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.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Getting My Historic on at the Mine Shaft in Madrid, NM

It's been more than 10 years since I was last at the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid, New Mexico. (“Madrid” by the way, is pronounced MAH-drid.) It's only a 60-minute-or-so drive from my sister's home in Los Lunas, but we just never seem to make the trek any more.

So, I was pretty stoked when, at our family Sadie's outing on Monday night, my sister put forward the idea of making a pilgrimage to Madrid after Christmas. Immediately one of my nieces and her daughters jumped on board the Madrid express and a plan was hatched.

You have to love a town where the most modern structure is some sort of community bathroom.
 Madrid is the reincarnation of what was a coal mining town called Coal Gulch in the 1830s. It was a “company town” in every sense of the term. The mining company owned every business and house in the little community, including the Mine Shaft Tavern. Even the Mine Shaft is a reincarnation of sorts because the original burned on Christmas Day 1944. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1947. It has been serving alcohol-infused potables ever since.

The Mine Shaft's stage where we would have seen some live music had we stayed longer.
After the mines closed in the mid 1950s, Coal Gulch qualified for ghost-town status for the next two decades. All manner of spooky happenings make the Mine Shaft the most haunted building in town. Although there is another eatery or two in town, Mine Shaft is clearly the main gathering spot for locals and tourists. 

Today the town's main street is lined with old homes that have been transformed into gift shops, art galleries and boutiques.

The bar stretches on forever, but sadly, unpopulated by locals when we were there.
Its 40-foot bar is the longest in the state, boasts the tavern's PR. A stage for live-music occupies one end of the main room, flanked by the Men's and Women's restrooms that appear to not have been upgraded since the joint was rebuilt in 1947. But that's part of the charm, I guess.

Attached and accessed by a separate entrance is a museum and theater, sporadically hosting stage productions throughout the year.

Featuring several local microbrews, the bar offers a full range of spirits. The menu is typical of bars, but several steps up the quality ladder of most. The onion rings, burgers and fries are worthy of the 50-mile slog from my sister's. 

Mmmmm....Santa Fe Brewery State Pen Porter.
I washed down my buffalo burger and fries with a Santa Fe Brewery State Pen Porter and a Marble Brewery Oatmeal Stout. I had never had the Porter before; it was wonderful!

The rest of the family kept the margarita barista busy. This is another New Mexico joint where you don't have to look over the bartender's shoulder to ensure a superior margarita. Mine Shaft's house margaritas are outrageously delicious.

Not including the two-hour round-trip drive, lunch filled roughly three hours of our day. The only way I could have been happier is if it had occupied another hour or two. I really like this place. I was a little disappointed that more locals weren't populating the bar. Historically, when we've visited, the joint has been jam packed. The locals add a lot of color. It's always looked like the bar in the TV series “Northern Exposure.” Fashion apparently isn't a major concern among the local populace. Nor is dental care.

Otherwise, the excursion was everything I'd hoped for.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Enough Wheel Time with the WRX Wasn't an Issue as We Motored from Napa to the Coast

Uncharacteristically moderate temperatures and lots of sunshine have made my week with a Boxster S a winner.
In the future, I will think of this December as the “month of the performance car.” It began with the Chevrolet performance-car drive in Palm Springs, Calif. where I drove the all-new Chevrolet SS sedan, the redesigned Corvette Convertible and the Camaro SS Convertible. Currently one of the cars in my driveway is a Porsche Boxster S Cabrio. And just a few days ago, I drove the redesigned 2015 Subaru WRX around Northern California.

There are times when it's actually good to be me.

If you are going to visit a place, Napa is as good as almost any. The only issue worth bellyaching about is the slog from anywhere in Napa to the San Francisco Airport. It's 60 to 90 minutes in the best of conditions. Time it wrong, and it can surge into a couple of hours or more. This travel time is compounded for those of us going to the east coast on the return by the T.F.E. departure time of our flights. To arrive home at any sort of sensible hour means an oh-dark-thirty flight and a 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. shuttle to the airport.

This pain in the keister, though, is a small price to pay to one: spend some time in Napa; and two: drive the WRX. But, as an auto journalist a certain amount of whining is expected; so, I can now check off that box.

The one half-way decent shot of the exterior of The Caneros Inn that I managed to get as we mounted up for our ride and drive.
 You will find this post woefully lacking in photos of The Caneros Inn, where Subaru put us up. That's because most of my time there was in the dark. I arrived after dark on the first day. I was so late, as a matter of fact, that rather than go to my room when I checked in, I immediately joined the rest of the group at dinner.

