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.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Greenville's Euphoria: A Weekend of Music, Food, Booze and Good Cheer!

Sometime this whole starving-freelance-journalist gig actually pays off.

The band at Saturday night's Drive Associates Traffic Jam.
 A few weeks ago I was a journalist guest a.k.a. freeloader at Greenville's Euphoria. I had passes to several of the events spanning the long last weekend the end of September.

For the unwashed, Euphoria is a celebration of food and drink that began in 2006. Chief honcho of Table 301, Carl Sobocinski, founded it and remains sort of its Godfather. Key events run from Thursday through Sunday and include tasting events, beer/wine seminars, live music, cooking demonstrations/competitions, multi-course dinners and whatever else the planners can tie into the theme.

Master chefs at one of the cooking competitions.
 I was always out of town for this annual downtown fiesta and had never attended. When I discovered by my calendar that I would actually be in Greenville this year, I decided to try to attend an event or two. My buddy Kate was on board to check things out as well, but what would we attend?

Some of the action at Taste of the South.
Not one of the events is cheap; although most are fairly priced. The Sunday Jazz Brunch, which Kate and I attended, cost $45. The St. Francis Health System Tasting Showcase in the same three-tent area the day before was $75 – the bargain of the entire weekend. The Verizon Wireless-sponsored Taste of the South at the Larkins amphitheater on Friday evening was $125. And so on and on it went. Most of the multi-course guest-chef dinners, which I had no interest in, rang the register at $150, and all pretty much sold out. A VIP pass to access several of the events was, gasp, $795. 

Some pickin' and grinnin' at Taste of the South.
 I contacted the Euphoria PR firm – TK PR – and leveraged my covering travel for AAA of the Carolinas Go magazine to get a media pass to the major goings on during Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Wow, am I glad I did.

Of course, I was more interested in the featured alcohol than I was the food, but hell, I love wine, whiskey and beer. I was impressed with the caliber of the vendors at the big tasting events. 

Relaxing at Drive Associates Traffic Jam.
 This isn't a half-assed, anyone-can-set-up-a-tent, lynch-mob free for all. Planning for next year's Euphoria is already underway. It's a well-orchestrated undertaking. Wandering around for the three days, I spoke to several of the participating vendors. In several instances, actual reps from the distilleries, vineyards and breweries were behind the tables, pouring and describing their wares. 

At the Taste of the South on Friday I spent a lot of time with the Virginia Wineries. Barboursville Vineyards was there. I ate dinner at the winery a few years ago when I was doing a AAA travel piece on the Monticello Wine Trail. The next vendor over was Trump Winery. Trump Winery? I engaged its head of marketing, who happened to be there, asking which Monticello Wine Trail winery Trump had recently purchased. Trump certainly wasn't there three years ago. Turned out it was Kluge Estates that I had also visited on the same trip. 

Chicken and waffles...Mmmmm.
 Just so you know that I did more than swill alcohol during my weekend's research, I had some wonderful dishes from the score or more of Greenville restaurants providing samples. It was my first brush with chicken and waffles provided by Larkins. Yummy! Soby's Braised Beef Short Ribs and the Bittersweet BBQ Spareribs from the Roost were also outrageous. 

Spirits as far as the eye can see.
 I have to say, the weekend event that most impressed me was the St Francis Health System Tasting on Saturday. Three huge tents covering about a quarter of an acre were lined from stem to stern with distillers, brewers and wine makers. The scope of this thing was nothing short of staggering. There were so many tasting tables, I literally didn't know where to begin. There is no way one person could possibly begin to sample everything.

I really am a big fan of booze. I am fascinated by the processes, the nuanced flavors and the passion of the folks making this stuff. I spent a lot of time at several of the distillery stations. 

Sipping a little Larceny and making new friends.
 I chatted up the girls at the Heaven Hill table who were representing the Bardstown Whiskey Society's American Whiskey Collection. I sampled their Larceny small batch bourbon. I am a big fan the Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon that they were also pouring, and always have a bottle of that in my stash. 

Nelson's Greenbrier Distillery had a station close by. It's a start up located in Nashville. Andy Nelson was behind the table and we spoke at length about what he was doing, as well as his Belle Meade Bourbon.

Greenville's Dark Corner Distillery was there, too. I was most familiar with Dark Corner as a maker of moonshine, but it is cranking out a variety of spirits. Paul, one of the distillers, was manning the table to answer my questions. I was amazed by Dark Corner's Lewis Redmond Bourbon.

I have neither the time, the space, nor the energy to describe all the breweries and vineyards that were there. Oh, and there was food, too.

Enjoying the Jazz Brunch with my buddy Kate.
 My last gasp at Euphoria was the Sunday Jazz Brunch. Again, it featured food samples from dozens of area restaurants. My favorites were the Southern Eggs Benedict using corn bread from Larkins and the corn pudding from VooDoo Barbeque....oh, Momma.

