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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Steelers Thrash the Despicable Patriots

Last week I didn't believe I was going to get to write the above headline this morning.

In addition to shocking the Patriots, the Steelers shocked me. You can gauge the level of my surprise simply by reading my previous blog post.

I consider any season in which the Steelers beat up on the Patriots a successful one. Although the 25-to-17 score doesn't really reflect the level of the Steelers thorough domination of the over-confident Patriots, it was truly a beautiful thing to watch.

It may be the best the Steelers have looked all season and it was against one of the best teams in the NFL.

The key to the victory wasn't just an impressive pattern of work by Roethlisberger and company on offense, but by the entire Steelers team's relentless effort on both sides of the ball to keep the New England offense off the field.

Time management by the offense and savvy, determined play by the defense simply kept the football out of Brady's hands.

Too old and tired to win? Try telling the Steelers that.

Next week's encounter with Baltimore is even more critical to the Steelers playoff picture.

A little more of what they gave the Patriots would be nice.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Steelers Host the Patriots on Sunday: I Am Praying for a Miracle!

The Steelers are somewhere I never expected them to be six weeks ago: at the top of the AFC North.

Now having said that, they have only played two teams this season that can be considered in contention for the AFC championship -- Ravens and Texans -- and lost to both. The Ravens humiliated them 35 to Pittsburgh no less.

Moreover, they barely squeaked by the 0-and-7 Colts, and the 2-and-5 Jaguars, winning those games by a combined total of 7 measly points.

As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is quick to point out, a win doesn't need to be pretty to count.

Thank God!

I wish I could feel better about the Steelers Super Bowl chances than I did six weeks ago, but I don't. The fact they are taking a three-game winning streak into Sunday's game doesn't inspire much confidence in me. I wish it did.

No, they will face the 5-and-1 Patriots this week. (Have I ever mentioned just how much I despise the Patriots?)

Simply put: Brady and company have the Steelers' number. The Patriots have been victorious in six of their past seven meetings with Pittsburgh.

Of course, any team can beat any other team on any given day, but the chances of a beat-up Steelers' team besting a well-rested Patriots team coming off its Bye week are slim to almost unimaginable.

Going up against the NFL's best offense, the Steelers D will be without James Harrison and Aaron Smith -- two key contributors to its defensive prowess. Nose tackle Chris Hoke is out as well. James Farrior may not play either.

On the other side of the ball, starting guard Doug Legursky won't suit up. The starting center Maurkice Pouncey is nursing an elbow injury. He is scheduled to play, but won't be at the top of his game. Triple-threat wide receiver Hines Ward may not play either due to an ankle injury.

That the Steelers have home-field advantage in Sunday's game won't much matter either; the Patriots spank them there, too.

The next two games will determine Pittsburgh's Super Bowl probabilities. They need to beat the Patriots this week and the Ravens the following Sunday in Baltimore. Actually a win against Baltimore will do more to advance the Steelers to the playoffs, but in terms of building confidence and establishing conference domination, they need to win both.

I hope the headline of Monday's blog is "Steelers Thrash the Despicable Patriots!"

A guy can hope can't he?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Off Roading at the Medina River Ranch in Texas Hill Country with Nissan

I don't get to off road nearly as much as I'd like.

Most years I'm invited to a couple of manufacturer events involving taking some all-new or redesigned 4x4 off pavement. It's not enough.

For nearly 25 years, I lived in South Florida where the highest peak in three counties was the Broward County Landfill -- not exactly the sort of off-roading I have in mind.

Now that I am in South Carolina, I'm sure there are off-roading venues vastly superior to a garbage dump, but I don't know where they might be. From time to time I do get a 4x4 to test for a week that I could take off pavement if I knew where to go.

I guess I need to attach myself to a four-wheeling club of some kind and find out where its members go. Just something else to put on my to-do list.

In the meantime I must settle for manufacturer programs that include off roading.

I am recently returned from a Nissan off-roading event in Texas. The actual location was the Medina River Ranch about 50 miles outside of San Antonio in what is called, Texas Hill Country.

For lack of a better description, the Medina River Ranch is an upscale hunting resort. Testosterone virtually drips from the rafters. My room was awesome with a bed that could have been lifted right out of a Four Seasons hotel.

Nissan didn't have a new 4x4 to show off; rather it featured its current lineup of 4x4s on a course spanning about 4 miles of the ranch's 12,000 acres.

Until this event, Nissan wouldn't have jumped to mind if you asked me about off-road vehicles. I would have waxed on about Jeep Wrangler Rubicons, Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rover Range Rovers. Nissan? Not so much.

This little exercise in Texas opened my eyes to a couple of very competent Nissans.

We drove 4x4 versions of the full-size Titan and Armada -- decent off roaders both. But it was the smaller 4x4 Xtera and Frontier that really impressed me.

Smaller and more maneuverable than the big, honkin' Titan and Armada, the Xtera and Frontier proved nimble and athletic, able to easily negotiate the tight turns sprinkled around the trail.

On a course populated with hills, rocks, mud and water, the Xtera and Frontier never balked, never hesitated. Passing herds of deer, wildebeests and even a couple of zebras, these Nissans mastered every hazard the course could muster.

