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, December 18, 2015

A Car Guy's Dream Odyssey: An Epic Drive from Dallas to Albuquerque in the 2016 Camaro SS

I'm not the kind of guy who turns his nose up at the opportunity for a two-day drive simply because I've made the same trip a few times in the past. That the trip in question wound up in Albuquerque, where I find myself at least twice a year visiting family, doesn't mean I shouldn't go, should it? I mean, it's not the destination; it's the journey, right? Right.

That's even more the case when Chevrolet hands over keys to its redesigned 2016 Camaro SS to make this 650-mile jaunt. Yes, sign me up, please.

It was all part of Chevy's “Find New Roads” cross-country media drive. The way it worked was Chevy planned routes from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts. Included cities actually were scattered all over the place. To cover so much geography, Chevy established two distinct routes broken into 500- to 700-mile segments, Chevy invited motoring media to choose a leg to drive. There were 8 to 10 Camaros and their media drivers per segment.

I know it's hard to imagine, but Chevy didn't invite me on this epic event. Nope. I suspect I don't tweet or Instagram enough to rate a seat on such a historic drive. In today's social-media-driven marketing world, most carmakers don't have much use for media types who can string together complete sentences. I'm pretty much over it. Despite Chevy passing me over – no doubt for someone who can't drive a manual transmission – I managed to finagle my way on to the event.

Chevy offered actual invitees the opportunity to bring along a significant other or a photographer. My craft-beer buddy Keith Griffin, who did score an invite, offered me the right-hand seat in his Camaro. I think it was as his photographer; at least I hope it was. We will keep it on the down low that I drove about half our segment.

After flying us into Dallas, Chevy gave each Camaro in our group 36 hours to complete the trip to Albuquerque. Chevy provided each driver with a prepaid Visa card for gas and incidentals like snacks and meals. Each Camaro was equipped with OnStar, which we used to guide us from one point to the next, as well as as our concierge to book our hotel rooms for the night with a Chevy credit card.

To spice things up, Chevy also concocted a contest: a scavenger hunt of sorts. Points were awarded for engaging in all manner of social-media posts on various social-media sites, as well as visiting specified sites along the way. Huge point awards were tied to going a little out of the way to include states not really on the route. One goal of the event was to include all 50 states. Racking up at least 1,000 miles on the odo also garnered a big point award.

Chevy treated us to dinner with assorted engineers and Camaro wonks at our hotel near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport on our arrival night. Eager to finally get behind the wheel, our 7:30 breakfast the next morning was the only thing standing in our way. We were on the road by 8:30.

Who wouldn't be eager to test the mettle of this land-locked jet fighter? Generating 455 horsepower, as well as 455 lb-ft of asphalt chomping torque, the Camaro SS's 6.2-liter V8 employs either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission to turn the rear wheels. From a standstill, the automatic-equipped Camaro SS with its steering wheel-mounted shift paddles slingshots to 60 miles per hour in a scorching 4.0 seconds! Our red Camaro SS had the automatic. The zero-to-60 time is by Chevy's stopwatch, but I don't doubt it for a second. 

What dazzled us right out of the chute was just how quiet and well mannered this coupe is. Working our way along congested freeways and a surface road or two in our Dallas – well, actually our Grapevine – escape, this Camaro was remarkably driveable. Chevy engineers managed to make the chassis 28% stiffer and more than 220 pounds lighter than the 2015 Camaro. This not only contributes to the car's quietness, but enhances handling and fuel economy, too. The government estimates that with the 6.2L and automatic tranny, the Camaro will deliver 17 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. We found this pretty accurate by our coupe's trip computer.

Although they won't accelerate off the line as the Camaro SS does, there will also be versions with a 275-horsepower 2-liter turbo four-cylinder and a 335-horsepower 3.6-liter V6.

Sure, the big story – at least for serious car guys – about Camaro SS is its performance and acceleration, but Chevy has upped the ante inside as well. Packed with all manner of connectivity technology – an available eight-inch color touchscreen dominates the dashboard's center, while a standard eight-inch monitor fills the center on the instrument cluster – the cabin is amazingly comfortable. Interrupted by lunch, a couple of fuel stops, a pit stop or two for personal biological imperatives, and a couple more stops at scavenger-hunt sites, we spent a solid nine hours on day one in the Camaro's highly supportive seats. My age is north of 60, and I was no more fatigued than had we only driven across Dallas.

