Keys Disease

Keys Disease
Battling Keys Disease at the Futura Yacht Club in Islamorada, Fla. three years ago.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hot Browns and Bourbon: Motoring Across Kentucky!

I have reached the point where I can pretty much take or leave a car-assembly-plant tour. All that really changes is the number and sophistication of the robots along the line. I've seen the outside of a half dozen paint booths, but have yet to see inside one. “Through that door is where cars are painted.” Yawn.


But even after touring three or four distilleries, I can still get revved up about seeing how particular spirits are made. About 90% of all bourbon is distilled in two Kentucky regions: One surrounds Frankfort east of Louisville and the other is around Bardstown to the southwest. I like bourbon!

Shelbyville's Science Hill Inn makes one of the best Hot Browns I've had.
I drove to Louisville on Wednesday where I hooked up with friends and then drove another four and a half hours to St. Alban, West “By God” Virginia for Thanksgiving. We took a little detour on our way to the Science Hill Inn in Shelbyville, KY for what I consider to be one of the best Hot Browns anywhere. I like Hot Browns almost as much as bourbon.


On our way back to Louisville on Friday, we stopped at Buffalo Trace distillery just outside of Frankfort. Buffalo Trace has been home to a few bourbons over the 200 years since Harrison Blanton first began distilling whiskey there around 1815. It became a formal distillery in 1870 when Colonel E.H. Taylor purchased it and christened it O.F.C. for Old Fire Copper.


In 1872 Taylor invested $70,000 in the business, building a new distillery. It changed hands once or twice on the way to Prohibition in 1920. As the Stagg Distillery, it had a license to produce and sell medicinal bourbon – I thought it was all medicinal – and was one of only four distilleries in the country to have such a license. 


The country came to its senses in 1933, repealing Prohibition. Fires, floods and a succession of superintendents dotted the chronological landscape over the decades as the distillery continued to expand. Before it was renamed Buffalo Trace, for the trail the migrating buffalo herds burned across the area on their way to the Great Plains, it was most recently called Ancient Age. 

Our tour guide was more excited about bourbon than I am.
How's that for a history lesson? I learned all of that from our very animated tour guide as we strolled the distillery grounds for an hour.

I didn't realize when at a buddy's house in Knoxville on Tuesday evening that I was tasting several of the bourbons produced at Buffalo Trace.
Today Buffalo Trace produces what many regard as some of the best bourbons available. It's product list reads like a bourbon Who's Who: Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee, Colonel E.H. Taylor, W.L. Weller, Blanton's and Pappy Van Winkle, along with several others.

The more exclusive labels are bottled by hand.
This was the best and most informative distillery tour I've experienced. I highly recommend it if you find yourself motoring across Kentucky at some point. 

Each of these barrels contains about 250 bottles of bourbon and weighs roughly 500 pounds when the aging process begins.
Not to mention at the tour's end we were treated to a swig of Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace. Mmmmm...bourbon....

Sunday, November 24, 2013

To Some They May Just Be Boots, But to Me, They Are Old Friends

Other than a few members of my family – and when I say my family, I really mean my sister's family – and a few close friends and fraternity brothers, I have had no relationship with anyone or anything that has endured as long as my love affair with my first pair of Tony Lama boots.

My first pair of cowboy boots, purchased in El Paso some 37 years ago. They take a lickin' and keep on kickin'.
I was 25 years old when I relocated from Louisville to Las Cruces, New Mexico to manage the candy store my sister and her husband were launching. “Relocate” may be too strong a word. I owned and maintained my house back in Kentucky during my eight or so months toiling away behind the counter of that small confectionery startup. I wasn't so much the manager as the entire staff. My sister and brother-in-law both worked full-time jobs; I was the guy working the business day to day. I really didn't make any executive decisions beyond when the staff – namely me – could go to lunch. 

My first experience as a homeowner was this two-story at 315 Belvar Avenue in Louisville.
It was an adventure, though. I had wanted to live in the Southwest as long as I could remember. And, here I was living the dream.

I lived at my sister's for those several months. As it turned out, this would be good training for all of us when I moved back in 10 years later during a little downturn in my life. Living in what was probably a house of no more than 1,200 square feet were four school-age girls plus my sister and her husband. I swelled the ranks to seven. 

