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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wayne, City Oyster, The Back Room and Boston's on the Beach: Day 3 of a South Florida Vacay!

Did you ever have one of those days that's just a blur? That was yesterday for me.

It went off the rails around .

I'm in Florida -- Delray Beach, Florida to be precise. I am staying with friends along with a gal pal from Greenville.

We all had a bit too much fun on Friday night, so we simply lazed around their pool until heading out to hear some music around .

There is a music venue in Delray called The Back Room. It has opened and closed several times in different locations. The major partner in the joint lives next door to the friends I am visiting.

Yesterday was the grand opening for the fifth iteration of The Back Room. A different band was scheduled to play every hour on the hour from mid afternoon until the wee hours of Sunday morning.

We went to hear some music, but specifically to see the band scheduled to play at .

Not only was this event being managed like Fried Chicken Night in Dixie, there was no air conditioning. It was actually two degrees cooler (we measured it) outside in the blazing FL sun that it was inside.

We lasted for about an hour. We were there long enough to realize the bands were already behind schedule. The band we wanted to see now wasn't going to appear before .

We left to have dinner in a little joint in Boca that was also having air conditioning issues. I sweated into my pizza for an hour before we headed back to The Back Room. We arrived around to learn that the band we wanted to see now wasn't expected on stage until Who's running this circus?

We left and headed to
Atlantic Avenue
. Another band my friends wanted to hear was scheduled to play at Pineapple Groove, formally called City Limits. We had an hour or so to kill before they were supposed to take the stage at .

We wandered into City Oyster where I got to say, hi, to my bartender buddy Wayne and have a drink. A couple of seats at the bar cleared and the ladies were able to sit down. The air conditioner was working -- I suspect -- but it was having a hard time keeping up with the press of bodies and humidity. It was at least as hot inside as out.

We finished our drinks and walked the two blocks to Pineapple Groove about . We found the doors locked. The band was scheduled to begin at , but the drummer didn't show up until a couple of minutes earlier and the management refused to open the doors until the band was set up and had performed their sound check. A door man finally appeared and told the few of us waiting outside that it would be before the doors opened. Another bit of planning done the gone hole.

Last night was the final night at Boston's on the Beach before it shuts down for an estimated 3-month total renovation. We have friends who play in the band scheduled to entertain, so we headed there.

Two of Boston's three air conditioning units had broken down that day and it was probably close to 100 degrees in there. We did manage to find seating in the area of the one functioning air conditioner, but it was only marginally cooler. The guys in the band looked as though someone had doused them with a garden hose.

The bright spot, however, was that the general manager picked up our tab. It was not insignificant.

We arrived back home around probably several pounds lighter. Air conditioning never felt so good.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mary, John, Bongo, the Whale's Rib, The Duck, Delray Beach and Boston's: Day One of a South Florida Vacay!

I am at the front end of what will turn out to be a 2-week respite from my daily toils. That's a vacation to you who have real jobs.

Being self employed, I am hard pressed to call two weeks of not attending to business a vacation. Most of the time, I have no business to attend to.

The stress of not having any money, however, robs me of referring to my extended periods of non work as vacations. I call them, starving.

But when I have money in the bank, I feel empowered to call a week or two of goofing off a vacation.

As I sit here, I am watching my buddy Natalie do her morning 45-minute workout in Bob and Meg's living room through a glass slider. I am pool side at their outdoor bar.

Life seems pretty damn good.

Yesterday is a blur. It's what happens to me when I'm not driving. That happens so seldom, I tend to over-serve myself when the opportunity arises.

I do remember going to the beach, and having lunch with the gang at Bob and Meg's at Boston's, my close friend Amy, my God Daughter Sierra, and gal pal Margaret were in attendance as well.

I also recall beers and dinner at Mary's bar at the Whale's Rib where Bongo put in a cameo.

From there we went to the patio bar at the Wyndahm on Deerfield beach. The last time I was there it was a Howard Johnson's, and the home to the make-you-go-blind Rum Runner. I have no clue how their Rum Runners are now; I had the good sense to stick with beer.

While we were there, we were witness to one of the more spectacular thunder and lightening storms I have ever seen. The Heavens opened up and dumped what must have been an inch of rain on the beach.

If you want to see ninety-somethings actually run, invoke a rain storm on them as they shuffle along the beach. People were running as though a car bomb had detonated. bomb, but I digress.

Because of the weather, we dallied at the Wyndahm longer than we intended. It didn't hurt that our waiter was a riot.

From the Wyndahm, we adjourned to The Duck. A Boca Raton institution of drinking and good music, it is the joint most opposite of the typical Boca lifestyle.

There we slid into the only booth in the joint in the far back corner of the music room. Our buddy Scott, who plays there on Friday nights, refers to it as the Champagne Room.

At some point in the evening Natalie had switched from beer to vodka. I guess all that working-out nonsense does have a payoff.

My buddy John Sheffield eventually joined us. He dropped into the Whale's Rib by accident while we were there. When we told him of our late-night destination, he was eager to follow us there.

Somewhere during the festivities, someone, John I think, got the bright idea we should do Jameson shots. Natalie and I were only too happy to oblige.

Four shots later, it was morning.

I know we are hitting downtown Delray this evening, but the rest of today is still a mystery. Pray for me.

Bottoms up. Texas and Miss Lilly!!!!!  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Charleston on My Mind

I just got back from an overnighter in Charleston. My home in Greenville is about 3 hours from the birthplace of the War of Northern Aggression. Consequently, I drove.

