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, December 28, 2011

Hot Flashes, Wet Spots and Tacos: Just Another Family Outing

Last evening much of my sister's family gathered at my favorite Mexican restaurant: Sadie's of Albuquerque.

I've written about Sadie's before. The food is excellent and the drinks potent. Two or three margaritas will have you sputtering Chinese.

Thirteen of us sat around a long table in the main dining room. Usually we are banished to a room in the back of the restaurant designed for large families. Kids run amuck as unaffected parents ignore them. It's like having dinner at Chucke Cheese's.

Last night was a treat as we sat among the general population. There were kids in the room, but, for the most part, they were at one- or two-family tables and under control. We could actually have conversations and hear one another. Wow, what a concept!

My sister's oldest grand daughter has a two-year old. It should be no surprise that he is a handful. He was in the hands of a sitter last night -- a situation as rare as a two-headed chicken. This not only allowed his mother to eat a hot meal in peace, we were all able to chow down without interruption. Usually assorted family members take turns attempting to wrangle him. Anyone who knows me won't have a problem believing that I am not among the folks attempting to keep him entertained.

Sadie's has become a family tradition for my visits. It is now a part of our Christmas celebration as well.

As dinner winds down, we top off our Sadie's evenings with some shots. For the past couple of years, most of us have chosen Hot Flashes as our shot. It involves sugar, lemon, bitters and Tuaca. For the uninitiated, Tuaca is an Italian orange-based liqueur along the lines of Grand Marnier, only a little sweeter.

We decided at our last Sadie's dinner that we needed a new shot to finish off future outings. I was tasked with researching and, of course, taste testing a new shot.  I can't imagine why they chose me.

Serious about my mandate, I relentlessly pursued a new family shot. This involved intensive experimentation. I am nothing if not thorough.

On my most recent trip into Greenville's Soby's last week, I asked the bar manager for her recommendation. The only qualifier was that it couldn't contain tequila. We all have someone in our sphere who has gotten sick on tequila and refuses to touch it again. A nephew fills that role in our family.

I had found a shot called a Wet Spot (one of a number of Wet Spot shots out there) that I really liked; but because it's made of Baileys and tequila, it was vetoed. Drat!

After some thought, Soby's bar manager wrote out the ingredients for the Applesauce shot. Containing Goldschlager, Apple Pucker and pineapple juice, it's a festive little liquid treat that I determined would please the entire family. I ran it by one of my nieces, who served as my sounding board as I slogged through my research; she agreed that it would be the ideal after-dinner shot.

As we waited to be seated for last night's feast, I decided to double check with the bartender that Sadie's had all the required ingredients. Much to my dismay, there wasn't a drop of Apple Pucker in the joint.

Our fall-back position was Wet Spot shots with my nephew getting a Kamikaze. My original sense was correct: Wet Spots were received with enthusiasm. So everyone lived happily ever after.

Because I promised her I'd put her name in this blog, Amy is the niece who served as my sounding board. Amy, Amy, Amy….

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Lazy Week in New Mexico or How to Nap Away a Vacation

As much as I would like to tell you what the weather is like in New Mexico, you can know as much as I do by watching the Weather Channel. That is to say, I haven't been out of my sister's house in two days. I haven't so much as looked out a window.

Historically, I channel my caveman whenever I visit my sister. I nap, I read, I over eat, and I soak up hearth and home.

By its very nature, Christmas is more family intensive than my visits other times of the year. This Christmas, however, is more family based than most Christmases. After the family being together on Christmas, the day after, all of the local family members gathered here to celebrate my sister's birthday that was actually Dec. 21.

Tonight, this same collection of relatives will converge on my favorite Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque for dinner. This has become, not only a Christmas tradition, but a regular part of my sporadic visits throughout the year.

Tomorrow night we are going to the home of one of sister's daughters to celebrate her husband's birthday.

All of this celebrating and partying is tough duty, but somehow I will rise to meet the challenge, despite it interrupting my napping. As you may or may not know, I'm not a professional, but I am a gifted amateur.

I haven't been totally ignoring my work responsibilities while vacationing. Between eating everything that isn't nailed down and snatching catnaps, I revised an assignment for my largest client. Today, I will punch up a piece I submitted to another client last week.

One negative -- and there are a lot of them -- of being a freelancer is that if I'm not working, I'm not making any money. I have another project I should be working on, but I may not so much as crack it until I get home.

