Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hyping Irene Was Just More of the Same

Occasionally I actually get to yell, "I told you so!"

Such is the case with hurricane Irene.

Let me preface my I told you so by saying those wacky hurricanes are simpley unpredictable. They are like squirrels charging across the road. If you just keep the pedal to the metal, chances are you will miss them; but if you juke around attempting to avoid them, they will Crazy Ivan left or right, and you'll squash them every time. You can spend a life time studying squirrel behavior and not have sufficient statistics to predict in which direction the Crazy Ivan will be.

Likewise, hurricanes have a mind all their own.

Late August through late November in South Florida is a crap shoot of monumental proportions. Most years while I lived there, we spent that time rushing off to the grocery store every three or four weeks to stock up on bottled water, batteries and bread then kicking ourselves for paying attention to the most recent storm predictions that, at some point, placed the latest named storm right at our doorstep. Those dire predictions were rarely accurate.

Every year at the beginning of hurricane season some crackpot scientist would earn an appearance on the nightly news shows by solemnly intoning that this would be the worst hurricane season in a decade, a century or the millennium, depending on which screwed-up climate model he was using. We would just laugh and think, here we go again.

After such dire warnings, it would be just as likely that not a single hurricane would approach South Florida as it was that we would suffer an Andrew or Wilma. These people are alarmists and for ratings, the media adds to the hype.

Do you really think science that can't accurately predict the weather more than two or three days out can tell you where a hurricane will go with any degree of success? Oh sure, they may get it right, but it's more likely they won't. And even if the scientists manage to tell you with more than a day or two's warning where a hurricane's path actually will be, they have little clue how forceful the storm will be when it gets there.

I can pen a cone of probability for any given hurricane with the same degree of accuracy.

Science has its limits.

Now I understand that most of the national news agencies are headquartered in the Northeast. A hurricane making landfall in South Florida or along the Texas coast doesn't have the immediacy of one that hits Manhattan. Irene, however, was scheduled to hit the Northeast, and as we all know, the sun revolves around New York and Boston. "My Lord, it's coming right for us!!!"


I'm glad Irene, while devastating for a few areas, didn't live up to its hype. But take it from me and more than 20 years experience on the hurricane front lines: hurricanes rarely do.

In the grand scheme of things, some water in your basement, or a day or two without electricity isn't much of a calamity.

For those missing the worst of it, count your blessings and be glad the science was wrong again.

Monday, August 29, 2011

If You Can't Run With the Big Dogs, Keep Your Butt on the Porch

I am paying the price today for having just too much fun over my birthday weekend.

I had someone ask me if I felt my age. My answer: Well, today I do, but I should be better tomorrow. That's my sincere hope, in any event.

I've killed time in a variety of ways today as I wait for my creative juices to begin flowing again. I've been to the gym, shopped for a new kitchen faucet and done a little clean-up work on the stone and plaque for our memorial to George at the Peddler. In fact, I managed to burn the entire morning without doing anything productive.

So now I am sitting at my PC messing around and waiting for a 2 PM phone call from the folks at Toyota Financial for a piece I'm working on for AutoTrader. Once that interview is completed, I'm going to call it a day.

I feel a nap coming on.

Because I want you to have at least a small reward for coming to this site today, here are a couple more photos from the weekend's festivities.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How to Turn a Birth Day into a Birthday Weekend!

It isn't a big news flash that today is my birthday.

People have them all of the time. But it is a milestone birthday, so, at least to me, it's a semi-big deal.

My Florida friends Bob and Meg, who have a condo, a lot and investment property in Greenville, were on the schedule to be here this weekend. They come up four or five times a year. I didn't have the sense that their trip was related to my birthday. I was wrong.

During my last trip to Florida, plans were hatched for my school teacher/PhD candidate/bartender buddy Natalie to host a cookout for me this afternoon. I didn't realize at the time that the cookout was a place holder to keep me in Greenville this weekend. Several out-of-town friends already had plane tickets to fly in to help me celebrate. I was making noises about taking a trip somewhere to celebrate. Natalie threw herself on the grenade to hold me here. Not only did she shoulder the burden of having a party for me, she gave up a bartending shift as well. That's a lot of investment for just a ploy to keep me in town.

Because many of these folks are from Florida, the hurricane nearly put the kibosh on the weekend.

I had plans to meet Bob and Meg at the Blue Ridge Brewery downtown on Friday evening. I had just joined them at an outside table and ordered a Sacred Cow brown ale in my "ugly mug" when several other out-of-towners came trooping out of the restaurant to surprise me.

It has been nonstop partying ever since.

Friday evening was spent at the Nose Dive and Soby's. My head was spinning -- not so much from the wine, but from the realization that so many people had given up a weekend at home and spent the money to come see me.

Do I deserve such friends? Probably not, but I refused to dwell on it; I threw myself into the celebration.

