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, March 28, 2012

What Is Black, Round and Full of Hot Air?

Let's talk tires.


No, really.

I spent yesterday and today with Bridgestone in Las Vegas checking out a couple of new tires they are releasing this spring.

I was with about 20 journalists. There were a bunch of tire dealers on the same event, but Bridgestone took great care to keep us separated as much as possible.

I've never seen so many people so excited about tires. Some of them were positively giddy. Think of being in a limo stuffed full of 11-year-old girls on their way to a Justin Bieber concert.

I sat across the dinner table last night from the editor of a tire trade magazine whose husband is getting his Masters Degree in rubber. Rubber! I'm not making this up.

These people are nuts about tires!

Bridgestone took us to the Las Vegas Speedway to do some performance driving on their new tires back to back against some competitors' rubber. Bridgestone kicked their butts.

During the session, I spent a little time chatting up Mario Andretti. You may think we were talking about racing or, perhaps, tires. That is why we were there, after all. You would be wrong on both counts. Wine was on my mind, specifically his wine.

He has a Napa Valley winery that produces some very good wines. I've had the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  He's a pleasant, cordial guy who didn't seem too terribly annoyed by our silly questions.

But back to the tires…

The new tires in question are the Bridgestone Turanza Serenity Plus and the Firestone Destination LE2. Basically the Turanza is engineered for luxury-sport cars and the Destination is for SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks.

Both have enhanced performance in water and snow, have lower rolling resistance than the previous generation of those tires and now have longer warranties.

We also drove the Potenza RE970AS. In all, we drove three closed courses evaluating the tires.

The highlight of the day was going over to the Exotics Racing course where we got to drive five hot laps in a gazillion-dollar sports car.

I clocked my five laps in a Lamborghini Superleggera. I've never been behind the wheel of a Lamborghini before. For my first time to be on a race course; what a rush!

So that's how I spent my Wednesday. Not bad work if you can get it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Race Tracks, Car Companies, and Media Events: Just a Recollection or Two

I'm sitting enjoying a Bitch Creek Extra Special Brown by the Grand Teton Brewing Company of Jackson Hole Wyoming as I write this. I like it! It's the $2.50 Sunday special at one of my favorite Greenville joints, Smoke on the Water. It's where I waste a couple of hours on Sundays when I'm in town.

It's a place where I can blog in relative peace despite the fact that I know several of the folks who work here and also have some pals who put in an occasional cameo. We never formally organize these meetings; they just sort of happen.

I was looking through my photos from my track day at Virginia International Raceway with the new Camaro ZL1. I saw this photo of my helmet on the hood of one of the cars, and it got me thinking about tracks, car companies and media gifts. Yes, some of the car companies still give gifts to journalists attending their launch events.

It used to be a fairly even playing field with every company handing out some bobble or trinket. Not so much today. A few of the carmakers have used the excuse of the recession to curtail -- at least temporarily -- the practice. Some have cut back; yet others have stepped up the heat.

I am often asked if such gifts sway my reviews of the cars. My response -- as difficult as it might be to believe -- is, no. I'm not going to whitewash a problematic car because the maker gave me a ball cap or tote bag. Rather than the gift, I am more likely to have a warm-and-fuzzy feeling because the company's PR team did its job, putting on an engaging event.

Believe me when I tell you that some of the manufacturer events I attend make the journalists feel like party crashers. The PR folks don't want to be there and certainly don't care if we are there. It's difficult to fly home from one of these events with a positive impression.

Anyway, what launched me on this tangent is the racing helmet in the above photo. I received it at a Mercedes event a number of years ago. I know it was a number of years ago because -- for some reason unknown to me -- I haven't been able to buy my way on to a Mercedes trip in at least five or six years. This is not a situation unique to me or to Mercedes.

Attempting to figure out which journalists get invited to which events is a common topic of conversation among media types. No one -- including the car companies themselves -- seems to have a clue.

When I was at VIR with Chevy for the ZL1 event, I was asked if I had ever driven VIR before. I was able to say, yes, with every confidence because in addition to Mercedes putting my name and its logo on the helmet presented to me, they also stenciled VIR on it. Otherwise, I wouldn't have remembered.

The ZL1 event was only the second time I've used the helmet. I get to drive a race track a couple of times a year, but dragging the helmet along is more trouble than its worth, as it was on the ZL1 trip.

