Keys Disease

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nissan Juke Nismo: You Can Take the Goofball out of the Car, but You Can't Take the Goof out of the Goofball.



I've spent the past week driving a Nissan Juke Nismo. Arguably the craziest looking production car on the road, Juke is something one might expect to see Roger Rabbit in cruising the streets of Toon Town.

I appreciate its quirky styling, but I'm less than convinced that as an owner, I could look at it parked in my driveway for three or four years. I caught a little flak from friends when they saw me behind the wheel, but sticks and stones, sticks and stones….


Because this is the Nismo edition, which means the fingerprints of Nissan's motorsports division are all over it, it has some styling cues that help it along. I first laid eyes on the Juke Nismo at the Chicago Auto Show. It was a white version and not particularly fetching. The one I've been driving this week is black and much easier on the eyes.

A FWD version will set you back about $23,000. That's roughly $4,000 more than an entry-level Juke, but certainly not the priciest in the FWD Juke pecking order.


This is a fun vehicle to drive. Maybe because I can't take myself seriously in it, I find myself smiling for no real reason. The front buckets wrap around you like a silk kimono with generous side bolsters that keep you upright ripping through the curves. Not that I would rip through the curves. No sir, not me. I'm a serious automotive journalist -- an oxymoron if I've ever heard one.

A slick six-speed manual tranny humps the output from this Juke's 197-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine to the front wheels or, for another $2,300, all the wheels.

There's not a ton of cargo space -- even with the second-row seats folded down, but there's room enough for most errands and cross-country trips involving two or three.


The press-car elves are swapping the Juke out tomorrow. I'll sort of be sorry to see it go. I don't mind looking a little goofy for the sake of enjoying myself, as anyone I've ever dated will affirm.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Week of Movies: All Three Are Worthy

I immersed myself in movies this week. I've been battling a cold and not really feeling up to hitting things very hard on the work front. I did manage to crank out a couple of assignments, but jumped at the chance to kick another one down the road by postponing the deadline to some unnamed future date.

I am feeling somewhat better; thank-you very much. Sadly my slacker attitude lingers on.

In any event, I sprang for the 11 bucks to see "Iron Man 3" in 3D. These days I usually only see movies at the theater that are in 3D. Otherwise, I'd just as soon watch them on my home entertainment system.

I typically go to matinees, not because they are cheaper, which they are, but because the audiences tend to be much smaller with less opportunity for some boorish dim-bulb to disturb the theater by talking -- either to friends or on his cell phone -- throughout the film.

Location apparently has some impact on the civility of movie audiences. The audiences I've experienced in SC are much more considerate than those in South Fla. On one trip to Fla. last year, I arrived around noon. With nothing to do, I headed to the Cineplex at the Boynton Beach Mall. The matinee audience numbered perhaps 10. The racket was almost deafening: People talking, cell phones ringing and so forth. Unbelievable.

If I time my attendance with some degree of precision, I catch the movie just before it leaves the theater. I managed to do this with "Iron Man."  I was one of three people in the theater for the showing I attended. Perfect!


Pepper receives her own super power in IM3.
Of the Avengers group, I like Iron Man the best. Robert Downey, Jr. does a great job with a character that is interesting to say the least. Well, okay, I like Gwyneth Paltrow, too.

It was fun, exciting and I felt I got my money's worth.

My other movie experiences of the week were Red Box rentals. Because of travel and out-of-town company, it was the first Saturday in a month that I was able to have Italian Night with all the trappings, which include a couple of movies.

If you read this blog with some regularity, you may be aware that I didn't have much good to say about producer Tom Cruise hiring himself to play the lead in his movie "Jack Reacher." It was a colossal example of ego that diminutive Cruise felt he could somehow pull off assuming the rule of a 6'5" (or some such height) brawler. Anyone who has read the Lee Child series of novels will find Cruise in the role a bit hard to swallow.


Cruise and Duval reunited.
Once I got over that, though, I enjoyed the film. It follows one of Child's novels -- One Shot -- rather closely. The action is nonstop. And Robert Duval has a supporting role. Sweet! My verdict: well worth Red Box's $1.59 Blu-ray rental.

My other Saturday night rental was a crap shoot. I hadn't heard of it, but because it stars Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, I thought "Stand Up Guys" worth taking a chance on the buck-and-a- half investment.

I'm not sure if this is a comedy, a drama or an action film. It contained some of each, but not enough of any of them to be categorized as one or the other. Basically it's a reunion film where three old crooks, who pulled capers 30 years earlier, get back together for one last hurrah. I found it highly entertaining. I laughed out loud a few times.


