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, February 29, 2012

The Mysterious Case of the Shrinking Bank Account

I had my first encounter with identity theft this week.

It was an eye opener.

The debit card for my Wells Fargo checking account was to expire in March of this year. Because the magnetic strip on the soon-to-be-expired card was wearing out and didn't work in certain readers, including the auto-pay lane at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my new card. It was in my mailbox when I returned from Florida on Monday.

On my list of things to do on Tuesday was activating the new card. Big doin's at the Heaps hacienda, don't ya know?

Before activating the card, however, I wanted to double check and make sure that no automatic monthly deductions tied to my debit card had yet to clear. I was mostly concerned with my gym membership that usually appears toward the end of the month.

It, of course, hadn't come through, probably due to Presidents Day and the banks being closed. As I scrolled down the recent transactions, I noticed a charge for $10.70 that I didn't recognize. Then I found another and another and another. There were five of these $10.70 charges, all from the same vendor and all in the past five days.

They were online transactions for some pet med Web site that originated in Luxembourg.

I called the fraud line at Wells Fargo and explained the situation. The person I spoke with asked several questions about my habits using the card and who had access to it. I was given a reference number and told they were canceling that card and issuing a new one.

I had an e-mail from Wells Fargo this morning informing me that its investigation was complete and all the money had been redeposited into my account.

It wasn't big bucks, but the total represented a pretty good night out on the town -- even for me!

Glad I caught it early and that Wells Fargo was so easy to work with.

Another bullet dodged.   

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sharpened Pencils Aren't Required at Delta Where Math, or Evidently Logic, Has No Place!

Math has never been my long suit.

Today I sport a permanent crease between my eyes from years of primary education -- that would be pre-calculator in my case -- spent concentrating on long division and multiplication tables.

Now, I did better in algebra and geometry. Well, I did better the second time around in Algebra I than the first. Because there was a second time around, you should have deduced that I flunked it the first time. It was the only course I ever failed. I just plain didn't get it. I even had a tutor, but it didn't save me.

In the beginning, I didn't understand that algebra -- and geometry later on -- is simply learning some formulas and then figuring out where and when to apply them. I aced Algebra I the second time I took it and was put in an advanced geometry class. I aced it and found myself in the advanced Algebra II class. I aced that! I couldn't believe how easy those subjects are once you figure them out.

My only math course at ole Mother W.U. was logic. Again, this is math by formula and I got a B in it. Had I gone to class once in a while and studied a little bit, I probably would have aced it. Here's all you really need to know about logic: If A=B and B=C, then A=C. Tah-dah...

This seems like a simple concept; but in discussions with some of my liberal friends, I see it must be more complicated than I give it credit for, as they attempt to make the leap to A=F without muddying the waters with connections between any of the letters along the way. Having studied logic, trying to have a discussion with these people without my head exploding is just a burden I must bear. Of course when they get to end every argument with, "You're a racist!" or "You're a hater!" I guess they don't really need logic.

But unlike political posturing, math actually requires taking the appropriate steps.

So here's an exercise in math that apparently stumped my friends at Delta.

I'll provide the background. Only once in the four years that I've lived in Greenville have I failed to make the trip back to South Florida for the big St. Paddy's Day celebration in Delray Beach. I have friends who round out this day with an exceptional party poolside that is too much fun to miss.

This year I booked flights for the trip with Delta SkyMiles. I did it in December because the earlier the tickets are booked, the fewer SkyMiles Delta requires. If I remember correctly, for this trip they cost me 32,500 miles.

In the meantime, my friends postponed the St. Paddy's Day party because of a work conflict, and Volkswagen invited me to an event in California that spanned the final three days of my FL trip. Consequently, I considered canceling the FL trip and booking the VW trip. Are you with me so far?

Once upon a time, it would have cost me a $25 redeposit fee to put my 32,500 miles -- actually a few years ago it would have been 25,000 miles, but that's a separate issue -- back into my SkyMiles account.

I haven't needed to change a SkyMiles ticket in a few years, so I had no clue what the fees had ballooned to. I called Delta from the West Palm Beach Airport yesterday as I waited to board my flight home. That's when I learned that the redeposit/change fee is now a whopping $150! For what?

