Dallas Wayne

Dallas Wayne
Snapped by my buddy Winker in Austin a few years ago, here I am mugging it up with XM Outlaw Country host Dallas Wayne backstage somewhere on 6th.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Charging Up the Technology Hill: Adapting to a New Toshiba Laptop

I'm deep in the learning curve with my new Toshiba Satellite laptop and Windows effing 8. So far they've got me on the ropes.

Actually, I'm doing OK with both. Transitioning from Windows XP to 8 is like moving from Davenport to Chicago, but I'm getting the hang of it. My eight-year-old Dell PC will only power up every third day or so. Even for a guy willing to grab onto any excuse not to work, that wasn't acceptable.

I talked to Dell a couple of months ago to see what it would cost to replace my current PC with a new one and still have it operate dual monitors: $800 was the quote. Ouch. I'm fed up with my little Acer netbook. It's great size wise, but is slower than Mike Tyson taking a multiple-choice quiz. It's absolutely frustrating. So, I had been contemplating replacing it with a new laptop. When my PC starting going South, I decided a good laptop would be a solid compromise to get me through until I've got the bucks to invest in a new Dell PC.

I've also been thinking about shooting some video for Clanging Bell and wanted a platform with enough juice to support an editing program, and light enough to travel with me.

A Taste of the South: One of Euphoria's Friday evening events.
 The major issue has been my schedule. I just haven't had time to really play with it. (I'll pause while you think of a joke or two.) There have been a couple of assignments I needed to crank out and this past weekend was filled to the brim with Euphoria events that I had a media pass for. For the uninitiated, Euphoria is a three-day food-and-booze-and-music festival. It's an annual event, but this is the first year I've been around to attend it.

Attempting to print out boarding passes for flights today, I discovered yesterday that my scanner/printer wasn't communicating with the new laptop. I arose two hours early this morning to try to get the problem solved. I did, eventually.

Because my PC sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, I was able to backup everything I needed on one of the days it chose to function. At least I don't have to contend with trying to find someone competent to try to pull stuff off my PC's hard drive.

I'm writing all of this as an explanation as to why I haven't been as attentive to Clanging Bell as I should be.

I'm three or four topics behind blogging about things I've done, places I've been or cars I've driven on manufacturer events. The Kia adventure that begins today will bring the count to five.

I'm under excruciating pressure!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Four Days, Four Microbreweries, One Wedding and Zero Pigs: My Weekend in Kewanee!

In an effort to get back to my small-town roots – I'm a product of Harborcreek, PA, after all – I made a trek to Kewanee, Illinois for a long weekend. Well, it wasn't so awfully long for me, but I suspect my host was mightily relieved when it was over. I arrived late on a Thursday afternoon and headed for the airport mid-morning on Monday. She didn't exactly push my car away from the curb, but neither was she standing on her front porch teary eyed waving her hankie good-bye. I'm an acquired taste.

The final tally: I was 2 pounds heavier, a couple of cases of beer less thirsty and the cost of three microbrewery t-shirts poorer. All in all I'd call it a successful outing.

If Kewanee sounds familiar to you, you have a pretty good shot at winning some money on Jeopardy.

“I'll take Small Towns No One Has Ever Heard Of for $500, Alex.”


(A hesitant ding) “Ummm...What is the hog capital of the world?”

“You are correct.”

Yes, the red dot markes Kewanee.

Yes, that's right; it's the hog capital of the world. Having said that, I drove around the region for four days and never saw my first oinker. The closest I came was a rack with bags of pork rinds at Menards. Incidentally, if you are unfamiliar with Menards, think of it as the love child of an Ace Hardware Store and a Krogers. There's fresh rhubarb over here and 2-by-4s over there. I did, however, see a lot of corn...a hell of a lot of it. Granted, Nebraska or perhaps Iowa seems to have bragging rights as the corn capital of the world, but western Illinois could present a solid argument in a court of law.

