Kristin

Kristin
My buddy Kristin, with whom I'll be shooting some BEER2WHISKEY videos, and me at the awads dinner for this year's Texas Truck Rodeo.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Change Is Good for You; At Least That's What I Keep Telling Myself

I'm not big on changes. I don't fear them; Im just not keen on them.

While nearly everyone I know has changed his or her e-mail address at least once -- some have changed it half a dozen times over the past decade -- I have the same AOL e-mail address I began e-mailing with nearly 20 years ago. With every passing week, I am more vested in that e-mail address; changing it seems like an almost insurmountable challenge.

I had to change my cell phone number that I had had for nearly a decade when I moved to South Carolina nearly six years ago, but I didn't have much choice.

I still maintain an account with my credit union in Fla. I have a relationship with it and don't want to just dump it. I may need it someday.

So it may surprise you almost as much as it surprised me when I switched my TV service from Charter Cable to AT&T U-verse this week.

I returned home from Utah last Friday night to discover that my AT&T DSL wasn't working. I spent about an hour on the phone with customer service getting it back up and running on Saturday, during which they sold me a bundle with an upgraded broadband Internet hookup and U-verse TV.

This wasn't really a snap decision on my part. AT&T has been soliciting me for U-verse for more than a year. They tore my yard all to hell four times about 18 months ago laying the fiber-optic cable that is the cardio-vascular network for U-verse. Once that job was completed, AT&T commenced the hounding to convert me to a TV customer. I'd looked at the available packages, studied the DVR and mulled over the small savings I would reap by bundling my Internet and TV.

I had done the homework on U-verse; I just hadn't pulled the trigger.

Charter was never my first choice, and I've never been totally happy with the service. Because of the trees that run along the south side of my property, satellite TV -- Dish and Direct -- wasn't an option. Had it been, we wouldn't be covering this ground here.

Charter was my only choice six years ago. My main complaints have been with the DVR; Charter has the worst DVR in the industry. I watch very little TV in real time. I like to record and then watch the recording, skipping over the commercials. When I travel, I have to record everything anyway. With the capacity to only store about 13 hours of HD programming, Charter's DVR wasn't up to the task of recording more than two or three days of shows.

Moreover, it could only receive two signals at a time. I could watch one channel while recording another, or record two channels while watching a movie on my DVD player or an already recorded show. There were times when I wanted to record a third show in the same time period, or watch a Sunday night Steelers game while recording two shows and couldn't.

AT&T's DVR, on the other hand, stores more than 80 hours of HD programming and can record as many as four shows in the same time period.

So, I was a pretty easy mark for the AT&T huckster I spoke with who seemed more interested in selling me on a bundle than she was in getting my DSL up and running.

I went for the bundle, and the installer showed up at my door on noon on Monday to get everything up and running. So far, I am happy.

I called Charter to cancel my service. After attempting to lure me back to Charter, the person on the phone told me that they couldn't send anyone out to disconnect me for two days. Seems to me they could simply flip a switch somewhere. They can certainly do that when a customer doesn't pay his bill.

Because I will be in Arizona with Kia at that time, I wasn't going to be around to hand over my DVR. Turning in Charter's equipment meant driving to its office in Greenville. As it turned out, it's located just off the route I take to my gym every day. Easy-peasy: well, in theory anyway.

I found Charter's office without too much difficulty. Customer service, however, is located in the same building as all other functions. Unmarked, the customer entrance is apparently a close-kept secret. Divining which among the several doors is for customers took a little time and a bit of detective work.

Once found, I made the mistake of graciously holding open the customer entrance for an older lady -- yes, older than I -- who was carrying a signal box that she was returning. She, of course, beat me to the counter. I still wasn't too concerned; how long could it possibly take to return a signal box?

The answer is about 30 minutes when the signal box serial number is assigned to a customer and address other than that of the customer returning it. Tick…tick…tick….

No kidding, it took longer to return my DVR at Charter than it took to replace my Fla. driver's license with one from SC at the Greenville DMV office. And, to accomplish that I had to take an eye test, have my photo taken and wait for the license to be made.