I love Walken and wish he would have played his character a little more over the top, but all three actors were pretty spot on. Arkin played his usual befuddled self and Pacino was, well, Pacino.

I'm glad I took the chance. My verdict: a bargain at $1.50.

Next week it's the latest Star Trek film in 3D!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Savannah Lives Up to Its Reputation: A Ton of Fun on a Dozen City Blocks


Savannah's River Street
Thanks to my years working on the TV series "Discover America," there are only a few places in the good ol' U.S. of A. that I haven't been to and really want to see: Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park and, um, well, Savannah. No doubt you will be happy to know that I can now scratch Savannah from my bucket list.

I took advantage of a gathering of the Three Amigos a couple of weeks ago to plan an overnight road trip to Savannah. It also included my fraternity brother and college roommate of three years, Randy.


Three Amigos at Peddler
Despite a rather rowdy evening at Peddler the night before, we hauled out of bed and were on the road heading south by 8:15 a.m. Our goal was to be on the River in Savannah for lunch. But first things first: We had to stop for breakfast. Everyone was all fired up for a Denny's stop to chow down on a spinach omelet that Les had eaten at a Denny's in Charleston a couple of days prior. Everyone, but me, that is. Spinach for breakfast! Are you kidding me?


A fine assortment of draft beers at Fiddler's.
We drove into Savannah and were sitting on stools at the bar at a joint called Fiddler's Crab House on River Street by 1:30. I had a Savannah Brown Ale (mmmm….) and some sort of fish sandwich for lunch. This was much more about getting into the spirit of Savannah that it was about the food.

We went directly to lunch rather than checking into our hotel first because even with the hotel's address and a GPS, we couldn't locate the place. Well, we got close, but didn't quite get to it. Why? Because it's on a military base -- a little detail omitted from their Web site and never mentioned when Les called to book it. I suppose we could have gained access to it, but we didn't want to hassle with getting back in through the gate guards later that night after several hours of carousing around.


Les outside Fiddlers scrambling to get us rooms.
We adjourned to Fiddler's to ponder our situation. Les volunteered to resume the search for an affordable -- read that, cheap -- hotel. He charged outside to make some calls. Here's the cautionary tale part of this story: Don't book hotel rooms when you are desperate and have a beer or three under your belt. We wound up at the Crap Hole Arms. To get in we had to cross a picket line of bed bugs demonstrating against the unclean conditions. But, hey, all we were doing was sleeping there. I can put up with nearly anything for a night as long as it's quiet.


The array of taps at Moon River Brewery, most of which were attached to nothing.
On our afternoon shift of bar hopping, we went to the Moon River Brewing Company. I can't be within a mile of a microbrewery and not go in. I am currently rethinking that strategy. All I can say is: Disappointed!


My grand/great niece explaining the menu to my sister and brother-in-law.
 I have a niece and her family living in Savannah. Her oldest daughter -- my grand niece or great niece or whatever the appropriate term is -- is a server at the Bonefish Grill. She made dinner reservations for us for 6:30. We arrived on time to find a table already seated with six family members. My sister and her husband were visiting from New Mexico. They would have spent a couple of days with me, but the Hacienda Heaps was already filled to the brim with the boys.

So around the table were my sister, my brother-in-law, my niece, her husband and the two kids who aren't servers at Bonefish. It was a great evening and a terrific meal.


Mandie and her favorite great uncle.
The boys adjourned from Bonefish and headed back downtown where we met my Bonefish-employed grand/great niece and her guy. They joined us for a tour of four or five joints on River Street. We barely tested the famous open-container law. Although we did carry a drink between a couple of the joints.

Finally around 1 a.m. we called the ball. Surprisingly, most of River Street closes down around midnight; not that we would have lasted much longer than we did.


The boys mugging for a photo while waiting for their first Bloody Mary of the day.
The next morning we had breakfast and headed back downtown. We decided that we would hang around, have lunch and then head back to Greenville in the afternoon. We strolled around River and Bay Streets, window shopped and then hit the Shrimp Factory for lunch.



My dentist has advised me to steer clear of eating pure sugar or tossing back any more Artillery Punch.
I ordered fried shrimp and washed it down with an Artillery Punch. This is a concoction of wine, gin, brandy, rye, rum, tea, orange juice and some other stuff. It's aged in a dirty sock for 30 days and then poured down the throats of unsuspecting tourists. Think of it as a Long Island Ice Tea with half a pound of sugar in it. I must start asking the price of things before I order them. This fishbowl of assorted alcohols was $12 or $14.

It was another Three Amigos' trip for the record books. We are discussing plans for a return visit of longer duration. I can't wait.

