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!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hobbling Through the Holidays!

I'm not the kind of guy who heads to the doctor at the drop of a hat. In fact, if I'm in good enough shape to get around under my own steam, things aren't bad enough to require an encounter with a medical professional. That's my policy and has been for decades.

Having said that; it should come as no surprise that after a recent knee mishap, I rubbed some dirt on it and carried on. Well, not exactly, but I did opt to self medicate. I don't need no stinkin' doctor. At least I hope not. Still too soon to tell.

I'll provide the 411 on exactly what happened in a followup posting, but the important takeaway is that my knee was wrecked and I still had a Chrysler trip to Austin and a my annual trip to my sister's in New Mexico over the next 10 days.

My Austin trip was just 50 hours after my knee “went south” with an early-morning flight out of Greenville on Tuesday. I grudgingly invested $30 in a cane and managed to get myself where I needed to go on Sunday and Monday. First thing Monday morning I texted the Chrysler's trip planner and facilitator. Explaining my situation, I offered to bail on the trip rather than be a big P.I.A. Chrysler wouldn't hear of it, promising to take good care of me.

True to their word, Chrysler bent over backwards doing just that. I was babied, pampered and catered to. I sort of liked my new status. I was never really worried.

My major concern was my plane change in Atlanta and getting to baggage claim in Austin. I knew I wouldn't be able to alley-oop my rollerboard into the overhead on the plane; so, I decided to check it. Still not convinced I could hike the mile and a half usually required to change planes in Atlanta, I requested wheelchair service.

Here's the thing, once I was past the huge bruise to my ego, I fully embraced the whole wheelchair thing. It was great. Normally I get to board right after First Class with the other 50-to-90 Medallion members who are always part of any flight out of Atlanta. But at least I don't have to board with the commoners with their paper-bag luggage and chickens under their arms. (I made that part up.)

The best news ever: Roll up in a wheelchair or hobble up wielding a cane and you get to get on the plane ahead of First Class. Sweet! I could easily become accustomed to both the wheelchair service and preboarding.

I had a wheelchair meet me on the jetway when my plane landed in Austin and the attendant took me all the way to baggage claim. As we moved along the concourse I waved around my cane shouting, “Make a Hole! Precious cargo coming through. Make a hole!” Not really, but I considered it.

I didn't bother with wheelchair service on the trip to my sister's in New Mexico a couple of days after my return from Austin. I drove over and flew out of Atlanta, knowing I'd be at the airport in plenty of time to get myself where I needed to go. I flew to Denver, picked up a Volvo V60 Wagon delivered there for me and drove to my sister's some 450 miles south in Los Lunas. I managed to get myself from the plane to baggage claim without any assistance, but still took advantage of early boarding.

Although I had injured my knee almost two weeks earlier, the week I spent at my sister's was my first real opportunity to get off it and give it a rest. I spent most of the time in my brother-in-law's recliner asking for stuff like cookies, eggnog and anything else I could think of. Yep, I could get used to this.

My first order of business when I finally climbed out of the recliner was to head to the drug store to buy a knee brace. I spent a whopping $15 on that. (For those keeping score, my total investment in this injury so far is $45.)

The brace makes a remarkable difference. My knee is much more stable. I have no clue if the injury is such that it will heal itself, but I am hopeful. I did aggravate it a bit at the Denver airport as I checked in for my return trip. It had begun to feel pretty good up to that point.

Oh, well, I'm going to cross my fingers and think happy thoughts. In the meantime, I'm going to try a light workout at the gym on Jan. 2. It'll be my first time there in three weeks. If you hear a loud snap and a girl-like scream, come a runnin'.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Making Tracks in San Diego in the All-New Chevrolet Trax

I'm not the kind of guy who turns down flying to San Diego for a media launch on Monday with a return home on Tuesday despite already having flights booked to San Francisco on Wednesday. Maybe I should be, but I'm not.