Once I got to the Charter clerk, making the return took about 2 minutes; it's the line waiting, though, that's the killer.

But it's all over now and I'm up and recording…and recording, and recording, and….

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Some High Desert Fun Piloting Range Rovers Around Utah




Even as a writer -- of sorts -- attempting to describe the stunning beauty that is America's Southwest is simply beyond my limited talents. I'm going to give it a go anyway.

During my days with the TV series "Discover America," I was lucky enough to honcho a number of shoots in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Covering the automotive beat and attending carmaker events for nearly 25 years added to the depth of my Southwest experience. Of course, that's in addition to visiting family in New Mexico, and friends in Arizona.

In other words: I've been there a lot.

Here's the thing, no matter how often one might get to that area, it's never enough. The beauty is nothing short of spectacular -- numbingly spectacular, in fact.



So I was very excited when Land Rover included me among its guests at the media launch of its redesigned Range Rover in Utah recently. Only the fourth generation Range Rover in the four decades since its U.S. introduction, its arrival is no small matter for Land Rover nor those who love off roading in high style.


This is my driving partner driving some of the off-road trail. Yes, his head really is that big! You should see it in person.
The price of admission isn't for the feint of heart. A vanilla, base version will set you back $83,500. During the highway portion of our six-hour drive, my driving partner and I were in a $99,950 Range Rover Supercharged.



When we attacked the off-road trails after lunch, we did it in a $130,950 Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography. No wonder the Land Rover off-road instructor assigned to us kept telling me to slow down as we bumped over terrain that would stroke out a mountain goat.



Land Rover somehow managed to scrub about 700 pounds from the mass of last year's model. Taking cues from the Jaguar XJ, this was achieved mostly through the liberal use of aluminum in the unibody skeleton and other areas. The cabin, though, is larger, incorporating nearly five inches of additional rear-seat legroom.



White knuckling his way through our afternoon's driving was Land Rover's head of platform, capability and refinement overview Mike Gallery. He managed to smile through most of the ordeal, which wasn't easy. PR staff for auto companies are trained to deal with the media fools who turnout for such events. Heads of production departments aren't. Mike received a baptism of fire, but adapted quite well.



I'm not exactly sure what "platform, capability and refinement" overviewing consists of, but the new Range Rover gets high marks for all three. How a vehicle can overcome the challenging terrain that is almost child's play for Range Rover and still deliver dizzying levels of ride comfort must involve magic, voodoo or some other form of black arts.

At the risk of wading too far into the details, I'll tell you two engines power the different trim levels. Both are hardy and surprisingly efficient. A 375-horsepower 5-liter V8, and a 510-horsepower 5-liter supercharged V8 are each bolted to an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Land Rover claims the naturally aspirated V8 takes the Range Rover from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds; while the supercharged engine accomplishes that sprint in 5.1 seconds. Holy cow!


The suspension is all-new and the full-time four-wheel-drive system is the next-generation Terrain Response 2. It still has manual settings for "general," "grass/gravel/snow," "mud/ruts," "sand" and "rock crawl." The big advancement is that there is also an automatic setting the lets the Range Rover's computer pick the appropriate setting based on ever-changing conditions.



Here I am taking my turn at the wheel. You'll notice that my head is normal size.
If you are a believer in "getting there is half the fun," then Range Rover is your kind of ride. What a performer.


We flew into Phoenix where Land Rover gathered us into a charter-plane facility for lunch before our one-hour charter flight to Page, Ariz. As good as the scenery looks on the ground, it's astonishing at 12,000 feet. Flying over parts of the Grand Canyon, we gained an appreciation of its sprawling size.



After landing in Page, we were whisked in Range Rovers to the Amangiri Resort just north of the border in Utah, and about a 20-minute drive from Page.



Yes, beauty is everywhere at Amangiri. This is what I gazed upon as I sat on the can in my room. No kidding; it's opposite the toilet.

I'd tell you that Amangiri is exclusive, but that doesn't do it justice. It features 34 suites; the least expensive of which will set you back $1,050 a night. Most cost less than $2,000 per night, but a couple run well over $3,000 a night. The good news is that the bottled water in your room is free.