Saturday was a 12-hour pub crawl around downtown Greenville. I like it when friends are in town because it gives me the opportunity to go places I otherwise wouldn't visit. I have my haunts that I regularly visit and there are only so many days in the week. I go to those same places because I know the staff and they take care of me. Why go to a joint by myself where I don't know anyone?

Pub crawls with out-of-town friends are the perfect opportunity to forge into uncharted waters. I made my first appearance ever at "On the Roxx." I made my second visit ever to "Fords" and "Chicora Alley." Actually we hit Fords twice because the bartender was so top-notch.

Most of the out of towners are already heading for home. Other than Bob and Meg (who are as much locals as out of towners), today will be devoted to celebrating with the locals.

I am supposed to go to Soby's this morning for brunch. I don't know if I will make that. My brunch buddy has already canceled. She partied with us last night and is coming to the cookout this afternoon. She asked for some recovery time, and being the kind-hearted, generous soul that I am, I let her off the hook for brunch. I may go anyway.

Even a birthday boy has to eat!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Sad Note for Every Birthday

This will be short and sweet -- probably too sweet for many of you; for, you see, it's the first anniversary of the death of a good friend of mine.

When I came to Greenville on my exploratory visit in 2008, I ate on the second night at The Peddler Steak House. It's a family owned joint between downtown and Furman University. It is housed in a building more than 100 years old.

That first night I met the owners George and Deborah Schneider. After most of the crowd had cleared out, we sat in the rustic bar and chatted until closing.

Warm, friendly and truly fun to be with, the Schneiders became my Greenville family.

George and I shared a love of wine. I would bring him bottles of new wines I found and he would open some amazing things for me that weren't on the wine list, but part of a private stash he always kept upstairs.

He always gave me a hard time about the places downtown where I was a regular when not at The Peddler.

The last communication I had from him was a text message from the Greenville airport as he and his immediate family were getting ready to board a plane for a family wedding in the northeast. He died the next evening at the wedding's rehearsal dinner.

I will always remember the date of his passing because I didn't learn about it until the following day -- my birthday.

Although I had only known George for little more than two years, I felt I had known him my entire life. I am not alone in feeling that way. Our little troop of Peddler Wednesday-Night Irregulars rarely get together that his name doesn't come up one way or another.

He was a terrific man and a close friend. I still miss him and probably will every day for the rest of my life.

The photo posted with this little tribute is the only photo I have of George and me. I'm sure there are others out there, but it's the only one I have.

On that note, I have several Florida friends who came up to help me celebrate my birthday. Several of them surprised me downtown last night. A pub crawl of biblical proportions is planned for today. I'd like to get to the gym first, but that may be far too ambitious.

More tomorrow....

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricanes Big and Small

Along with just about everyone else living east of the Mississippi, I've been monitoring the progress of Hurricane Irene. The fact that the names have already reached the letter "I" indicates that it's been a very active August in the Atlantic.

It was about this same time in August 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. For the English-challenged, it was that year's "A" in the storm-naming system.

I feel somewhat insulated from hurricanes; tucked as I am in the northwest corner of South Carolina. After spending more than 20 years on the hurricane front lines in South Florida, I feel positively cocooned in Greenville.

I still worry about friends along the Atlantic coast, but my life is no longer directly impacted by impending hurricanes.

As a veteran of half a dozen hurricanes, I don't get too excited about cat 1 and 2 storms. Heck, I got to the point I didn't even take in my patio furniture for a cat-1 threat. To a Floridian who has weathered a few hurricanes, a cat 1 is like 8 inches of snow in Buffalo: It's something that has to be dealt with, but not a huge concern.

No, it's those cat 3, 4 and 5s that you really have to worry about.

You can board the Clanging-Bell Way-Back Machine by clicking on "2010" in the Blog Archive on the left-hand column of this page; then clicking on "November" to read my account of Hurricane Wilma that hit South Florida as a cat 3 or cat 4 -- depending on whose numbers you use. That was the storm that convinced me once and for all to get out of Florida. Oh, and as a disclaimer, I didn't make any of that up.

In Greenville the primary weather worry is the occasional five- or six-inch snowfall that sends the locals scurrying to the grocery store to strip the shelves of bread, milk and beer.

My experience in Florida was that about 85% of the time, it was much ado about nothing. We were told for three or four days that we would get pounded by one hurricane or another only to have them veer away a day or so before they were to make land fall.

For my friends from NC and north, I hope such is the case with Irene.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shake, Rattle and Roll: Virginia's Earthquake Felt in Good Ole SC

I just experienced my second earthquake.

I had no clue what it was until I logged on to AOL and read a short news blurb that said a 5.9 quake hit Virginia. No info yet on where the center was, but I was in northern Virginia yesterday.

Today I'm back home in South Carolina. I was sitting in my recliner eating lunch when things started shaking. It probably lasted 5 or 6 seconds. At first I thought I was having an episode. Having discounted that, I thought it was just a big piece of earth moving equipment or some other uber-heavy vehicle driving by.

