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.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Slacker Nature Translates into a Fun Read for You: Top Ten Bachelor Cars

My cup runneth over with work this week. I'm not complaining, mind you, but things like blogging and sleep are taking a backseat.

I do some work for the Journal Register Newspapers and its Web site. Some of my stories for them are straight-up car reviews; some are industry pieces, and others are top-ten collections of vehicles for a variety of categories.

I get a real kick out of writing the top-ten pieces that usually provide the opportunity for me to be less than serious.

At the bottom of this blog is the link to one I especially enjoyed writing on the top-ten cars for bachelors.

The car above is the Audi R8: my all-time favorite bachelor car. Oh, if only I could share that story with you.

Here's the link. Enjoy...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Redbox Movie Night: Two Turkeys and Some Spaghetti

Bad night for Redbox movies.

As I usually do on Saturday nights, last night I rented a couple of Redbox movies and whipped up some spaghetti. There really wasn't much I wanted to see; but for a buck a pop, I'll take a chance or two.

I rolled the dice and they came up snake eyes.

The first movie was a little turkey called "Red Tails." I had high hopes for it because George Lucas produced it and Cuba Gooding, Jr is listed in the credits. Obviously Lucas no longer cares what his name is associated with, and I didn't watch long enough to see Gooding.

The opening aerial dog fight was so cheesy, if it had been in black and white, I might have mistaken it for footage from the 1959 crapathon "Plan 9 From Outer Space." I fully expected to see a cardboard cutout of a fighter plane glued to a stick go floating through the frame.

I'd tell you what the movie is about, but I didn't watch enough of it to find out.

I watched as much as five minutes of this sorry waste of celluloid because I was riveted to my recliner, mesmerized by just how bad the computer-generated effects were. I am not kidding when I say that they were doing better stuff in the 1960s.

It's not often I feel totally cheated out of my Redbox buck, but this one earned that status.

The second feature in last night's crudfest was "The Grey."

Having seen the trailer for this lame-o drama, I can only blame myself. It didn't hold much promise from the get-go.

I'm not necessarily a big Liam Neeson fan, but I have liked a few things he has been in, such as "Taken," which I own on DVD.

But I didn't much care for him or his character in "The Grey." In fact, I didn't much care for any of the characters in "The Grey." There wasn't really anyone to like or root for, well, other than the wolves. I didn't care if they made it home or not. What's a few less jerks in the world?

Here's the plot in a nutshell: Neeson's character makes his living shooting wolves somewhere in the frozen wilderness -- Alaska, maybe? -- to protect oil-company workers. I have my doubts that such a job even exists, but hey, it's Hollywood. He gets on a plane with 20 or so other workers flying to where, we don't know. Plane crashes, Neeson's character and six others miraculously survive the crash that has pieces of the plane strewn across the tundra. There is knee-deep snow on the ground, but none of these guys appear particularly chilly. Neeson spends a lot of the movie in a sweater and without gloves.

They decide to try to walk out, but a pack of savage, oversized wolves has a different idea. They begin picking off the survivors one by one as they straggle behind the rest of the group. It never occurs to Neeson's character, or anyone else in the group, to help the current straggler to keep up. Nope, they just let him continue falling farther and farther behind until he's attacked. Finally it's down to just Neeson's character, who, stumbling into its den, squares off with a wolf; fade to black.

Yep, they couldn't even figure out how to end the damn thing, so they just faded out before it was over.

Most unbelievable moment: At one point what's left of the survivors come to a very wide, very deep chasm. They make a rope by tying several pieces of clothing together. Where all this spare clothing came from, we don't know. I guess it was like the Howells on "Gilligan's Island:" For reasons unknown they took a steamer trunk of clothing on a 3-hour harbor tour.

In any event, they make this rope, tie it around the waist of one of the guys, and he takes a running leap into the pine trees on the chasm's other side. Everyone else then shinnies across the rope. Here's the thing: Somehow the wolf pack follows them over the chasm. Not sure how they managed that, but they did. I almost laughed out loud.