Amangiri's front entrance: If the Apocalypse comes, I'm spending the grand to stay here. It can probably withstand a nuclear blast.

All I can tell you about the architecture is that it's what one might imagine Hitler's bunker would have looked like had it been constructed above ground. There is enough concrete in this place to build a two-lane highway from Philadelphia to Chicago.



Having said that, the beds are decadent in their comfort; the staff is friendly and professional; and the food is outrageously good.



I loved the open kitchen. If you decide not to enroll your kid in college, choosing instead to spend a night or two at Amangiri, try the wood-fire pizza.

Those of us who like bellying up to a bar at the end of a hard day of tennis, massages, and canyon hiking, are out of luck here. There is no bar nor lounge. But don't despair; they have a butler's pantry from which mixed drinks, wine and beer appear. The hotel staff calls it a service bar; but in an attempt to class up the joint, I'm calling it a butler's pantry.



The view from my room: Just another night in the desert.

No matter in which direction you turn or view you choose throughout the resort, the vistas are extraordinary.



What attracted the owner to this particular site for the hotel was the idea of placing the pool around an existing sandstone rock formation. It's the resort's signature feature.



Upon returning to the hotel after our day of driving, we were greeted by an open bar. Nothing cuts the trail dust like a cold micro brew. Several were among the bar's offerings. My favorite was "The Devastator" from the Wasatch Brewing Company. It was deep, rich and tasty.

I was pleased to see Don Julio Reposado among the liquor choices. We coaxed them into adding a couple of Utah-sourced spirits from the High West Distillery in Park City. I didn't try the Rye, but the White was unique and delicious.

It was the ideal finish to a great trip.

Utah, Arizona and Range Rover: It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Redesigned Subaru Forester: An Adventure in Driving and Tequila!




My second trip to Tucson in five months was a gift from Subaru. It's where those impresarios of all-wheel drive chose to introduce the latest generation Forester to the motoring press.

My telling you that I like it might be construed as breaking the driving-impression embargo that doesn't expire until the end of the week. So I will refrain from gushing over its utility and off-road prowess.



What I will tell you is that it's larger, more comfortable, more off-road worthy and loaded with more technology than the previous Forester. Although it is no larger than the typical mid-sized crossover, it has a ton of cargo room. Moreover, the cargo opening is absolutely huge to receive larger items. Subaru has enlarged the door openings to the passenger compartment as well. Chubby Aunt Belle won't have to squeeze herself into the back seat like trying to shove a watermelon through a knothole. She will enter the Forester with a couple of inches of clearance on each side of her ample frame.



Prices for the normally aspirated Forester will begin at less than $22,000. Opting for the more powerful turbo engine will goose the price by roughly six grand. Expect to see them in Subaru U.S. showrooms by mid March.

Subaru put us up at the Miraval Resort and Spa. It's a beautiful facility north of Tucson. So far north, actually, that Tucson is a mere reference point -- like you might say that New Zealand is near Australia. It's not, really, but it is in the same quadrant of the world. More than an hour from Tucson's airport, you won't stumble upon Miraval by accident. It's hard enough to find when you are looking for it. Some GPS navigation systems don't even recognize its address.

I'm almost certain we passed a few bleached cow bones and a tombstone with the name "Donner" on it as we motored from the airport to the resort.

The accent on the resort's name is "Spa." It apparently attracts mostly well-heeled women who show up with between one and thirty friends in tow, who want to get rubbed, scrubbed, waxed and buffed. I felt like I was on a set of the "L Word" TV series.

 From what I could tell, the resort's guest list this week was comprised primarily of Subaru's group and roughly 200 women. I did see a couple of men with blank stares wander out of the main dining room during breakfast the second morning. I suspect, though, it's like the stories I've read about Amazon tribes that once a year or so capture a few males with which to breed. These guys didn't look particularly happy; I can only guess why. They didn't utter a word or even cast a glance my way. Dead men walking.



Evidently Oprah hangs out at Miraval. That in itself is reason enough for any self-respecting possessor of a Y chromosome to steer clear. But I have to say the beds were outrageously comfortable and the staff more than friendly.

