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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Escape from the Oscars

Last night's Oscar show has received such a universal panning that my saying, I told you so, seems more than a little redundant. I did sneak a peek and suffered through about 35 minutes of it. That was more than enough to convince me that someone should be brought up on charges for hiring James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts. Talk about deer caught in the headlights. In the 35 minutes I wasted on this train wreck, I saw two people I've never heard of before kill two minutes talking about the Oscar show continuing on ABC through 2020. Oh, Goody.

I saw the Oscars presented for Best Musical Score, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Effects Editing. The last two are some of the awards they should pass out at a rubber-chicken lunch the day before. I also had to endure the award for Best Makeup and a long-boring-monotone-read-off-a-card acceptance speech for Best Costume Design. Some people, including Kevin Spacey, sang. And then several more minutes were wasted passing out more Oscars that no one cares about like Best Documentary Short. Ugh.

Obviously the show's producers saved money on writers this year. I didn't hear one funny line during the half hour plus that I watched.

I tuned in about 9:40 and tuned out around 10:15. Thirty minutes of my life I'll never get back.

In the spirit of movies, though, I thought I'd share my views of one of the movies I watched last night while not watching the Oscars: Ticking Clock.

A serial-killer whodunit starring Cuba Gooding Jr. It's actually not a whodunit because you see whodunit right from the get-go. It's actually a clever plot line that suffers from a half-assed script and lackluster direction. For the buck I spent on it at Red Box, it was a deal. It's not all bad.

Gooding plays a crime reporter with an assistant district attorney girl friend -- who is only his girlfriend in this movie so that Gooding has a reason to go to her home and find her murdered. They interact for all of 30 seconds before she storms away and he is left to go visit her at her home. He is separated from a wife, who also serves no real purpose other than to try to flesh-out Gooding's character. She also is only on camera for a couple of minutes.

Because this is a movie, Gooding decides to single-handed catch his girlfriend's killer, who is also suspected of killing a few other people. The killer keeps a journal in which he not only chronicles his various murders, but also lists the names of his future victims and the dates on which he will kill them. Luckily for Gooding's character, he finds the journal. Now the race is on to prevent the future killings and nab the murderer.

To keep from revealing a plot twist, I won't expose any more of the story. With a tighter script, this movie could have been quite good. A few aspects are a little farfetched, such as Gooding's character going after this guy alone when he has a good buddy in the police department. The director, Ernie Barbarash, whoever he is, seemed content to just get the film made and into the can. Doesn't appear he put in any late nights trying to add some suspense or coax a little more out of his actors.

I suspect The King's Speech was about as suspenseful.

Is it worth seeing? For a buck, sure. It beat watching the Oscars.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Night: You're Kidding; the Winner is Who?

It's Oscar day! I struggle to contain myself. Producing all of the suspense of bread rising, Hollywood's annual salute to itself is one of those events that is difficult, at least for me, to even bother turning on the TV for. A bunch of movies I haven't seen, starring a gaggle of actors I usually either don't know or else don't like, awards for categories I don't care about all wrapped up in an overproduced extravaganza of over-hyped glitz. Yawn.

Of the nominees for Best Picture, I've seen Winter's Bone and Inception -- both Red Box rentals. Winter's Bone was made with a budget of, perhaps as much as, $300. Its plot has neither a beginning nor end. It's 90 minutes of nothing much happening and then it's over. It must be art because it certainly isn't entertainment. If you want my opinion of Inception, scroll back through my January blogs and look for one titled The Movie, Inception: Who's on First? By the time I finished watching this movie my head ached and my eyes were swimming in my head. In other words, I don't give a damn what movie wins Best Picture.

Now if it were the Red Box awards, at least I'd have a prayer of seeing more than one or two of the nominees, and might even have a favorite or two to root for. My senior year in college, the group of fraternity brothers I roomed with had our own academy awards. It was late in spring during our last term. We had been watching a bunch of B movies throughout the year because, well, that's what you do when you are in college with nothing to do and no money to do it with. We were able to pool our fiscal resources and come up with a fifth of Jack Daniels to pass around as we watched, but that was the extent of our bankroll.

I think we called our awards The Masterpiece Theater Awards. I remember when it came to the awards night, we basically had two films under consideration -- both gawd-awful turkeys that were so bad, they were funny. The first was 1968's The Swimmer starring Burt Lancaster. In a nutshell the plot followed some sap (Burt's character) as he swam across some suburb of NYC from backyard swimming pool to backyard swimming pool. He would interact with the people whose pools he was swimming across. Wow, it was riveting.

The second nominee for our Masterpiece Theater Awards was The Last Rebel, starring Broadway Joe Namath. It was a spaghetti western made in 1971. In this epic, Namath's character is a Confederate soldier who either doesn't know that Lee surrendered or doesn't care. In any event, he continues fighting. All I can remember about it is that the dialogue (It was made in Europe, remember.) was dreadful and the acting even worse. No doubt there were film schools pumping out student's films with bigger budgets and better production quality. It made For a Few Dollars More look like Citizen Cane.

In the spirit of unmotivated slackers everywhere, I think we voted them a tie.

At least in those days the real Academy Awards usually featured movies people had seen and were willing to stay up until midnight to root for. For the most part today's nominees seem to be tomorrow's best hope for, well, the Masterpiece Theater Awards.

I'll be turning in early.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oh, Charlie, We Thought We Knew Ya

I'm a guy, so I give a little leeway to Charlie Sheen. Let's face it, brothers, if we are truthful with ourselves, we are all a little envious -- at least a little. Sheen has pulled in around $20 million this year just for his work on Two and a Half Men. Granted he probably spent most of it on drugs, booze and chicks, and the rest he wasted. (Sorry, that's paraphrasing someone else's quote, but I just couldn't pass it up.); but at least he had it to spend.