In the meantime, I'll work to finish reading the second book of this trip. I wonder what's for lunch.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Story: A Gender-Confused Santa?

WARNING: The word Christmas is used liberally in this blog.

I'm sitting in my sister's living room in Los Lunas, New Mexico as I write this. It's Christmas Eve. In my family we still call the holiday, Christmas. It's not the Winter Holiday or Winter Solstice or some other politically correct nonsense mandated by liberals in an effort to remove the Christmas story from the season while attempting to make Christmas appear more inclusive.

But I digress…

It was about 10 degrees when I awoke this morning. There is still two inches or so of snow in the yard thanks to a rare snow storm that shut down much of the state on Thursday. Ideal Christmas weather, particularly if you are safely hunkered down all warm and cozy where you need to be.

I typically spend Christmas -- there's that dreaded word again! -- with my sister and her family. I've probably only missed two Christmases with them in the past 28 years. It's part of my Christmas tradition.

It was in the late 80s and I lived in South Florida. I made my usual flight that took me from West Palm Beach to Dallas and then on to Albuquerque. Well before 9/11, people greeting arriving passengers could still do so in the gate area.  

I stepped off the plane and walked down the jetway. As I entered the gate area, I noticed a Santa Claus greeting people as they came out of the jetway. He was busy with a couple of little kids and I attempted circled around them. Suddenly Santa broke away from the kids and tried to cut me off. I continued moving to my right with Santa pacing me.

With arms wide open, he was attempting to hug me. I finally reached the rows of chairs, changed directions and tried to get around Santa's other side. I just remember thinking, there is a gay Santa at the Albuquerque airport and he's zeroed in on me! Suddenly he didn't care about passing out candy to the arriving children, instead had become obsessed with me.


Then like a life preserver tossed to a drowning man, I heard my sister's voice. I turned and spotted her among the crowd. She was surrounded by other family members. One was a niece who was operating a video camera. My sister was dressed as Mrs. Claus. She was shouting, "It's Dean; it's Dean!" Dean being my brother-in-law.

Yes, my sister and brother-in-law had dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus. They came to the airport a couple of hours before my arrival and passed out candy to kids before coming to my arrival gate to greet me.

It will remain one of my favorite Christmas memories.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rain Drives Me Into a Movie Theater: My Take on Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Yesterday I did something I don't do very often and went to the movies.

It was a nasty, rainy day in Greenville; I had out-of-town company; and I decided to hang out in the dark for three hours.

Having read the book, I was Jonesing to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I wasn't disappointed.

As a guy, I didn't mind the couple of brief glimpses of nudity nor the sporadic violence. Warning, though, there is a rather graphic rape scene that isn't for the feint of heart. Otherwise, it could almost be a PG13.

At two and a half hours, it didn't seem particularly long as I was watching it. This despite the fact the first 30 minutes was a bit slow.

I never saw the subtitled version. As much as I wanted to see this book as a film, I can't abide subtitles. I know people who have seen it and raved about the spot-on performance of the actor portraying the female lead character. I thought the English version was pretty spot-on, but can't make a comparison.

There aren't any laughs or much else that will have you feeling uplifted as you exit the theater. However, it's a good way to burn up a few hours on a miserable afternoon.

I'm looking forward to seeing the second book make its film debut.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Shout-out to the Steelers as I wrap Up a Florida Boondoggle

Enough bellyaching about the Steelers!

James Harrison hasn't endeared himself to anyone this year; me included. It was a cheap hit on Colt McCoy and Harrison was rightfully suspended for a game -- what, as it turns out, is a very significant game to the Steelers playoff positioning.

Perhaps James will finally get himself under control. He's been fined enough this year to pay for a kid's college education. Maybe the suspension will finally hit home. It certainly will have had a major impact if Pittsburgh loses tonight.

Three weeks into this season I was beyond convincing that the Steelers would be, in any way, not just heading to the playoffs, but contending for the No. 1 spot in the AFC. They must, however, get past San Francisco tonight -- a tall order, particularly with Roethlisberger hurt, as well as Pouncey and Harrison out. But as one of my Steelers buddies said, "Tis the season for miracles." I believe; I believe; I believe…

Yesterday was certainly a day of miracles. The only thing that would have made it a clean sweep is if the despicable Patriots had lost. There is very little in life that gives me as much pleasure as watching that snot Brady throwing a tantrum on the sideline. I wish Denver had been able to reach deep and hand New England another loss. Oh well, life is full of disappointments.

