhat better time, but it was all relative.

GAAMA thought it would be a nice gesture and a bit of community service for all the party's attendees to bring an unwrapped toy to contribute to the Marines Toys for Tots. Because I was traveling, I hadn't purchased a toy ahead of time. My suitcase had already been stuffed to capacity.

Until now, I hadn't really thought much about the toy, figuring I'd just buy one between the airport and the party. Not terribly good planning, but workable. The issue, though, where to buy a toy? I am now within five miles of the party and have yet to pass a Target, Walmart or much of anything else.

Now I'm panicking. I'm having serious Christmas panic. Despite the temperature hovering around 40, I break out in a sweat. I'm trying to pay attention to the strident voice of the chick from the Nav unit shouting out directions, keep an eye on traffic around me to avoid bending the Terrain and look for somewhere, anywhere to buy a toy.

As the female Nav voice announces that my destination is 600 feet ahead on the right, I pass a CVS drug store. I whipped into the lot, jumped from the Terrain and dashed into the store.

Its collection of toys seemed to be mostly $9 radio-controlled cars. How good can a $9 radio-controlled car possibly be? Refusing to abandon the search, I finally found a doll that looked pretty good. I carried it up to the checkout counter where a smiling clerk rang it up and announced the price.

I was hit with my second bout of panic in 20 minutes. Where was my wallet? Not in this pocket where it usually is. Nope, not there either. Crap! It was in my suitcase still in the pants that I changed out of at the airport.

Thankfully, the store wasn't busy as I dashed back out to the Terrain and retrieved my wallet.

I eventually arrived at the GAAMA gathering about 50 minutes later than planned, but I was nattily attired with a toy in hand.

Just another day in the life of an auto journalist.

Monday, December 5, 2011

South Florida, Crummy Drivers and Good Food: A Quick Trip to Palm Beach County

I am sitting in Florida as I write this. I have a Scion event here on Tuesday and came down a couple of days early, well, because I could.

It was fun watching the Steelers spank the Bengals with fellow Steelers fans. I don't get to do that very often. I also had dinner at the new-and-improved Boston's on the Beach. No longer a beach bar; it has gone the way of most joints on nearby
Atlantic Avenue
and gone up-market. Despite its foo-foo attitude, the food was good and the service attentive.

Today I am heading to my favorite Florida Chinese place for lunch. Too soon to tell about dinner, but Talia's in Boca seems to have the inside track.

Ten minutes after I got behind the wheel of the Lexus CT 200h at Palm Beach International that Lexus provided for this trip, I remembered why I don't miss driving down here. In fact, I hate it.

What happens this time of year is that the Snow Birds begin flocking to South Florida. On the surface, that shouldn't be a big deal. However, most of them are from Canada and New York. Canadian drivers are slow and indecisive; New York drivers as a group are rude and impatient.

No the real problem with Snow Birds is that a majority of them are old. Well even that they are old isn't the fundamental problem, but it contributes to the bigger issue, which is that you have people driving streets they don't know, in rental cars with which they are unfamiliar.

For some odd reason, they seem to think it's perfectly OK to drive 10 mph looking for whatever restaurant they have decided to descend upon for the early bird special. They drive for blocks and blocks with their turn signal blinking away searching for the $8.95 special.

 Moreover, they blow their horns at the slightest provocation. I can go a week in Greenville, where I live, and not hear one horn honk. In South Florida, you hear them at every intersection. No, really, every intersection.

Best thing to do is to hold up somewhere and avoid the jerks in cars on the street. It's a South Floridian's best defense against obnoxious, hesitant, I-lost-one-of-the-tennis-balls-off-my-walker out-of-state drivers.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bad Moods, P-I-A Editors and a Salute to Kia

I just returned from a Lexus event in Vegas and am shoving off for Florida tomorrow.

I'm jammed for time and in a cranky mood -- too cranky to manage to write anything even remotely entertaining.

What has me so out of sorts? Let's just say I have a client that is ridiculously stupid and leave it at that. Well, no, let me add that I turned in a piece a couple of months ago that I spent about six hours writing. My editor just returned it to me asking for attributions (named sources) for statements along the lines of "the sun will come up tomorrow," and "what goes up must come down." You know, stuff that you don't really need an expert to tell you.

My choice was to put another two or three hours that I don't have right now into the thing chasing around sources and doing a rewrite or kill it. I killed it.