For the women out there reading this, screaming at their monitor that Sheen is a pig and needs to grow up, I want to assure you that we are on the same side of that issue. I don't contend that he is either a class act or mature. I'm just saying that he is having more than his share of fun.

If the news reports are to be believed, he interrupted a four-way-adult frolic in the Bahamas, where he had jetted on a private plane, to blast his Two and a Half Men boss. A melt down that apparently cost him (and everyone else connected to the show) his cushy TV gig. Let me be clear, I don't envy his intelligence, or lack thereof. He is obviously an idiot. Do you remember when he sent Obama a letter asking him to begin an investigation into 9/11 because he is convinced George W. Bush ordered the World Trade Center attack? I submit exhibit No. 2 for your consideration: Who in his right mind walks away from three women stacked up in his bed to rip his boss via long distance for a radio show? Yes, he is quite the genius.

Let's see, where were we? Oh, yeah, he's on a foursome! This is where some of the envy should be kicking in, boys. Let's identify the players; shall we. There's Charlie, of course; Ummm, the obligatory porn starlet, his kids former babysitter and an ex-wife -- not Denise Richards, that would be just too good to be true.

The guy is 45 years old. At 45, I was reminiscing about my "good ol' days" and wondering what the hell happened to my mojo; Sheen is still waist deep in his good ol' days and showing no signs of slowing down. Generating $20 million a year, of course, does a lot to grease the good-time wheels -- evidently even post age 45. Perhaps had I invested in gold....

So here is Sheen, in the sunny Bahamas, with a who's who of men's fantasies: a porn star and his kids babysitter. Moreover, he must be such a good time that even an ex-wife tags along. For a guy's ego, he hit the trifecta.

Yes, yes, I get that Sheen needs some help. I'm not disputing that. I'm just saying that he is currently on an adventure most guys would love to be on. When he finally sobers up -- if that ever happens, he is probably going to have some buyer's remorse over blowing the highest paying acting job on TV. That may take a while to set in, however, because rumor has it that he is writing a tell-all book about his time on Two and a Half Men that he expects an advance on of at least $10 million. Good work if you can get it. I see another Bahamas junket in his future.

Obviously one needn't be smart to make obscene amounts of money. 

The fantasy lives on.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Greenville, SC, Where Life's Pace Is Slow and the Traffic Even Slower

Generally I am very happy with my life in Greenville. Having escaped the rude, obnoxious jerks who are overrepresented among the South Florida population, I am embracing the kinder-gentler folks inhabiting South Carolina's Upstate.

Living is less rushed, less desperate here than in Palm Beach County. I could spend an afternoon sitting on a bench along Main Street, where traffic flows with the alacrity of tree sap, and never hear the bleating of a horn, or a motorist screaming an invective at another. You could fall asleep at a red light without being awakened by an impatient driver behind you when the light turns green, then red, then green again. It's civility almost to the point of silliness. I love it.

A down side, however, is that this civility translates into a palpable lack of urgency on every street and freeway. Prozac appears to be the drug of choice among a large set of drivers who can't seem to get out of their own way. For these under-motivated motorists, posted speed limits are something to shoot for, but never quite attain. And this is the prevailing attitude in an area where the speed limits are universally ridiculously low. I-85 is a posted 60 miles per hour and I-385 a ludicrous 55 mph -- both are six-lane expressways! Surface streets are no better.

Typically the three lanes of I-85 are flowing something like this: The far-right lane is moving along about 5 mph below the speed limit; the middle lane at about at the speed limit; and the far-left lane at 2 or 3 mph above the speed limit. It's maddening. After spending nearly 25 years racing up and down I-95 between Miami and West Palm Beach, in Greenville I feel like I'm in a slow-motion replay of the 5 PM traffic report. If you are traveling slower than 75 mph on I-95, you are going to get knocked into the median by a school bus or a street sweeper. It's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride 24/7.

Surface streets are even worse. No one driving a surface street even pretends to have anywhere to go. Sometimes following these people plodding along I worry that if I go any slower, I am going to go back in time. Here's how you make a right turn. Approach the street or parking lot entrance, come to a complete stop, flip on your right turn signal, carefully turn the steering wheel to the right, step on the accelerator and ease into the turn. "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GET OUT OF THE EFFING WAY!"

Yes, generally I am very happy with my life in Greenville. I just have to learn that anywhere worth getting to will still be there tomorrow and the day after.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Brush with Higher Education

I have a friend who is working on her PhD in education. Among the requirements for her course in curriculum philosophy she has a weekly chat-room discussion with her professor and classmates. It takes place in the early evening. I have been monitoring this chat room with her. To keep up with the discussions, I have also been reading the assigned material.

I was never aware there are so many formal approaches to education. Our public schools basically employ a philosophy called Essentialism. This approach recognizes the need for providing knowledge in certain basic subjects -- reading, writing, math, civics, history, science and so forth -- and rating a student's grasp of the material as the basis for moving that student on to the next grade level. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program tests to this approach.

Essentialism is about the only way to educate masses of kids -- some who clearly don't want to be in a classroom or don't have any real aptitude to learn -- and provide them with the bare minimum with which to either move on to college or into the work force. It's a common-denominator approach that drags down more gifted students in the hope of not losing slower or less motivated students in the process. Consequently, many college freshmen spend the first year in remedial courses teaching them what should have been learned in high school. If this were a scholarly paper, I would research some numbers on this statement to present here. The information is readily available. But I am just blogging here; I'll leave it to you to do the research, if you are interested.

Virtually every other recognized, formal approach to education is aimed at more motivated students, in smaller classrooms with more specialized educators. Progressivism is an educational philosophy that rather than teaching basic subjects, concentrates on capitalizing on a student's individual interests, to present learning material. It relies much more on elective courses in place of the basics.