Joni and I dazzling the crowd as we danced at my friends Steve and Connie's wedding in Greenville a few years ago.
Ostensibly I was there to accompany my buddy Joni –born and raised in Kewanee – to a wedding. She did the same for me in Greenville four or five years ago. I was supposed to go there over Labor Day weekend for Hog Days. It's the town's big annual reunion/festival/beer drinking contest. I've been promising to go for years and this was to be the year. Sadly, by the time I had a car worked out in Chicago, the flights were way too expensive. So, the wedding a couple of weeks later was plan B.

I flew into Chicago from Greenville by way of Atlanta and then Cincinnati. If someone else had booked this flight, I would have reamed them a new one. But, nope, it was little old me who did it. I spent hours hanging out in airports.

Joni had tried to convince me to fly into Moline or Peoria where she would come get me, but I shrugged off the advice. After years of not paying any attention to anything she said, why start now? Boy, did I have egg on my face. The moral of the story: Don't fly into Chicago if Chicago isn't your final destination. I'll never do it again.

Nissan was kind enough to furnish me with one of its Rogues for the adventure. The vendor that moves cars around the Midwest for Nissan, drops cars off and picks them back up through the valet stand at the O'Hare Hilton that's attached to the airport. It cost $20 to retrieve the Nissan from the valet. This was just a fraction of the $52 it would have cost had the vendor not had a special arrangement with Hilton. Actually getting the car was a pretty simple process, but escaping the crazy spaghetti of ramps, streets and roads that snake around the airport was more adventure than I was interested in.

Fast and furiously barking out commands, the GPS could barely keep up with the exits. What seemed like every 50 feet or so was another toll booth and traffic slowed to a crawl. What a circus. Once free of the airport mess and the really heavy snarls of traffic, things went more smoothly. 

Arriving in Kewanee around 5:30, I whipped up a batch of margaritas for the two of us and another couple of friends we were scheduled to have dinner with. After my drive, I was ready to chug the bottle of Cabo Silver.

My first of three trips to Kewanee's landmark eatery and bar Cerno's during my stay was for dinner that night. It's sort of Kewanee's partying hub. A wonderful selection of draft beers and a decent menu no doubt keeps folks coming back. It has one of only five bars that Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer had built and installed in drinking establishments around the country. I was impressed.

Friday, Joni drove me to the Quad Cities that straddle the Illinois/Iowa border. Comprised of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois, Davenport, Iowa and some other little towns that no one seems to be able to agree on, the Quad Cities has five or six microbreweries. I was in hog heaven, so to speak.

Joni and I at the Bent River Brewery.

We managed to hit four of the area's breweries. I was really impressed with a couple of them: Bent River in Moline and Great River in Davenport. I sampled a couple of really good beers in each. I was particularly smitten by Bent River's Uncommon Stout. We discovered later that Uncommon Stout is the area's best selling beer behind Bud Light.

The marketing folks at Bent River are doing a bang-up job of moving this beer. It's in many restaurants and grocery stores.
  I'm not making this up. 

The usual suspects back at Cerno's: Joni, me, Lynn and Jerome Baker.
 Friday night we were back in Cerno's for round 2.

Saturday was the big wedding. Joni offered to let me off the hook by dropping me off at a bar during the ceremony and then retrieving me post wedding. I didn't think that was very good form. What, I can't sit through a 20-minute ceremony? I didn't want to look any more like an S.O.B. than I knew I probably would by the time the reception was over. I've seen me at wedding receptions. Historically, it's not pretty.

Some of the hardcore wedding gang fortifying themselves at Pioneer between the ceremony and reception.
Nope, I insisted on participating in the whole enchilada. I figured if the wedding couple was going to pony up the cash for me to eat and drink at the reception, the least I could do is suffer through the I do's.

Apparently I held the minority opinion on that.

