Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Little Zac Brown, Some Saltwater Brewery, a Touch of Whale's Rib and the 2014 Lexus CT 200h: A South Florida Adventure

2014 Lexus CT 200h.
I'm not the kind of guy to turn down a little South Florida jaunt.

I am fresh off a six-day, action-packed boondoggle to the sunshine state. For someone who no longer has an interest in living in South Florida, I certainly don't pass up any opportunity to visit. Don't get me wrong; I'd move back in a heartbeat for the right opportunity, but I have a better chance of hitting Power Ball than anyone seriously considering me for employment – 1099 or otherwise.

My latest foray into sun and fun was a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment affair. A good friend from my earliest Boca News days, who has been bartending at Deerfield Beach's Whale's Rib for 15 years or so, put in her last shift at this beach joint on Sunday. Of course, a major party ensued. 

A big "adios" at the Whale's Rib in Deerfield Beach.
Although that was the catalyst for my Florida excursion, other factors contributed to my decision to go. The same friend left hustling drinks in the dust to focus her full attention on flipping houses – a side career for her for the past couple of years. She had some work at her current project house that she needed done for which I am amply qualified. (I am hell on wheels finishing drywall and painting.) The prospect of abandoning my keyboard for a little light manual labor held great appeal. Moreover, her fiancee's oldest son – nearing the finish line at Clemson – wanted to attend her last gasp at the Rib. In lieu of purchasing a last-minute plane ticket for him, she was more than happy to purchase most of the fuel for our joint Florida run.

Sounded like a win, win, win to me.

My last car license plate is still proudly displayed at Whale's Rib. And, no, it's not Sue-24.
I haven't driven from Greenville to Palm Beach County in two years or more. It's roughly a nine-and-a-half-hour drive from my back door to the driveway of the friends where I typically stay in Delray Beach. I achieve this time by stopping for nothing other than gas. Historically, I don't even take advantage of the biological-imperative facilities of the gas stations where I stop. I don't pause to eat, gawk at the ocean or buy a tee-shirt at Ron Jon's in Coco Beach. I leave sufficiently early in the morning to arrive in Palm Beach County in time for happy hour. This usually means getting on the road at 6:00 a.m. at the latest.

It's safe to say, most potential traveling companions aren't wired to attack the Greenville-to-Florida slog with my same degree of enthusiasm. Young Kyle, though, was of a like mind. As determined as I to turn the trip into a Cannonball Run of sorts, he even spent the eve of our drive in my guest room, so we could get a 5:00 a.m. start the next morning.

This is one good looking car!
Because this trip was planned only a couple of days in advance, I had to hustle around to secure a car to make the 1,400-mile round-trip drive. Lexus came through with a bright-red example of its CT 200h five-door. This is its hybrid hatchback.

If you are at least a somewhat-regular reader of Clanging Bell, you know I am not a big fan of hybrids. I am all for the better-than-average fuel economy they deliver, but not of the premium squeezing out that extra mileage costs when purchasing the car. Obviously, in this case, I got the benefit of the solid fuel economy without paying for the hybrid technology. This Lexus delivered a whopping 39.6 mpg on this trip that was 90% highway driving.

If I had purchased this car, I would have faced a $37,850 bottom line. That includes $900 extra for goodies like rain-sensing wipers (that received a workout on the drive down), heated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Also contributing to that price is $3,500 for the navigation package with backup camera, a mouse-like controller, voice command, and a premium audio system with 10 speakers, among other things.

The CT 200h cockpit.
This is a great-looking hatchback; I don't care who you are or how you feel about hybrids. If four of us had been making the trip to Florida with the luggage needed for six days, space would have been an issue. However, with just two of us, we were able to fold down the split rear seat and then load up the cargo-carrying space with a set of golf clubs two suitcases, a cooler filled with bottled water, a container loaded with all the tools and accoutrements I anticipated needing for my work, and two backpacks.

Although the CT 200h isn't a jack rabbit, it accelerates with a degree of determination. Once up and cruising, it hauls right along. A couple of electric motors and a 1.8-liter gasoline engine manage to generate 134 horsepower. Other than the whine of the CVT transmission under hard acceleration, noise from under the hood is manageable.

The mouse control for the navigation and other major systems is a little twitchy, but probably smooths out as, over time, the operator becomes more familiar with its feel. Otherwise, this little hatchback was comfortable, offering a wide range of amenities.

After a fill up, the range is about 400 miles, and that's with a 12-gallon gas tank. We filled up the first time with the miles-to-empty read out showing just 25 miles left. The tank absorbed less than 9 gallons of regular gas, so obviously the “to empty” gauge is a bit on the conservative side.

We arrived in West Palm Beach a few minutes after 2:00 p.m. and met Mary at the house where I would be working. After a quick tour and an agreement to meet back there at 7:30 the next morning, we transferred Kyle's gear to her car, and I headed south to Delray Beach.

I wound up spending about 17 hours prepping and painting one room in the house. This included both the walls and the wood trim. A couple of the walls had been exterior walls at one point and were heavily stuccoed. Talk about a pain in the ass to paint.

Delray Beach's Saltwater Brewery: What a terrific place to spend an afternoon or evening....or both.
Other than the three partial days I spent slaving away, I basically goofed off, as I always do in Florida. I did manage to get to Saltwater Brewery on Delray's Atlantic Avenue three times during my stay. That alone made it a success.

Zac Brown jamming on stage at Cruzan in West Palm Beach.
I also happened to time this visit while Zac Brown had a two-night concert run at the Cruzan Amphitheater in West Palm. My friends had an extra ticket, which I was only too happy to use. Never having seen this band live, it was quite a treat. They opened covering CDB's “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and closed with Tom Petty's “Runnin' Down the Dream.” Knocking both out of the park. Everything in between was pretty damn good too.

With my work on the house, this was a break-even trip for me. In other words, I got to party in South Florida for six days for free! At times I love being me.

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