Keys Disease

Keys Disease
Battling Keys Disease at the Futura Yacht Club in Islamorada, Fla. three years ago.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Lot of the Redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee Punctuated with Some Austin Fun




I was in Austin a week or so ago for the third time in six months. I like Austin; I like it a lot. Its tee-shirts read: Keep Austin Weird; and it is. Weird enough, in fact, that I couldn't live there but, man, I love to visit.

My reason for being there this time was to drive the redesigned 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It made the jaunt to Austin all the better.



The big news for the next-generation Grand Cherokee is its available 3-liter EcoDiesel that delivers 240 horsepower, 30 mpg and an estimated 730 miles driving range. There are also a V6 and a V8 for those looking for more conventional propulsion. No matter the engine, an all-new driver-shiftable eight-speed automatic transmission ushers the ponies to the wheels.

Jeep also offers three different 4x4 systems, depending on the type of driving a buyer expects to do. The two more-rugged systems also include Selec-Terrain, allowing the driver to dial in the type of terrain he encounters: sand, mud, snow and so forth. There is also an auto setting which lets the system's computer determine the appropriate setting.

Jeep is claiming 60 advanced safety or security features.

Jeep put us up in the Four Seasons in downtown Austin. The last time I stayed there it was with Jaguar. On that trip you couldn't swing a dead cat over your head in the lobby bar without hitting a celebrity of some degree. Michael Madsen, Keanu Reeves and Bruce Willis were each holding court at separate tables in the small area. Luke Wilson was also strolling the halls. No such thing this time, but, heck, it was still the Four Seasons.




B.D. Riley's is one of my favorite afternoon watering holes on 6th Street.
 

The hotel is just three or four blocks off of the legendary 6th Street. Live music is Austin's hook and even on Sunday, my first night there, 6th was jumping.



Winker and I at Don's Depot on my previous trip to Austin.

That night I hooked up with my buddy Winker. Winker is the unofficial mayor of the Austin music scene. He spends most of his nights hitting several venues where he takes photos of the bands.



Saxon Pub extension at the airport where Winker's photos hang inside and out.

His work hangs in several honky tonks around town, as well as the Saxon Pub extension at Austin's airport. I know Winker from his days living in Florida where he was the unofficial mayor of Delray Beach. Walking two blocks of Atlantic Avenue with him might take 20 to 30 minutes because everyone on the street wanted to stop him and talk. Trying to walk through a crowded bar with him in Austin is a very similar experience.



Making music at the Rattle Inn.

Winker drove by and picked me up at the Four Seasons after the Jeep dinner in the hotel. We hit the Saxon Pub, Rattle Inn and finally The Continental. Certainly The Continental was the highlight. Providing the entertainment was a pickup band composed of musicians from other bands. Among them was Dallas Wayne.



The Big D on stage.

Dallas is the morning drive-time DJ on Sirius/XM's Outlaw Country on channel 60. OC is among the stations I listen to when I have a vehicle with satellite radio. Although he's no super celeb, I enjoy his morning gab, and was eager to see him perform. Of course, with Winker, you don't just watch the bands; you talk to them as well. So during a break, I met Dallas after which he and I spoke for about 20 minutes. What a fun and interesting guy.

It was a late night. I don't think I made it back to my room until roughly 1:30 a.m. My driving partner took pity on me the next morning and drove the first leg of the ride and drive. Being a South Texas boy, he didn't require my lackluster navigational skills, and I was able to do a little dozing as he piloted us through the Texas hill country. I assumed the reins at the driver switch about mid morning, well rested and ready to go.



Despite being a capable off roader, the Grand Cherokee is remarkably civilized on the pavement. Its cabin is nicely appointed and a wonderful place to spend a few hours, or even crank pack the passenger seat and snooze. We drove the V8 the entire day. Jeep didn't bring enough of the diesels to give everybody a crack at driving them. You'll have to wait until I get one for a week in the regular fleet rotation to get my take on the diesel.



We lunched at the Inks Ranch in Llano, TX where Jeep had constructed a dining room tent, an observation platform atop a boulder outcropping, and mapped out an off-road course. Among the obstacles we tackled on the off-road portion was the steepest hill I've ever encountered on a drive route. It must have been close to a 40-degree grade. The Grand Cherokee climbed it like a mountain goat.



