Kristin

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt...

It's another birthday. I'd like to think that along with that additional year of age comes some extra wisdom. I'm not counting on it. In fact, I've reached that point in the relentless march of time when there are very few pluses to offset the negatives like hair growing everywhere but where you want it, and getting out of a chair being accompanied by more snaps, crackles and pops than pouring milk into a bowl of Rice Krispies.

Now, it's not all bad. I spent last weekend in South Florida where a number of friends decided to pony up for lunches, dinners and drinks to celebrate my cheating death for another year. Yea me! Really, this elevated attention from friends is all that makes birthdays even somewhat bearable.

I am celebrating my "big" day by having dragged myself out of bed at 4 a.m. to get to Atlanta's airport in time to make my 9:50 flight to San Francisco. I'm heading to a Volkswagen event.

Spending most of my day doing the version of planes, trains and automobiles that my trips to the West Coast typically are may not seem like the best way to celebrate the anniversary of my birth; but it may well turn out OK.

I'm already upgraded to first class for the flight. Yes, I know, it's a little early to ravage the bar cart, but it's my birthday and I'm going to take advantage.

On top of that, VW is notorious for throwing terrific events. I expect dinner this evening to be in that spirit.

The hotel for this outing is actually in Napa. What wine lover among us wouldn't love to spend his birthday in Napa? Are you kidding me? It's going to be a great birthday!

A blow-by-blow account of this birthday boondoggle will follow.

Wish me luck, and a prayer or two wouldn't hurt.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I'd Walk a Mile for a Nissan

Hey, I'm looking at something I have seen very little of during the past three months: sunshine.

Sunset on the beach.
Yep, I'm in Newport Beach, Calif soaking up some rays and enjoying Nissans from around the world. It's the Nissan 360, which showcases everything Nissan sells here and abroad.


Nissan put us up at The Resort at Pelican Hill near Newport. Located just a block or two from the Pacific, it is a gorgeous facility. My bungalow is spacious with a gas-burning fireplace and a view of the ocean. It's fun pretending I'm rich.

 I only have a couple of gripes. The first is that this bungalow is about half a mile from the resort's main building and lobby. It's not a bad walk going to the main building; it's down hill. That means, of course, it's up hill going back. I hit the gym every day, but by the time I slip my key card into the appropriate slot in my room's front door I am huffing and puffing, and asking myself if I'm just imagining that my left arm is going numb.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope not to stroke out.
This morning I hiked to breakfast with a song in my heart and a smile on my face. I'm trying, albeit not very hard, to preserve the slight weight loss my recent "Bataan Death March" diet managed to achieve; consequently, I ate a bowl of Cheerios passing up the French toast, scrambled eggs and, sob, bacon.

Convincing myself I was full, I stormed the hill leading to my bungalow. I reached the door and began checking my pockets for my key card. Nope, not here or here or here… Holy snikies, I left it in my room!

Crestfallen, I glanced down the hill I had just climbed. I only had about 40 minutes before our scheduled departure from the resort to the driving venue. Just walking to the lobby and back would burn up 20 or 25 minutes of that. Plus, I had to get the front desk to make me another key eating up more of the clock. I needed stuff in my room and it would take a few minutes to gather it all together. It was going to be a close call no matter what.

I think I can; I think I can....
Bowing my head, I trudged back down the hill, once again passing all the hotel employees who had stopped what they were doing to say good morning to me on the way up. Replacing my key card required mere seconds, but I chose to speed things up even more by coaxing one of bellmen to whisk me to my room via a golf cart. I grabbed my stuff and hiked back down the hill with about 10 minutes to spare.

My second beef has to do with the in-room coffee maker. It's another case of too much technology. I was happy to see a coffee maker in the room. Typically high-end accommodations add to their bottom line by requiring guests to order room service if they want coffee in their rooms. The Red Carpet Inn, at $35 a night, can provide a Mr. Coffee and the appropriate supplies for making coffee in your room, but at $500 a night, The Four Seasons just can't manage it. How does that work?

