ouray

ouray
It's me doing a little posing while taking a break at the Ouray, Colorado Jeep Jamboree in 1995.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Civil War Makes a Comeback: "Copper" and "Hell on Wheels"

I've stumbled across two period TV series that I really like, and you likely haven't seen. Both are set in the 1860s with anti-hero protagonists. Both are gritty looks at the era.

Copper and cathouse madam: I had to Bing Franka Potente to figure out what I had seen her in.

The first is a production of BBC America called "Copper." 

From "Gangs of New York."
 It takes place in the last year or so of the Civil War in New York City's Five Points area. It's the same setting as Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York," sort of continuing where that movie left off. Although it is about the Irish, Copper isn't from the perspective of the gangs, but from that of the police. I think it's probably a fairly accurate depiction of how the police of that time operated.

You've got a likeable, but unconventional police detective, prostitutes, Confederate spies, a black CSI doctor, a robber baron and an orphaned sociopath. What more do you want in a TV series? A comedy it's not.

Anybody you know?

Because it is a BBC production, I don't recognize more than two or three cast members. One -- the cathouse madame -- I had to Bing to figure out she was Jason's girlfriend in "The Bourne Identity." I recognized her, but just couldn't place her.


  Tom Weston-Jones plays detective Kevin Corcoran. If I've ever seen him in anything else, I don't remember it.

Every TV series needs a hottie. Anastasia Griffith fills the role for "Copper."
 The series is currently in its second season. I watched the first season on Netflix as I recorded and stored the first couple of episodes of the current season. They are 10-episode seasons, so catching up didn't require a great investment of time.

I am enjoying it, but it isn't exactly family fare.



Likewise the second series I bring to your attention. Called "Hell on Wheels;" it is set during the building of the first Transcontinental Railroad in the late 1860s. The story revolves around the portion of the railroad being constructed from the east.

Airing on AMC, it's third season begins August 10th. I've only seen season No. 1 that I downloaded from -- where else? -- Netflix. 

Mr. Meaney.
 Produced in the U.S. and Canada, the cast and guest stars are more recognizable, but still not household names. The guy who will probably be most familiar is Colm Meaney who was in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" along with numerous other TV shows and movies. He plays the railroad owner. The rest of the cast are relatively unknowns.


The lead character is Cullen Bohannon, a one-time slave owner and Confederate officer, who goes west after the war in search of the group of Union soldiers that killed his wife and son. Hell on Wheels is the name of the traveling camp of railroad workers, hookers and assorted hangers-on that continually relocates as the railroad line progresses westward. In season one Bohannon -- think of nearly every western character Clint Eastwood has played -- manages to get himself hired as the track foreman.

He kills most of the Union soldiers he was searching for, makes friends with a black railroad worker and flirts with the series resident hottie as he sort of oversees dozens of blacks and Irish laying the track.


Anson Mount plays Bohannon. He has been acting for a few years, but it wasn't until I saw a photo sans his full beard and long hair that I was tickled by a glimmer of recognition. I still don't think I've seen him in anything. 

Dominique McElligott -- I'd never heard of her either -- in the roll of hottie for "Hell on Wheels."
 Both these shows are well worth a look-see. I enthusiastically give them two thumbs up.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tupelo Honey, Chuy's and Passerelle Bistro: Exploring New Eateries in Greenville

I had out-of-town company in over the weekend. I know I am supposed to be a better host, taking them to only the best, tried-and-true places; but I like to hit a few that I've never been to when company comes a'callin'. We usually eat most meals out, so it's the ideal opportunity to acquaint myself with a new joint or two.

Our two newbies were Chuy's and Tupelo Honey. Plus a shoutout to Passerelle.

We hit Chuy's for lunch on Thursday. It's located on Woodruff Road, Greenville's busiest street. I'm familiar with Chuy's; I've been to a couple of them, including the one on Lake Travis in Austin. It's where the Bush twins were arrested for underage drinking.

We walked into the place and it was slammed. A line of people poured out the front door. The lobby was crammed. I gave the smiling hostess my name and received a coaster-size, table-ready buzzer and the warning the wait would be about 20 minutes for my trouble. Visible from the vestibule, the bar area had 15 to 20 empty high tops and booths in addition to the 15-or-so-person bar that was about half full.

Working my way back through the swamp of people to the hostess, I asked if we had to be seated at one of the tables in the bar. "No, but you can only get drinks and appetizers at the tables," was the response. "But, you can get served from the menu at the bar."

Amazing. There are at least 20 people milling around the entry area waiting to be seated, but they can't get lunch at any of the empty tables in the bar. Whose bright idea was that?

We found a couple of stools at the end of the bar and sat. I ordered beer -- how the hell can anyone expect me to eat Mexican without a beer? My friend opted for water. Water! Do you know what fish do in that?