Here's the kicker and where the logic comes into play or fails to, actually: Had the redeposit fee still been $25 or even $50, I would have put those miles back into my account, and given VW the green light to book my tickets for San Francisco. I checked the cost of a Delta coach ticket from Greenville to San Francisco and the cheapest one was right at $460 with some coach tickets rocketing to as much as $1,300.

For the sake of argument, though, let's work with $460. Had Delta not tried to rape me an extra $100 for redepositing my SkyMiles, it would have gotten my $50 redeposit fee plus $460 for the California ticket.

Okay, I'm going to do the math here; that's a total of $510 toward Delta's bottom line by letting me make the change versus the zero dollars it's going to now get.

Does this make sense on any level?

There certainly is no logical argument for it.

No wonder most of the airlines are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

So, I'll be going to Florida as planned.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Boca Raton News 25 Years Later: A Six-Hour Laughfest!

Had a reunion of sorts last night.

A group of former Boca Newsers gathered to talk about the good ole days.

It was an intimate gathering of eight people who not only worked together, but partied together for several years. And when I say "partied" it was five or six nights out of the week, week after week.

One of the group never worked at the News, but has been around us long enough to be considered a bona fide member.

My first three or four years at Boca News were the most fun I've ever had working. It was fun for 18 hours a day. I've never been able to duplicate the experience.

Although a couple of our Boca News crew all those years ago were actually older than I, among the hardcore members, I was the senior partner by eight or ten years. When hired as a retail ad rep, I only expected to work there for six months. I told the retail ad manager -- a member of last night's group -- exactly that during my interview. She hired me anyway.

So I had short-timer's disease right out of the gate. This gave me a freedom of spirit that I think was contagious. I simply didn't give a damn. It was almost eight years later when I finally took advantage of a Golden Parachute offer and moved on.  

Called "the click" by some of those on the outside looking in at us, our tight-knit group experienced affairs, divorces and romances. In fact, the gathering last night was hosted by a couple who met and married through the News.

So when you get this group together, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of stories that can be shared. Some are best left to history, but others are classics retold whenever two of more of us get together.

We laughed nonstop around a dinner table for five hours. No one really wanted to leave.

When you've lived in such close proximity to a group of people through good times and bad, it has almost a lifeboat-syndrome effect. The only bonding I've experienced more profound was my three plus years as a Fiji in college.

I am paying the price this morning for last night's fun -- a small price to pay, might I add.

Tonight it's an Oscar party; and I left my Tux in South Carolina!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Today Was a Day of Extremes: The Toyota Prius C and a Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

I'm experiencing culture shock.

It's not the first time.

I spent the morning driving the all-new -- as all-new as a Prius can be -- Toyota Prius C. This is the abbreviated version of Toyota's signature hybrid. A Prius lite, if you will.

Unless you've been stocking the shelves in your bomb shelter, you are probably well aware that the hook of the Prius is delivering uber-high city fuel economy. It's a car to get you from point A to point B sans drama or driving excitement, but with solid fuel efficiency.

Its 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and electric motor conspire to push out 99 horsepower. Wheeeeeeeee…!

Your reward for having street sweepers pass you going up hill is a whopping 53 mpg in the city and a very respectable 46 mpg on the highway.

My buddy Paul and I puttered around South Florida in two different examples of the Prius C for a combined total of 90 minutes, or about 10 miles. The mileage/time discrepancy had much more to do with the slug-like traffic on Atlantic Avenue and A1A in the Delray Beach area than on the performance characteristics of the Prius.

We might have made better time, but Paul insisted on hanging his head out the window adding to the wind resistance and scrubbing off precious fuel economy . The poor guy doesn't get out much.

I have no clue what the zero-to-sixty time of the Prius C is, but it's no rocket ship. Think Yaris towing a boat. Actually, that's not fair. The Prius jumps off the line a tad quicker and probably ramps up to 60 miles per hour in less time. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

After lunch I had a car waiting for me that I will pilot around the rest of the weekend. It's a Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. "V" is Cadillac speak for scalded-cat fast.

