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!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

As Much WRX as Sensible Sedan, the Redesigned 2015 Subaru Legacy Kicked the Stuffing Out of the Pacific Coast Highway

2015 Subaru Legacy.
I'm not the kind of guy who has so much adventure in his blood that he merrily hops aboard a plane run by an airline with which he has no clout. For me that basically means any airline other than Delta. I simply don't like doing it, particularly for multiple flights across country or out of the good old U.S. of A.

Is Delta better than every other major airline? Hardly, but it is the airline with which I have a 25-year history and about 1.7 million miles under my belt. When issues develop, which they are want to do, I can generally throw my weight around and get things solved post haste. Having some degree of standing with an airline greases the wheels when problems arise and changes must be effected.

Because I don't fly as much as I used to, my clout doesn't pack the sting it once did; but it remains sufficient that I can generally get booked on the next flight when the original flight is delayed for hours or canceled. If you've ever been trapped in an airport for a day or two waiting for a seat to open up after your flight has been canceled, you know exactly where I'm coming from. 

Delta flies a lot of places, but not to Monterey.
I wrote the above preamble simply to explain my hesitation at booking my flights to the recent Subaru Legacy media event in Big Sur, Calif. The nearest airport to the event's staging area is Monterey. It's one of those “you can't get there from here” airports. Delta doesn't even service it. I had to fly U.S. Air. U.S. Air? Oh the humanity!

In an attempt to reduce the likelihood of something going wrong, I flew in and out of Atlanta to hold the number of flights each way to two rather than three. That wasn't much of a stretch for me; I often stage my trips – especially those heading west – out of Atlanta. 

Joni enjoying the view.
Subaru puts on some terrific media events, but the Legacy program had the added feature of including a spouse, significant other, partner, friend or whatever. With my reservations about dating, I don't have a lady in the batter's box, or even on deck. Nope. I had to call one up from the reserve roster. My gal pal in Illinois and I fill in whenever the other is desperate for a companion for a wedding, funeral or some other function where it is less complicated to fly someone in than show up single. Joni had an even tougher set of connections thanks to flying out of Moline.

We arrived in Monterey separately and consequently arrived at Big Sur's Ventana Inn separately. I had about four hours of lead time to shoot some photos and guzzle a few glasses of wine at the hospitality suite. I thought the timing ideal. She wasn't impressed with my head start.

My room at Ventana Inn.
The Ventana Inn is a gorgeous property. Not quite on the beach, many rooms, as mine did, have an ocean view and fire place. King-size beds to get lost in, huge soaking tubs and private patios with a hot tub are found in each room. Oh, and there's a spa, too. I was manhandled by Michelle for 50 minutes with a deep-tissue massage at 7 a.m. the next morning. It was glorious!

With the product presentation beginning at 8:30, I had to do some scrambling to choke down my room-service breakfast, shower after my massage and get to the presentation. 

I was impressed with the 2015 Legacy from my 40 mile coastal drive from the airport the previous day. Subaru wants us to think of the redesigned Legacy as a WRX for families. Indeed, the engineers have managed to inject the suspension and steering with a heaping helping of WRX DNA. It handles more like a sport sedan than the sensible all-wheel-drive people hauler it's supposed to be. Sensible can be fun.

Cabin of the 2015 Legacy.
Available in four trims from the $21,695 2.5i to the $29,595 3.6R Limited with its six-cylinder engine, Legacy is built in Indiana. Every Legacy is loaded with safety and infotainment gear. Either standard or optional are things like EyeSight front collision prevention, rear vehicle detection, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert. New front-seat cushion airbags help keep occupants snugly in place during a frontal crash.

The starter 2.5 flat-four-cylinder engine delivers 175 horsepower to the four wheels via a CVT. This is good for 30 mpg in combined city/highway driving. Stepping up to the 3.6-liter six gets you 256 horsepower and 23 combined mpg. And remember, that's with AWD.

Despite including a gaggle of curves and hills, our morning and afternoon drive routes were pretty simple. We just stuck to California 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) south to Hearst Beach and then back to the Ventana Inn by the same road.