So on that happy note, here's a link to a blog I wrote for about the ever improving Kia:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Table 301 Wine Sale and the Greenville Wine Meetup: A Confluence of Wonderful Wines and Good People

Once upon a time I attended all sorts of wine tastings.

A number of wine sellers in South Florida would sporadically host tastings throughout the year.

Throwing consistently the best tastings -- and I was in a position to know -- was a small, privately owned liquor store in Delray Beach called The Good Life. Its once-a-month tastings were legendary among wine lovers in the area.

Unfortunately, the owner grew tired of the world of retail and sold the store. She continued hosting tastings at her home on a less grand scale, but still supported by the wine distributors with which she had developed relationships.

I have never found anything that came close to The Good Life tastings.

Until last night...

I am a member of the Greenville Wine Meetup, but don't get to attend very many of its numerous events because of my travel schedule.

Last night I was lucky enough to be around for the annual Table 301 Wine Sale that is done in conjunction with the Wine Meetup.

Held at Devereaux's just off of Main Street in Greenville, the Table 301 Wine Sale was a tasting of 90 or so wines and beers, which were all available for purchase at discounted prices.

I was both surprised by the caliber of the wines offered and their remarkably discounted prices.

Probably half the selections were $50 or less -- some in the $10 and $12 range -- and the other half were over $50. I could have spent the evening at the tasting table featuring Silver Oak, as well as the Kenwood Jack London Zinfandel and Jack London Cab.

I felt like Oliver Twist as I held out my empty glass in shaking hands and begged, "Please, sir. I want some more."

For those in a buying mood, the wines were offered at discounts of 15 to 20 percent from the low prices found at, say, Total Wine. Not bad.

Getting in the door only cost about 12 bucks.

I was more than impressed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tomato, Tomahto: Fruit, Vegetable? I Don't Know....

I did something this week that I don't believe I've ever done before: I bought a tomato. Not just one tomato, mind you, but four of them!

That I had never bought a tomato shouldn't be a revelation to anyone who knows me. That I finally did, no doubt, is a major surprise to those same people.

I know it's odd, but I don't like tomatoes. It's not odd that I don't like them, but that I like stuff with tomatoes in it like ketchup, tomato soup and, of course, red sauce for pasta and pizza, yet don't like tomatoes is odd .

I like eating tomatoes when I don't have to look them in the eye. If they are crushed, mushed or pureed, I'm down with them.

But I don't eat them sliced, cubed, boiled or fried.

I have a good friend who would rather eat a fried green tomato than almost anything else, but he has yet to drag me to the dark side. If I were going to eat a tomato in some form where it still looks like a tomato, fried and green would probably be the way I'd do it. Maybe that will be my New Year's resolution.

So what prompted my tomato-buying spree? I did buy four of them after all. Once a month or so, I make a batch of red meat sauce for spaghetti. I make enough that I can freeze four or so containers that each has enough for one meal.

For more than 30 years I have been using canned crushed tomatoes in the recipe. My Italian friends are probably rolling their eyes as they read this, but hey, I'm a Swede from the South; what the hell do I know about Italian?

Recently someone gave me a small food processor. I decided to give making the recipe with fresh crushed tomatoes a shot. I usually also use processed garlic. I bought fresh this time around. I always use fresh onion, but chopping it up in the processor is a whole lot quicker and less painless than chopping it by hand.

The end result was indeed a better sauce. It was a bit more expensive to make, but the improvement in flavor was worth the extra investment.

That was this week's adventure in cooking and vegetable shopping. Are tomatoes vegetables or is it one of those things you think is a vegetable, but is really a fruit or mineral or whatever?

It hurts my head to think about all of this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ford's Oyster House in Greenville: Another Lesson in Never Letting Your Dumbest Employee Answer the Phone

It's Black Friday!

I couldn't care less, but it seems to be a big deal to some folks. I know people who headed out at midnight last night just to get into the spirit of the season. If I need help getting into the spirit, I'll watch "It's a Wonderful Life" thank-you very much.

Getting mob-rushed by a herd of crazed bargain hunters at 1 AM isn't my idea of getting into the spirit.

But here's the real topic at hand today....

Yesterday was a disaster. Without question, it was the most miserable Thanksgiving I've ever spent -- and I've been around for a bunch of them.

Here's the crux of the problem: There are regions of the country where you can go out for Thanksgiving dinner and regions where you can't. Although there were restaurants in Greenville offering some sort of Thanksgiving buffet, basically the city is shut down for the day.