I didn't feel completely robbed by this movie; I guess it was worth a buck to see. Just barely...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grading My Trip to New Jersey: Lexus ES Good; Newark Airport Bad

I managed to keep my head from exploding while traveling this week.

Lexus flew me to New Jersey to drive the redesigned sixth-generation Lexus ES.

No, the Lexus folks aren't mad at me; they flew a bunch of journalists to New Jersey for the East-coast press launch.

I have absolutely no clue where I was while there. They flew us into Newark -- one of my least favorite airports of all time -- and whisked us off by limo to a Hilton Hotel somewhere. It remains a mystery.

Here's the short commercial:

A big leap from the original in 1989 to the current crop, the ES looks ever more like its LS big brother. Outside the styling is more substantial and interesting than that of the previous ES. Inside, the lines are angular and handsome.

The front seats are terrific with plenty of support and lateral bolstering. The backseat area is huge. Designers turned the additional 1.8 inches in wheelbase length into 4.1 inches of rear-seat legroom.

Basically the 3.5-liter V6 returns unchanged. Some adjustments to the gearing in the automatic tranny squeezes an extra 2 mpg in combined city and highway driving to 24 mpg.

The big news is the hybrid version with its combined fuel economy of 39 mpg.

Driving by the horse farms of New Jersey -- yes, New Jersey has horse farms; who knew? -- the ES is quiet, smooth and handles with predictability.

But as good as the new ES is, it isn't the central topic of this writing.

To paraphrase the great twentieth-century philosopher Forrest Gump, flying is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.

I arrived at the Newark Airport for the initial leg of my flight home about an hour and forty-five minutes before the scheduled departure. I already had my boarding pass, which was a good thing because construction caused Delta to move its ticket counters somewhere other than where the limo dropped me off. I never did see them.

My flight was out of gate 42 in the B Terminal. Gates 42 to 49 -- or something like that -- have their own dedicated TSA security checkpoint. Never have so many done so little to help so few. At least four or five TSA agents were milling around mostly watching one or two others actually work.

I try not to get too lathered up about going through airport security. When I fly out of Greenville-Spartanburg, there are also agents who don't appear to have enough to do, but they are all friendly and seem to be genuinely competent. In Atlanta, they aren't as jovial, but also seem competent. Those in San Francisco may be competent, but are as nasty and surely a bunch as you will find. Think: Soup Nazi in a TSA uniform. Each city seems to have its own brand of TSA agents.

After my boarding pass and passport were compared to me, I approached the x-ray belt. I had stripped my person of any offending items, such as wallet, cell phone, belt and so forth. My netbook and baggie of toilet articles were in a plastic tub. Likewise my footwear was on the conveyor. I fly a lot. I know the drill. I know what I can and can't take. I know what can be in my carry-ons and what can't. It's not my first rodeo.

When I walked up to the conveyor belt, I was third in line. I do not exaggerate when I say that it took nearly 10 minutes for me and my stuff to work our way to the mouth of the x-ray machine. Every item on the belt was being scrutinized for 30 to 40 seconds. Virtually nothing was just smoothly going through.

I was annoyed, but only by the incompetence of the imbecile watching the x-ray monitor. The line of travelers behind me was growing by leaps and bounds. Had I walked up two minutes later, I would have been really steamed.

Finally my bags made their way into x-ray hell. I got the full-monty x-ray treatment holding my hands over my head and coughing or whatever one is supposed to do.

I moved over to the conveyor to grab my stuff as it was belched out of the x-ray machine. What do you know? The belt was stopped again. This time for my rollerboard. The idiot monitoring the x-ray machine called over another agent and insisted my bag be physically searched.