This is the second helmet I've received from a car company. The first came from Saab in 1988, I think. It was the second manufacturer event I was ever invited to. They flew us to Birmingham and then drove us to Talladega. They had souped up the base four-cylinder engine and decided that the Talladega track was the ideal spot to show it off.

This was absolutely my first experience on a race track. For me, it was an adventure of monumental proportions. Once past the "aw shucks" quotient, it was simply exhilarating. I was surprised Saab allowed us to drive by ourselves, but this is fairly common on such events. To be on a race track, alone in the car, is a real rush.

But, if we wanted, we could ride shotgun with Erik Carlsson. At this point Erik was easily in his 60s. He was a champion rally driver for Saab. I remember flying around the top of Talladega at about 110 mph with Carlson in the pilot's seat. At one point, he says, "Now it's time to rest." He took his hands off the steering wheel and placed them in his lap.

I was like, "WTF!!!"

That entire event will be forever etched in my memory. I drove Talladega at least two more times that I can specifically recall. Once was in a Subaru Forester and the other in a Dodge Grand Caravan. But, those are stories for another day.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I Can't Allow Blogging to Interfere With My Wine Sipping

I had every intention of writing a full-blown entry today, but time just got away from me.

I was out of containers of frozen red sauce for spaghetti and had to make that this morning. Making it used to take me about 20 minutes; but now that I use all fresh stuff, it takes 60 to 90 minutes. So my analness (I don't think that's a word, but it sure applies.) is partly to blame.

I also have a bunch of work that I am falling further and further behind in. I even had to break down this week and schedule myself to make sure I get everything done. This is way to much like a job!

Before I went to the gym today, I had to do research on the 7 best cars for urban warfare. Now that I have them chosen, I can fly through the writing tomorrow and Monday.

Today was the day I also had to buy everything I need to get my lawn mower running. The weeds are charging the front porch. I've got to change the oil, the air filter and the spark plug. I bought all of those, but I still need to buy a tool to set the gap on the plug. The auto parts store near me was packed both times I drove by; so it will have to wait until Monday.

It's late afternoon and I had to decide whether to do write something creative or just come up with a space filler, allowing me to sit on my front porch, read and sip a little vino. As you can see, coming up with a space filler won the day.

Now I'll grab a quick shower and relax with a good book. I always have a novel and a nonfiction book going at the same time. I'll be reading the nonfiction one this afternoon. It's a biography on Calvin Coolidge. I'll let you know what I think when I finish it. It could be a while, though.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hunger Games: Tom Sawyer It Ain't

I sprinted through the first book in The Hunger Games series while in Florida over the weekend.

The copy I worked from was a dog-eared paperback with unidentifiable splotches from food and drink spills on several pages. It had passed from my friend Amy's older daughter to Amy, who finished it an hour or so into our first poolside happy hour in their backyard.

Completing it, she asked if I wanted to read it. She gave me a brief review, and I accepted. Amy and I have been swapping books for close to 20 years. A separation of nearly 700 miles and the birth of electronic readers have conspired to almost bring that activity to a halt, but we still trade back and forth occasionally.

I had to get the book read before returning to South Carolina because Amy's younger daughter also wants to read it. Glad it was an easy read.

I suspect that if I hadn't been offered the opportunity to use someone else's copy, I wouldn't have read it. Even with all the hubbub over the movie, I wasn't dying to dive into it. Somehow I survived without reading The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings -- the Harry Potter of half a century ago. Come to think of it, I managed to get by without reading Harry Potter, and am still standing to report I only read the first book of the Twilight series.

I can hear your gasp from here.

I must say I enjoyed The Hunger Games. A fast-paced read, it kept me entertained. I heard that it was on a middle school's curriculum with some surprise. Tom Sawyer it isn't. But that's how the copy I read was introduced into the family to begin with.

I suppose it isn't much more violent than Lord of the Flies -- required reading when I was in school. But still....

I just heard on the news that there are people complaining about the movie's PG-13 rating, saying it's unfit for kids. Somehow I think if schools are giving it in book form to 11- and 12-year olds, that ship has already sailed.

Having read the book, I am now looking forward to the movie; however, I have some waiting to do. This is a rental, as far as I'm concerned.

Once it gets to Redbox, expect it in one of my $1 Movie Reviews.

Oh, and if someone comes up with a dog-eared copy of the next in the series, I'll happily read it, too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sun, Sand, Surf and Saucy Models: Just Another Day on Delray Beach!

Normally I wouldn't be excited about getting an early start while on vacation.  Being up and on the road by isn't early by most standards, including mine. But it's not something I want to do on vacation.