Keith and I had explored various routes we might take to Albuquerque both in e-mails and face-to-face discussions at the Miami Auto Show a few days prior to landing in Texas. Having dated a Dallas lady for a couple of years, I made the drive between Dallas and family in Albuquerque several times. I knew there wasn't much to see or do along the direct route that would take us on Route 287 through Wichita Falls and on up to Amarillo where we would pick up I-40 for a direct shot into the Duke City.

We really didn't have much time to mess around taking a more southern route. Keith had an early afternoon flight out of Albuquerque the next day. Whatever we were going to do, we had to do by noon. A week or so before the event Chevy provided a list of a few interesting things to see and do scattered around the area between our starting and stopping points. These also wound up being point earners on the scavenger hunt. Only two of them were really doable for us in our gallop along the roads we planned to use. I suggested we also stop at the Big Texan near Amarillo for lunch. Not that either of us were going to accept the 72-oz-steak challenge, but I had never been and thought it would be fun.

Much of what little preplaning we had done went out the window once Chevy announced the rules of the scavenger hunt at the first-night's dinner. Calling an audible, team-captain Keith decided we should sweep directly north, picking up I-40 in Oklahoma to earn the 350 bonus points that state represented. In for a penny in for a pound, I suggested we might as well cannonball all the way up to Colorado and pick up that state's 350 points, too. We could then drop due south into Santa Fe on I-25.

Game on! Taking a short detour to snap a photo of the Camaro in front of the Texas Motor Speedway sign in Fort Worth, we blasted up Rt 287, picking up Rt 81 in Bowie. We grabbed I-40 just west of Oklahoma City and zero'd in on Amarillo. The Big Texan was still our lunch target. 

Somewhere in Oklahoma we stopped for a leg stretch and some gas. Keith used his Chevy-issued card to pay for the fuel and a few snacks. That was the last we saw of the card. Lost like last year's Easter Egg, it was not to be found. Somewhere between swiping the card in Oklahoma and sitting down for lunch in Amarillo, the card mysteriously disappeared. At that point I was very happy playing Gilligan to Keith's captain of our team. What me worry? Hell, Chevy barely knows I'm here. 

We arrived at the Big Texan about 1:30 and chowed down on some barbecue. We burned roughly an hour eating and meandering around the restaurant, sections of which look like your grandfather's garage. Man, there's some uber weird stuff in there.

Reinvigorated, we mounted up and headed to our first official scavenger-hunt site: the Cadillac Ranch. A popular tourist spot, it's the Cadillac Stonehenge of West Texas consisting of a line of 10 Caddys of assorted years buried snout down. Once upon a time, you could actually identify the cars at which you were gazing. Today, they are barely recognizable hulks covered with graffiti. But costing us only about 30 minutes of travel time, it was worth 100 scavenger-hunt points.

The Cadillac Ranch: much ado about nothing.
With the posted speed limit along most of I-40 at 75 miles per hour, we felt 80 to 85 a reasonable pace. Contacting our new-found buddies at OnStar, we were directed north on Rt 385, through Dalhart and then onto Rt 87, where we clipped the northeast corner of New Mexico before rolling into Colorado on I-25.

Rt 385 and Rt 87 in Texas seem to have been laid out, paved and then forgotten by the locals. There was literally no other traffic on long stretches of these two-lane highways. It felt like we were on the raggedy edge of civilization. I fully expected some sort of cobbled-together Mad Max vehicle with zombie-like apocalypse survivors hanging all over it to come flying over a rise in an attempt to hijack us. I was driving this portion of our trip. We would crest a small rise and could see five or six miles ahead to the next small rise. No traffic. No Officer Friendlies. No reason not to air things out a little.

I won't go into detail, but suffice to say, the Camaro is stable and smooth as silk even at higher speeds. It was as much fun as I've ever had driving car.

Driving roughly 10 miles into Colorado, we took an exit and pulled over to snap a photo. Unfortunately, the sun had set 90 minutes earlier. What we got were photos of the Camaro's headlights. We would have to trust Chevy's GPS check of our car to verify our breaching the Colorado border.

Turning the reins back over to my partner for the sprint back down I-25 to Santa Fe, I busied myself with waking up the folks at OnStar to book rooms for the night. Because it was already nearly7:00, and we had at least a two-plus-hour slog to Santa Fe, we decided to overnight there. We had yet to eat dinner and lunch was already about 250 miles in our rearview mirror.