The occasion was a Hyundai event. I sort of invited myself to it. I drove the cars featured at the Charleston program in Las Vegas a month or so ago. In fact, I've already written the reviews of the redesigned Accent and Genesis for my newspaper client. Why would they bring me to a program with cars I had already seen and written up, you might ask.

Hey, I'm a fun guy. I'm a great addition to any gathering. I'm known far and wide as the ground zero of any party. But that's not the reason. Actually I have a Florida buddy who was at the event and needed a lift from Charleston to the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport to hook up with some high-school buddies.

That's the kind of amigo I am. I'll make a 6-hour-round-trip mercy mission for my buds. Well, my buds and a free hotel room and dinner.

I hadn't been to Charleston in four or five years. It hasn't changed much in the last 100 years; certainly I had no reason to expect any big changes since my last visit. There were no surprises.

I arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon, so I had some time to walk around downtown a bit.

Here's my take on Charleston, a city I like, by the way: The main difference between Charleston and Ft. Lauderdale is that T-shirts and cheesy tours are hawked out of buildings constructed in the 1950s in Ft. Lauderdale, and they are sold out of buildings built in the 1700s and 1800s in Charleston.

Otherwise, it's pretty much the same tacky, touristy atmosphere.

Granted, I only saw about 5 square blocks of that grand old lady of the South this trip, but that was about all I wanted to see. Great old mansions and churches surrounded by frozen-yogurt stands and T-shirt shops. Ugh.

Bumper to bumper, the line of stalled traffic heading into downtown from I-26 on
Meeting Street
moved with all the alacrity of three-legged hippo. Old ladies with walkers raced by as I sat sweating and cussing.

Yes, I was a little disappointed in Charleston, but the bed was comfortable, the food was good and the drinks were free. All things considered, it wasn't a bad way to spend 24 hours. Oh, and I managed to deliver my buddy to the airport with time to spare.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Play Ball: There Will be an NFL Season!

Thank, God, the millionaire players and billionaire owners struck a deal, and we will have an NFL season.

They finally figured out how to divide up the income from my $50 ticket without either side feeling too cheated.

I inserted the "millionaire" and "billionaire" in the above line not because I have a problem with someone making as much money as he possibly can; but because when you are raking in that sort of dough at the expense of the fans, should those fans have to stress over whether there will be a football season?

I'm a capitalist. If a guy who can't string five words together without two of them being, "you know," can make $5 million a year catching a football, more power to him, I say.

I suppose because they did come to an agreement in time to save the season, as a fan, I shouldn't complain. But it was a close call. Too close.

The contract is for 10 years. Lord willing, I'll be dead before the next contract talks. Then they will be arguing over how to divide up an $80 ticket.

Lost in all the brouhaha over the contract talks, Big Ben married Ashley Harlan in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Our little boy is all growed up.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ah, Amy, We Hardly Knew Ya

Amy Winehouse bit the dust over the weekend. Apparently she over-prescribed herself with cocain and ecstasy; although some reports say no drugs were found in her hotel room where she died. Ummm, maybe she took them all?

The only real surprise here is that Charlie Sheen wasn't found dead as a flounder and buck naked on the floor next to her.


What the hell is wrong with these people?

I don't know much about this train-wreck of a person. I do know that for reasons that, to me, defy logic, Winehouse somehow swept the Grammy's a few years ago winning five awards. Did no one else release a recording in 2006?

Evidently her primary role in life since that inexplicable high point was reviewing assorted rehab clinics and jails.

Getting punched out in nightclubs ran a close second.

I was amazed to learn that she was only 28; she looked 15 years older.

The report of Winehouse's death that I read came from the Huffington Post; not exactly a bastion of accuracy. Until I read of her death somewhere else, I'm going to give Winehouse a 50/50 chance of still being alive.

I was particularly amused that in its story after quoting a British tabloid that reported Winehouse had been seen buying cocaine, heroin, ketamine and ecstasy the night before she died, HuffPo added the disclaimer, "any tabloid report, of course, must be taken with a grain of salt."

Hey, HuffPo: pot, kettle, black...?

Sometimes ya just gotta laugh.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV: Putting to Rest the Myth that Size Doesn't Matter

All my life I've tried to convince myself that size doesn't matter. I never quite believed the claim, but clung to the hope of it the way a shipwrecked sailor clings to an errant piece of flotsam.

But there is no question that in the world of vehicles, size very much matters. This is particularly true when attempting to shoehorn into a small parking space or you are called upon to transport your kid's soccer team to its next humiliating defeat.

I am currently piloting a 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV. It's a brutish monster that I am sure ticks off the politically correct Prius-driving crowd no end. It tips the scales at a whopping 5,773 lbs. and boasts combined city/highway fuel economy of 16 mpg.

No doubt adding to the tree huggers' indignation is the fact that my Escalade is the obscenely expensive $85,085 Platinum Edition. How many trees could you plant in the Brazilian rain forest with that tidy sum?

It is one of two vehicles I have right now; the other is a Mazda5. Parking these two next to one another is like standing Vern Troyer next to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Escalade outweighs the Mazda5 by 3,200 lbs. It's three and a half feet longer, and nearly a foot taller and wider. The Mazda5 is a minivan, remember -- a mini minivan, but a minvan nonetheless.

I am scheduled to drive the Escalade ESV to Atlanta next week to catch a flight. It should be a very enjoyable ride from my king-of-the-world perch. The interior is, well, roomy and quite comfortable. All the leather doesn't hurt either. My suitcase will be sliding around in the cargo bay like a BB in a soup can.

I suspect that after driving the Escalade ESV to the airport, any plane I board will seem confining by comparison.