Of course there was live music at all of these events. I'm not wild about Jazz, but even the band at the Jazz Brunch was pretty good.

Even if I don't secure a media pass next year, I'll at least spring for the St. Francis Health Care Tasting Showcase. It was that much fun.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tripping Around Southern California in the Mazda3

2014 Mazda3.
I like Mazda's Mazda3. I feature it in the pieces I write for my financial dot-coms every chance I get. So, I was excited to receive an invite to the media launch of the redesigned 3 in San Diego a few weeks ago.

I was a late add-on to the event that fell smack in the middle of about three weeks of nonstop travel I had going on in September. There were times I didn't know what day of the week it was or which time zone I was in. In fact, I arrived home from my Illinois boondoggle at 11 p.m. and headed out of my house at 5:30 the next morning for my Mazda adventure. It was like that, trip after trip, day after day, week after week for much of September.

The issue with my Mazda-trip flights was that they were booked so close to the event dates, I had to deal with some pretty lousy seats. I hit Delta.com a couple of times every day prior to leaving, checking to see if better seats had opened. My efforts were rewarded by moving myself out of middle seats into aisle or window seats for every flight. I even managed to pick off a recently abandoned “Economy Comfort” seat on one of the flights. Economy Comfort seats are a relatively new addition to Delta's portfolio of gimmicks to attract business. They offer nearly as much legroom as exit-row seats.

Every seat was an exit-row seat.
 Even when sitting in exit-row or Economy Comfort cabin seats, I always spend some time during the four-hour-or-so flight feeling sorry for myself before thinking about people one-hundred years ago taking months to make the journey from Atlanta to the California coast. I try to put my flight into perspective historically as I munch on the 12 peanuts that pass for a snack on Delta these days. 

San Diego's Ship Museum.

Making this jump from Georgia to the Pacific was well worth it. San Diego is a gorgeous city with near-perfect weather 360 days out of the year. 

San Diego W Hotel's lobby bar.
 Mazda put us up at the W Hotel downtown. It's located about three blocks from the water. 

The focal point of the San Diego W Hotel's rooftop is this odd fire feature.
 Ws are fairly funky joints, but always lively. Thank God, though, someone in authority finally realized having hallways so dark guests couldn't locate their rooms wasn't the best idea. 

A fine array of taps at the Karl Strauss Brewery.
 Thanks to my early morning start and the three-hour time difference, I arrived at the hotel early afternoon. My microbrewery radar was operating at full tilt and I noticed a brewery just a block or so from the W as my airport car passed by it. Always eager to sample a selection or two at a local brewery, I struck out from the hotel, hiking the couple of blocks to the Karl Strauss Brewery. 


Settling at the bar, I chose a Wreck Alley Imperial Stout. A fine example of the brewer's art. A 20-something sitting next to me engaged me in conversation. He is a cook on charter boats. He mentioned that his home was in Illinois. Having just spent four days in Kewanee, Il. before traveling to San Diego, I replied that I had just been there. Turns out his home town is only a few miles from Kewanee. We had plenty to talk and laugh about.

 Dinner the first of our two evenings with Mazda was on W's rooftop. A panoramic view of the city, fine drinks, excellent food: What else could you possibly want? I found the servers' snappy “Mazda” aprons a nice touch.

The bulk of the next day was spent piloting 3s around Southern California. 

Mazda cut no corners with the redesigned 3. Rakish good looks, comfortable cabin and its fuel-stingy SKYACTIV technology meld into one terrific car. Sedan pricing begins around $17,000, and the hatchback at about $19,000.

Although the wheelbase is now more than two inches longer, over all, the latest 3 is about half an inch shorter than the the previous generation. Mazda also trimmed about half an inch from its height. 

The cabin seems roomier than that of the previous 3. Quality materials and careful craftsmanship increase the interior's ambiance. I really like the all-new Active Driving Display – a first for Mazda. It pops up from the center of the top of the instrument panel directly in the driver's line of sight. It posts speed, navigation, and other important info.

I liked the previous 3, and I like the redesigned one even more. Athletic and well balanced, it is a blast to drive.

Gateway to meatballs.

For dinner on day 2 after our drive, we trooped to San Diego's Little Italy. Our destination: Monello. Swilling wine and sampling a variety of dishes in this family style presentation, we were treated to some serious Italian hospitality. 

The bar at Monello.

I particularly liked the Maccherone Al Ragu. If your Italian is a little rusty, that's macaroni in red sauce. Yes, my tastes run to the pedestrian. I am a meat-and-potatoes guy after all.

I was off and running early the next morning for my return voyage to Greenville – more planes, trains and automobiles.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Little Dab Will Do Ya: Not When It Comes to Rustoleum's Restore

A little thing that my friends with money refer to as liquidity – I, along with most of the unwashed, call it cash flow – keeps me from tackling any really big projects around my house like remodeling my kitchen; but whenever I find myself with an extra hundred bucks or so crowding my checking account, I attend to some smaller home-repair need. 