Greenville is a Thanksgiving-at-home sort of city.

We could have gone to one of a handful of restaurants between, say, 11 AM and 3 PM and had a very decent dinner. Cost at these places averaged just under $30 -- a little pricey for turkey and stuffing even if it was "all you can eat."

The cost was a moot point, though, because some of our group decided 3 PM was too early a cut off. They wanted to play golf in the morning.

So far our criteria included a dinner price somewhere south of $25 and a late-afternoon-early-evening timetable.

One of the key players in our little band of four holiday orphans decided another key criteria for choosing a Thanksgiving dinner venue was the ability to watch football. This, of course, required a bank of TV screens spread across whatever restaurant we chose, further limiting our options.

Okay, so dinner had to cost less than $25, be available after 4 PM and be in a place with a lot of TV screens.

All four of us are from South Florida. In South Florida, nearly every joint is open every day come rain, shine, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Thanksgiving turkey. I remember having Christmas-day brunch with a bunch of friends in South Florida the only Christmas I didn't go to my sister's for the holidays. That's Christmas brunch at a restaurant!

Finding a location for Thanksgiving dinner in South Florida, regardless of the number of qualifiers invoked, would be as easy as getting into your car and stopping at the first restaurant you see.

We recognize Greenville is different -- and believe me, most of the time I praise that difference -- but we had no idea how different. Three years ago we ate Thanksgiving dinner out in Greenville and had a great dinner at a wonderful restaurant. Sadly, it is no longer in business. Little did we know what a rare bird Thanksgiving turkey is in Greenville.

Compounding our situation was our pre-Thanksgiving search for a dinner spot was cut prematurely short when some idiot at Ford's Oyster House told our researcher that they would be open and serving a Thanksgiving buffet beginning at 4 PM. Come on down; no reservation is necessary!

I wasn't thrilled with the idea of a Cajun Thanksgiving, but was willing to give it a shot.

However, when we attempted to go at 4 PM, we were turned away. Yes, they were serving a Thanksgiving buffet between 4 and 6 PM, but it was for a private function. Ford's would open to the public at 6, but the kitchen would be closed.

I halfway expected the manager, or whomever it was we spoke to, to spread his arms and say with a big smile, "Hey, face it, you screwed up; you trusted us."

As with many businesses, evidently Ford's Oyster House leaves answering the phone to the newest and least knowledgeable employee. In any event, we were screwed.

The BBQ joint Sticky Fingers was open, but when we attempted to enter there, we were told only people with reservations could be seated. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that the place was empty -- completely and totally empty. Zero, zip, zilch people were in the place. It was scheduled to be open for another 45 minutes and we couldn't even get a beer at the totally empty bar.

A couple of other places downtown were scheduled to open at 6 PM. We hung around downtown waiting for the magic hour. Finally, we were granted admittance to Wild Wing only to learn that it was only serving from its late-night bar menu.

My Thanksgiving dinner, that I cooled my heels on the streets of Greenville for two hours for, consisted of fried chicken fingers, potato chips and beer.

Never again....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving With A Little Spice

I like Thanksgiving, but living a couple of thousand miles away from most of my family means I don't get too carried away with the turkey holiday.

In fact, I have Florida friends who are in town and we intend to go out for dinner and football. I'm not optimistic about the joint where we are going. I like the place, but I'm not sure about its suitability for Thanksgiving. It's a relatively new place downtown called Ford's Oyster House.

See what I mean about the "Thanksgiving" part of it? I'm not a seafood eater to begin with and this place specializes in Cajun. I lived in or around New Orleans for a year or so and never ate so much as a fish stick while I was there.

No, I'm not at all sure about this joint for Thanksgiving. I sure won't take the chance of going there hungry. I'll snack a little before going and if I have to, I'll just tough it out until I get back home to eat.

Not cooking holiday dinner at the Casa Heaps, I haven't had to waste a lot of time planning, food shopping, preparing stuff ahead of time or any other task associated with throwing a Thanksgiving dinner.

No, my time has been spent this week doing chores around the house. The temperature has been rather moderate and I've been taking advantage of that.

I've replaced the kitchen and guest-bathroom faucets, I've done the final raking and mulching of leaves, cleaned out the gutters, painted a bunch of the outside trim and even put up outside Christmas lights.

Busy, busy, busy....