My only other earthquake experience was early one morning when I was visiting friends in Louisville. A quake hit somewhere in Indiana. I didn't need to turn on the news to figure out what was happening that time. Even though it was Kentucky, I knew it was a quake.

A quake today and the possibility of a hurricane on Friday.

Where's the plague of locusts?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Too Much Time; Not Enough Motivation: A Slow Morning at the Hands of Volkswagen

Getting a leisurely start to my Monday.

I'm with Volkswagen in Reston, Virginia. If you read my last blog, you know that VW engineered this event on a one-day schedule with journalists flying in today, participating in the program and flying out tonight. However, they also extended an invitation to come in the night before and have dinner with the VW PR folks. About 20 of us took them up on it.

Because the program is scheduled to accommodate journalists flying in today, nothing other than breakfast really begins until when we troop to VW headquarters for a presentation.

I've got some time to kill.

Dinner last night was at some French joint called Mon Ami Gabi. I don't know much French, but I think that loosely translates as "My Love, Gabi." Or, "Yes, I have a red pencil box."  I'm not sure which.

I'm not big on French food -- or much of anything else French, for that matter -- but the chow there was pretty darn good. The French onion soup -- on the menu it was called onion soup with cheese -- was without a doubt the best I've ever eaten. It was nothing short of brilliant.

VW put us up at the Hyatt Regency Reston. It is a conference center with an emphasis on business guests. On the plus side, that means there are coffee makers in the rooms. On the minus side it means not much in the way of pampering.

I hiked the two miles through the hotel on a vision quest for the business center. On this journey I passed the bleached bones of a steer and the rusted remains of a 1952 Desoto. (I made that up.)

My 15-minute investment of time was rewarded with a small room containing two PCs and two printers. I wanted to print out my boarding passes for my flights home tonight. I sat down and clicked on the icon for Internet access and discovered that I had to swipe a credit card to get online. WTF!!!

VW had already paid whatever the daily charge is for me as a guest to access the Internet from my room. I shouldn't have to pay again just because I need a printer. VW does have a PC and printer in its hospitality suite, but it won't open until later today after I am long gone.

Luckily, there was a PC and printer in the lobby dedicated to all things airline related. I printed out my boarding passes in about 4 minutes...FOR FREE!!!

Meanwhile, I've still got an hour to kill before heading off to VW headquarters and today's ride and drive.

I suppose I could do something productive….


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Flying, Delta, Volkswagen, Bantaan Death March, Clueless: It's Just Another Day of Travel

I find myself at the same old place I've been far too often over the course of the past 60 days: in the gate area of an airport. This morning it’s the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. Often as not, it's Atlanta's airport or an airport of some destination from which I am returning home.

I arrived around for a flight to Atlanta. This is ridiculously early for an airport that historically requires about 10 minutes to pass through security.

While living in South Florida, I always flew out of Palm Beach International -- named after the International House of Pancakes -- because it is rather small and user-friendly when compared to Ft. Lauderdale Airport and it certainly is when compared to the no-English-spoken-here Miami International Airport. Greenville's airport makes Palm Beach look like Chicago's O'Hare.

I blame my uber punctuality today on the free Wi Fi usually offered at GSP. I always arrive at GSP early so I can answer e-mails and generally goof around on the Internet.

Much to my dismay, there was no Wi Fi this morning. I hope it was just down and not that GSP discontinued the service.

When I got to the gate area, I had to sit nearly a gate away because the flight to Atlanta had yet to board. As it did, I was able to relocate to a seat adjacent to the podium. After the boarded, the gate attendant asked if I was on the flight. When I answered in the affirmative, she said she had an open seat on the and would I like to take it.

The hop from GSP to ATL for Delta is strictly regional jets. Some are large enough to offer first class and some aren't. The wasn't; the was. As fate would have it, the open seat was in first class. I was already upgraded to first for the second leg of this trip.

Flights from GSP to Atlanta have a bad habit of being late or canceled. I would have felt extremely stupid -- not a feeling totally alien to me -- had I turned down this offer only to have the canceled.

Even for me this decision didn't require much soul searching. I took the seat.

The flight attendants -- there were two -- were the whitest women I've ever seen. Nearly white blonde hair, skin so white you could probably read a newspaper through it and pale blue eyes: they could have been twins. It's like they were left over from the casting call for "Village of the Damned."

As I sat half listening to the safety monologue issued before the flight, I noted I was being told that "in case of a water landing, my seat cushion could serve as a flotation device."

Water landing!

Wouldn't a water landing really be a water crash? I didn't notice any pontoons on the plane's landing gear. Like the use of the word "revenue" in place of "taxes," I guess "landing" is more warm and fuzzy than "crash."  Maybe no one will notice. Landing, my ass.

Arriving in Atlanta, as usual, the Delta's Atlanta operation seemed totally surprised that one of its planes actually arrived. We sat on the taxiway patiently waiting while Delta scrounged up a ground crew to wave around their orange wands as the plane crept to the jetway.