Joni did her fair share of white knuckling. The Legacy handled great and the road was packed with twisties. I offered her the opportunity to drive part of the route. She opened her eyes long enough to register shock at such a suggestion before squeezing them shut again. 

All it needs is a moat.
In between the morning and afternoon drives, we enjoyed an ocean-side picnic at Hearst Beach and then took a three-hour tour of Hearst Castle. Nearly three decades in the making, this palatial home is absolutely incredible. Apparently no one ever told Randolph Hearst that less is more. Our tour guide was a treasure trove of facts and gossip about the mansion, the Hearsts and their guests.

You rang?
On the way back, we also made an unscheduled stop near Point Piedras Blancas to gander at the scores of elephant seals basking in the afternoon sun on the beach.

All of these bad boys are alive and well. They are just enjoying a little siesta.
The entire day made me feel much more like a tourist than someone who was technically working. I like that.

At cocktail hour our final night. Yes, we're twins and Mom still dresses us alike.
Our first flight the following day to get us to our respective homes was at 6:15 a.m. Ouch. That meant a 3 a.m. wake-up call. Yikes!

Well, it seemed like a good idea when we booked it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust: Several Bite the Dust, Actually, as TV Networks Announced Their Cancellations

I'm not the kind of guy who frets a lot about things over which I have little or no power. More often than it's probably healthy for me, though, I do get ticked off about politics and the this country's direction; however, one of the many advantages of not having produced off spring is I don't have to obsess about their futures nor the futures of successive generations of Russ-inspired progeny.

From afar I am observing what has grown into four generations of my sister's family, and I do have some concerns about the mess with which they will have to deal; but it's not the same as shouldering responsibility for launching my own spawn into what I consider the terrible abyss that I fear will be this society's future. 

Where's Waldo? Four generations of my sister's clan.
Consequently, I get to worry over much smaller issues, such as TV shows I like getting canceled.

The major networks recently posted the 2014-season shows they are canceling. I am not terribly disappointed, but there are a few on the list that I will miss. 

Karl Urban (left) played detective John Kennex. Michael Ealy played the android.
Although it was axed a couple of months ago, “Almost Human” was a JJ Abrams production on Fox staring Karl Urban (the most recent Star Trek Dr. McCoy) as a cop in the future with an android partner. It was fun. I like just about everything JJ Abrams attaches himself to. I'm surprised this show didn't make it.

Johnny Sequoyah was terrific in the role of the gifted Bo Adams in "Believe."
“Believe” is a feel-good show on NBC about a gifted little girl whose mind is so powerful, she can read minds, and move objects. She wants to use her powers to help people – and manages to do just that every episode – but an evil corporation (In Hollywood is there any other kind?) wants to harness her power for the government. A small group of good guys – including her father – spend every episode keeping the bad guys away. This is another JJ Abrams production, which is what attracted me to it in the first place. I like all the good-guy characters in this show. I also like the idea of a bigger, benevolent power. Apparently, I am in the minority.

I've like Elizabeth Mitchell (right) since I saw her in the 1991 Angelina Jolie flick, "Gia."
The third series I will miss more than most of the other canceled shows is NBC's “Revolution.” Fifteen years after electricity simply stops working, a small band of mostly good-guy revolutionaries takes on the central government attempting to reestablish itself. I like the cast, the premise and the writing. I am a fan of Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays Rachel Matheson. She is sort of the matriarch of the clan and one of the people responsible for the lights going out in the first place. I think the producers had enough notice of cancellation that they will bring the story line to some sort of conclusion. At least I hope so. Oh, and it's yet another series with JJ Abrams in the credits. 

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Dracula doing his carnival barker routine hawking his free energy. Are you kidding me?
Among the canceled shows I am sufficiently interested in and glad to see bite the dust is “Dracula.” What a waste of 60 minutes of weekly air time. It was on NBC, so I wasn't terribly surprised when the story arc was that Dracula had invented a no-cost form of energy requiring no grid that would not only power light bulbs, but replace oil. All of the oil barons ban together to sabotage Dracula's efforts. Once in a while he also bites someone, but that's incidental to the “big oil bad guys” story line. Adding to the story line's credibility gap is that this all takes place in the 1800s. What? Can you say, contrived?

