ouray

ouray
It's me doing a little posing while taking a break at the Ouray, Colorado Jeep Jamboree in 1995.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

5 Best Family Road-Trip Cars Under $35,000



Anytime you can get a buttoned-down outfit like Bankrate to actually let you reference National Lampoon's Vacation in a piece, you're doing pretty good. I managed to slip the reference into the story I did on road-trip vehicles. Here's the link: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/auto/5-best-family-road-trip-cars-under-35-000-1.aspx.

Monday, May 30, 2011

2011 Nissan Z Roadster: Just One More Reason to Celebrate Memorial Day!



Memorial Day is the traditional kickoff to summer. I'm taking it easy today, but what better time to checkout the 2011 Nissan Z Roadster? Wind in your hair, sun on your face and great driving fun, it's one of my favorite drop-tops. Take a gander my full review for CarData at http://car-data.com/nissan-z-roadster-big-fun-without-compromise-p1340-120.htm.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Boca Raton News: The Most Fun of My Working Life

I owe a lot to my years toiling away for the Boca Raton News.

It was a community newspaper that probably never exceeded 25,000 in circulation. For a few of its "glory" years, it seemed bigger than it was because of the very affluent community it catered to and the fact that it was part of the Knight-Ridder chain -- a corporation headquartered in Miami.

Among those of us who worked at the paper, we had two tongue-in-cheek slogans:

Boca News: If it's news to you, it's news to us.

and

Boca News: Yesterday's news tomorrow.

Actually in the years I was associated with the paper, it was pretty damn good.

When Knight-Ridder made its grand experiment to attract younger readers (I believe it was called the 25-43 Program.), the Boca News served as the Petri dish.

Knight-Ridder pumped huge amounts of cash into the paper, brought in several employees from other Knight-Ridder properties to lend a hand and boosted marketing efforts. Not only were the eyes of the Knight-Ridder corporation on us, but the eyes of the entire newspaper industry.

Those were heady days.

I got my start in automotive writing at the Boca News.

When the decision was made to launch a stand-alone auto section, I was asked if I wanted to run it.

That wouldn't have happened at a "big" newspaper for two reasons. One, this was one of the first such auto sections in the country. Most bigger papers didn't need it and wouldn't have chanced it. Two, I had no clue what in the hell I was doing, and pretty much everyone at the paper who knew anything, knew it.

The suits at the Boca News only considered the auto section because, other than some classified line ads, the paper had no auto advertising. Nope, it had none of those full-page, automotive display ads that, at the time, represented 15% to 30% of the ad revenue at most newspapers.

In 1985 dollars, the paper generated maybe $15,000 to $20,000 a year in automotive display advertising. It was peanuts, even for the Boca News.

Boca Raton had, and to this day has, no car dealerships. It would take something radical to attract display advertising from car dealers in nearby Delray Beach and Deerfield Beach, not to mention Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Management decided to give the auto section a go.

I was selling ad space at the time. My only writing creds? I did the flyers for the Thursday after-work, company-wide cocktail get-togethers we had at the little Italian joint across the street from the paper's main offices.

We called those gatherings "The Gold Coast Press Club." So named, so that we could post the flyers around the paper's offices without visitors realizing that they pertained to a drinking event. The name was our beard.

When I assumed the task of creating the flyers early in my career at Boca News, they were simple announcements that included the location and time of the gathering.

They soon morphed into essays with clip art and the closing tag line: "Come when you get off."

Yep, that was my only qualification for managing and doing most of the writing for the auto section.

MPH (Motorcars Profiles and Highlights) was born.

Thursday was chosen as the day that MPH would be inserted into the paper because Wednesday was the lightest press day and there was time to print it.

How's that for savvy marketing? Not, which day of the week will readers most likely read it? But which day do we have the press time to print it?

Ah, only at a small paper....

One of my most exciting moments at the Boca News was the afternoon I stood with several of the paper's directors in the press room and watched the first MPH issues roll off the press.

Had I smoked them at the time, I would have handed out cigars.

Within about 24 months, we had added a Saturday MPH as well, and automotive display ad revenue was well over $1.2 million annually. In fact, the publisher wouldn't sign off on printing the initial section unless there were enough display ads to pay for it. It broke even right out of the chute.