Here's Delta's M.O. in Atlanta:

It's never less than 20 minutes between wheels touching down and the plane's door opening at the jetway. I've been on flights when it has been nearly twice that. If there isn't another plane still at your arrival gate, there's no ground crew. If the gate is open and a ground crew is on station, there's no one to bring the jetway to the plane. If, by chance, there is a gate agent to run the jetway to the plane, either the jetway malfunctions or the agent is still attempting to conquer the learning curve of how to operate the jetway system. I'm not making this up.

For Delta in Atlanta, every day is like December 7, 1941 at Hickam Field: The sky is black with inbound aircraft and no one seems to have a clue what's going on.

My final destination today is Northern Virginia. I am going to a full-line drive of Volkswagen vehicles. I think the emphasis is on the redesigned New Beetle, but I'm guessing.

It is just an overnighter. We drive everything tomorrow and then fly out in the evening. Actually, the event is set up on a one-day schedule. VW made the offer to let us fly in the day before, but had structured the event for people to fly in and out, and drive on the same day. I'm not keen on 18-hour travel-work-travel days.

Quick in and outs have become too prevalent for carmaker media events. This one wouldn't have been terrible for me because D.C. and Greenville are in the same time zone. It gets dicey when I have to cross two or three time zones and the manufacturer schedules it so you drive the vehicle and fly home on the same day. I'm not a fan of red-eye flights.

As carmakers try to find areas from which to cut costs, their media events have turned into modern-day Bantaan death marches.

To my knowledge no journalist has dropped dead on one of these X-events, but I've sure wished I was dead on more than one of them.

I know: bitch, bitch, bitch…    

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Kardashian Wedding: Like a Train Wreck, I Can't Make Myself Look Away

I guess tomorrow is the big day for little Kimmy Kardashian.

Yes, this one-time gal pal of Paris Hilton, reality TV star, Playboy Magazine model and, well, nothing much else really is getting hitched tomorrow in what some have estimated will be a $10 million wedding.

Forget corporate jets; I'm surprised some liberal somewhere hasn't suggested taxing this wedding.

How many pigs-in-a-blanket and little dinner mints do you need?

Reportedly some 500 guests will crowd into a posh California resort to celebrate the nuptials of little Kimmy and a basketball player.

Why is it these celebrity women only ever seem to marry professional basketball players and rock musicians? Well, occasionally one gets a wild hair and marries a hockey player, but basically it's NBA stars and rock musicians.

I don't follow the NBA or pay a whole lot of attention to the Kardashians -- although I did eat dinner two tables away from the entire Kardashian clan in Hollywood one night -- so I have no clue who the lucky guy is who is marrying into this freak-show of a family.

I don't take marriage lightly, which is why I never made the leap myself. To me it always seemed something akin to bungee jumping blindfolded. But am I alone in expecting this marriage to be short lived? It may not be Dennis Rodman/Carmen Electra short, but it sure ain't going to be Ozzie and Harriet either.

All of the entertainment press is tripping over one another to cover this event. Amazing how someone who has gained celebrity by just sort of showing up can create such a feeding frenzy.

Evidently big bucks don't buy smarts. Despite having a high-dollar wedding planner on the payroll, little Kimmy invited about 50 more people than space will allow and two days before the wedding reportedly uninvited them. Mostly they were plus-one guests of actual invitees.

How would you have liked to receive that tweet? "Oh, by the way, Paris, I'm eliminating all plus-ones on the guest list, so I'm uninviting your date. You'll have to come stag." Nice.

There is also a dress code. Anyone not wearing black and white will be turned away at the door.

I've seen reports that the loving couple is offsetting most of the wedding's cost by selling television and other rights. Ah, good to know that romance isn't dead.

Is anyone else feeling a little queasy?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jonah Goldberg: How You Say Something Can be as Important as What You Say

It should come as no shock to many of you that I read a fair share of political commentary.

After spending a couple of decades on the sidelines, I've become reengaged in the political process.

On the face of it, this may seem a little silly. After all, I have no kids or grandkids with futures to worry about. Why should I care? America will probably hold together until I shuffle off this mortal coil, right?

I guess I have become engaged again for the same reason that, as college seniors, several of my fraternity brothers and I voted on every candidate trying to pledge our house. Typically seniors rarely attended chapter meetings, let alone worry about voting on pledges. I was part of a group genuinely concerned with our legacy and the type of house we left behind. We felt that installing solid pledge classes our senior year would translate into a solid chapter for the next two or three years.

I may not have progeny to fret about, but I am profoundly ashamed of the mess we have made of our government and society. I am sad and embarrassed that those who follow us won't have the same opportunities we had.

So, I have become more politically aware and active.

Like the authors of the fiction I usually read -- Nelson DeMille first pops to mind -- the political commentary I follow is written by commentators who grab me as much by how they write as they do by what they write.

As a writer, I am always impressed by sharp writing.

My newest favorite political commentator is Jonah Goldberg. He is the editor-at-large for the National Review Online and author of the book Liberal Fascism. Always entertaining, his work is well researched and to the point.