The agent grabbed my bag and told me to follow him to a table as soon as I had the rest of my stuff. Of course, that required another four or five minutes because the conveyor was stopped again for the rollerboard of the woman behind me. She had left her laptop in her bag. While we waited for yet another TSA agent to screw up the energy to walk over, pull her bag off the line, remove the laptop and run it back through, the belt was paused with my stuff still partially inside.

I have now been in the direct vicinity of the x-ray machine for at least 15 minutes and my stuff is just coming off. I walk over to the table where Agent Knucklehead begins to paw through my bag. This was just an overnight trip, so there isn't much in there but my sport coat, yesterday's shirt, a pair of dress shoes and some dirty underwear.

There are a few other odds and ends that are always in there like some extra coffee creamer and sugar for the coffee maker in the hotel room, a tiny lock and key that came with the suitcase and a small lint roller. All of the same stuff that was in the bag on the flight out and the last 50 flights I've taken without my bag being searched.

This agent didn't look particularly happy. I guess even when you have nothing better to do, having to go through someone's bag for no reason can tick you off. He put everything that wasn't clothing into a plastic tub, stacked it on my rollerboard and carried it all back over to the x-ray for another run through as I stood off to the side by the table.

It came back through the x-ray, the Clown Prince of the x-ray shrugged her shoulders at him as she watched all of this stuff come through again. Agent Knucklehead made some comment to her, picked all my stuff back up, carried back to the table where he tossed it down in front of me without a word. He then stormed away.

I had no idea if I was cleared to repack my bag, or was supposed to wait for another Nazi to take it from there. After about 30 seconds, I determined no one else wanted a piece of me. I repacked my bag and headed for the gate. Total elapsed time from the moment I passed through the agent checking boarding passes and I.D.s until I headed for my gate: 25 minutes.

I didn't much care for the Newark airport before 9/11, it certainly hasn't improved since.

Monday, June 18, 2012

For Want of a Nail a Kingdom Was Lost or How a $3 Turkey Baster Could Have Saved Me $75

Ah, the joys of home ownership. If it's not one thing, it's something else -- usually a lot of something elses.

The heating element in my GE side-by-side took a major dump a few months ago. I didn't even know refrigerators had heating elements. Seems sort of counter intuitive, but something must generate the heat to make automatic defrosting possible. That had never occurred to me until mine started to go.

I am old enough to remember my mother manually defrosting the freezer in our refrigerators years ago. Left too long between defrostings and opening the freezer door was something akin to peering into the maw of the snow cave in Star Wars. When defrosted, the freezer would hold about as much frozen food as the trunk of a Mazda Miata; after five of six months without defrosting, you'd be lucky to be able to jam a box of fudgecicles within the walls of ice.

I noticed stuff in the fridge side just wasn't as cold as it should be. The frozen stuff was still frozen, but the fridge just wasn't cooling down things.

About this same time, I was finding water puddling on the floor in front of the freezer. My major-appliance acumen is pretty low, but I knew this wasn't right. After getting online and doing a little detective work, I discovered the cooling issue was probably due to a dying heating element. I ordered a replacement, and following instructions posted online, I replaced the unit.

Much to my dismay, the puddling didn't stop. I figured it was a drain issue, but I just couldn't solve it. I tried running a snake through the drain, but couldn't get it to go far enough to break the logjam. I decided to kick the can down the road, so I folded an old hand towel and put it under the freezer door. During most cycles, this was sufficient to stem the tide and prevent the leaking water from getting to the floor.

I lived with that for the next few months. The different out-of-town company that passed through my house over the past few weeks were polite enough not to mention the bright-yellow towel on the floor. They simply stepped over it.

Last week even the towel wasn't damming the flow. I sprang into action and called an appliance repairman. I found Banks Appliance on the Internet. They sounded friendly and reasonable enough; I called around last Thursday. I was assured they would get there that day and would phone about 30 minutes before heading my way.