Today, however, I was up, dressed and ready to go before ! The occasion? A photo shoot for Boston Proper's fall catalog. Yes, there were hot models involved.

I am working on getting a copy-writing assignment with them. It's not what you know -- although, in this case knowing something about copy writing is a plus -- it's who you know; and I know somebody.

I've been haranguing my friend who works for them for a shot at a copy writing gig for a very long time. I think I may actually get an audition this time around.

In any event, it was a happy coincidence that they were doing a photo shoot in Delray Beach while I was visiting.

It was a source of inspiration that I hadn't expected.

It sort of reminded me of shooting stand-ups with our host for "Discover America." Of course, they had the advantage of not worrying with sound issues. But lighting was a factor as the sun peeked in and out of the clouds. Hair-and-makeup also takes time. So, there was a lot of standing around.

Standing around worked fine with me because it gave us time to chat up the models. Ah…the models….

Anyone who has been to my house and seen the collection of photos on my fridge knows that I am not a stranger to models. I've had my fair share of encounters. This was particularly true when we were producing Nopi Street Performance Compact magazine for American Media. I had a modeling agency that supplied models for our booth at car shows. Some were more exotic than others, but there wasn't a clunker in the bunch.

But these things are still fun. Moreover, the models didn't really have an idea who I was or how I fit into the picture. That I had no portfolio in Boston Proper and carried no weight wasn't information they had. It was to my benefit.

So the girls were friendly, chatty and, did I mention, hot!

The bottom line is that I had a very good reason to pop out of bed early this morning.  Hell, I can sleep anytime.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Paddy's Day and Beyond!

I am into Day No.3 of the 2012 St. Paddy's Day Celebration and Drinking Contest. I am beginning to show the wear and tear.

I arrived in South Florida late Saturday morning. Just in time to join in the pre-party lubrication. Amy and I also managed to go to Fah, my favorite Thai restaurant, for some stir fry before adjourning to the party. It was a barn burner!

Historically I am the lightening rod for whatever crazy someone decides to bring with them. It's usually my job to identify and annoy the nut jobs that show up at these events. We don't consider a party a success unless I've been called an "asshole" by a least one female guest.

Somehow, though, this year's crazy and I never had an encounter. We interacted a bit, but she rained her crazy on other people. I am disappointed.

At lunch yesterday -- the "morning after" -- the kids were brimming with stories about this woman, and I wasn't involved in any of them.

I must be losing my touch.

Last night's post-St Paddy's Day party was a rollicking success. I love being me!

Now I must somehow figure out how to hold on for the post-post St. Paddy's Day celebration.

We have a friend who is a big deal at Boston Proper. They are doing a photo shoot in Delray today and tomorrow. We were supposed to go watch some of it today, but it just didn't happen. Maybe tomorrow…

If there is a tomorrow….

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Atlanta Auto Show: It's All a Blur

Media day for the Atlanta Auto Show was Wednesday. Actually, it's more like media morning because the show officially opened at noon that day. But the morning was packed with press conferences with a handful of manufacturers.

If you follow this blog at all, you probably are well aware that I'm not keen on media day(s) at auto shows. It's a lot of walking around listening to carmaker PR and marketing types talk about cars that either I've already heard about or will hear about ad nauseum in the coming months.

Catching up with folks in the business and doing a little networking is a plus. Sometimes a car manufacturer will put me up in a hotel for a car show, as Nissan did in Chicago. And usually a carmaker will take me out to wine and dine me, as Volvo did in Chicago and Toyota in Atlanta. I'm all for that!

But the actual auto show event usually isn't as much fun as it sounds.

This year was a little rougher than years past.

Historically, I've driven the 150 miles to Atlanta's convention center from Greenville at O'Dark-thirty, the day of the event, arriving in time for breakfast at 8 a.m.

This year I broke from tradition. I discovered that I have Marriott points left from my days of traveling with "Discover America." Toyota hosted a pre-show dinner on Tuesday night at Atlanta's High Museum of Art, so I gave up some points to stay at a Mariott property in Buckhead. So far, so good, right?

After dinner, I joined some PR types from four or five car companies, a couple of guys associated with the auto industry and who-knows-who else at the lounge in the W Hotel in Atlanta.
We partied like a heavy-metal rock band. We did everything but set the place on fire.

Things began tamely enough in a little alcove seating area off the main lounge. As our group swelled, they moved us into what would have been the Champagne Room if this had been a strip joint.