Both are real trucks. They feature boxed frames, as well as body-on-frame construction. This means they are tough and capable of taking a real pounding.

Opt for the Pro-4X upgrade that was available on a couple of our test trucks and you get bigger, more rugged off-trail rubber, an electric rear-locking differential, extra skid plates to protect the undercarriage, and Bilstein shock absorbers.

If you want to know what a great day is like, spend some time in one of these Nissans bumping over the toughest terrain Texas Hill Country offers.

Nope, I just don't get to do enough off roading.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Abingdon, Virginia: Music, Theater, the Town Character and Wine: Wrapping Up My Virginia Visit

My final full day in Virginia in search of music and art drew to a close. Boy, am I tuckered out.

Much of yesterday and all of today was spent in Abingdon. It's a town of about 8,000. You would never know it by the buzz of activity and the amount of stuff to do.

Yep, we enjoyed more music. You can't swing a dead cat over your head and not hit someone playing a guitar or fiddle.

I spent my two nights in Abingdon at the Creeper's End Lodge. It is so named because the head of the Virginia Creeper Trail is right across the street. This is a former railroad line that has had the tracks and ties ripped up and replaced with a sort of very fine cinder material.

Running for about 34 miles from Abingdon to White Top Mountain, it teams with joggers, walkers, bikers and horseback riders.

Any way, the Creeper's End Lodge is a brand-new bed and breakfast -- without the breakfast part -- that is ideal for couples or small families. My cottage -- all the accommodations are in individual cottages with a unit upstairs and one down -- was beautifully furnished.

When I mentioned to the property manager that I needed an ironing board, she took my shirt and ironed it. I'm not sure everyone can expect such service -- it was me after all -- but this is the sort of friendly attention I found throughout Abingdon.

Yesterday's highlights included a hike along a mile or two of the Creeper Trail. Some of our group embarked on a 17-mile bike ride on the trail. Moi? Yeah, not so much. I haven't been on a bike in at least 15 years. Tearing down hill for 17 miles, I thought, was not the way to get back on the horse. Walking was just fine.

We also had a wine tasting at the Abingdon Winery and lunch at its outside courtyard. The wines were pretty good. I even bought a bottle of their Cabernet Savignon for a little mid-afternoon rendezvous I had scheduled later with a former flame I hadn't seen for about 15 years. But enough said about that. In any event, the wine was good.

Dinner last evening was at The Tavern. Built in 1779 -- everything in Virginia is old -- it is a terrific eatery with a bar I could sit at every night. My filet was grilled to perfection. The local tourism folks arranged for a trio to serenade us as we dined. No surprise, the music was as good as the food.

We wrapped up the evening and the trip by attending a play at the reknown Barter Theatre. When "theater" is spelled "theatre," you know it's classy. This is where some serious actors, such as Gregory Peck, Ned Beatty (squeal!), Hume Cronyn and Mash's Larry Linville, among others, got their start.

One of the hits of the entire trip, though, was a 90-minute guided tour of the Star Museum. Every small town needs at least one character and Abingdon's is the curator of the Star Museum, Robert Weisfeld. The former editor of the Abingdon newspaper, he spent several years in New York City where he began collecting movie memorabilia.

His collection boasts lots of personal items from Jackie Gleason, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, James Dean, and on and on and on. Literally hundreds and hundreds of items.

It's not the memorabilia, however, that's captivating; it's Robert's stories about the artifacts he has collected. Each has meaning for him and a story to explain it. He is a fount of celebrity information and gossip. He gives tours during operating hours and by appointment during off hours.

It was 90 minutes that virtually flew by.

Now it's back to South Carolina, reality and too many deadlines to contemplate.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Another Bluegrass Extravaganza on Southwest Virginia's Crooked Road

Do you know the difference between a violin and a fiddle?

Well, neither did I until spending the four-day tutorial in Bluegrass music that I am enjoying in southwest Virginia.

I say, Bluegrass, only as shorthand for the conglomeration of music styles that could just as easily be categorized as mountain, Old-Time, or just plain Americana.

What I've seen are fiddles, banjos, guitars, bass fiddles, washboards and even a saxophone. Sometimes it's just guitars; other times maybe a guitar and fiddle, and one time the whole enchilada of instruments.

But so far, no drums.

Here's a short music-history lesson: Southwest Virginia is where the feisty African banjo -- yes, the banjo arrived in America with the slaves -- and the stately European violin collided. If there were ever two more unlikely instruments blended into one sound, I don't know what they might be: the slide trombone and harpsichord, perhaps?

However strange the pairing, the result is a music movement enveloping the entire Appalachian region.

Playing the fiddle or guitar just comes naturally to locals here. Even if not accomplished, they strum and bow because the music has been with them since birth.

Folks in southwest Virginia simply light up when talking about music.

Yesterday we spent a couple of hours at the spectacular Heartwood Center near Galax, Virginia. Located near the Tennessee border, it is Virginia's gateway to music and art.

