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, November 25, 2014

Blasting Through the Nation's Capital in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

I'm not the kind of guy who wants to spend a lot of time in Washington D.C. walking the monuments, gazing at the cherry blossoms or dealing with the traffic. Been there; done that. It's one of those places I think everyone should visit at least once – like the French Quarter in New Orleans, Key West, Las Vegas and so on and so forth – but once you've had the experience, you've had the experience.

So, when Dodge invited me there for an event a few weeks ago, I didn't accept to see the capital's sites. Nope, the draw was the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the new Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat....on a race track no less. Hey, not only am I a guy; I'm a car guy. What'd you think I'd do?

Truth be told, though, I arrived early enough on our travel day to walk around for a couple of hours. I mean, I'm not a total Philistine, for the love of God. 

Dodge put us up at the W on 15th Street, only two or three blocks from the Washington Monument. I'm not a huge fan of W hotels in general. I've stayed in a bunch of them around the country. They try just a little too hard to be edgy. I was in a couple of Ws years ago with hallways so dark, you needed a flashlight to find the room numbers. Recently I've noticed they are moving a little more mainstream. At least now you can see where you are going once you step out of the elevator. 

W's lobby area.
The W in D.C. is quite quite nice, actually. Centrally located to what most visitors want to see? You bet.

Yep, that's the White House.

In fact, from the rooftop bar, we could clearly see the top quarter or so of the White House. Only the Treasury Building (and some Secret Service agents – supposedly) stood between us and the Prez.

Capitol City Brewing Company.
I hiked the few blocks to the Washington Monument, gazed up at it, and, like the Griswolds at the Grand Canyon, counted one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi before turning and heading off. I covered the distance back to the hotel and then walked another three or four blocks past it to the Capitol City Brewing Company. Yes, I had found a craft brewery within a stone's throw of the W. Reason enough to stay at the W on your next D.C. visit. While there I quaffed a pint of Prohibition Porter with notes of chocolate and malt. Mmmm.... 

The Lincoln Restaurant bar.
Dinner that night was at the Lincoln Restaurant on Vermont Avenue. Specializing in American fare, the food was wonderful with friendly and attentive servers. I was impressed with the well-stocked bar. My order of Elmer T. Lee bourbon came with a square ice cube the size of a child's fist. I'm a pushover for over-sized hunks of ice be they round or cube.

After-dinner libations both nights were offered at the W's POV Terrace – otherwise known as the rooftop bar. From this perch all of the Capital stretches out before you. The view notwithstanding, I was a bit disappointed in the beverage selection that was pretty ordinary to say the least. Think of what one might find at an open-bar wedding reception. Thank, God, the company was good. 

As has become a feature of Chrysler (Now called FCA for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.) media launches, journalists were spirited away from the hotel after breakfast to another location for the product presentations and walk arounds. Reagan National Airport was that morning's destination where 25 or so Dodge Chargers of various stripes were arranged in an airplane hangar. 

Our Dodge Charger SRT 392.
After the presentations, we paired up, claimed a Charger and aimed ourselves toward West Virginia's Summit Point Motorsports Park about 70 miles away. My driving partner and I chose a $47,385 silver Charger SRT 392 for the two-hour or so sprint to the track.

Although the $62,295 Hellcat was the star of the day, the SRT 392 is no slouch. In fact, on any other day I would have been blown away by its 485-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V8. The “392” in its nomenclature comes from its engine's 392 cubic inches. What a rush to drive! From the curb it looks fast and its performance lives up to its looks. An eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission with shift paddles mounted to its flat-bottom steering wheel transfers engine grunt to the rear wheels.

These performance Chargers aren't just about acceleration. Sport-tuned suspensions provide an uber stable platform, promoting surefooted cornering. Inside, quality materials, impressive craftsmanship and loads of technology create an ideal passenger environment. It's a sedan to haul the kids to school Monday through Friday then take to the track on the weekend.

