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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Florida Keys Day 4: Getting Down With the Dolphins

Day four of my AAA Florida Keys adventure continued in Key West.

Cypress House, the B&B where I headquartered in Key West, served a terrific breakfast that was included in the nightly rate. The other travel writer staying there and I wolfed down fresh fruit, bagels, bacon, eggs and assorted pastries. All my good intentions for taking it easy on the food that morning lasted until I hit the kitchen.

Our morning was free. The Newman Agency that honchoed this extravaganza provided us with its V.I.P. Pass that was good for free admission to all sorts of attractions and tours. It also offered free meals at some hotels and free drinks at a few other places.

I spent my morning strolling around Old Town and reacquainting myself with the sights. The difference between Duval Street at 10 in the morning and Duval Street at 10 at night is startling. Unlike the French Quarter in New Orleans, though, despite curb to storefront drunks crowding the street at night, everything is relatively clean the next morning. The next morning on Bourbon Street,  you can see the remains of the drunken carnage the night before; not so on Duval Street.

I met up with the rest of the group and we headed to Hogfish Bar & Grill in the Safe Harbor Marina on Stock Island for lunch. What a treat. I had the fried Hogfish sandwich smothered in cheese and grilled onions. Oh man, it was good! I washed lunch down with a couple of Mille Lites. The total bill was 21 bucks -- a bargain by any standard.

Our big organized activity of the day was a boat trip with Dancing Water Spirits Retreat that runs out of Murray Marine at MM 5. We were hosted by none other than the Dolphin Whisperer herself, Captain Victoria Impallomeni-Spencer.

Victoria walks a fine line between New Age quirky and just plain loopy. I don't mean that in a bad way; but I am a cynic and all that touchy-feely, I-am-one-with-the-earth crap isn't in my DNA.

She has been conducting expeditions into the water wilderness for 30 years. She knows a lot about the Florida waters and its wildlife. And, when I say, a lot, I mean nearly everything there is to know.

She didn't promise us a dolphin encounter, but she seemed quite confident she would conjure up a few. Using a combination of music played through her boat's audio system with speakers attached to the boat's hull, as well as a sonic signal she puts out using the electric motor that raises and lowers the Yamaha 200 engine she called the dolphins.

For the first hour her choice of music probably lulled the dolphins to sleep. I'm surprised several of them within hearing distance didn't fall asleep and drown. It was the sort of music that plays in the background in $1,000-per-day spa. Snore….

Finally the music selection improved, but the dolphins still did not come. We puttered around for another hour. Eventually we gave up and just as we began to turn to head back, four dolphins came swimming up. They played around us for 45 minutes. Swimming around and under our boat, they frolicked like kids as Victoria talked about how intuitive they are: they know we are, she told us. Okay, fine.

I have no doubt she can produce dolphins on just about every 3-hour cruise.

It was a great day on the water.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Key West by Sundown: Bring on the Crazies!

Wednesday -- day 3 of my AAA assignment in the Florida Keys -- wasn't without its hiccups.

The math-challenged itinerary planners didn't allow enough time to eat breakfast and arrive at our first scheduled activity on time. So, breakfast at the Green Turtle Inn was sacrificed for an on-time arrival at the Turtle Hospital.

Instead of a sit-down meal at the Green Turtle we ordered carry-out from the Midway CafĂ© and wolfed down our food in the van as we hauled butt down the road the 30 or so miles to the Turtle Hospital.

This is the only veterinary-certified turtle hospital in the world. Fixing injured and sick turtles is its business and business is evidently boomin'.

Am I the only one to find irony in the fact that originally we were to eat breakfast at a joint made famous for its green-turtle delicacies and then visit the turtle hospital? Just askin'.

When we visited the turtle hospital, 22 turtles were in residence being treated for sickness as well as boat injuries. About 80% of the turtles that are successfully saved are eventually healthy enough to be returned to the sea.

The owner of the hospital came to the Keys to open a motel, which he did. To attract guests, he created a tidal pool that hosted a variety of sea life, but the only way he could get a permit to add a sea turtle was if the turtle was injured and he nursed it back to health. Things just took off from there. The facility no longer serves as a motel and its large swimming pool has been converted to a secure tidal pool for recovering turtles. The hospital runs two turtle ambulances and has full surgical facilities. It's open for tours. Pretty cool!