My sister's house where seven of us struggled with one tiny bathroom.
There was one tiny bathroom. Getting everyone ready and off to their schools or jobs every week-day morning was a logistical endeavor of monumental proportions. I don't recall a lot of arguments revolving around bathroom usage, though. It was a fairly smooth-running operation as I recall it. But I don't think I ever sat down to deliver the mail without someone knocking on the door. You really learn how to perform under pressure in such an environment.

That's me seated in front of the Santa Fe Brewing Company with a brew in my hand in 1988. Yep, those are my Tony Lama's on my feet.
I arrived in Las Cruces a month or so before the store actually opened. One of the first things on the agenda was to drive the 40 miles to El Paso where I would buy my first pair of cowboy boots. Tony Lama is an El Paso company; so, it shouldn't be surprising that it maintained an outlet store there. It was on North Mesa Street – very close to where I would live when I moved back six or seven years later.


My sister, brother-in-law and me at Sandia Peak in Albuquerque in 1990. Notice my footwear.
I can no longer remember what I paid for those boots, but I'm sure it was less than $60. This was 1976, after all. They were my only cowboy boots until I moved to El Paso in 1982, when I purchased a couple of more pair. Somewhere I do have a photo of me wearing those boots, standing in front of the Kandy Kottage with my yellow TR6 in 1976; but I haven't been able to locate it.

Wearing my Lama's at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson in 1993.
 Granted, for most of the 37 years I've owned these boots, I didn't wear them a lot. I lived in El Paso for perhaps 18 months, and wore them extensively during that period. Beyond that, however, I'd probably only wear them a dozen times a year; and most of those occasions were visiting my sister. I lived in South Florida for 25 years and that just isn't a cowboy-boot climate or culture. 

At Eatons' Ranch in 2003, wearing, you guessed it, my Lama's.
Now that I'm in South Carolina, I get to wear boots a lot more. My original Tony Lama's, though, I reserve for riding horses. I donned them religiously on the nine vacations spent at Eatons' Ranch in Wyoming. I just had the opportunity to wear them again at the Toyota Tundra media event at Barnsley Gardens in Georgia a few weeks ago.

With Toyota's redesigned Tundra at Barnsley Gardens a few weeks ago. My Lama's are still hanging tough.
I've had them half-soled and heeled a couple of times over the decades. They have stood up heroically to all manner of treatment, weather and neglect. And after 37 years, they fit like a glove.

My love affair isn't even close to being over.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Putting a Little Soul into Minneapolis


When I flew to Minneapolis for the press launch of the redesigned Kia Soul, it was the first time I'd been in Minnesota in 10 or 15 years. On that occasion I was on a “Discover America” shoot for an episode on Leech Lake. Sounds exactly like a place you'd want to go, right? 

As far as a destination, it was fine, but the people I had to liaison with there were among the worst I worked with during my 10-year tenure with that show. I had so much trouble with them during the research, scripting and scheduling phases, I was nearly beyond control when my feet finally hit the ground there for the actual shoot. I could devote an entire post to that abysmal experience, but will spare you the rant.

Over the years working on that series, I developed a thick skin and taught myself to tune most of these idiots out. I'd just ignore them. But the Leech Lake folks really got under my skin. It was a contentious three days. I also remember you couldn't step outside without being swarmed by mosquitoes the size of humming birds. The only place I've ever been where the mosquitoes are as bad is the Outer Banks in North Carolina. 


I've always liked Minneapolis, and if anything, it's better than I remembered. Kia put us up at the Graves 601 Hotel. It's a terrific property located downtown. I can't remember the last time I was impressed by the shower in my room, but the one here was outrageous. Me want.

Is this a great shower or what! You can direct the spray wherever you want.
Dinner that night was at The Butcher and the Boar. I like meat and that's what this joint specializes in – well, that and booze. There were at least 30 beers on tap and many of them micro brews of one stripe or another. 


The entrance to The Butcher and the Boar.
 The following day we media types paired up and set off on a several-hour ride and drive.

You need not be a hamster to appreciate the Soul. It's a funky looking gadabout loaded with neat features and available technology. Kia goosed both engines by providing more grunt at lower rpms. We drove Souls armed with the 164-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder. Plenty quick enough, it did well in traffic and touring on the open road. Kia stiffened the chassis, improving handling; while the shocks have been repositioned for better ride quality.