Of course, it only gets 12 mpg in the city; so it has that going for it. Once you reconcile yourself to dirty looks from people with "Obama 2012" and "Save the Blue Back River Smelt" bumper stickers, leaving virtually every other car in your dust is big fun.

If you want some sense of what it's like to be shot out of a cannon, the CTS-V is your car. Straining against the reins are 556 ponies generated by a 6.2-liter supercharged V8. Moreover, it has 551 pound feet of torque to get the wheels turning from a standing stop.

It will hit 60 miles per hour in just over four seconds. Oh, Momma!

Believe it or not, I've experienced even greater culture shock with another set of back-to-back cars.

It was probably 20 or more years ago. It was so long ago that none of the car manufacturers had dedicated press fleets in South Florida. The handful of auto journalists who needed cars basically swapped them around among ourselves. There might be a Chevy Impala and a Dodge Shadow circulating around at the same time. Journalists would call one another and make arrangements to swap cars at some midpoint between us. I made more car swaps at gas stations in Hollywood, FL than I care to remember.

On this day, though, Chevrolet was using a dealer in North Miami as its fleet manager. I had spent a week with a Corvette ZR1 dazzling young ladies who otherwise wouldn't have given me a second look. I guess, truth be told, they didn't give me so much as the ZR1 a second look.

Anyway, I drove the ZR1 back to the dealership and was handed the keys to a Geo Metro Convertible. It was like driving around in a soup can. The wind buffet from a passing Dodge Caravan would push the Metro onto the shoulder of the road.

At least talking over the wind noise when driving with the top down wasn't a problem; the Metro never built up enough speed to create any wind noise.

So yes, I'm suffering from culture shock, but in a very, very good way.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guns or Butter: Trade Offs on the Open Road

Life is filled with trade offs.

On the first day of Econ 101, Dr. Schultz, my econ professor at good ole W.U., told us bleary-eyed, hung-over college students that the most basic tenet of economics is guns or butter. That is, a country can only buy more guns if it buys less butter and vice versa. Of course, that was before someone figured out that you can have all you want of both if you just borrow a few trillion from China.

Silly Dr. Schultz; 250 years of economic theory out the window..

The now obsolete guns or butter approach, though, still has some application in other areas, such as overland trips.

I typically travel by myself. This is true whether flying or driving. It's just me, myself and I. No spouse, significant other, child, friend, companion or hanger-on. Just me.

When I take a road trip -- like the one to South Florida that I just returned from -- that includes other folks, it drives home the whole trade-off law.

Here's where the give in this give and take rears its ugly head: With other people in the vehicle, I am no longer captain of my destiny. Sure, I may still be considered the "decider," because I control the car keys, but a Toyota Sienna load of adults has reasonable expectations that the captain will yield to requests to stop for biological imperatives and maybe even a meal during the course of a nearly 700-mile drive.

These are things I don't do when by myself. For me, it's the destination not the drive. My goal is to put as much landscape in my rearview mirror as rapidly as safely possible. I'm not going to stop to gaze in wonder at the world's largest rubber-band ball or Rock City. If I wanted to do that, that's where I would have been going in the first place. They would have been the destinations.

Historically, I need about 9 hours and 30 minutes to get from my back door in Greenville, SC to City Cellar in West Palm Beach, FL, where I usually celebrate my arrival with a little something at happy hour.

During that trip I will stop for fuel twice; that's it. More often than not, I don't even take advantage of the fuel stops to lighten my load. There's a men's room at City Cellar; I use that. I pull into a service station, fill up the tank, hop right back into the vehicle and get back on the road.

No matter which direction I am traveling, I'm on the road by 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning. I like to get where I'm going with plenty of time to have some fun when I get there. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for early starts.

Some people also insist on eating lunch. Lunch? I carry a couple of protein bars to eat as I drive.

So I have a bit of trouble keeping my cool as the down time builds up on a multiperson road trip. "I have to pee." "I'm hungry." "My butt hurts; I need to stretch my legs." I have a stop watch constantly ticking in my head like, well, a clanging bell.

On the other side of the give-take coin: With other people along, you can probably find a volunteer to do some of the driving. I like that!