Once the educational portion of my day was completed, we were ready to head to Strike Zone Charters for a five-hour snorkeling and fishing trip culminating in a fish fry on a deserted island. Before we left the turtle hospital, we learned that this activity was canceled. I won't go into the baloney details of the cancellation, but we were able to glom on to a shorter, 3-hour trip that featured snorkeling on the coral reef.

I was all for snorkeling until I discovered the ocean was a chilly 73 degrees. Uncle Russ don't do that nonsense. Those of you who know me well know I kept my pool in Boynton Beach cranked up to the high 90s. Nope, 73 wasn't going to happen. So I settled for lounging around the deck b'essing with the captain and the couple of other smart folks who stayed on deck.

Around , we drove the last 30 miles or so to Key West.

Key West is like New Orleans or Las Vegas: Everyone should visit it at least once just to say you have, but it's not a place in which I want to spend long periods of time. Most folks come to Key West to drink, party and attempt to secure as many happy endings as possible. There's nothing wrong with any of that, mind you; but it doesn't necessarily attract the highest caliber of human being.

Here's an example: This morning I was sitting at a poolside table at the Cypress House, a quite lovely B&B where the tourism folks put me up for my Key West stay, and at the next table was a high-class guy talking on his cell to someone back home. I overheard him telling this person that he and the missus were flying home early because she and her brother had gotten into a physical altercation the night before. ("Altercation" is my term, not his. I think he characterized it as someone punching the shit out of the other person.)

From the sounds of it, one or the other of the combatants drew blood. So the guy on the phone decided the best course for everyone concerned was early flights home. And could the person to whom he was talking please come pick them up at the airport.

Evidently he was speaking with a woman and she declined the invite to serve as the airport shuttle because -- from the side of the conversation I could hear -- her husband had set himself on fire dumping gasoline on the barbeque coals the day before.

I suspect that wasn't even the most interesting thing that happened at the trailer park that day.

In any event, we arrived in Key West just in time to attend the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. On our itinerary, this event described the local participants as arts-and-crafts exhibitors, street performers, food vendors, psychics and tourists. It made me chuckle.

The cornerstone of the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration is scores of kooks doing outrageous things disguising the fact they are really bumming money; in other words, panhandlers with a quirky talent is what they really are. The term "street performer" is a bit generous. "Street people" lands closer to the mark. It is a spectacle to be sure, and one every person should witness at least once. Having seen it at least half a dozen times, I didn't find it as engaging as some of the others in my group. I certainly wasn't sufficiently loaded to revel in the spirit of the process.

I was back on the front porch of the Cypress House by , glass of wine in my hand. Maybe I'm just too old for Key West?


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Don't Bogart My Boat: Day 2 in the Florida Keys

It's pretty tough to get lost in the Florida Keys. Even with my lackluster navigating skills and total lack of a sense of direction, I can't seem to lose my way on the single road that runs north to south from Key Largo to Key West.

The addresses are equally simple to decode. One doesn't even need to know the specific Key to locate a particular address. For example, the Palms & Pines Resort, where the tourism folks lodged me my first two nights of this Keys boondoggle, is at MM 80.4 Oceanside. That translates into "mile marker 80.4 on the east side of Old Highway. As you drive south that means it's on the left side of the road.

As it turns out, this is in Islamorada with an actual street number of 80401. See; so simple even the sense-of-direction impaired can get where they are going 9 out of 10 times. If you are at least somewhat brighter than I, you can probably achieve a perfect score of 10 out of 10.

I spent Tuesday in the navigator's seat, riding shotgun as our tourism liaison chauffeured us from place to place. My role consisted of shouting out, "That's it!" as we closed in on our next destination.

Carolina -- that's the liaison's name -- is with the Newman PR agency representing the Keys; a decent gig, if you ask me. I wouldn't work for a PR agency again to free my mother from a Turkish prison; but I guess if you have to, working the Florida Keys account would be about the best assignment you could expect. Despite laboring for a PR agency, Carolina has a pleasant disposition and has managed not to kill anyone during our little jaunts around the Keys.

As if I'm not already day-date-and-time challenged from simply being in the Keys, this is compounded by lollygagging, running up and down Old Highway between Key Largo and Islamorada for, what I think has been, two days.