Also not stressing over a big family dinner, I have my evening free tonight to attend the weekly meeting of the Peddler Wednesday-Night Irregulars. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night, nor the threat of Cajun turkeys can keep a serious Irregular from the Wednesday gathering.

On that note, have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Man Versus Faucet: A South Carolina Cage Match

It was a death-defying struggle of monumental proportions. I am speaking, of course, of my toe-to-toe South Carolina cage match with my kitchen faucet.

A few months ago my kitchen faucet stopped functioning properly. The only way I had sufficient water pressure to rinse some eggs off a plate was to use the spray gun; but even when the spray gun was off, the water only trickled out of the faucet as though the spray gun was on.

I've put up with this because, well, I'm lazy; that and I have dreams about redoing the kitchen and I just hate to spend money on something  that I might replace when I do a full-blown redo. That's the same reason why my front yard looks like West Texas during the 1930s dust bowl. I have grandiose plans for the front yard and I'm not going to seed or sod just to tear it all up in a couple of years if I have the money to do what I really want.

With a sudden influx of cash -- some clients actually do pay their invoices -- I decided this weekend was the weekend to replace the faucet.

I've been shopping faucets on the Internet, at Home Depot and Lowes for a month or two, but now I had to pull the trigger. I found a faucet I can live with at Home Depot. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the one I liked was out of stock at the Home Depot right up the street.

I decided to make a final run by Lowes and stopped at another Home Depot that was on the way. That Home Depot did have the faucet I wanted. Lowes didn't have anything more appealing. I went back to Home Depot and bought a new kitchen faucet, as well as a new faucet for my guest bathroom. My current guest bathroom faucet has a single lever setting temperature and volume. If it isn't put in exactly the perfect position, it drips.

With the low water costs in Greenville, the damn thing could have dripped for 20 years and not exceeded the cost of the replacement faucet. Bottom line: It was more annoying than anything else.

So there I was on a Saturday afternoon, ready to spring into faucet-replacement action. I removed all the cans of bug spray, spray oil, plant food and assorted other junk from under the sink. I pulled up the shelf paper and prepared to set to work.

I turned off the water to both sides of the faucet, got some channel locks and pliers, and crawled under the sink. Even with the water shut off, there was water everywhere. I crawled back out, located a couple of towels and went back in.

The old faucet disconnected easily enough, and, at first blush, it seemed the entire project was going to proceed without incident.

Here's the first law of home improvement projects: You never get away with just one trip to the home-improvement store.

When I attempted to reconnect the water lines to the new faucet, I hit a wall. The previous installation was a jerry-rigged affair and the cold water line wasn't long enough to quite reach and make a sealed connection. This wasn't entirely obvious at first. I hooked it up and turned on the water.

Lying under the sink was like being on the catwalk under Niagara Falls. I was drenched from the waist up.

I headed off to Home Depot for a longer hose. It was only a $7 fix, but cost me about 30 minutes. The new hose connected perfectly.

Two and a half hours after I pulled the first bottle from under the sink, I put the last bottle back under the sink.

I'm happy to have some water pressure again. It takes so little to make me happy.

Now, it's on to the guest bathroom.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Volvo V60 Hybrid: The Swedes Are Slighting Us

Volvo is busy readying a hybrid version of its sleek V60 wagon.

So what? you might ask. There are lots of hybrids out there, right?

Yes, there are, but the 2012 V60 will be one of the few charging its battery array with a plug-in system. The really big news, however, is the electric motor won't be teamed with a gasoline engine, but rather a diesel.

For those keeping score, a diesel-electric hybrid is an industry first.

Being developed within the same group as the all-electric C30, the V60 hybrid is said to travel up to 31 miles with just its battery-powered electric motor.

Recharging will take just over seven hours when using a regular 110 household outlet. As is typical with hybrid cars, the V60's braking system will also help charge the batteries.

So sophisticated is the recharging setup that it offers the driver the option of preheating or precooling the passenger compartment as the car is charging, requiring less pull on the batteries at start up.

By itself, the 2.4-liter five-cylinder diesel produces 215 horsepower and turns only the front wheels. Adding another 70 horsepower to the mix is the electric motor that powers the rear wheels alone.

If you need all-wheel drive, you just push a button to activate the wagon's electric 4-wheel drive. Then the electric motor and the diesel each do their share.

Another area where Volvo is showing us something in the V60 hybrid that we haven't seen before is its three-driving-mode system that lets the driver choose the different degrees of the diesel-electric mix. It is controlled by three buttons on the instrument panel.