It was at about that two-year mark that the publisher saw me walking by outside his office and called me in. He told me he didn't want me to be a slave to my job. He continued that he didn't care if I ever showed up at the office and that I could do my job at the beach if I wanted. As long as I got MPH out the door twice a week, he was happy.

Wow!

I have been writing about cars and the industry ever since -- more than 25 years.

So, I owe a lot to the Boca Raton News. It's gone now, but I consider my years there as the most fun of my working life. I am not alone in that.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Auto-Buying Research Is Where You Find It: Take a Look At TrueCar.com

Click the link below and zip over to my auto blog at Interest.com to learn about TrueCar.com and some of the hard-to-find info it regularly posts. For instance, it predicts tomorrow, May 28th, as the best day in May to negotiate a discount on a new car. Check it out at http://www.interest.com/auto/advice/shop-saturday-and-other-car-buying-tips/.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet? What if It Were Called a Turd?

I have been living with the last name "Heaps" all my life.

As if Heaps isn't bad enough, my family insisted on nicknaming me "Rusty."

In retrospect, that I wound up writing about cars and the automotive industry seems almost predestined.

I thought about changing my name from time to time, but that seemed like just too much effort. I had more important things to do, such as go to happy hour, watch TV and go to happy hour.

I suspect during the many job-hunting episodes of my life, my resume was passed over more than once because of my name. It's not as bad as Hitler or Focker, but a bit of a hindrance nonetheless.

One reason I never went into politics was because I am unelectable, or at least my name is. "Russ Heaps," It doesn't really resonate.

Consider how few U.S. presidents had a name without a hard consonant in it.

Let's see, there was William Henry Harrison (He lasted all of one month.) and one termer Millard Fillmore (Who? Exactly!).

I couldn't invent anything because whatever I might concoct, would wind up with my name.

Can you imagine Marie Antoinette getting her head lopped off by a Heaps?

A hunk of bologna between two slices of bread could be a Heaps

How about going for a relaxing soak in your Heaps with a few wine-sipping friends?

During hockey games they could smooth the ice with a Heaps.

You could be canning pickles in a Heaps jar.



Or after chowing down on some chili, you could take a Heap in your Heaps.

Heck, Russ Heaps just sounds like someone who is short and bald.

In the movie Clueless, the good-looking guys were referred to as "Baldwins," and the good-looking girls as "Bettys." I guess short, bald guys could have been called "Heaps."

My name is probably the reason I remain single today. The first time any chick I was dating doodled "Mrs. Russ Heaps" on a piece of scratch paper, she checked out of the relationship and ran screaming into the night.

She didn't just say, no; she said, hell no!

So there you have it: I would be taller and more successful if not for my name.

Well, maybe not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hey, Where Did Everybody Go?: What I Didn't Get to Say at 6:01 PM Saturday

I was sort of rooting for this whole Rapture thing on Saturday.

I have no illusions; I wouldn't have been one of those zapped to a better place. But for all the folks who have worked so hard to be among the chosen, more power to you, I say.

Bon voyage!

I'm a half-full kind of guy and, as one of those to be left behind, I was thinking happy thoughts about all the job openings that would be created. Maybe I might actually get an HR person to forward my resume to a hiring manager who would call me for job interview.

Now that would have been a real miracle.

Alas, at 6:01 I glanced around to find everyone with their feet still firmly planted on this mortal coil.

Drat!

I have no idea who this Harold Camping clown is who keeps getting the end-of-the-world date wrong, or why anyone pays any attention to him; but I'm glad I'm not one of his believers who has to keep packing and unpacking a suitcase.

How many times do you have to call a neighbor asking her to check on your cat because you are going to the great beyond and not coming back? Then the next day you must make an oops-my-bad call back telling her she can stand down. "Boy, is my face red! Turns out I'm not leaving after all."

Now I guess the new gotta-go date is October 21.

I can't wait!

I need a job and I don't care who has to get catapulted into the Hereafter for me to get one.

Not to mention that Greenville is on the buckle of the Bible belt; so I suspect it will be much easier to find a parking space downtown on the weekends.

Let's get this party started!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pee You! What's That Smell? Must Be Red Box-Movie-Review Day

It's Monday, so it must be Red Box Movie Review Day!

Rented a couple of nose-holding stinkers over the weekend.

I don't know which was the biggest waste, the $1.06 I spent renting each of them or the combined 5 hours lost watching these turkeys.