Longer, wider and lower than the last generation Soul, the redesigned car looks more stable and even a little aggressive. Well, it would look more aggressive if not for those damn hamsters.


Inside the surprisingly roomy cabin, a restyled instrument panel accommodates an available 8-inch touchscreen. Technonerds can opt for Kia's UVO eServices infotainment system. Even the $14,700 base model comes with full power accessories, heated outboard mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio and iPod interface.

As you move up through the three trim levels, a navigation system, backup camera, a kickin' Infinity audio system, front speaker surround mood lighting and a panoramic sunroof are all standard or available as options. 


Kia credits the original Soul as the product that transformed the brand into what it is today. The redesigned Soul won't have a similar impact, but it will do much to help Kia stay the course. And that's just fine with me. 


Dinner that night was catered in at a rather cool venue where Kia cranked up the celebration. Live music, great food and, of course, wonderful drinks made the evening.


Kia always provides some after-dinner entertainment. At the Soul event, it was Sumo wrestling. Yep, we struggled into inflatable fat suits, donned head gear and did some grappling. I had always wanted to try my hand at this, and jumped at the opportunity to suit up. With the help of my corner men, I finally got velcroed into my suit and was ready to rock and roll. 


My opponent proved no match for me, giving up after three or four minutes of my relentless attacks. I apologized to her afterward, telling her that next time I would pick on someone my own gender and size. It was fun, though.

A canceled flight and other misadventures somewhat marred my trip home, but it was well worth it; hell, the shower was worth the trip.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

TV Present and Past: My Must-Record Shows New This Season

Let's talk TV.

I don't anticipate the start of the fall TV season with the same eagerness I used to, primarily because several cable networks are now producing some very good shows airing during the summer. USA's “Suits” and TNT's “Rizzoli and Isles” spring to mind.

The gang from "Suits."
 Don't get me wrong, I look forward to the return of some shows, like “Revenge” – a soap-opera-ish serial even a guy can get into – and “The Mentalist,” but generally, I enjoy summer TV almost as much as fall's offerings, in the case of “Suits,” more.

The gang from "Revenge."
There are two new shows for this season that I have added to my must-record list: NBC's “Blacklist” and ABC's “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Spader as Reddington.
On “Blacklist,” James Spader plays a former government agent gone bad Raymond “Red” Reddington, who surrenders to the Feds to help catch a terrorist. The catch is, he will only participate through rookie agent Liz Keen. It's sort of a homage to “Silence of the Lambs.”

I find Spader fun to watch regardless of his role. He is one of those natural actors who make it look so easy. Every line he delivers is rich and multi-layered. I know that sounds like so much claptrap, but I believe he is one of the better actors on TV today. Megan Boone plays Keen. Her character has a relationship with Spader's that is sort of a father-daughter one, that is if the daughter hated her father. It's somewhat complicated.

Megan Boone.
 I've enjoyed the eight or so episodes that I've seen this year -- I still have one or two stacked up on my recorder. “Blacklist” airs at 10 p.m. Eastern on NBC.

The gang from "Buffy."
If you are at least a semi-regular reader of this blog, you may already know that I am a huge fan of Joss Whedan. He was the creative spark behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly.” He also wrote and directed the first “Avengers” movie, and is filling the same roles in “Avengers 2.”

The gang from "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” picks up after the original “Avengers” movie. To have a full grasp of what's going on in the TV series, you need to see the movie. I suspect, though, that even without the plot background the movie provides, one can enjoy the TV series.

Clark as Coulson.
Clark Gregg reprises his role of Phil Coulson from the movie to lead a squad of agents and brainiacs in defeating the bad guys. They have a super plane that whisks them from adventure to adventure. The six-person team is loaded with diverse personalities and talents. 

Chloe Bennet.
Like Whedon's previous shows, “A of S” is loaded with drama and humor. I'd watch even if the women weren't stunningly attractive – I am a guy after all. Ming-Na Wen, playing agent and pilot of the plane Melinda May, and Chloe Bennet, playing bad-girl-turned-good Skye, are simply fun to watch.

“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” airs at 8 p.m. Eastern, Tuesdays on ABC.