Having never seen "The Crazy Ones," I can only assume this is the core cast.
Another canceled show, and one that I just could never bring myself to watch, is the Robin Williams vehicle “The Crazy Ones.” I typically tune into any new series featuring an alum (Sarah Michelle Geller on the far left in the photo above) from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer;” but I find Williams so creepy, I could never make myself tune in. I have no clue if it was funny or not. I for one won't lose sleep over its passing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Affordable Every-Man's Car Volkswagen Golf Meets Snooty San Francisco

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
I'm not the kind of guy who refuses to bend his own rules here and there. I've been known to do it from time to time. So, when faced with either bending a rule or passing on the recent Volkswagen media launch of the redesigned 2015 Golf in its many iterations, I became as flexible as boiled pasta.

At issue was VW's insistence that attendees fly in one day and back out the next. In other words, take a red-eye flight home. Actually, more a guiding principle than an ironclad rule, I steer clear of almost any event requiring me to stay awake all night, facing the next day exhausted and bleary eyed. Even when there are dancing girls and an open bar involved, I still eventually hit the sack before the rooster warbles.

One reason I relaxed my no-red-eye rule in this case was because I had 16 days of travel with only a couple of days and a couple of nights at home sprinkled into the mix. Flying at night instead of the next day gave me some extra daylight hours to get stuff done around the house: mowing the dirt and so forth.

Volkswagen running its hurry-up offense for the Golf media launch may have been based on the fact that although Golf is an extremely important car for Volkswagen globally, not so much in the U.S. Here, VW only pushed about 30,000 Golfs over the curb in 2013.

The Hotel Zetta.
Volkswagen threw this little affair in San Francisco. Hosting us at the Hotel Zetta downtown. As with many San Francisco hotels, Zetta is a little quirky, but comfortable and relatively quiet for being center city. The staff is friendly and helpful, too. 

The Thirsty Bear Brewery.
With some time to burn, thanks to my early afternoon arrival, I immediately went on the hunt for a microbrewery. As fate would have it, one of the bellmen directed me to the Thirsty Bear Organic Brewery about four blocks from the Zetta. Feeling a tad under the weather for reasons that still escape me, I chose to only sample one of Thirsty Bear's craft beers. Its Kozlov Stout held great promise; so, I ordered a pint. It had just enough chocolate on the finish. Good stuff. 

Mmmm...a Kozlov Sout. Organic? Who knows?
To me, San Francisco seemed an odd fit for the Golf intro. Through its draconian green space efforts and building restrictions, the city has managed to drive home prices and the cost of living in general into the upper stratosphere where only the really well heeled can afford to play. Golf is, after all, VW's every-man's car. Unless one is so smitten with San Francisco that he is willing to sleep on the street -- and there appears to be no shortage of people willing to do just that -- housing is a tough nut to crack. But where to park a car -- even a small one?

With sufficient pull, you could always park your Golf in the reception area of the Hotel Zetta.
Anyone on the hunt for a smaller hatchback, should be able to find a Golf to fit any need or budget. Getting your foot in the Golf door requires a measly $17,995 for the most affordable of the bunch: Golf TSI. It comes with a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged four. Armed with full power accessories, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, and hill hold assist, the baseline Golf is nicely outfitted. If your wallet has a bit more depth, you can pony up for one of the ascending trim levels – even move up to four doors – with all manner of goodies.

Then there is the $21,995 Golf TDI with its 150-horsepower 2-liter diesel engine and EPA-estimated 42 mpg on the highway. VW also offers it in better contented trims.

Both the TSI and the TDI will eventually be available as the SportWagen, too.

Golf GTI cockpit.
Then there is the $24,395 hot-shoe Golf GTI. Like the TSI, it comes in several flavors, each with the 210-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four. What a blast to drive and toss around the turns. You can keep heaping content in it as you move up through the trim levels until you reach $30,695 for the GTI Autobahn with automatic transmission.