He never fails to make me laugh out loud at least once when reading one of his political essays.

Here's a paragraph pulled from yesterday's commentary regarding Iowa's straw poll:

"For the record, the straw poll is a really stupid fund-raising stunt for the Iowa GOP. It's primarily geared to candidates with support from one of two constituencies: the passionate and the easily bribed. Ron Paul's second-place finish proves that it's in no meaningful way a real poll, as his supporters are akin to "Battlestar Galactica" loyalists at a "Star Trek" convention, incapable of winning many converts and themselves unwilling to switch teams. Still, the straw poll is a fixture of the landscape, and candidates must deal with it."

Battlestar Galactica loyalists at a Star Trek convention...

It made me smile.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Amnesia, Beheadings, Slackers, Sword Play and 4 Bucks: Must be Red Box Reviews

I haven't written a Red Box movie review in a while, so here's the wrap-up of a few $1 gems.

What happens when a slacker who is barely functioning from day to day is introduced to a drug that activates the 80% of his brain that most of us never access? It's an interesting concept. Toss in a squad of thugs trying to steal said drugs from said slacker and willing to kill him or anyone else for them, and you have the basis for a better-than-average action film. You give Robert De Niro an itty-bitty part so you can slap his name at the top of the DVD cover and you even have a bit of star appeal.

That probably isn't quite fair. The central character is played by Bradley Cooper, the latest darling of the hip-Hollywood crowd. I don't get his sudden buzz, but apparently I am in the minority regarding his talent.

The plot pushes forward at a brisk clip; consequently, I was never bored. However, I saw this movie about three weeks ago; and for the life of me, I can't remember how it ends. So, no spoiler here.

Other than the forgettable ending part, it was well worth the buck I spent on it.

Between the Internet and big-mouth acquaintances, getting surprised by a movie's ending is nearly impossible these days; however, that's exactly what happened to me with this Liam Neeson thriller.

Neeson's character and his wife fly into Berlin and as they rush to get a cab from the airport to their hotel, he leaves his briefcase on the curb outside baggage claim. He realizes his error when they arrive at the hotel. Telling his wife (played by semi-hottie Diane Kruger of Inglorious Basterds fame) to go ahead and check in, Neeson's character grabs another cab and heads back to the airport. On the way the cab is forced off a bridge and into the river. Neeson's character winds up in a coma.

When he wakes, his wife no longer recognizes him and a stranger has taken his place.

It's a solid whodunit that kept me guessing.

Verdict: Well worth the $1. I would have paid a buck fifty.

Black Death
Black death, well any death, really, is what I was wishing for as I suffered through nearly two hours of this turkey.

The plague has gripped Europe and a little band of warriors is dispatched by the church to investigate a village where not only are the residents impervious to the plague, but death itself seems foiled.

Here's the big reveal: A witch, who can reanimate the dead runs the village. There are zombies, beheadings, stabbings, drunken parties and lots of soul searching.

Sean Bean of Lord of the Rings Fame is about the only person in this movie I had ever seen before. Times must be tough.

My take: Save your buck.

The Eagle
This is a sandal and sword movie that has its moments. Marcus Something and Something and Something, played by Channing Tatum, is a highly decorated military leader who goes into the great unknown to try to find out what happened to his father's legion that marched there never to be heard from again. He's accompanied by his pseudo slave.

Many adventures ensue, fights are fought and bonding occurs. Master and slave switch roles for a while and snore, the good guys are victorious.

Honor is regained.

I didn't feel ripped off after watching this movie, but thought the ending could have been stronger. It lagged a bit in the middle and felt like the director was just killing some time to get the film to its 100-minute length.

Was it worth the buck? I guess.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Three Desserts in One Day: I Blame Jeep!

I did something last Thursday that I haven't done in a very long time: I wolfed down three desserts.

I am having tub-o-lard remorse.

The scene of the crime was Jeep's media first drive for its 2012 Wrangler. I'd like to tell you about the vehicle, but relating my experience of the vehicle or the drive is embargoed -- that's journalist speak for "not for publication" -- for another week or so.

You'll have to settle for reading about what I ate.

I had, what for me was, a big breakfast of eggs, bacon and a french doughnut, er, croissant. After which we traveled to a nearby warehouse for a short presentation.

I passed up sampling one of the doughnuts (a real doughnut) covered in icing and Coco Puffs served at the presentation. This and equally decadent offerings are a specialty of a nearby pastry shop. I patted myself on the back for my willpower. It was the only time during the day my willpower raised its ugly head.

Finally, I was on the road with a driving partner in the new Wrangler.

I can't tell you any of this part because of that whole embargo thing.

After 90 minutes or so, we stopped at a roadside deli for an organized driver change. Jeep had made arrangements with the deli for us to help ourselves to anything on the menu because, Lord knows, we hadn't eaten anything in about two hours and a carmaker media event travels on its stomach.

Eat free or die is our mantra.