The drive Subaru mapped out for us the second day was one of the longest I've been on in years. My driving buddy and I didn't get back to the hotel until after dark. And, we weren't even close to being the last in. More stragglers dragged in after us. By my comments regarding shuttles to the airport for east coast flights, you should be able to surmise that day three – our head-for-home day – offered no opportunities for resort photos either.

So, other than an hour or so around breakfast on day two, I had no light with which to work. I squandered that light believing that I could shoot my usual battery of lodging photos after the day's driving. Silly me.

My room: Behind those closed doors lies the heated tile floor.
I do like The Caneros Inn, though. My room was spacious, my bed was comfy and it was quiet. It was mighty chilly while we were there. The thermometer on the thermostat in my room never rose above 64 degrees, regardless of how high I turned up the heat. This isn't a whole lot lower than the 67 degrees I keep my thermostat at home turned to. On a positive note: It did afford me the opportunity to appreciate the bathroom's heated tile floor. I had heard of such things, but never walked around on one. I was amazed at what a difference it makes. The bottoms of your feet feeling toasty while the rest of you is covered in goose bumps is quite the sensation.

Dinner that first night was terrific. The resort is owned by the Plumpjack Winery. Among the wines we were served with the different dinner courses were Plumpjack Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2012, and Plumpjack Syrah, Napa Valley 2011. Both were outstanding.

The next day we had a chance to challenge the WRX with some outrageously twisty roads. I have clocked a lot of miles on California roads, but one 25-mile-or-so segment on this route was one of the twistiest I've ever driven. The WRX really hunkered down and handled it.

Although WRX is a member of the Impreza family, it shares very little in the way of exterior parts or interior surfaces with the more tame Impreza. 

Yes, I know; this looks more like the coast than Napa, but you got the part about this being a longer-than-usual ride and drive, right?
Here's the 4-1-1 on the next WRX that's due in showrooms in the spring: The turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine is new, generating 268 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Subaru offers either a six-speed manual tranny or a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) to hustle engine output to all four wheels. A stiffer chassis and new Active Torque Vectoring greatly enhance handling, allowing for higher speeds in the corners. Bigger front brakes help reel in this kick-ass sedan.

Subaru says WRX can make the sprint from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds with the manual tranny and in 5.9 seconds with the CVT.

Outside, most of the sheetmetal is all-new, as are the head and tail lights. Subaru increased the rake of the windshield, pulling the A-pillars forward almost eight inches for better visibility.

Inside, rear-seat legroom is up by nearly two inches; while the trunk went from just over 11 cu.ft. to 12 cu.ft. The flat-bottomed steering wheel tilts and telescopes. For the first time Harmon Kardon supplies the audio upgrade, which has nine speakers and a navigation unit.

We drove both transmissions. As you might expect, the manual was more engaging. The WRX's CVT, however, is certainly at the head of the class for this type tranny. Subaru has engineered in gear-like steps in the CVT, which uses steering wheel-mounted paddles when opting for manual control. Both transmissions are a blast to drive!

The Napa Smith Brewery had the tasters all lined up and ready to go for us.
For dinner that night, Subaru transported us to the Napa Smith Brewery, where we were treated to a tasting of all of its brews. Although there were a few I liked, I was immediately drawn to the Bonfire Imperial Porter. Jumping from the little tasters to a pint in about 60 seconds. A seasonal, it is a wonderful blend of coffee, chocolate and caramel flavors. Good stuff!

Enough screwing around with the little tasters; just give me a pint of the Bonfire Imperial Porter!
Rather than taking me home, my flights the next day deposited me in South Florida for a long-anticipated, five-day visit. It made the early-morning trek to San Francisco Airport worth it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another South Florida Excursion for the Record Books.

I'm freshly returned from a five-day South Florida extravaganza that included just about everything I needed it to, if not wanted it to. 

I had been in Napa Valley driving the redesigned 2014 Subaru WRX.
 It was a stopping point on my way back to Atlanta from Napa Valley and the San Francisco Airport. I'm not wild about the four-hour-plus flights required to ferry the distance between Atl and SFO, but there's no better choice really. At least on Delta there isn't.

Even though I no longer have sufficient clout to have Delta move me from steerage into First Class with any regularity, I can usually position myself in one of Delta's Economy Comfort seats where I am typically surrounded by Diamond and other Platinum members of Delta's less-than-elite Sky Miles Club bellyaching with one another about rarely receiving an upgrade. “Economy Comfort” is the new “First Class” for any Sky Miles member who flies less than 150,000 miles a year. Damn Northwest!