I ran up to Home Depot to buy some attic decking (see the previous blog: "The Great Attic Caper of 2012.") and while I was there, the appliance repairman called. Elapsed time between my call and his call to say he was on his way: 45 minutes.

He arrived at my house a couple of minutes after I returned home. I had just enough time to clear off the bottom shelves of the freezer.

I explained the problem. He dug around in the bag he carried in with him and pulled out a gizmo that looked like a large syringe with a rubber tube on the end. In fact, he told me it was some manner of veterinary equipment for treating horses. He asked for a glass of hot water. He sucked some of the water into the syringe, inserted the tube into the drain hole and depressed the plunger.

He repeated the process a couple of times before telling me the problem was fixed.

I mentioned that I was going to be a little miffed if I could have performed the same process with a turkey baster. He just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and put his syringe away before handing me my bill.

Banks charges $75 for a service call, which is counted toward whatever parts and labor charges might be involved.

My tab was $75.

That's how a $3 turkey baster could have saved me 75 bucks!

Live and learn, I guess.    

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Great Attic Caper of 2012

I hate it when something goes wrong with my house. I'm not really a do-it-yourself kind of guy.

My list of home-repair talents once contained nothing more than changing a light bulb and shaking the toilet handle.

Of course, those were the days of not owning my own place. Home ownership -- not all it's cracked up to be, by the way -- forces even handy-challenged types like me to push the envelope.

When I lived in Louisville and had several friends who worked in the trades, my home-repair efforts consisted of buying a case of beer, ordering a pizza and calling one of them. I assumed the role of assistant: opening beers, holding a flashlight and passing tools. I became quite accomplished at opening a beer with one hand as I held a flashlight with the other.

Even when I bought my house in Florida, I had friends who were willing to do most of the heavy lifting on home repair/improvement projects. I looked forward to my sister's visits with extra anticipation because my brother-in-law was part of the package. In two or three visits to that house, he probably made improvements that added $5,000 to $10,000 to its value. He knocked out walls, filled in doorways, created doorways and enlarged closets. He makes Bob Villa look like a poser.

But with that Florida house, I began challenging my comfort zone. I embarked on ever more complex projects culminating with installing a hot tub in my backyard. I built the deck, poured a concrete sidewalk to it, as well as running the electricity and plumbing to it. A buddy of mine, however, did come over and run a new 220 electric line from one side of the house to the side with the hot tub. He knows no fear. The only way to shut off the electricity in that house was to remove the meter. He ran a new 220 line out of the circuit breaker box without shutting off the electricity. "Stand back," he commanded as he prepared to shove the new 220 cable into the circuit box. "And whatever happens, don't touch me."

I am still awed by that. I did buy him dinner. Willing to crispy critter yourself for the sake of my hot tub gets anyone a free dinner in my book.

Since buying my house in Greenville, my go-to solution to home-repair issues has been to try to make the fix myself. From a mid-winter issue with my air handler to a mid-summer problem with my air conditioning compressor to a spent heating element in my fridge, I got online, found repair suggestions, bought whatever parts were necessary and made the repair.

When faced with the expense of bringing in a pro or taking a calculated risk with a repair or improvement in the murky mist of my uncharted waters, I'll give it a try myself first.

My house was built in the early 1960s. The one thing about older homes is that every repair/improvement nearly always morphs into a WTF project. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems or as simple as it should be. I always figure an extra 25% into every repair budget because I know that, somewhere along the line, I'm going to be ambushed by either a previous do-it-yourselfer's half-assed screw up or by things that are just so old they must be replaced.

The main level of my house is basically a fireplace surrounded by open space comprising the kitchen, dinning area and living room. The whole thing isn't much more than 400 square feet. Overhead lighting consisted of a fluorescent fixture in the kitchen and three can lights recessed in the ceiling of the dinning and living areas. They were all on one switch. My bright idea was to separate them, putting the kitchen on its own switch and the three can lights on their own switch with a dimmer. Sounds rather simple, right? Yeah, not so much.