Perennialism focuses on truths passed on from the classic education of the Greeks and Romans. Truth is truth, knowledge is knowledge, and neither ever really changes. Yawn.

Somewhat conservative in my thinking, I got a charge out of Multiculturalism and Social Reconstructionism. These two approaches basically view traditional educational philosophy as being the product of white, homophobic, misogynist men. As such, it ignores our role as global citizens and views gays, lesbians, minorities, women and the disabled as second-class participants in the world order. Teaching traditional history, for instance, does nothing but reinforce negative views the aforementioned groups have about themselves: yea, white men; boo, everyone else. I guess that's one way to look at it.

My point in sharing all of this is that in monitoring this chat room that is populated with public school educators, I am filled with dread. That some of them don't seem overly bright is just one concern. That many of them would love to kick Essentialism aside for a more Multiculturalism approach is a huge concern. These are the very people who will be running our public education in 10 or 20 years. As a group, they are quite bitter about NCLB and how it forces them to teach certain material like, ummm, English. "What about students who don't speak English?" they would probably ask.

Because from their comments I can deduce that many of these chat-room participants are politically somewhat left of center -- as is the professor, I'd like to be able to point out to them that if it weren't for the federal government taking our tax dollars, laundering them through Washington and then giving them back to us as federal aid to schools, the feds couldn't attach any strings to local education. It's "Big" government at work. But I can't comment in this chat room, nor would I have the time to explain basic 8th-grade civics to people who don't believe civics a worthy subject for schools.

The lunatics are in charge of the asylum, or soon will be. This has been a real education for me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ah, the Joys of Home Ownership

Well, my one-day "Gone Fishin'" blog break turned into three. With the temperature in the 70s again on Saturday and nothing but blue sky as far as the eye could see, I decided to embark on a couple of projects around the outside of the house that I thought were going to have to wait another six or eight weeks.

The steps that lead from my carport down to the backyard have wood railings on both sides. One of those railings had been in need of replacing for at least two years. I can pinpoint the time because my sister and her husband were here for a visit and I mentioned it to him. Ultimately my goal was to try to nudge him into fixing it during their 8-day visit. He is a master carpenter (From back in the day when there was such a thing.) and he could have made short work of it. I didn't come right out and ask him. That would have been impolite and ungracious -- certainly not character traits of mine. No, I attempted to finesse him. I phrased it as a request for advice: "Do you think that just the railing can be replaced or am I going to have to replace both the upper and lower railings and all the supporting spindles?"

Five years ago, that simple question would have been sufficient to motivate him to leap into action. He always found a project or two to accomplish during his visits. Some jobs were as minor as cleaning out a flower bed of weeds and dead plants at a condo I was renting in West Palm Beach, to enlarging the master bedroom closet in my home in Boynton Beach. Over the years he replaced a window in the master bath with a door that opened out to the pool deck. He dry-walled over an extra doorway from the living room to the hall. I guesstimate that he was responsible for adding about $15,000 to the equity of my home in Boynton. He was always busy, busy, busy when visiting. Ah, the good old days.

This last trip, however, he wasn't having any of it. He was on vacation and that was that. He glanced toward the damaged railing, replied, "You can replace just the top railing," and kept on walking. I had obviously lost my mojo.

I looked at this rotting railing for the next two years. It was so bad, it was actually crumbling in places. Time to fix it. Buying the materials and doing the actual work occupied my Saturday afternoon. In fact, because more of the structure was rotted than I first believed, an extra trip to Home Depot was required to buy more wood. The job dragged on.

Although the sky was overcast and the temperature about 20 degrees cooler Sunday than Saturday, I was committed to getting the job finished. I had to paint the new sections and old sections as well. Then it was on to project No. 2.

One reason this railing was uber weathered is because rain runs off the roof right on to it. The spot on the railing where the trouble began is immediately below where water cascades off the roof. Some guttering was in order to prevent the same thing happening again.

Long story, short: After three more Home Depot runs (Does anyone get everything needed for any home project during the initial trip to the home improvement store?), and four hours of working and cussing, That job was completed as well.

After all of that, I just didn't feel like blogging. I figured you could wait another few hours to learn how I spent my weekend.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gone Fishin'

Basically you should consider this my "Gone Fishin'" sign. Of course, I don't fish. Wouldn't if I could. I already have a million and one ways to waste time. I sure don't need to do something that involves handling bait. "Gone Fishin'" is just my way of saying, I'm taking the afternoon off. Today's weather is way too good to waste inside writing a damn blog that almost no one sees. The sun is shining; the temperature is 74 degrees; I can't sit inside any longer.

My plan is to head downtown, sit in front of the Blueridge Brewery, and quaff a couple of Brown Bag Porters out of my "Ugly" mug. Certainly this doesn't show much in the way of ambition, but it's Friday and I'm ready for a break.

Spring may not yet be here, but I'm going to make the most of this welcomed preview.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This Is Our Generation's Moon Shot

I read today that researchers from the University of California and the Veterans Administration (seems like an odd coupling) may have accidentally stumbled on a remedy for the folliclely challenged. Well, at least a remedy for mice with such a condition.

"Remedy" and "folliclely challenged" are my words; the story I read actually referred to the condition as "baldness" and discussed "cure" as opposed to remedy. As someone who is himself folliclely challenged, I feel stigmatized by the terms baldness and cure.

The term bald is just plain hurtful. Have you ever heard of a "hairy lie"? No? I'm sure, though, you have heard of a "bald lie." Are bald tires a good thing? Bald is a pejorative term that should never be used in regard to a person.

Cure in the context folliclely challenged is also disparaging. Medicine cures diseases. Folliclely challenged isn't a disease; its a, umm, condition.

Now that we have that out of the way...