I wasn't going to have so much as a bottle of water at this first stop, but then I spotted a big slab of homemade cinnamon bun coated in about 1200 calories of white icing. Well I had passed on the Coco Puff-encrusted doughnut earlier, I reasoned, so I was ahead of the game. I grabbed the cinnamon bun and ordered a decaf (gotta watch my caffeine intake, don't ya know) coffee.

It was soooo gooood.

After my 20-minute gorging session, we were back in the Wrangler on our way to lunch.

I can't tell you any of this part because of that confounded embargo.

Lunch, which came a scant 90 minutes after the deli break, was an outdoor affair on the top of a mountain. The site was also the staging area for the off-road portion of the ride and drive.

I can't tell you about off roading in the 2012 Wrangler, well, because of that dang embargo.

Lunch was cold cuts and salads of one kind or another. Among the desserts, though, were these ice cream sandwiches as big as your fist called Fat Boys. Yes, the irony of the name wasn't lost on me. They named the things for what they turn you into.

The one I chose -- dessert No. 2 of the day -- was the equivalent of about two scoops of chocolate ice cream separating two devils-food wafers about two and a half inches square. Mmmmm...

After driving the off-road course -- mums the word -- a couple of times, we motored back to Portland's the Nines Hotel where Jeep was putting us up.

Dinner that night was at the Irving Street Kitchen. The drinks were refreshing, the food more than tasty and the decor very cool. But it was one of the desserts that blew me away.

It was butterscotch pudding -- When was the last time you had pudding? It had been about 10 years for me. -- covered in a layer of caramel and topped off with a dollop of whipped cream.

It was my third dessert of the day. I was only going to taste it, but once I shoveled a spoon of that delightful concoction in my mouth, you couldn't have taken it away from me with a shotgun.

Man, it was wonderful!

The Wrangler was pretty good too. I hope I don't get in trouble for saying that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Starting Line Looks Good From Where I'm Standing

I recently watched a performance of "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat."

I'm not a huge fan of musicals. The silliness of people as they are going about their daily lives suddenly bursting into song and dance usually overwhelms any entertainment value I might reap from the performance.

I do like "Chicago" and have probably watched my DVD copy of "Moulin Rouge" 20 times or more. I also saw the road show of "Phantom of the Opera" row 8, center about 20 years ago in Ft. Lauderdale. Enjoyed that immensely.

Generally, though, I'm not a fan of musicals.

The production of "Joseph" I saw wasn't a road show. It didn't harbor professionals in its cast. It wasn't awash in pageantry.

It was a summer-camp production put on with kids ranging in age from 10 to 18. I saw it at the Delray Beach Playhouse on my last trip to Florida.

The cast, composed of kids who had to try out to qualify, rehearsed a mere three weeks. You would have never known it by the quality of their performance. I was blown away.

Why would I spend a precious three hours of a short, four-day Florida excursion in a dark theater rather than lying about someone's pool sucking down margaritas? I knew a couple of the kids in the cast.

It was a Sunday afternoon and the production's final performance. The theater was sold out.

I was sitting in a row with a half dozen friends. Among them were the parents of the kids I knew.

One of those kids was my adopted god daughter, Riley. I call her adopted not because she is, but because I am. Her real godfather has sort of dropped out of the picture. I am the official godfather of her younger sister, Sierra. So, I have sort of become Riley's as well.

Riley's friend Katie, whom I've known for several years and am good friends with her mom, was also in the show.

Why am I boring you with all this minutia? It is because I wasn't only struck by the high quality of this production, but by the enthusiasm and optimism of the kids in the cast.

As I approach a milestone birthday the end of this month, I am reflecting a bit on where I've been, where I am and what I might accomplish in the relatively short time I have left.

As I watched those kids so full of hope, dreams and possibilities, I couldn't help but revel in their futures full of promise.

I was moved.

I sure wouldn't want to be 10 or 12 years old again, but I was excited for these kids with their entire adult life spread out before them.

For a brief moment I shared in the pride of these girls' parents and got a glimpse of what it must be like to be a parent.

It was the perfect Florida afternoon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Let There be Air

If you've been on pins and needles over my air conditioner dilemma, feel free to relax.

The service guy finally arrived about 4 PM. I hadn't even worked up a good sweat yet.

Indeed the issue was the contactor and it was a simple fix. I was reluctant to perform the service myself, but after watching the pro do it, I won't hesitate to do it next time, which I am sure will be sooner than I want it to be.

He charged me exactly the $115 he quoted me on the phone. He didn't try to pull the old, "hey, it turns out the flux capacitor is also shot and that will be another $250."

He said that 90% of the time the problem is with ants that have gotten into the contactor. They leave, as it turns out, some sort of slime (ant poo?) that insulates the plates and prevents them from completing the circuit.

My A/C unit was humming along again by 4:20 and my house was cooled down an hour or so later.

Sleep was tremendously improved last night over the previous one.

Just another day in the life...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Air Conditioning? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Air Conditioning!