I hoped that maybe the wires for each came into the switch box, in which case I could just add second switch and break them up that way. No such luck. There was no way of knowing where these two sets of lights were connected. I thought maybe a junction box somewhere in the wall, but there were no guarantees.

My backup plan was to just replace that switch with a dimmer, disconnect the kitchen light at the light fixture, and run a new switch and wire to the kitchen light. The problem with that scenario is that my house has a crawlspace and most of the electric lines run under the house. How was I to get the electric from under the house up to the kitchen ceiling light? I was confounded, but not defeated. I stepped back and pondered the puzzle for a couple of days.

As I flicked on the light on my range hood one evening as I was cooking, er heating something up, I had my eureka moment. I remembered seeing the electric wire for the range hood running up through the cabinet above it and into the little attic that is over the kitchen area. I opened the cabinet door and sure enough, there was the wire running into the ceiling.

My house is a little tri-level affair with the top level sitting on the bottom level and both stuck on the back of the main level. Six steps go up from the main level to the top level and six steps go down from the main level to the bottom level.

The attic over the kitchen has an access door that is located about head high in the second upstairs bedroom. There is a mirror on the door that opens into the attic. I hadn't so much as peeked into the attic since I first looked at the house prior to buying it almost exactly five years ago. I just remembered that it wasn't usable space and hadn't bothered with it.

I sprinted upstairs with a flashlight and opened the access door. Peering around inside, I saw it there in the corner: a junction box. I now knew there was electric available to hook up the kitchen light. Now all I had to solve was the mystery of where to put the switch and how to get the wire to it.

I fell back into ponder mode for another day.

I hopped out of bed on Thursday morning with a formed idea of how to tackle the project and was determined to do so that day. After exchanging a couple of e-mails, drinking a cup of coffee and feeding the cat, I sprang into handy-man mode.

My idea was to bring the electric out of the junction in the attic down through the cupboard that is attached to the back of the fireplace. This is sort of a freestanding wall cupboard with a base cabinet and counter below it. It's a counter that only serves to collect mail, change and other odds and ends that I am too lazy to put where they belong. I've always wanted to put my microwave on that counter, but there is no electrical outlet anywhere close to it because of the fireplace. I decided to run the electric down the inside of this cupboard, locating the switch in a box mounted to the cupboard's under side. Additionally, I decided to also include a receptacle to overcome the no-electricity issue.

The first thing I did was run to Home Depot and buy some attic decking to put down over the joists.

There are mounds of blown insulation in there and I thought I'd just throw the decking over the joists, insulation and all. I carted the decking upstairs. I donned an outfit I considered appropriate for rolling around in fiberglass insulation: long pants, long-sleeved shirt, baseball cap, safety glasses, a respirator and surgeon's gloves. I looked like something straight out of Mad Max. I put a small step ladder in front of the attic opening, and climbed up and in. I immediately encountered my first minor setback: there was already flooring with the insulation having been blown in on top of it. Because the flooring was staggered lengths of 1x6s, I was able to locate the kitchen ceiling box with little effort.

I climbed out of the attic, dusted myself off, and carried the decking back down to the Honda CR-V I am driving this week. After turning off the breaker for the main level, I took down the kitchen fluorescent fixture. In doing so, I inadvertently solved the mystery of where the kitchen overhead and the three can lights were joined; they were joined in the fluorescent fixture -- not in the box, but in the light fixture itself.

Armed with a list of everything I would need to complete the project, I went back to Home Depot. I returned the decking and purchased the required materials. I bought a new kitchen light fixture in the process. I'm not a fan of fluorescent lights and decided to just go ahead and make the change.

By 11 a.m., I was back in the attic. I installed a new junction box between the floor joists and made a direct connection from the original light switch to the three can lights. I sprinted downstairs, flipped on the breaker, snapped the switch to "On" and was flabbergasted when the cans actually came to life.