This is where the evening took a sharp left turn, rapidly deteriorating.

Drinks just kept piling up. At one point I had a Maker's and water in my hand, and two fresh ones on the table in front of me. Every time one of the server's -- we had two trying to keep up with us -- would gamely enter the room somebody would order another round.

Don't get overly concerned, though; more drinks were spilled that night than consumed. It was like being in the front row at a Gallagher concert.

Even though everyone in the room had attended one dinner or another earlier that night, someone got the bright idea to order food. Just something else to hit the floor.

I won't go into all the gory details because, as you well know: What happens in Atlanta, stays in Atlanta; but, even by my measure, it was an epic train wreck. I have no idea who picked up the tab, but I was glad my name wasn't on any of the paperwork. I suspect the W is still hosing out the place.

The auto show breakfast began at 8 a.m. at the convention center, which was about 10-Atlanta-rush-hour-clogged miles from my hotel. My eyes popped open at 8:15. It was Mr. Toad's wild ride getting to the show.

I was not at my best at the press conferences, but did manage to stay on my feet and respond whenever someone engaged me in conversation.

Yeah, this auto show was a little tougher than usual, but a heck of a lot more fun.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Designing the Camaro ZL1: Putting Passion on the Pavement

Sometimes what I do to keep a roof over my head is pretty cool.

A week or so ago, I got to hang out with the creative forces behind the new Camaro ZL1.

I won't bore you with all the details, but the ZL1 the track-ready version of the Camaro with 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque. It slingshots to 60 mph from a standing stop in less than four seconds. Yeow-zir!!!

I sat next to Al Oppenheiser, Camaro's head engineer at dinner that night and spent some time with Tom Peters, the design director for GM performance cars, at the track the following day. These are guys who nurtured their passion for performance cars on the muscle cars of the 60s and 70s.

Their enthusiasm for what they do is infectious and the envy of wannabe carguys like me.

While Oppenheiser could pass for an engineer on just about any project for any brand -- after all, what the heck does an engineer look like -- Peters is far from the stereotypical car design head. I've met a few of them and been around a bunch more. Often they are younger guys -- or older guys trying to look younger -- with spiked hair, Ferragamo loafers, red glasses frames and unstructured sport jackets.

Tom Peters? Not so much.

Peters is an unpretentious, middle-age guy who you wouldn't give a second look if you passed him in the aisle at Lowes.

Dressed in a white shirt, black jeans, black tennies and a black ball cap at the track, he might have been on his way to a backyard barbeque or to do a little shopping at Sears. He's a tall, lanky guy -- sort of the Ichabod Crane of hot rodding.

Even as a kid, he felt compelled to draw things -- all sorts of things. His teen years coincided with the height of the muscle-car era. He muses about muscle cars -- Camaros, Super Bees and Roadrunners -- with a far-away look in his eye. "They were like super heroes on the street," he told me.

He began drawing Big Daddy Roth-like images from photos of muscle cars, and made a few bucks selling them for a quarter a piece at school. At age 15, he began painting cars.

Nature took its course and he headed to the Art Center College of Design in California. Graduating in 1980, he went to work for GM; but almost immediately left for a two-year stint at Texas Instruments. He also spent some time on the film E.T. before getting the call from GM's vice president of design, Chuck Jordan, that brought him back to General Motors.

He has remained there for 30 years working on such projects as the Corvette ZR1, Trans Am, Bonneville, IROC and the Cadillac V16 concept.

Tom told me that he had two core challenges in designing the Camaro. One was meeting the huge expectations of what Camaro means to its loyal followers. Two was somehow making it relevant to new, younger customers. "There's a huge level of expectation out there," he said.

As he walked me around the ZL1, he pointed out the grille that was inspired by modern military rifles and machine guns. "I wanted the front end to have a weapon feel to it," he explained.

The hood scoop is actually a reverse intake. Rather than collecting air, it faces backward, serving as an exit for air coming through the engine compartment from the grille and front air dam.

He talked at length about how many of the exterior's lines were actually sculpted from clay rather than on a computer. "We used some hand sculpting," he said, "Creating those subtle shapes took a long time."

Tom's a down-to-earth guy who doesn't seem caught up in the trappings of his office.

He is exactly the guy who should be designing traditional American iron.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Yard Work: It's Summer's Buzz Kill

It's time to begin thinking about getting my lawnmower up and running for the summer dirt-mowing season.

