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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

You Talkin' to Me? A Well Deserved Compliment Paid the 2014 Chevrolet Impala on the Road from Louisville


Here's something I never thought I'd get to write: A couple of weeks ago a guy driving a 2012 Hyundai Elantra followed me into a gas station to compliment me on -- wait for it -- the Chevrolet Impala I was driving.



Yep, I am not making this up. He and I had been passing one another off and on for the 50 miles or so down I-26 and then SC 25 between Asheville, NC and Greenville. He'd pass me, get caught behind someone slow and I'd pass him before getting trapped behind a semi or whatever and he'd pass me again. On and on it went.

I was making the 425-mile slog from Louisville, KY home. I didn't leave Louisville with quite a full tank of gas and was cruising on fumes when I pulled into a Sunoco station in Travelers Rest, SC just a few miles north of Greenville. I pulled up to an available pump. As I climbed out, I heard him say over the creaking and groaning of my knee joints, "Man, that's a great looking car. This is the first one I've seen, and it's really hot!"

I thanked him without going into the full explanation that it wasn't my car after all, but a GM press-fleet car. I was in a hurry to get home and figured he didn't really give a rat's patoot anyway. But who would have thunk it? An import owner all gaga over the new Impala.



I have to agree with him, the 2014 Impala is a head turner. If you pried the nomenclature off the sheetmetal and covered up the Chevy bow tie, the uninitiated wouldn't have a clue what it is. It's gorgeous inside and out.

Having put nearly 1,000 miles on it over a long weekend that included a Friday overnight with friends in Knoxville before red balling it on up to Louisville on Saturday morning, I can also testify to its outstanding comfort, drivabilty and performance. Chevrolet finally has a world-class full-size car again.

The one I was driving on this trip was the $35,770 Impala 2LZ. This is the top-end trim level. By the time you tacked on some extras like the 11-speaker Bose surround-sound system and navigation system, this bad boy topped $39,000. However, the entry-level LS is considerably less at $26,725. Even it is loaded with all manner of goodies.

Turning the front wheels via a six-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission is a 305-horsepower V6. It gets the Impala up and running in a hurry. According to the trip computer, my fuel economy on this trip that was about 85%/15% highway/city driving said I averaged nearly 29 mpg. That's pretty good considering the speeds I was traveling and the mountain roads I negotiated.



The cabin is absolutely cavernous with lots of front- and rear-seat legroom. The trunk is huge as well -- larger than the mammoth Cadillac XTS.

The reason for my little weekend jaunt was the 50th wedding anniversary of good friends in Louisville. These are folks a few years older than I, but who I spent a lot of time with when I lived in the Derby City. My parents were Godparents to their two boys. Weekends, holidays, birthdays, you name it and we were together drinking beer and acting silly.

The Knoxville stop was because a fraternity brother and his wife recently relocated to Knoxville from Toledo, Ohio. I've spent a couple of weekends with them this year: first at Holden Beach, NC and then at The Reserve about 20 miles west of Greenville. I hoped they weren't sick of me yet as I invited myself to their house on my way to Louisville. Knoxville is close enough to half way between Greenville and Louisville to call it that.

I lived in Knoxville for about 18 months in the early 1980s. I liked the town a lot, but didn't really remember much about it. Arriving around noon on Friday, we headed downtown for lunch. I have no recollection of ever being downtown in the year and a half I lived there. I was blown away. They have an area called the Market District that is jammed with restaurants and bars. A couple blocks of it are closed to vehicle traffic and operate like a pedestrian mall.

We ate at Tupelo Honey's -- one just opened in Greenville. I was impressed with both the food and our server. I had a tasty Nut Brown Ale and purchased the obligatory tee-shirt at the Woodruff Brewing Co.



After dinner later that evening, we returned home and broke out some small batch bourbons. There was enough golden liquid left in a bottle of Jefferson Presidential Select 18-year old for each of us to have a couple of sips. Then my buddy cracked open a bottle of Jefferson Presidential Select 21-year old. Oh, baby! I also got to try some Willett Single Barrel from bottle 190 out of 204 no less.