Once at the track and with all the instruction and waiver signing out of the way, we donned helmets and headed to the SRT Hellcats. Each SRT Hellcat comes with two key fobs: Black dampens the pony count; while Red unleashes the Hellcat's full fury. (There is even a “Valet” mode that really tones down performance.) Needless to say, Dodge tossed us the Red fob. 

Have you ever held the reins of a 707-horsepower screamer? Neither had I. It's not an experience soon forgotten. Piloting the Charger with the 6.2-liter Hellcat V8 Supercharged with its sub-4-second 0-to-60 time, is something akin to being strapped to a stick of dynamite. Roaring down Summit Point's 2,900-foot straightaway is about as close to being fired out of a cannon as I want to experience. The world really streaks by when the speedometer needle crosses that 120 mph mark. 

The best part about this fresh generation of V8 Chargers is the obvious lack of compromise in the way of passenger comfort and safety. Charger is a at its core a five-passenger family sedan. This doesn't change as you wind your way from the base SE with its 292-horsepower V6 and 31 mpg highway fuel economy all the way up to the SRT Hellcat. My driving partner and I drove an SRT Hellcat back to the W. Despite the roar of its exhaust and its instant and unreserved response to throttle input, it proved a civilized, if sinister, commuter.

No question about it: Dodge is Chrysler's performance division.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Thoughts and the First DVR Casualty of 2014 Fall TV Season

It doesn't get much better than NBC's "Blacklist."
I'm not the kind of guy who is a slave to TV. I don't have to be. Thank-you DVR.

There was a time, children, when you actually had to be home watching TV on the very night a favorite show aired. If you wanted to find out exactly who shot JR, you had to be at home, watching on a Friday night. Yes, and once upon a time dinosaurs roamed the earth.

If you could afford it, figure out how to set the clock and program the damn thing, a VCR offered some relief from must-see-TV nights, but here the sophistication of the VCR tuners, tape length and shows not always airing within their scheduled time parameters conspired to reduce VCR effectiveness. Not to mention that each recording had to be manually set. I grow weary just thinking about it.

The DVR is a giant leap forward from the rickety VCR. As a subscriber to ATT Uverse, my provided DVR can record four shows simultaneously and store hours of HD programming until I get around to watching. With my travel schedule, I usually have 30 or 40 hours of stuff piled up to watch at my leisure.

So, no, I'm not a slave to TV, but I do record and watch some shows I wouldn't if not for the capacity and capabilities of my DVR.

I tell you all of this as a way of saying that I have to really not like a show to stop recording it. Usually it's the realization that I don't like the cast that inspires hitting the “Delete” button. However, it can be other things: sometimes political or simply poor writing.

The half-hour Fox comedy “New Girl” attained stop-recording status last season. As much as I like the quirky Zooey Deschanel, who is the “new girl,” I suddenly realized I didn't like any other regular character in the series. I simply didn't care what happened to these people. I might go three episodes without cracking a smile. That's not my idea of a comedy. Delete! Although I liked the characters, I reached the same point with “How I Met Your Mother” in season three or four because it became tiresome and predictable. It degenerated into mostly slapstick. Delete! “Two Broke Girls” suffered the same fate. Delete!

Escapism TV at its finest: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Still securely ensconced in my recording schedule are a number of returning can't-miss fall shows for me: “Blacklist,” “Hell on Wheels,” “Revenge,” “Person of Interest,” “Blue Bloods,” “Elementary,” “Agents of SHIELD,” and so forth. “Big Bang Theory” and “Modern Family” are among the half-hour comedies I also follow.

Among the shows that premiered this fall that I'm recording and watching: “Madame Secretary,” “Scorpion,” “Forever” and “Gotham.”