The more disappointing of this duo was Here After.

Why was it the more disappointing? Because Clint Eastwood directed it.

Generally I like his movies. I was amazed at how little plot this movie has and how poorly the characters are developed. Neither can be hung around Eastwood's neck, but, gee, didn't he bother reading the script? Can't he find a good movie to direct?

Then I remembered Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby. A half hour of escapism followed by 90 minutes of depressing crap. Visiting a funeral home would be more entertaining.

Matt Damon is also in Here After and usually his movies can be counted on to have at least a smidgen of action. That streak has hit a wall.



I'd recap the plot for you, but there wasn't one. I've got nothing here.

What I can tell you is that Damon plays a reluctant psychic who runs into some chick author who had a near-death experience and a kid whose twin died. He told the kid to take off his ball cap, and bought the chick's book and then took her on a date. There you have it: two hours of nothing.

The second weekend Red Box clunker was Triage.

Not near the disappointment of Here After basically because I wasn't expecting much to begin with.

It stars Colin Farrell as a photojournalist who covers wars. I don't mind watching Farrell; but he thinks because Marlon Brando was considered a great actor, all he needs to do to be the same is mumble a lot and scratch his cheek. Mumble, mumble, mumble, scratch, mumble, mumble, scratch, mumble. Like that.

Oh, and smoke a lot of cigarettes.



Here's the plot (yes, this movie actually had one): The entire movie takes place over a time frame of maybe two weeks, tops.

Farrell's character and his buddy are in Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Baluchistan or some such place, where Kurds are fighting with someone, taking photos of the action.

The buddy decides he's had enough danger and leaves to go home. Suddenly Farrell's character finds himself in a makeshift Kurd field hospital. He doesn't know how he got there. He returns home to his girlfriend.

His buddy's wife is preggers and she wants to know where her husband is. Ferrall's character is mystified that he still isn't back, but doesn't seem too upset about it.

Before the movie ends, Ferrall's character suddenly remembers his buddy was hit by mortar fire, and died in his arms less than two weeks earlier. Evidently you don't need the memory skills of a stage-3 Alzheimer's patient to be a photojournalist.

His buddy's wife has her baby. End of story. I doubt any of them lived happily ever after. Certainly the buddy didn't.

So that's this week's Red Box Movie wrap up.

I rent 'em so you don't have to.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Celebrities on Parade

Greenville, SC is a great place to see and to be seen in. As long as it's not raining, the downtown is a heaving mass of humanity, even on weekends.

I love being here and apparently so do a lot of other people.

I'm not easily star struck.

Let me qualify that by saying that I don't come unhinged when confronted with a celebrity. But sightings and encounters make for good war stories, which I am happy to tell.

My first celebrity encounter was at the restaurant of the Bridge Hotel in Boca Raton back in 1985 or so when Lorne Green leaned over and asked to borrow our table's bottle of ketchup. I recognized his voice before turning around to confirm my guess. I knew him from playing Pa Cartwright on "Bonanza" and Adama on "Battlestar Galactica." Most of the people at my table were a decade younger than I and recognized him as a pitchman for dog food.



That evening, Joe DiMaggio was dining in the bar area of the joint across the street from the Boca News where we always migrated after work and we got to eyeball him. He proved to be an arrogant, rude snot, but it was fun nonetheless.

Some of my celebrity sightings have been brief, yet close up like riding several floors in an elevator in the W Hotel in Seattle with Seth Green (Scott Evil in the Austin Powers movies and Oz in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series). I got a "hi" out of him.



Or sitting across the aisle from Danny Glover in the first-class cabin of a flight from Washington D.C. to Atlanta. He spent the entire flight with his nose buried in a magazine refusing to make eye contact with anyone around him.

My favorite celebrity-sighting story was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. It sits about four blocks off of Austin's famous 6th Street with all of its live-music venues. I was there for a Jaguar event. We had just completed dinner and adjourned to the hotel bar before heading to 6th Street.

We walked in to find Luke Wilson, Michael Madsen ("Reservoir Dogs") and Keanu Reeves all seated at separate tables. Reeves looked all the world like a homeless person to the point we didn't even recognize him. We only noticed him because he seemed so out of place in the Four Season's bar and he was surrounded by two very hot chicks. It wasn't until Bruce Willis wandered in and shook Reeves' hand that we finally figured out who he was. Yep, Willis was there, too.