Like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, the dining room at La Fonda.
 Each time we contacted OnStar, the agent we spoke with was well aware who were were and what we were doing. I suspected that Chevy issued parameters regarding the types of hotels the agents could book us. When I told the agent we needed two Santa Fe hotel rooms near the Plaza, he began rattling off names like Four Seasons and La Fonda on the Plaza. Always wanting to stay at La Fonda, we booked there. Our agent offered to provide directions, but instead I asked for directions to the one scavenger-hunt location in Santa Fe: the Palace of the Governors. We figured as long as we were nearby, we might as well pick up its 100 points.

We parked within what we calculated to be walking distance and set out looking for this historic site. Expecting some sort of actual mansion, we walked by the thing twice before realizing what looked all too much like a store front was the Palace of the Governors. From the outside, it could have had “Better Call Saul” stenciled on the door. We snapped a couple of photos and walked back to the car.

Yep, it's the historic Palace of the Governors.
Contacting OnStar, we reached the same agent who had booked our rooms. When I asked for directions to the hotel, we could almost hear him sigh as he directed us a block up the street. Yep, we were on the Plaza and didn't realize it. Our hotel was easily visible from the Palace of the Governors. Quite the brain trust in our little team.

Our Camaro's trip odometer turned over exactly 800.00 miles as we pulled into a parking space in the hotel's garage at about 9:30. Thankfully the hotel's restaurant was still open and served up some wonderful Santa Fe Nut Brown Ale. We were both ready for a beer!

We didn't have to turn in our Camaro until 4 p.m. the following day. With Keith's early flight and our determination to clock another 200 miles to reach 1,000, we decided I would drop off Keith at the airport myself and then return the car to save some time and rack up more miles. We did hit the 1,000-mile mark.

Pulling into the designated spot to drop off the car in downtown Albuquerque, I hung out for an hour or so chatting up some of the Chevy PR folks as I waited for my niece and her daughter to pick me up. I spent a few days in Albuquerque for some R&R and to attend a family wedding.

I can't think of a better way to become acquainted with the redesigned Camaro SS than this little adventure. What a rush!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Nav-System Experience from Hell or Rush Hour in Atlanta

I'm not the kind of guy who expects everything to work perfectly all the time. I have more than enough – actually way more than enough – experience in my rearview mirror to appreciate that little glitches arise from time to time that simply defy logic or explanation. I have also been around long enough to realize there is little to be gained – other than scrubbing a few minutes, hours or days from my life expectancy – by going ballistic when things happen over which I have no control.

However, I am my father's son; so, I am hard wired to go ballistic at the drop of a hat. I must confess that once in a while a cock-eyed situation gets the better of me, and I do lose it. Doc Budelmann tells me that this isn't good for my blood pressure, nor my health in general. I sort of figured that, but a paid medical professional confirming it, has done much to boost my caution level to Defcon 4. Consequently, I try very hard to keep my temper in check. (If I could, I'd insert a smiley-face emogi here.)

Here's the news flash: I am only human! No matter how destructive I know losing my temper to be, sometimes the situation simply overwhelms my impulse control and the spittle flies. I had such an encounter Thursday as I slugged my way through Atlanta's rush-hour traffic in an heroic attempt to join the fun at the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association's (GAAMA) Christmas party. Well, they've taken to calling it their “year end” party, but that's another rant for another time.

Over the years I have attended three or four of these GAAMA holiday galas, but I hadn't made the past couple. It's a two-plus-hour slog to and from downtown Atlanta from sleepy little Greenville, SC. Although I have become somewhat of an expert traveling this route thanks to my countless trips to Atlanta's airport, driving home at 10:00 or 11:00 at night is not my idea of fun. Of course, I'm way too cheap to spring for a $150 hotel room. Discretion being the better part of valor, I just skip the party.

This year, though, Nissan offered to pick up my hotel room. Bless its heart! Because of Nissan's largesse, I decided to break with recent tradition and put in an appearance.

My plan included driving directly to the Marriott Courtyard Cumberland Galleria and checking in before heading to the party roughly 10 miles away. I calculated that leaving my house around 2:00 would get me to the hotel well before 5:00, avoiding the worst of Atlanta rush hour. Sometimes I crack myself up.

I was hip deep in my upstairs remodeling project when I realized it was already nearly 2:00. I dropped what I was doing, hopped into the shower, dressed, threw my suitcase into the GMC Sierra 1500 that I am driving this week and managed to pull out of my driveway about 2:30. Already 30 minutes behind my self-imposed schedule, I breathed deeply two or three times and retained my calm.