I spent the bulk of Sunday driving south from Toledo to Greenville, SC. It's about 630 miles.

That's a distance maybe 50 miles shorter than my slogs from Greenville to Delray Beach, FL. I think the Greenville to Delray Beach drive is easier; maybe because I have driven that round trip at least 10 or 12 times and the Toledo route just twice.

My fraternity brother who hosted our Toledo shindig gave me a Clive Cussler book on CDs for my drive home. He currently makes the 7-hour drive between Toledo and Davenport, Iowa twice a week and books on CDs occupy his time on those drives. He had just finished the Cussler book on his last drive back from Iowa.

I'd never listened to a book on tape or CD.

Here's how old I am. I spent the summer between my junior and senior year in high school working for the Kentucky Printing House for the Blind. There I was in the shipping department. Our primary job was to package up recorded magazines for the blind. They were on 33 1/3 LPs! We worked adjacent to where the records were stamped. It was never less than 95 degrees in there and sounded like the boiler room of a battleship steaming into the Battle of Midway.

Anyway, I had never listened to a recorded book before.

Those of you who know me, know I am a voracious reader. The whole listening-to-a-book thing was a new experience.

I tend to day dream when I'm driving on long trips and found myself doing that Sunday. I'd be paying attention to the narrator and enjoying the story, but suddenly realize I had forgotten to listen and had no clue what was going on. I'd have to skip back a minute or two and try to pick it up around the spot where I zoned out.

I listened to it the entire trip, but I am only about half way through the 14-CD set. I have no idea when I will be spending enough time in a car again to finish it or even make it worth while to plug CD #8 in.

The chance of my remembering the half of the story I've already listened to when I do finally take another trip sufficiently long to accommodate seven hours of narration is indeed slim.

I told you about my drive home to tell you this: When I arrived home at 8 PM, the air conditioning in my house wasn't working.

It was 88 degrees, and the cat was lying on her back in front of the refrigerator with the door open. She seemed quite pleased with herself.

No idea how long the air had been out. I was gone four days.

As someone whose outside compressor has been stolen, that was my first thought. Nope, it was still there.

Because darkness was beginning to close in, I didn't even unpack my car. I grabbed a screwdriver and headed back out to the compressor; sweating and cussing the entire way.

I removed the panel hiding the electronics and did the only thing I know how to do, I began tapping things with the handle of the screwdriver. I could hear the contactor relay buzzing, so I figured that was the problem.

The exact same thing happened two years ago and a few well-placed raps with the screwdriver handle was all the incentive it needed to kick back into operation. This was a technique I learned the previous winter when the contact relay stopped working in my furnace. I had already bought the replacement part. As I was preparing to remove the problem relay, I read online that some people were able to urge the part back into operation by tapping it with a screwdriver handle. I did and it worked. I still have the $60 replacement part in its box.

I suspect I could replace this part myself. In fact, I had someone tell me this morning that I may be able to remove the part, clean the relays, reinstall it and be back in business. Nah, I don't think so.

There are so many wires and connections to this insignificantly small part, I just don't want to mess with it. I probably could fix it without knocking myself into next Tuesday, but I am under-motivated to attempt it.

I found a guy who will come and replace the part, labor and all, for $115. I hate to spend the money, but the part would run me at least $45. I figure it's worth $75 or so to have someone else do the work and run the risk of setting his hair on fire.

I am waiting for him now. It's 3 PM. He told me he would be here between 2:00 and 3:00, and would call me 30 minutes before his arrival. I have yet to hear from him.

My optimism is waning.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Boys Are Back in Town

I'm on the road goofing off again. Don't hate me.

This is a two-part adventure that took me to Louisville for about 24 hours and now I'm in Toledo with a bunch of my fraternity brothers. These are some of the guys I usually go with to Eatons' Ranch in Wyoming every September.

This isn't Eatons'; it isn't Wyoming; but it is a bunch of guys I've known since 1971, and they are the best part of the Wyoming trip anyway.

In fact, this has been a trip of oldest, bestest friends. The Louisville trip was a visit with a buddy that I first met during my two-year stint selling men's clothing at a family-owned specialty store in the mid 1970s.

We terrorized the management there. He was smart enough to move on before we were fired. I held out until the bitter end.

On this trip we were sitting at the bar in a fairly new Louisville watering hole. The bartender poured our beers and as she served them, she asked if we were on the same check.

I responded, "For more than 30 years."

When I say we used to tear it up, it's an understatement. That someone didn't kill us or we didn't spend a few nights in jail, is only by the grace of God. We typically had more fun than the people around us, and thought we were a lot funnier than we probably were.

Man, we had a ball.

So now I am with a bunch of guys I love like brothers, and indeed we are. If you have a friend (or friends) you don't see for years, connect with and then launch into conversation like you've never been apart; that's what this crew is like.

Each guy immediately assumes the same role he played in college: the clown, the story teller, the game organizer, the calming force, the nut job, and so forth.

I love these guys!