Back outside -- my breaker box is on the outside of the house -- to switch off the breaker and then back into the attic. I spent the next two hours up there installing a bigger junction box where the old one was to accommodate the extra wires I brought into it. All of the existing connections had to be separated to change boxes and then reconnected with my new line. I used wire nuts the size of soup cans.

Calculating where I needed to drill to drop the wire for the new switch and receptacle was easy. I just found the chimney and drilled about five inches from it. I had to go down to the cupboard to drill that hole and the ones in the shelves and then out the bottom. The wall cabinets in the kitchen are built in and are all wood. This part of the job required nearly an hour. I then had to fish the hot line down into the cupboard and the switch line back up through the ceiling.

By now it was late afternoon, but I wasn't in the mood to quit. I wanted to get this job done.

After running the switch wire back to the kitchen light box, my attic time was about over. I had sweated about two gallons and was beginning to feel like I had been on a three-day bender.

I installed the new kitchen light fixture. Now all that was left was to hook up the new switch and receptacle. It was now close to 7:00. Wiring all of that took me another hour -- hey, I told you this was uncharted waters for me.

After making all of the connections, but before installing the switch and receptacle in the box, I snapped on the breaker to run a little test. I flipped the new switch and...nada. Damn thing didn't work.

It was getting dark and I was beat. I cleaned up most of the tools and mess, then hit the shower.

The next morning I wasn't looking forward to trouble shooting my work, but it had to be done. I plugged a table lamp into the new receptacle and it came on. Well, at least I knew I wouldn't have to go into the attic again. The problem was somewhere between the line coming into the switch and the light fixture.

I decided to check the new light fixture, and bingo, one of the connections had pulled loose inside it. I reconnected the wires and it worked.

It was $75 worth of materials and roughly 14 hours or so of labor, but well worth the investment.

Historically I average three Home Depot trips for every project.

This may also be the only home improvement project I've completed with only one trip. That in itself is a major accomplishment and perhaps worthy of a call to the Guinness world record people.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust. Well, Several More Actually.

The FBI released its most-dangerous-cities list. Some of the worst are right up the road from me. Yikes!

According to the Feebs, dangerous is determined by the highest violent-crime rate per 1,000 people in cities with 100,000 people or more.

Out of the top ten, two are in California, four are in the South (A fifth one is Baltimore and a sixth one is St. Louis, both of which could be considered in the South), and two are in Michigan.

Nearly within walking distance of me are Atlanta -- No.8 on the list -- with 88 murders last year and 12.1% unemployment; and No.7 Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham had 54 murders and deals with a 10.9% unemployment rate. Memphis and Little Rock -- No. 5 and 6 respectively also made the cut.

The at the No. 1 and 2 spots are Flint and Detroit, Michigan. Detroit had 344 murders last year amid 20% unemployment, while the winner and champion Flint -- with a population of just 102,000 -- had 52 murders and has a 19% unemployment rate.

(Any clue how long it took me to find an image of a bikini-clad gun toter?)

Frankly, I'm surprised Chicago isn't on the list. It racked up 10 murders on Memorial weekend alone with another 45 or so more shot and wounded. Of course, as a holiday weekend, it had an extra day; so that might explain it. Last weekend another 8 were sent off to their great reward.

Who mops up after all that mayhem?

Through the end of May, there have been nearly 200 murders in the city. When someone in Chicago yells, "Duck!" chances are they aren't talking about Daffy, and you best get your head down.

Amazing, the U.S. city with some of the strictest gun laws has one of the highest murder rates. How do you account for that? I have some thoughts, but what do I know?

What I do know is that up through 2010, Greenville wasn't a blip on the old murder radar. 2002 was a big year with a whopping 9 murders, but for the decade from 2000 to 2010 the average was roughly 5 murders per year. Chicago racks up more than that on a slow Saturday.

"What do ya mean you're out of fries!" Bang!

