Kristin

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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Braving the Cold Is Easy, Even for a South Florida Weenie, With the Right Equipment

Historically, I'm not the kind of guy who has had to give much thought to heated seats, heated outboard mirrors or heated steering wheels in cars. I mean, I lived in South Florida for 25 years, for crying out loud. 

This is what January in South Florida typically looks like.

Admittedly, living for years in an area where the monthly average low for January – historically the coldest month of the year in Palm Beach County – is a balmy 57-degrees can make a winter weenie out of the hardiest of northerners. And that's the low. The average high is 75-degrees. It's small wonder that every time the temp drops below 70, furnaces kick on all over Florida's Gold Coast, as people ransack their closets searching for sweaters and leather jackets they haven't laid eyes on since the last time the mercury dropped to 68-degrees a year earlier.

Needing to don sweat pants rather than swimsuits to sit out by the pool incites whining that echoes all the way to Jacksonville.

I was one of those people – well, except I didn't own a leather jacket then.

The good news for folks in such climes: The cable-knit sweater purchased 10 years ago is still in good shape. That's what happens when you only wear an item three times a year. Even living in the foot hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where we do get a winter of sorts – much more of one this year than any in the seven years I've lived here – my winter clothes don't get much of a workout. 

Here I am standing atop a glacier in 1999 or 2000. I still have every piece of clothing in this photo -- including the socks -- and they are all still in very good shape!
I have photos of myself from 15 years ago in cold-weather clothing that I still have. A couple of my sweaters are showing their age, but for the most part, I haven't had to chuck any winter apparel due to wear in two decades.

But we've had some record lows in Greenville this year with temps dipping into the single digits. Thank God, Al Gore invented global warming or we'd really be in deep doodoo. 

The "Great Greenville Blizzard of 2007": It dumped a whopping four inches of snow at my house.
 So, although I went years and years in Florida without ever once wishing the test car I was currently in had a heated steering wheel, or heated seats for that matter, I certainly do now. Of course, I also have to run the furnace, which I never did in South Florida either.

As a recovering South Floridian, I am even a bit more sensitive to temps hovering around the point of freezing. The only thing worse than sliding between the sheets in my bed at night in this kind of weather is sliding into the ice-like slab of a leather car seat when it's 12-degrees outside; followed by grabbing an equally frigid leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Holy snikies that's cold!

A prayer answered: the heated steering wheel and seats buttons in the all-new Kia Cadenza.
 Suddenly I've been converted. Now the first thing I do after climbing behind the wheel of a freshly delivered test car is search for the heated-seat icon imprinted on a toggle. Once I've located that, my search expands to identifying the control for a heated steering wheel – the greatest invention since scoopable cat litter.

I have been very lucky in recent weeks to have had a number of vehicles equipped with both these life-saving features, as well as a few more with just heated seats. 

The 2014 Ram 1500.
 Currently I have a Dodge Ram 1500 with both functions. Last week I had an Audi Q7 crossover with both, overlapping a Kia Cadenza that also had the ability to keep both my hands and keister toasty.

This has become a big deal in my day-to-day living as the temperature remains stubbornly around the freezing mark.

Heated features in cars make me, well, happy.

It takes so little any more.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Most Loved and Hated Music to Listen to While Driving

I'm not a big music guy. Yes, I like music; but it's more of a background sort of thing for me. I do go to the occasional concert – usually country – but otherwise it's just something to drown out the road noise when I'm in the car, or whatever crappy music might be blaring at the gym. I rarely have music on at home.

Thirty or forty years ago, I used to haul ass across the country on a regular basis. I love to drive and the thought of flying the distance from Louisville, KY to Las Cruces, NM where my sister and her family lived never crossed my mind. Nope. I'd leave Louisville mid afternoon and basically drive the 1,500 miles straight through. I'd cat nap a couple of times for 20 minutes or so at different spots in Texas, but it was pretty much straight through. 

In 20 or so trips through Dallas in five or six years, I only saw it at night.
 You don't know driving until you haul butt across Texas. The entire Louisville to Las Cruces run would take me roughly 23 hours. More than half of that would be driving across Texas. It was years before I saw Dallas in the daylight. Driving east or west, I always hit Dallas at night.

My fraternity brothers called me the “nocturnal traveler.”

Despite my ambivalence toward music in general, I do care about what's playing in the car. I can't listen to just anything. Today, it's much easier to listen to what you want than it was during my marathon Texas runs in the mid 1970s.