In Pure, the car runs on its electric motor as much as possible, getting a little help every once in a while from the diesel. Hybrid is always the default setting when the car is started and it creates the optimum blend of electric and diesel interaction for the lowest environmental impact. Power delivers the maximum excitement drawing on both the electric motor and diesel. In Power mode, the V60 Hybrid will race from 0-to-60 in 6.9 seconds.

Volvo doesn't have much to say about pricing as yet, but its CEO and president Stefan Jacoby admits the hybrid will cost more than the gasoline-powered version, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

Here's the thing: Volvo isn't bringing the V60 Hybrid to the U.S. Well it is, but not until 2013, and with a gasoline engine in place of the diesel.

I'm no fan of hybrids; I think anyone trying to operate on a budget is throwing money away on a hybrid. But if you are going to make one, diesel seems like the way to go.

The Swedes have let us down.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Little Steelers Chatter Because, Well, I've Got to Write Something

This is one of those days that I'm glad I don't have to go anywhere. There are one or two advantages to working out of your home. A big one is that when it's pouring rain, you can roll over in bed and pity all the folks slugging their way to a job somewhere as you doze off.

Being able to work in my underwear -- well, being able to work in my underwear without listening to a lot of screaming -- is another advantage.

In any event, I am sitting at my PC in my downstairs office -- fully clothed, thank-you very much -- thinking about all of the work I have yet to do before my traveling gets crazy beginning on the 30th. I got an assignment done and out today. One a day is about my limit. I could do more, but it might cost me my slacker status. Can't have that.

I have been distracted and haven't blogged in a few days, so I thought I best post something.

How about them Steelers?

Just when you think they are on the ropes, they go and elbow their way to the lead in the AFC North. Of course, Roethlisberger rebreaking the same thumb he broke in 2005 is less than good news. But then he didn't miss any games because of the injury in 2005 and the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl. So maybe it's a good thing?

Looks like Ward, Legursky and Farrior will be back in the lineup for the game against the Chiefs in two weeks.

I don't pay close enough attention to the minutia of the Steelers operation to have a clue what they paid for wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, but it was a bargain. A tip of the helmet to the Jets for releasing him.

It will be a little dull this Sunday without a Steelers' game to watch. Maybe I'll try to catch the Ravens-Bengals game.

One of them has to lose, right?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Somebody Give That Boy a Swift Kick in the Old Kiester!

I am slugging it out trying to get my plate cleared before I am covered up with travel in December.

I'm not complaining, mind you; it's a nice change of pace to have assignments stacked up. I currently have six major pieces to write in addition to the weekly car reviews and twice-a-week blogs I have as a regular part of my schedule.

I don't want to have to fret over any of this stuff as I am jetting around next month. I am going to Las Vegas, Austin, South FL -- twice and New Mexico.

When I'm on the road, I have to compose all my prose on a teeny-weeny, itty-bitty netbook. I don't mind that the keyboard and monitor are a little small, but the silly thing is slower than Mike Tyson doing long division.

It's fine for knocking out a blog or two -- even the ones I get paid for -- but just doesn't work well for longer, more involved projects.

So I am pushing myself to get the longer assignments out of the way.

You couldn't tell I'm under any real pressure by the level of my output the past couple of days. Other than cranking out a blog for and doing a little research on a gift guide I'm doing for the Journal Register Group, I've done next to nothing constructive.

I have no excuse. I just didn't feel like doing much, so I didn't.

I'm even blowing off the weekend to visit friends in North Carolina.

Is motivation an issue? Well, yeah.

I recognize my problem and will address it at happy hour later today.

There's nothing like a couple of hours with my elbows on the bar at Soby's to get my head straight.

It works every time!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

We Dodged the 15-Cent Christmas Tree Tax

Do you know what the average cost is for a pack of cigarettes in New York?

Ready? $9.11.

Do you know how much of that total is state taxes?


Why are the taxes so much? I'd venture to say at least some of the tax represents New York lawmakers' efforts to try to get people to quit smoking, or at least cut down, or maybe not start in the first place.

My favorite political commentator, Jonah Goldberg, a few months ago wrote "If you want more of something, tax it less. If you want less of something tax it more."

I'd say that makes sense. It certainly seems logical that the more something costs -- whether through taxes or free-market pressure -- the fewer people will be able, or maybe willing, to buy it.