You couldn't swing a dead cat over your head in that room that night and not hit someone you had seen in the movies.

Sightings in Hollywood are expected, so that somewhat diminished my sighting of the entire Kardashian clan including Kim and Bruce Jenner two tables away at a local steak house at another auto program in Tinsel Town.

What inspired this rather long, boring walk down memory lane is that Friday was celebrity night at my favorite downtown Greenville watering hole, Soby's.

Every year BMW holds a pro/celebrity tournament in Greenville. Soby's is the unofficial downtown meeting place for the participants. It's where BMW throws its kick-off party. It also doesn't hurt that during the tournament anyone producing their PGA card gets to eat free. The place is packed with pro golfers and celebs every night for nearly a week.

Soby's is my Friday-night spot. When I'm in town, that's where you will find me.

I'm not a golfer and would only watch golf in TV if you paid me by the hour to do it. It would cost extra if you expected me to stay awake. Ping "Wow, he really got into that one and looks to have an easy approach to the green." Yawn.

So there are only two golfers currently on the circuit I would recognize: Tiger and Phil Mickelson. Oh, and I did see Tiger seated a table away from me at a restaurant and didn't have a clue who he was. My dinner companion had to tell me. It was in 1996 at a steak house in Milwaukee. He was playing in his first PGA tournament as a pro. I had never heard of him at that point.

In any case, I didn't recognize any of the pros hanging out at Soby's last Friday. But I did recognize a celebrity to two.

Cheech Marin dined with a posse of maybe 10 people. Two were body guards. Not sure why he thought he needed them in Greenville. He's one of those guys who could walk down the street completely unnoticed. In fact, the only reason you might recognize him is because he was with two big, honkin' security guards and they would have caused you to take a closer look.

Also hanging out were Oliver Hudson and Patrick Warburton who star with David Spade in "Rules of Engagement." Warburton also played Puddy, Elaine's long-time boyfriend on Seinfeld. They both seemed to be having fun and weren't shy about chatting with Soby's regular guests.



Downtown Greenville is one of those places that will surprise you. It's just one of the things I so like about it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

One Way to Get Out of Your Current Car Avoiding Today's Higher New-Car Prices

Now isn't the best time to buy a new car. Supplies are down, manufacturer incentives are evaporating and dealers aren't in the mood to negotiate. You won't find any deals in the used-car market either. But if you simply can't wait to get out of that old heap, think about assuming someone's short-term lease. It's my latest blog for Interest.com. Check it out at http://www.interest.com/auto/advice/postpone-buying-a-car-by-assuming-a-lease/.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NYC: All Things Considered, I'd Rather Be Almost Anywhere Else

Like hitting myself on the shin with a claw hammer from time to time, I forget the pain of being in New York City until I return to it. In the back of my mind I know I don't like it, but I forget from visit to visit just how much I hate it.

I am currently in a limo as it slugs its way from LaGuardia to The James Hotel in the city. It is raining like Noah should be in his backyard in Queens building a vessel to hold two of every ethnicity.

It didn't help that my flight was more than an hour late arriving, throwing this drive into early rush hour.

I'm not sure why a car company would actually chose to have a media launch in NYC. But then, there's a lot I don't understand. I can tell you that it's not the best location for driving under ideal weather conditions.
It's Fiat-Chrysler's intro of the Fiat 500 convertible. With the weather forecast predicting more thunder showers tomorrow, I don't hold much hope for any top-down driving.



Seems like tomorrow may be a good day to sleep in and blow off the event. Yeah, like I'm going to do that.

I'll just grow a little older sitting in stop-and-go traffic wishing I really knew what it's like to drive the Fiat 500C.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

All Electric Propulsion Schemes Cost Too Much, But Volt Makes More Sense



I am now posting a twice-a-week auto blog for Interest.com. This means every once in a while I will be directing readers of this blog to that one. This is one of those times. Use the link below to find my argument that as far as vehicles relying on some form of electricity for propulsion go, the Chevy Volt comes closer to getting it right than either hybrids or electric vehicles. Check it out at http://www.interest.com/auto/advice/whos-really-getting-electric-cars-right/.