We met Erynn Marshall, the music program manager of the Blue Ridge Music Center who played a couple of tunes on her fiddle as the founding father of The Crooked Road, Joe Wilson looked on.

The Crooked Road links together several live music venues around more than 300 miles of southwest Virginia. Joe, regaled us with local music history and lore as we strolled around the Crooked Road history exhibit.

In another area of the center, Jack Hinshelwood, the executive director of The Crooked Road, and Blake Collins, an employee of the Heartwood Center, entertained us with a couple of tunes.

Before we left Heartwood, we stopped in the demonstration room where one of the U.S. Park Rangers -- Heartwood Center is overseen by the U.S. Park Service -- displayed his bowing and strumming skills. Everyone here seems to play something.

Last night we attended the weekly gathering at the Carter Family Fold. This is a music venue that was founded by the Carter Family, considered by many as the first family of country music. For those of us not steeped in music history, the better known of the clan was June Carter Cash and, of course, Johnny Cash.

The music was Old-Time, the dancing version of Bluegrass. The music was lively and the dancing captivating. Dancers ranged in age from, maybe, as young as six to as old as 85. This is flat dancing. It's sort of a freestyle tap dancing. Many of the dancers were actually wearing shoes with metal taps on them. Others clogged. From 30 rows back, it looked like chaos; next to the dance floor, it was an art form.

The hall seats 1,000. Last night roughly 600 people paid their $7 -- the admission cost for adults -- to listen to the music and dance. A concession stand dispensed homemade food. It felt more like a family reunion than a show.

What a night!

Oh, and what's the difference between a violin and a fiddle? Only the person playing it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bluegrass Music, Floyd General Store, Dog Town Roadhouse and Bourbon Barrel Stout: Day Two in Southwest Virginia

Half the time I can't think of anything to blog about. I mean, do you really care what I had for lunch? I don't even care about what I had for lunch. But today is different. I have a couple of topics I need to cover.

In my continuing southwest Virginia saga, our merry band of journalists visited the metropolis of Floyd last night.

Floyd is Mayberry without the big-city feel. In fact, Mayberry looks like Manhattan next to Floyd. Located about 40 miles southwest of Roanoke, it is the county seat of sprawling Floyd County -- about 380 square miles of pure, unadulterated nothing. No freeway, no train tracks, no Starbucks, no nothing. Floyd County is about 15,000 people longing for something to do.

 About 500 of those folks live within the city limits of Floyd. See what I mean about making Mayberry appear big? Despite there being a Floyd's Barber Shop on
Locust Street
-- Floyd's main artery -- I doubt the city was named for Floyd the barber.

A lot of Floydians are artsy-fartsy, free-spirit, hug-a-tree folks who like to make crafts or music and basically be left alone. Mostly they are, except for Friday and Saturday nights when Floyd erupts in music and the population swells to a few thousand.

Center stage in the music being performed is Blue Grass and the Floyd General Store -- believe it or not -- is ground zero for Floyd's music movement. A large stage and dance floor dominate the rear of the store. There are also roughly 100 folding chairs set up in front of the dance floor.

The music begins at . We arrived at and already every seat was occupied.

Woody Crenshaw owns the general store and is also the president of The Crooked Road, a loose confederation of live-music venues strewn across Virginia. He herded our little group into an upstairs room and provided a introduction to what we would experience.

He explained that the music played in the general store isn't Blue Grass, rather it's something called Old-Time that is a dance version and the precursor to Blue Grass. The music, though, isn't reserved to the general store. The barbershop next door also features a band.

Other musicians gather in groups on street corners, in shops and in storefront doorways. It is a real spectacle.

A couple of us migrated to Dog Town Roadhouse a block away from the general store. This is basically a wood-oven pizza joint; but it's one of the better pizza joints I've been to, no matter the size of the city. Its beer selection is craft beers. The pizzas are outstanding. One of the owners makes the sausage used on the pizzas -- some of it from lamb. And, of course, Dog Town provides live music.

This brings me to the second topic of this posting: Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Among the craft draft beers Dog Town offers is a stout aged in Four Roses Bourbon barrels. Brewed at the Bluegrass Brewing Company in Louisville, Kentucky, Bourbon Barrel Stout is by far one of the better beers I've had. What a surprise!

The bourbon flavor really pops.

Part of the surprise is that this magical elixir is made in Louisville. I visit Louisville once or twice a year and I've never heard of the Bluegrass Brewing Company, let alone Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Its Web site claims BBC has been in business since the 1990s; why have I never heard of it?

My trips to Louisville are characterized by my friends and I trying to decide where to go and what to do. BBC has never come up in the discussions.

I will fix this shortcoming on my next visit, which may be for Thanksgiving.

As Andy would say, "Bourbon Barrel Stout: mmmmm…goooood!"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Having a Blast -- Literally and Figuratively -- in Southwestern Virginia

Today finds me in southwestern Virginia; not to be confused with southern West Virginia. I'm here on a travel assignment for AAA.

I flew into Roanoke yesterday afternoon where I was met by the team from Virginia's department of Tourism. These are the same folks I was with a year or so ago covering the Monticello Wine Trail. As soon as I saw them, I knew it was going to be a fun trip.