At least twice as many people were at the reception as were at the wedding. I was astounded. It wasn't a fancy affair, but it was nice. Kewanee is a little short on party halls. I'm not sure exactly where we were. It was some sort of society's meeting hall. All I remember is the name of the society is close to “Fetish.” I can't imagine that's accurate, though.

As the evening wore on, more and more people seemed to wander in off the street. Whether they were invited guests who just got off work or crashers looking for a free beer is a mystery to me. There were guys in sleeveless shirts and John Deere caps strolling around with their cups of beer. At one point, there must have been 25 or 30 little kids running around. There were maybe a dozen at the ceremony. My theory is that people were just dropping off their kids and sending them inside. “Go play with your friends. Mommy and Daddy will be back in two hours to get you. Don't eat too much cake!”

Don't ask me; I don't know what the hell is going on here.

Once the parents all returned and picked up their kids, the DJ finally came to life and the place got rocking. I have to be fairly loaded to dance. I was on the dance floor for for 90 minutes or so. I'm sure there's a YouTube video out there somewhere. It was quite the party.

Sunday was basically a recovery day. After my $4 breakfast at the golf course – I'm not lying; four bucks for two eggs, four strips of bacon, a mound of hash browns and two slices of toast – we basically lounged around watching movies and football. 

For dinner we headed to Princeton for meat. The Prime Quarter is a four-store chain of steak houses. The hook is you grill your own steak. It's a nice joint with a no-frills menu. You choose your steak from the cooler – they are all the same price – grill it yourself, toss some slices of Texas toast on the grill, serve yourself in the salad/baked potato bar and there ya go. A server brings whatever your having from the bar and you're good to go.

I'm not sure when I might return to Kewanee. I still owe Joni a “Hog Days” trip. But it was a fun, relaxing, low-pressure outing.

But where are the damn pigs?

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Confluence of My Birthday, Napa Valley and Volkswagen!

Sometimes I love being me!

My birthday this year was such a time.

Almost by design, Volkswagen invited me to Napa for its full-line ride and drive. I chose the wave that landed me in Napa on the anniversary of my birth. Napa, my birthday; what, you thought I'd say, no?

We stayed at the Meadowood Napa Valley. It's in the heart of the wineries that populate Silverado Trail and the arteries that storied boulevard connects.

As is typical with a manufacturer's full-line event, VW offered its full range of products sold in the U.S. for short-route driving. That means my driving partner and I grabbed a car, drove a 40 or so-minute course, returned to the staging area and jumped into a different model. Think of it as a refresher course in all things VW.

I enjoy a fair amount of Volkswagens among my test-car rotations, but it's always fun to immerse oneself in a pool of a maker's various products. One model I had not been in, which I was eager to spend some wheel time with, was the $29,995 -- $31,095 if you opt for the six-speed dual-clutch automatic tranny -- Beetle GSR.

Quirky looking? Yes. It's what one might imagine a yellow jacket would look like if you were on an acid trip.

Today's Beetle GSR is an update of the 1970 version.
 VW is only producing 3,500 examples of the 1970 Beetle-like GSR, and that's for world-wide consumption. In addition to the rather unique exterior color combination, the cabin has a few GSR-only tweaks, like yellow stitching on the black-leather seats and steering wheel, special GSR floor mats and a GSR shift lever. 

It's impossible to run under the radar in this car. It screams, LOOK AT ME! So, it pays to be prudent and not wander too far afield of the local speed limits, which is easy to do in a car able to accelerate from 0-to-60 in about six and a half seconds. This thanks to a 210-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Equipped like an R-Line with the Sunroof and Sound with Navigation package, GSR is nicely outfitted. Its Fender audio system upgrade is easily one of the best sound systems in the industry.

I like the Beetle a lot. Thanks to the second-generation redesign, it looks much better than the "New Beetle" did. I don't think you can quite stretch credulity and call it macho looking, but it certainly has more masculine appeal than the previous version. 