Does the talk of fuel-slurping performance get your knickers in a knot? Well before you go all Sierra Club, know that even with the automatic tranny, the GTI manages an EPA-estimated 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. But if that is still not good enough fuel economy for you, there is the electric-vehicle version: e-Golf.

VW says it can hump to 60 miles per hour from a standstill in 10 seconds. It's top speed will be 87 mph. VW also claims an average range of 70 to 80 miles. I clocked about 4 miles behind the wheel of one. Fun to drive? Not particularly; but other than the Tesla, what EV is. But it will get you where you need to go in a crowded urban environment. 

The fully electric e-Golf.
Without a doubt, the GTI is the real smile maker among this bunch; although, the TSI is fun in its own right.

Volkswagen started the whole hatchback craze with the Golf 40 years ago. Be assured, it is still alive and well in its 2015 skin.

The bottom line is that I like the redesigned Volkswagen Golf a lot. San Francisco? Not so much. Just another reason the one-day turnaround worked OK for me. It was enough time to drive the Golf, and drink a pretty decent beer.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to Turn a 90-Minute Dirt-Mowing Chore Into 4 Hours

I'm not the kind of guy who can just lie around, even when I convince myself that I deserve it.

Take yesterday – Wednesday – for instance. I red-eyed out of San Francisco to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to Greenville, SC. My flight to Atlanta left at 11:30 p.m. West Coast time and landed in Atlanta around 6:30 a.m. by the East Coast clock. Then I had to amuse myself in Atlanta for about 90 minutes before boarding my 29-minute flight for Greenville. 

The old latch and lock on the bottom with the new latch and lock on top. No, it's no from the redundant school of redundancy.
I walked in my door before 10 a.m., and that included a cameo at the grocery store to pick up a few things on my way home.

Although the sky was a little overcast when I first landed in Greenville, within an hour, the sun was blasting through. I knew I had to mow my dirt either the day I arrived home or the next because I am scheduled to fly again on Friday. I had a two-day window to get the mowing done.

I'm not a mow-once-a-week homeowner. What's the point? My lawn/moonscape/missile-testing range looks like crap mowed or not. It does look marginally better trimmed than it does when out of control, but only marginally.

Nope, I'm a mow-once-every-10-days person. My 10 days expired on Monday and it was now Wednesday. Time was running out.

So, despite being dog tired – I had several pops of Templeton Rye in VW's hospitality suite before heading to the airport in hopes it would help me sleep; it didn't; so, yesterday morning I was groggy and tired – I decided to go ahead and mow the dirt, first thing after getting home. Besides, I reasoned, Thursday's weather might be bad and then what would I do? The weeds screamed to be cut!

Donning my yard-work attire, I got ready to head outside. Pulling open the kitchen drawer where I keep the keys for the lock on my shed – yes, I have a shed – I made a tragic discovery: no keys. Wait, let me try that again: NO KEYS!

I didn't panic, not immediately anyway. Sometimes I just forget to put them back, in which case they run through the washer and dryer safely in the pocket of my yard-work shorts, or wind up in the bottom of the washer. I checked both; nada.

I searched every nook and cranny where I could imagine absent mindedly placing or accidentally dropping them. Fifteen minutes of searching produced zero results.

I didn't have time for this crap. The clock was ticking.

Going to one of my tool boxes – yes, I have tool boxes – I grabbed a crowbar and a 20-pound hammer. My plan was to pry the door-side of the latch off the door. Ten minutes, a gallon of sweat and a string of profanity that would have made my dad proud later, I gave up that idea. The door-frame side of the latch proved equally as stubborn. At this point I had wasted 45 minutes without breaching the shed's defenses.

I headed back into the house and retrieved my power drill – yes, I have a power drill, two, in fact – with the intention of removing the hinges from the door. I returned with not only my drill, but a container of drill bits and a 50-foot extension cord. 