The drawback, however, is that running errands in this behemoth requires D-Day like planning. Parking is an issue. I had to time my daily gym visits to coincide with the slow times of the restaurant with which my gym shares its small parking lot.

Parking it in most parking lots is something akin to docking the Titanic at your local marina.

People do tend to get out of your way, though, as the Caddy's massive grille fills their rearview mirrors.

Parking issues notwithstanding, I am enjoying this aircraft carrier of SUVs.

For the first time in my life, I can brag about size truthfully.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Winning an Award Without Really Trying

I'm a wiener!

To say I never win anything would be a fib -- one of somewhat small proportions -- but a fib nonetheless.

In fact, just a couple of months ago I won a whopping four bucks when I matched three numbers on the Power Ball lottery. Whoo-hoo!

I also won an Xbox once, along with several games, at a vendor party when I was editing NOPI Street Performance Compact Magazine. The name of this magazine was longer than its publishing life, but it was fun while it lasted.

I wound up selling my Xbox collection -- several of the games unopened -- at a yard sale. I think I made about $100 on the lot.

So, I do win from time to time.

That's why it wasn't a complete surprise when I received an e-mail from my gym congratulating me on winning the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award. And I don't even play golf.

I suspect the President singled me out because I go to the gym most days. How did he know? Like Santa Claus, I guess he knows when you are sleeping; he knows when you're awake.

Evidently there is some sort of push to reach a goal of 1 million Americans earning this award by September 14th of this year. Now they only have 999,999 to go.

I was quite full of myself for about 20 seconds until I read what it took to qualify.

Are you ready?

To win this award an adult must be active for 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week for 6 out of 8 weeks. There is no definition for active, so I'm not sure if mowing the lawn, waving at passing traffic or hanging clothes on the line qualifies.

If you do a little math, you find it works out to a total of 15 active hours in 8 weeks. Or 15 active hours out of 1,344 hours.

The President is patting people on the back for being active for 1 out of every 90 hours.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a pretty low bar?

I guess it's like passing out trophies to all the kids in a tournament no matter how they performed.

Oh well, I guess a win is a win.
Of course the President didn't even bother to fill in my name in the appropriate space on the certificate.

I wonder if doing so myself will count toward my 30 minutes of activity today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside, but Less So in My Refrigerator

The heating element in my refrigerator went on the blink a month or so ago. If you read this blog with any regularity, you already knew that.

Yes, I was surprised to learn refrigerators have heating elements. Seems sort of counter intuitive, no? How do you keep things cold when there a gizmo in there trying to keep them warm?

Moreover, it's in the freezer compartment. No wonder I don't have ice.

Actually the heating element keeps the frost to a minimum. And you thought it was magic.

Unless a lack of liquidity has forced you to try to perform your own major-appliance repairs, you may not realize that when it comes to how your refrigerator/freezer works, the refrigerator portion is just along for the ride. The freezer does all the heavy lifting and blows whatever cold air it doesn't need over into the refrigerator compartment.

When the heating element is malfunctioning, or in the case of my fridge, simply not working, frost builds up into ice and the freezer doesn't cool as effectively. Ergo, much less left-over cold air to blow into the refrigerator compartment.

Stuff in the refrigerator compartment was warm despite the stuff in the freezer still being frozen rock hard.

My mother, Big Anita, always told me that I should learn something new everyday. I hope I fulfilled that obligation for you today.

Tomorrow: How to fill your own tooth.

Anyway, I bring the whole heating-element thing up again because I finally got around to ordering the replacement part last week. It arrived yesterday, seven days later.

I'm not sure where it's been since I was notified it shipped on July 12, but I wasn't surprised when I didn't find the word RUSH stamped on the box.

If you read this blog, you also know that I had to order a different part than the one to be replaced. I was less than optimistic that my limited refrigerator-repair skills would rise to the challenge of Jerry rigging a rogue part then have it actually work.

I defrosted my freezer for the third or fourth time since this ordeal began. To take out the broken part required backing out two small sheetmetal screws and unplugging two wires to disconnect the part from the evaporator.

The replacement instructions for the make-do part required 29 steps. 29!

As it turned out, I was able to skip about six of them because the two unplugged connector wires in the freezer compartment were long enough that I didn't have to make any splices.

I am happy to report that all seems working according to least for the moment.

My beer is cold and the cat hasn't been electrocuted.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moonshine Is Coming to Greenville

Whether they are on schedule or not remains a mystery; but by sometime in August, Greenville is supposed to have a moonshine micro-distillery.

Yep, right here on the buckle of the Bible belt.

It will be called Dark Corner Distillery and located downtown on North Main Street.

Supposedly their concoctions will be handmade in authentic copper stills using fresh ingredients. The founders vow not to take shortcuts in making their products, like using grain spirits.

I agree; when it comes to moonshine, I'm a purist.

You can check them out at

Actually, I'm not much of a moonshine expert. I'm no moonshine expert at all, really. But I am looking forward to the grand opening.

If things go well, they will eventually strike out in other directions adding bourbon and even schnapps to their offerings.

I may not know much about moonshine, but I do have some experience with grain alcohol. It was a cornerstone ingredient of "Blow Your Lunch Punch" that we created and served at fraternity parties at the Fiji house at Wittenberg University, oh so many years ago.

Grain wasn't available in uptight Ohio, where I went to school. So on Friday afternoon a couple of us would skip classes and drive down to Covington, Ky on a grain run.

We'd load up several half gallons of grain alcohol and sprint back to Springfield. The round trip, including the shopping, took about four hours.