Attempting to shoot a photo using my iPad and failing miserably.
We zipped around Napa turning heads and passing wineries my driving partner and I wanted to visit. I must admit, we didn't follow any of the routes VW mapped out for us. We sort of just hit some places with which we were familiar and enjoyed the day.

Before the day was over we also got into a Jetta and a Passat. The 2-liter TDI turbo diesel VW uses to power a number of its models will make a diesel convert out of just about anyone. It is one fine powerplant and good for up to 41 mpg on the highway!

My goal was to consume Trefefen's entire cellar of cabs, but time just ran out.
 We did cheat and sneak out to Trefefen Winery after we completed our driving in the afternoon. Although my driving partner Mark Elias was familiar with the label, I wasn't. A few tastes later and my tutorial was complete.

So enough about cars, back to my birthday.

Dinner our first night -- the actual night of my birthday -- was at a hamburger joint called Gott's Roadside. Apparently it's quite popular with the locals and for good reason: The burgers bring tears to the eyes of serious beef-aholics.

VW commandeered a large lawn area behind the restaurant where we were fed from the Gott's food truck and not the restaurant proper. Live music, cold beer and great food: What more could a boy want in the way of a birthday celebration? How about a little tequila? Once back at VW's hospitality area at the resort, we toasted my cheating death another year with sippin' shots of Don Julio's 1942 Tequila. Oh, Momma!

I'm about to get a snoot full of maple-bacon icing courtesy of my buddy Ron Moorhead as VW's Leigh Anne Sessions looks on.
There were no birthday cakes, but among the confections on the dessert table were an assortment of killer cupcakes. I opted for a Maple-Bacon one. Holy snikies it was good. I also had about half of a chocolate-chip cookie that was at least a half-inch thick and as big around as a manhole cover.

Yep, not a bad birthday at all.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sleep: I Don't Need No Stinkin' Sleep

All indications to the contrary, I haven't abandoned my blogging duties despite my not posting anything new in nearly a week. I've been on the road at a place without 24-hour WiFi access. Getting online pretty much entailed heading to some joint that offered it as I had a beer or a meal.

When I did manage to find a suitable place with Internet access, I spent those precious minutes catching up on e-mails and trading punches with editors. My philosophical opposition to coughing up $1,100 plus a year for a smart phone haunts me at such times.

I managed to sandwich six hours at home between my current trip and the one before it. It certainly wasn't long enough to post a blog. It was all I could do to unpack, pack, print boarding passes, scoop the cat box and catch three hours of sleep.

I arrived at the Greenville airport a few minutes after 10 p.m. from a trip to Illinois and returned at 4:40 the next morning for a trek to San Diego. I parked in the space I vacated the night before and reboarded the plane on which I landed in Greenville the night before.

It was my version of "Ground Hog Day."

This lightening turnaround was the product of my accepting a late invite from Mazda for its Mazda3 event in San Diego. It's what happens when a car company discovers at the last minute that it has a vacancy or two on an event and then scrambles around to fill it. I was the scramble-ee.

Because I had booked my Illinois trip a couple of months ago, the Mazda program dates weren't even on my radar. I would have flown home from the Illinois trip a day earlier had I known.

Of course, I could have always simply said, no, to Mazda's invite. I always have that option. I turned down the invite to another event the beginning of next week because it was just too much back-to-back traveling. They will have to soldier on without me.

In the meantime, I will deal with a long travel day following a day that involved a 3-hour drive across Illinois to Chicago and then two flights to get me from there home.

I have no doubt that I will live through it, but I'm more than ready for a little recliner-in-front-of-the-TV time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Cat That Can't Drain Its Bladder Is Draining My Savings

I'm dealing with a sick pet.

Pets can be tough under normal circumstances -- even more so when you spend 10 days a month or more on the road. Now toss in that the pet is dealing with health issues and it's bound to add to your stress factor.