Tuesday's highlight was taking a little cruise around a couple of canals on the freshly restored African Queen. Yes, the one used in the Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name.

Having just returned to service after a few years of neglect and a four-month restoration, our little cruise was its first public run in some time. The boiler is brand new. Actually there wasn't a boiler on the boat when John Houston found it, and the boiler in the movie was a prop. The new one is real, however, with the steam to run the engine being produced by burning diesel.

We were quite the spectacle chugging up the deep-water canal heading for the Atlantic. The clickity clack of the engine, the chime of the bell and the shrill scream of the steam whistle signaling our approach drew waves, applause and cameras. The African Queen's return to service was well publicized and anticipated in Key Largo. People crowded the dock to see us off and welcome us back 90 minutes later.

I was glad there were plenty of photographs snapped, so someone would have one to give to the local paper in case we were lost at sea. There is something about the sight of the engineer squirting oil into the engine mechanism as we motored along that didn't give me warm fuzzies. A somewhat new experience for the crew, pushing off the dock and getting under way was a bit exciting. I moved a little closer to the hold with the life jackets as the two-man crew struggled to get us underway.

I can't say that it wasn't fun.

Today we'll head down to Key West. I'm almost certain that's south….

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Taking the HighRoad From Florida City to Key Largo

Driving to Key West is always a bit of an adventure. It's easy to forget you are still in the good old US of A, rather than a Caribbean Island.

I am in the Keys at the behest of AAA of the Carolinas for a travel piece. I am one of five journalists in the care of a PR liaison for the Keys.

We typically think of getting from Florida City to Key West as just one straight road -- and it is -- but there is an alternate route from Florida City to Key Largo, the first of the Keys. It's Card Sound Road, a toll road. It costs all of one buck. Be sure and get a receipt!

What makes the toll well worth the money is a detour into Alabama Jack's. A biker bar, it's a craphole of the first order. However, the conch fritters are excellent and the snapper fingers fresh and succulent.

Because this is one of those very rare occasions when I'm not at the helm, I washed all this fresh seafood down with an ice-cold Corona. Ah…the Keys….

I must admit there isn't much to look at on Card Sound Rd. You know the Gulf of Mexico is to your right and the Atlantic to your left, but that's only because you catch brief glimpses of one or the other through the dense Everglade-like foliage that surrounds you on either side of the two-lane road.

Breaking out into Key Largo, we were rewarded with views of the obligatory gas stations, T-shirt shops and fast-food restaurants that dominate the commerce of the Keys.

We put in a cameo at Key Largo Chocolates. This is a freshly minted small business specializing in homemade candies. The key lime white chocolate is a treat. Donning hair nets, we toured the making process, sipped on some wine and wolfed down some candy. The owners wholesaled candy to businesses in the Keys for years before launching this retail store just two months ago. It's worth the stop.

I thought my ship had come in when we arrived at the chocolate joint and the promotional RV for Pusser's Rum was parked in front of it. Introducing myself to the driver, I had visions of a case of Pusser's, or at least a bottle, dancing in my head. Alas, I wound up with an airplane bottle of it instead, but who am I to complain?

We caught the sunset at the Kona Kai Resort and Gallery. This 11-room resort is cozy and picturesque. Offering an ideal view of the sunset no matter the time of year, Kona Kai is also a botanical garden. Tours are offered by a certified ethnobotonist. Apparently ethnobotony is some sort of new discipline defining the relationship between humans and plants. Don't ask me; I just heard of it on Monday.

Then it was dinner at the Islamorada Fish Company after checking into the Pines & Palms Resort. Yes, I can see the Atlantic from the lounge chair on my unit's front porch.

I'm off on another day of sightseeing and eating.

Work, work, work….  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Some Ideas Simply Look Better on Paper: How to Waste 40 Bucks

I did something spectacularly stupid yesterday. I am sure that's no surprise to some of you.

What was this bonehead move? I went to the Upstate Beer Fest.

How can that be stupid? you might ask. Well for one thing, it cost $35.

On its surface $35 might not sound too bad. I mean there were probably 50 or 60 breweries there pouring beer. It may not be the big international beer fest that's in Denver every year, but at first blush, a collection of 50 or 60 breweries seems pretty big -- particularly for a four-hour event.