After dinner that night, a half-dozen journalists and a few Jeep-PR types headed back out to 6th Street. We literally followed the music to a joint called Friends. We parked ourselves at the bar just off the stage occupied by the Eric Tessmer Band. It was an impressive show of talent. There wasn't much singing, but the music was spectacular.



This shot wasn't staged. Yes, that is a Dodge Challenger that just happened to be parked in front of the joint.

Only the drummer stayed in place, Tessmer and the bass player both wandered around the bar, outside the bar and behind the bar as they played. This turned out to be a much earlier night the one before by about three hours. That was fine with me; hell, I'm old.



Filed under "When in Rome...," when I was drinking beer -- my adult beverage of choice on this trip -- I drank Shiner Bock.

I was sort of excited when I checked my flights about a week before this trip. My flight didn't leave until about 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. I'm usually on the first flight out of wherever I am on car-launch events. Because of the amount of work I had to try to sandwich in between trips the four weeks before this outing, I had been getting up at 6 a.m. most mornings. I was excited by the prospects of sleeping in. No such luck.



The reason for my afternoon flight was that Jeep had scheduled a track day, er, morning for us before we all boarded planes. To the track and on the track, we drove the Grand Cherokee SRT. This is the Hemi-equipped version. It has a top speed of 160 mph and can hit 60 mph from a standing stop in 4.8 seconds. Yikes! It has a launch control button to enhance those standing-stop starts.



Jeep took over the Circuit of the Americas -- the brand-new race track just outside of Austin. I'm not a big fan of driving on race tracks. I much prefer off roading. But, I couldn't let this opportunity to add a new venue to the list of tracks I've driven. This is a tricky layout with a combination of left and right turns. It was a blast. I managed to hit 130 mph on the long straightaway. Impressive, but even more so when you consider this is an SUV with a 7,200 lb. towing capacity.

All things considered, it was another terrific Austin trip.

Friday, February 22, 2013

National Margarita Day: It Makes Me a Little Misty

 
It may not resonate with the masses, but today is a very special day for me. No, it's not up there with Christmas, Thanksgiving or even the 4th of July; but it is certainly elevated above third-tier holidays, such as Valentine's Day and Secretary's Day. It's a second-tier special occasion to be celebrated alongside Columbus Day, Presidents Day and St. Paddy's Day.



Yes, Friday February 22, is National Margarita Day!

I prefer it to the slate of those damnable Monday post-office holidays because after consuming the obligatory pitcher of tequila, triple sec, Grand Marnier and lime juice, I can stagger out to my mailbox with at least some expectation of finding mail in it; perhaps it will even contain a long-anticipated check. Then I can stumble down to my office, get online and make an e-deposit into my credit union and have the deposited amount immediately register in my account. I can then click on an online retailer and buy something I will regret when I wake up the next afternoon.

It's what made America great!

But you can't do any of that on a post-office holiday Monday.

My message to you is to not let this special day go uncelebrated. Grab the arm of a loved one, coworker or total stranger, belly up to the bar in your local Mexican eatery, and order a top-shelf margarita. Hum the Mexican national anthem as you toss it back.



If you'd rather celebrate in the seclusion of your home, here's the recipe for Senor Rusty's Double-Fisted Margarita:

  • one part Cabo Wabo Silver tequila (Always remember: Friends don't let friends drink Cuervo.)
  • 1/2 part triple sec
  • 1/2 part Grand Marnier
  • one and 1/2 part lime juice with a little sugar added (slackers may substitute sweet-and-sour mix)
  • one egg white (optional, but it does make a difference)

Toss it all into a blender and mix for about two seconds. Pour the magic elixir into a highball glass half filled with ice and garnish with a wedge of lime. Purists will want to salt the rim of the glass first. Because my body is a temple, I skip the salt.

Live a little, and stay thirsty, my friend.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Driving the Redesigned RAV4: Where There's Smoke, There's Fire




I read where an auto journalist compared being on the new-car-launch circuit as being in the TV series "The Amazing Race" only without any women. That's about as accurate a description as I've heard. There are a few women; however, the majority of them work for the car companies.