I was able to push some of the driving duties off on one of my fellow travelers on both ends of the FL trip. On the slog home, he took two shifts that amounted to about half the trip.

I napped, read a few chapters of the book I am currently plowing through and played solitaire on my netbook. When pressed to, I even conversed with others in the van. Life was good.

So, although accommodating all of the requests to stop added about 60 minutes to the drive, I got to indulge my slacker self and goof off for about five hours.

Not a bad trade off -- all things considered.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Beach, Boston's, Amber Leigh, Scott Avery and Spiked Coffee: The Peddler Wednesday-Night Irregulars Go to Florida

If you got to plan the weather you would enjoy during a five-day South Florida boondoggle, you wouldn't have wound up with better weather than the Peddler Wednesday-Night Irregulars and I have had during this long weekend. It has been sunny and in the low 80s every day.

Yes, it's been just about perfect.

You might not think that we could manage to squeeze any beach time in around our nearly nonstop imbibing, but you would be wrong.

We've been to the beach the past two days. The Atlantic has been smooth as glass and the water temp in the mid to high 70s.

It's high season here. Driving down the street it is easy to be blinded by the white and blue Ontario license plates crowding I-95. If you haven't heard my South FL tourist joke, here it is: The definition of happiness in South Florida is 100,000 Canadians heading for home with a New Yorker stuffed under each arm.

We've had our fair share of music while here.

On Friday night we trooped into The Duck in Boca Raton and enjoyed Scott Avery's first set. The Duck is one of the few joints in Boca where you can smoke; consequently every person in the place seems compelled to puff away without pause. Most of our group snuck in without producing a pack of cigarettes for the doorman, qualifying us for admittance. The rest of our group contributed the required air-fouling smoke to the joint's atmosphere. 

For our Saturday beach visit we valet parked at Boston's. If you can show a receipt when picking up your car, three hours of parking is only $8 -- a Delray Beach bargain. After lazing on the beach for about an hour, we adjourned to Boston's for lunch. We were pleasantly surprised that Amber Leigh's band was scheduled to play on Boston's stage that afternoon. We had a table about 10 feet from the stage.

Amber has been fiddling professionally since she was 13 or 14. Her performance didn't begin until . Although we were done eating, we voted to hang around to catch the first 30 min of her performance. It was well worth the extra round of drinks. Democracy in action.

South Florida is brimming with folks holding social memberships in the Wednesday-Night Irregulars. They own property in the Greenville area and because they either can't sell their FL homes or can't figure out how to generate an income in Greenville, or some combination of the two, they just haven't moved yet.

Our hosts invited several of them and some other friends to their house on Saturday night for a little gathering. Before you could say, "garage band," a few of the guys broke out instruments and did some jamming.

It's about Sunday morning and I am sipping on a cup of coffee laced with Bailey's. We have to get cleaned up to get over to the home of friends who are hosting brunch. Bloody Marys, Screw Drivers and Mimosas, now that's breakfast!

Friday, February 17, 2012

On the Road Again: Heading to Florida in a Toyota Sienna

It's not macho to like minivans, but I depart convention and sing their praises every opportunity I get.

In this case, it was a marathon drive from Greenville, SC to Delray Beach, FL with four friends.

The same group made the same trip in the same minivan about a year ago. And I mean the same minivan. For whatever reason, this 2011 Toyota Sienna has been hanging around the Carolinas' press fleet for more than a year. So although I usually write about current-year vehicles, I'm making an exception for this terrific road-trip people carrier.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this opus is completely irrelevant, the Sienna is little changed for 2012.

The traveling group consisted of me and four of the Peddler Wednesday-Night Irregulars. Our destination was the home of Florida friends who have Greenville holdings and are social members of the Irregulars.

Here's the commercial: For a group outing, it's tough to beat the Sienna. It seats seven and still holds enough luggage for five adults for five days. Its secret is the deep well behind the third-row seat that accommodates that seat when it's folded and flipped to create a flat cargo floor. It swallows luggage like the whale sucked in Jonah.