I was on the road by 9:00 the next morning with a Louisville ETA of 1 pm. Louisville was home to me for close to 15 years. I love it. How could I not? It's surrounded by bourbon distilleries! I've also discovered some wonderful Kentucky microbrews that I always make time for when I'm there.



We had dinner that night at Pat's Steakhouse. It's a Derby City landmark. Located on Brownsboro Rd, east of downtown, it serves mouthwatering, reasonably priced steaks. I never ate at Pat's while I lived in Louisville. I have no idea why. I drove past it 10 times a week as an adult. I lived at three addresses within a mile and a half of the place. This was only my second dinner there ever. It won't be my last.

Founded in 1958, it feels like some old Chicago or Manhattan joint: great ambiance and terrific steaks.

It was an action-packed weekend, but the kicker was the Impala compliment.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hey, Sailor, Is That a Plumber's Snake or Are You Happy to See Me?


I did something today I haven't done in about eight months: I washed a full load of clothes.

No, I haven't turned into some slob -- well, no more so than I ever was. I've had a sewer stoppage that was slowly growing ever more severe. Beginning well before the Christmas holidays, when the water would dump from the washer after each cycle, the drain couldn't accommodate the volume and it would overflow.

One day I noticed the carpet in front of the laundry area was wet. My first thought was that perhaps one of the water hoses attached to the washer had worked its way loose. To pull the washer away from the wall to check behind it, I had to remove the bi-fold closet door. Accomplishing that, I tipped the washer forward until it was lying on its front. The hose connections were tight, but one of the hoses had a bubble in it the size of a golf ball. I hopped in the car, drove to Home Depot and bought new aluminum hoses to the tune of about $20 a piece.

Having saved myself some real heartache from a burst hose, I was no closer to solving the drain issue.

Channeling the slacker in me, I turned the load-size control on the washer from "full" to "half." In other words in the spirit of our government, I kicked the drain-problem can down the road.

All was well for about three months when the overflow problem began again. I knew I would need to crawl under the house and check things out, but I didn't want to do it in winter. Four years ago my air handler stopped working in February and I spent two days under the house getting that operating again. Cold? You bet.

I postponed the inevitable again by turning the load-size control to small. Now I was washing a load of clothes nearly every day, but the water was draining without incident.

Last Thursday, even the "small" load of water was more than the drain could handle. It overflowed again.

I was sure that the stoppage was in the washer drain line; I was equally certain that it ran out of the wall behind the washer down into the crawl space where it continued to somewhere in the front of the house. My plan was to go into the crawl space, cut the drain line about two feet from the wall, run a plumber's snake through it in both directions and knock the blockage free. I would then join the drain back together using a PVC connector with a removable access so I would never need cut the drain line again. Brilliant, no?

Oh yeah, I'm a frickin' genius.

On Friday, I stopped at Lowe's and purchased the 2-inch PVC pipe pieces I needed along with the appropriate cement and cleaner. I donned my crawl-space attire -- designed to keep creepy-crawlies from dropping down the back of my neck or scurrying up my pants leg. I gathered all the tools I thought I might need. Flashlight: check. Reciprocating saw: check. Can of Raid: check.

My crawl space isn't the Taj Mahal of crawl spaces, but it is better than many in which I've been. Its access is in the house. The floor is completely covered in heavy visqueen plastic and there is sufficient room that I only need bend at the waist a little to navigate around. Still, it is a crawl space.

I bundled all the accouterments of my project into the crawl space, shuffled about five steps to the left of the access door, which was enough for me to see around the corner, and to my horror, the drain doesn't run from the wall across the crawl space to the front of the house. It exits the wall, makes a sharp u-turn where it hooks into the cast-iron sewer line which then disappears back into the wall and under the house.

Obviously, I thought, the issue is with the main sewer line between my house and the street. Drat!

This still seemed unlikely because I had never had an issue with any drains other than the washing machine backing up. I filled the washer with water and as I induced its dumping in the drain, I ran my downstairs shower while flushing the downstairs commode. I finally got the drain in the shower to backup. Bingo! It's in the line outside...umm, probably.

After commiserating about it with my buddy Jeff that night at Soby's happy hour, we decided I would call him the next day and he would use his Angie's List membership to help me find an accredited plumber. I had called one I found online that the BBB rated highly, but never received a return call.