For those interested, here's the recipe for "Blow Your Lunch Punch":

1) Pour six half gallons of grain alcohol into a relatively clean plastic garbage can.
2) Add whatever other booze might be laying around -- gin, vodka, whiskey, it doesn't matter.
3) Add grape Hi-C or some sort of fruit punch to taste.
4) Tossing in a bottle or three of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill Wine can't hurt. 
5) Dial 9-1-1.

Many a young co-ed's virtue was lost to this wonderful and potent elixir.

Bottoms up!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

You Don't Have to Call Me, Darlin', Darlin

I was on the left coast a few weeks ago getting up close and personal with the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist. This is the LaCrosse version with GM's new system using an electric motor and some other fuel-saving gimmicks to improve fuel efficiency.

It does what it says it does in terms of fuel economy and doesn't cost as much as a full-hybrid system -- both key goals of GM engineers.

These same engineers avoid the term "hybrid" as if uttering it would turn them to stone. Hey, guys, it's just a name.

Buick is taking a somewhat different approach in marketing the LaCrosse eAssist in that trim levels available with either eAssist or the V6 will be identically priced.

If you are highly curious and want to read more check out my auto blog at The link is

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Amateur Hour: Casual Summer-Vacation Travelers Clog the Airports and the System

OK, I get it; I shouldn't bitch about a free flight to Seattle, but you know I'm going to anyway.

The occasion: the launch of the redesigned Versa. Nissan sprang for the plane fare so I could be there -- a room at Seattle's Hotel 1000 and a few meals included. I like Nissan.

I go on a lot of these trips for assorted carmakers during the year. I know that when I walk off the plane in Seattle, some travel-agency flack hired by Nissan will be standing in baggage claim to collect me and get me to the hotel.

As long as I make the plane out of Atlanta, I don't have to waste an ounce of brain energy worrying about where I am or where I need to be for about 48 hours. Did I mention that I like Nissan?

I did have a two-and-a-half-hour slog to Atlanta for which I had to leave my house at what-the-hell-am-I-doing-up o'clock. It put me in Atlanta at the peak of morning rush hour, but that wasn't the worst part of the trip -- not by a long shot.

I don't fly as much as I did five or six years ago, but I still fly a lot by the standards of most folks. Last year was probably in the neighborhood of 80,000 miles.

During the 1990s, I put five or six years back to back flying more than 120,000 miles a year. That was a bunch of travel considering most of it was within the contiguous 48.

Yet, even with all the flights I have clocked over the years, I always forget how miserable it is to fly during the summer until I arrive at the airport for that first summer flight.

You see, it's summer vacation season. Atlanta airport was filled ass to elbow with amateur travelers. You know, those people who fly once or twice a year for fun. That apparently two out of every three of them were dragging along a kid or pushing one in a stroller only added to the chaos.

I was slapped in the kisser by the realization that amateur-traveler season was underway when a lady announced on the shuttle that was to take me from Park 'n Fly Plus to the terminal that she needed to go to the bathroom. Rather than take her suitcase with her, she simply rushed off the shuttle, leaving five of us in her wake. We sat and waited 10 minutes while she completed her business and finally returned to the shuttle.

No rush, lady. Don't give us a minute's thought; we just have planes to catch.

There is nothing as stress relieving as having 100 people in the security line in front of you who have no idea what they can and can't take through security. They shuffle all the way to the metal detector where the TSA agent tells them to remove their shoes and asks if they have any liquids in their bag.

This ignites a flurry of activity as the clueless then begin rummaging through their bags pulling lotions, potions and creams from the depths of their carry ons. Meanwhile, the line comes to a screeching halt.

There were no less than 30 kids under the age of 12 terrorizing the gate area as I waited to board my flight. A lady with three boys ranging in age from maybe 8 to 1 year, chose to establish base camp at my feet.

The 1-year old evidently suffered from Toddler Tourette's. His periodic, unprovoked screams were punctuated by fits of crying. For nearly 40 minutes he alternated between crying and screaming.

He also must have recently discovered that you can get stuff from here to there by throwing it. He had no shortage of projectiles at his disposal; each he heaved with a spirited scream or sob depending on where he was in his noise-making cycle at that particular moment.

Shoes, socks, hunks of muffin, a little car all skipped across the concourse floor, ricocheting off of the shins of unsuspecting travelers.

Preboarding for anyone with small children on this flight required 20 minutes. Half the plane was already seated when I entered its cabin as the second passenger in the Zone 1 boarding group.

The cacophony of crying and screaming was nearly deafening. Add to that the old lady in the row behind me attempting to hack up a lung, and I could barely hear the announcement that the boarding door had closed.

Atlanta to Seattle requires about 4 hours and 45 minutes in the air.

I did determine that it's virtually impossible to slit your wrists with a house key.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

GE: Where Customer Is King

Necessity is the mother of invention, as well as rolling up your sleeves and doing a project yourself.

It wasn't all that long ago that I didn't attempt any home repair involving a tool more complex than a hammer. In fact, beyond a hammer and a couple of screwdrivers, I had no tools.

I always had friends who, for a couple of beers, were more than willing to show up to fix this, that or the other thing. I would hold the flashlight (I did have one of those.), hand off tools as requested and open beers.

My baptism of fire came when I purchased my house in Boynton Beach in 2001. The little niggling repairs came fast and furious on that older home.

My friends could no longer consume as much beer as all those tasks required.

Gradually I learned how to do things -- mostly by trial and error.

I wouldn't say that I have become proficient at DIY, but a typical home-repair chore only requires two or three trips to Lowe's instead of the half dozen or more I averaged in the early going.

I now take on projects I would have never dreamed of a decade ago.