This was part of a December of barnstorming back and forth across the country with carmakers that isn't over yet. Over a 10-day period, I flew to and from California twice and Reno/Lake Tahoe once. I still have a round trip to Austin to squeeze in before heading to Christmas in New Mexico. All of this while trying to make a little money and finish the construction on a new shed. It's been a stressful and busy December.

My San Diego overnighter was with Chevrolet and its all-new small crossover, Trax. This is about the only segment in which Chevy wasn't represented. Well, it is now. 

Friends don't let friends drink Stone Beers.
I arrived in time for lunch at Stone Brewery from which the ride and drives were staged. Anyone who knows me realizes this wasn't a pleasant experience for me. I am convinced that Stone is the great Satan of breweries. Have you seen its logo? After the stunt it pulled in South Carolina, I have nothing but animosity toward it. Here's the brief 411: Stone came to South Carolina with the promise that if laws were changed that permitted breweries to serve beer on site, it would establish its east-coast beachhead brewery in South Carolina. Getting this done involved a lot of SC movers and shakers, but get it done they did. Things moved right along and reached a point where a couple of local brewers in the know were convinced Stone had chosen Greenville as the site. “It's a done deal,” one of them told me. Apparently, though, no one at Stone had bothered to look at a globe until months into the process because suddenly it announced that SC wasn't central to the east coast, and it was now considering Ohio. What? I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but wouldn't determining what is a central location be the first step in such a process? What a collection of jerks. The last I heard, the clowns at Stone have since made another 180, choosing Richmond, VA as the site. I can just imagine some blindfolded doofus in Stone's executive offices tossing a dart at an east-of-the-Mississippi map.

So, I no longer drink Stone beers. I had a Stone shirt that I pitched in the trash after lining my cat's litter box with it. And, on my GreenvilleInsider Web site, I have a policy statement on the home page that reads: “Friends don't let friends drink Stone beers.” 

In any event, I wasn't happy being in the belly of the beast. But it was a terrific opportunity to put a few miles on Chevrolet's new crossover.

A global vehicle, Trax has been on sale in some regions for a while. It's built in South Korea. Chevy offers it in three trim levels with one engine-transmission combo: a 138-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four and a six-speed automatic tranny. Pricing begins at $20,995 for the base LS that includes the MyLink infotainment interface with a seven-inch touchscreen, as well as 10 airbags, rearview camera, full power accessories and an iPod interface. It gets 34 mpg on the highway.

Things can get pricey. One of the versions I drove was a top-of-the-heap LTZ with AWD that priced out at $27,430 with its $900 worth of options. Of course, it was packed with all sorts of goodies.

A few other things worth knowing: All trim levels come with OnStar 4G LTE which includes a Wi-Fi hotspot. AWD is available across the trim spectrum for $1,500. Rear-park assist, a Bose seven-speaker audio system, power sunroof, heated outboard mirrors and heated front seats are available or standard on specific trim levels. 

The driving routes weren't particularly challenging, but did reflect the driving environment most people will find themselves in when piloting around a Trax. Without raising the bar, it is fairly quiet and comfortable. It can go toe to toe with more established competitors like Nissan's Juke.

After about three hours of driving, my driving partner and I headed to the Hotel Palomar, where Chevy boarded us. Located downtown on 5th Avenue, it is a 20-floor hotel that is modern and friendly. I didn't spend much time there other than to sleep. The product presentation was in its pool area, but otherwise, it was a blur.

Chevy hosted dinner that evening at the trendy Searsucker Restaurant. The food was excellent. It also served one of the better beers I've ever had: Belching Beaver Brewery's Peanut Butter Stout. Oh, lordy, it was good.

A whirlwind trip: I was in Chevrolet's hands all of 18 hours, but it was well worth it; well other than that Stone Brewery element.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Flying Delta Between Atlanta and Greenville Is Not a Gimme

Greenville-Spartanburg Airport.
I'm not the kind of guy who bitches incessantly about traveling in general and Delta – my airline of choice – in particular. Although, if you read this blog with any regularity, you might conclude otherwise.