We struck out from the airport for our first stop on this four-day event around ; our destination: Primland Resort. It sits on about 12,000 acres in the hills south of Roanoke just off the
Blue Ridge Parkway

I always judge a new location by whether or not I would spend my own money to return. In the case of Primland, I certainly would. In fact, I'm going to put together a proposal for my Wyoming gang to visit Primland as our outing next year.

The main lodge looks like the hotel in The Shinning, except it's only a couple of years old.

My suite last night was larger than my home. The hallway from the front door to the seating area was about 30 feet. It actually had four lighted paintings hanging along one wall.

The suite was so big, it had a guest bathroom.

When the maid showed up for the turndown service, she rang the doorbell. It took me more than 30 seconds to get from the bedroom to the front door.

Did I mention it was big?

The view off the huge back deck was spectacular!

Dinner last night was in its elements restaurant. The "e" is intentionally lower case. Classy. The food was outstanding. My sirloin was perfectly seared and delicious. We had a couple of Virginia wines that were also very good.

This morning three of us had a clay-shooting lesson. Never having even fired a shotgun before, I had some trepidation about my performance. Our shooting instructor, a very cute young expert named Lauren, talked me through it. I actually hit about 60 percent of the clays; better than I expected.

When I hit two clays in a row -- one coming at me and one going away -- I expected to hear Monty Python break out in the Lumberjack Song.

All three of us returned to the lodge for lunch, so I guess we can consider the outing successful.

Tonight we're heading out to hear some Bluegrass.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2012 Audi A6, Atlanta Airport, Truckers and Sirius: Just Another Travel Day

I made, what is beginning to feel like, my weekly slog to Atlanta yesterday.

In normal traffic conditions, it's about two hours from my back door in Greenville, SC to Atlanta's I-285 outer loop. It's another 30 minutes to the airport, yesterday's destination.

Not a terrible drive, the time passes quickly enough. For the most part the scenery is pretty with sufficient hills and curves to keep things at least a little interesting.

I've made the drive in everything from a Hyundai Accent to a Cadillac Escalade ESV. Bigger is better, at least for the purposes of getting from my house to the Atlanta airport.

Yesterday's journey was in a $49,900 Audi A6 3.0 Premium. It was more like $61,000 with all the trappings. Not too shabby.

Its 310-horsepower supercharged V6 was eager and the ride Queen-Mary smooth. It has an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission, so fuel economy was pretty good, too. The EPA folks say it gets 22 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

I was tempted to take advantage of its iPod integration and plug my player in, but instead tuned the Sirius satellite radio into channel 10, The Pulse. Typically I listen to the 70s on 7, the 80s on 8 or The Pulse when I have a vehicle with satellite radio. Eventually I tuned into the Raw Dog comedy channel -- another favorite -- for a laugh or two.

My A6 had regular, rather than adaptive, cruise control. I prefer regular. I have purist friends who will shudder upon reading that I use cruise control at all. "Heavens," they might say, "you actually turn some degree of control over to the car's computer?"

While suddenly looking down at the speedometer and finding myself charging along at 90 might not happen in an Accent, it is certainly a distinct possibility in the A6, or most of the vehicles I drive. I-85 between Charlotte, NC and Atlanta is a shooting gallery of radar traps. Very few state troopers post themselves along that route, but the local-yokel cops and sheriff's deputies are out there in mass.

It makes one wonder who is handling law enforcement in their towns and counties. Must not be a whole lot of crime that they can be spared to run speed traps on stretches of highway that in no way impact their jurisdictions. Is it more about safety than revenue? I think not. Things that make you go, hmmm.

Anyway, back to the cruise control. With adaptive systems that use radar to automatically slow the vehicle down when approaching slower traffic, I suddenly realize that instead of going the 77 miles per hour that the cruise is set at, I am going 65 miles per hour because there is a vehicle 10 car lengths ahead doing 65. I find I have to concentrate just as much on my speed with adaptive cruise control as I do without any cruise control at all. What's the point?

And if nothing else, this stretch of I-85 is almost always a continuous train of 18-wheelers. So, an adaptive cruise control system is constantly braking as I run up on these slow-moving mastodons of the highway. There are times when I believe I could practically walk to Atlanta across the tops of their trailers without my feet ever touching pavement.

And this brings me to a pet peeve: Truckers who pass other trucks that are traveling 2 miles per hour slower than they are. What makes these fools think it's perfectly okay to take 10 miles to pass another truck with 30 vehicles backed up behind them?

Going down hill the truck they are attempting to pass speeds up, thanks to gravity, and then slows down on the next incline. The passing truck loses ground then gains ground then loses ground then gains ground mile after mile.

I could probably cut 15 or 20 minutes off my Atlanta runs if 18-wheelers didn't try to pass other 18-wheelers going only marginally slower than they are. Is there really all that much difference between going 62 miles per hour and going 63?

There was nothing to do about it but sit back in the A6's remarkably comfortable, leather-wrapped seat and enjoy the music.

Stupid truckers….

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall for Greenville: The Piedmont Boys, Soby's, Barbeque Sliders and Way, Way Too Many People

This weekend was an annual festival called Fall for Greenville.