We were sort of thrown into the mix of the regular resort guests for breakfast. We could join the buffet or order one of the half-dozen items on the breakfast menu. The selection looked like politically correct substitutes for a high colonic, which I am almost positive is also on the spa menu. I can't begin to express the relief I experienced when the server returned from the kitchen to report that the chef indeed had the culinary acumen to fry a couple of eggs over easy. For some odd reason, bacon -- the chocolate of meats -- was on the buffet. Bacon and eggs: I felt positively decadent.



Our dinner entertainment at Rancho De Los Cerros.
Our first night, Subaru arranged dinner at Rancho de Los Cerros. It is a spectacular property serving as the residence of its owners David and Molly Hoffman. The ranch house and dinning/party facility was once a "Y" of either the "M" or "W" variety. The Hoffman's purchased and renovated it. At some point, a friend asked to host a party there and the rest, as they say, is history.



Hanging with Molly and David Hoffman.


The Hoffmans are warm, friendly hosts who are happy to share stories about the ranch's history. David invited us into his cigar room for some after-dinner drinks and a game of pool. It was a great night.



Try finding this road on your GPS.
I have spent some time in southern Arizona -- a result of my 10 years chasing video for the TV series "Discover America." I didn't realize, however, what spectacular roads wind across the area. The never-ending mountain vistas added to the experience. Roughly 50 miles of our 200 plus-mile route were over gravel and dirt roads. It was a blast hauling butt, slipping and sliding over these unpaved surfaces.



Lunch was at the Inde Motorsports Ranch. This is a member-only racing club close to Wilcox, AZ with a surprisingly fun track. We only got in a couple of laps, but it was grin inspiring. When Subaru launched the second-generation Forester, they did it at Talladega. I wasn't surprised when they included some track time for the latest version, too.



Left to right -- llegal Mezcal Anejo, Clase Azul Reposado, Asomborso La Rosa Reposado, Chinaco Anejo and El Tesoro Platinum.
Dinner that evening was in the hotel. The highlight was a tequila bar featuring four tequilas and a mezcal. All were unknown to me. The very knowledgeable pourer confided that he had nearly $1,000 worth of spirits lined up in front of us. Vive Subaru!

Spectacular scenery, a capable vehicle, inviting digs and mind-numbing tequila: What more could a boy want in a car event?


Not sure who these characters are, but they look suspiciously like the Subaru PR staff.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lance Armstrong: Dumber Than the French



Lance Armstrong: all American boy.

What a moron.

Did he really think he would get away with juicing and winning championships all those years? So he does it once and thinks, hey, I got away with it. I'm going to do it again. He does it again and thinks, hey, I'm gonna do it again. And then again.  Apparently seven times.

Meanwhile the French are running around in circles like fools with their hair on fire pointing at him and yelling, "Oh non, ze dirty Amereecan iz doping!"

Of course, no one paid much attention to the French. I mean, why would they?
 I just figured it was the French being the French, but evidently they must have known their guys were doping and Armstrong was beating them; ergo, he must be doping! They were on to something.

The last time he and his lawyers met with the French, the talks ended unexpectedly when the French abruptly surrendered.

But did Armstrong really think that the French wouldn't eventually root him out -- no matter how incompetent they are?

Somewhere in the middle of all of that, he treed Sheryl Crow, lost one of the twins and divorced Crow -- not in that order.

So now young Lance has admitted to what many suspected for years. At least it's not like he was in a sport anyone cared about or paid much attention to. It's not like a big-time major-league baseball homerun hitter was caught doping.

Oh, wait….

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wasting Away in Greenville: A Movie Saturday night



It's not that I don't have some work requiring my attention and effort; I do. But it's difficult motivating myself to productivity when my outstanding invoices aren't being paid.

Here's a reality of freelancing: Nobody pays in January. Even my clients, who pay like clockwork, can't seem to pull themselves together after the holidays to pay in January. I don't know whether it's some sort of collective hangover or what, but paying what they owe freelancers in January is just beyond them. A freelance writer stands a better chance of being struck by lightening than getting paid in January.