Attempting to discover how stress affects the gut, researchers shot up a few stressed-out bald mice (Bald is okay to use when referring to mice and other sub-human creatures like congressmen.) with some crap called astressin-B. Yes, I agree, it sounds made up. But the researchers claim they gave each of the bald mice five shots of the stuff. A few weeks later, the mice had grown back their fur or hair or whatever you call a mouse's protective layer. The shots were good for four month's growth or about as long as a good botox treatment.

Evidently scientists and researchers are encouraged by this development and say some further research is planned. Further research is planned? These guys don't seem to appreciate the urgency of this thing. Let's move Heaven and earth to get this done. This is our generation's Sputnik moment. I didn't think I'd see a remedy for the folliclely challenged in my life time, but we are at the threshold of beating this thing. Enough talk, shave some more mice and let's get on with the research.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

5 Tips for Saving Money on Motorcycle Insurance

I don't ride a motorcycle; neither did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I do know how to get the lowdown on saving money on motorcycle insurance. Learn my 5 tips at

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

St. Valentine's Day or Let's Put a Price Tag on Love

Valentine's Day passed yesterday nearly unnoticed in my household. Had it not been for all the ads trying to sell me flowers, candy and other traditional trappings of the day when I logged onto AOL, I would have missed it entirely.

As days we observe as a culture go, it ranks right up there for me with Paul Bunyan Day and Bastille Day. And it certainly lags way behind Cinco de Mayo and National Boss Day. What a colossal waste of time, energy and, most of all, money. I've heard it called "Single's Awareness Day." I pretty much celebrate that every day. And it doesn't cost me a penny.

Part of the Valentine's legend says that St. Valentine was martyred by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, but before he was killed he sent a love note to his true love signed "From your Valentine." Man, this story makes my teeth hurt it's so syrupy sweet. Had they known this final gesture on his part was going to mean 2,000 years of poor schlubs having to buy flowers, baubles, expensive dinners and sappy greeting cards for the women in their lives, his executioners should have just tossed the sorry S.O.B. in jail with conjugal visitation privileges.

So, rather than fighting crowds of doe-eyed couples in the restaurants and bars last night, I stayed home and watched a little TV. All things considered, it was a much less stressful and expensive night than many of my male friends experienced.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Grammys: Yawn

Well darn, I missed the Grammys last night. I guess in a year when F*** You was up for Record Of The Year, I just didn't see the point. That Lady Antebellum's Need You Now managed to edge it out in the voting, I guess, infuses some degree of legitimacy into the awards; but I probably won't tune in next year either.

It would seem in the battle of the Ladys -- Gaga and Antebellum that is -- Lady Antebellum came out on top with five Grammys to Gaga's three. I was on the edge of my seat. I actually like both of them. What does that say about my tastes in music?

I am pretty much over music awards shows. There must be eight or ten of them through the course of a year. Enough already. MTV still does its award show, a hold over from when it actually featured music in its programing. Why? Do we really need it? Maybe there should be a History Channel music awards show, too. Or how about an HGTV music awards show?

In fact, I'm fed up with awards shows, period. I guess, though, if we still have televised beauty pageants, we'll never get rid of awards shows for music, movies and so forth.

I'm just glad that I'm not a shut-in, and have to stay home and watch that crap.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

BMW 335i: Fun to Drive and Decent Fuel Economy?

Spent a week recently with my favorite BMW: the 3 Series. In this case it was the turbocharged 335i sedan. Still a lot of fun from behind the wheel, and the fuel economy is up by 2 mpg. Read my full review at

Friday, February 11, 2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles! Well, Planes and Automobiles at Least.

Ah, back in sunny South Carolina. After below-zero temps in Chicago yesterday, 35 degrees here seems downright balmy.

My travels yesterday were uneventful. Because there are so many business travelers making the trek from Atlanta to Chicago and back, the chances of getting an upgrade to first class are remote indeed. The situation was further complicated because an earlier flight to Atlanta had been canceled. I did have an exit row for both flights, so that was at least some consolation.

I had more than two hours to kill before my connecting flight to Greenville when my plane landed in Atlanta around 5:15 yesterday. My flight was out of the B concourse. As I walked to my gate I stopped and consulted the big departure board. I saw that my flight was delayed 15 minutes and now wouldn't be taking off until 7:30. I glanced up and noticed the flight scheduled to Greenville before mine was still at its gate, delayed until 6:05.

Often the Atlanta/Greenville schedule is made by the same plane that just goes back and forth several times a day. If that were the case here, there was no way my flight was only going to be delayed only 15 minutes. I calculated 45 minutes to an hour would be more like it. Making a management decision, I headed to the D concourse from which the earlier flight was set to depart. I approached the gate as the first passengers were boarding. Fifteen minutes later I was still standing patiently at the podium waiting for a Delta gate person to pay some attention to me. Because a family from France was having some sort of issue with their boarding passes matching their passports, a Red Coat customer service person had been summoned to the gate. Finally finishing with them, she turned her attention to me. Five minutes later I walked on the plane, taking the last open seat.

I arrived home a bout 90 minutes earlier than originally scheduled and probably more than two hours earlier than my original flight arrived.

I got off the plane to find a Cadillac CTS-V Wagon waiting for me. Do I have a great job or what! Well, I actually don't have a job; but if you are going to starve, it's terrific motoring around from place to place in one of the hottest performance cars on the planet. 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and a slick-shifting six-speed manual tranny, what else do you want? If I get through the next few days without a speeding ticket, it will be a miracle. I just don't have the discipline to keep 556 horsepower reined in to heed the speed limits, particularly the ridiculously low ones around Greenville.