Through the Angie's List process, I landed on Roto-Rooter, sending an e-mail requesting a Monday morning appointment. They responded that they would arrive between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

A technician from Roto-Rooter arrived around 9:45. After asking me a couple of questions, he descended into my crawl space. I offered him my haz-mat outfit, but he declined.

He dragged a smaller electric-powered snake down there and set to work. He was confident that the issue was in my washer drain after all. OK. Apparently the drain from the kitchen sink tied into the washing machine drain and the result was a grease clog.

Could it really be that simple, I wondered. Fat chance!

After clearing the grease, he filled the washer to the brim and dumped it into the drain. Although nearly all of the water drained before it began backing up, the shower stall filled with brown water as the washer drain overflowed.

Pulling all of his gear from under the house, he headed outside to try to track down the outside sewer-line access. This house is 60 or 70 years old; do you think there's an outside access? Yeah, no.

Giving up on that, he then moved on to the manhole where my sewer line ties into the main city line. He pulled a much larger snake out of this truck and proceeded to to snake it all the way up to my house. Nada.

We're going to need a bigger truck, he told me. Off he went for what he called the "jet" truck. No clue what that is exactly. Whatever it is, it did the trick. He said he nearly blew the manhole cover into orbit when the clog finally blew free.

The time: 12:45. I had expected this project to cost me about $100 an hour. The total for three hours and two trucks was $375. I'm not happy about the unexpected hit to my household budget -- like I have a household budget -- but it was certainly far less than the $3,000 to $4,000 I was envisioning if I had to replace the sewer line.

I celebrated by doing a full load of wash. Do I know how to party or what?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Taking Note: My Trip to San Diego to Drive the Versa Note




I’m wrapping up what is, in essence, a 10-day block of travel with a 3-day stay in San Diego. Nissan flew me in to drive the redesigned hatchback version of Versa now called Versa Note. "Note" I'm told is used in other countries to identify the 5-door; Nissan wanted to make the nomenclature consistent internationally.

Usually for flights to the West Coast, I drive the 2.5 hours from Greenville to the Atlanta airport; however, because I drove nearly 1,000 miles round trip from Greenville to Louisville over the weekend -- returning the day before I had to be in Calif. -- I chose to fly out of Greenville-Spartanburg instead.

My flight was delayed nearly 35 minutes because of overweight issues -- not mine, the plane's. It was a smaller regional jet. First Delta overbooked it, then was surprised by some sort of migration of Asians back to their motherland. The area around Delta's check-in was crowded with Asians, mountains of suitcases and stacks of large, sealed cardboard boxes.

After loading the passenger cabin to capacity, and apparently cramming all the flotsam associated with 30 people returning to Korea, China or wherever -- I'm not well versed enough in the subtleties of Asian genetics to tell one from the other --  from their extended stay in the Greenville area, the plane was too heavy. Ya think?

The gate agent came aboard to announce two or three passengers needed to get off the plane. Ummm, did anyone think to just unload a bunch of the cargo, sending it out on a later flight? Wouldn't that make more sense than disrupting several persons travel plans? Evidently not. A couple of volunteers were secured and they filed off the plane as the rest of us stared at our shoes, refusing to make eye contact with the gate agent in case another volunteer was required.

One wasn't and we took off. Delta pads these flights from Greenville to Atlanta by about 30 minutes, so we arrived on time. Delta upgraded me to First Class for the 4-hour sprint from Atlanta to San Diego. I love this flight, particularly the flight path that takes landing planes right through downtown San Diego. Sitting on the left-hand side of the plane, you can actually see people working at their desks in the office buildings as they rush by.

Nissan put us up at the Andaz in San Diego's Gaslight District. This is in the heart of San Diego. After checking in, I strolled the streets of the Gaslight District for an hour or so.



Dinner that night was at the Stone Brewery. What! Yep, I didn't even need to go hunting for a brewery as I typically do on my out-of-town trips. Nissan took me to one. Sadly no stout, but they did pour a very meaty Stone Smoked Porter and wonderful Alesmith Nut Brown Ale. Arrogant Bastard Ale is Stone's beer with which you might be most familiar. Stone also crafts an OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale that's excellent.