It appears harmless enough, right?
 Any way, I was happy to find a coffee maker in my bungalow. Upon closer inspection, however, it wasn't a simple coffee maker, but some sort of bean-grinding, water-heating gizmo from hell. 

My flat-screen TV didn't come with this many instructions.
A long sheet of instructions rested beside this contraption. You've got to pour water in one place, beans in another. Pushing this button then that one prompts enough racket to wake up neighbors three bungalows away. Once the beans are ground, the heated water drips through the system into a stainless-steel pot.

Climbing out of the shower, I was all set for a great cup of coffee. Unfortunately, my meticulous adherence to the instructions was rewarded with caramel-colored water. I'm not sure the water even passed through the grounds. Where the hell was my coffee?

(I figured out later that I had poured the beans in the wrong place. All of that grinding racket was just churning air. Bleary-eyed at 6:00 in the morning is not the best time to unravel the mysteries of a complex piece of kitchen machinery.)

Thankfully breakfast -- down the hill, of course -- was already under way. My Cheerios and a cup of real coffee awaited.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Losing a Pound or Ten Is a Brutal, Self-Depriving Slog

You can probably tell by looking at me that I am not a dieter.

I descend from a family whose DNA is dominated by fat markers that make staying even somewhat fashionably trim a full-time, hair-pulling, don't-put-anything-in-your-mouth-that-tastes-good endeavor. It's a lousy way to live life and I decided long ago that I'm not going to do it.

I'm a firm believer in the musing of Mark Twain when he said something to the effect: If I can't get to seventy by a comfortable road, I'm not going. If a doctor told me that I had to give up Italian and Chinese food or I'd die in six months, I'd begin putting my life in order and running up my credit cards.

I refuse to fuel my engine with tofu, sprouts and beets. Like Ron White, I didn't join man's 10,000-year struggle to reach the top of the food chain to eat green beans. Green bean, I spit you out!

I do go to the gym nearly every day that I'm at home. A missed day is rare, indeed. I burn nearly 1,000 calories a day just on the cardio machine I use. Yet, I am still slowly losing the weight struggle.

On a recent trip to Charleston for the wedding of some friends, I checked into the Marriott in plenty of time to catch a little sun by the pool. I received a wake-up call when I donned swimming attire and glanced in my room's full-length mirror. I only have one such mirror in my home and it's in the guest room -- let my friends get freaked out seeing themselves. I hadn't seen me much below my neck in some time and certainly not in a swim suit. I was shocked, appalled and, dare I say, mortified by the sight.

I decided then and there that the wedding reception would be my last hurrah for a while. With a South Florida trip a mere three weeks away, I was determined to jettison at least 10 pounds.

I essentially stopped drinking -- a friend's birthday dinner demanded I have a glass of wine, and a Sunday afternoon outing prompted one Woodford on the rocks -- for about 18 days. My daily menu consisted of a protein bar for breakfast, egg beaters for lunch and a grilled chicken breast for dinner, supplemented by stalks of celery during the day and a handful of unsalted almonds in the evening.

To be honest, I missed food much more than the alcohol. Holy crap, I hate Egg Beaters!

In the food department, I also wandered off the reservation at the aforementioned birthday dinner where I indulged myself with Orange Peel Chicken and brown rice at a Chinese joint. One of my friends glanced over and asked why I was quietly sobbing.

I peeled off five pounds in the first six days and four more the following week, but have been essentially stuck at nine pounds for the past three or four days. That's OK, I know weight management is more than just weight. I still have high hopes for stepping on the scale at the gym today and finding that last stubborn pound has dropped away.

Today will be my last day of this self-imposed punishment. Initially I was going to continue this routine for a few more days, but that won't happen. I've had to adjust my plans based on a few unexpected things that have come up.

Even if I don't get to that elusive 10th pound this go-around, I intend to revisit this weight-loss thing in the fall for a couple of more weeks. In the meantime, I'm going to eat, drink and be merry.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Turning Water into Beer



What is the one thing that has been missing for drunks on the go? Why, portable beer of course.