To help pass the time on this drive, I've sort of broken it up into more palatable segments. It's 46 miles to the Georgia state line, another 25 miles to the Commerce, GA exit with its huge outlet mall, and then another 30 or so miles to the Buford exit: the point where I-85 spreads out from 8 lanes to 12 lanes for the final 10-mile sprint to Atlanta's I-285 outer belt.

About 10 miles before the Buford exit, traffic on my side of I-85 came to a near standstill. Clearly there was an accident somewhere ahead. Still doing its job quite adequately at this point, the GMC's nav system had been warning me of the traffic delay for about 50 miles, offering an alternative route. I ignored the warnings, figuring whatever the issue, it would be cleared by the time I arrived there. Not so much.

Finally heeding the nav's advice, I took the next exit, followed the nav's 10-mile detour and returned to I-85 a couple of miles from the Buford exit. I calculated that between the stalled traffic, and the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods detour, I lost about 45 minutes. Suddenly my strategy to beat the heaviest rush-hour traffic – Atlanta's rush hour typically spans 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the worst is just before and just after work – had been dashed. Thankfully, I was going against the flow of commuters fleeing downtown and traffic wasn't too bad.

Still only about 4:45, I was optimistic I would arrive at the hotel in plenty of time to check in and meander at a leisurely pace to the party with its 7 p.m. start time. I pressed on.

There is a certain amount of mea culpa in what happened next because I didn't fully research the location of the hotel nor the party. I had no clue where either was located in terms of greater Atlanta or their proximity to I-85 or I-285. Silly me, I trusted the nav system to guide me to my destinations. What I know now that I didn't know then is that the hotel is located almost at the intersection of I-75 and I-285. All but about 3 miles of my journey should have been freeway miles.

What happened next will go down in the annals of the greatest effed-up nav-system snafus. For whatever reason, the nav system decided to direct me off of I-85 about eight miles short of I-285. I followed its prompts and found myself on a frontage road of sorts that eventually turned into two lanes, winding through an industrial park. Now I'm in the thick of rush hour, and traffic is moving at a snail's pace on virtually every surface road in Atlanta.

At one point the street I was on crossed Pleasantdale Road. I glanced to the left and saw an entrance to I-85 S that I had been on earlier. The nav system guided me another mile or so then commanded a left-hand turn. It took me under I-85 where it had me turn left onto a frontage road along northbound I-85. I followed its directions back to Pleasantdale Road where it had me turn left again, cross over I-85 before taking another left onto the I-85 S entrance ramp. What? It was as though someone had poured a gallon of Old Grandad into the fuel tank. This nav system was like a drunken sailor. It had no clue where it was or where I needed to go. I had just lost another 30 or 40 minutes leaving I-85, running on a crowded surface street parallel to I-85 and then reacquiring I-85 10 miles later. I was still several miles short of I-285.

Reaching I-285, I was directed to take it West. A glance at the digital clock revealed it was now 5:45. My 2-hour trip was at more than 3 hours and the nav system was showing me still 20 miles from the hotel. About five miles into my I-285 stint, the nav unit's voice command told me exit the freeway onto Rt. 141, which also happens to be one of the myriad of Peachtree streets, lanes, boulevards, avenues and courts scattered around Atlanta proper.

As the digital clock ticked past 6:15 and the nav system had me making assorted left and right turns through the surface-street congestion – a couple of times the nav touchscreen actually showed the mileage to my destination increasing – I finally had had enough. I suspected my blood pressure was somewhere in the neighborhood of 220 over 195. The palm of my right hand ached from smacking the steering wheel. I was ready to bitch slap a nun!

With the party scheduled to begin at 7:00 and the mileage to the hotel an estimated 10 miles, I decided to wait post-party to find the hotel. I pulled over, entered the address to the party location, which actually was now behind me, and drove directly there. Apparently the GMC's nav unit was better equipped to find that address than that of the hotel because it directed me there without incident.

It was now 6:30 and I had been on the road for 4 hours. I felt like the passengers on the USS Minnow that left for a 3-hour tour and wound up stranded on a desert island. Ticked off? Oh, you bet.

Yes, sometimes I lose a little control; but I think in this instance, it was justified.