If I ever have someone I want to knock off, I'm not going to plot and plan how to do the deed; I'll just buy them a bus ticket to Chicago. Chances are, the fool won't even make it out of the Chicago bus terminal in one piece.

It's a plan.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

An Ode to Manual Transmissions

One of the cars in my driveway this week is a 2012 Honda Civic Si.

I like this little coupe. At $22,355 it's a bit on the pricey side, but a pure hoot to drive. Its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine punches out 201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. That's plenty of go for a car tipping the scales at svelte 2,900 pounds.

It's one of the few cars I've had of late with a manual transmission. I'm also currently driving a 2012 Subaru Impreza, but, like just about every car I drive any more, it has an automatic.

It got me thinking how few cars I get these days with a manual tranny. Damn few. In fact, manual transmissions should be on the endangered list along with CD players. They are evaporating from the landscape at a pace equal with public telephones.

I have friends -- a married couple -- who won't own a car if it doesn't have a manual transmission. I have no clue what they are going to do for a new car five years down the road. I suspect there will still be a BMW or two engineered with a manual, but they just won't be available in family cars.

I'm sufficiently old school that I'm not a big fan of driver-shiftable automatics. Even with steering wheel-mounted paddles, they just aren't as much fun as traditional manuals. I want a clutch! If I'm going to stir the tranny myself, I want the whole Magilla.

Having said that, having a full-blown manual where I live is an adventure in survival. Reaching the street in front of my house via my driveway is something akin to backing up Pikes Peak. In other words, it's a fairly steep climb.

Because of the copse of woods between my property and the house next door, I have to back up to the edge of the street and stop to get a read on the approaching traffic. Adding more drama to the exercise is that 200 feet up the road is the crest of a hill. Timing my backing up, stopping and pulling into the street depends on the volume of approaching traffic. By the time I engage the clutch and get the car moving backward, some yahoo comes airborne over the hill. Only my exceptional driving skills and lightning reflexes have averted total catastrophe. Or maybe it's just dumb luck.

Usually I avoid the excitement by backing into my front yard and pulling forward out onto the street. It doesn't do my lawn much good; but if you read this blog with any regularity, you probably already know that referring to it as a lawn borders on delusional. Homesteaders on Mars have more attractive landscaping.

Yep, manual transmissions are a mixed blessing for me. They are a blast to drive….once I've escaped the driveway.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Another Baby Step into the Present

Here I am, sitting in my recliner in my living room blogging.

I have made yet another small step into the present: I installed a wireless router in my house.

I've never really needed one; after all, it's just me here. My PC is hardwired into my modem. If I need to do something computer-wise, I just walk six steps down to my office and use my PC.

Three weeks ago I had out-of-town visitors here who had laptops and would have gotten online if they could. I realized at that point that I should consider bringing WiFi to my joint. Then I realized my buddy Jose was due here a few days later, and he'd want online.

But I have so few out-of-town visitors I was having trouble justifying the cash outlay a router would require. Why the heck spend $100 to $150 for something that I only would really need two weeks out of the year?

Groupon to the rescue.  I get promotional e-mails for them every day. Right at the time I was thinking about a router, Groupon had a Belkin for $29 plus $5 shipping. I already had a $10 off coupon from them. Total cost: $24!

I got online and researched the particular model in the offer and found it mostly between $129 and $150. I did find one place offering it for $78 plus shipping. $24 still seemed like a deal.

I pulled the trigger.

I installed it this afternoon and it works like a champ.

Now it's on to a smart phone!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hose in the House, Mac's Speed Shop, Aborted Pub Crawl, Bocca: It Was Just Another Weekend in Greenville

My life has returned to semi normal.

My buddy Jose took off mid afternoon on Sunday for his IBM class in Atlanta. I'm glad I wasn't facing that 2-hour drive. Actually, we took it pretty easy this weekend. Jose and I behaved ourselves…well, Jose behaved himself. Thanks to a virus of some variety the previous week, he was still a little woozy.