I've had too much work to catch up on today to take this Caddy out and put it through its paces, but tomorrow is another day. Ya gotta love 0-60 in under five seconds!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Notes from the Chicago Auto Show

I'm heading into day two of media days at the Chicago Auto Show. My affection for auto shows hasn't increased from this experience. Auto shows are a necessary (and more than a few would even argue that point) evil of my profession. You do get to hear about some new product. In this case the reveals included the 429-hp Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R spec, the redesigned Acura TL, and the 550-hp Camaro ZL1 with its 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and six-speed manual tranny. I'll take one of each, please.

There were seven manufacturer press conferences in all yesterday. This is not a big number by any yardstick. McCormick Place, home of the Chicago show, is a huge, magnificent complex and the ideal venue for a show. If you looked at a map of the manufacturer exhibits, you would see that they occupy two halls separated by a wide concourse. Four press conferences were in one hall and the remaining three in the other hall. Of course the media-day planners couldn't schedule the press events in each hall one right after the other. Nope, we had to schlep from one hall to the other like so many ping-pong balls – back and forth, back and forth.

Every time we reentered either hall, we had to stop and have our press credentials scanned and whatever bags we were carrying searched. So we had the Hyundai press conference in one hall followed by the Volkswagen conference in the other hall. We than returned to the first hall and the Acura press conference that was staged right next to where the Hyundai conference had taken place 30 minutes earlier. But like so many lemmings, we dutifully herded from one hall to the other and then back again. This went on all day.

Well acquainted with the auto journalist's credo "Eat free or die," several of the auto manufacturers invited journalists to dinner. I was a guest of Kia. Chrysler, Mazda and GM also hosted dinners. Kia chose, what is reported to be, Al Capone's favorite lunch spot for its splash. The joint is called Gioco. Not a huge place, you could almost imagine Capone sauntering through it on his way to the back room where he dined. The food was exceptional and the wine flowed.

Regardless of where we ate, we all gathered after dinner at a downtown blues bar called Buddy Guy's. Several of the carmakers and other entities participating in the auto show underwrote the evening. Closed to the public, the place was filled with the music of a live blues band. Food and drink were all complimentary. It was a blast.

Several of us decided we were ready to head back to the hotel around 11 PM. Our ride back was a full-sized motor coach. The driver was a 50-something black man who took his choice of music for our entertainment very seriously. When I asked who was singing a particular song, he rolled his eyes and said, "The Temptations! You don't know the Temptations; where are you from?" I told him South Carolina to which he simply replied, "Hmph."

The CD began skipping during the next track. He stood up, opened the door of the cargo hold right above my head and extracted the CD. Producing a soft case filled with other CDs, he announced to the other two journalists sitting in the bus that he was going to find something to further educate those from South Carolina. He chose a George Benson album. As the first song played, I decided to poke him a bit and asked, "Are these black fellas singing?" "Black fellas!" he replied, "It's George Benson. You don't know George Benson? I'm not believin' this. You don't know the Temptations; you don't know George Benson. I'm going to have to do some educating of ole South Carolina here."

Once another dozen or so journalists boarded the bus during the next 10 minutes, we made the short ride to the Sheraton where we are staying.

Today's show schedule is designed for social media. I have no clue what that means. But the carmakers, I guess hoping that at some point they can avoid paying for advertising because they will have battalions of tweeters and bloggers tweeting and blogging about their products, and the industry as a whole are going out of their way to cater to these people.

While we "traditional" journalists must produce all manner of evidence of our work being published and read in order to be considered for inclusion on manufacturer programs, these tweeters and bloggers just need someone at a car company to receive a tweet or blog from them. There is no way to quantify their effectiveness, but the carmakers are happily kicking real journalists to the side of the road to make room for people who think "OMG, this car is the bomb!" is journalism. 

The one piece of networking I wanted to get done on this trip I accomplished at Buddy Guy's. I used to be invited to every press event Chrysler had. I haven't been on one of their car launches now in two or three years. Chrysler's head of media relations is at this show. Dodge made a big splash yesterday, announcing its refreshed series of R/T models. We ran into each other at Guy's. We spoke about how long it's been since we've seen each other. I remarked that it was because I couldn't seem to buy my way onto a Chrysler trip any more. The first words out of his mouth were: What are you doing; where is your stuff appearing? "For the love of God, Rick, Google me!" was my response.

The frustration of being treated by the auto manufacturers,  whom I've been covering and working with for 25 years, like some uninitiated tag-along, can't be conveyed in words. And I am not alone. This is happening to a lot of us. But I digress…..

Back to today's media day being devoted to social media. It seems to me that if you tweet (I can't believe I just typed, tweet.) or blog, you could have easily done so from yesterday's formal press conferences, but evidently not. Somehow they require a day dedicated to them. So that's what today is about. Nothing is scheduled. I guess if I were a tweeter, I would just wander around the exhibits and provide my impressions in 150-character spurts. Instead, I have chosen to relax in my room until an hour before my shuttle from McCormick Center to the airport is scheduled to leave at noon.   

Here's to flights that operate on time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When It Comes to the National Anthem, Just Sing the Damn Song!

Okay, I admit that I'm a little conservative in my politics. By definition, then, I am also somewhat patriotic. But I don't think it much matters where you land on the political spectrum to be unhappy with Christina Aguilera's butchering of the national anthem. And butchering it was.

About all I know of Aguilera is that she was a Mouseketeer in the 90s along with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. I can't name a song she has made famous. I have no real opinion of her character one way or the other. I had heard her sing before Sunday's debacle and I do think she has a terrific voice. Her performance on Sunday was a criminal misappropriation of talent

I am not so upset with her apparently unintentional substitution of one line of the lyrics, which she said she forgot, as with her interpretive warbling. Why can't these people just sing the damn song? Perhaps had she concentrated more on remembering the words than "interpreting" the melody, she wouldn't have egg on her face today.