On a longer trip today, I might even plug in my iPod. I've got a playlist of about 10 hours of country and another with 10 hours of rock and roll. I can listen to one on the drive down to South Florida and the other on the way back. Perfect.



Ninety percent of the time, though, whichever test car I happen to be in has satellite radio. I'll listen to “80s on 8,” “Outlaw Country” or “Classic Vinyl” as I run errands or simply tool around locally.

As I was surfing around the Web site Insurance.com doing some research for an AutoTrader.com assignment, I ran across a recent survey of 2,000 motorists age 18 and older the site conducted to determine the most and least popular driving songs. 

Ah, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
 Here's what they learned:

Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'” was ranked No. 1. Rounding out the top five were Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody,” AC/DC's “You Shook Me All Night Long,” Journey again with “Any Way You Want It,” and finally Tom Cochran's “Life Is a Highway.”

Respondents were encouraged to write in any favorites not appearing on the survey. Topping the write-in list were AC/DC's “Highway to Hell,” Golden Earring's “Radar Love” and Sammy Hagar's “I Can't Drive 55.”

Charlie Daniels Band's "Texas" is what's playing  as John Travolta's character drives to Pasadena, Texas in the opening of "Urban Cowboy." One of the great driving songs of all time!
 I would have added Golden Earring's “Twilight Zone,” Charlie Daniels Band's “Texas” and Willie Nelson's “On the Road Again.”

Among the songs that would make the survey respondents switch stations: “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by The Baha Men, Taylor Swift's “We Are Never, Ever Getting Together Again,” Cher's “Believe,” Morris Alpert's “Feelings” and “Papa Don't Preach” by Madonna.

Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga were the three top artists among those that respondents admitted to secretly listening to in the car.

No clue what any of this means, but it might win you a beer the next time you're in a bar.

“What's the most hated song to hear in your car?”

“Why, 'Who Let the Dogs Out?' of course.”

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: I'm Happy to Leave Life-Altering Promises to Others

I'm not a New Year's-resolution sort of guy. For the first few days following the beginning of the new year, a favorite conversation starter is “What's your New Year's resolution?” Asking me that question is typically met with a blank stare.

If you placed a gun to my head, I might blurt out, “Be more positive,” or “Save more money,” with no serious intention of doing either. 

Hanging with pals in Florida.
 I could vow to do a better job keeping in touch with friends and family, but I already do about as good a job of that as I can. Yes, there are a few people I haven't seen in a while whom I would like to see, but there is only so much time I can take away from home. I'm fairly maxed out on that front. My visits – particularly to South Florida – are the catalysts for getting groups of friends together. I'm not sure how much more I could really do in that area. I'm stretched pretty thin as it is. 

I get the whole it's-a-clean-slate, new-beginning idea, but coming up with a truly significant, life-altering change in my life – that I would actually follow – is just too exhausting. It's not that I consider myself perfect by any stretch of the imagination; however, when I look in the mirror every day, I'm fairly satisfied with the guy looking back at me. I'm comfortable with me.

This is about as good as it's going to get. No number of New Year's resolutions will make it better.
Yes, I am old and bald, but some sort of attitude adjustment can't alter that. Forty years ago my life plan was to live hard, die young and leave a good-looking corpse. Having crossed that age-60 threshold, the ship has sailed on the second two, and I neither have the resources nor the stay-out-until-three-in-the-morning energy required to fulfill the first one.

I live alone; so, I can't vow to travel less and spend more time at home with loved ones. Because I sort of like living alone, I'm not going to commit to finding someone with whom I can share my declining years. I like doing what I want when I want. I'm not at all sure, at this stage in my life, that I'm willing to share the decision making with someone else. 



I could swear less, drink less, eat less meat and keep a cleaner house, but I'm firm adherent to a philosophy attributed to Mark Twain: If I can't get to 70 by a comfortable road, I don't want to go. I can't see any real value in going Amish now.

So, as I gaze up the road of 2014, unwinding ahead of me, my intention is to just keep on keeping on. I'll leave the big resolutions to those who have sufficient time to still make a meaningful course correction in their lives.

I'm pretty damn happy with the status quo.
Me? I'll be in my recliner with a glass of W.L. Weller 12-year old, snacking on chips and salsa, texting a few friends, and numbing my brain with a little escapism television.

Here's to 2014. Cheers!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I'm Too Cold to Worry About Global Warming

A Volvo drive to the Arctic Circle and beyond in 2003 was excellent preparation for the temperature in Greenville today.
I have to chuckle at the disciples of the church of global-warming, who, whenever temps drop, rush to point out that such weather events aren't evidence that man-made global warming isn't legitimate. Of course, these are the same crackpots who use every hurricane, wild fire, earthquake, flood, drought, winter with little snow, winter with more snowfall than usual, some rain, no rain, too much rain, and temp extremes as evidence that, not only is man-made global warming real, but it's getting worse.

What next, “spring” is evidence of the planet heating? (Disclosure: This isn't my joke.)

(No doubt more "proof" of global warming: USA Today just reported that 2013 set the record for fewest lightning-strike deaths in the U.S. since records began being kept in 1940.)

Forty years ago some of these same knuckleheads were predicting an impending ice age due to arrive in 50 or 60 years. I guess we still have some time before we can heave a sigh of relief that those predictions weren't accurate.

(As if on cue, here's Time Magazine's no-matter-what-happens-it's-man-made approach.) 

Do I believe the current cold snap disproves global-warming? Nope. It's just uber cold for a few days. Although I'm sure there is a global-warming hysteric somewhere putting forth the argument that somehow this severe cold snap is the result of global warming. See paragraph one.

It was 7-degrees in Greenville, SC when I logged on my computer at 7:30 this morning. Just off the top of my head, I believe that's the coldest temp here since I moved from South Florida seven years ago. It certainly doesn't compete with the sub-zero temps much of the country is dealing with, but it's cold nonetheless.

My cat climbed in my lap when I sat down to begin work at 7:30 a.m., and at 11:45 hasn't stirred. She, as far as I know, has no position on global warming. She's just cold.

Despite “the science being settled,” there is a growing and persuasive body of studies that climate change has much more to do with the sun's sunspot cycles than the carbon dioxide generated by our fleet of SUVs.

I tend to side with that argument. And, unlike the global-warming school of scientists, many of whom derive their income through grants and organizations with a mission to keep the global-warming hysteria at a fever pitch, I am willing to entertain the thought that the science is not settled. 

What global-warming true believers look like.
I find it both ironic and hilarious that the ship carrying a platoon of global-warming scientists heading to Antarctica to prove that its ice shelf is disappearing, became stuck in the ice – along with one of its rescue ships – nearly 100 miles from its destination. Funnier still, while they were stranded in the ice, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), posted a report that there is more ice on the Arctic shelf than ever. It would seem so.

Woops.

So, as I try to stay warm, I will keep an open mind about the state of our planet's climate. Is it warming or cooling? I don't have a clue. But I do know that it's damn cold today.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Working Stiff's Perspective on a New Year



As I settle into my post-holiday funk, I am eying 2014 with more trepidation than optimism. Although I've managed to somehow financially hang on since I moved to South Carolina, it has never been with any degree of comfort. I haven't been able to relax or, even momentarily, take my eye off the ball – not once in seven years. 

Still, I am better off than a lot of people in a feeble economy that shows little sign of widespread improvement. Money is cheap; so, people are buying cars and some even springing for new homes, but the jobless remain stubbornly so. The government's latest plan for fixing that: extending unemployment payments....again. As if that's a solution.

I am one of the fortunate ones who owns his home.
If I was trying to support a family, had a kid in college, making a mortgage payment or even had a car payment, I would be S.O.L. Thankfully, none of these apply.

I've entered that no-man's land where I am too old to be employable, and too young and unprepared to retire.

The bottom line is that as a freelance writer, I manage to cover the bills, pay my taxes, put litter in the cat box and even underwrite a run or two to Florida every year, but I haven't saved a penny during the past decade. I don't expect that to change in 2014.

I take a certain amount of pride in having kept my nose above the water line since my unceremonious separation from AMI in 2004, but a bit of luck and some help from friends and family contributed to my survival.

For that I am, and always will be, grateful.

Monday, January 6th, signals the mental, emotional start of 2014 for me. The holidays over, reality sets in.

My plan: I'll plow forward one day at a time, pounding it out, and somehow make it all work.

So, although I'm not particularly optimistic about 2014 being “better,” I am determined to continue fighting the good fight tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. It's what I do and have been doing for several years.