Also, I think you would find me hanged in my cubicle if I had to face driving through Atlanta traffic after work every day. Life is way too short for that nonsense.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Steelers Face Uphill Struggle Through Balance of the Season

Wilson made mincemeat of the league's 28th-ranked pass defense.
I'm not the kind of guy to throw up my hands and give up on a team that still has a shot at a Wild Card spot in this year's NFL playoffs, but what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on with the Steelers?

Never has so much talent been used to so little effect.

Last week's game against the Seahawks in Seattle was as frustrating a thing to watch as any Steelers fan has had to endure. The horrendous officiating – are there no officiating standards in the NFL? – and Tomlin's failed crazy fake-field-goal call early in the game notwithstanding, the Steelers managed to look terrible on offense in spite of Big Ben tossing for 456 yards. Ben, though, is not without blame; he also managed to throw two interceptions that Seattle converted into points. Oh, and despite only being on the field for a few plays, back-up QB Landry Jones matched Ben's interception count.

The only bright spot in last week's failed offensive effort was Markus Wheaton with over 200 receiving yards. In Seattle, Steelers suffered from the same shortcoming that has haunted them for the past couple of seasons: They can't turn Red Zone penetrations into touchdowns. The offense is hell on wheels getting into the Red Zone, but drives all too often sputter out inside the 10-yard line and sometimes within the 5-yard line. Settling for three rather than seven has become the norm. 

On to the defense. There is a good reason why the Steelers are ranked 28th in pass defense: They can't defend against the pass. What a train wreck the secondary is. Seattle QB Wilson threw with impunity last Sunday. His five touchdown tosses accounted for nearly all of Seattle's points. It was an embarrassing defensive performance.

So now what?

Steelers need an epiphany equal to Saul's on the road to Damascus to turn this season around. Basically they must run the table through the balance of the season to ensure a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. A second meeting with the Browns is the only gimme left this season. The Colts, Bengals, Broncos and Ravens make up the rest of the schedule. It will be an uphill struggle for a team that has run hot and cold through most of its games.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Aspen in the Off Season: The 2016 Kia Optima, Sheriff's Deputy Basile, Another Fixed Contest and, Of Course, Craft Beer!

I'm not the kind of guy that digs in his heels when a carmaker attempts to book him tickets on an airline on which he has no clout, but if I can finagle a way to fly my-airline-of-choice Delta, I am not beyond doing it. Truth be told: I'm not high enough in the media pecking order to demand much of anything. I'm the Oliver Twist of motoring journalists, holding out my pathetic little bowl and uttering “Please, sir, I want some more.”

It tugs at your heart strings, doesn't it?

I'm too old and have been around too long – way too long by some people's calculation – to fly across time zones on an airline for which I am just one more body in a 150-body mass of faceless travelers. If something goes wrong, as it often does, I want a little status as leverage in the problem solving. A couple of years ago when my Delta red-eye flight from LAX to Atlanta was canceled at the last minute due to weather, I managed to parlay my status into a meal voucher and a free night's lodging at a nearby hotel; although, Delta's policy is not to provide any compensation for weather-related delays or cancellations. When things go south, airline status does matter.

My creativity was seriously challenged this past November when Kia invited me to the media launch of its redesigned 2016 Optima near Aspen, Colorado. You see, for roughly nine months out of the year, Delta doesn't service Aspen. November is one of those months. It doesn't fly there itself, nor does it have an arrangement with a regional carrier. My choice was to turn down the invite or fly United. I wasn't happy with either solution. 

A bit of noodling over the problem and a couple of conversations with my potential driving partner for the event provided a remedy: Fly Delta into Denver, arrange a press-fleet car and drive the 200 miles from Denver airport to the Viceroy Snowmass Resort. Brilliant!

Denver has a vendor that moves around cars to the area's auto media. I arranged a Volvo V60 AWD Wagon with them last December when I flew into Denver and drove to my sister's in Los Lunas, NM. This time around, they provided a Nissan Rogue for my slog to Aspen.

The 200-mile distance between Denver and Snowmass – 80 percent of which is I-70 – would lead you to believe you could drive it in three or so hours. Well, not so much. I-70 was under repair for a total of perhaps 60 miles. One repair area would end and speeds would near 70 mph for a mile or two before encountering the next repair slow down. The final 30 miles is on Rt. 82, which is a state highway brimming with traffic lights. Drive time was something closer to four hours plus. That's the glass-is-half-empty description of my drive.