Monday, May 13, 2013

If Done Properly, Even Abe Lincoln Can Be Made to Seem Boring

I have a bunch of blog topics piling up. Sadly, I've had so much going on the past three or four weeks that I am struggling to keep up, and failing miserably.

Here's one of those moldering topics…



One of my Red Box rentals a few -- I can't even estimate exactly how many -- Saturdays ago was Spielberg's "Lincoln."

Going in, I didn't know anything about this movie other than it was about Lincoln and had been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. If you held a gun to my head, I may have been able to dredge up the name of Daniel Day-Lewis as the star, but maybe not.

From the moment of announcing the concept, it took less time for General Motors to get its Saturn brand off the ground than it took Spielberg, who was apparently channeling Francis Ford Coppola, to finally get "Lincoln" into theaters.  

I'm a history buff and really like the history of the War of Northern Aggression -- the Civil War to you Yankees. As with most people my age, Lincoln was held up as the greatest president behind Washington in school history lessons. Both of their birthdays were holidays before being consolidated into today's nondescript "Presidents' Day."



"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
I also am a big fan of Spielberg. I've admired his movies beginning with "Jaws."

I just didn't see a downside to ponying up $1.50 to rent the Blu Ray of "Lincoln."

Silly me. Just about anything I could buy would have been a better use of my buck and a half.

To be honest, this turkey lost me in the opening minutes. Here we find Lincoln sitting on some bales of hay or cotton or some such thing talking to some rank-and-file Union soldiers. They tell him that the reason they joined the army was because of his Gettysburg Address and then begin reciting it. Suddenly a black Union soldier cuts in and finishes reciting it. What?

I'm all for using a little creative license to push a film along, but this is like tossing a Hail Mary in the opening minute of the first quarter. The entire scene is ludicrous. Did Lincoln hang around in the dark and chat up army privates in the field in his spare time? I have no clue, but there is no evidence of it. Moreover, although his Gettysburg Address was reprinted in many newspapers at the time, it didn't gain the reverence and greatness with which we view it today until decades later.


"Four score and seven years ago...." Are you kidding me?
The idea that these three soldiers could read it, let alone find it so inspiring they memorized it, is pure fantasy.

The movie itself is a plodding, ponderous, boring account of Lincoln twisting arms to pass the Thirteenth Amendment that would make permanent the Emancipation Proclamation. It needed to be accomplished before the slave states began sending representatives to congress with the war's approaching end.

Perhaps some suspense could have been cooked into the script, but it certainly wasn't. Watching this was like submitting to Chinese water torture: drip, drip, drip, drip… It's the cinematic equivalent of C-SPAN.

As a kid, having skimmed more impressive film from a cup of hot chocolate, I just couldn’t get through this thing. I have no idea how it ended. I mean, I know the Thirteenth Amendment passed, but I don't know how Spielberg's movie ends. About an hour and 20 minutes into this exercise in tediousness, glassy-eyed and thoroughly bored, I put an end to my misery: I shut the damn thing off.

It's not often I feel fleeced from the uber-low cost of a Red Box movie, but I certainly did this time.

I can hardly wait for Spielberg to take another decade to tackle a bio of Millard Fillmore.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Three Amigos Ride Again!

Despite my not posting a blog in more than a week, I am still sitting upright and taking solid nourishment.


I'm sorry, I can't write or say "upright" without thinking about the old TV show The Beverly Hillbillies. Uncle Jed owned a movie studio and several of the contract actors were trying to date Elly May. One was named Bolt Upright and another Dash Riprock. It still makes me laugh.

In any event, I was on the road for 10 days (Nashville, Boca Raton and Charlottesville, VA) and now have buddies in town for a week.

As impossible to believe as it is, I also had a couple of paying assignments to try to squeeze in around all of this. Something had to suffer and it was Clanging Bell.


Three Amigos: me, Jose and Les at Charleston's Southend Brewery.
 I am writing this from my motel room in Charleston where my buddies Les and Jose spent the day with me. Yes, it's the notorious Three Amigos: older, chubbier and less energetic, but still able to string a few beers together.



The gang at Greenville's Ford's on Cinco de Mayo.
We already had a couple of days of intense partying in Greenville before hitting the road. I mean, Cinco de Mayo was last weekend! 

This makes my fourth or fifth trip to Charleston, but the first for the boys. We arrived around noon, checked into our motel and immediately headed downtown. We left few stones unturned.

Tomorrow we drive back to Greenville and head to Smoke on the Water for happy hour and dinner.

A fraternity brother from Ohio joins the posse sometime tomorrow night. We are just getting started.

I need a good night's sleep tonight, but because the couple directly upstairs is apparently having a far better time than I, I'm not optimistic.