It's a whirlwind schedule that has us on and off planes in different locations on nearly a weekly basis. For A-list media -- this doesn't include me -- these locations are international in scope. The rest of us ping-pong back and forth across North America. Copious amounts of food punctuated by night-time sessions in a bar somewhere also figure prominently in this craziness.

I am wrapping up my third trip to Arizona in five weeks. A trip to Utah and another to Chicago were also part of that five-week mix.



This particular trip was to sample Toyota's fourth generation RAV4. Completely redesigned, it is very different from the previous model inside and out. Available in three trim levels -- LE, XLE and Limited -- it has an all-new six-speed automatic transmission with Eco and Sport modes, as well as Dynamic Torque Control for its all-wheel drive.

Gone is the optional V6. Every 2013 RAV4 will use a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder for its giddy-up. At 8.9 seconds, it is more than a second quicker sprinting from 0-to-60 than the last four-cylinder RAV4.

Although its wheelbase is the same as the previous generation, its overall length is shorter because the spare tire has been moved from the outside of the tailgate to a compartment under the cargo floor. So now the tailgate is a liftgate.



The two-tone interior treatment further enhances the sharp styling. Eight airbags are standard, as is the 6.1-inch touchscreen audio display.

This crossover is fun to drive and pleasingly quiet. Prices begin at $23,300 for the RAV4 LE FWD. This includes a two-year maintenance plan with roadside assistance.

Toyota established three driving loops of varying lengths; none of which challenged the RAV4 in any way. But it was quiet, comfortable and competent.



Toyota put us up at The Boulders just north of Scottsdale. This was my second stay at this resort that requires a pack mule and a guide to navigate. My first was 20 years ago when Ford used The Boulders to host the launch of the 1991 Mercury Capri and something else that I can't even remember.

Any how, Toyota bunked us at The Boulders. It has quite the little fleet of golf carts to transport guests from one area of the resort to another. Good thing, too; I could swear I saw some bleached bones by the tennis courts.



Arranged in pods of six or eight rooms, some rooms were downstairs and others up. Mine was an upstairs unit.



It was spacious and nicely appointed. In one corner facing two leather easy chairs was a real wood-burning fireplace. Everything was provided to get a roaring inferno going. One of Toyota's PR people told me at check-in that he had encountered some problems trying to get his fire going. It wasn't exactly a challenge, but I decided that upon returning to my room after dinner, I'd give it a go.

It was about 11:30 p.m. when a golf cart finally dropped me at the bottom of the steps to my room. After locking my door, I began to undress when the fireplace caught my eye. I immediately walked over, opened the fireplace screen, pushed open the flue, placed a few fire-starting cubes on the grate and added a couple pieces of wood. The resort had thoughtfully also provided a gizmo for lighting this mess.

I got the little cubes going and they eventually got the wood burning as well. Well, who's the fire-building king of this group? I thought to myself.



Perhaps as few as 90 seconds later, the smoke alarm was blaring like the klaxon of a submerging submarine. Not only was my alarm going off, but so were the alarms in every room in my pod.

Glancing down, I realized I was half undressed. There I was naked from the waist down in a room filling with smoke and my life flashing before my eyes.

Running to the closet I grabbed a hotel robe and got it on just as the frantic knocking on my door began. I opened it to find a hotel bellmen/fire fighter ready to save me and my belongings.

Quickly sizing things up, he realized there was no real danger beyond burning, watering eyes. Now more knocking at the door. Another bellman, somewhat more excited than the first, charged into the room. "I got the message someone saw actual flames," he choked out before the smoke got the better of him.

I pointed to the fireplace. "That's about it," I hollered over the incessant bleating of the fire alarm.

"The flue is closed!" he screamed back as he rushed over and opened it.

I guess I should have allowed the bellmen who brought me to my room explain everything as he offered. I had work to do and just wanted to get on with it. I declined the tutorial on how to work the shower and operate the fireplace. Oops.

As one bellman left the room to turn off the alarms sounding throughout the rest of the pod, the other raced around throwing open the doors and engaging the ceiling fan.

After offering me another room -- what, after I just got the fire going in this one? -- they started to leave.