This is a photo of Junior Brown my buddy Mark Elias shot.
Junior Brown was playing at the Belly Up about 30 minutes from the hotel. Nissan organized a group of us to go, loaded us aboard a shuttle and hauled us to Solana Beach. I am familiar with some of Junior Brown's music that I've heard on Outlaw Country on XM. An amazing guitarist, he put on a short, but highly entertaining show.



This is a photo of our merry band of fools at Belly Up that some unidentified drunk shot.
I should have stayed at the hotel and gone to bed at a reasonable hour, but when faced with the choice, I've discovered life is much more interesting when you say, yes.



Much of my second day in San Diego was taken with a drive of the Versa Note. With an entry-level price of $13,990, this competent little car excels on several levels. As a driver, it is comfortable and fairly quiet. It has class-leading cargo space and rear-seat legroom.

It earned an EPA-estimated 40 mpg on the highway with a city/highway with a best in class combined EPA number of 35 mpg.



Fetching exterior lines and a stylish interior give the 5-door Versa a look more high end than its reasonable price promises. Nissan's Around View Monitor providing a 360-degree view around the car is available to simplify parking.

Handing off the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine's 109 horsepower to the front wheels is a CVT transmission. Nissan has gone all in for CVTs and the Versa Note is the latest Nissan to use it exclusively as the automatic tranny choice. A five-speed manual is available in the base S version. CVTs are designed for fuel efficiency rather than performance or quiet. Goosing the Note's accelerator is rewarded with a roar from the engine compartment that doesn't diminish until pressure on the accelerator is released. I'm not crazy about any CVT and its use in the Note didn't win me over.

Our drive route was mostly urban with a few twisties tossed in to minimize journalists' grumblings about a boring route. Our lunch break brought those of us who had gone out the night before back to Belly Up. As it turns out, it is affiliated with the café next door that cooked up a terrific lunch for us.

My driving partner had an early flight home, so I had to make my way back to the hotel on the afternoon drive by myself. I cheated and rather than following the route book, I plugged the hotel address into the nav system and high-balled it back.

Dinner that night was at some joint in Little Italy. I write "some joint" because no one, including the Nissan PR people I asked, seemed to know its name. "Italia" received a couple of votes among the responders, but no one seemed quite sure. What I can tell you is that one of the deserts -- a chocolate-caramel concoction in a small pie crust -- was outstanding. I often skip deserts at these dinners, but wolfed down two of these wonderful little treats. I am still suffering from diners remorse.



Speaking of culture shock: I leave San Diego after driving the Versa Note to be welcomed home by a Nissan GT-R waiting for me at the airport! Oh, Momma! Pray for me!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day? Where the Hell Is Uncle Russ Day?

I’m not much of a complainer -- well, not too much anyway; but I'm going to let a complaint rip: Where in the hell is Uncle Russ Day?

I am in Louisville for the celebration of friends' 50th wedding anniversary and have run up against the brick wall of Father's Day. Do we really need a Father's Day? Do we need a Mother's Day, for that matter?

These special occasions concocted by the greeting-card companies and florists need to go along with Post Office/bank "Monday" holidays. All a "Monday" holiday means to me is that no paychecks will arrive, which is okay because I couldn't deposit them anyway; why? Because all the damn banks are closed.

I had no clue that Father's Day was this weekend. I'm not a father and mine has been dead since 1973 -- may he rest in peace. But here I am in Louisville and the restaurants are slammed because it's Father's Day. This disappointing development would be easier to swallow if there were an Uncle Russ Day.

I wouldn't mind being inconvenienced by throngs of families honoring their member fathers if I had a day myself.  But nooooo, every day is just another day for me.

And the fact that I have to wait in line an extra hour to have lunch on these made-up holidays just makes it all the more painful.

Friday, June 14, 2013

You've Got Something Stuck in Your Teeth, Dr. Lecter


I have dropped my first new show of 2013 from the list of things I routinely record. It's NBC's "Hannibal."