In her defense, I don't think botching the lyrics or bastardizing the tune indicates any lack of patriotism. She may well be a flag-waving, America-first zealot. I don't have a clue. I just don't get why some celebrities feel the need to bring some "style" to a song that really isn't open to creative license. It's the national anthem, not Over the Rainbow, for the love of God! Sing it the way it was written.

I didn't like it when Jose Feliciano butchered it. I didn't like it when Rosanne Barr butchered it. And, I didn't like it when Christina Aguilera butchered it. Perhaps in the future, someone in charge might ask to hear how a celebrity is going to sing it before his or her big moment on camera.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mistakes Cost Steelers the Championship: Sometimes I Hate Being Right!

Congrats to the Green Bay Packers for their championship win last night. If the Steelers were going to lose, better to the Packers than some of the other NFC choices. That, though, is little consolation.

That it would be a close, hard-fought game was never in doubt. It wasn't one of those Super Bowls where the crowd lost interest by half time. It went down to the middle of the fourth quarter before the Steelers irrevocably sealed their own fate. It wasn't until the Packers scored their final field goal that I completely lost faith; however, I did announce to the crowd at the party I was attending that the Steelers probably would never overcome the 14 point lead the Packers racked up in the first quarter. That, unfortunately, proved all too profound.

I took no pleasure in being right about that or my two main pre-game predictions: If the Steelers held the Packers to 17, they would win; and that the defense that actually scored points would win the game. As those who know me can attest, I am no authority on sports. Of course there are those who might point out that if you put a monkey in front of a keyboard, eventually he will type a word. My prognostication about this game, however, was more than "monkey" luck. It was based on an appreciation for the defenses involved and the Steelers struggling offense.

This was always going to be a close game. It was a bit more high scoring than I anticipated, but close nonetheless. It was much closer than even the final six-point margin indicates. In fact, in terms of stats, the Steelers outplayed the Packers in nearly every category except passing yards (40-yd advantage Packers) and turnovers (Steelers, 3 and Packers, zip). Steelers controlled the ball for 33 minutes to the Packers 26 minutes. They gained more yards than the Packers, too: 387 to 338. The Packers suffered more penalty yards. Of course there was that 15-yd face-mask penalty against the Packers that was a bad call (about the only example of a lapse in officiating the entire game).

The Steelers stood up well; it was just those damn turnovers -- one of which the Packers defense ran in for a TD. Subtract that and the point after from the final equation and the Steelers win by 1. Alas, turnovers cost Pittsburgh the game. Would've, should've, could've....

The turnovers not withstanding, the Steelers played a pretty solid game on both sides of the ball. Offensively the Steelers had a couple of drives that were going somewhere, that didn't end in a turnover, that failed nonetheless. Lost opportunities. Almost flawless in his coaching decisions, Tomlin, I thought, made one gaffe when he had Suisham try for a 52-yd field goal rather than punting the ball away. Suisham has a reputation for not hitting the mark in big, important games. Hoping for him to hit a 52 yarder in the Super Bowl was pure fantasy. He missed it by a mile, providing Green Bay with excellent field position. Luckily, the mistake didn't cost the Steelers any points.

I'm sure you will find it hard to fathom, but I was wrong in two of my pregame predictions. I thought the Steelers offensive line (composed primarily of second and third stringers) wasn't going to be up to the task of moving the Packer defense out of the way. Boy was I wrong. They did a fine job of creating holes and run blocking. I also thought Big Ben would be sacked as many as six times. I think the final tally was two. A real testament to the tenacity and heart of the offensive core.

Once again, Polamalu wasn't much of a factor. I'm not sure if it was by design or if indeed he is still suffering from injuries; but he spent most of the game running around in the secondary to no real effect. Was his storied intuition dulled in some way? Was he tasked to some specific role in the secondary? Or did injury keep him from blitzing the quarterback and harassing receivers? This is a team that needs him to make big, game-changing defensive plays and that didn't happen throughout the playoffs.

Now it's on to the 2011 season!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making Miracles: Steelers Offensive Line Overcoming the Odds

I'm gearing up for today's big game. I'll don my long-sleeve, Steelers-winner-of-six-Super-Bowls T-shirt for my gym workout. It's part of my game-day superstition. Before game time, I will shower and change into my Steelers/Pittsburgh Football long-sleeve shirt that one of my nieces gave me for Christmas this year. I wore it for the final game of the season when the Steelers humiliated the Browns and for both playoff games. I will wear it for today's game as well. How could I not?

I have friends who are hosting a Super Bowl party. They are part of the Peddler Wednesday Night Irregulars who I hang out with. Although they aren't Steelers loyalists, they decided before the Steelers/Jets contest that if the Steelers won, they would host a Super Bowl bash. Having loaded up on Rolling Rock beer -- couldn't find any Iron City (thank, God) -- I am ready to hunker down and watch some football.

I saw a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story this morning lauding the superior effort of Sean Kugler, who has been the Steelers offensive line coach since the end of the 2009 season. Whatever the Rooneys are paying him, they should double it. Consider that only one of five offensive linemen expected to start this season is still in the lineup: Chris Kemoeatu. More games than not this season have seen a new face somewhere among this front five. If the Steelers can win today's game with this cobbled-together offensive line, Pittsburgh ought to erect a statue to Kugler.

The loss of Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey will be the toughest negative to overcome today. However, coach Mike Tomlin somehow instills such a wealth of pride in even the guys filling spots on the practice squad, that Doug Legursky, Pouncey's replacement, may just step in and get the job done.

My prediction is that the Steelers offense will need to score at least 14 points (and the Steelers D contribute another 7 points) for the Steelers to win today. That means the offensive line is going to have to create running lanes and stand tough in pass protection. I'd feel more confident if Willie Colon and Pouncey were in the mix; however, this is an offensive line that has somehow managed to get the job done more often than not this season. I have to believe that they will gather themselves up and deliver one more miracle today.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl Eve: It's the Steelers, Baby!