"Wait," I yelled "Can't you turn off the alarm in this room?"

"Nope, can't do it," he yelled back shaking his head. "It has to stop by itself once the smoke clears out of the room."

Great, it's about 35-degrees outside -- and not much warmer inside my room -- and I can't close the doors because the smoke has to clear. Meanwhile, the alarm continued to sound.

Maybe another 15 minutes passed before the alarm finally stopped. I shut the doors, turned off the ceiling fan and threw another log on the fire.

Why, I'm the fire-building king, I thought.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Another Adventure In Flying: Creative Flight Delays

I am convinced Delta employs an entire battalion of people who do nothing but lie awake at night dreaming up new and original ways to delay flights. My favorite was the nearly two-hour delay I had out of Greenville one morning because they had swapped equipment in Atlanta, and GSP didn't have the correct nozzle to refuel the replacement plane.

It's the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport -- named after the International House of Pancakes.

That set off a chain reaction of chuckleheaded goof ups. Before it was all over, a dozen passengers had walked off the plane.

I just had my second-favorite dumb-ass delay coming back from the Chicago Auto Show last week. It was a packed-to-the-gills-full flight -- but then what Delta flights aren't any more?

One of the flight attendants had gone above and beyond the call helping passengers stow carry-on bags. She packed the overheads like she had a numbered map showing where everything went. With everyone seated, the plane was ready for an on-time takeoff.

Ten minutes later the door was still open as was the door to the cockpit. Finally the pilot came on the PA system, announcing to the plane that there was a problem. Why whatever could it be?

A flat tire. A FLAT TIRE!

What, you are just noticing it now? The plane had been sitting there for an hour surrounded by baggage handlers and ground crew -- Hell, even the copilot had gone out and walked around the plane. Doesn't anyone ever bother to look down?

By the time the pilot made the announcement, help was supposedly on the way. In the meantime, the pilot ordered everyone off the plane with their carry-on bags. Yep, all that flight attendant's hard work went for not.

Here's the good news -- yes, hand me lemons and I'll squeeze them. A number of passengers were going to miss their connections in Atlanta; so they changed their arrangements out of Chicago. Why was this good news for me? Enough of them were in first class that I was upgraded.

It's only a 90-min flight from Chicago to Atlanta, but I'll take whatever I can get.

But a flat tire? Give me an effin' break.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ah, Chicago in the Winter: Media Days at Its 2013 Auto Show




I am writing this from my hotel in Chicago. Nissan flew me in and put me up for two nights to attend media days for the auto show where it showed off Nismo editions of its Juke and 370Z.



I don't see Juke Nismos flying out the showroom door in large numbers, but the Nismo 370Z is another story. It's hot and the Z buyer is much more likely to plunk down the extra bucks to soup up his Z than is the Juke buyer. That's my opinion, at least.



Whether or not Nissan had anything to show us, it still would have flown in the scores of media types it did because it has a contract with the auto show to do just that: fly in scores of media types for the show.

I spent roughly 8 or 9 hours at the show yesterday, wandering around, attending press conferences, shooting photos and generally goofing off.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that I am not a big fan of auto shows. I know to some, attending these things sounds somewhat glamorous, but, believe me, it isn't.

I hung out in my room this morning working until check out. Although the travel folks wouldn't allow us to fly out before mid afternoon, there isn't much going on at the show today. Today is actually devoted to "social media."

Social media is all the rage among auto manufacturers these days. They have themselves convinced that someone tweeting or posting to Facebook that they like a car, and then their followers clicking on "Like," somehow sells cars for them.

Good luck with that. It's a circle jerk of epic proportion.

So while traditional media continues to do the heavy lifting in moving iron for the carmakers, it’s the tweeters and bloggers that are getting the bulk of the love.

I know; this is a blog. I lead a conflicted life.

Nowhere will you hear more about social media than at the Chicago auto show. My guess is that the folks honchoing the show believe that inviting a bunch of local tweeters to its media days will influence thousands more young people to attend the show. I am skeptical. But it's their show and their media days to put to whatever use they want. What do I know?

Enough of my social-media rant.