Vail Brewing Company.
The glass-is-half-full story is that the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. It was nothing short of glorious. About two hours into this Colorado odyssey I made a quick stop in Vail, not to top off the Rogue's fuel tank, satisfy a personal biological imperative nor have a bite to eat. Nope. I pulled into the freshly minted Vail Brewing Company to check things out. Conversing with the bartender, I discovered the owners of this new brewery are actually from Greenville. My, my, it is a small world after all. Sadly, they weren't there during my exploratory visit.

The living area in my hotel room.
My curiosity satisfied, I resumed my drive, arriving at the event hotel mid afternoon. The Viceroy Snowmass Resort is a skiing hotel of the first order. Roughly 11 miles from downtown Aspen and 4 miles from central Snowmass, it is ideally situated for the skiing enthusiast. As a craft-beer-drinking enthusiast, I found it centrally located as well. Rates in the off season begin at $375 per night for Studio guestrooms, building to $2,200 for Four Bedroom units. My room was huge with a six-seat dinning table and two bathrooms. Yes, I had become – even if only temporarily – a member of the bathroom one-percenters. 

Viceroy Snowmass Resort.
Kia operated a well-stocked hospitality suite. There were actually a few local craft beers in the cooler. Kia is one of the few carmakers that still throws a media launch as though it's something special. Rather than striking out somewhere, my buddy and I hung out in hospitality, had a craft beer or two and took a few hits from the oxygen bar. Dinner that first evening was poolside at the hotel. Then it was back to hospitality for some after-dinner antics.

On day two, we were immersed in all things 2016 Optima: first with an hour's worth of in-depth tutorials on design, engineering and marketing, then with a multi-hour drive around the Aspen area.

Here are some key takeaways. Assembled in Georgia, the next-gen Optima is slightly larger than the sedan it replaces: roughly a half inch longer in wheelbase, height and length. It's also about an inch wider. All of this translates into more head and legroom, as well as slightly more trunk space. There are three four-cylinder engine options (2.4-liter, 2-liter turbo and an all-new 1.6-liter turbo) and five trim levels.

Kia expects its two turbos to account for about 50 percent of Optima sales. The new 178-horsepower 1.6L turbo is the most fuel efficient posting a government-estimated 28 mpg city/30 highway and 32 combined. It's mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. 

Kia offers its high-tech Uvo system with all manner of features like Geo-fencing and Curfew Alert for concerned parents, as well as all sorts of smartphone apps. Optima is the first Kia offering an available Harman/Kardon QuantumLogic7 surround-sound system with 10 speakers. Every Optima comes with a rearview camera with upper grades also offering a 360-degree camera display. Also available is the full suite of safety technologies like front-collision warning, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and so on. Auto high beams and adaptive headlamps that point into curves are new options. 

Hard at work.
There's nothing like spending some serious wheel time on the winding mountain roads of Colorado to provide a true feel of a car's capabilities. The new Optima's stiffer suspension was apparent in attacking the twisties. A fun car to drive, Optima continues Kia's value position in the market. Pricing begins at $21,840 and moves northward to $35,790.

In more than 25 years of participating in these carmaker media events, I'm happy to say that I had never been pulled over by the local constabulary for a motoring infraction of any stripe. Well, not until this one. As we approached some nameless Colorado town, my driving partner and I were yucking it up over something or other and I totally missed the signs announcing a decrease in the speed limit from 55 to 45 to 35. Suddenly I looked into my rearview mirror to see rotating red and blue lights. I eased over onto the shoulder, switched off the ignition, pulled my wallet out of my pocket and rolled down the window.

Seconds later I was confronted with Lake County Sheriff's Deputy David Basile. Explaining that he pulled me over for doing 50 in a 35 zone, he requested my license, proof of insurance and registration. I admitted that I could have been exceeding the limit because I simply didn't know. He thanked me for my candor and returned to his car.

As we sat waiting for the deputy's return, a few of our fellow media types went roaring by honking, waving and generally enjoying my misfortune. Roughly 10 minutes passed before Deputy Basile reappeared at my window. He apologized for taking so long and then said that the reason was, he was having trouble running my Optima's plate. Not surprising. Carmakers have stacks of “Manufacturer” plates they can screw on to any of their cars. I explained this to the deputy and added that we were on a media ride and drive. He then asked of all the Optimas going by were part of the event. I affirmed they were.

He then asked, “Are all these people going to give you shit the rest of the day?”

“Why, yes they are,” my driving partner and I replied in unison.