Well, Pat's Backcountry Beverages (http://www.patsbcb.com/soda-concentrates) has broken the glass ceiling in the easy transportation of beer with its nifty beer concentrate. 



Because portaging cases of beer on a weekend camping trip is too darn taxing, Pat's has come up with a system for concentrating beer into a pocket-size packet that can be reconstituted in a minute or two into a fully carbonated 16-oz beer.

Apparently it operates on the same principle as those make-your-favorite-soda-at-home systems, only using a simpler, less expensive container. 

Ultra without the carbonation.

I haven't tried this stuff myself -- it's not on the market yet, but it may just work. I mean, could it be any worse than Michelob Ultra? Not in my book. After all, what is Ultra, but slightly beer-flavored sparking water?



At the heart of the process is a plastic water bottle-like affair that Pat's calls the Carbonator. There's a bit more to it than that, but it's remarkably simple looking. Inside is a small compartment for the secret-recipe powder that creates the carbonation. You pour a packet of beer syrup into the bottle, add the carbonating powder and water, open the top a couple of times, shake it up and you're ready to salute Texas and Miss Lilly. Pat's claims you will have a beer with a 5% alcohol content.

Because the syrup contains alcohol, it will only be sold in places already dispensing beer or liquor.

A kit with the Carbonator and six powder packets retails for $39.95. Just the Carbonator rings the register at $29.95. Pretty reasonable if you ask me.

When the beer concentrate finally makes it to market, there will be a Pale Ale and an IPA offered. Other types of beers will follow. A four-pack of concentrate packages will retail for $9.95.



Now, I certainly don't see myself hitting the trail with my Carbonator and beer packets, but here's another possibility: Sounds like the ideal method for sneaking cheap beer into concerts and other venues where BYOB is prohibited because they want to sell you $10 cans of beer.

I'm just sayin'.........

Friday, August 9, 2013

Can You Go Home Again? Yes and No.

All my life I've heard, "you can't go home again." Well, you can, but more than likely it will be only moderately familiar. Another question: Do you want to?

I'm not one to get all weepy thinking about my childhood and the places that helped shape me. I don't long to reacquaint myself with the neighborhoods where I grew up. I had already lived in four towns/cities by the time I was 13, when we moved to Louisville, Ky.

Whether because of the abrupt two- to three-year duration of my stays in those first four places, or because I didn't form any deep friendships in them, I have no nagging desires to revisit a one of them. 

Yep, that's Little Rusty between ages 1 and 2, with the new family Boxer pup Duchess. Taken in the Harborcreek House.
 I was born in Erie, Pa and still have lots of cousins in the area -- none of whom I've seen in 10 to 15 years. I probably haven't been back to Erie in at least 15 years. I don't miss it. My family moved from Erie -- Harborcreek, actually -- before I was three. I have vivid memories of my short time there, but because I was so young, they are a massive gobbledygook of disjointed snippets. 

My dad on college graduation day around 1957. He's standing behind the house of our neighbor Mr. Mutter. No kidding: the guy was 100 and his name was Mr. Mutter.
 We moved from Erie to Greenville, Pa where my father attended Thiel College on the G.I. Bill. Working full time supporting my mother, sister and I, he graduated in three years second in his class. I returned to Greenville many times until graduating high school because my sister married there and stayed for about 12 years. Otherwise, I would never have gone back; and haven't since her family moved to New Mexico.

From Greenville it was on to Springfield, Ohio where my father attended a Lutheran seminary at Wittenberg University. I loved the three years we spent there. My father worked in several capacities around the university and I had full run of the campus. Whether it was helping -- getting in the way, mostly -- a sorority decorate its yard for homecoming, swimming in the field house pool or hanging out in the student union, there was always something going on.

So smitten was I with Wittenberg, it was my only choice for college. So, nine years after my family moved on, I returned to Old Mother WU for a four-year stint, partying, running around and generally wasting my parents' money. I've been back several times since -- although not in 10 years or so -- for fraternity reunions and the like.