My current fixer-upper project involves my GE refrigerator. A P.O.S. from the bowels of hell.

Apparently GE has a policy of making a product, selling the product and then feeling no real responsibility to make replacement parts that actually fit.

With every new model, owners of older GE models find themselves faced with the challenge of jerry-rigging the parts for the current model to fit their older appliance. Maybe not; maybe it's just my model refrigerator, but I doubt it.

I went through this with the ice maker shortly after buying my Greenville house. The ice maker was damaged, so I got online and ordered a new one. I got exactly the ice maker for my model fridge. It arrived, and it not only wasn't the same ice maker currently on the fridge, it attached to the back of the freezer compartment rather than the side. I would have had to drill new holes and run a new water line.

Complaining to the Web site where I bought it, I was told that indeed that was the replacement ice maker, which I verified through GE. I boxed it back up and returned it -- out about $20 for shipping.

Today I buy a bag of ice and dump it in the ice cube bin. Better living through GE.

My problem now is with the heating element that keeps the freezer frost free. It crapped out on me about a month ago. I have been defrosting the freezer about every 10 days ever since.

What happens when the heating element quits working is, frost and ice develops on the cooling coils and eventually the freezer stops freezing and the refrigerator compartment ceases cooling.

When this happened, I got on line and started trouble shooting. After determining the problem, I removed the inside back panel from the freezer, pulled the heating element and verified it was the culprit.

Today I got around to trying to order the replacement part and guess what? Yep, the replacement part is totally different from the heating element that went bad. What are the odds?

They're not just less than similar; they aren't remotely alike!

I guess GE is so busy assembling wind turbines and energy-saving poison light bulbs in China, it just doesn't have the wherewithal to take care of its little-fish appliance customers.

After three or four back-and-forth e-mail messages with the parts Web site regarding adaptability and so forth, I ordered the part. They assured me it would be no problem to install.

Where's that hammer?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mondays Are What You Make of Them

I somewhat look forward to Mondays because it's a day of rest.

Oh, sure I crank out some work, but rarely do I go out on Monday nights.

I stay home, chill, and ponder my existence and my place in the world.

Yeah, right.

No, what I usually do is catch up on my TV watching.

Is the DVR the greatest invention since the cotton gin or what! You just program it once for a favorite program and it records every episode.

Hell, I don't even have to set the clock; it automatically sets itself. If the electricity goes off, the clock resets itself when the power comes back on. A giant leap forward from VCRs. I had a VCR for years that never did have the clock set correctly.

In any event, that's what my Mondays normally consist of, catching up on all the TV shows I recorded the past week and haven't had an opportunity to watch.

A glass of wine and a little "Burn Notice," "Hide in Plain Sight," "The Glades," "Royal Pains," "Rookie Blue," "Covert Affairs," and "Suits." Mindless entertainment for the easily entertained. Just what the doctor ordered...well, Dr. Heaps anyway.

Ya gotta find a way to make Mondays worthwhile.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Hint About How I Spent My 4th of July: I Helped Sell More Beer Than I Drank

For the past couple of years I haven't celebrated the 4th of July in any sort of traditional way.

Well, I did manage to toss more than my fair share of beer down my throat, but that's about the only aspect of celebrating the day that was normal for me.

No backyard barbeque with friends, or afternoon on a boat on one of the nearby lakes, no hot dog eating, no fireworks gazing. None of the normal stuff people do on the 4th.

I left home this year with good intentions to complete about half the items on that list, but it just didn't happen.

Greenville has quite the community celebration for the 4th. Folks here love to close down sections of Main Street and will grasp at any opportunity to do so. The 4th of July is one of those opportunities.

Starting from in front of my favorite downtown joint Soby's and going south toward the river, the city closes the equivalent of about three city blocks.

A stage with live country music occupies the middle of Main Street right in front of Soby's with all manner of vendors and whatnot spread out along the rest of the blocked-off area.

Things begin ramping up around 5 PM and continue until after the fireworks show ends around 10:30.

Last year I wandered into all of this purely by accident. The 4th was on Sunday and I did my usual Sunday late-afternoon beer break at the Blue Ridge Brewery on the north end of Main. After a couple of beers there, I decided to stroll the six or so blocks to Soby's just to see what was going on.

Soby's owns the parking lots just to its south. It had set up some barbeque grills and a beer-wine concession in the lot. A friend of mine who works in Soby's business office was selling soft drinks and water from a concession at the front of the lot. I pulled up a chair and spent the next two or three hours helping her sell family-friendly thirst quenchers.

Of course I was also tasked with fetching us beers. Helping the parched is thirsty work.

Although the 4th was on a Monday this year, I followed last year's routine and began the afternoon at Blue Ridge sipping a couple of Sacred Cow brown ales from my "ugly" mug.

Leaving Blue Ridge about 5 PM, I headed toward Soby's. As I passed in front of it, there was a friend of mine, the wife of a Soby's bartender buddy of mine, working the beer-and-wine concession set up in one of the three sets of double doors along Soby's front.

I walked around to the entrance, got a beer from the bar (They were selling the usual array of Bud products at the beer concession my friend was working and I required something with a little more flavor.), and joined my friend at her make-shift bar.

My plan was just to keep her company for a while, but as the crowd swelled and she became busier, I couldn't just stand there with a silly grin on my face and a beer in my hand; I had to pitch in.

We pushed a lot of beer out the front door. I never did get my hot dog or see the fireworks. I could hear people oohing and aahing between the sound of popping beer caps as I toiled away.

I know what you are thinking: Is this guy willing to sacrifice or what? Yes, I am a giver.