Where's there's a will, there's a way. Removing the door from its hinges allowed me to reach the screws holding the latch to the door frame.
I had the door off its hinges in two minutes. Flipping the door around exposed the heads of the screws holding the frame side of the latch in place. Removing those, the latch swung free. I rehung the door, which now opened.

Of course, I could no longer lock it. Grabbing my gas can, I headed off to get fuel for the mower and a new lock and latch at Home Depot. Tick-tock....tick-tock.....

I rolled back into my driveway about 20 minutes later with gas and supplies. Attaching the new latch required about 10 minutes. No worries there.

Finally, about two and a half hours after I first pulled open the drawer to get the keys, I was ready to mow.

Yep, my 90 minute dirt mowing chore morphed into well over four hours.

Although the new latch and lock cost me about 17 bucks, I did find a $10 bill on the ground at the gas station, so I had that going for me. Sweeeeet!

Oh, and at least I made the correct choice. Rain began falling last evening and continued all day today. A brilliant call, yes?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What's Hydra Therapy? I Recently Found Out in Cancun

I'm not the kind of guy to pass up a serious pampering when offered. It was in this something-for-nothing spirit that I accepted the invitation of the PR director for the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach where I'm staying in Cancun for something called Hydra Therapy in the hotel's spa.

The pool at the Fiesta Americana appears to go on forever.
I had no idea what hydra therapy might be, but I suspected it would make me feel better coming out than I felt going in. Mostly, I was right. I had been up since 2:30 a.m. to get myself to Atlanta for my 8:30 direct Delta flight to Cancun. Atlanta airport has a separate international terminal that involves a little more time and stress than the domestic one. I was tired and a tad cranky upon arriving at the hotel.

I chose to take advantage of the hotel's largesse late in the afternoon of my first day. I arrived at the hotel a bit after noon on Monday. There were no structured events on the agenda for that day. It seemed like the ideal opportunity to douse myself with some water.

Surf and cerveza at the Isla Contoy restaurant.
After consuming a wonderful lunch of coconut-fried shrimp and Sol cerveza at the hotel's ocean-side Isla Contoy restaurant, and about 90 minutes sunning by the hotel pool, I approached the spa check-in on the fourth floor.

Before I could embark on my hydra adventure, however, I had to complete a medical form more involved than when I last applied for major medical insurance. Ten minutes later, I was escorted to the men's locker room by Enrique, where I slipped into my swimming trunks and a spa-provided robe.

Hydra therapy, it turns out, is sort of the water version of the Stations of the Cross. It consisted of seven or so different water experiences, or tortures, if you will. Water boarding wasn't among them, but would have been preferable to the immersions in ice-cold water that followed a couple of the warmer events.

My attendant Enrique then walked me to a steam room where he left me to stew in my own juices. Well, not quite, but it was hot. I still managed to doze off after lying down on the tile bench. I did mention that I had been awake since 2:30 that morning, right? Thankfully he returned to lead me to a warm shower before I succumbed. The shower was relaxing and I really began to calm down and unwind. This euphoria was short lived, however. Enrique walked me to another shower. I should have suspected something was up. Why two showers?

“It very fria: cold,” he told me. No shit! It was 10 seconds of eye-bulging, ice-cold water. Big Jake and the Twins still have not come out of hiding.

From there we were off to another warm room where Enrique handed me a little paper cup containing some sort of paste that he identified as clay. “Rub on your neck and shoulders,” he instructed. I did as I was told and sat in the semi dark awaiting some sort of epiphany to take place. I'm still waiting.

After 10 minutes or so, Enrique returned to take me to another shower. I was already the cleanest I've been in decades. I toweled off in time for him to take me to the whirlpool. Now you're talking, Enrique.

I submerged myself in the foaming pool and closed my eyes. Let the relaxing begin!

Returning 15 minutes later, Enrique helped my limp form out of the whirlpool and into a warm pool of still water. “Dunk down,” he said, demonstrating his command by squatting a couple of times on the side of the pool. Mimicking his motion in the water my skin cooled a few degrees. He then walked me a couple of feet to another pool. “You go in and dunk yourself again,” he said. “It good for closing your pours.”