I've been lucky with my life-long pet experiences. I had never been involved in putting a pet down until three years ago when my cat buddy of 14 years -- Rambo Watch Cat -- developed some sort of tumor in his mouth and I cashed him out. The entire ordeal spanned less than 7 days from the time he exhibited abnormal behavior and I put him to sleep. It was the only time in his life he was sick. He hadn't been to a vet in well over 12 years. 

Taking him on that last ride to the vet's was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

The only pet my family had that I was old enough to have any clue what was going on when she had to be put down was my Boston Terrier, Penny. I got her as a puppy when I was 13. My dad had her put down my senior year in college while I was in school. I missed all the drama.

Every pet I had as an adult, wound up going with a live-in girlfriend when we split up. Thanks for playing our game and here's your parting gift. In fact, two such refugees from a relationship with me wound up with a dog and a cat. I have no clue what happened to any of those animals.

So, now I have Jazz. She's a sketchy little cat that tips the scales at a puny 8 pounds. What she lacks in size, however, she makes up for with a bad attitude. She'll come up to visitors, purring like a motor. It's an act. She's really waiting to sucker said visitor into petting her at which time she rewards the attention with a nip. Persistence on the visitor's part turns the nip into a bite. She barely tolerates me when she's in such a mood.

She is currently dealing with a stubborn urinary infection. There's a fancier term for it, but basically she's struggling to pee. Me too, but that's a function of just getting older. Forty years ago I could hit the toilet without getting out of bed. Now, well, not so much.

So far I have $450 invested in this cat illness. Like her bro Rambo, Jazz has managed to thrive the past 14 years without ever being sick. Her last trip to the vet was to have her front claws removed when she was two or three months old.

I'm not happy with what this illness has cost me to date. I mean, I researched it on the Internet and knew what the issue was when I took her in the first time. How many tests do you need to diagnose the most common cat ailment there is? Bing it yourself. Search "Cat not peeing in litter box" and see what comes up. It's a urinary tract infection.

But the tests are mounting up. I am currently waiting for the findings of a urine culture ($121). She is on her second treatment of a two-week antibiotics shot ($52 each). I have to invest in the two-week shot because I'm not home enough days in a row to keep up with pills or whatever that I would administer on a daily basis.

After dropping her off on Wednesday, the vet called to ask if I would approve X-rays to check for kidney stones. It's only $150, I was told.

"If it is stones, what would the treatment be," I asked.

"We'd perform surgery to remove the stones," I was told.

"Ah, no," was my response, "surgery is not an option. This is a 14-year-old cat not my grandmother."

So, no X-rays.

This may seem a bit coldhearted, but I'm not going to be one of those people with a sick pet who tallies up the vet costs after a month or two of trying to get things solved to find I've spent $1,500 trying to get an animal that's the equivalent of 70 years old healthy.

So, for better or worse, we're on the home stretch of this thing. If the vet can, in good faith, choose some antibiotic based on the urine culture that she believes will get the job done, then I'll throw a little more money at this. If it's just another shot in the dark, then I'm done.

Either way, she's had a pretty good run.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It Looks Like a Long Year for Steelers Fans

I watched the Steelers' opener at home against the Tennessee Titans in abject horror.

It was basically all downhill for Pittsburgh after the Titans put the only points that would appear on the Steelers' side of scoreboard for the first three quarters by committing a 2-point safety on the opening kickoff. With only three seconds off the clock it was Steelers 2, Titans 0. For most of the game it looked as though the Titans would score Pittsburgh's only points.

Offensively, Pittsburgh spent the first three quarters making brilliant mistakes and mostly getting knocked on their collective ass when attempting to run the ball. Running back Issac Redman chalked up more fumbles than positive rushing yards in the first half. That's an exaggeration, of course, but not by much.