Our Wyoming trips are just the boys; but we are meeting at the home of one of the guys and the gathering includes significant others. One of the guys even brought his new daughter -- yes, a guy my age has a 4-month old kid. That's a story for another blog.

I am the only unattached guy here. All the significant others have been around for a while, so they fit right in. One of them is the college sweetheart and wife of one of us.

Dinner last night lasted about three hours; most of it was spent laughing. It wasn't giggling, but bent-over, gut-splitting guffawing. I had a headache from it by the time we finally pushed away from the table.

Our big activity today -- it's Toledo, remember -- was going to The Anderson's, a privately  owned general store that makes a super Wal-Mart seem insignificant.

The crowd is growing as I type this. We are preparing for another afternoon and evening of full-on clowning around.

This is great!   

Friday, August 5, 2011

It's Reviving the Economy, Stupid: Coolidge and Reagan, Not FDR

I'm trying to ignore the 512-point drop in the Dow yesterday. I have no stocks, so I'm not scrambling around this morning trying to preserve my retirement. Nor am I emptying my savings account, which I also don't have, to cover my stock margins.

I have no retirement; and many of my friends, who worked so hard to create one, are finding themselves in the same boat.

That doesn't make me feel clever, just less cheated.

In this era of ever bigger government and destructive fiscal policy, a few more regulations and political posturing should pull the economy out of its current nose dive.

Perhaps the Prez can go to another taxpayer-subsidized solar-panel manufacturer and give a green-jobs speech. Or GE can build another mercury light-bulb factory in China.

That was sarcasm, by the way.

There are still one or two pages from the FDR playbook, which transformed what should have been a 2- or 3-year recession into our Great Depression, the current administration has yet to try.   

Next expect some government genius to suggest taxing the hordes of cash bigger businesses are sitting on because our union-supporting, over-regulating, growth-limiting government has them too nervous to invest their profits.

That was another FDR brain fart.

For my friends of the far left, who can't be bothered to read history, FDR's policies didn't bring us out of the Great Depression. Some credit World War II with doing so, but that isn't quite correct either.

War is never good for an economy. If it were, the three wars in which we are currently embroiled would have us floating on a rising tide of prosperity rather than drowning in a sea of red ink.

No, what WWII did do, however, was force FDR to make peace with big business. He had to finally admit that his anti-business strategies were hamstringing manufacturing, job creation and economic growth.

FDR recognized he needed a vibrant manufacturing sector to supply the allied war effort. He declared peace with business, allowing our free-enterprise economy to do what it typically does when left alone: grow!

The playbook our government should be using today is the one Coolidge created in the 1920s or Reagan's from the 1980s. They worked!

It doesn't take a Harvard grad to see that what is being done in Washington today isn't working. And perhaps that's the real problem.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Louisville Is Short One Fun Joint

I am in the city I consider my "hometown."

It's Louisville, Kentucky.

I moved here with my parents when I was 13. It was the fifth city in the fourth state that I lived. Consequently, I had no idea just how much it would mean to me.

I graduated from high school and buried both parents in Louisville during the 15 or so years I lived here.

Some of my best friends still live in Louisville. It will always be a part of me and I of it.

"You can never go back," are words often heard. I've never believed them. I've been back dozens of times and it still feels like I never left.

This trip, however, is a bit different. I discovered that one of my oldest and dearest stomping grounds is gone.

TGI Fridays in Plainview -- an upscale subdivision in Louisville's east end -- went out of business. It's boarded up, literally.

I remember when it opened in 1974 or 75. It was unique and fun. That was back in the day when at on Thursdays, the joint erupted in celebration. People yelled, screamed and tossed stacks of paper napkins in the air. It was bedlam.

One or two nights a week my buddy Ray and I would hit the bar after work and raise ten kinds of hell.

It was a place we always visited during my every trip back here.

Its passing means more to me than just some joint going out of business; it was part of my Louisville experience and memories.

I am crestfallen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dinner at Northampton Wines

A bartender pal of mine celebrated her 25th birthday yesterday. A bunch of us took her out last night.

The location of this shindig changed three or four times in the past week. It wound up at Northampton Wines on downtown Greenville's Broad Street.

It was a fine choice.

I have been to Northampton several times for a glass or bottle of wine. In addition to selling bottles of wine to take home, it also sells bottles of wine and wine by the glass to consume on site.

They have a tasting room off of the main showroom, but in the showroom itself, there is a very nice bar and several high-top tables. You can either select a bottle, which the bartender will open for you, to share or there is always a menu of wines available by the glass.

There is a small corkage fee, but if you get there before 6 pm, they waive that charge. Otherwise you are drinking out and paying retail.

I thought we were just there to have a bottle or two of wine; well more like eight or nine, but we then adjourned to the dining room where we had dinner.

This was my first experience eating there, so this was an adventure of sorts.

The food was outstanding. It is an a la cart menu, but prices are fairly reasonable.

In a group containing no less than eight people who work in the restaurant biz, that no one had a complaint or even a negative comment is high praise indeed.

I will return.