Oh, yeah, I thought, no way. Every orifice on my body was still puckered closed by my first bout with ice water. I waded up to my knees and ran back out, shouting, “On to the next station,” through gritted teeth as I sprinted past a startled Enrique.

Recovering his composure, he took me to a maze-like, water-filled trench that zigzagged like the line for Disney's “It's a Small World” ride. The bottom was lined with smooth river rocks. I stepped down into the tepid water and walked the course. I came to the end, walked out to find a smiling Enrique pointing to another similar course next to it. “This one colder,” he cautioned. I took two steps and bounced back out. “Not happening, my friend,” I told him.

The final station was something he called “The Sensation Pool.” Roughly the size of an Olympic-size, rectangular swimming pool, it contained several different water experiences from a laser-like focused water spout to a bubbling area that made the whirlpool seem tame by comparison. I moved from experience to experience, enjoying the peace and quiet of the place that I had to myself despite two dozen or more lounges arranged around its perimeter.

Enrique left me to enjoy this final station for 20 minutes or so. 

My room at the Fiesta Americana.
 When I finally returned to my room, I was a puddle, but calmed and relaxed.

It was a two-hour experience of trance-inducing pampering punctuated by heart-stopping encounters with water cold enough to be glacier runoff.

All in all, though, a terrific experience.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

No Hablo the Language, But I Admire Those Who Do

I'm not the kind of guy that likes being in a country surrounded by people whose language I don't Miami, for example.

Being a visitor in such a place always reminds me just how lazy I am that I never learned another language. Yes, I realize that the core of my “Slacker Credo” is never to do more than I absolutely have to, but I wish I had given myself special dispensation to apply myself in the arena of language learning.

Some of the pool area at the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Resort.
Currently adrift in Mexico – Cancun to be exact – I find myself concentrating on moving mouths, nodding like a fool and not understanding much of what is being said to me. Fortunately the language hurdle isn't too high, but that's because of the people I am coming in contact with and not with anything to do with my efforts.

A couple members of the pool staff.

I am always amazed by people in other countries – some of whom probably never finished high school – who are perfectly comfortable conversing in English. In fact, they probably have a better grasp of English than many college-bound students graduated from our public school system. Ask the average high school junior the use of “whom” versus “who.” I'm just sayin'.

My awe at this command of English came roaring back to me in my first few hours at the Fiesta American Grand Coral Beach Resort, where the Mexico tourism folks are hosting several of us.

Manning one of the pool huts. All English speakers.
It's among the scrum of hotels, motels and resorts crowding Cancun's coast. A high-end luxury joint, it has 10 restaurants and bars, a spa and a swimming pool that extends across most of its considerable width. My room is huge with a pool/ocean view. Fiesta Americana is populated with a staff of uber accommodating people who seem genuinely concerned with my happiness. I like that.

Nearly every uniformed staff person I've come in contact with speaks English – many almost flawlessly. It simply amazes me. I mean nearly every one of them. How is that possible. I know a lot of people in the U.S. who speak Spanish, but they are all Hispanic, for crying out loud. 

The lovely ladies who greeted me in English at the entrance to the restaurant where I breakfasted.
I had a shot at learning Spanish, having taken it all three years of high school, but it just didn't take. I remember a word here and there, but for the most part, no hablo. I gave it another shot when I found myself out of work several years ago. Having loads of time on my hands, I purchased a teach-yourself-Spanish program for my laptop. I was chugging right along with it, learning vocabulary and repeating simple sentences back to the program. “Yes, I have a red pencil box.” Things were going swimmingly until I arrived at past participles. It was the shoal on which I crashed my Spanish-learning ship. I doggie paddled away and never looked back.

I'll have another Sol, please!
I'm not totally without skill, however. After being in a Spanish-speaking destination for a day or two, I'll squeak out “Cafe con leche,” at breakfast. If I have a pressing biological imperative I'll cry, “Donde es el banyo?” (I do remember enough of my high school Spanish to know there's supposed to be an upside-down question mark before that question. I just couldn't find it on my keyboard.) Or, if I have a few under my belt, I'll shout “Mas cerveza, por favor!” at the bar.