Are you ready for this? Our federal government, in all its wisdom, has just announced through the Department of Agriculture that it won't tax the sale of every real Christmas tree sold this year 15 cents as it had planned. The tax was set to go into effect on Wednesday.

Why? you might ask, would the Obama administration tax Christmas trees? Is it against Christmas or Christmas trees?

Apparently not.

Was this some sort of effort to get people to buy artificial trees rather than fresh ones, thereby protecting the environment?

That's a logical assumption based on the far-left environmental stance of this administration; but you'd be wrong again.

Nope, your fresh Christmas tree would have cost 15 cents more this year because the USDA wanted to underwrite a marketing committee whose mandate would have been to improve our opinion of fresh Christmas trees.

Evidently, unknown to many of us, fresh Christmas trees have been suffering a loss of good will and support.

And since government's job is to stick its nose into absolutely everything, it was going to step in and do its part to try to elevate our opinion of the Christmas tree.

I am not making this up.

The White House pulled the plug on the plan as critics became more vocal throughout the day.

Their defense: George Bush did it!

No, I'm kidding.

Their defense is that some Christmas tree growers asked the government to collect the tax so they could do a fresh Christmas tree version of the dairy farmers' "Got Milk?" campaign.

So let me get this straight: In an effort to create more demand for fresh Christmas trees, they were going to raise the price of each tree by 15 cents. Is that about right?

No wonder they can't fix the economy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Some Pluses and Minuses of the TV Season: Bye, Bye Angels

Yes, I recognize the lack of substance, but here are a couple of comments on the current television season.

I have officially stopped watching "How I Met Your Mother." I have blogged about tuning it out a couple of times, and finally pulled the trigger.

I only made it through the past couple of seasons because I am an Alyson Hannigan fan. If you aren't familiar with her, she was the band-camp girl in the movie "American Pie," and a couple of its sequels. It was her stint, however, as the lesbian witch Willow in the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series that made me a fan.

In any event, I've continued watching "How I Met Your Mother" because of Hannigan, but her participation is just no longer enough to keep me tuning into a comedy totally devoid of jokes. Nary a laugh...ever.

The episode a couple of weeks ago was so bad that I stopped watching at the first commercial break. I deleted the show and then deleted the series from my DVR schedule. In the six or or episodes I did watch from beginning to end this season, I don't think I so much as tittered, let alone giggled, laughed or guffawed. Whoever the writers are for this turkey, they are outrageously overpaid.

I have seen only the pilot of a new series that debuted a couple of Fridays ago. I have the second episode recorded and waiting to be watched later this week. It's an NBC series call "Grimm." I liked the initial episode and look forward to seeing the second one. I'm not even sure what's going on yet except that the protagonist is some sort of descendent of the Brothers Grimm, who evidently weren't writing fairy tales, but keeping a journal of strange things they encountered. They had the ability to see different types of monsters and demons the rest of us can't and that sense has been handed down through the generations.

It's too soon to tell if it will be a regular of mine, but I like what I've seen so far.

Finally, I see that ABC has already axed the remake of "Charlies Angels." I never saw it, and that was by design. As a big fan of the original, I couldn't bring myself to watch some modern-day knock-off. Not to mention that not one of the female stars of the remake were as hot as Farrah Fawcett or Jaclyn Smith were in their day. The new version was doomed from the get-go.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Slacker's Out for Blogging When There Is No Time or Motivation

I was in Detroit earlier this week with Ford getting tutored on several upcoming vehicles and technology that will be introduced at the Los Angeles auto show later this month.

Because we had to swear a blood oath of secrecy about what we saw, and the trip itself was unremarkable in any way, you aren't hearing about this two-day unadventurous adventure until now.

As a result of this trip that gobbled up two of my days, and then three nearly unproductive days at my PC that rounded out my work week, I am tied to my PC over this weekend trying to produce a few paragraphs of prose that might actually translate into a paycheck somewhere down the road -- unfortunately, probably way down the road.

My slacking earlier this week means I am taking the easy way out in my blog today. I am sending you to to read a piece I did for them on credit scores and credit reports. It is a riveting summary of how credit scores and reports influence a consumer's auto financing options.

It is a real page turner -- or at least would be if it were longer than a page -- offering insight that will be indispensable when you next finance a vehicle.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Which Do I Like Better the 2012 Buick Verano or New York City? It's No Contest, Really

I was in New York City -- NEW YORK CITY? -- a couple of weeks ago. It's not my favorite place.