I have suffered through two episodes of this trip down the rabbit hole of insanity. For me, the show is nearly unwatchable. Every commercial break I found myself glancing at the clock in the hopes that it would be over. Nope, still another 40 minutes or 30 minutes or 20 minutes to go. Tick-tock....

I must admit that I missed the pilot episode. I'm not sure if that would have helped me figure out what's going on, but it couldn't have hurt.



"Hannibal's" Dr. Lecter: You may recognize him as the villan in one of the Bond films.

I'm sure there are Hannibal fanboys who are thrilled with this series because it is billed as closely based on the original book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Couldn't prove it by me; I never read the book.

Apparently the book is based on the idea that everyone is at least somewhat crazy. Every one in the NBC series certainly seems to be.

So you have an FBI profiler, who is nuttier than squirrel poop, being propped up and analyzed by the stark-raving-mad Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who seems to be pals with the profiler's boss. While this profiler, fading in and out of sanity, runs around tracking down serial killers, Lecter treats him and amuses himself on a cannibalistic killing spree of his own. Lighthearted, don't you think?



This is the poor, crazy schlub FBI profiler Lecter is treating.

I am so disinterested in this thing that I don't even know the character name of the profiler.

My head hurts just writing about it.

I seem to be in the minority on this one. The reviews I've read have been pretty positive, but I don't know if that's translating into viewership. I think if I'm having a hard time following this mess, so is the average couch potato.

In any event, I removed it from the series my DVR records.

With my membership to Netflix, I indulge myself by downloading movies and episodes of TV series that I wouldn't spend money to watch. Yes, I understand that I pay a monthly Netflix fee; but I mean, I watch stuff that if I had to actually fork over some dough to watch, I wouldn't. One such show is "Hart of Dixie."



"Hart of Dixie" core cast. No Goober in this Mayberry.

Evidently, this series is still in production and airs on the CW network. I have not a clue where the CW network is on my TV dial. But the first season of this series is offered on Netflix. I am about two-thirds of the way through season No. 1, and it is like watching a train wreck; It's terrible, but you keep on watching.



There is so little creativity in the writing, nearly every episode revolves around some concocted special event.

The classic square-peg-in-a-round-hole story, the premise is that a hip New Yorker graduates med school at the top of her class and winds up in some little burg in Alabama where she takes over a dead doc's half of a medical practice. The town's name is Bluebell and it provides every Southern stereotype you can imagine. I live in a fairly small Southern town and it's nothing like Bluebell. My thinking is that this is an East Coaster's idea of what life in a small Southern town is. Pretty much each episode revolves around some special small-town event of which this little community seems to have no shortage.



Yes, Miss Bilson, could you spit out the marbles and try the line again, please?

Dr. Zoe Hart -- the "Hart" in "Hart of Dixie" -- is played by Rachel Bilson, who has never delivered a line she didn't mumble. There's a gaggle of prissy debutantes, an ex-NFL football star as mayor who refers to himself in the third person and a swarm of nosy town folk. There is more relationship intrigue than an episode of the "Young and Restless."

Man, this is bad TV -- poorly written and acted; but, unlike "Hannibal," it's easy to follow. I can doze off for 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch and not miss a thing. It makes "Andy of Mayberry" look like "Masterpiece Theater."

Do I have too much free time on my hands? You bet!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Living the Southern Good Life in Northern Virginia with the Hyundai Santa Fe



One of the two cars in my driveway this week is the totally redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe. I was on the press launch for this crossover a few weeks ago, and just didn't get around to blogging about it at the time. Yes, shame on me.


Hyundai anchored the event at the Boar's Head Inn, a resort in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had dinner in one of its dining areas a couple years ago with the gang from the Virginia Department of Tourism. At that time I was part of a small contingent of travel media learning about Virginia's wine industry and, specifically, those wineries surrounding Jefferson's Monticello. Dinner was excellent and I was eager to spend a couple of nights there.


Affiliated with the University of Virginia, Boar's Head Inn is a full-blown resort with everything from Golf to hot-air ballooning. The food is topnotch and the service excellent. I love this area of Virginia with its rolling hills and lush foliage. That we stayed at Boar's Head made it all the better.