A show that I continue to record and watch only because I can is “Hawaii Five-0” on CBS. Its only relationship to the original series starring Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett is that some of the characters have the same names, and it takes place in Hawaii. 

Jack Lord and James MacArthur as the original Steve and Dano.
True: The original series wouldn't pass muster as entertainment today, but the current series is more of a cartoon than the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” that is part of the Marvel Comics franchise. Any law enforcement agency could probably put away the bad guys if it could behave as these guys do. In no way constrained by rules and regulations, they trample suspects rights at every turn. It isn't just an elite law-enforcement agency; it is a rogue department permitted to do whatever needs doing to put someone behind bars, or in the ground.

Moreover, there always must be a story arc involving some member of the group that has nothing to do with the agency's crook-catching. This season it seems the personal subplot has Kona – played by Grace Park – on the lamb with her boyfriend, who also happens to have ties to the Hawaiian mob. It's just silly.

OK, I know, I know, it's TV, which is why I still record it. But I have probably five or six episodes stacked up on my recorder because it is absolutely the last thing I watch when I have a choice.

Mike Rowe.
Oh, and here is one more: “How Booze Built America.” I guess this show actually debuted last year on the Discovery Channel. I just found reruns of it on the Military Channel. It's a three-episode series about the part that booze played in the founding and history of the U.S. It stars “Dirty Jobs” star Mike Rowe. If you can find it, it's well worth the total three hours you will spend watching.

Karl Urban.
Oh, and still one more: “Almost Human” premieres tonight and Monday night on Fox. Produced by J.J. Abrams (“Fringe,” “Lost,” “Revolution” and the two most recent “Star Trek” movies), it stars Karl Urban, who played Dr. McCoy in the Abrams' Star Trek entries. I am really looking forward to this series!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Tundra Took Georgia Like Sherman Took, Um, Georgia.



It's not often a carmaker's media launch of some new or redesigned product is close enough to Greenville for me to drive rather than fly. One such event was Toyota's introduction of the renovated Tundra pickup several weeks ago. Toyota threw this outing – the Tundra East Coast Drive Camp, they called it – at Barnsley Gardens Resort. Located just northwest of Atlanta, it was about a three-hour haul from Greenville. I slog nearly that far to the airport when I fly out of Atlanta. 


A couple of years ago, Toyota used Barnsley Gardens to host the launch of something else – what exactly escapes me. I've probably been to 30 such events since then. This stuff just doesn't stick with me. In fact, I didn't realize I had been to Barnsley before until dinner that night, which was in the ruins of the mansion that once served as the home to the property's owners. I looked at the lounge areas set up inside the ruins and it all looked suspiciously familiar. 



I don't know how big a deal the Tundra is for Toyota. Toyota would love to be a major player in the full-size truck arena; but truck owners are stubborn coots and Toyota hasn't been able to elbow past the domestic brands. Consequently, one gets the impression Toyota has sort of reconciled itself to being satisfied with making a solid truck pleasing a smaller audience.

As is always the case with a full-size truck, Tundra's array of trim levels, engines, cab configurations, options and so forth could confound a squad of Mensa members. No point in boring you with all the ins and outs; I don't have the energy any way. Among the facts you might want to know, though, is that Tundra is purely a product of North America. It was designed and is being built right here in the U.S. of  A.


Pricing starts at $25,920 for the SR Regular Cab 2WD version and meanders all the way up to a whopping $47,320 for the 1794 Edition CrewMax 4x4. Each of the five grades has a distinct appearance. The liftgate is lockable and a power-operated rear window is available on some models. One 270-horsepower V6 and two V8s – a 310-horsepower 4.6-liter and a 381-horsepower 5.7-liter – comprise the engine choices. 

The interior of the 1794 Edition, named for the year the ranch was founded where the assembly plant now sits.
Driving on pavement, as well as off road, Tundra is a comfortable, competent pickup. Its cabin features quality materials and is carefully assembled. I'm not a big-truck kind of guy, but I could live with Tundra. Well, for a while at least.

My little cottage in the woods.
 I arrived at Barnsley Gardens in time for lunch on day No. 1 of our two-day familiarization. Lunch was in a lawn dining area in the center of the living-quarters section of the complex. There was no wondering what meat was being served. I was just glad it wasn't beef or alligator. 