The first two rows of seats are captain's chairs. The third row is a split bench that is ideal for curling up on and napping. There are lots of cupholders and cubbies for stashing stuff.

Our version was the nearly base $31,130 LE. It costs $800 more for 2012. Usually the vehicles I get feature all the bells and whistles. Not so in this instance. The only extras were floor mats and a first-aid kit. Thankfully, we didn't require the kit.

Despite its crew consisting of five older grumps, the Sienna didn't earn any complaints. It averaged about 20 mpg, even though it was loaded down with people and their gear.

We were drizzled on for the first 250 miles of the trip. We didn't see even a hint of sun until we were south of Jacksonville.

I drove the first leg of the trip and the Sienna performed brilliantly. At the first fuel stop, one of my friends assumed the reins. I sat in one of the second-row seats for about two hours. Well, I didn't sit as much as slump as I snoozed away about 20 minutes.

We are preparing to head to the beach. All seven of us will easily fit in the Sienna and still have room for seven beach chairs.

Life is a beach!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kids, Guns and Dinosaurs: Just Another Saturday

I floated into uncharted waters again this past Saturday.

I attended my first gun show.

I wasn't really shopping for anything; I just thought it would be fun. It's the middle of winter after all; I couldn't play kickball in the street with the neighborhood kids.

Besides, my buddy Jeff -- an inveterate gun-show attendee -- was looking for someone to tag along with him. Hey, that's the kind of pal I am.

We met at a nearby strip center where I left the supercharged Range Rover I am driving this week and piled into Jeff's truck.

Admission was a reasonable $7 and someone was passing out one-dollar-off coupons at the door. What a bargain!

Our well-intention plan to park for free was foiled, though, by alert parking attendants who had blocked off the grassy area near the back lot where Jeff usually parks. We took a five buck hit on that.

Five bucks seems to be the magic amount for parking in Greenville. Despite all manner of free parking downtown, there are a few privately run lots that charge to park. Whether they are near the ball field or on Main Street, the price is $5.

I had come from the gym and was in sweatpants and a long-sleeve shirt. It was about a seven-minute walk from the lot to the convention center hosting the show. As we approached, we saw that there was a line of probably 300 people waiting to get in. I wasn't dressed to stand in the cold for 30 minutes.

I had no idea if this was normal; Jeff insisted it wasn't.

We took our place at the rear of the line. A veteran of Disney World, I am familiar with lines. This one moved with all the slug-like speed of a Disney World line and contained about as many kids.

My damp shirt was no match for the lake-effect-like wind whipping through the crowd. Our conversation went something like this:

"Crap, it's cold!"


"Yeah; this is the longest line I've ever seen here."


"What's up with all the kids?"


"No idea. Man, this line is long."


"Wow, that wind is really cold."


"I've never seen the line this long."


"Why would you bring all these little kids to a gun show?"


"Beats me. Jeez this line is long."

We had advanced about five feet.

Finally Jeff looked around and said he'd be right back.

He slid in a side door and was gone for two or three minutes. Sticking his head out the door, he motioned me in.

Apparently this convention center was also hosting some sort of dinosaur exhibit for kids. Because we had come in the back way, we must have missed whatever signage the convention center had provided instructing people where to go for what.

Although there were a few kids at the gun show, the 250 of them standing in the line we were in were there for the dinosaurs.

Their parents could have saved themselves some money by just pointing us out to their kids.

The gun show was fun, but after about three hours of wandering around, my feet were sore and my eyes were bloodshot. I was ready to head out.

It's coming back the last weekend of March; I will probably go again. Hopefully the dinosaurs will be gone by then.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chicago Auto Show, Nissan Z Babes, Deep-Dish Pizza and Honker's Ale: A Three-Day Chicago Extravaganza

If you read Clanging Bell from time to time, you probably already know that I'm not fond of auto shows. I think they are wonderful diversions for the public, but basically the journalistic equivalent of the Bantaan Death March.

This is particularly true of the larger shows like Detroit's North American International Auto Show.

For the most part they are a couple of days of being herded from one press conference to the next across acres of convention hall to watch unveilings that you can't see and listen to remarks from auto-company executives that you can't hear.