Apparently this was an international fest, too because there was a brewery from Canada and another from Belgium, I think. Actually I think the event was named after the International House of Pancakes. So it had that going for it.

There were a few good beers. I particularly liked the Bell's Kalamazoo Stout and the Left Hand Brewery's Black Jack Porter.

In truth, however, it was a colossal waste of money.

Here's why…

In addition to the $35 entrance fee, you can't park at a special event in Greenville for anything less than $5. Here, I'll do the math for you: $35 + $5 brought the total for this afternoon of rollicking fun to $40.

The event kicked off at 2 p.m. and by 3 p.m. some stations were already out of some their advertised beer. By 4:30 maybe as many as half the selections were gone. The event was scheduled to run until 6.

Upon presenting your ticket at the door, you were given a 4 oz plastic mug. This was the only excess at this thing. It was 2 oz more than they were pouring. So I guess you could count it as giving us 2 oz extra of plastic.

When you stand in line on average of 10 or 12 min to get your 2-ounce pour, you don't get to consume a whole lot of beer. I figured drinking it in 2-ounce increments; I may have sipped the equivalent of four bottles of beer in the two and a half hours I was there.

Okay, I'll do the math again: That's $40 for roughly 4 bottles of beer, or $10 a bottle.

I was there with some friends. We would have been much better off just going to a bar and drinking four beers. I wouldn't have had to fork out $5 for parking or fight the crowds.

That will be my last Upstate Beer Fest…ever.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tripping the Light Fantastic in Austin

It’s been a while since I’ve been in Austin with the combination of staying downtown and enough free time to actually get out and look around.
This wonderful confluence of events presented themselves today.

Headquartered at the W Hotel just three blocks off of 6th Street courtesy of Dodge – here to experience the all-new Dodge Dart – I was checked into my room before 1 p.m.

Certainly I could have napped, watched TV, read my book or actually done a little work; but instead I chose to hike to 6th Street and check out a couple of joints.
For the uninitiated, 6th Street is Ground Zero for Austin’s music scene.

I must say, there isn’t much music happening at 2:00 on a Wednesday afternoon, but I did manage to locate a couple of places with a guitarist pickin’ and a-singin’.

I am sad to admit, however, the most compelling joint I was in today is called Bikini. I’d like to report to you that the name has to do with the island chain, and the experience was one of geographical illumination; but, alas, I took the low road.

Yes, I’m a guy. Bikini is a casual place with comely young servers dressed according to the joint’s theme. It was the perfect spot to wet my whistle with a Shiner Bock on a sunny, warm afternoon.

Did I mention that the entertainment did not consist of a guitar-playing singer, but rather assorted servers using hula hoops? You won’t often see me use this word in print, but it was "aaaawesome!"

I could have invested the entire afternoon there, but I was on a tour of discovery after all. I needed to search out other tribal rituals.

My plan is to have dinner with Dodge tonight and then try to hook up with my buddy Winker later.

Don’t wait up….

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Beach Trek: The First Whiff of Salt Air Always Means Hitting the Brake Pedal

I drove from Greenville, SC to Holden Beach, NC over the weekend. It isn’t a bad drive as these things go, but nearly one-third of the 270 miles is on state and county roads.

Infiniti provided the abbreviated version of the FX35, the EX35, for this boondoggle.  Its comfortable surroundings and enthusiastic performance contributed heavily to the “fun” quotient of my drive. The window price sticker in the glove box told me the EPA expects it to get 24 mpg on the highway. I averaged 25.5 mpg on my little jaunt.

Once your target is north of Charleston, reaching the beach becomes a serious exercise in logistics.

I am used to Florida where I-95 runs down the east coast, often within a few miles of the beach. Sprawling four-lane highways are available to carry eager beach goers from the freeway to the ocean. Not so in the Carolinas.

It’s not fair to say, “You can’t get there from here,” but you almost can’t.

This is true of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, as well as The Outer Banks and, to my horror, Holden Beach in NC.

Because it was the weekend, traffic was light the entire trip; well, at least until I closed within 20 miles of my destination. There is something about motoring along close to a beach that magically transforms otherwise sensible drivers into meandering slowpokes.

Nearly no one drives the speed limit – already ludicrously low. No, they putter along 5 or 10 miles below the limit. It’s like being in a 500-car funeral procession.