I started out also watching “How to Get Away with Murder.” I lasted about five episodes. I have no clue what this show is really about. Here's the premise as far as I can tell: A flawed, in-demand defense attorney with what seems to be a very healthy client list and court schedule, somehow also manages to find the time to teach a graduate law-school class. She has five or six of these students interning at her law office. They troop around with her at all hours of the day and night, virtually ignoring their other classes and studies, providing research and creative defense gimmicks in her court cases. Each week's episode revolves around one of her court cases. The back story inspiring the flashbacks (flash forwards, really) show this attorney/professor's interns covering up the murder of her professor husband, who may also be the murderer of a coed on their campus. Following me so far? 

Viola Davis (right).
After the fourth or fifth episode, I concluded that, not only is the whole situation contrived, I didn't like the attorney/professor played by Viola Davis. If you have your doubts about lawyers, wait until you get a load of her. Mean, nasty, philandering, manipulative and, maybe, psychotic. And, that's just the tip of the unlikable-characters iceberg. There isn't a likeable character in this thing. Well, the Wes Gibbins character played by Alfred Enoch isn't too bad, but one good guy can't redeem this mess. Delete!

So, there you have it. My first “Delete” of the new fall season.

Rock on.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Miami International Auto Show: Beach, New Cars, Great Nightlife, What More Do You Need?

I'm not the kind of guy who says, no, when invited to an auto show. This is true particularly when the show is in South Florida and I can tack on a few extra days to hang with friends.

Now, I said I was invited, but truth be told: I sort of had to petition the show to be invited. I was on the list and then off the list and then, well.... So I took the bull by the horns. It was South Florida, for the love of God! I reached out, made my case and wound up back on the invite list. Sometimes it helps to be me.

The Miami Beach moon and a Mazda MX-5 at the opening-night media reception.
This wasn't the best time for me to take a few days away from home; I had a lot of things percolating and should have been home actually trying to do some of them; but, did I mention, it was South Florida? So, there I am in South Florida, doing my auto media thing.

I flew out of Atlanta, which meant a 2.5-plus-hour drive from Greenville to Atlanta's airport. I can do that almost in my sleep. A 70-minute-or-so flight to West Palm put me on the ground around 1 p.m. the day before the show opened. People who don't know Florida often think it's just a hop,skip and jump from one South Florida location to another: yep, not so much. From PBI airport to Miami Beach is nearly 60 miles, which translates into somewhere around 90 minutes in non-rush-hour traffic. I extended that time period by stopping for lunch on my way. I'm ashamed to say, I stopped at the Steak 'n Shake in Delray Beach. I had a cheeseburger, fries and a double-chocolate shake. I'm bad. Regardless of the reason I'm in South Florida, I always shift into vacation mode with my first step off the jet bridge at the airport. That includes eating like a goofball.

So, we've established the reason for my Fla. boondoggle was to attend the media day for the Miami International Auto Show (MIAS). The last time I attended, it was called the South Florida Auto Show. I have no clue about the reason for the name change. The show is still the combined effort of the car-dealer association that embraces new-car dealers for the 240 miles from Riviera Beach to Key West. Ally Auto co-sponsored this year's show with the dealers association.

In its 44th year, the 10-day show will eventually welcome more than 600,000 visitors walking acres of new cars displayed in two exhibit halls of the Miami Beach Convention Center.

With the name change came a vastly improved show. Not only are new cars from nearly every brand in the house, but classic cars and motorcycles as well. “Topless in Miami” displays the drop tops that competed in this year's Southern Automotive Media Association's annual event to choose its favorite convertibles. There is also “Cars Meet Art,” bringing together several local urban artists and an assortment of new cars that they decorated.

Art Meets Cars: A local artist prepares to add her touch to a Volkswagen Beetle.
Always the first major show of the season, MIAS kicks off several months of auto shows around the country. It's a traveling circus of epic displays that require days to erect and dismantle. There are interactive stations encouraging visitors to experience some area of driving. But show visitors don't have to settle for virtual experiences, there are actual riding/driving venues like “Camp Jeep.”

Although I lived in South Florida for 25 years, about my only visits to Miami Beach were in conjunction with the auto show. I was fortunate that I was often the guest of one of the manufacturers that put me up, as well as wined and dined me, the night before the show's media day. I always looked forward to my annual Miami Beach outings. I'd put its nightlife up against the after-dark scene anywhere in the world. Expensive? Yep. Big Fun? Oh, yeah!