Whatever vehicle is being introduced is swarmed and surrounded by scores, if not hundreds, of journalists, preventing the taking of any decent photos.

Half the time the auto companies don't have enough press kits to go around.

Any geek with a PC or Mac can learn more about what's going on online from his parents' basement than the average journalist attending the Detroit show.

In other words, in terms of my craft, auto-show media days are pretty much a waste of time.

Yes, they are wonderful for schmoozing and networking. They provide the opportunity to reconnect with clients, as well as auto execs and PR types. Yet, I have to weigh the worth of that against the time and money invested in going to an auto show in a far-away city.

Among the larger domestic auto shows, my favorite is Chicago. It's the country's longest-running and most widely attended show; it's accessible, manageable and well supported by the auto makers.

This is the second year in a row that Nissan was kind enough to invite me and pick up the expenses. I'm not alone. Nissan is a major sponsor of the Chicago show and brought in a couple of hundred journalists for the show's media days.

There were a few world unveilings this year, but fewer than years past. Ford pulled the cover off its redesigned Shelby 500GT Convertible and Hyundai presented its Elantra Coupe. GMC unveiled its redesigned Acadia. Dodge passed out cupcakes to coax journalists to its display to take a close-up look at the all-new Dart.

Nissan hosted dinner the first night at some Japanese joint. My fork -- forget chopsticks -- stayed at rest until the main course arrived, which included some medium-rare sirloin. It was tasty. Sushi and some sort of mystery salad came first. Nope, I'll pass.

That first night I also had dinner invitations from a couple of other companies. I'm strictly a dance-with-the-one-that-brung-ya type. So I stuck with Nissan, even though I knew I wasn't going to be thrilled with the menu.

On the other hand, Nissan had some very charming young ladies working the crowd providing information and answering questions about Nissan's redesigned Z. Oddly enough, I can't remember a word they said, but they made me happy.

On the second night I finagled dinner invitations from a couple of different manufacturers to the same place: Gino's East. It's a pizza joint. I accepted the first invite that I received, which happened to be from Volvo. I had a deep-dish pie with sausage and pepperoni. It was maybe the best pizza I've ever had. Washed it down with some Goose Island Honker's Ale. Outstanding!

The perfect Chicago experience!

Yep, as far as auto shows go, Chicago is my favorite and I'll keep going as long as someone takes me.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Adios, Tom: The Loathsome Patriots Take It on the Chin

I made the rounds yesterday wearing my newest Steelers jersey.

That Pittsburgh wasn't in the Super Bowl was a disappointment, but it was sort of fun not caring about the game's outcome.

Well, I actually did care. I didn't care who won, but I was rooting for the despicable Patriots to lose. They did manage to come from behind and score enough points in the second and third quarters that, for a while, I thought they might do to the Giants what they had done to some other opponents who got ahead of them early in the game and run up 20 or so unanswered points on their way to a win. But the Giants were having none of that.

I could only root for the Giants in as much as their winning translated into the despised Patriots' loss. Manning's head is already so big I don't know how the equipment manager finds a helmet to fit over it. I guess it'll only be worse now. But if the dreaded Patriots losing meant the Giants had to win, so be it.

No doubt the talking heads at ESPN are wearing black arm bands today. They do more cheering for the overrated Patriots than the team's cheerleaders. Brady is covered with their slobber every time he does an interview with them. "The greatest quarterback of all time," my ass.

The Super Bowl party I was to attend was canceled at the last minute, but I got the call as I was sitting at the bar in Smoke on the Water. I was talking to my bartender buddy as the calls and texts rolled in about the cancellation. She was having people over for a cookout and invited me. How could I say, no?

It was a small, but fun gathering. I must admit, I paid little attention to the game. I basically missed all the commercials. I only really concentrated on the final 10 minutes.

I can't give you any real opinion of what went on or how the teams played. Happily the above photo says it all for me....

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Red Box: The Beat Goes On; and Leverage!

My little toe-to-toe with Red Box came to an anti-climatic end when they refunded my $2.12. I was ready to take this one to the wall, but got myself all worked up over nothing.