I won't get to see much of tonight's game no matter what happens. I have a flight tomorrow out of West Palm Beach to Atlanta. That means a wake-up call. Then I have the two-and-a-half-hour slog from Atlanta's airport home. I have out-of-town company arriving tomorrow afternoon, and all of the entertaining that entails. No rest for the weary…

In the meantime, the weather in FL is near perfect. It's a bit windy, but otherwise gorgeous. It must be somewhere…

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves: A December Break in Florida

I'm basking in the cloudy, rainy skies of South Florida. It's been nasty here since my plane touched down Thursday night/Friday morning. Actually things look pretty good today and should remain so for the balance of my visit.

I am being dispossessed today. I'm staying with friends, but out-of-town relatives are arriving at PBI this morning necessitating the transfer of my luggage and me to the home of other friends.

Ah, the life of a Gypsy….

Mostly unstructured, this trip has been lots of lazing around punctuated with lunches at Asian restaurants, copious amounts of wine and even a turn or two on the dance floor.

Last night I attended what amounted to an ice skating recital of the daughter of some friends. Not the way a hip, man-about-town guy like me normally spends a Saturday evening -- usually I'm sitting at home eating spaghetti and watching rented movies. The ice rink, however, sold beer -- $10 for a bucket of five long necks -- so we made a party out of it. It was followed by a real Holiday/birthday party.

Finally getting a little sun, and a cookout with friends are on today's agenda.

So much to do and only one of me….  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Democracy on the Highway: One Man, One Car, One Vote

I made the 160-mile slog from Greenville, SC to Atlanta's airport this morning for an over-night trip to Austin for a Chevrolet Malibu hybrid ride-and-drive event.

As I motored -- when you write about cars for a living, you can use motor as a verb without sounding too much like a pretentious wonk -- across I-85, I pulled up behind a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla putzing along at about 65 mph in a 70 mph zone. That this clown was going 5 mph below the speed limit on an expressway wasn't so much the issue as his doing it in the left, passing lane.

Was he passing anyone? Well, no he wasn't.

He poked along for probably six or seven miles -- for about two of those miles it was with me flashing my brights behind him. For much of this time he was pacing the very last wheel of an 18 wheeler in the right lane. You could have drawn a straight line from the back edge of the 18 wheeler's trailer to his shoulder.

What finally inspired this fool to speed up a little was that the 18 wheeler came up behind a slower moving truck and started to pass. The Corolla had been off the truck's trailer for so long that the truck driver apparently forgot he was there.

I'm sure the Corolla's driver needed a clean pair of tightie whities before it was all over with as the 18 wheeler and Corolla swerved back and forth for about 5 seconds. The Corolla driver finally accelerated enough to get past the truck, but still didn't move into the right lane. He dropped back to 65 mph and continued cruising. I took advantage of a break in the right-lane traffic to pass the Corolla on its right and get around it. The 20 or so cars backed up behind me were not quite as lucky.

Why do some people insist on plodding along in the left lane when they aren't going fast enough to pass most right-hand traffic? Do they not notice a line of cars behind them, or is it that they just don't care?

Why are the cars they are usually driving some old P.O.S. covered with dings and peeling paint, rolling along on a donut spare tire?

I have a theory.

I call it the Populist Left Lane Corollary.

I believe a vehicle on the highway is the great equalizer. No matter your station in life, the depth of your assets, the size of your bank account, your good looks or lack thereof, or the cost of the vehicle you are driving, you have the same rights on the highway as every other motorist.

That rich guy in his Bentley or Mercedes-Benz 500S has no more right to his little piece of the road than an unemployed ditch digger chugging around in an old Dodge Cornet that he borrowed from this brother-in-law.

In other words, the highway is one place in life where anybody who is usually a nobody is always somebody.

They putz along in the passing lane holding up traffic because they can, and there's not one damn thing anyone can do about it.

Regardless of what kind of rolling dung pile they are driving or how many fast-food bags and wrappers are heaped in the backseat floor or what sort of sticky goo covers the seats or how much black exhaust billows out of the tailpipe, they can drive in any lane at pretty much whatever speed they can muster. And, by God, nothing is going to move them.

It's just a theory….