I learned this several years ago and, like a squirrel hiding nuts for the winter, I keep a January slush fund to pay bills until February arrives and clients begin paying again.

Consequently, although Saturday is often a writing day for me, I pretty much just goofed off on the most recent Saturday.

Saturday nights being "Italian night" at hacienda de Heaps, I typically rent a couple of Red Box movies and hunker down for some homemade spaghetti, red wine and a flick or two.

I make sauce every four or five weeks and freeze enough to get me through the weeks I don't make it. This past Saturday, was a sauce-making day. I usually don't stray far from my crockpot on sauce-making days. It slow cooks, resolving itself for six or seven hours. I want to be close by the final three or four hours so I can stir it every 30 min or so.

A combination of my unmotivated attitude and desire to stir the sauce held me firmly in my recliner watching movies all Saturday afternoon and night.

One of the movies I downloaded from Netflix was "Dead Awake." It was an acceptable time killer. It is a contrived plot that relies on a gimmick or two to get the audience from point A to point B, but it was entertaining enough. Plus, it was basically free.



 
What attracted me to it was Amy Smart as one of the stars. Yes, I have a little crush on her. Had her character been played by Rosie O'Donnell, it would have been nearly unwatchable.

From Red Box I rented "Trouble with the Curve." A Clint Eastwood vehicle, it was in and out of theaters in record time. I didn't realize he didn't direct it. He produced it and was the lead, but he passed directing duties off to one of his production company's troops.

I didn't expect any action or car chases and I wasn't disappointed. It's a warm-fuzzy feel-good film about an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves who, because of some eye-sight issues, is joined by his baseball-enthusiast daughter in scouting his last big recruit.


His daughter is played by Amy Adams. (This blog seems to have an "Amy" theme -- at least so far.) I'm not as big a fan of Amy Adams as I am Amy Smart, but I have a warm spot in my heart for Adams because she had a guest spot on an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."


She played Tara's cousin in the episode in which Tara's family arrived in Sunnydale to bring Tara home. It's among my top-ten favorite Buffy episodes.

Justin Timberlake also has a role. This was only the second time I'd seen Timberlake in a movie. In the first, his role was semi-action. He didn't pull that off-- not even close. His character in this film was as a washed-up pitcher who was on his first scouting assignment. Of course, he ended up with our heroine. He was much more believable.


Another reason I'm not fond of Timberlake is that he married Jessica Biel. That upsets me…a lot. But speaking of Jessica Biel, the other Red Box movie I rented was "Total Recall." I saw it in 3D at the theater a few months ago and blogged about it then. I won't bore you with my thoughts on it again. But I liked it and that's why I rented it to watch a second time.


Well that and Jessica Biel and, umm, Kate Beckinsale.

An action movie with two of my favorite female stars: now that's entertainment. A movie marathon with those two, Amy Adams and Amy Smart was well worth the lost day.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Thorotread: More Bang for Your Workout Buck



This is going to sort of be one big ad, but I feel compelled to share my experience on my newest, most favorite piece of cardio equipment.

I'm hardly a physical-fitness freak -- a freak perhaps, but physical fitness has little to do with it -- but not only have I been a member of a gym for more than 25 years, I've actually been pretty religious about going.

In the beginning, I was interested in losing weight and improving my cardio health. I eventually decided that if I was going to workout nearly every day, I should do some strength training, too.

But my focus has always been on cardio. I used to do about 60 minutes a day; but as the years have eased by, that timeframe has steadily shrunk to about 40 minutes.

Because I find that I'm growing lazier as I get older, I want to get the most out of the time I do spend in the gym. That's where the Thorotread comes in.

Until about eight weeks ago, the machine that I thought gave me my most bang for my workout buck was the Stepmill. It's that thing that operates like an escalator in reverse. The steps travel down as the poor fool -- in this case: me -- climbs up. I nearly ran into the parking lot and did the happy-boy dance when the Anytime Fitness I belong to brought one in about two years ago.

But my workout life changed dramatically two months ago when a Thorotread found its way into the lineup of cardio machines. There is nothing glamorous about it. In fact, I avoided it for about 10 days because it looked like nothing more than another treadmill. It wasn't until a Thorotread rep showed up one day and convinced me to give it a try. He walked me through a few moves on it; I was hooked.