In fact, I rented two movies from them this morning without incident -- or so I thought. In reviewing my checking account, I see they charged me twice for the same two movies. Here we go again...

I'll have to address that on Monday.

I have discovered a TV show that I like a lot and don't know how I avoided it for four full seasons, but somehow I did.

Called "Leverage," it's a TNT series with episodes being rerun 8 or 10 times a week. I stumbled across it during the recent lull in first-run shows that I regularly record. I was looking for something to watch, and there it was.

It's a "caper" show about a bunch of reformed thieves who are now do-gooders. Each episode they help some poor schlep whose had something taken from him or her by stealing it back. The characters are quirky and the scripts lighthearted.

The only two cast members I'd ever heard of before are Timothy Hutton and Christian Kane. Hutton has been around forever. Kane I recognized from his reoccurring stint as a bad guy on the Buffy-spin-off series "Angel."

I admit, I am somewhat smitten with Beth Riesgraf who plays an ex-second-story, safe-cracking thief, but the entire cast meshes into an entertaining group.

Until season five begins and new episodes air in prime time, you may experience a little difficulty watching it. The reruns are at 2 PM and 11 PM eastern time. If you have a DVR, it's worth the effort to record an episode or two.

Go Giants!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Red Box Incident of 2012: Where's My Money?

I'm currently in the midst of a little snit with Red Box.

Yes, I know it sounds as though I have too much time on my hands, but two bucks is two bucks.

Usually on Saturday nights I hunker down at home with a couple of movies, a bottle of wine and some Italian food. This time of year I also get a little fire going in the fireplace. It's all good.

I used to buy a lot of DVDs and probably have more than 250 movies in my collection. That doesn't include box sets of TV shows I also own. But these are my go-to movies when I need something at the last minute. I realize there is nothing on TV on a given night and I don't have anything recorded on my DVR, I head to the shelves and my DVDs.

On Saturday nights, however, I want something I haven't seen before.

Red Box is a great invention because, for a buck and a few pennies tax, you can rent a movie. So far, so good.

I've been renting from Red Box for about 18 months. I reserve the movies online and then swipe my debit car at the machine when I pick them up. That way I don't have to stand at the machine for 5 minutes scrolling through all of the titles available and reading the summaries. I do that at home on my trusty PC.

Because the rental cost is so low, I'll take a chance on renting a movie that I suspect is a stinker, but figure that for $1, you can't really get burned. This isn't entirely true, but the couple of times I've gotten stuck with a movie that was a real turkey, I've sucked up the monetary loss and moved on with my life.

Until last weekend I had had only one customer service complaint. I had gotten a DVD home that was so badly scratched, it was unwatchable. Red Box has a customer service contact for such issues and I fired off an e-mail. I received a reply in about 24 hours apologizing for the problem and giving me a code number for a free rental. I was satisfied with that remedy.

Here's my current customer service problem: I reserved two movies online last Saturday, and when I arrived at the machine, it was out of order. When reserving online, the consumer is charged for the rental whether it is picked up or not. Through no fault of mine, I couldn't pick up the movies; yet, I was charged for them.

The machine I'd been using since I began renting from Red Box was inside a Food Lion grocery store just around the corner from my house. It is in the process of closing and Red Box removed the machine. There is a machine at a Walgreen's drug store very close to my gym. I've rented there a couple of times in the past and figured that was the most convenient machine to use. I go to the gym every day that I'm in town.

But that it's close to my gym doesn't mean it's close to my house. My gym is 15 minutes away. I wasn't going to waste another 30 minutes or more driving back to the machine an hour or two later in the hope that it was fixed.

I pulled a couple of movies out of my collection and that was that.

Despite the machine being out of order and unable to cough up the DVDs people had reserved, Red Box charged me for the two DVDs I had on hold.

I've now sent Red Box two e-mails complaining about the charge with no response.

Granted, the $2 Red Box sucked out of me won't break the bank, but its the principle. In the meantime, I've got my eye on a Blockbuster machine that does the same thing. If Red Box doesn't address this travesty of justice by Saturday morning, I'll become a Blockbuster machine customer.

Red Box will no longer have my two bucks a week to throw around.