The bartenders -- two young women -- were friendly and helpful. As we perused the menu, I began regaling my friend with the story about the Bush twins getting busted at the Lake Travis Chuy's. About half-way through my tale one of the bartenders interrupted me to ask if I was telling the Bush-twin story. "Why yes I am," I said. To which she replied, "I've heard that story at least six times in the last three days."

My reply: Well, congratulations. And by the way, I was telling the story to my friend who had never heard it before, not to you. If you continue eavesdropping, you are going to hear some stuff you really don't want to hear. At least that's the way it sounded in my head. What I did say out loud was that I wasn't sure until we walked in if Greenville's Chuy's was part of that chain.

"Oh, we're not a chain; we're corporate," she said with a straight face. I guess she could tell by the look on my face that I was missing the distinction. As if attempting to clear things up, she continued beaming, "We're corporate store No. 43! Apparently you must have to have 44 stores to be a chain.

The food was good, if not remarkable. I remembered it being better in Austin, but I had a couple margaritas under my belt by the time the food arrived on my Texas adventure. I'll certainly go back. Looks like they offer a wicked happy hour.

Located on North Main Street in downtown Greenville, Tupelo Honey has only been open a few weeks. I ate at the one in Knoxville a few weeks ago and really enjoyed the experience. I'm not quite as enthusiastic about Greenville's edition.

Again, because this place is so new, it was slammed. We arrived a little after noon on Saturday. It was the front end of an afternoon pub crawl. I never got inside the store in Knoxville. It had been a beautiful day, so we sat outside. I was anxious to get inside Greenville's store to check out the bar.

I approached the hostess who stared blankly at me. She finally won the stare down and I asked if there was room in the bar area. She said she didn't know and I would have to go look. Okay, I said, put me on the list for a two top. A smile yet to crack her lips, she said simply, "An hour." "An hour wait?" I tried to clarify to which she just nodded. I told her to forget it and we headed toward the back of the house where we assumed the bar was located.

Not very large by any measure, the L-shaped bar seats perhaps 10 or 12. Not nearly large enough by my reckoning. We found two seats at the corner on the short side of the L.

They have a very cool -- literally -- setup where a trough of ice runs around the inside edge of the entire bar where you can set your drinks to keep them chilled. Ice continued up the draft beer taps. This must have been a theme because the air conditioning was turned so low, they could have performed autopsies in there.

We found the bar staff a little overwhelmed and not particularly friendly. It was lunch on Saturday and the joint was out of its signature beer -- some sort of honey-infused ale. I settled for a very nice Brown brewed by a microbrewery in Knoxville.

The food showed real potential. My friend had a salad and Monte Cristo sandwich that was delicious. I ordered a burger with mac 'n cheese. The mac 'n cheese was excellent. I was glad I ordered my burger medium or they probably would have sent a steer in and handed me a knife. The burger wasn't just under cooked, it was rare. My dad would have looked at it and said, "I've seen a cow hurt worse than that get up and walk away."

Glitches in the kitchen are to be expected when a joint is new. Everything else was very good. If I was running the place, though, I'd be more concerned about the surly staff than little issues in the kitchen. I had the feeling that maybe they had to open the place more quickly than expected and didn't take as much time with the hiring process as they should. I can't imagine the staff members I came in contact with being any manager's first choice to hire.

I like the food and the concept too much not to go back, but it will be a while -- after they've had time to rotate out some of the current staff for better hires.

As our Saturday pub crawl continued, we briefly ducked into Passerelle Bistro. This is the newest edition to Table 301 that manages Soby's, Lazy Goat, and Nose Dive among others. It's where Overlook used to be at the Reedy River Bridge. It's a postage stamp-sized place with as many tables outside as in.

We walked in as the lunch crowd was dispersing. It was like old home week. Several of Soby's servers work lunches at Passerelle. We sat at the bar, which is about as long as the vanity in my master bathroom. We occupied two-thirds of the bar stools. One thing about a pipsqueak-size bar, you have the full attention of the bartender, who in this case was chatty and friendly.

After glancing at the menu, I knew that I wouldn't be sampling the cuisine any time soon. The menu isn't engineered for a meat-and-potatoes guy; but if your tastes run to foo-foo food, you should give it a go. However, sometime when I'm accompanied by only one or two friends, I may drop in for a drink again.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Baltimore and the Fiat 500L Go Together Like....Well, They Go Together



I was in Baltimore a few weeks ago to drive the all-new Fiat 500L.