It combines the properties of a typical treadmill with a sliding handlebar that features adjustable amounts of resistance. You can push or pull against the resistance.

Here's the thing: I burn about twice the calories on the Thorotread in the same amount of time on the Stepmill. A 40-minute session on the Stepmill at the level I work at burns roughly 350 to 400 calories. The same workout on the Thorotread burns 750 to 800 calories!

Let's see…carry the one …yep, that's about twice as many calories.

I'm still getting over a bout with bronchitis and have been limiting my workouts. Today was my first day doing something close to my usual routine. Even not working full out, I still managed to burn 750 calories in 40 minutes.

I love that machine. If they have one at your gym and you haven't given it a shot, dally no longer.

It may not be the greatest invention since the cotton gin, but it's damn close.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

All-New Dodge Dart: A Far Cry From My '69 Coronet

When I was a kid, you might get a punch in the nose if you made a disparaging remark about a Ford or a Chevy.

Boys were fiercely loyal to either Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, and to either Fords or Chevys. There were a few Mopar loyalists out there as well; but, for the most part, they either kept their heads down or were in such small numbers that they barely registered on the playground radar.

My family was firmly in the GM/Chevy camp. After returning from the Pacific in 1945, the only car my dad could find to purchase in Erie, Pa. was a 1939 Ford. Twenty years later he still couldn't find a positive thing to say about it. In fact, he became so frustrated with it that he drove it off the road and into a tree. He removed the plate and walked away from it. Yes, he had some impulse-control issues.

Indeed, we were a GM family. I can't think of anyone on either side of my family who owned a Chrysler product until the 1970s when my sister and her husband bought a Dodge of some stripe. I don't even remember what it was -- a Plymouth Fury, maybe. That was the only Chrysler I can remember in my family history until 1985.



That was the year I paid $1,200 on a tote-your-note lot for a 1969 Dodge Coronet. "Big Green" I called it. It was a monster of a car. I used it to move myself from New Mexico to Florida. Nearly every personal belonging I had made that journey with me. A clothes rod containing all my clothes stretched across the back seat. The trunk was crammed full of luggage and boxes.

I drove to Florida via Louisville where I spent New Year's Eve. Somewhere around Lexington, the right wheel bearing exploded. I drove it that way to Orlando. Although sloppy, the steering continued responding to my input. Somehow I made it to my buddy's house in Casselberry, Fla. without killing myself or anyone else. When we pulled the wheel a couple of days later, what was left of the bearing was fused to the axle.

A few weeks later, the bearing issue resolved, I drove Big Green to Boca Raton. It was the car I used for my first year there. I'm sure the rich, snobby locals were aghast that such an ugly, old heap was cruising the pristine streets of Boca. It may have been the best $1,200 I ever spent.

I tell you all of this to set the stage for my thoughts on the all-new Dodge Dart.


 
Having attended the national media launch of the new Dart several months ago, I've included it in several of the top-seven stories I've written for different clients over the past six months. I liked the car a lot when I drove it originally. I am now a few days into a week-long test of a Dart Limited; I still like it a lot.
Sadly, I have yet to drive a turbocharged version. I can only imagine what a hoot it must be to pilot -- particularly with the six-speed manual transmission.

So far all my Dart experience has been with the 2-liter four-cylinder engine. It releases the same 160 ponies as the turbocharged 1.4-liter turbo, but only generates 148 pound-feet of torque compared to the turbo's 184 pound-feet of torque. Torque is the power that gets the wheels turning and it means everything in terms of quick starts.


I've driven both the six-speed manual and the driver-shiftable, six-speed automatic. The manual snicks through the gears nicely. The automatic is smooth and efficient. I'm less than overwhelmed with the 2-liter's acceleration, but can live with it for the 27 combined mpg that the automatic-equipped Darts boast.

Exhibiting a decidedly sporty feel, Dart draws its driving dynamics from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta on which its architecture is based. It's tight and responsive.