It's one of those sample-all-the-restaurants events that had 60 or 70 participants set up in booths for several blocks of Main Street. A block or so of several side streets was also barricaded with tents or sound stages.

No telling how many people show up for this thing, but, at times, you could barely squeeze through the mass of humanity getting from one tent to the next.

I ventured out of Soby's on Friday night to listen to the Piedmont Boys on one of the stages. They are a local rockabilly band that I've wanted to see almost since moving here. By the time I walked the three blocks with a few friends, I was ready to drop kick a baby bird. The band, though, was worth the effort.

I don't even go to a mall during Christmas-shopping season because I don't like crowds. Fall for Greenville simply isn't my kind of event.

Having said that, I spent most of Saturday there, too.

My usual Friday night hangout, the aforementioned Soby's, put out a call for volunteers to help work its booth. I like Soby's and have pitched in there for other events; although not in any official capacity. This time, though, I signed up.

I was on the first of Saturday's shifts. The event opened at 11 AM; I was scheduled to work the booth from 10:30 until 2:30.

After getting signed in and receiving my official Soby's t-shirt, I got a quick tutorial in plating barbeque sliders, one of the five dishes we were serving. That was my station for the next three and a half hours.

I had to mix the pulled pork with the homemade barbeque sauce in a big warmer. I'd take a plate and open two slider buns on it. Using tongs, I would pile pulled pork on each bun, close them up and stick them, plate and all, in a second warmer. When one of the people taking the tickets -- you had to trade cash for tickets and then spend the tickets at the various booths -- got an order for sliders, they would yell it out. I would then dip into the warmer with already plated sliders and hand them to the order taker.

Simple, no?

It was all sunshine and rainbows until the lunch crush. Then I looked like a modern-day version of Lucy and Ethel trying to work the assembly line at the candy factory.

The order takers were yelling for sliders; my reserve of pre-plated sliders disappeared; and I was plating as the orders came ringing in. Well, almost. It was more like I was plating two or three orders behind what was coming in.

Pulled pork was flying all over the place and buns were rolling off the plates onto the ground. Finally the kid at the creamed-corn station -- creamed corn apparently not a huge seller -- began putting the buns on the plates for me and I still struggled.

Eventually, another set of tongs arrived and he also began making the sandwiches. Finally things slowed down and sanity returned.

That I was on the slider station was kismet of some sort. Barbeque sliders used to be on Soby's appetizer menu, but disappeared about 18 months ago and no amount of complaining has brought them back. I have been on a mission to get them returned.

Apparently the head chef has dug in his heels and refuses to entertain our repeated requests.

He was running the tent that morning and I just couldn't resist popping off about the regrettable slider situation. I went on a short break for lunch and of course had a couple of sliders. As I was heading for a spot to wolf down my lunch, I paused next to the head chef and said, "I am having the sliders for lunch because we just can't seem to get them back on the menu."

His only response was a cold stare. Geesh, get a sense of humor for the love of God.

It was another Fall for Greenville for the record books.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Solyndra Looks Like a Good Deal Compared to This

Whether you are a bigger-government liberal or a constitutionalist conservative you can probably appreciate a spectacularly risky investment of taxpayer dollars when you see it.

At least I hope that's the case. If not, America is in more trouble than I thought, and I'm no optimist on the subject.

Despite the colossal waste of more than half a billion dollars in the recently bankrupt Solyndra -- I'll leave the who-knew-what-and-when debate for another time -- the Department of Energy has since shoved another more than $6 billion in money borrowed from China out the door to other struggling "green energy" companies under the guise of creating jobs.

This is not news; the government told us it was doing this. How did Einstein define insanity? Well, let's not dwell on that here either.

Among those companies enjoying the administration's most recent largesse is one SunPower Corp., a San Jose-based firm.

Ostensibly SunPower earned the government's attention with its plans to erect a 320,000 sq-ft manufacturing plant to build solar panels and a solar-panel ranch near San Luis Obispo, Calif. for producing solar power.

With me so far?

Depending on your degree of support for such projects, you may well think that if the government is hellbent on funneling money to green industries, SunPower Corp. seems like a fine place to start. It received $1.2 billion in the administration's latest rush to create green jobs.

For the math-challenged, that's more than double the money flushed down the Solyndra commode.

But here's the thing...

SunPower isn't an American company. Controlling interest (60%) is owned by the French company Total Oil. If and when the taxpayer loan is repaid, profits from these enterprises will be reinvested in France.

The 320,000 sq-ft plant -- and however many manufacturing jobs might be created -- is being constructed in Mexico, not the U.S..

Its planned solar ranch in Calif. hasn't cleared the environmental-impact gauntlet and probably won't; nothing ever does in Calif.

Finally, SunPower has more debt than assets and appraised worth. In other words, it is, or was before the administration stepped in, broke.

Oh, and did I mention it is being sued by several investors -- including some retirement funds -- for misrepresentation and fraud?

If somehow SunPower manages to stay in business and repay the $1.2 billion in taxpayer loans, then no harm, no foul. We will have been on the hook for $1.2 billion to basically create fewer than 20 permanent jobs at the planned solar ranch.