This marked my first stay in Maryland in several years. I don't think I'd been there since my "Discover America" days. I remember two shoots in particular. One was a segment on the city of Annapolis. The second shoot wasn't for "Discover America" at all. While we were still cranking out episodes of that travel series, the production company I worked for shot a pilot for a show about sports. Those readers who know me probably find my working on a show about sports rather amusing. I couldn't care less about sports. Once you get me outside the sphere of influence of the Pittsburgh Steelers -- those things that directly impact the only team I follow -- my interest in even the NFL drops off expeditiously.

So we were shooting this pilot for a show that I don't think ever got far enough along for us to officially name it. We did a segment on field hockey featuring the University of Maryland's women's team. I can no longer remember why, but we had to make two separate trips there to get the footage we needed. I scripted the segment as well as directed the shoot. All of any substance that I recall from the experience is that field hockey -- like soccer -- is wildly popular as a male and female sport nearly everywhere in the world, but the United States. Moreover, the reason it never translated into a men's sport of any degree in the U.S. is because it came to this country first as a sport for women. I guess like water ballet, it's tough to go macho after it's been embraced by the fairer sex.

So, a few weeks ago I found myself once again in Maryland; this time under Fiat's wing.

The 500L is a longer, four-door version of the Verne Troyer-esque 500. I know what you are thinking: Why a bigger 500? Wasn't the point of the 500 exercise that it's small and fantastically fuel efficient?



Why, yes, it was, but like the Mini Cooper, maintaining some amount of sales momentum requires expanding the product line. Fiat suits say some shoppers who liked the 500 concept were walking out of showrooms, er, "studios" because the 500 was just too dang small.

Fiat's fix to the studio exodus is the 500L. 



I have to say that, in the five-passenger 500L, Fiat managed to retain the fun-to-drive aspects of 500. Stretched more than two feet longer than the 500, the 500L is also wider and taller. Its greenhouse is expansive, providing a nearly uninterrupted 360-degree view. It's 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four banger is rated at 33 mpg in highway driving by the EPA. 

The Trekking trim is more style than substance, but it's a good look.
In addition to other trims, there is a Trekking version that employs some butched up facias and other design cues to project a more rugged image. It won't go anywhere a Pop, Easy or Lounge can't, but it certainly should have appeal to active twenty- and thirty-somethings. For a limited time Fiat is offering the optional $1,700 Premier Package with its rear-park assist, rearview camera, Uconnect with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and navigation system at no charge. 



Remarkably roomy, the cabin is comfortable and well appointed. All the most popular goodies are there. Even the entry-level, $19,100 Pop comes with full power accessories, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, trip computer, Uconnect with 5-inch touchscreen, and a six-speaker audio system with iPod connectivity. 



Fiat put us up in the Four Seasons located at the harbor. I like feeling wealthy; it's exhilarating. The views were marvelous. This section of Baltimore is chockablock with great restaurants, bars and nightlife. 

You must squint to see him, but the guy in the blue shirt with the guitar is Sting.
 Cocktails and dinner our second evening were aboard a party boat called Raven. We wined and dined as Raven motored around the harbor. As the evening closed, we cruised up to an outdoor amphitheater where Sting was performing. I'm not a huge fan, but found the experience impressive and enjoyable nonetheless.

It may be another 10 years before I get back to Baltimore, but I hope not. It's one terrific city!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Yawn; Another Weekend Come and Gone

What has been a relatively quiet, but wet weekend is drawing to a close.

On Friday evening I did go to my usual Friday-night watering hole, Soby's, for a couple of glasses of wine. A few friends stopped by to catch up and tip one or two with me. It's not the same since my buddy Steve is no longer behind the bar. I was home by 9:30.

I'd like to say that I worked through the weekend on money-making projects, but that just wouldn't be true. I do have several assignments that I should be addressing, but the slacker in me just wouldn't allow it. I did prep a small hallway wall for painting. My house is somewhere in the range of 60 years old and is settling. I'm not sure how that is even possible. The ground here is red clay that is so hard you can't drive a nail into it with a sledgehammer. How this house can continue to settle is beyond me.

As it is settling, cracks are developing at the top of nearly every door on the main and third levels. I patched the ones in my bedroom and painted that wall three or four months ago. I also addressed all the stress cracks on the main level and painted those walls at the same time. Since doing all of that, a crack developed on the hall side over the upstairs bathroom door. I fixed that over the past week and was determined to paint that wall this weekend.

On Saturday I had all the trim work taped off, all the materials at the ready and was about to begin when I received a text from a buddy that he had put one of his dogs down that morning and needed a memorial drink. He said he and his wife would be at the Peddler Saturday happy hour around 3. It was already after 2 at that point. Never one to let a buddy drink alone, I showered and headed to Peddler.

A few other friends showed up as well. We all commiserated for a couple of hours. I had spaghetti sauce thawed for my usual Saturday "Italian night;" so I headed for home around 6. The balance of my evening was spent in my recliner watching movies.