Mmmm....they certainly know how to make a boy's mouth water.
 Toyota experts tutored us in all things Tundra, as well as delivering a mini update on the 4Runner that was also at this program. We then tackled paved and off-road routes in both. 


Cocktails and dinner that evening were in the aforementioned ruins. I found myself cursing the “damn yankees” as I strolled around the place. I do that only because I'm from South Carolina. They had nothing to do with the destruction of the mansion that was the result of a fire and simple neglect. 


After dinner we were encouraged to fill Tundra-labeled little airplane bottles with spirits supposedly blended just for us. I eventually staggered back to my cottage where I had a private room and bath attached to a common living area and kitchen. Nice digs!

On the trail with our intrepid guide, Dusty. Well, maybe it wasn't Dusty.
After breakfast the next morning anyone so inclined could tow a boat or whatever behind a Tundra. I passed on that and went directly to the stables where I mounted up and got a little tour of the surrounding woods from the saddle. This was the first time I'd been on a horse in three or four years. I had dragged my riding boots along on this trip and was happy to use them again. Some journalists headed for the clay-shooting range, while others tried a little fly fishing. Yes, Barnsley Gardens has plenty to keep one entertained.

Polishing off a quick lunch, I was ready to slug my way through the outskirts of Atlanta and head home. At least I didn't need to deal with the TSA.

Friday, November 8, 2013

We're Not Afraid of No Ghosts: The Irregulars Go on Greenville's Haunted Pub Crawl

It's a bird; it's a plane; nope, it's just another former Greenville brothel.
What do a bunch of drinking buddies resort to when bored? If you are the Peddler Wednesday-Night Irregulars, you snatch up a half-price coupon off LivingSocial for the Greenville Haunted Pub Crawl and book a Wednesday night tour.


I must admit, I'm ambivalent on the topic of ghosts. I like the idea of ghosts, but don't hold an opinion on their existence one way or the other. I've never had an encounter, but do know a couple of people – who are not crackpots, incidentally – who claim to have brushed shoulders with the spirit world.

Like the other six Irregulars who turned out for this thing, I was really along for the alcohol anyway. I held no expectation that we would encounter an other-worldly being. To the Haunted Pub Crawl Web site's credit, it made no such promise. Nope, we were just out for a few laughs and a toddy or two. 

Profit doing his thing.
First, some background: the Haunted Pub Crawl is the brainchild of Jason Profit. Profit is a self-described paranormal investigator and psychic reader. He is also the guide for not only the Haunted Pub Crawl, but for Greenville Ghost Tours (http://greenvilleghost.com/tours/haunted-pub-crawl/). He also authored the book, Haunted Greenville, South Carolina.

This thing could also be called, “The Dueling Pizza Joint Pub Crawl” because it began at Bellacino's Pizza and wound up at Bertolo's Pizza on opposite ends of downtown Main Street. 

Yep, it's me hamming it up with Jason.
Profit has a pretty good grasp on Greenville history. Whether you have any interest in the paranormal or not, the 90-or-so-minute running lecture was chocked full of historic tidbits. The takeaway was that Greenville has a sordid history of brothels – the 13-room cathouse over Connolly’s is currently unused, but still there – lynchings, murders and other assorted unsavory acts. If ghosts do in fact exist, Greenville is ripe for the haunting.

According to Profit, witnesses have observed spirits in Bellacino's, Bertolo's, Connolly’s and other locations we visited. That seems only fitting since we consumed some spirts at those same locations. 

LT and Georgia joined our merry band of ghost hunters.
 Although there were another half dozen pseudo-ghost hunters booked on our tour, it was a rainy evening and the Irregulars were about the only ones who showed up. However, a young couple also joined us. I'm sure by the end of the evening, they wished they had chosen another night, but LT and Georgia were troupers and actually, at least pretended to enjoy our company and have fun.

We're not afraid of no ghosts!
Ninety minutes is really cramming a lot – information and drink – into a very short time span. I'd like to see the tour start earlier and last a little longer. Otherwise, It was well worth the $18 price. My advice, though, is to join LivingSocial and keep your eyes peeled for the half-price tour deals. It's a real bargain for nine bucks.

Would I do it again? Without question.