Probably the most important vehicle introduced at this show -- measured in its importance to its brand -- is the redesigned Toyota Tundra followed by Kia's redesigned Forte Five-door. I just drove the redesigned Forte sedan in Arizona and was thoroughly impressed. I predict the five door is even more fun to drive.

The 2014 Tundra was designed, engineered and is being built in the U.S.A. It will have five different trim levels each with its own unique grille. Standard on every model will be eight airbags, a backup camera and Bluetooth connectivity. Three available engines will power Tundra, including a 5.7-liter V8, that when properly equipped, can tow up to 10,000 pounds. It goes on sale in September.



Going on sale in the fall, the 2014 Kia Forte Hatchback will come with a 2-liter four-cylinder engine and feature keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity and a backup camera.

As I was leaving the show yesterday, the snow began to fall. In Chicago terms, it was flurries; but it was fairly impressive to a Southern lad.



Mazda hosted dinner last night at a Chicago landmark called Gino's East. It's a pizza joint of the highest caliber. You can spend as much as $32 on a large, deep-dish pizza. A few stouts and a couple of deep-dish slices later, I could have easily fallen asleep in my chair. But, alas, I had to soldier on.



Several carmakers got together and sponsored the show's after party at a Blues joint called Buddy Guy's. Although we weren't entertained by Buddy himself, the music was good. Servers worked the room with trays of sliders and other fare; while the two bars did a brisk business.

I wasn't prepared to navigate the icy sidewalks going and coming between the shuttles and assorted venues. My only shoes were of the leather-soled dress variety. I nearly bought it a couple of times. My balance didn't improve with the stouts.



Thank God we had shuttles everywhere we needed to go.

Some sort of junior Olympics or some such thing was going on in Chicago this weekend. The Sheraton where I stayed was lousy with sub-12-year olds and their parents. As I sat in the lobby patiently waiting for the editor of my financial dot-com client that's headquartered in Chicago, I was surrounded by no less than six little girls all jazzed up about whatever is going on today. God help me!

For lunch, we walked a couple of blocks from the hotel to an Irish joint called Timothy O'Toole's. My French Dip was decent. I also wolfed down a cup of Twice-Baked Potato Soup, engineered to clog my arteries and warm me up. Oh, and a Half and Half was required to wash it all down. Then it was back to the show to catch a shuttle for the airport.



You have to love a joint that has this as its logo!


Today I fly home. I'm ready.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Buying Online: It's Been a Challenge This Week

This isn't my week for buying stuff online.

Since last Thursday I've been attempting to buy a camera online and have been foiled at every turn. It is vexing; I am vexed.

My initial attempt was on eBay. What a Chinese fired drill that turned into. More about that next week. It is an ongoing saga that isn't close to being over. I'll fill you in when I have brought it to a conclusion one way or another.

With the eBay transaction in my rearview mirror -- more or less, I moved on to Amazon. I found a Fujifilm point-and-shoot reduced by more than $250. I had been researching Fujifilm cameras, so I felt pretty comfortable with this choice.

The catch in both these purchases was that I needed delivery by today (Tuesday 2/5). The eBay seller guaranteed delivery by that date. I have Amazon Prime, which is automatically 2-day delivery for all merchandise labeled as such.

When I walked off the plane last Friday at the Greenville airport, I parked myself in the gate area, pulled out my iPad and did the deal on Amazon to make sure I was still good for a Tuesday delivery. I made it with time to spare.

I've been tracking the package since Saturday morning. Amazon sent it to UPS at 8 p.m. on Friday. The driver apparently took a little side trip to his Gammy's because it didn't turn up at UPS in Raleigh, NC until 10 p.m. on Sunday ... where it sat until 3 a.m. on Monday, when it wound up on a truck headed to Greensboro. It arrived there at 5:30 a.m. … where it languished until 5 p.m. on Monday. It arrived in the UPS facility in Greenville at 5:06 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Evidently someone finally glanced at the shipping label, noting this package was supposed to be delivered on Tuesday. In a rare moment of urgency in this entire process, someone put it on a delivery truck a scant 30 minutes later. That would be around 5:30 a.m. for those of you who have dozed off and lost track of the timeline.