At the end of our afternoon drive, my driving partner and I decided to go into Charlottesville. I have pals who will swear that I have a built-in radar for seeking out microbreweries; it reared its head once again in Charlottesville. "Turn here," I yelled as we drove down the town's main drag. The turn put us on a side street of warehouse-looking structures mostly converted to office buildings. And there it was: the South Street Brewing Company.



Pulling into a parking lot across the street, I dug around in my carry-on bag for quarters to put into the parking meter. I snapped the photo above and we headed for the door. Nuts! It was locked. Looking closer, we saw that the joint didn't open for another 20 minutes. Oh, well, back to the Boar's Head.


Defeated in our quest to sample a microbrew -- and purchase a tee-shirt, we headed for the bar at Boar's Head. It was there that I had a Starr Hill Amber Ale or three. Although it wasn't a South Street brew, it was local and pretty good for not being a brown, porter or stout.


The Santa Fe I am currently driving is a two-wheel-drive version it the top-end Limited trim that retails at $33,350. You can get into a Santa Fe GLS for $28,600.
A beefy 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 is plenty for this crossover. A six-speed automatic tranny hustles engine production to the wheels.


Santa Fe can tow up to 5,000 pounds, yet it was sufficiently athletic to effortlessly whip around the winding roads of northern Virginia.

Packed with technology, Santa Fe features such advances as adjustable steering with three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. Often detecting the differences between modes in such systems is difficult, but not so with this one. There are discernable differences.


Heated rear seats, as well as a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic sunroof all contribute to the value story.


Nothing like spending the day tooling around in a decked-out, high-end crossover, and then retiring to a glass of Basil Hayden small batch bourbon in the Boar's Head Inn's Bistro 1834 bar that evening. 

Southern living at it's best!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pointy Ears and a 500-Mile Car Chase: Two Movies I Think Are Worth Your While

Thought I'd discuss a couple of movies I saw last week that I think are worth a mention.


I followed up my trip to the theater to see "Iron Man 3" in 3D a couple of days later with "Star Trek Into Darkness" in 3D. From beginning to end, it's an exercise in heart-in-your-throat movie making. Great action, great music, outstanding cast and an OK story.

I didn't realize until 15 or 20 minutes into the film that the producers once again trotted out the Khan villain. "I've lost count of how many times during the TV episodes and the movies Khan has been the bad guy. C'mon, all these creative geniuses can't come up with a new terror? At least the writers figured out a way to work a Tribble into the latest movie.

It was a terrific afternoon at the movies. Once I recovered from the Khan surprise, I was pulled so deeply into the action, I nearly forgot who the bad guy was.


Welcome to the Starship Enterprise!
I am onboard with, what appears to be, the newest permanent member of the Enterprise crew. It's Alice Eve and she is a welcome addition. 

No doubt I'll pop for the Blu ray of Into Darkness when it is finally released. What a rush!

The second movie I just happened to stumble on over the weekend when I was searching Netflix for something to download and watch as I ate lunch. "Hit & Run" sounded to me like a B movie that probably wouldn't be worth the 90-minute time investment. I was wrong.

Well, I suppose it could be categorized as a B movie, but included in the cast are Jeff Bridges, Bradley Cooper and Kristen Bell: A-level talent one and all.

Kristen Bell is the name that motivated me to roll the dice on this film. She had a reoccurring guest spot on the TV series "Heroes" and I liked her on that; I liked her a lot.


Dax Shepard and his 700 hp Lincoln.
"H&R" is a comedy that actually made me laugh. A kid named Dax Shepard wrote, co-directed and stars in it. I have no clue who Dax Shepard is -- or what he's done previously -- and I'm too lazy to research him as I sit at the bar in Smoke on the Water writing this. However, his cup of talent seems to runneth over.



 
The premises is, a young guy (our boy Dax) in the witness protection program falls in love with  a college teacher (the lovely Kristen Bell) who gets a one-of-a-kind job offer in Los Angeles. The guy decides to leave the witness protection program to take his girl to her interview. The guys he testified against learn where he is where he's going. Tom Arnold plays the federal marshal watching over the guy. He follows them as well.

Hilarity ensues.

Well worth a look see. Warning: The "F" bomb is dropped often and with gusto. Otherwise, it's fun for the whole family.