Monday, May 16, 2011

7 Luxury Sedan Leasing Deals



With the meltdown of 2008, auto leasing nearly evaporated. It's roaring back and I've put together a list for Bankrate of seven luxury sedans that, because of their residual values, are excellent leasing values. Here's the link: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/auto/7-luxury-sedan-leasing-deals-to-love.aspx.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Be Still My Heart: A Sandwich Guaranteed to Block Your Arteries

Okay, I'm not proud of it, but my dinner last night was a coronary-inducing, blood-pressure rocketing, artery-clogging monster of a sandwich that was better than it looked; and it looked darned good.

I went to Nose Dive on Main Street in Greenville to meet several Florida friends. There is a sandwich on the menu that's one of the best I've ever eaten. Yes, it is that good.

Its a grilled, thick-bread sandwich with ham, Gruyere cheese and mustard covered in Mornay Sauce and topped with a fried egg. I could hear my bathroom scale groan 8 miles away. Or I would have heard it had my ears not been ringing like the bells of St. Mary's from my rising blood pressure.

The name of this concoction is "Croque Madame." It has the same number of calories and cholesterol content as a 10-gallon barrel of pork lard.



Of course I also had to have the fries cooked in duck fat. I'm not sure what duck fat is exactly or which part of the duck is squeezed to produce it; but it sounded like the perfect compliment for a sandwich engineered to clog the most robust cardiovascular system.

Oh, and they were deeeelicious.

The cost for this feast was a paltry eight bucks. I'm sure it won't seem like such a bargain when I'm being sliced open to replace a petrified aorta, but for now I am basking in my financial good fortune.

I went to the gym this morning and worked off the fries; it will take me until July 4th weekend to overcome the damage I did with the sandwich.

Maybe a salad is in order as tonight's dinner.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Boring, Yes; Expensive, No: 5 Family Sedans You Can Afford

 


Getting excited about a family sedan is tough; typically they are conservative and fairly boring. I put together a list of five of them for Bankrate that don't raise the bar on the excitement quotient, but are cheap to own. Check them out at www.bankrate.com/finance/auto/5-cheap-to-own-family-sedans-1.aspx.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cleaning House: Sometimes We Must Do Things We Don't Want To

I have company from South Florida arriving today. They were scheduled to shove off from Lake Worth after work yesterday and pause for some sleep in Savannah. I expect to see them around 1 PM today.

I don't get many overnight visitors. In fact, I've had the same guest bed for 10 years. If it has been utilized by guests more than a total of 60 days in that decade, I'd be surprised. I sleep in it for three or four months out of the year because it's cooler in the guest room in the summer than upstairs in my room. I'll be relocating to the guest room once this week's company leaves.

For a single guy, company acomin' means a Chinese fire drill of activity. Although I dust and run the vacuum periodically, a "real good" cleaning only happens when I anticipate guests.



I abhor house cleaning. It was an activity I hired out for eight years while living in Florida. Once I was no longer living with my mother, it was the only extended period in my life when my residence was truly clean.

A couple of periods of live-in girl friends also translated into a clean house; but, in the long run, it was cheaper to pay Dos Rosarios, the tag team-cleaning sisters from El Salvador $200 a month to keep the joint clean than to underwrite the wallet-emptying cost of supplying a live-in chick with toilet paper.

Yes, I wrote that.

So, this morning I will dive in and clean this rat trap. I am hating life already. It's too early to begin drinking. Well, maybe...

I hope my friends appreciate my sacrifice.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Arnold and Maria: I'm Not Sure Which Is Scarier

I see that Arnold and Maria are splits.



I'm sorry, I have never been able to look at a photo of those two without laughing.

What a mismatch! And they get scarier with every photo.

I heard a comedian one time say nearly the same thing followed by:

"The marriage of Arnold and Maria is part of the ongoing experiment to make a bullet-proof Kennedy."

I must have heard that joke five years ago and it still makes me laugh every time I think about it.

That's all I got on this story, but I wanted to share it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Delta: How to Turn 90 Minutes of Flying into 5 Hours

I traveled to Washington D.C. this week. It was a quick in and out -- at least that's how it was scheduled. I flew out of Greenville-Spartanburg Airport on Sunday morning with a return on Monday evening. My total flight time each way? Twenty-five minutes from G-S to Atlanta and one hour from Atlanta to D.C.

Sounds simple, right? On Sunday my flight from Greenville to Atlanta was delayed 25 minutes. Why? Well, we didn't know for the first 20 min. The flight attendants claimed not to know. I was sitting in the four-row first-class cabin, so I had a front-row seat to the discussions.