Once the GPS took me off the freeway, I found myself in the sticks, driving through tiny burg after tiny burg. Sometimes the speed limit dropped all the way down to 20 miles per hour. Are you kidding me?

These aren’t towns or villages so much as block-long stretches of buildings composed of a gas station, general store and, maybe, a bar. With the few homes scattered about in this area, I can’t imagine that every bar has its own drunk. I suspect the taverns here share a drunk, passing him around in some sort of round-robin rotation.

“It’s the third Saturday in the month; it’s our turn for the drunk. Send Otis over!”

Despite the dwarf-like size of some of these little no-Starbucks hamlets, someone managed to scrape together the dough for a 20 mph speed-limit sign to post at the beginning of the block.

So, I would back off the throttle, slow down to a crawl and creep by the little collection of buildings before zooming all the way back up to 55 mph. Wheeeee!

It was a real waste of the EX35’s talents.

Holden Beach is a beautiful area. My friends rented a 5-bedroom house for a week right on the water.

Three hours in the sun provided the obligatory sunburn. After more than 20 years of coastal living in South Florida, you’d think I’d know better, right? Yeah, not so much.

I am not looking forward to the drive home. The weekend is behind me and the return trip will entail slugging my way through normal weekday traffic.

I expect the reverse trip to take an extra 30 minutes or so – if I’m lucky.

At least I will be making the drive in style.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's a Dog's Life

I did a little walking up and down Main Street in downtown Greenville early Friday evening. A clear sky and a temperature in the mid 70s meant I had a lot of company.

Main Street was swamped. This wasn't helped by some ongoing building construction that forces everyone to the same side of the street for a couple of blocks.

It was an unending river of humanity. On Friday nights a block of Main is closed for an outdoor concert and gathering. This added to the mayhem, attracting even more people downtown.

I love Greenville and the small-town feel its downtown projects. Most of the restaurants and bars along Main have outdoor seating, so the mass of pedestrians must share the sidewalk with tables of folks eating and drinking.

That's okay with me. I do my fair share of lounging at the tables outside The Blue Ridge Brewery on Sunday afternoons. It's some great people watching.

But in the midst of all this chaos are people who, for reasons that elude me, insist on bringing their dog to Main Street because, well, darn it, the sidewalk just isn't crowded enough already.

So what you have are dogs of all sizes tugging on three or four feet of leash, tangling themselves among the unsuspecting pedestrians. You can't walk more than two or three blocks without a couple of these mutts squaring off to growl and snap at one another.

Maybe it's just the way I was raised or some imprint on my DNA, but it never occurred to me to bring my cat to Main Street with me. Nor have I spotted anyone with an aquarium under his arm.

Nope, it just seems to be dog owners who operate under the assumption that everyone wants to see their dog.

I can't speak for anyone else, but me, not so much. If I want to see your dog, I'll give you a call and come by your house.

If the idea is to provide these dogs some exercise, there is no shortage of parks in Greenville where dogs can walk, run and play with abandon. Main Street isn't much of a workout for your average dog, but dodging them is more of a workout than I want on a Friday night.

I'm just sayin'.....

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's Spring at the Fiji House: Roll Out the Pig and Put on Your Party Hat!

I am a recovering Fiji.

That was my college fraternity and I remain in close contact with several of the brothers I met there. They are friendships that have weathered 40 years.

We always looked forward to spring in the Fiji house at Wittenberg University -- Old Mother WU. Our two biggest events of the year were in the spring: the Norris Pig Dinner and Fiji Island.

As with every Fiji tradition, there is a long, drawn-out story about how Pig Dinner got its start and who the brothers were who initiated the thing. It's enough for you to know that it began before the earth was made of dirt. I won't bore you with the rest of the story.

Pig Dinner is an annual alumni dinner when the old wrecks who graduated 30, 40 or 50 years earlier return, tell lies about their glory days and get all misty eyed over the brotherhood. At least that's the way I saw the event as an underclassman. My take is a bit different today.

It's a time when the graduates and undergrads, as well as the undergrads' fathers can come together, tip a drink or two and talk all things Fiji.

My father attended one or two of these affairs; although, he was firmly against my joining. Convincing him required six months of lobbying. Finally he relented in time for me to pledge spring term of my freshman year.