Leaving Springfield during the summer between fourth and fifth grades, we moved to Wheeling, WVa, where my father was called by his first church. I attended three years of military school there. I did make some pretty good friends, but they were friendships that failed to endure beyond my family's two return visits after moving away. My last trip back was in 1974, when I took my mother to visit friends she still had there and I hooked up with a Wheeling girl I had dated briefly in college.

My dad accepted his second and last church in Louisville the summer between my seventh- and eighth-grade years. I lived there for 14 or 15 years, have scads of friends and manage to get back to visit at least once a year. Both my parents are buried there and I consider it home.

I tell you all of this because during the course of my scrounging through a couple of boxes of old photos, I stumbled across a couple of pictures of my house in Harborcreek where I spent my first three years. 

My first years were spent in this house on Buffalo Road in Harborcreek. My father built every bit of it himself.
 Among all sorts of other talents that never cease to humble me, my dad was a master carpenter. He literally built our Harborcreek home himself. This was around 1949 or so -- well before local governments became involved regulating home building. There were no inspections, certificates of occupation or requirements for a licensed general contractor. Nope. Dad simply drew up the plans, dug the basement and erected the house. He dug our well by hand. Motivated? You bet. It apparently skipped a generation.

I remember living in the house and remained familiar with it because when we moved, my parents sold it to my mother's sister. We spent summer vacations there for the next 12 years. I had last been in it in 1974, when my mother and I went to Erie for the funeral of her father Wildcat Harry. We called him that because land he donated to the state near Cane, Pa had been turned into Wildcat Park.

My grandparents house as it appears today. My old house is in the background. The paved road is a fairly recent addition. It's on what was once Wildcat's property and used to be just a trail back to his woods.
 My parents bought the lot from Wildcat; he and my grandmother lived next door. Behind their house was the hunting cabin Wildcat had originally built on the property. My mother's sister and her family lived there.

It wasn't until 15 or 20 years later, as my sister and I were in Erie for the 80th birthday party of one of my father's sisters, that I was in that house again.

The old family homestead as it looked about 15 years ago. I can remember from my time living there snow drifts piled up to the second-floor windows.
 Today it's a screen-printed tee-shirt shop. The several acres behind it and my grandparents old house that was once Wildcat's farm is now occupied by a church of some stripe.

Because it was business hours when my sister and I drove by, we went in and struck up a conversation with the owner. A twenty-something, he couldn't have been more accommodating. His mother was there as well. We asked if we could wander around; he gave us the run of the place.

Other than the conversion to a business, the main level was pretty much as I remembered it, albeit smaller. When we walked upstairs, though, my sister and I were both shocked by the 7-foot ceilings. Neither of us had any recollection of this oddity. I can sort of explain away my unawareness because I was pretty young when we lived there. My sister, however, lived there longer than I did and graduated high school the year we moved. Yet, she never realized the ceilings were remarkably low.

One of the memories I do have from living there are of snow drifts up to the second-floor windows. Ya gotta love that lake-effect wind and snow.

Yep, you can go home again, but often it's not all it's cracked up to be.

Monday, August 5, 2013

There Was Only One Dip Stick in the BMW 750i and He Was Behind the Wheel

I must admit, because the cars I drive nearly always have less than 10,000 miles on them -- most less than 5,000 miles -- and are always delivered to me clean and fully serviced, I rarely need to lift the hood unless I am uncontrollably curious. Popping the hood mostly reveals just a lot of plastic covers and some wires. Rather than being a voyage of discovery, lifting the hood usually just has me asking myself, "Hmmm, I wonder what's under there and there?"


Once in a while I will get a car low on windshield-washer fluid, but other fluid levels are always topped off. Those of us over 40 or so remember when pulling up to a gas pump meant a couple of uniformed attendants rushed out to not only pump your gas, but wash your windows and check under your hood. Having your oil checked every fill up was S.O.P.

Of course, those were the days when most cars needed a quart of oil every couple of hundred miles. Unless there is something radically amiss, today's cars barely burn any. As long as you follow the recommended oil change schedule outlined in the owner's manual, you don't need to add any in between those regular visits to Jiffy Lube.