When one is 28 on an upgrade list with 67 people and there are only four remaining First Class seats, odds aren't good that an upgrade is coming his way. Delta boards by zone with those of us Gold, Platinum and Diamond members who didn't get upgraded, being called as a group right behind First Class. This has turned into a cattle call that often involves 30- to 40-percent of the plane. When everyone is special, no one is.

This is one fine-looking sedan.
My flight from San Francisco to Atlanta, however, was fine, as was the connecting flight to West Palm Beach. Because of the flight's length and the three-hour time difference, I didn't set foot in Florida until about 5 p.m. Then it was a 20 mile slog south to Delray Beach. Chevy was kind enough to have a new Impala waiting for me at PBI. It's a delightful sedan that is as drivable as it is great looking. This is the second time I've spent several days in one and I continue to be amazed at the number of people who want to stop me to talk about it. I am at a loss as to why it wasn't on the list of nominees for North American Car of the Year. It certainly should have been.

Thursday morning I had plans to see an former par amour, who I had been out of touch with for about seven years. We breakfasted at the Green Owl, a longtime morning spot favored by Delray Beach locals. We followed the food with a leisurely walk to the beach. 

Mmmmm...Fah's Wonton soup!
I don't want anyone reading this to think that I ate and drank my way through my five days in sunny South Florida, but I got back to the house just in time for my buddy Amy and I hit my favorite Thai place, Boca Raton's Fah, for lunch. Loaded with carbs, we scooted up to Boynton Beach for a couple of craft beers at Due South Brewery. We wound up the evening at the Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery back in Boca. I do like craft beers!

Enjoying a Carmel Creme Ale at Due South.
Friday a bunch of friends headed to Outback for lunch. I guess there's nothing like a hangover to bring out the lust for red meat. I'm more of a Chinese-food sort of guy after a night of over-consumption, but mine wasn't the hangover being addressed. 

Friday night's party was a blast. I left my party hat in SC, but still managed to have a good time.
Ostensibly I went to FL for two birthday parties; the first of which was Friday night. This is actually a combo birthday/holiday party in its fifth year. I had missed three out of the previous four. This is a creative bunch when it comes to refreshing-adult beverages. I introduced everyone – well, everyone with judgment sufficiently impaired enough to say, yes – to cinnamon tequila. A wonderfully spirited holiday shooter. 

The night was Dark and Stormy....
My buddy Tim dispensed Dark and Stormys concocted with Gosslings 151 Rum. I had no clue there was a Goslings 151 Rum. Learning new things is good.

The Funkabilly Playboys.
As the party was winding down, a couple of us headed to Boca Raton's Duck to hear a set from the Funkabilly Playboys. It was well worth the trip. They rocked the joint.

I was left to my own devices during the day on Saturday. That's what happens when you stay at someone's house with children who participate in organized sports. I mostly lounged around until I linked up with friends at the Village Tavern in Boynton Beach late in the afternoon.

Sunday I devoted to introspection....and drinking beers at the homes of a couple of buddies where we watched the Miami Dolphins kick around the despicable New England Patriots. The week before I cursed the Dolphins, but I joined most of the country in cheering them on in last Sunday's game.

That evening was the second birthday celebration I traveled to FL to attend. Being a school night, it was somewhat more laid back than Friday night's affair. That was fine with me, I had to get up Monday morning, pack and be at the airport for an 11 a.m. flight. I also wanted to catch the Steelers game, in which they wound up pounding the Bengals.

We did get back in time to wander next door and play a few hands of “Cards Against Humanity.” This is an adult card game designed mostly to make you laugh. I won't go into the graphic details here, but it's a riot. It's not for the squeamish or the easily offended. Check your political correctness at the door. But it's about as much fun as up to six people can have for 25 bucks.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hitting the Trifecta: My First Drive of Chevrolet's "Big Three" Performance Cars

Despite including Chevy products in many of the stories I do for my dot-com financial clients, I am not invited to the bulk of the media programs it throws. Consequently, I was doubly stoked when I received the nod to attend its recent performance-car-driving event in Palm Springs, Calif. 

It was a first opportunity for me to get behind the wheel of the all-new Chevrolet SS sedan, as well as the 2014 Corvette Stingray and Camaro SS convertibles.