What you need to know is that he went to college on the G.I. Bill at the age of 35. He had my mother, my sister and me to support. His view of fraternities was that they were nothing more than collections of knuckleheads who chased sorority girls and were drunk five nights out of seven.

When I pledged Fiji, I was really glad to find that the Old Man had been 100% right!

But, back to our story....

The pig part is some 200-year-old tradition that involved some practical joke and a pig chase. A more modern take is a pig displayed at the front of the room. It's a complete pig with an apple in its mouth and the whole nine yards. At some point all of the brothers initiated since the last Pig Dinner must file to the front of the room and kiss the pig on its snout or ass -- I can't remember which, but it's the snout, I think. Don't ask, I have no clue what the significance is; everyone just does it.

The dinner is a somewhat formal affair where brothers are recognized, awards given and a keynote speaker delivers a few words of wisdom. I was the master of ceremonies for this event two or three times after I graduated. At these affairs the M.C. is called the Symposiarch. I think it translates to "this guy gets his meal for free."

I ran the thing like a Friars Club Roast. Nothing was sacred. As usual, I probably thought I was funnier than I actually was, but some of the lines I used are still repeated back to me today whenever a few of us get together.

The oldest brother attending was always seated immediately to the left of the podium, making him the ideal foil for some ill-conceived humor. One year, as I was making my welcoming remarks, I noticed the oldest brother sitting there looking down at his salad. He was notoriously hard of hearing. I leaned over and yelled at the top of my lungs, "It's Thousand Island, Curly!" I'm lucky he didn't go into cardiac arrest.

Another year as I was introducing the oldest brother, I told him he should head over to the cemetery to lie down and wait. Yeah, sometimes I crack myself up.

May included our biggest party of the year -- and back then, that was saying something. It was Fiji Island. Today alcohol isn't permitted in the house; back then we were awash in it.

What Fiji Island morphed into since the political correctness dimblulbs have forbidden drinking, I can't imagine; but in the late 1960s and early 70s, it was a three-day, two-night free-for-all.

Inviting a date required boiling the flesh from an old cow bone that we would then paint the invitation on. It was a big deal running around passing out the bones.

Other Fiji chapters would have to go off site to throw their Fiji Island, but our house was off-campus on a sprawling piece of land. Using sandbags, we would create a lake in the parking lot and build a bridge over its narrowest end.

An entire tent city would appear on the lawn where most of us and our dates spent the two nights.

A different band entertained each night and we drank gallons of Blow-Your-Lunch Punch, beer and whatever else we could get our hands on.

We would kick off the festivities on Friday afternoon with a marriage ceremony. We wanted to make sure our dates struck the proper attitude.

I served as the High Priest my senior year. It was my role to bond each couple together in holy mattressmony.

Before it was all over, usually someone's sofa would wind up in the pseudo lake where it would be set on fire as a volcano.

If anyone reading this can tell me who the young lady is I'm with in the above photo, I'd appreciate it. I remember her, but can't place her name.

Yep, big fun.

I still love spring.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Going Through the Motions: Weed Killing Isn't an Exact Science

The great experiment begins...

I drove up to my buddy Jeff's house last Tuesday and picked up his fertilizer/weed-killer spreader. It's a Scott's Drop Spreader. This seemed like an appropriate choice because I was putting down Scott's Turf Builder With Plus 2 Weed Control. It's engineered -- according to its marketing claptrap -- to kill dandelions and other broad-leaf weeds.

We'll see.

I am in no way interested in the Turf Builder aspect of this product. I have very little turf, and only some sort of Divine Intervention or $3,000 worth of topsoil and sod is going to make grass grow on the moonscape that is my lawn.

Using a shotgun, I could fire seeds into the red clay that surrounds my house, and they would just bounce off, lie on the surface and wait to be plucked up by opportunist birds. It would be like throwing a golf against concrete.

No, I spent nearly $50 for the weed killing properties of this product.

I followed the directions to the letter. They told me to put the product down on a moist lawn followed by at least 24 rainless hours.

I rolled the stuff onto the lawn after Thursday night's rain stopped on Friday morning. It's now late afternoon on Saturday. There hasn't been any rain since I put down the weed killer and there isn't expected to be any rain over the next two or three days.

I set the opening for dispensing the weed killer to 51/2, as instructed on the bag.