Both pilots got off the plane and walked up to the gate to participate in the hold up. Still, we knew nothing. Finally, one of the flight attendants called the gate and asked them to send one of the pilots back to tell the passengers what was going on.

When we finally received the official update, the reason for the delay was that there was a Delta mechanic who had been flown over from Atlanta to fix a plane, and they were waiting to put him on our flight to get him back to Atlanta. Yes, indeed. I fly a lot and have been for years, I have never had Delta hold a flight for me for so much as 30 seconds. In fact, if I'm not on the plane 10 minutes prior to the scheduled closing of the hatch, I lose my seat.

But then I'm not a Delta employee.

Here was Delta inconveniencing 50 or so paying passengers to try to get one of its employees on the plane. The kicker is that after waiting nearly half an hour for this clown, he never did board the plane.

The gate clerk came on the plane just before takeoff. When a passenger with a super-close connection wanted some assurance that he would be booked on a later connecting flight, the clerk told him not to worry about it; he would make his connection without a problem. Yeah, right.

Upon landing, we sat just off our gate for more than 10 minutes. Our flight was supposed to use gate B36 (the very last gate in the B concourse). A plane that was taxing out had been stopped just short of the taxi way, which put it directly across the access to our gate. Tick Tock.

The the gate clerk couldn't operate the gangway and we sat another 10 minutes at the gate waiting for someone to show up who could pull the gangway up to the plane door. Tick Tock.

This poor schlub didn't make his flight.

Now I am sitting in Washington Reagan and my flight to Atlanta is delayed 35 minutes -- exactly the amount of time I had to make my connection to G-S. I had to call Delta's reservations and get backed up on the next flight. Instead of arriving in Greenville at , I will arrive at .

I typically drive to Atlanta and fly in and out of that airport because the flights between Atlanta and G-S are so unreliable. I have a problem every other flight between those cities. So I am fully prepared that my backup flight will be canceled or at least delayed.

Delta: The airline I love to hate!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Ghost of Derbys Past

Granted, this topic would have been a bit more appropriate had I posted it on Saturday, but too much to do and too little time. I had to mow the dirt for the love of God.

I was invited to a Derby party yesterday. I am always surprised by people living beyond the borders of Kentucky and with no ties to the place who throw such shindigs. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for it, but just surprised.

The party was held at the home of an acquaintance who is the neighbor and friend of friends of mine. Had it not been for my friends, I would never have been included. I know that's hard to believe: Who wouldn't want me at their party? Yet, there are people who don't find me as amusing as I find myself. Such folks are typically categorized as having taste.

In any event, I went to this party. Attending were 35 people I had never laid eyes on before, the hostess acquaintance, my friends and three other people they had invited, who are friends of mine. If you are doing the math, I knew a total of six people out of 40 or so.

There was the obligatory betting board -- more work had been put in on its creation than that at any Derby party I was ever at in Louisville. Louisville folks tend to just copy the page of entries from the Courier-Journal. The chart at yesterday's party was the result of some serious effort.

The home we were in is large, and quite lovely. The attendees were pretty much split with the 35 or so people I didn't know crowded around a 17-inch TV monitor on the back screened-in porch and the half-dozen or so people I did know lounging around the living room in front of the 42-inch flat screen. We got the better part of the bargain.

The way the guests were divided reminded me of a party I attended 20 years ago or more. It was thrown by two roommates. One was a wild partier whom I worked with at the Boca Raton News, and the other was a rather more subdued young lady who worked at a book store. Each invited their respective work friends.

It was like oil and water. Much to the frustration of the roomies, the two groups just didn't mix. Such was pretty much the case at this Derby party.

People who know me are well aware that I am not a mixer. If I don't know you, I'm probably not going to as a result of meeting you at a party. I hate small talk and really can't muster much charm or humor for people I am probably never going to see again.

When I was younger, I might make exception for a good looking woman, but at this stage of my life, I realize such nonsense is a waste of my time.

So, there we were, two clicks of folks. It worked out fine and I had a good time. But I'm sure the hostess was less than happy.

I must admit, I had no clue about which horses were even running in the race -- a sad commentary for someone who lived in Louisville for 16 years and attended many a Derby.  I don't even think I saw the race last year. I'm over it.