I made the two-and-a-half-hour slog to Atlanta to catch an 8:15 a.m. flight. To save you the time of doing the math, that meant pulling away from my house in Greenville, SC at 3:45 a.m. Normally I go out and raise a little cane on Tuesday evenings. In this instance, however, reason prevailed and I stayed home, hitting the sack around 9:30. I could wax on and on about age, wisdom and discretion, but that would be just so much claptrap. I basically stayed in to save a little money in anticipation of the wallet-emptying blowout my upcoming South Florida trip will be.

Delta upgraded me to First Class for the nearly four-hour flight to Salt Lake City. I knew I would be driving that afternoon when I landed; so, I reluctantly took a pass on the bar cart, amusing myself instead by watching a couple of free movies. Yes, I could have done some work, but couldn't muster sufficient motivation.

I've spent a lot of time in the E concourse of the Salt Lake City Airport.
Getting to Palm Springs via Delta required the aforementioned Salt Lake City leg plus a nearly two-hour segment south to Palm Springs. A wave of nostalgia washed over me when I reached the E concourse at Salt Lake for the connecting flight. The Three Amigos always wound up there for a connecting flight to Billings, MT on our legendary Eatons' Ranch boondoggles. We would have a celebratory beer in the little bar squeezed back in one corner of the terminal. I was getting all misty thinking about it. 

The old fountain notwithstanding, the front entrance of the Parker is anything but picturesque.
 Chevy put us up at the Parker, a mere five-minute drive from the Palm Springs Airport. This was once a Holiday Inn and hasn't strayed too far from those roots – except that, no doubt, it's more expensive, probably a lot more expensive. I was there for the cars and not the hotel, but the front entrance looks like the backside of a strip mall. It was clean, cozy and comfortable enough, though. 

The Parker's common-area lounge.
Although there is nothing notable going on inside this structure, its gardens and outside areas spread out behind it are quite lovely. 

The Parker's sprawling gardens are beautiful.
Getting coffee before the restaurant opens at 7 a.m. is a bit of a challenge. That's tough on East-Coast folks whose internal clocks may have them up and out of bed by 3 or 4 a.m. Parker has a small conference center and I suspect a coffee urn or two lying about somewhere, but apparently filling one up and setting it out for early risers never occurred to its management, or maybe it did. Let them eat cake!

I was really fired up about driving the Chevy SS sedan. This marks the brand's first rear-wheel-drive sedan in almost two decades. Chevy pulled no punches with it. Assembled in Australia, it is based on the same Holden sedan as the now departed Pontiac G8. “Based on” being the key words here.

Chevy resisted the temptation of simply attaching a few new pieces and its bow-tie badge to the G8 to create the SS. Engineers at the event said roughly only 10 to 15 percent of the parts were carried over. 

The essential 4-1-1 is that it's powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that delivers 415 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque. Chevy clocked its 0-to-60 time at about 4.5 seconds. A six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles hands off engine grunt to the rear wheels. Front Brembo four-piston grabbers help with the braking assignments.

This is a full-size sedan in every respect. It has a spacious backseat with an ample trunk pass through. Its 16.4 cu.ft. trunk can swallow plenty of stuff.

There has been a lot of attention to detail inside the SS. Stitched-leather surfaces, suede-like inserts in the door panels and sport seats, and night-time blue ambient lighting all contribute to the interior's upscale feel.

One thing I really like about the SS is that there is only one trim level. When you see one, you don't have to look for some tell that identifies which engine or trim level it is. Every SS comes with the same engine, transmission and content. It is loaded with everything from a color head-up display and dual-zone automatic climate control to a nine-speaker Bose-infused audio system and heated/ventilated front seats. Every SS features Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, navigation system and an eight-inch color touchscreen.

On the safety front are forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, side blind-zone alert, eight airbags, and rear backup camera.

I put more than 100 miles on the SS during my afternoon drive. Program planners laid out a drive route that was perhaps the most challenging I've ever driven in a sedan. I walked away from that drive with no doubts about its remarkable cornering capabilities. Well planted and outrageously predictable, it really hunkered down in the turns.

If only these walls could speak...a bedroom in Frank's house.
Chevy took us off site for dinner our first night to Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs abode. I had been there a couple of times before. It's surprisingly normal. At least parts of it have been renovated since my last visit. After relating the story of how the sink in the master bathroom was chipped from some sort of altercation between the “Chairman of the Board” and one-time wife Mia Farrow to a couple of people, I was dismayed to find the master bath was one of the rooms that received a makeover. A little history gone.

Stay tuned for my reactions to the Corvette Stingray and Camaro SS.