Let's see, $1.2 billion divided by 20...well, I'll let you do the math. But in my book, that's an awful lot of risk for very little potential return.

Of course, the more likely scenario will have SunPower going the way of Solyndra.

But what the hey? It's only our money, right?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

After Nearly Four Years, My Cat Still Misses Florida

I don't need to see the leaves change colors or drop off the trees to realize the average temperature is beginning to dip; I have a living temperature gauge in the house: my damn cat.

It must be fall because I have once again become her bestest friend.

As soon as the temperature in the house drops below 70 degrees, she is looking for a lap to fill. Because I'm the only lap in this house, it's mine.

This is true whether I am at my PC working, sitting in the chair in my bedroom trying to put on my shoes or lounging in my recliner watching TV.

Chillier temps turn her into a major league mooch. She is nothing if not a Florida cat.

She will sleep in my lap for as long as I am willing to sit and let her. Oh, she might hop down to get a drink of water or a couple of mouthfuls of food, but then she is right back.

If I get up to get something, she jumps down without complaint, but is standing at the ready when I return to my seat. If I don't come back within four or five minutes, she stalks me in the hope I have taken up residence in another chair somewhere else in the house.

Although I find it sort of charming for the first week or two, by mid January I am fed up with a fur ball lying on me nonstop.

Looking at the calendar, I calculate I have at least another 130 days of dealing with this.

It's going to be a long, long time until spring.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is This Any Way to Run a Railroad: My Delta Saga Continued

My Delta saga continued….

If you haven't done so -- and why would you? -- you need to read my posting from yesterday, "Delta: Once Again Violating Its Contract With Me," to learn the beginning of my latest travel escapade with Delta before I boarded my plane in Greenville.

The story resumes after I logged off my net book in preparation for boarding my flight.

The flight's captain having come out to the gate podium and making the announcement that the problem should be solved in 20 minutes -- "20 minutes" is Delta-speak for an hour and a half -- he asked the gate crew to go ahead and board the plane, so we could take off as soon as the fuel tanks were filled.

The way they solved the problem with fueling was to bring three fuel trucks to the plane and load the fuel in from the filler openings on top of the plane's wings rather than the typical pressure-filling method. Even with three trucks, pumping the fuel through the top of the wings required nearly 30 minutes rather than the 10 minutes using the pressurized method.

Although the captain instructed the gate crew to immediately begin boarding the plane, we sat there for another 10 minutes waiting.


Even after the time it took to get all the passengers on the totally full plane, we sat for another 10 minutes before the captain came on the plane's intercom to inform us that the fuel was on board and we were now waiting for the paperwork.


We sat there for about 20 minutes before the captain announced that the paperwork wasn't forthcoming because the three trucks, after pumping fuel into the plane, took off for parts unknown without telling anyone exactly how much fuel each had added to the tanks. Someone was trying to track down each of the drivers to come up with some sort of total.


Another 30 minutes passed. The paperwork having been delivered to the cockpit, the boarding door was closed and the flight attendants launched into their safety spiel: here's how you buckle your seatbelt, here's how you use the oxygen mask, your cushion is a floatation device, blah, blah, blah…

We sat there for another 15 minutes.


The captain fired up the intercom again to tell us that there was a problem with the paperwork. The total fuel the three fuel-truck drivers claimed to have added to the tanks didn't jibe with what the fuel-level indicator said in the cockpit. The two numbers were 500 gallons apart and had to be reconciled. This should only take about 15 minutes, he claimed, and we would be underway in 30 minutes at most. They reopened the boarding door and brought the gangway back to the plane.


A couple of passengers came back up the aisle with their bags and got off the plane. I've never seen that before. A passenger getting off a plane creates all sorts of security issues with checked baggage and so forth. We sat for another 15 minutes before the captain, who had also left the plane, came back on board and announced that they were having a problem getting the fuel count. Evidently there were five fuel tanks on the plane and no one was exactly sure who had put what fuel into which tanks. Someone decided that they would have to come out, put some sort of magnetic measuring device into each tank and determine exactly how much fuel was in each tank that way. It would only take another 15 or 20 minutes.

Three more passengers got off the plane with their carry-ons.


By this time I was back on the phone with Delta because even with lots of layover time in Atlanta built into my itinerary, it was evident I wasn't going to make my connection. Delta assured me I was protected on a flight out of Atlanta to Austin.

Another 30 minutes dragged by before the captain came back on the intercom to announce that they thought they finally had the appropriate information to create the correct paperwork. He apologized for about the fourth time and repeated his statement that in more than 30 years of flying, he had never dealt with such an issue. Reassuring, indeed. He admitted he had probably lost all credibility with us, but gamely guessed we would be airborne in 30 minutes.

Another 15 minutes went by and three more passengers got off the plane. The gate attendant then came on the intercom and asked everyone to take their seats because she needed to get a head count of how many passengers were still on board. She walked up and down the aisle twice counting. She radioed the gate desk her count. We could hear the gate desk's response: the head count didn't jibe with the paperwork. Two more passengers left the plane.