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tis the Season: GM and Costco Team Up to Make Us a Deal

Everyone loves a deal. If you are a member of Costco, you can get a great deal on a GM truck or SUV and a $500 gift card from Costco to boot. Sounds suspiciously like a deal to me. I've included the highlights in a short piece for Here's the link:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Steelers Will Be the Death of Me

The best and the worst thing about this Sunday is that the Steelers aren't playing.  It's the best thing because I don't have to worry about suffering a stroke as the offense squanders the efforts of one of the best defenses in the NFL to bungle its way to a one-score win or loss; and the worst thing because Sundays just seem empty without Steelers football -- even in July!

I totally missed the game this week because it was aired on the NFL Network. NFL network? I could have gone to a watering hole somewhere to watch, but Thursday night was my first night at home in a week and I wanted to stay in. Moreover, the Steelers played the Browns, the punching bag of the AFC North. It should have been a slaughter.

That the Steelers offense managed to fumble its way into keeping Cleveland in the game until well into the fourth quarter, made me all the happier I didn't have to try to keep from popping my cork for more than three quarters. How in the world do you get to the 2-yard line with a first down and not punch it in against the Browns? The Browns for the love of God! I am mystified and profoundly worried for the playoffs.

So, let's talk Steelers and the playoffs. It seems at least somewhat unlikely that the Steelers will win its division. The Ravens would have to seriously implode for that to happen. After they skate through their game with the Colts today --the score is 17-3 Ravens as I write this, the Ravens will have the same win-loss record as the Steelers with the rankings advantage of having beat the Steelers twice. Unless you count Cincy, the Ravens don't have a serious opponent left in the regular season; the Steelers still must get past San Francisco.

More than likely the Steelers will get into the playoffs by way of a Wildcard berth -- unless, of course, they implode. Even if they lose to San Francisco, they should still be able to stumble their way to a win over Cleveland and St. Louis.  

Steelers won the 2006 Super Bowl from a Wildcard spot. I don't care how they get to the playoffs as long at they are there. They don't seem to care how they get there either.

In any event, it will all be over in less than 60 days.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Plan Looked Good on Paper: Some Things You Simply Can't Control

I made a quick detour on my way home from Florida and the Scion iQ event last night. I flew in and out of Atlanta on this trip. After landing, I made the 30-mile trek up to Marietta where the Greater Atlanta Automobile Media Association (GAAMA) was hosting its annual holiday party.

Never one to miss a party, I arranged my flight's arrival into Atlanta to provide me with just the right amount of time to land, taxi to the gate, make the journey from my arrival gate to baggage claim, retrieve my bag, get to Park N Fly Plus, pick up the GMC Terrain SLT I had booked for this week, and then slug my way through the city to reach Marietta, making my grand appearance at the GAAMA gala.

I allowed nearly two hours for all of this.

So far, so good.

Regrettably, a couple of factors escaped inclusion in my planning.

I didn't realize until I was boarding the plane in West Palm that I wasn't dressed for a party. Even an automotive media group has the basic standards of propriety. Here I was decked out in sneakers, beach pants and a tee-shirt from the Blue Star Brewery in San Antonio. The temperature was in the 80s when I left Florida, but in the 40s in Atlanta.

So there I was in my underwear in the men's room at Park N Fly Plus with my suitcase balanced on the sink trying to fish the appropriate shirt, pants, boots and sport coat from it. Removing shoes and socks then putting on socks and boots without your bare feet touching the floor is no small challenge. I'm a guy; I know what goes on in public men's rooms; I'm not putting my feet on that floor!

Having managed to don more appropriate attire, I got in the Terrain and headed out, only 20 minutes behind schedule.

Inputting the address of the Hilton Marietta Conference Center where the party was located into the Terrain's Nav unit scrubbed another five minutes off my time. I also had to set the Terrain's outboard mirrors, tune the stereo and adjust the seat. My watch's second hand continued its relentless sweep around the dial.

Finally underway, in my planning I had not paid proper respect to Atlanta's rush-hour traffic into which I was miserably mired. Rather than try to take the direct route through downtown on I-75, I hit I-285 in the hope of avoiding at least some of the slug-like flow.

For the most part the traffic kept moving, but not as rapidly as the hands on my watch. Coming over a small hill, all I could see for miles was the red glow of blinking brake lights engaging.

North of the city I did merge onto I-75 and was making somewhat better time, but it was all relative.