Bless their hearts; Soby's picked up my bar tab for the afternoon -- not an insignificant amount, I must admit.

All things considered, it was a great way to spend the day.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Nose Dive, Sniffer Society, Greenville Wine Meetup and My Policy

Well over a year ago I joined the Greenville Wine Meetup. As the name implies, it's a social organization based on wine.

If you organized a root canal around wine, I'd be there.

Joining, of course, is different than going. I had never been to a meeting.

Greenville's Wine Meetup averages roughly two get-togethers a month. A bit of math tells me that I had probably missed no fewer than 18 meetings in a row, and probably more like 25.

Some of those meetings were on dates when I was traveling and others fell on a night when I had other things planned.

There were also some wine dinners at $75 to $100 a pop. I'd look at the menu, running down the list of appetizers, salads, main courses and so forth. As I went, I'd mentally check off each one: Nope, I'm not going to eat that, or that or that, that one maybe, that one no way...

When I go to a wine tasting, I want to sip or drink or swill wine, not eat food. It's my policy.

Fifteen or twenty bucks to taste some wine and I'm in; seventy-five to one-hundred bucks for food I'm not going to eat? Get a grip.

Several months ago I also joined something called the Sniffer Society, which is a wine club of sorts sponsored by the Nose Dive. Nose Dive is one of four restaurants operated by Greenville's Table 301 that also owns my favorite downtown joint Soby's.

As it turns out, Richard Peck, the guy who honchos the Greenville Wine Meetup, is the sommelier for Table 301. As such, he also runs the Sniffer Society.

This is some riveting stuff, no?

Hey, it's a blog; I've got to fill it with something.

Where was I? Oh yeah...The Sniffer Society now does mini wine tastings on the first Thursday of the month at Nose Dive to showoff a special selection of wines it offers Society members at a discount.

Wine Meetup members are invited as well.

I tell you all of this as prologue to announcing that I attended my first Wine Meetup gathering last night, even if it was really a Sniffer Society function.

The wine was very good. They had a nice spread of hors d'oeuvres, which I didn't sample, by the way. I am philosophically opposed to eating standing up. I might spear a cheese cube with a toothpick, but that's the extent of my grazing. This is also my policy.

The upstairs lounge at Nose Dive, with its several sofas and easy chairs, is a terrific space for such a function.

I met a nice couple and we had an engaging conversation about wine and pet sitters.

See, I can be social.

As it turns out they are from Florida's west coast. You can't swing a dead cat in Greenville without hitting a half dozen former Floridians. We are like human kudzu here.

Now that I got my toe wet, I'll partake in more of these little shindigs. It's not like I have anything else to do.

Of course, I already know I'll be out of town the first Thursday of next month.

Drat! I should have told my new buds that I'd see them in a year and a half.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Green Mantra: Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of the Agenda

I'm taking the lazy-man's road today and reprinting portions of an energy commentary that appeared on this morning. It was written by Bob Beauprez, a former Member of Congress and currently the editor-in-chief of A Line of Sight, an online policy resource. In the original, there are actually four topics discussed; I have included only two of them here. If you are ambitious and want to read the entire screed, go to 

It seems that whenever the smart guys in government implement policies to save us from ourselves and make the world a better place, we get stuck with the bill as well as a whole new set of problems that they created.

Just in the last few days, we came across the following reports that show yet again that all the homage paid to the green gods has not resulted in the benefits promised, and often creates a whole new set of problems.
Economic Benefits Outweigh Environmental Impacts of Shale Drilling
The radical environmentalist's favorite new target is the technology called hydraulic fracturing (fracing) that has been around since the 1940s and used on millions of oil and gas wells to unlock trapped energy reserves.  Radical leftists claim fracing could pose grave environmental risks, particularly to water.  However, several exhaustive studies by the EPA determined that the fracing poses "little or no threat to (underground drinking water)."  Further, the EPA could find "no confirmed cases" of water well contamination or underground movement of the fracing fluid.  None of that has stopped the lefties who aren't about to let the facts get in their way.  Their objective is to shut down the whole fossil fuel industry.

As with virtually any human activity, there is some degree of environmental surface impact and the occasional accident does happen when wells are drilled.   Three researchers at the Manhattan Institute in New York decided to analyze the real amount of risk compared to the backend reward for increased domestic production.

The scientists studied the Marcellus shale region in Pennsylvania where fracing has been used extensively for over 60 years.  They found that the "typical Marcellus shale well generates about $4 million in economic benefits while generating only $14,000 in economic damages from environmental impacts."  That is a ratio of 1:285.  Almost anybody would jump at the opportunity for that kind of return on investment.  But, then, the anti-oil and gas crowd is also the anti-free market capitalism crowd.  They pretty much just dislike everything that makes sense for America. 

Renewable Energy Sources Require Vast Amounts of Natural Resources
What's wrong with this picture?  Green energy was supposed to purify us of our decadent ways and make us more responsible stewards of our natural resources. 

For sure, the two most obvious renewable energy resources available are wind and sunlight, and they are free and continuously replenished.  But, the conversion of them into large amounts of energy requires vast amounts of natural resources, most notably land.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute analyzed ramifications of California's highly ambitious mandate that will require one-third of all the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.   Bryce put a pencil to the challenge. 

One third of California's electricity is about 17,000 megawatts.  Bryce supposed that California's mandate might be split evenly between solar and wind.  That's a bunch.  Already under construction in the Mojave Desert is the $2 billion Ivanpah solar plant.  It will cover 3,600 acres of land; about 5 ½ square miles.  When complete it will provide just 370 megawatts.  To meet just half of the mandated requirement of the new legislation – 8500 megawatts – 23 Ivanpahs would have to be built covering 129 square miles, about five times the size of Manhattan.  