Now that the weekend is here, I am permitting myself to begin thinking about tomorrow's game. I have tried to forget about it as much as possible this week. After all, there is nothing I can do to affect the outcome, other than maybe pray. And despite some of the miraculous wins the Steelers have accumulated this season -- the championship game against the Jets and the second regular season game against the Ravens come to mind -- I think God has bigger fish to fry than which team wins the Super Bowl.

It has been difficult to put this game on the back burner. My Toledo-based Steeler buddy, who mines the Pittsburgh press for Steeler-related stories, has kept a steady flow of articles streaming into my e-mail box. Most of these, however, have been player profiles rather than hardcore game coverage. While they have reinforced my belief that the Steeler squad is composed of serious and passionate athletes, they didn't overcome my determination not to dwell on the game.

However, now it's Saturday and I'm shifting into rabid-fan mode.

I was disappointed to read in Friday's practice notes that neither Maurkice Pouncey nor Aaron Smith will start tomorrow. Either could make a big difference; having both in the starting lineup could be enough to decide the game. As Pouncey's replacement, Doug Legursky, however, has had two weeks of taking most of the snaps in practice. He is somewhat smaller than Pouncey, but can probably hold his own. No doubt Green Bay's defense will test him early in the game.

Although the last meeting of these two teams led to a huge quarterback shootout, I believe this game will be a battle of the defenses. I look for a low-scoring game. Moreover, I think whichever defense manages to put some points on the board will decide the game. The key for the Steelers D is to get to Rodgers early and shake him up mentally. They are going to have to put him on his ass a couple of times and make him hear foot steps coming even when there aren't any.

I fully expect the Packers D to sack Big Ben maybe as many as five or six times, but it won't have the same effect on Ben. He gets sacked almost more than any other NFL quarterback. He's use to it and being sacked just doesn't seem to bother him. As long as he doesn't get hurt and holds on to the ball, it won't matter.

Oh, and I think Polamalu is finally healthy again. He wasn't on the injured list this week as he has been for the past month or so. Although he played, I think it was evident he wasn't playing with his signature zeal. He wasn't running to the ball, and I can only remember him making one tackle against the Jets. If he is indeed healthy, he will be a factor.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nose Dive: Downtown Greenville Gets a New Eatery

There is yet another new joint in downtown Greenville. The six or seven blocks of Main Street constituting the heart of downtown is already crammed full of eateries and bars. I've lost count of the number of sushi joints that have opened on this avenue in the past two years. How much raw fish can people eat?

Greenville's Main Street is a quaint, tree-lined boulevard where traffic typically moves at a snail's pace and the side walks channel a tsunami of humanity. It is a downtown heartily supported by folks driving in from the "burbs." Parking on the street is free -- eat your hearts out my Delray Beach friends -- and several of the parking garages become free-parking zones after 6 PM. Engineered to succeed, downtown Greenville is the community's "in" place to be.

So it is in this atmosphere that Table 301, the group owning Soby's and a few other upscale downtown hasheries, is opening the Nose Dive where another of its restaurants slipped into oblivion a couple of years ago. O was a steak house attached to the Westin Hotel. A bit pricey and decorated in that chrome-meets-antiseptic style that makes one feel like he is chowing down in an operating room, O was doomed to fail. If you want to pay too much for food you eat in a sterile environment, High Cotton is three blocks down the street.

The official name of the new place is Nose Dive A Gastropub. I'm no expert in marketing, but I think it a bad idea anytime you include the word "gas" in the name of a restaurant. But evidently Europe is teeming with "gastropubs." I rest my case.

The gastropub moniker aside, I am more than impressed with the place. Currently going through what the Table 301 folks call a "soft opening," and I would term an invitation-only preopening, Nose Dive is getting its sea legs sans paying customers who might get angry if things don't go perfectly to plan. This will continue through Saturday. Sunday they will close to make whatever adjustments and improvements can be accomplished in a 24-hour period and open for real on Monday.

Having finagled a spot on the guest list last night, I spent a couple of hours sampling its menu. Despite the fact it bills itself as an upscale sports bar, its food and wine list are anything but sports bar-like. If you want traditional bar fare, you can head across the street to the Carolina Ale House that had been Main Street's newest restaurant addition.

Besides a couple of my friends manning the Nose Dive's bars, here is what I like about the place.
  • The menu selections are good old southern comfort food, but with a dash of panache.
  • The food menu and the wine list are grouped into one-price sections. All of the appetizers are one price, all the entrees one price and so forth. Likewise the wine list has wine groupings for $25, $35, $45 and so on. Richard Peck selects the wines and the list is as rich in its offerings as it is concise in its pricing.
  • The upstairs area has its own bar, offering a lounge-like setting. There are a few high-top tables and a couple of booths, but basically this is an area to relax in a comfortable chair and enjoy.
  • Live entertainment will add to the ambiance.

I had the French Onion Soup, the Butcher's Steak and the Nose Dive Dark Chocolate Candied Bacon Brownie for desert. Yes, there is bacon in the brownie and it's wonderful. As with the other main courses, the steak was a modest $14. It was big, juicy and grilled to perfection.

I was never in the place when it was O -- way to pretentious for my liking. I will revisit Nose Dive. The upstairs lounge is the ideal place to watch a game and throw back a couple. This thing could work.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Do Not Have a TV Problem

I just saw a list of canceled TV shows for 2011. I'm not addicted to television, but I watch a fair amount of it. Maybe that's like saying I'm not an alcoholic, but I'm drunk most of the time. I suppose it stretches the bounds of credulity.