I am waxing on and on about these things you probably already know because I took a little overnighter from Greenville to Charleston and back last week -- a trip of about 420 total miles. Not that it matters to the core topic of this posting, but it was for the wedding of a couple of friends. They actually officially tied the knot in Las Vegas a few months ago. Charleston was an event for the moms and other assorted family members -- plus a couple of friends -- who wanted to participate in the nuptials. It was a beach ceremony followed by a cozy, balls-to-the-wall reception at a beachfront seafood joint on Isle of Palms.


BMW supplied a 2013 750i xDrive -- xDrive is BMW speak for all-wheel drive -- sedan for my little boondoggle. You may pay as little as $89,300 for this luxury four-door, but the one I had rang the register for $107,195, thanks to add-ons like power sunshades on the rear windows, ceramic controls, smart phone integration, special wheels, some extra aero pieces, and night vision with pedestrian detection.


A 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 cranks out 445 horsepower that, in the case of the BMW I had, turned all four wheels by way of an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Even with the AWD, this monster got almost 24 mpg on the highway. I really liked the head-up display projecting, not only the car's speed, but the posted speed limit on the windshield. There are so many gizmos and gadgets, I can't even begin to list them all here. Let's say, it's loaded with comfort, convenience and technology features and leave it at that.



A car targeting people in search of basic transportation it ain't.

I had been sporting around Greenville over the weekend in the 750 without incident. With a BMW plant in town, a BMW is not a rare bird -- even a 750. So, although it carries a price tag qualifying it as a show-off car, there are enough of them in Greenville that no one pays much attention. Hey, I can live with that. I survived South Florida for 25 years where a 750 was what one drove to his air-conditioned warehouse to pick up the Lamborghini for a Sunday drive in South Beach.

The point is that I had put at least 100 miles on the 750 before shoving off for Charleston on Tuesday. About 50 or 60 miles into my southward slog, a warning light accented with a melodious bing popped on. I paraphrase here, but the message read: Oil level low; add a quart of oil.

When one is an auto journalist to whom a car company has entrusted a $100,000 automobile, it's not good business to ignore a warning message. At all costs you want to avoid making the call that begins, "The engine in the 750 seized up." Followed by, "Well, yes the oil warning light did come on, but I didn't want to get my hands dirty."

At the next exit off I-26, I pulled into what passes for a gas station today. It was basically a 24-hour convenience store with gas pumps in front. I had nothing with which to open a quart of oil. I had no rags nor a funnel to pour oil through to keep it off all the aforementioned plastic pieces. But I was determined to work the problem.

Is that it? No. Is that it? No. Where's cotton-pickin' dip stick?

Releasing the hood latch, I opened the hood and stared at the packed engine bay. Yes, it contained more than its fair share of plastic covers. I found a spot to add oil, but after several minutes of searching, I couldn't locate the dip stick. I had fetched a napkin from the convenience store specifically to wipe off the dip stick. Where's the damn dip stick!

I climbed back into the car and located the owner's manual. I couldn't believe I had to consult the owners manual to find the dip stick. I'm an auto journalist for the love of God! Using the index, I found the section on adding engine oil. Hmmm, dip stick, dip stick, dip stick: nope, nothing about the dip stick. Hold the phone, what's this? Why, it's a section on measuring the oil level....electronically. What?

Yep, in the finest BMW tradition, they've replaced manually checking the oil level with an electronic system. You work your way through two or three menu items on the touchscreen, clicking on this and that and voila, you arrive at the "measure oil level" screen. Click on "measure," and roughly 30 seconds later the system tells you how much oil you have and if it's enough. The level was well over the "minimum" indicator, and a message reassured me that I had plenty of oil.

Okay, now what? Obviously something was wrong, but I couldn't be sure which message was accurate. I chose to go with the finding of the measuring system, and got back on the road.