The enormous land requirements for a renewable energy facility create additional environmental concerns.  For example, in April, the Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction at Ivanpah out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act. 

If the other half of energy required by California's renewable mandate comes from wind generation, the land requirements are even greater.   The Roscoe wind farm in Texas covers 154 square miles and has a capacity of 781.5 megawatts.   At that rate, California would need 1,675 square miles covered with wind turbines.  That's considerably bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island. 

In addition to California, 28 other states (including my Colorado) have adopted mandated requirements for renewable energy sources.  "In the rush to do something – anything - to deal with the intractable problem of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental groups and policy makers have determined that renewable energy is the answer," Bryce says.  But, he adds, in doing so they have "thrown in the ditch" was the deeply held essence of environmental protection advanced by the economist E. F. Schumacher; "Small is beautiful."
To be true to the stated objective of reducing greenhouse gases and true environmental stewardship, Bryce says policy makers and activists "must exploit low-carbon energy sources" – natural gas and nuclear power.  "They have small footprints," he concludes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It Must Have Been Colonel Mustard in the Library With a Candlestick

Apparently you can get away with murder.

I wasn't as surprised by the not-guilty verdicts for the substantive charges in the Casey Anthony trial as some. It was a jury decision and, as such, unpredictable.

I didn't follow the case; believe it or not, I felt I had better things to do. I can't put my finger on what any of them were, but I'm sure they were more important to me than watching that month-long train wreck.

All I know is what I heard from commentators, and the prevailing opinion seemed to be that the prosecution had pretty well proved its case.

Evidently not.

The jury barely had time to get into the deliberation chamber and decide who was going to sit where at the table before they were back in the courtroom with innocent verdicts. If they had been able to give Anthony a cash award, no doubt they would have. "Here you go, Ms. Anthony, and thanks for playing our game."

The brevity of the deliberation would seem to indicate that they were all of one mind before they ever entered the room.

If any of them discusses the deliberation with the media, it will be fascinating to learn where the prosecution's case went off the rails.

As with the OJ trial, it's obvious justice wasn't done here, but where did things go so wrong? Was there an "If it don't fit, you must acquit" moment? I don't know.

Did the prosecution overcharge for the evidence it had?

There seems no question that Anthony was somehow involved. She never reported her daughter missing. When the story came to light, that she tried to lamely cover up the disappearance with stories about babysitters and kidnappings, is pretty damning proof that Anthony was hiding something. Why would you concoct such a story if you didn't have something to hide?

Even if Caylee did drown in the grandparents swimming pool, who wouldn't dial 9-1-1 after pulling her body out of the pool? What would the reason be for wrapping the body in trash bags and burying it in a nearby field?

Even if you want to blame the failure to dial 9-1-1 and hiding the body on Anthony being distraught over the terrible accident, how do you explain her father going along with it? In the defense's version of the events, he was with Anthony when she discovered Caylee's body in the pool.

Are you telling me there was some sort of mass hysteria that made him support Anthony in all of this? Unlikely.

Furthermore, are you telling me that if this accident did occur and Anthony disposed of the body, that when her mother became suspicious, her father wouldn't have headed off her "my daughter's trunk smells like a dead body and my grand daughter has been missing for a month" phone call to the police?

In all likelihood, without that phone call, the police would have never been aware Caylee was missing.

This family is involved up to their eyeballs in whatever misfortune struck Caylee, and we will probably never know the whole truth.

I would think that Thanksgiving-Day dinners in the Anthony household will be very awkward for years to come.

The parents know if the swimming-pool drowning story is true or not. If it isn't, Anthony probably murdered her daughter. The door was opened that Anthony's father abused Casey. Whether or not this was simply a defense ploy, the accusation will hang over his head the rest of his life.

Casey Anthony is guilty of something connected with her daughter's death; we just don't know for sure exactly what.

I had someone tell me one time that when it comes to a police investigation, never confess. Deny, deny, deny. In most investigations, they only know what you tell them.

The Anthony case would seem to prove that true.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A New Tool That Defends You Against a Car Dealer's Negotiating Tricks

Negotiating a deal on a new car is a Texas cage match between you and the salesman, and he has the metal folding chair to wield as a weapon.

In other words, advantage: dealership.

The sales person and the finance manager have you outgunned at the closing desk. They have a variety of gimmicks to make a deal appear more attractive than it might actually be.

Phil Reed is the senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds, and a guy who knows a lot about the dos and don'ts of buying a car.

He said that all too often a consumer focuses on a monthly payment amount and forgets to pay attention to details of the deal like financing rates and trade-in value.

"People are sitting at home watching TV and see a $299-a-month deal and think to themselves, I can afford that," he said.

He advises against basing your purchase of a car on a monthly payment in the first place; it opens negotiations to all manner of mischief.

But if you have some magic number in mind, like a great road trip, negotiating a monthly payment is more about the journey than the destination.

There are a number of ways to get to that $299 monthly payment and all of them might not be good for you.

Edmunds created a unique new calculator that provides you with the numbers from the four key areas of any new-car deal:
  • The price people in your area are actually paying for the car you want.
  • The value of your trade-in based on its appraised value minus what you owe.
  • The amount of your down payment, if you are making one.
  • The monthly payment and total interest to be paid based on the length of the loan and its rate.

It's called the Foursquare Simplified Car Pricing Calculator.

It is easier to use than to say.

You can access it by clicking on Simplified Pricing under New Cars at the bottom of the home page.