That's about the sum total of my Spanish.

I am in Cancun at the behest of AAA Go Magazine to participate in the Tianguis Turistico Mexico 2014. What's that? you may wonder. After all, that was my first question when my editor assigned the story. As far as I can tell, it's a huge conclave of travel agents, travel writers and assorted industry hangers on gathered to have tourism talking heads wax poetically about their respective areas. Some political muckety mucks tooting their own horns are tossed in for good measure. Somewhere in the mix, for reasons no one seems able to explain, the actor Kevin Spacey will also make an appearance.

I will be immersed in all things tourista this week.

The presidente de Mexico just walked into the room. And so it begins....

President Pena Nieto speaking to our group.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Fighting With the Man: Don't Tread on Me, State Farm

I'm not the kind of guy who, whenever things begin to go wrong, thinks the moon and planets are aligned against him. But sometimes it feels like anything that can go wrong generally does.

My issue du jour is a little dust up with State Farm over my home-owner's-insurance premium....from last year.

Here's the 411: My HO premium increased from between 10% and 15% each of the past three years. It's gone up more than 30% from the time I bought the policy eight years ago to last year. One of the reasons I moved from South Florida was insurance premiums that were guaranteed to go up year after year no matter what. In the four years I owned my home in Boynton Beach, my HO premium went from about $100 per month to $600 per month – per M-O-N-T-H! I had never filed a claim.

So, you might imagine my unhappiness when my HO premium on my little hovel in SC began escalating. When my premium notice arrived last year, I had enough and called my agent requesting an explanation for the ever rising premiums. The person I spoke with – you never seem to get to talk to the agent in a State Farm office – gave me a song and dance about State Farm changing its formulas for HO policies that made everyone's premium spike last year. It was about 14% in my case.

I have Greenville friends who own a half dozen or so rental homes – most of which are in Greenville. Not only do they have their insurance on these homes with State Farm, but with the same agent as I. They saw a 20% spike in the premium on the policy for one of their Greenville houses and a notable jump in the others.

Apparently State Farm found a creative new path to stick it to its SC clients.

After some discussion with the contact at my agent's office, I decided to increase my deductible in a feeble attempt to drag my premium back to some degree of affordability. In doing so, she told me she thought I could save around $80, or about the amount of last year's increase. She asked me to call back the next day and get the exact amount of savings after she submitted the request to State Farm.

Calling back I learned the savings wasn't as much as predicted, but would still be $62. I offered to run a check to the agency, so the new paperwork and my premium payment would arrive at State Farm in a neat little bundle. Oh no, she told me, you can either send in a check for the original premium amount, in which case State Farm would refund the $62, or send the revised amount and it would all work itself out at corporate.

I chose to send the revised amount.

After sending off my check, I immediately received a notice from State Farm demanding the difference. I didn't think much about it, figuring the paperwork was still working its way through the system. Two weeks later I received another notice and had the same reaction. After the second notice, I never heard another word. Figuring the paperwork had finally entered the State Farm circle-jerk maze, I promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to nine months later. Meandering out to my mailbox on Friday, I discovered a love note from State “We Don't Know Our Ass From Our Elbow” Farm demanding the $62 or face cancellation effective June 1.

Because of my travel schedule over the next couple of weeks, I'm not going to be able to address this for a while, but when I do, it will be to look for another insurance company. I made a couple of calls for quotes last year and neither company I called could beat my State Farm premium. As unhappy as I am with State Farm, I wasn't going to cut off my nose to spite my face. I stopped at two because I was busy then as well. But this year I'll call every company that has even thought about insuring homes in SC. My goal is to have a new policy in place by June 1.

Meantime, I will contact my agent, or more likely his lackey, to try to find out where the breakdown occurred. I may have to pay the $62, but it will be the last I pay State Farm for my HO insurance.

The “man” won't hold me down.....