I know, I know, I should love it because it's the city that never sleeps, and there is soooo much to do there. The restaurants are wonderful, the pizza has no equal and the theater is the best in the world.

Yawn. Snore.

Here's how I see it: I live in unassuming Greenville, South Carolina and I don't have the time nor the moola to do everything I want to do in Greenville, let alone everything there is to do. Moreover, Asheville and Charlotte, North Carolina, with all they have to offer, are less than 90 minutes away, or about the same amount of time it takes to negotiate 20 blocks by car in Manhattan.

It doesn't matter to me that there are several eateries and bars along every New York city block; I am going to wind up picking just one.

Besides, who the heck wants to deal with the masses of people and nose-to-tail traffic moving with all the alacrity of tree sap just because the pizza is good? Not me.

So what took me to New York? Buick invited me to a first-drive media event of its all-new Verano.

Compact in size, the Verano is a luxury sedan targeting cars such as the Lexus IS 250. It is powered by a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine that sends output to the front wheels via a driver-shiftable, six-speed automatic transmission. It will scoot from 0-to-60 in less than 9 seconds and has a highway fuel economy rating of 31 mpg. It has 10 air bags.

Going to New York City to test drive a car is something akin to going to Phoenix to learn how to make snowballs. It doesn't make a lot of sense.

Previously I had been on a couple of other car manufacturer ride and drives in NYC. The most notorious was the Chrysler launch of its three cab-forward LH sedans -- Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision -- in 1992, I think. A two- or three-day event that included driving all three sedans, it had journalists slogging around the congested streets of the city for hours. It was miserable.

Sprinkled among the hours of nerve-racking driving were stops for tours of the Concorde jet and the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier. The clever diversions didn't help.

So I wasn't excited to learn New York City would be the venue for the Verano launch. I could have attended the West Coast Verano program; it was in the Portland, Oregon area. Unfortunately I had a travel conflict.

The day I flew into LaGaurdia, it was pouring rain. Driving from the airport to the Empire Hotel took well over an hour.

As I have grown older, I have somewhat mellowed. If you can't do anything about a situation, it's far less stressful to just roll with the punches. I was doing a lot of rolling that afternoon.

My room at the Empire was nice enough. The bathroom, however, was so miniscule that when the door was open, it completely blocked the toilet. You had to enter the bathroom, crowd against the shower stall and push the door closed to use the potty. There was no counter around the sink. For a surface on which to put my bag of toilet articles, I had to close the toilet-seat lid and use it. I'm not kidding.

Sleep that night was a highly prized commodity. The racket filtering up to my fourth-floor window was relentless. Drowned out by the three-times-an-hour sirens or the beeping of a reversing garbage truck was what sounded like a slowly spinning 50-gallon drum with a half-dozen ball bearings rolling around inside. I'm assuming it was a malfunctioning air handler unit of some sort. It went on all night long.

When we went to dinner that night, we discovered what we think motivated Buick to choose NYC as the East Coast launch venue: the Kefi restaurant. Apparently, Buick has some sort of relationship with its owner/chef and decided to hold an event where Kefi could be included in the itinerary. Greek cuisine is the specialty of the house, but you couldn't prove it by my experience. I had a perfectly grilled filet mignon in a spectacular red wine sauce. Among the appetizers were the best meatballs I've ever had. These things practically melted in my mouth.

How is the new Verano? On what turned out to be a better driving route -- not great, but acceptable -- than I expected, I found the new Verano to be remarkably quiet and surprisingly athletic. Quick and surefooted, it is crammed with technology and offers a rich variety of high-tech options for its comfortable interior. With a starting price of $23,470, including destination charges, it is a value as well.

Even New York couldn't diminish my first impression of Verano.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Little Kimmy Kardashian Racks Up Her First D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Well, it seems like only yesterday -- it was actually August 19 -- I blogged about the upcoming Little Kimmy Kardashian wedding collision.

Now a mere 10 weeks later I am blogging about her divorce. How can this freak even look at herself in a mirror?

I would feel so stupid and ashamed, I wouldn't leave the house. If I did, it would only be with a paper bag over my head.

But I guess when you are famous for only being, well, notorious, it's just more press coverage to keep that fame alive. Stupidity is to be embraced.

There's $10 million of someone's money down a rat hole. I wonder if she's giving back the gifts. On the other hand, she reportedly made $18 million from selling photo and story rights to the hoax. Not bad work if you can get it.