I bought the thing almost four years ago and have never replaced the spark plug. I think it is about time. The last time I started it, I almost pulled my arm out of its socket. It took me about 15 pulls. It only took one when new.

I did put a new blade on it a couple of years ago. Despite running over all manner of roots, rocks and assorted junk that winds up in my yard, I think the blade is still in reasonably good shape.

I'll also change the air filter and oil.

All this to push the damn thing around the half acre or so of my lot that the house doesn't occupy. Very little of this is grass. It's square foot after square foot of red clay interrupted every few inches by a dandelion or some other weed. If it weren't for the weeds, I could get away with only mowing four or five times a year. The good news: Dirt doesn't grow.

I am determined this year to buy a spreader and put down some weed killer. I hate to spend the money on such a stupid thing, but I have no choice. The weeds multiply with the ferocity of rabbits.

I might have planted grass if I thought it stood a chance of growing. Throwing grass seed on the red clay that's everywhere here would have about the same result as tossing it on concrete. I could rent a machine that churns up the surface, making it more receptive to the seed, but now we're talking real work and even more expense. That's not for me.

When I'm mowing, I look something like Pig Pen in the old Peanuts comic strip. I'm just this shadow in a cloud of red dust. When I finish, I've got more crap in my lungs than a Pennsylvania coal miner. I look like a red-headed raccoon when I remove my sunglasses.

The whole taking-care-of-the-lawn thing is the one drawback of the approaching spring.

Home ownership isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Night in the Big Easy: Nothing Stays the Same!

I was on Bourbon Street last night. I haven't been in a very long time.

I lived in New Orleans for a year or so in the early 1980s. We didn't go to the French Quarter much in those days, but we did go occasionally.

It's still a craphole, but it's not the same Bourbon Street I remember. Here's what's different at a glance:

  • In those days, you couldn't walk half a block without encountering a Hurricane vending cart. No kidding, they were everywhere. You could just saunter up, order a drink, pay for it and continue on down the street. I didn't spot one last night.
  • Found in every block in those days was a Takee Outee. These were carry-out Chinese-food joints. You probably wouldn't want to eat whatever they offered -- I don't think I ever did -- but they were prolific in the French Quarter. They are gone.
  • Nearly every joint on Bourbon Street had live music and more often than not it was either Dixieland Jazz or Zydeco. Last night the few places featuring live music had a rock-and-roll band. What's the point? You can go anywhere in the U.S. and listen to rock and roll.

We didn't hit any joints last night; we just walked up and down the street. I was OK with that.

The last time I was in the French Quarter was for St. Paddy's Day probably 9 or 10 years ago. I hooked up with a galpal from Dallas. Despite the fact she decided at the last minute to have some cosmetic surgery two days before the trip, and was still suffering from its effects, we had a very good time. I almost couldn't hear her groans of pain over the dueling pianos and clinking glasses.

Ah, New Orleans

I'm good for another decade.

Monday, March 5, 2012

You Can't Tell the Players Without a Program, nor the Speed Without a Speed-Limit Sign

Often I write here about experiences that are new to me. More often than not, they aren't anything extraordinary for lots of people; they are simply uncharted waters for me: things like frying chicken or seeing a 3-D movie.

This week I did something that isn't entirely new: I was pulled over for exceeding the speed limit. By how much, you might ask. I have no clue.

I didn't feel like I was going all that fast. Of course, it was the day after returning from the Virginia International Raceway and driving the Camaro ZL1 at 110 miles per hour.

I was on Augusta Road -- a main-drag surface street to downtown Greenville, roughly 10 miles or so from my front door.

The bulk of that 10 miles is through dense residential areas. The four lanes are narrow and traffic heavy. The speed limits vary from 30 mph to 35 mph. I don't have an issue with that and typically behave myself through that area that also includes a couple of schools.

About a mile from my house -- or more accurately a mile from where my street branches off from Augusta -- the residences disappear, the lanes grow wide, separate left-turn lanes appear and traffic thins out. Within that stretch is an entrance and exit for I-85. It is clearly a commercial area with businesses sparsely scattered about.

I am thoroughly embarrassed about being pulled over. The state trooper was sitting in the area between the north and southbound lanes in a marked car. Stevie Wonder couldn't have missed him. But I had my mind elsewhere. I didn't even notice him until I was within 10 car lengths. I'm not even sure how fast I was going. I suspect it was 45 or 50.