GAAMA thought it would be a nice gesture and a bit of community service for all the party's attendees to bring an unwrapped toy to contribute to the Marines Toys for Tots. Because I was traveling, I hadn't purchased a toy ahead of time. My suitcase had already been stuffed to capacity.

Until now, I hadn't really thought much about the toy, figuring I'd just buy one between the airport and the party. Not terribly good planning, but workable. The issue, though, where to buy a toy? I am now within five miles of the party and have yet to pass a Target, Walmart or much of anything else.

Now I'm panicking. I'm having serious Christmas panic. Despite the temperature hovering around 40, I break out in a sweat. I'm trying to pay attention to the strident voice of the chick from the Nav unit shouting out directions, keep an eye on traffic around me to avoid bending the Terrain and look for somewhere, anywhere to buy a toy.

As the female Nav voice announces that my destination is 600 feet ahead on the right, I pass a CVS drug store. I whipped into the lot, jumped from the Terrain and dashed into the store.

Its collection of toys seemed to be mostly $9 radio-controlled cars. How good can a $9 radio-controlled car possibly be? Refusing to abandon the search, I finally found a doll that looked pretty good. I carried it up to the checkout counter where a smiling clerk rang it up and announced the price.

I was hit with my second bout of panic in 20 minutes. Where was my wallet? Not in this pocket where it usually is. Nope, not there either. Crap! It was in my suitcase still in the pants that I changed out of at the airport.

Thankfully, the store wasn't busy as I dashed back out to the Terrain and retrieved my wallet.

I eventually arrived at the GAAMA gathering about 50 minutes later than planned, but I was nattily attired with a toy in hand.

Just another day in the life of an auto journalist.

Monday, December 5, 2011

South Florida, Crummy Drivers and Good Food: A Quick Trip to Palm Beach County

I am sitting in Florida as I write this. I have a Scion event here on Tuesday and came down a couple of days early, well, because I could.

It was fun watching the Steelers spank the Bengals with fellow Steelers fans. I don't get to do that very often. I also had dinner at the new-and-improved Boston's on the Beach. No longer a beach bar; it has gone the way of most joints on nearby
Atlantic Avenue
and gone up-market. Despite its foo-foo attitude, the food was good and the service attentive.

Today I am heading to my favorite Florida Chinese place for lunch. Too soon to tell about dinner, but Talia's in Boca seems to have the inside track.

Ten minutes after I got behind the wheel of the Lexus CT 200h at Palm Beach International that Lexus provided for this trip, I remembered why I don't miss driving down here. In fact, I hate it.

What happens this time of year is that the Snow Birds begin flocking to South Florida. On the surface, that shouldn't be a big deal. However, most of them are from Canada and New York. Canadian drivers are slow and indecisive; New York drivers as a group are rude and impatient.

No the real problem with Snow Birds is that a majority of them are old. Well even that they are old isn't the fundamental problem, but it contributes to the bigger issue, which is that you have people driving streets they don't know, in rental cars with which they are unfamiliar.

For some odd reason, they seem to think it's perfectly OK to drive 10 mph looking for whatever restaurant they have decided to descend upon for the early bird special. They drive for blocks and blocks with their turn signal blinking away searching for the $8.95 special.

 Moreover, they blow their horns at the slightest provocation. I can go a week in Greenville, where I live, and not hear one horn honk. In South Florida, you hear them at every intersection. No, really, every intersection.

Best thing to do is to hold up somewhere and avoid the jerks in cars on the street. It's a South Floridian's best defense against obnoxious, hesitant, I-lost-one-of-the-tennis-balls-off-my-walker out-of-state drivers.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bad Moods, P-I-A Editors and a Salute to Kia

I just returned from a Lexus event in Vegas and am shoving off for Florida tomorrow.

I'm jammed for time and in a cranky mood -- too cranky to manage to write anything even remotely entertaining.

What has me so out of sorts? Let's just say I have a client that is ridiculously stupid and leave it at that. Well, no, let me add that I turned in a piece a couple of months ago that I spent about six hours writing. My editor just returned it to me asking for attributions (named sources) for statements along the lines of "the sun will come up tomorrow," and "what goes up must come down." You know, stuff that you don't really need an expert to tell you.

My choice was to put another two or three hours that I don't have right now into the thing chasing around sources and doing a rewrite or kill it. I killed it.

So on that happy note, here's a link to a blog I wrote for about the ever improving Kia: