Taken a few years ago at some joint on Broadway in Nashville, this was one of several photos with good-looking girls I had never laid eyes on before. It wasn't my birthday, but the Nissan crew was telling every attractive female we encountered that it was. Here's to getting older!

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai Genesis Meets Greenville, South Carolina: The Ideal Marriage

I'm not the kind of guy who shows off a lot. I'm old, bald, fat and broke, which doesn't leave me a lot of wriggle room for showing off.

But I did get to show off my city this week to about 60 people – 40 or 50 of them had never been to Greenville before. I was only too happy to bask in the deluge of compliments rained down on me by my media brethren and Hyundai internals attending the two-day function. 

2015 Hyundai Genesis 5.0L next to Greenville's Cigar Warehouse.
The occasion was Hyundai's Southeast media introduction for its redesigned 2015 Genesis. It attracted motoring media from Texas to North Carolina.

For eight years I pestered Hyundai's regional PR wonks to host an event in Greenville. My lobbying efforts finally paid off. I'm no hero. I am, however, persistent and annoying – apparently exactly the qualities required to convince a major auto company to invest something north of $75,000 on an event in a city that half the attendees had never heard of before booking their flights. 

Greenville's Westin Poinsett Hotel.
Hyundai chose downtown's Westin Poinsett for our two-night stay. Yes, Hyundai was gracious enough to put me up there as well, despite my living 15 minutes away. Because I had some difficulty piloting the elevator back to my 9th-floor room both nights, that I didn't have to get myself all the way home was a good thing.

Enjoying some updates over the years, the Westin is clean, comfortable and modern in an “Old South” sort of way. It is centrally located to all the downtown attractions. I had been in it a few times, but this was my first experience overnighting there. It was quiet and the service top notch. 

Although Main Street, where the Westin sits and the test cars were staged, is often backed up for several blocks, downtown Greenville is less than sprawling and we were outside its confines in about five minutes as we sprinted for North Carolina.

The next-generation Genesis was a good fit for the Upstate, as the locals call the area surrounding Greenville. Classy without being ostentatious pretty well describes Greenville and Genesis.

When it hits dealer showrooms in a month or so Genesis will be offered in two basic flavors: a $38,000 3.8L V6-equipped version and a $51,500 5.0L with its V8. For another $2,500, you can opt for AWD on the 3.8L.

We had the opportunity to drive all three Genesis configurations. Had I not followed it with wheel time in the 5.0L, I would have been quite satisfied with the performance of the 311-horsepower 3.8L. It spooled up and got itself briskly off the line. Both the 5.0L and the 3.8L use an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission to hustle power to the rear wheels – or all the wheels for those 3.8Ls so equipped.

As fine as the 3.8L is, its performance was dwarfed by the 420-horsepower 5.0L. Goosing the accelerator on the 5.0L was like being shot out of a cannon.

Hyundai found some terrific roads to stretch out the Genesis and tax the bounds of its handling. Although the route never had us more than 50 or 60 miles from my house, I hadn't been on some of these roads. Rt. 178 north of Pickens, SC was awesome. 

Spending time in both front seat positions as well as about 45 minutes in the backseat, I was impressed with the comfort and support of all the seats. A six-foot-plus passenger would have no shortage of rear-seat legroom. In fact, Genesis has more interior passenger volume than any of its core competitors, such as the Infiniti M, BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The craftsmanship and quality of materials throughout the cabin are top shelf.

Genesis holding court in front of Hendersonville's Flat Rock Wood Room.
Lunch was at the Flat Rock Wood Room in Hendersonville, NC. A curious pairing, it specializes in BBQ and wood-fired pizza. I can't speak to the pizza, but the pulled pork was exceptional. With eight local beers on tap and 15 or so other microbrews in bottles and cans, they can expect to see me again.

Soby's as seen from the front drive of the Westin Poinsett.
Dinner our first night was a buffet at Westin's Spoonbread Restaurant. The second night we walked across Main Street to Soby's where Hyundai had reserved most of its second-floor dining room and bar. Soby's is my usual Friday-night hangout. I'm not exactly “Norm” there, but I am fairly well known. As always the food was terrific and the service exceptional.

A bit of Hyundai decoration at Soby's.
I've been writing about cars and participating in media events for 25 years or more; this was the first time an event, other than maybe a lunch, has taken place in the city where I live. It was a hoot. 

A bit of Flat Rock Wood Room humor.
Hyundai isn't the only carmaker I've hounded about doing an event in Greenville, but it was the first to pull the trigger since I've lived here. This event is motivating me to turn up the heat on some of the other car manufacturers I've discussed Greenville with.

If nothing else, I am persistent. And how the hell else am I ever going to get to show off?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Breaking and Raking: Shows That I Am Now Watching

I'm not the kind of guy who spends hours and hours in front of the TV during the day despite working out of my house. All of us who do that don't lounge around in our bathrobes goofing off most the day. I at least make enough of a show of working that I can convince myself that I am being productive.

Yes, I've figured out how to bamboozle myself.

But I do record a lot of TV, not to mention subscribing to Netflix and Amazon Prime. I have access to a lot of TV programming.

Typically I have some older series that's on Netflix or Amazon that I watch an episode of as I chow down on lunch each day. 

I really don't like any of these people.
 The current series filling that role is “Breaking Bad.”

This is a series that has a cult-like following among its viewers. I never saw an episode while it was airing original episodes. In fact, I wouldn't have even begun watching it on Netflix if so many people hadn't recommended it with such high praise. I don't get it.

I am now about halfway through season four – it aired for five seasons – and I am only sticking with it because I am in such wonder as how so many people I know could have possibly been addicted to it.

I found season one to be fairly interesting and entertaining, but my enthusiasm has been steadily waning ever since. 

The chemistry teacher and his underachiever former student.
Here's the premise: A high school chemistry teacher discovers he has cancer. The best care, of course, isn't covered by his insurance. He fully expects to kick the bucket. His family is already teetering on the brink of financial ruin. He not only needs to pay out of pocket for his care, but must accumulate some money to leave his family. What to do; what to do....

He finds some wasteoid, drug-abuser former student to go into business with. He cooks the meth, and the kid hawks it. Adventures ensue as they have run-ins with competing drug dealers, the Mexican cartel and so forth. Oh, did I mention that his wife's brother is a DEA agent?

All of this takes place in Albuquerque. 

Jonathan Banks plays Mike the enforcer.
First let me say that I don't usually watch shows with characters I don't like. I don't mean shows with a character I don't like, but shows that I can't find one character I do like. Well into season four, I have only two characters among either the core cast or reoccurring characters I can find anything about which to like.

Bob Odenkirk plays the fast-talking attorney Saul.
I don't think it's a good sign that one of these characters is an ambulance-chasing attorney played by Bob Odenkirk and the other is Mike the drug-syndicate enforcer played by recognizable character actor Jonathan Banks. I'm not kidding. 

The meth cooker/chemistry teacher – Walter White played by Alan Cranston – is a wretched excuse for a human being who when not treating everyone around him as if they are worthless crap, is elevating buffoonery to an art. Not an episode goes by that I don't find myself muttering under my breath, “What an idiot!” Here's a guy who should stay under the radar as much as possible who in one episode manages to get himself pepper sprayed during a routine traffic stop before being hauled to jail; and in another episode blows up a brand-new Dodge Challenger he bought his son the day before rather than return it to the dealership as he promised his wife. He does this in a parking lot near the airport and once again manages to get himself arrested. Then there was the episode where he spent more than half of it chasing a fly around his lab and nearly destroying it in the process. What an idiot....

His wife is a shrew, his disabled son is a pain in the ass, his brother in law – my favorite character in season one – is another pain in the ass, his wife's sister is a thief and on and on and on.

The other thing that bothers me about this show is that at times, it's just plain boring. I usually fast forward through 10 to 15 minutes of each episode. There is at least one commercial-break-to-commercial-break scene that is nothing but two people sitting talking to one another. It goes on and on and on, and doesn't do much to advance the story.

I continue watching this train wreck because 1) it doesn't cost me anything and 2) I keep thinking it must get better. I am losing my confidence in the latter.

I found "Weeds" to be a better "what if" of normal people suddenly thrust into the drug world.
The whole fish-out-of-water, drug-dealer theme was done with better effect by “Weeds.” Likeable characters and more believable behavior on the part of all parties involved.

I like this entire cast.
 Another show I am following is Fox's “Rake.” It is sort of the antithesis of “Breaking Bad” for me.

I like all the characters and there is always something going on. 

Keegan and his former-hooker pal.
Here's the premise: A sorry excuse for a human being is a sex-addicted, gambling-addicted, yet brilliant, lawyer. He owes every bookie, pimp and crook in town. He is constantly helping an exhooker that he has a crush on. His boss and good friend is the husband of an college fling.

The lawyer is Keegan Dean, engagingly played by Greg Kinnear. It's not easy to make such a wreck of a human likeable.

Sadly, I think after only a dozen or so episodes, this series is circling the drain. Currently off Fox's schedule, it has yet to be canceled, but it is in series purgatory. It makes me sad.

If you have the opportunity to catch it, by all means, tune it in.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Accord Coupe and Hybrid: Honda Is Trying to Make a Believer of Me

I'm not the kind of guy who gets all giddy over the Honda Accord. I've always looked at it and the other mid-size Japanese super star Toyota Camry as good, dependable cars that are somewhere south of exciting. Owners love them, but aren't usually in love with them. I like them for all the reasons their owners love them, but I've never been passionate about either one. (Insert yawn here.)

Accord V6 Coupe.

But I've had a couple of Accords of late that caused me to reevaluate my opinion. Don't get me wrong, the Accord wouldn't be on my long list, let alone my short list, of cars to buy if I win the lottery; but I can now see myself actually owning one under the right conditions. One of the Accords impressing me was even – gasp – a hybrid.

I'm not a fan of hybrids – or the whole idea of battery-powered cars. This technology is as old as the automobile itself. As the 1800s morphed into the 1900s, there were actually more battery-powered cars on the road than ones with internal combustion engines. They eventually disappeared because of issues with range. It's still the main problem with battery-powered cars today. Tesla notwithstanding, if you want to go farther than you can see from your upstairs window and return home the same day, battery power won't get the job done. That's obviously a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.

Enter the hybrid. Most hybrids today have a battery-powered electric motor that works in tandem with a four-cylinder gasoline engine to power the car. Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, can power the car on their own for 25 to 30 miles before running out of battery charge. At that time the gasoline-powered engine takes over. Both hybrid systems add quite a bit to the bottom-line cost of the car. 

Accord Hybrid.
Even when supporting a hybrid system, I'm not thrilled with battery-power. I think battery power is simply a stop-gap technology until fuel cells or some other more efficient technology arrives. But that's a discussion for another day. Back to the Accord.

The Accord comes in both plug-in- and traditional-hybrid forms. The one I really like is the Accord with the traditional system. I had the top-of-the-line Touring version. At $34,905, it's roughly only about $1,500 more expensive than the gasoline-powered V6 Touring. That's not a bunch of cash difference as hybrids go. The EPA estimates the hybrid will get 47 mpg in combined city-highway driving; while the V6 just 26 mpg.

A bit of math reveals that if you drive 15,000 miles per year with gas at $3.75 per gallon, it will take just about 18 months for the Accord's hybrid system to pay for itself. If gas goes higher, it will take even less time. After that, you'll pocket $1,100 or more each year rather than pumping it into your gas tank. Not bad.

I was really pleased with the hybrid's acceleration. No, it wasn't neck snapping, but its 226 lb-ft of combined torque got the wheels turning in a hurry. I didn't feel like I was losing anything to the V6.

The other Accord that dazzled me – actually it's dazzling me now – is the Accord 2-Door with its 278-horsepower V6 and six-speed manual transmission. Honda delivered the EX-L V6 Navigation for my week-long test. It retails at $32,400 whether equipped with the six-speed automatic tranny or the manual, as mine was. 

Okay, I'm going to say it: This Accord is F-U-N to drive! I never thought I'd hear myself say – or write – those words. It will hit 60 mph from a standstill in about six seconds. Shifting is effortless with a clutch that's slicker than mule snot. 

The cabin is nicely appointed and uber comfortable.

I have another car in my driveway to test this week, and I am going to have difficulty getting out of the Accord to give it a chance.

So, yes I am rethinking Accord.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Real Signs of Spring

I'm not the kind of guy that bellyaches about winter. It's winter; it's cold. End of story, get over yourself. Having said that, though, I'm always ready for spring when it finally arrives.

I never really thought spring had arrived when I celebrated the Ceremonial First Mowing of My Dirt a few weeks ago. I knew winter still had a little spit left in her, and she did. Not that temps dropped into freezing territory, but we did log more than a couple of nights in the high 30s after my premiere mowing.

Nope. A better tell is that my big azalea is in full bloom. This monster actually seemed to jump the gun this year, but maybe not. When shopping for homes several years ago, I saw my house for the first time in May – well after it bloomed. I'm not enough of a plant/bush/shrub expert to have been able to identify a non-blooming azalea as just that. I was shocked when the thing bloomed my first April in the house. My family had an azalea about the same size in our backyard in Louisville. I always wanted one again, but South Florida isn't really conducive to azaleas.

Since moving into my house, I've planted three more small azaleas next to the big one. The smaller ones bloom at different times from the big one and often from one another. It will be at least another week or two before another springs to life. By that time, the big one will be done and all the blooms gone. Timing is everything.

It may be a little difficult to see, but this is the hood of the Honda Ridgeline covered with pollen currently in my driveway.
The other giveaway that spring is finally here is that every exterior surface on my property is covered with a patina of yellow pollen – I mean every surface. Although the moderate temperatures should have every window in my house open, I keep the downstairs windows closed to keep the pollen out. If I didn't, my furniture, kitchen counters, coffee maker and everything else would be covered with this crap. It only lasts about 30 days, but is uber annoying for that month.

As part of my transitioning to “spring” mode, to my Beer Sunday ritual I'll add a couple of micro beers from my “ugly mug” sitting outside Blue Ridge Brewery.

As a sign of spring, sipping stouts at a Blue Ridge sidewalk table beats the snot out of dusting yellow pollen off my test cars.

Monday, April 7, 2014

OMG! Three Hours of My Life Lost Watching "The Wolf of Wall Street."

I'm not the kind of guy who hides his eyes during nude scenes in movies. Despite the accent being on “guy,” I don't watch a movie because it's reported to contain some nudity, but I don't avert my eyes when it crops up either. Remember: guy!

Having said that; I lost three precious hours of my life on Saturday night suffering through Martin Scorsese's self-indulgent ode to Wall Street excess “The Wolf of Wall Street.” If I did watch movies solely for the nudity, I would have felt like I hit the six-number Powerball with “Wolf.”

Lots of nudity? You betcha! And some of it was of the “full monty” variety.

Toss in the use of the F-bomb every 15 seconds or so and I was so numbed that by the beginning of hour three, I hardly even noticed when a woman suddenly began prancing around in her birthday suit.

Of course by hour three, I was fast forwarding through huge swaths of the film.

Yes, the film is three – count them, 3 – hours long!

Apparently, Scorsese no longer feels comfortable making a film without DiCaprio. Of the five films on which they have collaborated, I actually like the first four: “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and to a lesser extent “Shutter Island.” 

"Yes, you'll love it! You get to drop the F-bomb here, here, here, here and here...."
 “Wolf,” though, was a bridge too far.

Here's the plot 4-1-1: Real-life trader Jordan Belfort – played by DiCaprio – wants to be rich and gets himself hired by a well-established Wall Street brokerage company as some sort of boiler-room phone jockey. Mentored by a low-moral broker – played by Matthew McConaughey in an over-the-top, caricature-like performance – Belfort sets off on the road to drugs and fraud. Belfort finds himself out of work when the brokerage closes and eventually starts his own firm where drugs, sex and fraud are its staples. Belfort and his buddies all get filthy rich, and ever further out of control. Eventually Belfort is indicted, goes to prison and winds up back where he began. Yawn.

Here's the highlight reel: dwarf tossing, snorting coke off a woman's bosom, gay orgy, several straight orgies and two car wrecks. Now that's entertainment!

DiCaprio as Belfort.

Beyond McConaughey, other supporting cast members of note include Jonah Hill, Rob Reiner and Jon Favreau. The list of hotties decorating the screen includes never-heard-ofs Margot Robbie and Katarina Cas, both of whom are drop-dead gorgeous, and we see in their full glory at least once in the film. It was the only thing making this film watchable. Remember: guy!

Margot Robbie.
This would have been a much better two-hour film or an even better 90-minute film. There are excruciatingly long scenes of pure dialog that don't really advance the plot, but do provide the DVD viewer with plenty of opportunity to take a bathroom or snack-fetching break without pausing the movie.

After the third or fourth sex or coke-sniffing scene, the audience probably grasped the whole-decadence thing. Anything beyond was simply overkill. Another half-dozen such scenes was a lot of overkill.

It was as though Scorsese simply couldn't bring himself to edit his own film. “I am a genius and this three-minute scene – one of several three minute scenes of dialog or sex or drugs – is simply too wonderful to cut. Let's leave it in!”

For the love of God, cut the scene!

When the end credits actually started to roll, I heaved a sigh of relief. Thank-you, Jesus, it's over.

I'm so glad I didn't pony up 12 bucks to see this turkey in the theater. The $1.59 it cost me at Red Box was bad enough.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Has Obviously Sprung: The Ceremonial First Mowing of My Dirt

I'm not the kind of guy who embraces yard work. In fact, I avoid it at all costs. It takes no more than a glance at the moonscape that is my front yard to appreciate just how little effort I put into its maintenance and the total lack of pride I take in its appearance.

My front yard won't look any better than this as summer wears on.
Its utter ugliness, though, is as much a product of my shortage of discretionary cash as it is my lack of motivation. If I had the two or three grand to bring my grounds up to snuff, I'd be doing other things with it like remodeling the upstairs bathroom. The few dollars I have to invest in my property is better spent doing other things.

Wheeling out my mower every 10 days or so during warmer months is the one thing I just can't seem to escape. I really don't mind the 90 minutes or so I must waste each week beating back the few weeds able to survive in the dust bowl surrounding my house. But I'd just as soon hire someone else to do it. But, we're back to that discretionary-cash thing. 

It has become a regular feature of Clanging Bell to announce to readers the actual start of spring signaled by the ceremonial First Mowing of My Dirt! Yes that mushroom cloud of red dust filling Greenville's southern sky on Thursday was caused by my first 2014 mowing.

I spent about an hour on Wednesday putting a new blade on the mower, as well as changing the oil and swapping out the old air filter with a new one. After filling the tank with gas, I was shocked and pleased that the silly thing fired up with the initial pull of the starter rope.

Mentally and emotionally exhausted by my mower-maintenance episode, I pushed the contraption back into my shed, putting off the actual mowing for another day. That “another day” was Thursday.

I only had to perform a partial mowing. The weediest areas received the bulk of my attention. Then, of course, there is the unmowable area where the remains of a tree I paid to have cut down last fall litter the landscape as a painful reminder of why one should never pay a drive-by tree service before the job is 100% completed. 

Evidence you should never pay a drive-by tree service before they have completed the job.
On my list of things to do as the weather warms up is to rent a chainsaw and cut up these remaining logs into small enough pieces that the county will cart them away on bulk-trash-pick-up day. That, however, is fodder for a future blog posting.

In any event, you may celebrate the actual beginning of spring. The mowing has begun.