It is now 6:10 p.m. and the package has yet to arrive at my door. Lost, stolen, missing in action? We just don't know.

Bottom line: I'm not happy.

Unless UPS has some sort of midnight delivery service, of which I am unaware, this camera isn't going to make it in time to go with me to Chicago tomorrow.

I knew I should have just gone to Costco.

Flash Update: According to UPS tracking, it delivered the package at 6:18. Bless you, UPS. I'm at my usual Tuesday-night haunt, Smoke on the Water, however, so I can't verify this report. But Amazon also texted me that the package has been delivered.

I am hopeful.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Kia Takes Its Sorento and Forte Up a Notch: Another Arizona Ride and Drive


I am winging my way home from my third trip to Arizona in as many weeks. I am counting "three" even though on one of them I actually wound up overnighting just north of the Arizona-Utah line. Because Land Rover flew us in and out of Phoenix for that particular event, I'm am exercising a little creative license.

I go back yet again in two weeks with Toyota for its RAV4 program. I haven't been to Arizona on a car event in two or three years. Going four times in five weeks is a record for me. Before I get back there for Toyota, though, I'll mosey up to Chicago for the auto show. A few days bracing myself against single-digit temps flanked by Arizona stays in the 70s should be at least a bit of a shock to my system.



Kia staged its press launch of the 2014 Forte and 2014 Sorento at Scottsdale's W Hotel.

I've stayed in several Ws over the years. They are trendy affairs with an attitude of sorts. My major complaint with the chain was always that lighting seemed an insurmountable challenge for them. Staying in a W was something akin to appearing as an extra in a Fellini film. The last couple I've stayed in, though -- including the Scottsdale property, seem to have overcome their aversion to guests being able to find their way around without the aid of a seeing-eye dog and invested in some light bulbs. I could actually read my room number on my door without pulling out my cell phone and pointing the illuminated screen at it.

My room was just down the hall from Kia's hospitality suite, which I thought was brilliant planning on its PR staff's part. You don't want to turn me lose in an elevator with a few pops of Templeton Rye sloshing around in me. My room was comfortable and well suited for my work needs.



For Thursday's drive, we paired up with half the group first climbing aboard Sorentos and the remainder piloting Fortes. My partner and I grabbed a Sorento for the morning's travel.

Kia's drive route took us east and then south, including the communities of Mesa, Superior, Globe and Kearny. Of course, the scenery was magnificent, featuring mesas, mountains and stands of Saguaro cactus.



All of the Sorentos were of the $36,700 SX AWD variety. This isn't the top of the Sorento food chain, but darn close. At $24,100, the entry-level LX FWD is considerably less.



Many of the changes to Sorento are evident at first glance: new front and rear fascias, new rear-end appearance, new headlamps and so forth.



Inside the center console with its larger touchscreen is new, as is the gauge cluster. Although the exterior dimensions remain the same, Kia squeezed more passenger space out of the existing wrapper. Legroom in both the second- and third-row seats is greater. All in all, 80% of the parts in the 2014 Sorento are new or redesigned.

Sorento's all-new 3.3-liter V6 delivers 290 horsepower and provides plenty of grunt. When properly equipped, it can tow up to 3,500 pounds. We really liked the FlexSteer on our SX. Providing "Comfort," "Normal" and "Sport" modes, it can switch from one to another with the push of a button on the steering wheel. The firmest Sport setting really increases the steering feel to the driver.

One other Sorento aspect worth mentioning is its library-quiet passenger environment. We were amazed at its ability to shut out everything from engine noise to tire hum.



For the afternoon's touring, we mounted up into a Forte EX. This is the higher-end model of the two-trim-level lineup. Kia has yet to announce official pricing, but execs said a well-equipped LX will fetch about $18,500 when they go on sale in mid March.



Forte is also completely redesigned for 2014. To say this sedan looks a lot more expensive than it is doesn't do it justice. It is a fine looking machine. Furthermore, Kia packs it with unexpected features like satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and power-heated outboard mirrors. Standard in the EX is Kia's next-generation UVO infotainment system. Also offered is the FlexSteer system available in the Sorento.