Pittsburgh special teams -- particularly the kick-off squad -- under performed for years when it was given the gift of the NFL rule moving the kickoff team forward, almost ensuring a touchback and offensive start on the 20-yard line. This was a huge advantage for a team that rarely returned a kickoff to the 20-yard line. Of course, turning a positive into a negative, kickoff-return back Markus Wheaton received the ball in the end zone during the Titans' kickoff after one of its field goals, stopped to think about it and then attempted to run the ball out. He got as far as the 8-yard line. 

Pittsburgh's offense didn't collect itself sufficiently to score any points until the fourth quarter and then it was too little too late.

The final score: Titans 16; Steelers 9.

The worst loss for the Steelers, though, wasn't the game to the mediocre Titans; it was the loss of center and offensive-line leader Maurkice Pouncey to a season-ending knee injury. Doubling the pain, he was taken out by friendly fire. Yep, another Steeler hit him. Just one more in the comedy of errors that was Pittsburgh's performance.

This won't be the first time I've been accused of being the-glass-is-half-empty guy where the Steelers are concerned, but with the loss of Pouncey and the shaky over-all performance of the offense in game one, I think my fellow Steelers fans and I need to brace ourselves for another season of the defense doing most of the heavy lifting. It will be like the pre-Ben Roethlisberger era when most wins were the result of the defense creating turnovers and keeping the opposing team sufficiently in check to allow the offense to kick enough field goals to win.

But that can happen only if kicker Shaun Suisham is healthy, which he wasn't on Sunday as he suffered with a pulled hamstring.

The only good news -- a gift, really -- for Steelers fans is that the other three teams in its division all lost their openers.

Next week's game is on Monday night in Cincinnati against the Bengals. Cincy is coming off a 24 to 21 loss against the Bears. This is another game the Steelers should win. The four teams in the AFC North play another team in their division next week; so after week two, two teams will have a 1-1 record and two will have a 0-2 record. Steelers need to be on the winning end of the Cincy game. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

I'm going to cross my fingers and think happy thoughts. Go Steelers!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Don't Leave Me Hangin', Bro

It's a mystery to me.

I have a few summer TV series I watch. In fact, my favorite show is a summer series on USA Network: "Suits." 

Ah, the cast of "Suits."
 Like what I watch during the winter season, I DVR everything in the summer, never watching in real time. Consequently, I watch some stuff that I wouldn't otherwise watch if I had to pick and choose one show between two or three on in the same time slot. Not to mention that there are only a handful of shows that I like enough to actually make a point of being in front of the TV for.

But because I can record hours of TV each week, I watch some things that, in all honesty, I could live without. One of those summer shows is "The Glades."

It's a fish-out-of-water premise of a wise-ass Chicago cop suddenly finding himself in some sort of special investigative unit of the Florida State Police. He has a girl friend and a Hispanic sidekick who is the medical examiner. Blah, blah, blah...

It's just fun escapism. The episode plots are as thin as a communion wafer. Basically the cop -- Jim Longworth as played by Matt Passmore -- is a younger, more rude, better dressed version of Columbo. He hounds people at inconvenient times and embarrasses them at every turn. I noticed this season that every episode, on the thinnest of evidence, he arrests two or three of the wrong people -- often in public or in front of a crowd -- before finally stumbling over the guilty party by episode's end. If this were real life, his office would be sued two or three times an episode for false arrest.

Oh, and do cops still tell people they've questioned not to leave town? This guy does once or twice an episode.

It's not Masterpiece Theater. But it is something to watch while chowing down on a grilled chicken breast and sipping a glass of white.

The fourth season of "The Glades" just wrapped up with a cliff hanger. Passmore's character, on the way to his own wedding, is shot in the house he just bought for his bride. We are left wondering if the wedding was canceled, whether he lived or died, who shot him and whether his bride's mother finally made it into town. So many unsolved mysteries.

Yeah, but the biggest mystery is how A&E could approve the cliff-hanger script and then cancel the show the day after it aired three weeks later. What, the clowns at A&E didn't know they were going to cancel the show? I find that hard to believe.