Reed said many car dealerships use a similar worksheet in their new-car negotiations. This simplified pricing calculator makes you look at yourself the same way a car dealer does.

Often a dealer will juggle the numbers -- adding here and taking away there -- to arrive at a monthly payment.

Most car shoppers will have a difficult time keeping up with how these numbers are created and can easily wind up getting less for their trade-in or paying too high a finance rate than they should.

This calculator provides you with a defense against a dealer cooking the numbers. It arms you with the correct number for each of the four key pieces.

In negotiating a new-car deal, more information is always better than less.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Although I try to keep my politics out of this blog, there are times my frustration just gets the better of me.

I considered simply letting the 4th of July slip by without taking note of it here; however, for someone who believes July 4, 1776 signaled the beginning of the greatest experiment in liberty this planet has ever known, I couldn't let it pass.

With the opening words of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, our founders forever changed the world. Those words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
that are among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to
secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving
their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Fewer than 60 words summed up the spirit of liberty and freedom that put us on a path to become the most exceptional nation in history. Yes, I do believe the United States is exceptional.

As a nation, we are far more free and more prosperous than any other. It isn't by accident. We were blessed with a government framework that recognized our individual liberties, secured our individual property rights and supported our free will.

Left to his own devices, a free man will out think, out innovate and out produce one who suffers from a government's burden of tyranny -- whether that tyranny springs from good intentions or bad.

Tyranny is tyranny.

I don't think there has been a time, other than the years surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence and those surrounding the Civil War, that this country has been so divided.

On one hand are those of us who believe that government is best that governs least; on the other hand are those who believe government should be the answer to each and every issue and ill.

It's less government intrusion versus more regulations, laws and bureaucrats.

It's entrepreneurship versus redistribution of wealth.

It's opportunities versus handouts.

It's exceptionalism born from individual liberty versus mediocrity caused by central planning's one-size-fits-all approach to making a better world.

Tomorrow as we are eating hotdogs, swilling beer and watching fireworks, let's put a little thought into just what made the United States the best country in the world, and what we need to do to make it that way for the generations that follow us.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

There's a Big Difference Between a Good Drink Maker and a Good Bartender

I spend a lot of time by myself.

Notice, I didn't say, alone.

There is a difference.

I like my own company, so I am not consumed with loneliness when I am by myself. I guess that's good news and it takes a lot of pressure off my cat.

I live in a town where I know damn few people -- at least well enough to hang out with -- and I am single. I am self-employed (insert laugh here) and work out of my home. I have gone as long as 36 hours without interacting with a human being. I use the self-scan checkout lanes in the grocery store so I don't even get to hear the clerk say, have a nice day. My cell phone might not ring for several days in a row.

Prison inmates have more human contact than I do.

I tell you this by way of explaining why, when I go to a restaurant, I don't sit at a table; I sit at the bar.

If I want to eat alone, I can stay home. It costs less and I can eat in my underwear.

Nope, I want to sit at the bar.

If I am in a joint for the first time, I'll pause before choosing a seat to determine which is the service end of the bar. This is where the servers congregate to pickup drinks for their tables. That's where I want to sit. It's where the action is.

I like bartenders. They see a lot of things and talk to a lot of people. My decision to return to a joint rests on its bartenders.

Over the years I have become a pretty good judge of bar-tending talent. Typically I can tell you within five minutes of sitting down at a new bar, if I will visit it again.

Consequently, I am always amazed by restaurant management that doesn't seem to understand just how important their bartenders are to their business. It's about a lot more than just competent drink making.

A restaurant can get away with having a hostess who is disconnected or even a little rude, but the bartender is really the face of the joint. A bad experience at the bar for before-dinner drinks will set the tone for the evening. A good performance later by the server or a delicious meal can't totally undo the damage done by a diffident bartender.

I can forgive a bad drink; I have no tolerance for a surly or rude or indifferent bartender.

Because I like to sit at the bar, I want a bartender with whom I can communicate.

Greenville has several Mexican restaurants that just miss the whole bartender-as-ambassador role a good bartender plays. Evidently the owners teach some family member how to make a gin and tonic, and turn him loose behind the bar. English is clearly his second language. Ordering anything other than a beer or house margarita turns into a frustrating question-and-answer hair pull.

It goes something like this:

"Son ting to drank?"

"Yes. I'd like a margarita, but I want it made with Cabo Wabo Silver, triple sec and Grand Marnier."


"Yes, made with Cabo Wabo Silver, triple sec and Grand Marnier. please."


"I'd like a margarita made with Cabo Wabo Silver, triple sec and Grand Marnier. Please."


"Exactly. That's the ticket. But I'd like it made with Cabo Wabo Silver tequila, triple sec and Grand Marnier."

"El Presidente margarita?"

"Umm, what's in the El Presidente margarita?"

"Cuervo Gold tequila."

"Friends don't let friends drink Cuervo."


"Yes, an El Presidente margarita would be fine, but make it with Cabo Wabo Silver, triple sec and Grand Marnier."

"El Presidente margarita?"

"For the love of God! Just give me a Miller Lite."


You get the idea. Obviously I don't get to eat a lot of Mexican food when I'm in Greenville. I am so frustrated just trying to get the drink that I want, I can't even imagine trying to order a meal that involves anything more than pointing to it on the menu.

I did find a Mexican joint on Main Street that I had never been in before this past May when I had company in town. We were doing an abbreviated pub crawl and wandered in. The bartender was actually an Anglo and had a personality. I haven't been back, but want to give it another go.

The food looked good and I can probably get exactly what I want in the margarita.