I stopped at the red light to make the right turn onto my street and Trooper Smiley eased behind me. Once I made the turn, he snapped on his lights. I was not shocked.

I pulled into the lot of the Pandora's Box on the corner and powered down my window. I already had my license and proof of insurance in my hand. The registration was in an envelope in the glovebox, but I didn't want to be rifling through it when the trooper approached. They tend to get nervous about such things.

I was in a car from the press fleet, which caused the usual discussion about who the vehicle belonged to and what I was doing with it. The last time this happened to me about two years ago, it was on I-26 south of Columbia as I was driving back from Florida. The trooper who stopped me then wound up asking advice regarding what car he should buy for his recently graduated daughter. This is the land of good old boys after all.

This trooper asked if I knew why he pulled me over. I replied that I was probably stretching the speed limit. He then asked me what was my hurry. I responded that I wished I could concoct a believable and entertaining tale, but couldn't. I did manage to coax a small smile out of him.

He took my license, proof of insurance and registration, when I finally dug it out, and walked back to his car. He was back there all of 30 seconds before returning to my window and handing me all of my documents. He also had a blue warning that he handed me along with some advice about minding the speed limit.

I have no idea how fast he clocked me or even what the speed limit is for that stretch of Augusta Road. He never brought it up, nor did I. None of that info was on the written warning he gave me. The closest speed limit sign in the direction I was traveling is nearly a mile north of where this happened. It's for 35 mph, but that's the edge of the residential area.

Speed limits in and around Greenville are ludicrously low, but I can't believe that even in Greenville the speed limit for this piece of Augusta Road is only 35 mph.

I suspect if the county bothered to erect a speed limit sign somewhere in that intervening mile, it would be for 40 or 45mph. The next speed limit sign on Augusta is the equivalent of about three city blocks farther south and it is for 45 mph.

No fine, no foul. I may never know exactly the gravity of my crime. And I am perfectly happy with that.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

You're in Virginia; It's Perfectly Okay to Wine!

It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows this blog, even occasionally, that I enjoy a glass of wine from time to time. I'm no expert, but I am a gifted amateur.

Armed with only my burning desire to broaden my wine horizons and, of course, my willingness to go almost anywhere, anytime on someone else's nickle, I spent several days late in 2010 in the wine country of Virginia.

I was there for AAA; but in the spirit of double-dippers everywhere, I followed up my travel piece in AAA Go Magazine with a frugal-advice piece on touring wineries on the cheap for that just posted last week.

It was actually a wonderful trip. I like Virginia a lot and the state's tourism folks are simply the best. I had a blast! That we spent three or four days slurping wine didn't negatively impact the experience either.

Here' the link to the story at Bankrate followed by a link to the same piece that was picked up at


Friday, March 2, 2012

A Camera Is a Terrible Thing to Lose

I have a couple of different topics I could choose from for today's blogging opus. Unfortunately, there are photos I want to include with them. Here's the thing: The photos are on the memory card in the camera that was left in Virginia that is now hundreds of miles away. I wanted to work the phrase, "in the house that Jack built" into the end of the previous sentence, but just couldn't figure a way to do it.

The morale of the missing camera? Clearly you don't have to be bright to be a blogger or an auto journalist -- whatever in the hell that is.

Yep, I shot photos for two different blog ideas and then managed to leave the camera behind in my rush to get from the Virginia International Raceway to the airport.

As luck would have it, one of the support people at the Chevy Camaro ZL1 event I was attending found the camera, evidently scrolled through the photos, and determined the camera was mine. I received an e-mail early this morning that it was winging its way back to me.

So today's post is really a place holder of sorts. I didn't want you to feel totally cheated after taking the time to visit Clanging Bell. On the other hand, I am not sufficiently motivated to come up with yet a third idea.

The above photo is just a tease for blogs coming next week.

Now on to more pressing topics. I am somewhat ticked off that Pittsburgh unceremoniously dumped its most productive receiver of all time: Hines Ward.

That announcement came earlier this week. Certainly the Steelers will survive without him, but he has been the face of that team for several years. Apparently the Rooneys decided that at age 36, he didn't have another productive year left in him and kicked him to the curb. I hope he doesn't wind up at some other AFC team and prove them wrong.

And last, but far from least, it was announced that the Fox TV series House is in its last season. I missed the first couple of seasons that began in 2004. When I finally found it, I became a loyal watcher. A truly despicable character, House was so self-centered and nasty, he was fun. I like that. Monday nights won't be the same.