Now, granted it's not exactly a who-shot-JR sort of moment that had half of America on edge, but there are probably a half million of us who would like to see a few loose ends tied up.

The season and the series could have been wrapped with the wedding and everyone living happily ever after. But noooooo...

I am left with two unanswered questions: Who shot that annoying jackass Jim Longworth? and On what TV show will my buddy Wayne Pasik now get to be an extra playing a cop?

Nothing so sad as an out-of-work cop.
 Damn A&E.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Up, Down and All Around: The Nissan 360

Several carmakers each year host a full-line event at which media get to drive everything they market in America. Once in a while, they will even sneak in a model available only in a foreign market; but for the most part, they stick to what they sell here. Every few years Nissan does something entirely different when it brings virtually every light vehicle it sells in the world to one location for media to experience. 

They call it Nissan 360, and this was such a year. I attended the first one it held in 2004. Then it was only a day with far fewer vehicles. This year's version was much more expansive.

The Resort at Pelican Hill was ground zero for this year's event. Located near Newport Beach, it is a 30-minute drive from El Toro, the now-closed Marine airbase. Nissan mapped out several driving courses over the miles of El Toro runways. There was even an off-road course for its all-wheel drive trucks and SUVs.

This was a two-day affair with ample opportunity to drive whichever Nissan a motoring scribe's little heart could possibly desire.

There was a performance course where I was able to pilot a full selection of go-fast Nissans and Infinitis like the 370Z Nismo, Leaf Nismo RC (Yes, there is a Nismo Leaf!), Infiniti Q60 IPL (coupe and convertible) and a Q50S Hybrid.

There was a street course for driving world cars like the Note Diesel, Moco, Sylphy and Teana.

Nissan loosed its U.S.-spec cars on mapped-out routes on California roadways. 

Hey, Ralphie boy!
The moment the first day's presentations ended, I hot footed it to the Nissan Civilian. It's a 30-person bus. Why, you might ask, of all the vehicles available did I choose a bus as my first drive? Are you kidding me? When was the last time you drove a bus? Exactly, never. It was an opportunity to channel my Ralph Kramden and I wasn't going to get aced out. Remarkably easy to drive, I zipped around the commercial street course in no time. If I had had a nickle squirter on my belt, I would have headed off the airbase and made a little extra money hauling a few unsuspecting folks around.

I also drove the e-NT400 Atlas truck. It's odd to drive something this size powered by an electric motor. 

My driving highlight was behind the wheel of the Juke-R on the high-performance course. I could have jumped behind the wheel of the GT-R just as easily, but had to choose between the two. Having spent a week with the GT-R just a month or so ago, the decision was easy.

Think of a GT-R born and raised within spitting distance of a nuclear plant. That's the Juke-R. A modified version of the GT-R's 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 gets down to business under its hood. In this application, it delivers 485 horsepower and can make the sprint from 0 to 60 in just over 3 seconds. It's all-wheel drive, which helps when you are going balls to the wall through the twisties. In its matte-black finish, it resembles a coal bucket run over by a dump truck. But fun? You bet.

The other car that blew me away was Nissan's Autonomous Leaf. This is Nissan's version of "drives itself" technology. Easily consumer ready in five to eight years, it applies technology already in use in several Nissan and Infiniti models, such as radar, lasers and cameras to flawlessly guide itself through traffic along city streets and freeways. It is astounding how far along Nissan has come with this.

Of course it requires a trunk full of computers and assorted gizmos to make it all happen, but I would have been quite confident riding in it on city streets. One demonstration had it drop its driver off at the curb before he dispatched it to find a parking space. It went into a crowded parking lot and pulled into an empty space on its own. With the push of a button on the key fob, the driver then recalled it to his position on the curb. It drove right up to him and he climbed back in. Amazing.

Yep, the Nissan 360 was quite the experience.