I didn't hear from the oil-level system again until I was driving back from Charleston. About 30 miles into the trip, the "add a quart of oil" warning popped on. I ignored it until I pulled into my driveway. I went through the measuring process again and guess what? Yep, it told me I had plenty.

However, I certainly would have felt better about the whole thing had I been able to manually check the level. At times, too much technology is, well, too much.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Two Outdoor Projects Checked off the List Despite Nearly NonStop Rain



Regardless how many outdoor, job-jar projects you hope to accomplish during the warmer months, or what their level of complexity, it's tough to get any of them done when it rains every day as it has in Greenville for six to eight weeks.

We've actually been getting a break or two from the rain -- a couple lasting as long as 36 hours. Those of us intrepid do-it-yourselfers only need a small window of clear sky to screw up the courage to embark on a project. Two such rain interruptions occurred last week and I sprang into action.



My house is roughly 60 years old and has more than a half dozen old-growth trees surrounding it. Four of these are nasty old pine trees that tower three or four stories into the air. The others are regular old trees of one sort or another. I'm not sure what they are. They have branches, leaves and bark. They're trees, okay? Although not quite the skyscrapers the pines are, they are huge as well. I have been agonizing about the ones in close proximity to the house almost since I bought the joint more than six years ago. Every fierce storm with whipping winds catapults me into panic mode.

We had such a storm two weeks ago. As the cat dashed for the perceived safety of the crawl space under my bed, I sat in my recliner sipping some Black Maple Hill on the rocks and wondering exactly what I would do if one of these trees or their branches came crashing through the roof. 



I have avoided having the branches overhanging the house professionally trimmed simply because of cost. I figure it would run between $600 and $800. I hate to spend that sort of money without adding any real value to the place. So, I have been paralyzed by indecision compounded by my skin-flint philosophy.

After the big storm a couple of Wednesdays ago, I decided I needed to do something. The trees beat my house to death. I figured I could delay the major expense of having a tree service do the trimming by doing what I could myself.

I hopped online and began shopping for pole chainsaws. The branches most involved with the house were no more than 8 or 9 inches in diameter and most smaller than that. I figured a 10-inch blade should be long enough. Because I didn't want to deal with all the mess of a gas-powered saw, I shopped electric ones.

I belong to Amazon Prime. I joined primarily for the free movies -- none of which I've ever downloaded -- but with membership comes free 2-day shipping on most stuff purchased through them. I buy a lot on Amazon. I found a 10-inch Remington chain saw with a pole expanding to 15 feet for $99. Free shipping, no tax: a bargain!

Two days later my new toy arrived. I had to wait a day or two for a sunny afternoon; but as soon as the sun broke through, I was on the roof with the saw, the pole and 50 feet of electric cord ready to go.

Here's the thing: Even though the saw itself probably only weighs six or seven pounds, and the pole another three or four pounds, once you get that saw dangling out 15 feet, it feels like 30 pounds. That's tough enough to wrestle with if you are standing flat-footed on the ground; but standing on the edge of your roof or the top rung of an 8-foot step ladder, it's positively scary. 



I wasn't able to safely reach everything I had intended to cut, but still got rid of a bunch of it. Once I had trimmed all the branches, I then had to cut them up to put out by the street for pick up.

It wound up being about a four-hour job.

My second little outdoor chore was replacing one of the wood railings for the steps leading from the back of the carport down to the sidewalk. I had replaced the one on the other side two or three years ago for the same reason: wood rot.



Tearing out the damaged railing was pretty simple. You just get a big hammer and bang it out. 



Breaking out my electric miter saw, I cut a 2x4 to size and nailed it in place. Several of the vertical spindles had also come away with the railing, so I had to reinstall those as well. From the time I got my tools out until everything was put away and the clean up completed, the project required about 90 minutes. 



Then I had to put a coat of primer on the railing. A day later the weather report was for 24 hours of clear skies, so I painted the new wood, as well as the all the railings across the back of the carport to match. 

Ta-dah!

So, until I accumulate the cash for a new shed that will require assembly, as well as the cost of pouring a concrete pad to set it on, my outdoor projects are kaput.