The Sagamore.
The show accommodated its media guests in the Sagamore Hotel on Collins Avenue in South Beach. It is one of scores of trendy hotels shoehorned next to one another along the beach. Miami Beach isn't a fun place to drive; well, unless you are showing off behind the wheel of a $200,000 car. (The Land Rover Range Rover Sport V8 Autobiography I was driving only rang the register at a measly $104,500.) It's home to the five-minute traffic signal that adds to the congestion. Blend that with rubberneckers looking at the beach and its sights, pedestrians crossing against traffic, the Collins Ave. street construction that seems to have been going on since Henry Flagler first brought his railroad down to Miami, and you've got traffic flow that moves with the alacrity of tree sap. But, it's all part of the unique Miami Beach experience.

I love it!

MIAS runs until November 16. 

One more shot of the moon.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Predicting the Steelers Season: No Clue

I'm not the kind of guy who ever feels totally secure in the fortunes of the Steelers.

Of course, historically, they sort of stagger their way through the regular season. Post Terry Bradshaw, they made due with a parade of second-rate QBs – and even spent a couple of seasons trying to turn wide receiver Kordell Stewart back into a quarterback – with varying results. Do you remember Bubby Brister? No? You're not alone.

Neil O'Donnell managed to get them to Super Bowl XXX in 1995. He should have been sued for malpractice after tossing a couple of interceptions to the Cowboys in that game. As a Steelers fan, it was tragic.

In 2003, there was a rumor or two of Dan Marino finishing up his last year in the NFL at Pittsburgh. Had that happened, the Steelers would probably have another championship and Marino a Super Bowl ring. It was essentially the same team that Roethlisberger had a 15 and 1 season with in 2004 and took to the Super Bowl in the 2005 season. The Steelers were a championship team in search of a decent QB.

Does seeing this action shot of ol' Bubby Brister help ring any bells? Didn't think so.
Since Big Ben has been at the helm, they have not cast off their mantle as the “Cardiac Kids.” Even in the two seasons resulting in Super Bowl wins, on regular-season game day, you never knew if it was the champion-caliber Steelers or the guys who tripped over their shoelaces getting off the team bus that were going to show up that day.

Even when they went on to win Super Bowl XL at the end of the 2005 season, it was as a Wild Card. They won 11 and lost 5 that season – 3 of those loses came clumped together in a mid-season slump. They were 7 and 2 up to that point. They played with more authority in their most recent Super Bowl-winning season in 2008, winning 12 regular-season games. At least they went six for six within their division. By week 13 or 14, we were pretty sure they were headed to the playoffs. With home-field advantage, they beat the Chargers and the Ravens (for the third time that season) to work their way to the championship game against the Arizona Cardinals, which turned out to be a nail-biter against a team that went 9 and 7 in the regular season.

I am escorting you – kicking and screaming, no doubt – down memory lane as a prologue to admitting, I have no clue how the Steelers will wind up this season. So far their play has been mediocre at best until last week's brilliant offensive effort against the Colts. The week before, they were being slapped around by the Texans until a 3-minute spurt of brilliance late in the second quarter saw them rack up 24 points. They only scored another 6 off of field goals the rest of the game. And, although the offense blew it out against the Colts, the defense gave up 34 points. Steelers have only scored more than 34 points twice this season, including against the Colts.

Early in the season I thought they were bound for another 8 and 8 finish. At 5 and 3, it could still be the case, but somehow, I don't think so. I think, barring any major injuries, they have a fair chance of landing at least a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. A lot will depend on how they perform in their remaining three divisional match ups: Ravens tonight and Bengals in weeks 13 and 17.

So, I will be crossing my fingers, thinking happy thoughts – the glass is half full, the glass is half full... – as I grit my teeth through tonight's game.

Go Steelers!