The only aspect of the Derby I really enjoy is the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home." It still gives me goose bumps. It's a Louisville thing.

Most of my Derbys were experienced rather than seen. I was one of those "infield people."

We would trudge in with our coolers and blankets around 10 AM. With 3 hours looming between us and the first race of the day and roughly 7 hours before the Derby, we were already stepping over passed out drunks.

Here's what Derby Day in the infield is like: Drinking and….well, that's about it. Maybe one out of every 10 people in the infield actually catches a glimpse of the race. Perhaps one out of every five people manages to hear hoof beats racing by. Most of the people in the infield have no idea what's going on.

Infielders weren't supposed to bring in alcohol. Coolers and bags were searched. We would fill baggies with vodka or gin, drop them in the bottom of a cooler and cover them with ice and mixers. Surprisingly, you can get quite wound up on several baggies of booze.

Rain is a mortal enemy of infielders. I only had to deal with that once. Being ankle deep in mud puts a damper on the day.

Biological imperatives also presented a problem. By 2 or , the men's rooms floors were awash in umm, wash.

I have no clue what the women did. I suspect a couple of them drowned.

As a Derby veteran, I was happy to be in a nice house yesterday with no bugs in my drink. That there were 35 people I didn't know was much better than being amidst 20,000 drunks I didn't know.

Oh, and I actually saw the race. All in all a pretty good day.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Greenville, SC: Too Much Going on to Stay Home

I am going to break my vow to stay in this week. I had been successful at keeping it thus far. I skipped my usual trip to Smoke on the Water on Tuesday evening and my Wednesday outing to The Peddler.

See, I do have some will power. Not much, but some.

I drove through downtown on my way home for the gym today, and things are popping down there.

Tonight is the first Republican debate. It will be at the Peace Center, which is a block down the street from my favorite downtown joint, Soby's.



I worked in West Palm Beach during the William Kennedy Smith trial and also during the 2000 presidential-election-recount circus; downtown Greenville has the same feel about it today. There are news vans from all over the place scattered here and there around the city. Main Street's side walks are packed.

There is also a downtown concert series on Thursdays for which they block off a couple of blocks at the other end of Main Street from the Peace Center. There is live music and beer. I like beer.

Too much going on to stay home.

I'm going down and soak up some of the excitement, as well as stop in the Nose Dive for a beer and to chat up my favorite school-teaching bartender, Natalie.

Ya know, I love Greenville.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Osama bin Laden: A Few Additional Thoughts

I wasn't overcome with the same euphoria as many others upon hearing that Osama bin Laden was dead.

Had someone else been in the room when I heard the news, I would have high-fived him or her. As it was, I watched the announcement alone and settled for a silent, jubilant shake of my fist.

I'm glad we got him. He needed to die. His killing sends the proper message around the globe that if you screw with America, neither time nor distance will protect you from retribution. It is the sort of truth I want our enemies to acknowledge, understand and believe.

All too often Americans have been butchered around the world and our government's impotent response has been to wag a finger at the perpetrators and move on. From the original World Trade Center bombing in 1993, to the U.S.-embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, to the U.S. Cole bombing in 2000, al Qaeda basically got a free pass and its appetite to rain death on America grew.

The successful bombing of the World Trade Center on 9/11 made obvious what many of us suspected for years: Sticking our collective head in the sand and hoping our enemies would go away was the wrong response to acts of terrorism.

So, yes I'm glad that the mastermind of 9/11 and earlier atrocities against Americans has paid for his murdering; and that his death serves as a warning to those who would do harm to America in the name of Islam or any other cause: You will not go unpunished.

But the reality is, OBL had become more growl than bite. Since the U.S. declared war on terror nearly a decade ago, we and our allies in that war have been pretty effective in stripping away layer after layer of al Qaeda's leadership and operating capital.

More dangerous than corporate al Qaeda that OBL ran, are some of its independently operated franchises such as the one in Yemin. These go on as if nothing of significance has happened.

As a symbol, OBL's death is a big plus; but his loss means very little in terms of the ongoing threat against America.

