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.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Las Vegas-Little Red Chili Peppers-Mandarin Hotel-Don Felder-2012 Hyundai Accent-2012 Hyundai Genesis-and Sandeman 20-Year Tawny Port: 48 Hours This Week

Las Vegas: I'm not a fan.

I will go to Vegas if someone else picks up the tab. This happens with some frequency. These days if I'm in Vegas, a car company is footing the bill.

It is day 3 of my most recent foray to "Sin City" and Hyundai is responsible for my being here. It's roughly 5:30 am and I am sitting in Concourse D, gate 36 of the airport waiting for my flight to Atlanta that is scheduled to takeoff at 7:20.

When I arrived curbside at the airport at 5:10 am, it was already awash with travelers -- many of them blurry eyed and staggering about. I would estimate the number of people ahead of me in the security line at about 250. No more than 5 minutes was required to pass me through security. At least the airport is setup for the Disney-like crowds it accommodates.

Reflecting on this trip it was better than most of the previous ones. Hyundai is one of the few car companies that still throws a pretty good event. It didn't feel like someone in its PR department emptied a coffee can full of spare change, rolled this stash of coins and cashed them in to underwrite the expense of the event. Too many of the car programs today feel exactly that way.

Hyundai put us up at the Mandarin Hotel. It is an upscale joint and is now, perhaps, my favorite place to stay in Vegas. It's on the strip, but isn't. And the best part is that it doesn't have a casino! I despise casinos. I managed to spend two full days and nights in Vegas without hearing the dinging of a single slot machine until coming to the airport this morning. Thankfully there are only a couple of losers playing the 50 or so slots sitting in front of me, so the noise level is minimal.

Back to the Las Vegas Mandarin. You realize it's something special when you have to take an elevator to check in at the lobby on the 23rd floor. Entering my room on the 14th floor, the drapes automatically eased open revealing a panoramic view of the strip. The bed, if not the best I've ever slept on, is No. 2. Only the beds in Vanderbilt Hall in Newport, RI might be better. It has been 15 years since I stayed in Vanderbilt Hall and I still remember its extraordinary beds.

Hyundai brought us to Las Vegas to drive the redesigned Accent and Genesis. The new Accent is a hell of a car. At a price point around $16,000, it offers comfort, economy, and decent performance for a subcompact. I was thoroughly impressed.

Most of the changes to the Genesis can't be seen. The V6 edition is so much better than the first generation sedan, that I would buy it rather than either of the V8 versions. It is cheaper and gets better fuel economy than the V8s, yet offers nearly all the amenities of the more expensive trims. Also, the suspension is better suited to the V6.

Hyundai hosted dinner both nights in the hotel. Wednesday night we ordered from an abbreviated menu. I chose a Thai chicken-cashew stir fry with garlic rice. It was delicious -- at least for the initial four or five bites. Passing unnoticed, I shoveled a tiny red chili pepper into my maw. I heard it crunch as I chewed it up. It wasn't a heat that ramped up as I chewed; it hit me all in one fell swoop. Think about running full tilt head first into a concrete wall. That's what this pepper was like. It robbed my breath, sent my heart racing and actually made me physically ill to my stomach for about 60 seconds.

I like Thai food because it's spicy, but this went way beyond just spicy. It might have stroked out a lesser man. I wasn't alone. Several other people told similar stories as we compared notes about the night before at breakfast Thursday morning. There should have been a warning in huge red letters on the menu. I meticulously forked the rest of the little atomic hot bombs into a neat pile on one side of my plate. I didn't recover my sense of taste for probably a full 15 minutes. Never again.

We can always count on Hyundai to do something special and this trip didn't interfere with that tradition. Its audio partner, Harman Kardon/Lexicon, brought Don Felder of the Eagles to perform for us in the hospitality suite after dinner both nights. Hyundai rented the entire lobby bar to serve as our hospitality suite.

Felder is responsible for penning the melody and contributing some of the lyrics for Hotel California. He performed it and several other Eagles hits over the two nights. He also covered some other familiar songs.

I didn't close down the hospitality suite that first night, but I gave it a shot. You know you had a good time the night before when upon entering the joint for the predinner cocktail hour on Thursday, the maitre'd welcomes you back, shaking your hand while telling you that you drank them out of 20-year Sandeman Tawny Port the night before. I didn't accomplish this on my own, by the way, but I did do my part.

"I tried to get another bottle in for tonight, but it didn't get here," he said. "But we still have plenty of 10-year-old."

"It will have to do," I replied over my shoulder as I walked to the bar.

When he heard that Felder was going to be our entertainment, one of my Florida buddies texted me some interesting bio facts about him and also requested that I ask Felder if it was true that he taught Tom Petty to play guitar.

I put that question to Don before he performed last night. And, indeed, he did. He and Petty lived in the same town. Felder was teaching guitar for a music store in town. Petty played base in a local band (the Ruckers, I believe he told me) and went to Felder because he was the front man for the band and thought he should play guitar as the singer rather than bass. Felder said he worked with the entire band trying to get them straightened out, but to no avail.

He said that Petty is a great song writer, but not a particularly good guitar player. He added that there was just something special about Petty that really connects with audiences. He said he just never understood the charisma that Petty projects. He'd toss his hair and girls would just swoon. Some chick would be all agog over Petty and Felder would say to her, "but did you not hear him sing?" The typical reply would be, "Yeah, but he's just so cute!"

If you say so.

As usual, I won't be sad about leaving Vegas. In fact, my flight can't board soon enough. As I have been writing this, more and more people who evidently didn't do enough damage to their bank accounts in the casinos on the strip, have parked their fat asses on the stools in front of the slots around me and the noise level has ramped up considerably.

Did I mention that I hate Vegas?


  1. So I guess this answers the question of whether you will be going o the Hyundai regional event in Charleston. I'm looking for a good way to get from there to Greenville because I am spending the last few days of that week with some friends in Seneca, SC.

  2. Oh. And I agree with you about Vegas.