Another head count and another one after that still didn't arrive at a number that agreed with the paperwork. Another passenger left the plane.

The head count correct, the boarding door was closed and the flight attendants repeated the safety announcement as though we hadn't heard it the first time the boarding door was closed. I guess they figured we wouldn't retain it from one day to the next.

Finally two hours after the fueling was completed, three hours after we boarded the plane, and three and a half hours after we were originally scheduled to leave, the plane began taxing for takeoff.

Upon arriving in Atlanta, we were all given $10 food vouchers for lunch. Yes, that made everything all right. I had some Chinese food and a beer that totaled $10.09. I then made my flight. My exit row seat on the earlier flight lost, I was stuck in row 43. Thankfully, that flight was without incident.

Delta: Where customer is king.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Delta: Once Again Violating Its Contract With Me

Delta has violated its contract with me once again.

You know, that contract that says if I pay my money, show up at the airport an hour early as instructed and I am ready to board, they will get me where I'm going safely and on time. The operative words are "on time."

Here's the problem as the plane's captain just explained it to at least 100 frustrated passengers: The plane that made the flight in last night isn't an MD88, which is the type of aircraft usually making the flight back to Atlanta. It was a last-minute substitution for the MD88 plane that was having a "maintenance issue."

So what? you ask. That was my question as well.

Well, here's the issue. The fuel trucks Delta uses at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport are equipped with fuel lines that fit the fuel-filler opening on the type aircraft Delta, in all its wisdom, sent in here last night.

The Delta personnel here had to call maintenance central in Atlanta to have them call the maintenance guy asleep at his post at GSP to come look at it. All of that wasted about 30 minutes. Apparently Gus, Goober or Gomer is eyeballing the problem as I write this. I have no confidence that this flight won't be canceled.

If it's just delayed an hour or so, I'm fine. I always try to build in at least a 90 minute layover in Atlanta when I actually fly out of Greenville rather than slogging over to Atlanta and flying directly out of there. These flights are rarely on time and I've had more than one canceled out from under me.

A delay of more than 60 minutes or so today will probably mean I'll have to take a later connecting flight. I've already been on the phone to Delta reservations getting myself backed up on an Austin flight that leaves 2 hours after the one I should be on.

If this flight, though, is canceled. I'm pretty much out of luck. Most of the planes making the milk run between Greenville and Atlanta are small regional jets that only hold 30 or so people. I can't get backed up on a flight out of Greenville until early this afternoon. In that case, I won't see Austin until sometime later tonight.

Now my issue is whether to move forward with this trip or abort. It's a Kia event and I don't want to pull the plug, but I also don't want to spend 12 hours making a four-hour trip.

Maintenance has just reported that they think it's a stuck flap and can be fixed. I haven't seen anyone running around with a roll of duct tape, so I'm not optimistic.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hanna: A Movie Worth Renting

Last night was Italian night at Casa Heaps. Homemade red meat sauce, pasta, lots of red Zin and Red Box movies.

Historically, I rent two movies for these Saturday nights at home. This doesn't always work well. Red Box isn't exactly a treasure trove of hits. Usually it will have one movie good enough to be a no brainer for me to rent. The second rental is often a shot in the dark with a title that sounds watchable, but usually isn't.

Last night the obvious choice was the latest Transformers flick. Although I'm disappointed Megan Fox was dumped, I decided to spend the buck and rent it. I knew the action would be good. After watching it, I don't like Fox's replacement as well as Fox, but it was still good.

It was the second movie, though, that was the real surprise. It's a film titled "Hanna."

The only person in the cast I recognized was Cate Blanchett. Apparently the person playing the main character was an Academy Award nominee at some point, but I'd never heard of her. Saoirse Ronan? Nope, doesn't ring a bell.

I'm not going to reveal a lot of the plot, but Ronan plays Hanna who has been raised in the wilderness by her father. He was obviously a covert ops guy of some sort and has spent years training her in self defense and so forth.

She leaves the wilderness and experiencing her journey of awakening with her is kind of fun. There is plenty of good action to keep things moving, as well.

On the "Was It Worth a Buck" grading system I give it a resounding, hell yes!

It was a very unexpected surprise.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I Am Creatively Least for a Day

I am in the clutches of a creative funk today.

I did knock out a piece on the Monticello Wine Trail for one of my clients earlier this morning; but beyond that, I've got nothing.

I have skimmed through the entertainment sites looking for the latest Hollywood type to make an ass of themselves, but couldn't find one worthy of my and -- by extension -- your attention.

I then searched for a list of TV series already canceled for this season, but the only two of any note -- and very little note at that -- are both from NBC. No surprise there. NBC has been on life support for two or three years. If it wasn't for the many iterations of "Law and Order" and a couple of comedies, it would be running a test pattern from 7 pm until 6 am.

The two canceled series: "The Playboy Club" and "Free Agents." Can anyone at NBC say with a straight face that he or she thought "The Playboy Club" actually had a chance to be a hit? What a bunch of nincompoops.

"Harry's Law" is about the only NBC series I watch, but I see the producers made some sweeping changes for this season, so I may abandon it.