Despite doing everything according to the directions, I remain skeptical. I just don't think this stuff is going to work. I doubt the dandelions are trembling in their green roots.

Spreading it was more difficult than I anticipated. There is barely a flat spot in my yard. Pushing the spreader meant slogging uphill for half the passes. It's a big yard. Because my mower is self-propelled, I hadn't even considered how much work pushing the spreader was going to be.

The entire process took about an hour.

So, now I'm in wait-and-see mode. Here's a shot of some of the dandelions I am battling.

I'll take another photo of the same spot next week when I file a full report here on the success of the mission.

I am not filled with optimism.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I Have Filed "Happy Endings" with "How I Met Your Mother"

I give up.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the ABC comedy "Happy Endings" when it showed up last year as a mid-season replacement. I watched it a few times when I felt energetic enough to concentrate for 30 minutes searching for a joke.

It wore me out. I doubt that I laughed once watching the four or five episodes I tuned into last year.

Originally I took interest in it because I'm a guy and I like Elisha Cuthbert. I was willing to give it a shot just to see her.

I employed the same strategy when I began watching "How I Met Your Mother" for Alyson Hannigan. The major difference is, at least the first season of "How I Met Your Mother" was funny. I don't know if the producers fired the original writing staff or what, but beginning in year two, the characters all became caricatures of themselves and laughs were tougher to find than a budget proposal in the Senate.

I quit watching "How I Met..." the beginning of its third season.
Despite my Alyson experience, I decided to give Elisha a try. Obviously I need to employ a new strategy for picking television comedies.

At one point last summer, I read that ABC canceled "Happy Endings." And Damon Wayans Jr, a cast regular, even turned up in the pilot of this season's comedy "New Girl." I was optimistic, but the reports of its demise were greatly exaggerated.

When it returned this fall, I decided to give it another chance. I know several people who love it, and I was swayed by their cheer leading. I am beginning to question their judgment.

I probably caught 8 or 10 episodes this season, and watched the season finale yesterday -- I had recorded it.

That'll be 30 minutes I'll never get back. I've never seen a show work so hard to be funny and fail so miserably. Maybe I'm just not hip enough to appreciate it.

Someone evidently decided that the dialog itself doesn't need to funny as long as it's delivered at machine-gun speed.

The camera just cuts back and forth between the cast members as they rapidly toss out five- and six-word lines. The effect is almost dizzying.

Someone should have the writers watch a couple of episodes of "Modern Family" or "Mike and Molly" and see what's it's like to actually have a few jokes sprinkled among the dialog.

So, like "How I Met Your Mother," I've officially given up on "Happy Endings. It ain't gonna get any better next season.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Summer Dirt-Mowing Season Is Here!

I finally broke down yesterday and celebrated the ceremonial first mowing of the dirt. It was quite the affair.

As fate would have it, there has been so much rain lately that the red-mushroom cloud that historically accompanies this feat simply couldn't get airborne.

I am determined to lay down weed killer this year. My theory is that if I manage to kill all -- or at least most -- of the weeds, I may get away with only mowing every three or four weeks. There is a brand-new crop of weeds that have never presented themselves before. The dandelions are feeling crowded.

I purchased all the materials I needed to get my mower operational for the season. Air filter: check; oil: check; spark plug: check; spark plug gap tool: check; I was ready to go. It started on the first pull. I nearly dislocated my shoulder patting myself on the back.

The same rain that tamped down the dust, also lingered in the weeds. My mower constantly clogged with cuttings and stalled. I cleaned out around the blade a couple of times, but eventually the mower just crapped out. I cleaned it out again, but it refused to start. Drat!

I parked it and switched to my weed whacker that has never needed a season-opening tune up. It cranked right up, and I trimmed all the areas that require that. Finishing the whacking, I tried the mower again, no go.

I wheeled the mower back into my little shed and knocked off for the day.

Before going to the gym today I removed the mower from the shed and gave the rope a pull. Bingo: it started.

I don't like running the mower on Sunday -- I'm not opposed to Sunday mowing for religious reasons; I try to respect my neighbors, though, who may have some religious objection -- so I put it back in the shed to be revisited on Monday.  I do live on the buckle of the Bible belt, after all.

That is I'll mow on Monday if we can go without rain until the afternoon. I'm not dealing with the stalling thing again.

And the season begins….