Friday was a killer night at Nose Dive and Soby's. Bob and Meg, my Florida/pseudo South Caroliina friends, joined us.

A few of the Peddler Wednesday Night Irregulars put in a cameo at Soby's. It wasn't a late night, but we concentrated a lot into it.

We had every intention of hitting some joints downtown on Saturday, but didn't get much further than lunch and a beer at Blue Ridge Brewery. We did walk to the other end of Main Street to a new place called Mac's Speed Shop. It's a biker/tap room/BBQ joint. I was less than impressed. It's only been open a couple of weeks, I guess. I just noticed it last week.

Evidently it's a small chain out of Charlotte. All we did there was have a beer. Here's the thing: They put this place right across Main Street from Liberty Tap Room -- a much bigger and nicer tap room. And the location is about three blocks from Smoke on the Water, the best BBQ in downtown Greenville. No clue what the owners were thinking, but I see a real struggle ahead of them. Not the finest looking wait staff I've ever seen either. It looks as though the Waffle House sends its turn-a-ways to Mac's. These guys didn't get anything right. If this joint succeeds, it will be in spite of itself.

Saturday night was dinner at my newest favoritest Italian restaurant in Greenville, Bocca. Food and wine were excellent. The owner came out and regaled us with a story or two. What a character! We stopped for an after-dinner glass of wine at Peddler.

Lunch Sunday before Jose shipped out was at Smoke on the Water. I had visions of going to Blue Ridge Brewery and sitting outside for a beer or two later in the afternoon, but bagged it for a quiet dinner at home. I was a bit weary.

The cat is still under my bed, traumatized by all of the strangers in the house over the past couple of weeks. I suspect she'll be out in a day or two.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Avengers in 3D: Hey, Guy in the Eighth Row, Could You Just Shut Up!

Because I've been trying to find things to do other than work, I went to see Avengers in 3D last week. There are only a few movies that I'm willing to pay the premium for to see in 3D, Avengers is one of those movies.

I mean, come on: Scarlett Johansson in 3D!

It was a matinee. Because it's been in the theaters for two or three weeks, I figured I'd have the theater nearly to myself as I usually do for a matinee. Boy, was I wrong. It wasn't a packed theater, but I had to share it with about 30 other people. I'm used to maybe 5 or 6.

It was a stark reminder as to why I go to weekday matinees rather than evening or weekend showings. Movie audiences are full of boorish jerks.

Some guy and either his girl friend or daughter (I didn't look closely enough to determine an approximate age for either one of them.), came strolling in as the movie was beginning. I don't think anyone should be admitted once the movie starts, but theaters and I don't see eye to eye on this issue.  These two were the sort of inconsiderate jerks you would expect to disrupt the beginning of a movie by coming in late.

This clown talked and laughed his way through the entire 2 hours plus. Yes, there were a few funny moments, but you would have thought this guy was at a Ron White concert. In fact, the last time I saw Ron White in concert, I didn't laugh as often or as uproariously as this jackass did during this movie. Not only did he laugh, but felt the need to comment on everything that happened.

His girlfriend/daughter was somewhat more subdued, but seemed to have a need to offer moral support to the giddy idiot next to her by also laughing at inappropriate times as well. She did keep her comments to herself, so I guess that was one plus.

About the only thing this guy didn't do was make or receive a cell phone call. Otherwise, he was the rudest jerk I've ever been in a movie theater with.

The movie itself was outstanding. Joss Whedon -- of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame -- cowrote and directed, so I expected it to be good. It was better than I hoped.

Lots of action, explosions, and special effects: Everything you want in a 3D flick.

Did I mention Scarlett Johansson in 3D?

Now I'm waiting for the new Batman movie, also in 3D.

I am convinced that 3D is the best way to watch an action movie. Besides, I look quite dashing in Roy Orbison horn rims.