For the past couple of years, I've been spending two or three hours on Sunday afternoons visiting my bartender buddy Natalie at Smoke on the Water. They have a $2.50 bottle-beer special on Sunday afternoons of which I availed myself. Natalie threw in the bar towel a couple of weeks ago, giving up the last two shifts she was working at Smoke. It was a second job for her anyway. By day she is a high school history teacher.

So within a couple of weeks, I lost two of my favorite Greenville bartenders. I would have gone somewhere for a memorial drink of my own for that double-barrel loss, but as you now know, I'm obviously running out of places to go.

In any event, I didn't go anywhere today (Sunday). I stayed home and picked up the paintbrush where I dropped it yesterday.

The sum total of my productivity this weekend was painting a six-foot-long wall, and I can't even blame my lack of accomplishing any money-making work on partying.

I'm not even a competent slacker any more.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Week With the Nissan GT-R in Spite of LeBron James

Stone Brewing Co's Nissan NV traveling taproom.


I was in San Diego in mid June with Nissan. Nissan flew members of the motoring press -- I love that term; sounds impressive, yes? -- there to introduce us to the 2014 Versa Note. It's the updated hatchback version of Versa.

I tell you this because the Note is a fine little entry-level hatchback that gets 36 mpg on the highway out of its little 109-horsepower 1.6-liter four; and also because attending the event thrust me among Nissan PR types.

The Nissan's vendor that brings me its cars in South Carolina had notified me the previous week that I would be getting the $100,000 2014 GT-R when I returned from San Diego. Never having driven one before, I was a might excited. 



For the uninitiated, the GT-R is Nissan's super car. A 545-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 turns all four wheels by way of a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. It can blast its way to 60 miles per hour from a standing stop in about 3 -- yes, that's 3 -- seconds. 



Not simply a straight-line speed merchant, GT-R corners like a roller coaster. The dual exhausts rumble like the Orient Express. At low speeds the transmission sometimes sounds like a coffee can full of ball bearings, but all of this is perfectly normal. Stomping on the accelerator is met with a burst of forward thrust that provides some idea of what reentering the earth's atmosphere in a Mercury capsule must have felt like.



Sidewalk gawkers snapped photos of it when I was stopped at red lights; fanboys approached me to ask about it in parking lots. It was a great week of showing off, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Back to the Nissan event: As I was sipping a glass of wine in Nissan's hospitality area in the Andaz Hotel in San Diego's Gaslight District waiting on the shuttle to dinner, a couple of the Nissan PR types plopped down in chairs around me. One of them has, among other duties, the job of chief wrangler for Nissan's national fleet of press cars.

Somehow our conversation turned to the GT-R. I casually mentioned that I would have a GT-R waiting for me at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport when I returned home. In fact, the key was being overnighted to me at the hotel.

The wrangler, who will remain nameless, responded that he knew I was getting the GT-R. He added that he has three of them in the media fleet and knows where each one is every minute of every day. He added that I should thank my regional PR guy, who made the case for me getting it. (I have, of course, done that.)

Then Dan went on to say that I also needed to thank LeBron James. What? LeBron James?

I couldn't care less about the Miami Heat. Sure, I lived in South Florida for over 20 years, but I have no use for the NBA. I just don't follow it. I really don't look forward to the spring and what seems like six weeks of playoffs. I can't figure out how a sport with a regular season of more than 80 games, somehow needs another 50 -- or whatever it is -- playoff games to find the top team.

So, when someone -- even someone who knows what he's talking about -- tells me I have to thank some NBA gangsta for anything, I have questions. 



It turns out that old Lebron is on the market for a GT-R. His people had worked out a deal with Nissan to drive one of the press cars for a few days. The GT-R in question was the one promised to me. At some point LeBron decided he wanted to wait until after the championship series for his GT-R wheel time. Here's where the thank-you comes in: Had the Heat not won game 6 against the Spurs, the GT-R would have been pulled from the press rotation and handed over to LeBron. That would have pulled it out from under me. Because the series went to game 7, the GT-R came to me for my week and then was bound for LeBron.

So, I had a stake in game 6 of the championship and didn't even know it. Thank, God, had I known, I might have forced myself to watch.

That was a close call.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Last Train to Curacao, or Some Such Thing




Last August I took a little side trip to the island of Curacao for AAA.



Ostensibly it was to attend the North Sea Jazz Festival. The other journalists with me were more music media than travel, but I was there specifically to do my AAA-travel thing.



It's a delightful place that many more people have on their bucket list than have on their travel resume. I thoroughly enjoyed the few days I was there.

AAA Go Magazine just ran my piece on it. You can find it at


You'll need a SC zip code; use 29605.