Here's the thing, my life doesn't revolve around the box. I have no appointment TV in my life. Of course, I also have a DVR. I watch very little television in real time. I record and watch later, flashing over the commercials. Is the DVR a great invention or what?

Because I record nearly everything, I'm not a slave to network programming. I don't need to be home at a specific time on a particular night to watch something I really like. I'm not sure if there is anything on TV that I would actually schedule around; until this moment, I haven't given it any thought. But what my DVR does motivate me to do is to watch a few shows I probably wouldn't bother with otherwise. I put these in the just-something-to-do category. When I don't have anything better to do, I watch them. Such a show, The Gates, was on the updated canceled list. It was a show about a gated community of werewolves and vampires, and what happens when a new police chief and his family, who are not monsters, are thrown into the mix. Who doesn't like vampires, right? I wasn't crazy over the show, but I recorded it and watched in my down time.

One show I am a little disappointed to have found on the canceled list is The Good Guys. A show that never failed to make me laugh three or four times an episode, it involved a worn-out politically incorrect police detective teamed with a young buttoned-up detective blundering their way through crime in Dallas. I found it entertaining and I'm sorry to see it go.

Gone also are two more on my list of shows to watch only if time permitted: Medium and Undercovers. I'm sure I will find a couple of replacements that I am equally unenthused about.

Among shows with a recent debut that I am liking so far: Fairly Legal (Fox) and Harry's Law (NBC). Do you notice a pattern here? My guess is that I will stick with Fairly Legal. It's fun with some very likeable characters. I'm less sure about Harry's Law. It's a David E. Kelley show. I stopped watching his Boston Legal when it became nothing more than a soapbox for his far-left politics. Harry's Law has flirted with that a little already. I'll give it another episode or two before bailing if it gets too preachy.

Things in my life must be really slow if I have resorted to blogging about my TV habits.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Punxsutawney Phil: Giving Hope to the Hopeless

Watching the weather reports out of Chicago, I am certainly glad my trip to the Windy City for the auto show is next Tuesday, rather than yesterday. More than likely had it been yesterday, my flight from Atlanta to Chicago would have been canceled anyway. Because this is one of the rare trips when I am flying out of Greenville-Spartanburg instead of driving to Atlanta and beginning my trip there; getting back home may well have turned into an all-day effort.

Sitting on a runway at O'Hare for 36 hours or camping out in its terminal isn't my idea of fun. I am not disappointed that fate of timing spared me that potential consequence. Any time you are forced to fly in winter, you take the chance of being stranded somewhere. I recall flying from South Florida to El Paso several years ago to spend Christmas with my sister in Las Cruces, NM. My connecting flight out of Dallas was evidently under the command of Don Knotts. As the snow began piling up, we boarded the plane, sat on the plane and then got off the plane. The pilot didn't want to take off in the snow. Meanwhile, we could hear other boarding calls for flights at other gates and watched through the terminal windows as other flights took off. Did I mention it was Christmas Eve? I thought the pilot was going to be lynched right there in Terminal E of DFW. It was an ugly mob surrounding him as he tried to justify his decision. Passengers shouted insults and a guy next to me was making "chicken" noises. Finally the captain relented, we reboarded and the plane took off without incident. I'm not a big fan of flying in winter.

One might jump to the conclusion that the abnormal amount of cold and snow this season might be some sort of evidence that the global-warming hysteria is unfounded. I was reassured when I read on Al Gore's Web site that no, as all scientists agree, abnormally cold and snowy winters are a byproduct of global warming. Of course they are. Paraphrasing a Bill Clinton quip from last year, "Al Gore thinks spring is further proof of global warming." Indeed.

As for Greenville, the temps turned colder earlier this winter, but not outrageously so. We've had a little more snow than normal so far. I didn't move here until February 15th three years ago. Between that date and spring, we had a 4-inch snowfall. Obviously we can get more this year.

I was buoyed, however, to learn that Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow today. That, of course, means an early spring. Is next week too much to hope for?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Renting Movies at Red Box: A Buck Doesn't Buy Much Anymore

I rented a couple of movies from Red Box last night. Neither was particularly riveting; but when you rent a movie for a buck, you rarely feel gypped. Such was the case with last night's entertainment.

The first was a Ben Affleck vehicle called Town. He wrote, directed and starred in it. I'm not sure if he was the star because, as the director, he couldn't find a "name" star; or if, because he was the star, no one else would direct it. It's a "chicken or the egg" sort of mystery. I can't decide whether I like Affleck as an actor or not. I don't find him annoying so much as just sort of flat. When I see his name attached to a movie, I don't think, oh man, I can't stand him. I usually just shrug my shoulders, yawn and watch. I thought he was a better Jack Ryan in Sum of All Fears than Harrison Ford had been in other Ryan movies, but not as good as Alec Baldwin in Hunt for Red October. I thought he was fine in Armageddon, too. But generally, I don't even notice him.

I only recognized a couple of other actors in the movie and his love interest wasn't one of them. A thin plot line and lackluster writing didn't provide the cast with a lot to do. It was, however, something for me to do for 90 minutes; and like I said, it only cost a buck.

The second epic snoozer was something called, Devil. I continue getting sucked into every movie that comes along with M. Night Shyamalan's name on it because I keep hoping against hope that it will be another Sixth Sense. And since Unbreakable, he hasn't come close to repeating the surprise nor the suspense of his debut film. For a measly dollar, though, I was willing to take another chance.

Devil concerns five people targeted, trapped in an elevator and systematically killed by the devil. No, it wasn't a comedy. There is the typical Shyamalan surprise twist at the end, but it hardly has the impact of the Sixth Sense. Again I recognized four or five of the eight or so key players, but none of them headliners.

I neither laughed nor cried, but I did kiss two bucks good-by. I need to find something better to do with my evenings.