What keeps me moving forward is that I know I'll encounter a few laughs with good friends along the way. I guess you can't really ask for much more than that.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Crazy Is as Crazy Does: Sports Is Just a Bunch of Games, Even When Pittsburgh Plays

I'm not one of those guys who gets all revved up about sports. In fact, I find most sports utterly boring at best, and totally worthless at worst. Perhaps I'm just not competitive enough to get it. I have friends whose TV would be tuned to ESPN nonstop if not compelled to leave their easy chair to go to work, engage with family or take a pee. I'd rather watch a good movie – not a particularly productive enterprise either, I admit.

When I do watch a game, the action isn't all that I'm interested in.
College sports are a somewhat different animal than professional ones because there is a certain degree of residual Alma Mater loyalty at play. Living now in South Carolina, I have a whole different perspective on college football.

Holy snikies, people here are bat-shit crazy about college football and their respective teams.

I have friends who are quite normal – well, as normal as people who hang out with me can be – but when it comes to college football, are absolute lunatics. They seem to have an emotional investment in these games that I just don't grasp. It goes well beyond sitting in their living rooms and yelling at the TV during a game – something I've been reported to do when watching the Steelers. A loss of any stripe can drive them into a funk; losing to a perennial rival can make them nearly inconsolable.

I don't have a dog in the college-football fight. I could probably care less, but I don't know how. I am glad I graduated a small, private, Midwest college lacking a national profile. I make myself crazy enough on Sundays over the Steelers; I'd hate to be equally crazed on Saturdays over my college team.

Roll Tide or don't.
Despite my indifference toward college ball, I was somewhat happy to hear that Oklahoma beat Alabama in whatever bowl game they played on Thursday. I don't have a reason for my reaction to Bama's loss, but it made me smile. Does that make me a bad person? There are certainly more serious shortcomings of mine that qualify me for that status. I doubt that finding some small degree of joy in Alabama's loss is even close to topping the list.

At this point you may think this post is about college football and its fans; you would be wrong.

It's about the NFL playoffs and championship, or soon will be.

Although I am an unapologetic Steelers fan, beyond doing a little yelling at the TV on Sundays, I am not emotionally tied to my team's ups and downs. Good thing, too, because this season the “downs” seemed to far outweigh the “ups.” 


Yes, I was disappointed last week when it appeared the Steelers might back-door their way into the playoffs, and didn't. Four things needed to happen for Pittsburgh to sneak into a Wild Card slot. By 4:00 on Sunday, three of them had fallen into place. All that remained was for the Chiefs to beat the Chargers – not a high hurdle under normal circumstances.

The Chiefs lineup on this day, however, wasn't well represented with its starters, many of whom spent much of the game on the sidelines, protecting them from injury. Even at that, the Chargers only squeaked by.

Define "A waste of money:" Paying to send the entire Steelers travel squad to London.
Certainly I was disappointed, but as much by the Steelers lackluster performance early in the season that caused them to lose their first four games as I was by the Chiefs fall to the Chargers. During that four-game losing run, they should have handily beat the Titans (7-9 for the season). Had Pittsburgh only sent its special teams to London to wage battle against the Vikings (6-10 for the season), the Steelers should have won that game. They certainly wouldn't have done any worse.

Losing to the Raiders at home: Are you kidding me!
If the Steelers had stepped up and won either of those two “gimmes,” they would be in the playoffs this year. Moreover, Pittsburgh embarrassed itself at home against the abysmal Raiders (4-12 for the season) after finding its footing, and beating the Jets and Ravens in weeks six and seven. Losing to the Raiders at home was certainly the season's low point.

So, in my thinking, the Steelers had the talent, as well as the opportunity to make the playoffs. They muffed it. I didn't lose sleep over it.

At the start of the season I figured the Steelers would wind up 8-8, and they did. Even at that, they managed to maintain some relevancy into the final week. At least I can hang my hat on that.

I don't typically make predictions, but I will this year.

My best guess: This year's Super Bowl will pit the two No. 1 teams against one another. It will be Seattle versus Denver. And, Denver prevails. I am less confidant about Seattle making it to the Super Bowl than I am Denver. Almost any NFL team can beat another on any given week, but Denver and Seattle, I think, are good enough to survive to the big game. The Carolina Panthers, though, is my "dark horse" pick.

Other than rooting against New England as long as it's in contention, I will take no interest the balance of the season.

My season pretty much ends when Pittsburgh's does.