Although my driving partner and I agreed that with a turbo version of Forte's 173-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder engine this small sedan would be a flat-out hoot to drive, we found the four-banger to be more than adequate for every-day driving needs. It is responsive and athletic.

Typically on such ride and drives, one journalist drives while the other navigates using a booklet of printed instructions. It's up to the navigator to pay sufficient attention to the directions to keep the team on course. That's a wonderful theory, but doesn't always play out perfectly in practice. Occasionally the instructions can be ambiguous, the navigator may misread an instruction or, in some cases, the navigator may just be asleep at the switch.

Missing a turn doesn't always lead to catastrophe. More often than not, one or the other or both team members realize the road just passed was "the" turn. Easily fixed, the driver makes a U-turn, goes back and takes the appropriate route. Sometimes a team doesn't realize its mistake until they reach the mileage for the next course change and that road isn't there. A closer look at the route book reveals the navigator's error. Then it's a matter of going back and making the correct turn. On most routes the discovery of the error is no more than a couple of miles because there are a bevy of turns.

Teams have been known to be missing in action -- lost as last year's Easter egg -- for hours, but that is rare.

On the afternoon's driving segment my partner remarked after about 40 miles that this was her kind of ride and drive because the road was nearly perfect and the route included almost no turns. We might go 20 or 30 miles between a course change on the route Kia mapped out. Can you see where this is going?

When my driving partner made that fateful remark, we were about 10 miles beyond a turn I simply missed in the route book. It wasn't as though there were a bunch of turns and this one got lost. Nope, I just missed it.

There we were blissfully barreling along, oblivious that with every mile, we were traveling farther away from where we should have been. At lunch, one of the Kia PR folks made a big deal out of the size of a copper strip-mine hole that we shouldn't miss seeing. It was indicated in our route book with the appropriate mileage. We should have realized something was amiss when our trip odometer clicked over on the mine's mileage and there was no big hole. In fact, we were in a town of some sort.

Our reaction was that the PR type was full of crap -- many of them are -- and there wasn't really much to see. There were nearly 35 miles between the turn we missed and the next one. When we arrived at the mileage for the next turn, we suddenly realized my mistake. Pulling off the road, I rechecked the instructions and discovered what I had overlooked. Boy, was my face red.

"How could we have missed that," I mused out loud.

"What do you mean 'we'," she shot back.

"Well, you are in the car, too," I offered.

"There's no 'we'," she barked. "This is you, and you're driving the rest of the way!"

We changed places and she promptly tweeted what a directionally challenged loser I am.

Actually, we are good friends. Some part of the blame falls on the fact that we were talking and cutting up so much, I just wasn't paying attention.

Doing the math wasn't difficult. We had driven about 35 miles out of our way and had to drive that same 35 miles back to the missed turn. Yep, that's 70 miles.

On our way out, we had passed at least two unmarked, white police cars traveling the opposite direction. I made the U-turn and put the peddle to the metal, keeping alert for white, unmarked police cars heading our way. I'd be blasting along when suddenly I'd see a white vehicle heading toward us in the distance. I'd brake just to discover it was a pickup truck or a civilian in a white Chevy Impala. We didn't realize just how many white cars are on the highway in Arizona until we started looking for white police cars. Every-other vehicle on the road in Arizona is white. No kidding.

After retracing our steps and getting back on course, my primary goal was to ensure we weren't the last car back to the W. Believe it or not, we weren't. Others came straggling in behind us.



Once in the hospitality suite, I gulped down an 8th Street Ale from the Four Peaks brewery in Tempe. It was a little hoppy for me, but good. Getting lost is thirsty work.

As part of our dinner the second night, Kia secured the services of Jason Asher, GQ magazine's "The Most Inspired Bartender of 2010." Jason had concocted four specialty drinks for Kia. He was manning his own small bar in one of the small areas off the real bar.



As we arrived at dinner, servers passed out little samplers of Jason's four drinks. I was particularly taken with a liquid gem Jason called "Tiger Nose." Including Templeton Rye, bitters and some other mystery stuff, it was spectacular. Watching him make them was a trip in itself.

Answering the annoying call of my alarm at 4:15 the next morning to make my 5:00 ride to the airport was no easy task.

Damn Tiger Nose!