In truth, I complain less now than I used to, but I used to fly 120,000 miles in an average year; now I fly around 75,000 to 80,000. I guess that could explain my more accepting attitude. I'd like to think I've mellowed in my declining years, but that's probably not the case.

I just completed my fourth Delta trip between Greenville and Atlanta in less than a week (I had a trip to San Diego 7 days ago that caused me to change planes in Detroit rather than Atlanta or it would have been my fifth Greenville/Atlanta slog.). In any event, I just completed my fourth 25-min flight to or from Atlanta.

These four flights involved six planes; half of which were broken, causing a delay. The worst experience was six days ago on my San Diego return. My original Greenville flight would have got me home at around 3:30 p.m. I have some Delta status, which means, among other things, that occasionally I get upgraded to first class. I was among the lucky first-class lottery winners for this flight. I was all the way down the jetway and could see the first of our group beginning to walk through the plane's door when one of the crew stepped into the doorway motioning us back into the terminal. Apparently the pilots discovered a fuel leak of some stripe and called for maintenance.

If this was the Wagon Queen Family Truckster station wagon, the fix would have involved some duct tape and a prayer that it would stem the fuel leak until some future day when it could be driven to the shop and fixed. This isn't how it works with planes. Whatever operation was required to permanently repair the problem had to be performed before the plane could fly. I don't have an argument when the issue is mechanical even if it does inconvenience me. My benevolent nature, however, doesn't cover non-mechanical issues that have no bearing on safety; say, like a burned out light bulb, which grounded a plane I was scheduled on from West Palm Beach to Atlanta earlier this year. Some officious snot from the FAA or some other alphabet federal agency in the course of performing a surprise inspection found the felonious bulbs and grounded the plane for two hours while the issue was resolved. Our tax dollars at work.

In the case of the fuel leak last week, the flight was delayed for about an hour as the leak's source was found, deemed not fixable at the gate and a replacement plane secured. Our departure gate was changed and in mass, 100 or so passengers adjourned to the new gate where we waited for the replacement plane to arrive and disgorge its passengers. No sooner had the last passenger walked into the gate area than the gate attendant announced that, you guessed it, this plane was also broken and the delay would be at least 45 minutes and probably longer.

When the original delay was announced, I phoned Delta and backed myself up on the next flight that was scheduled to leave around 4:45. With the announcement of the second broken plane for the same flight, I walked out of the gate area and headed to the gate for the 4:45 flight. I even retained my first-class upgrade. Delta does get some things right. I wound up arriving around 5:30, dumping me into the I-85 rush-hour traffic jam between Spartanburg and Greenville.

Concourse B at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport.

That was on Tuesday. My Wednesday-to-Friday flights to and from San Francisco went off without a hitch. My luck didn't hold, though. This morning as I waited for my flight to Atlanta kicking off a three-flight trip to Reno, a mechanical issue delayed me once again. Fortunately, it was only about 20 minutes. I baked almost a three-hour layover into my Atlanta stop; so, I wasn't concerned other than it was another broken plane.

I have no clue why mechanical issues are such a regular element of these uber-short Greenville/Altanta flights, but I find it worrisome. With Delta's change in the way it will compute its Sky Miles status levels in coming years, giving greater weight to money spent annually, I am forced to tack the Greenville/Atlanta flights onto more tickets to drive up the money spent, rather than driving over to Atlanta's airport as I historically have. In doing so, however, it appears not only am I flying more miles on planes that don't seem to be in good repair, but I take the chance of missing connecting flights. A rock and a hard place? You bet.

With the specter of flying more between Greenville and Atlanta, I expect to grow less and less happy with Delta and the condition of its regional fleet.

The down side for you, dear reader, is that my complaining is bound to increase. Consider this fair warning.