 
My $24,965 (with several options) Limited is loaded up with features like leather seating, navigation unit, keyless go and Chrysler's Uconnect. It's comfortable and user friendly.

Chrysler is looking for big things from the all-new Dart; I suspect they won't be disappointed.

It's certainly a far cry from Big Green. Thank, God.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Boca Raton News: It Launched Me on a New Career Path


Although there are a plethora of reasons for me to think well of my days toiling in the fields of the Boca Raton News, near the top of the list is that every other newspaper in the country would have taken itself too seriously to ever put me in charge of its freshly minted automotive section.

This isn't a self-deprecating statement rising from some sort of false humility. Honestly, I had no business editing this section. Not a single word of mine had ever been published. I had no journalism or editing background. I didn't know a compound modifier from a compound fracture.

I was a retail-ad rep for the love of God -- and not a particularly effective one at that.

Yet, when the idea for a stand-alone auto section that had been kicking around the paper for a couple of years finally found its legs, I got the nod to run it.

This was around 1986 or '87.

Here's the condensed version of the story: Boca Raton, Fla. at the time was a fairly sleepy little resort town that only really sprang to life from Thanksgiving until Easter, when the East-coast snowbirds and Canadians descended upon it by the thousands. It was the time of year we hated to love. It's what kept the local economy chugging throughout the year, but was absolutely miserable for the locals. Two-hour waits to get into restaurants, streets over-crowded with out-of-state cars and thousands of people milling around with no place to go.

I remember a popular t-shirt read: "Yes, I live here and no, I don't give directions."

At the time, Boca worked hard to maintain it's small-town appeal. Zoning restricted commercial buildings to just three stories, and car dealerships of any stripe were forbidden.

Behind real estate, automotive advertising was the life blood of newspapers of the era. For a paper to survive in a city without car dealerships was a challenge.

My sales territory included sections of Broward County -- Deerfield Beach and northern Fort Lauderdale -- that contained as many as 30 new-car dealerships. So I was on the front line of attempting to attract retail display ads from these dealers.

The year before we launched the auto section -- MPH for Motorcars, Profiles and Highlights -- I think the total retail display ad revenue from auto dealers was in the neighborhood of $2,000. Even in 1987, this was a joke.

By its second full year, MPH was adding $1.4 million to the paper's bottom line. I was flying high.

My years running MPH were also the years in which I felt most connected to the readers and certainly to the auto industry. In the beginning, we were one of a handful of papers with a stand-alone car section. And it was a paper that served a very wealthy readership. I had a high profile among auto journalists and managed one-on-one interviews with the top dogs of the industry. I had no clue what I was doing.

It was a crazy time and I loved it.

In the early days, there were so few auto journalists in South Florida that the car companies didn't have press fleets available south of Atlanta. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a press test car. I would wait until someone at the paper bought a new car. I'd borrow it at lunch, drive it for a few miles, snap a few photos of it and write it up.

One day in 1988, I received a call from the general manager of the new Lexus dealership in Coral Springs. The dealership was still under construction, but he had 30 or 40 new Lexus LS and ES sedans in a warehouse in Deerfield Beach. He asked if I would like to drive an LS for a week.

Hell, yes!

A co-worker drove me down to the warehouse and I picked up the Lexus. These cars weren't on the street yet, and here I was piloting around in one. It was the first time that happened to me. Talk about showing off. It takes a lot to grab the attention of curbside gawkers in South Florida where Lamborghini's and Ferraris crowd every intersection. I snapped around a few necks that week.

I drove it to the Jaguar-Land Rover dealership in West Palm Beach. I was friends with the owners. I let them drive it around the block. They returned with eyes the size of saucers. It was a blast.

Of course, the LS 400 was the cover story that week. It led to a friendship with Jim Moran, the owner of Southeast Toyota that was Toyota's distributor in the southern U.S. He didn't distribute Lexus, but he owned the Lexus dealership that provided the LS.

One thing led to another and he invited me and 100 of my friends out on his yacht, The Gallant Lady for a Christmas cruise. Most of the "friends" I invited were from the newspaper. It was a spectacular night of partying.

Yeah, I get warm fuzzies when I think about the Boca News. It was a terrific experience.