As the smoke settles from the events leading to the successful termination of OBL last Sunday, here are a few thoughts:

  • The reality that al Qaeda is alive and well will probably be driven home to all of us in the next weeks or months with a terrorist attack of sufficient magnitude to grab our attention.
  • After watching a White House briefing yesterday on OBL's killing I won't be surprised if members of the Seal team participating in Sunday's operation aren't investigated and/or court martialed for using excessive force. We have learned that OBL was unarmed when he was shot twice and killed. Based on the tenor and tone of questions from some of the journalists at the briefing, and the efforts of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to put distance between Obama and the decision to actually pull the trigger, expect operatives of the Left, the ACLU, the mainstream media, and some extremists in the administration -- Eric Holder, et al -- to call for those special forces members who did the shooting to be punished. It would be the politically-correct thing to do, after all.
  • Pakistani leaders must own up to what they knew about OBL's living in a million-dollar compound just down the street. If that knowledge didn't go all the way to the top, those who did know, and protected OBL, should be brought to justice. If the knowledge did go all the way to the top, we need to recognize Pakistan as a terrorist government and withdraw all aid.

The war on terror rages on; with OBL's death, there is just one less player.

Monday, May 2, 2011

OBL: One Down, Tens of Thousands to Go



Today is a great day for our military and intelligence professionals specifically, and for all Americans in general. That baby-murdering Islamist POS is dead. It was long overdue.

Osama bin Laden's death is more symbolic than anything at this point, but it is still a big victory in the ongoing war on terrorism -- yes, I believe it is a war and it is a war on terrorism. And just so there is no misunderstanding: It is a war with Muslim extremists. OBL wasn't a Methodist. Neither were the 9/11 terrorists. Neither are any of the animals cooling their heels in Gitmo. Neither was the Shoe Bomber nor the Underwear Bomber.

Here are a couple of thoughts based on what has been reported so far about today's events:

  • Is there even the slightest possibility that important people and/or entities in Pakistan weren't helping and shielding OBL? He was hold up in a huge walled compound just miles from the Pakistan capital, not in some mountain cave as we had been led to believe. Either the Pakistani army and Pakistani intelligence agencies are that inept, or they were in on the cover up. In either case, America is not getting the return it should on the millions of dollars in aid we are giving Pakistan. Let's turn off that flow of money.
  • Some one made the right decision dumping this joker's body into the sea, eliminating any opportunities for followers to make some sort of memorial out of his grave. As far as I'm concerned, they should have just stuffed him in a burlap sack and tossed him over the side. According to reports, he got whatever the appropriate Muslim send off is. Good to know that even with our No. 1 enemy, we go out of our way to be politically correct.

Although I am pleased we got him, you won't find me in the street, cheering, dancing and holding up my index finger chanting, "U.S.A.!" I don't think it's appropriate. The Packers didn't just win the Super Bowl. A stinking SOB is dead, but he's just one out of thousands we need to kill. Instead of dancing around, we should be remembering the 9/11 victims, and all our killed and wounded military in this war.

There is still no light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Happy Ending for Me. The Dog, Not So Much

Any time I rant about something in this space, I feel it my civic duty to follow up as conditions change.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I had broken down and had the ceremonial first mowing of the dirt. In that blog, I also complained about Sir Barks-a-lot, the mongrel belonging to the fools renting the house behind me.

During the first two weeks my new neighbors lived there, I grew to hate this dog that barked like they passed out Milk Bones for nonstop howling.

It wasn't that he barked all night long; but he would launch into a barking fit three or four times during the night, waking me up. Anything and everything seemed to set his barking into high gear: a passing motor scooter, a kid on a bicycle, a pedestrian walking down the street, a bumble bee buzzing just out of his reach.

He also used one of the many holes in the fence around his yard to facilitate his escape during the day and roamed around the neighborhood, barking at people when they came out of their homes.

I lamented that I would be happy for him to disappear by any means from a dog catcher to a motorist with acute aim.

The day after I wrote that blog, Sir Barks-a-lot mysteriously disappeared. If I owe this to one of my readers, thank-you. However, I think that scenario is the least likely.

I suspect his disappearance is no mystery to the family. The most likely reason for his sudden departure is that they gave him away or returned him to doggie purgatory at the pound.

It is also possible that they sold him to the Chinese restaurant down the street. There don't seem to be many stray dogs or cats in the two or three blocks surrounding the joint.

I put off celebrating his disappearance until I was sure he is indeed gone for good. Now that we are closing in on 3 glorious weeks, I think I can confidently refer to him in the past tense.

Here's to a good night's sleep! May he never find his way home.