Since I've owned my South Carolina home – roughly seven years now – I've wanted to paint the floor of my front porch. I carried the materials required to screen it in with a Florida-like metal-framed screen with me in my Pod along with all my other belongings. My first home project once moved in was to screen in the porch.

I should have refinished the floor before I screened it in, but was under motivated then. After looking at the disgusting floor with its multi-colored peeling paint and other spots where the paint was gone completely for these many years, I've often thought about painting, but just couldn't muster the energy.

A week ago I began the ordeal.

I stumbled across some goop engineered by Rustoleum called “Restore.” It's specially designed for wood decks and concrete patios/porches. When applied, it actually creates a textured surface. Not satisfied with simply a coat of paint, I opted for the more expensive route of Restore.

Home Depot carries this stuff for $26 a gallon or you can purchase a two-gallon kit that also includes the special roller needed for application for $39. Two coats are required. On the kit box it says that the kit contains enough Restore to cover a 5 ft. by 10 ft. area. Of course my porch is 12 ft by 6.5 ft. Obviously the two gallons in the kit weren't sufficient.

Being the home-repair genius that I am, however, I decided that two gallons should be more than enough. But, I was...ummm...wrong. There I said it. I was WRONG.

What I didn't realize until I opened the first can is that this stuff has the consistency of pudding. The roller holds just enough of the liquid for one 3-foot pull. I was still in denial even after I had to open the second gallon to finish the first coat. I convinced myself that the second coat would require less Restore than the first did. But I was...um...wrong...again.

With about three square feet left to cover with the second coat, I was in my car and off to Home Depot for more goop. Because I am going to use it on my much smaller back porch, I went ahead and bought another 2-gallon kit rather than spend $26 on just a gallon. Yes, I spent more to save more.

Sadly the result of this was a different “expert” at Home Depot mixed the color of the second kit and it is a shade lighter than the Restore from the first two gallons. Now the area immediately in front of the front door is a shade lighter than the rest of the porch. It still looks pretty good, though.

The entire project, which entailed first scraping the loose paint before washing the surface then scrubbing it again with cleaner/degreaser, then scraping it again and vacuuming it in between all of these steps, required four days and a final cash outlay of about $120. It really only required about 10 hours of real work; the rest of the time was needed for the surface to dry.

Then I had to wait three days for the Restore to finish drying and setting before hauling the porch furniture down from my storage room and placing it on the porch.

I completed all of this just in time to view “Cops” or as I call it: Another day in my neighborhood.


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Sucking Sound in the 2014 Honda Odyssey Is Supposed to Be There

Honda apparently had an Ah-ha moment when product planners came up with a feature that probably had more people than me wondering why no one had thought of it before.

I recently drove the 2014 Honda Odyssey for a week. Granted, my test minivan was the top-of-the-line Touring Elite; so, there was plenty to dazzle me. It's jam-packed with all manner of goodies. Of course with the delivery charge it commands a horse-choking $45,280. But if you need and want a high-end people hauler, the Odyssey Touring Elite should do nicely.

A 248-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 pulls it around using a six-speed automatic transmission to distribute output to the front wheels. The EPA reckons it will deliver 19 mpg in city driving; while, hustling down the highway will increase that to 28 mpg. Let's see: multiply by three and carry the one....umm that works out to 22 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Not too shabby for a minivan.

My one disappointment, and the single thing that would keep me from recommending it over some competitors, is that the second-row seat still doesn't fold flat into the floor. To achieve that flat cargo surface, the second-row seats must be removed. It's not a job so daunting that most of us can't accomplish it, but it's a pain in the rump. Then again, many families never need their minivan for bigger job-jar chores and won't care if the second-row seats fold flat or not. But, I do.

This was just a minor refresh year for Odyssey, so maybe there is still hope with the next complete redesign.

Now, back to that Ah-ha thingy.

Honda actually builds a functioning vacuum cleaner into the Odyssey. It's optional in all trim levels, except the Touring Elite in which it is, of course, standard.

Located in a compartment in the driver's-side wall of the cargo area, it has more than enough flexible plastic hose to reach all the way to the floor of the front-passenger seat.

This is nothing short of brilliant! The passenger compartment of many minivans owned by families I know look like the floor of a movie theater after two back-to-back Saturday matinee showings of “Monsters, Inc.” I've got some friends who every time they arrive somewhere in the minivan, they stand around picking crap off one another's clothes like so many Baboons.

I tossed a number of things onto the floor of my test Honda and found the vacuum sucked it all up.

Small wonder, upon further investigation, I found that the actual power unit is a mini shop-vac.

I was, however, disappointed to learn that the commercials touting an available hair-cutting attachment for the HondaVac called HondaHAIR is a hoax. I think the world has been awaiting this vehicular FlowBee for decades and I, for one, am crestfallen.

It's nice to know that Honda has a sense of humor after all.