In my August blog I wrote that I didn't give the marriage much of a chance. It would last longer than the Dennis Rodman/Carmen Electra farce, but it would end relatively quickly nonetheless.

Of course you don't have to be a celebrity for a wedding to end almost before it begins. An exgirlfriend married the guy she left me to date. She was filing divorce papers before she had her wedding photo proofs. I'm not making this up.

It probably doesn't speak well of me, but I took a little perverse pleasure in the outcome. Ah, what the hell, truth be told: I loved it.

I would be surprised, though, if my Ex made a profit; if so, it certainly wasn't $8 million.

I'd like to take some credit for my Kardashian prediction, but making it hardly took any insight. I don't think anyone -- other than maybe the groom -- thought it would last. The poor sap probably never considered that he was just another headline to keep the Kardashian name out there.

I heard someone quip on the radio this morning that Little Kimmy was well on her way to being the next Zsa Zsa Gabor. Gabor was, perhaps, the most famous of celebrities who was famous only for being famous -- and she did it during an age with no Internet, People magazine or Entertainment Tonight. Part of her fame was anchored by her number of failed marriages.

You go, Kimmy! Who can argue with $8 million profit for a 10-week effort.

It sure beats the hell out of getting a real job!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Steelers Thrash the Despicable Patriots

Last week I didn't believe I was going to get to write the above headline this morning.

In addition to shocking the Patriots, the Steelers shocked me. You can gauge the level of my surprise simply by reading my previous blog post.

I consider any season in which the Steelers beat up on the Patriots a successful one. Although the 25-to-17 score doesn't really reflect the level of the Steelers thorough domination of the over-confident Patriots, it was truly a beautiful thing to watch.

It may be the best the Steelers have looked all season and it was against one of the best teams in the NFL.

The key to the victory wasn't just an impressive pattern of work by Roethlisberger and company on offense, but by the entire Steelers team's relentless effort on both sides of the ball to keep the New England offense off the field.

Time management by the offense and savvy, determined play by the defense simply kept the football out of Brady's hands.

Too old and tired to win? Try telling the Steelers that.

Next week's encounter with Baltimore is even more critical to the Steelers playoff picture.

A little more of what they gave the Patriots would be nice.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Steelers Host the Patriots on Sunday: I Am Praying for a Miracle!

The Steelers are somewhere I never expected them to be six weeks ago: at the top of the AFC North.

Now having said that, they have only played two teams this season that can be considered in contention for the AFC championship -- Ravens and Texans -- and lost to both. The Ravens humiliated them 35 to Pittsburgh no less.

Moreover, they barely squeaked by the 0-and-7 Colts, and the 2-and-5 Jaguars, winning those games by a combined total of 7 measly points.

As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is quick to point out, a win doesn't need to be pretty to count.

Thank God!

I wish I could feel better about the Steelers Super Bowl chances than I did six weeks ago, but I don't. The fact they are taking a three-game winning streak into Sunday's game doesn't inspire much confidence in me. I wish it did.

No, they will face the 5-and-1 Patriots this week. (Have I ever mentioned just how much I despise the Patriots?)

Simply put: Brady and company have the Steelers' number. The Patriots have been victorious in six of their past seven meetings with Pittsburgh.

Of course, any team can beat any other team on any given day, but the chances of a beat-up Steelers' team besting a well-rested Patriots team coming off its Bye week are slim to almost unimaginable.

Going up against the NFL's best offense, the Steelers D will be without James Harrison and Aaron Smith -- two key contributors to its defensive prowess. Nose tackle Chris Hoke is out as well. James Farrior may not play either.

On the other side of the ball, starting guard Doug Legursky won't suit up. The starting center Maurkice Pouncey is nursing an elbow injury. He is scheduled to play, but won't be at the top of his game. Triple-threat wide receiver Hines Ward may not play either due to an ankle injury.

That the Steelers have home-field advantage in Sunday's game won't much matter either; the Patriots spank them there, too.

The next two games will determine Pittsburgh's Super Bowl probabilities. They need to beat the Patriots this week and the Ravens the following Sunday in Baltimore. Actually a win against Baltimore will do more to advance the Steelers to the playoffs, but in terms of building confidence and establishing conference domination, they need to win both.

I hope the headline of Monday's blog is "Steelers Thrash the Despicable Patriots!"

A guy can hope can't he?