For all the guys out there, I'll just ask the obvious question: How do you dump serious hottie Brittany Snow from the cast? I'm not a big fan of David E. Kelly's shows; pushing Snow out the door takes away one of my few reasons for watching.

I am also giving "Prime Suspect" a chance. I'm not particularly fond of its central character, so this may be a very short trial, indeed. The only other NBC show I'm keeping up with is "Up All Night." It's a comedy that I'm watching solely because it stars Christina Applegate. I think this is her third series since "Married With Children" left the air. I doubt this one will fare any better than the other two, but I'll watch while it's on. I've always liked her.

So, as you can see, I am at a loss for a nonpolitical topic to expound upon.

Maybe tomorrow will be better. At least I'll have the Steelers to kick around again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Chevy Cruze Eco and a Honda Civic EX-L Navi: My Driveway Runneth Over With Politically Correct Motorized Conveyences

I am in Green Hell this week.

Well, not really, but I calculated that opening would grab your attention.

What I am in this week are two small economy cars whose makers tout them as eco friendly, or some equally annoying, "I heart the earth" characterization. Man, I am ever getting tired of the color green.

But enough of my whining.

Early this morning, Chevrolet dropped a $20,490 version of its 2012 Cruze Eco in my driveway. A few minutes after noon, Honda delivered a $24,205 2012 Civic EX-L Navi. Both prices include the destination charge. The Cruze price also includes $495 for the Driver Convenience option package with a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat and rear parking assist. Hopefully it will prevent me from backing over the neighbor's cat.

What qualifies these two sedans as eco friendly? According to EPA estimates the Civic gets 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway with a combined mpg of 33; while the Cruze Eco delivers the same 28 mpg city, it does a bit better on the highway with 42 mpg. The EPA still pegs the combined number at 33, but that's with a six-speed manual transmission. Pony up the extra $995 for the six-speed, driver-shiftable auto tranny and those EPA estimates drop to 26 mpg city/39 mpg highway/31 mpg combined.

My test Cruze has the manual transmission.

The Civic EX-L Navi is about as good as a Civic gets; well, at least as good as it gets with the 140-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. There is the somewhat pricier Civic Si with its 201-horsepower 2.4-liter four, but it lops 8 mpg from the smaller engine's combined fuel economy. No self-respecting real greenie worth his weight in carbon credits would hit a Toyota Land Cruiser in the fanny with a gas hog like the Si.

As indicated by the "Navi" in its name, my test Civic has a navigation system with voice recognition. It also has leather seating, 4-wheel disc brakes (the Cruze has discs in front and drums in the rear) and a power sunroof.

The Cruze Eco is basically the entry level LS trim with the 140-horsepower Ecotec engine of the higher Cruze trim levels in place of the LS's 1.8-liter; this in addition to some fuel-saving features like lightweight alloy wheels and low resistance tires outside, and Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and steering wheel-mounted audio controls inside.

Both cars have very decent audio systems with a USB audio interface, full power accessories and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant audio controls. The Cruze has 8 air bags including knee air bags for both front-seat positions. The Civic has six air bags.

I have to slog the 100 miles to Charlotte tomorrow. Choosing to drive the Civic rather than the Cruze was a no-brainer because of the Civic's navigation system. I've been known to get lost backing out of my driveway. When traveling to unfamiliar locales, I always go with the car with a navigation unit.

I drove the 2011 versions of both these cars, but it will be sort of fun to drive the 2012s back to back all week long.

Let the games begin.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Steelers Look Better on Paper Than In Action

My Steelers aren't looking good for a playoff berth this year.

They may sneak in by earning a wild card slot; I'm even having doubts about that. After four weeks, six AFC teams have better records.

But unless the entire Ravens team is wiped out in some freak accident, the Steelers aren't going to win their division.

Of course I was of the same mind about Pittsburgh's chances of getting to the championship game about two-thirds of the way through the season last year and they somehow slugged their way to the Super Bowl. And they got there with an offensive line every bit as messed up as this year's; plus, a starting quarterback who missed the first four games of the season and then campaigned through the playoffs with a broken foot.

I know better than to count these guys out.

Last year, though, even with the offense struggling, the defense was knocking the ever-living bejesus out of everybody. Not so much this year.

The aging D is losing its hard edge. Steelers' D isn't creating turnovers, isn't getting to the QB, and isn't stopping the run with the effectiveness as in seasons past. Houston rushed for 180 yards! They were blasting holes in the Steelers defensive line that Michael Moore could have waddled through.

No point in discussing the offensive line in any detail. It did an acceptable job getting some rushing yards (118), but just couldn't protect Ben.

It looked as though the Steelers were getting kicked up one side of the field and down the other, but looking at the game stats, they were pretty close. At the end of the first half, it was surprising that it was only a 10-point game. It just wasn't as bad as it looked.

In terms of total yards, yards gained per play and time of possession, they were very, very close. Houston just managed to put seven more points on the board than the Steelers, but the final score is what counts.

Next Sunday they have another tough one against the 3-1 Titans.

I hope this space will be filled with a happier blog next Monday.