“I think that's punishment enough,” he said as he handed back my paperwork.

He presented me with a warning, admonishing me to go forth and sin no more. He also provided me with his business card.

Apparently the deputy and his supervisor tracked down the Kia PR folks at the hotel, thanking them for bringing some business into the area in the off season, but requesting that they rein us in a bit. All is well that ends well. It should be no surprise that I am now a huge fan of the Lake County Sheriff's Office. 

My driving partner Keith and me at the oxygen bar.

Having spent a good part of the day somewhere above 10,000 feet, my first stop back at the hospitality suite was the oxygen bar. Ten minutes sucking the high oxygen mix cleared my head and set the stage for a bit of partying the rest of the day.

Dinner that evening was at Aspen's Chef's Club. This is a restaurant in which some of the area chefs chosen by Food & Wine as the most-promising up-and-coming plan and prepare the menu items on a rotating basis. No clue who was wrangling the food the night we were there, but it was wonderful.

Back at the hospitality suite it was finally time for this event's version of the Olympic Games Figure Skating medal awards or, as I like to affectionately call it, “Bulls**t!” Kia always throws a contest in conjunction with its media-launch ride and drives. This particular contest involved snapping a photo of anything, mating it with a creative and/or funny caption. Although these contests always have rules, they are more like suggestions. Judging is totally subjective and cheating is widely encouraged. This can be a benefit or a curse.

My driving partner and I decided that we would plant the story that I had indeed received a ticket for my infraction that amounted to $350. An attempt to gain some sympathy points from the judges, it was, sadly, foiled by the Sheriff's phone call. We had snapped a photo earlier in the day of me pulled up next to an abandoned police car and waving my arms. To this we attached an uproariously humorous caption, which now escapes me, and submitted it.

Is there a problem, officer?
In what has become a blatant fix in these contests, we were awarded an honorable mention. To this I say, bulls**t! This is my third or fourth honorable mention in Kia contests. I am like the Harold Stassen of Kia-event competitions. (If you are unfamiliar with Harold Stassen, my children, look him up.) Even cheating we couldn't seem to get the ball over the goal line. I was shocked, appalled and, dare I say, dismayed!

I do like the redesigned Optima, though.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Miami International Auto Show: No Better Reason to Visit South Florida in the Fall!

I'm not the kind of guy who needs an excuse to head to South Florida. Just because I no longer wish to live there doesn't mean I don't want to visit and visit often. I do and I do. So, when the Miami International Auto Show (MIAS) reaches out with an invite to its extravaganza thrown the first week of November each year, I'm all over it.

When I actually lived in South Florida – Palm Beach County to be more precise – I always looked forward to this show because it represented my one annual foray into South Beach. Some car company – Chrysler more often than not – would invite me down for dinner the evening before the show's media day and put me up somewhere on Collins Avenue for the night. No respectable PR wonk travels all the way to South Beach from Detroit, or some similar snow-belt city, without partying well into the early morning. I have countless war stories involving these Miami Beach all nighters. In my estimation, Miami Beach has some of the best night life in the world, but, alas, it's expensive. Enjoying it on someone else's nickle is about the only way a working stiff can sample its smorgasbord of restaurants and bars. 

2016 Toyota Tacoma.
MIAS flew me into Fort Lauderdale the day before the show opened, which also happened to be media-day eve. MIAS was my kick-off event for a 14-day stretch of travel away from home. Consequently, I was dragging along a suitcase too large to carry on the plane. When I landed, Toyota had a version of its redesigned 2016 Tacoma waiting for me. Somehow I managed to alley-oop my 48-pound bag into its back seat. I slugged my way through the tsunami of I-95 traffic down to the Sagamore Hotel where the show was sheltering me for the next two nights. 

Although the Sagamore is in the heart of South Beach and right on the sand, its rooms are respectably priced this time of year. Room rates begin around $250 with all the service charges and taxes included. Overnight valet parking on the other hand – as with every nearby beach hotel – will set you back a round or two of drinks at the bar. Fortunately, MIAS largesse included stabling my Tacoma.

I arrived too late to take advantage of the beach. It was nearly 5 p.m. when I finally checked in and found my room. I had a little free time before the Mazda/Ally Auto media-welcome reception at the Raleigh Hotel a couple of blocks up the street, but filled it with unpacking, showering and generally making myself presentable.

As always, the opening-night reception was a rollicking great time. Drinks and appetizers at sunset is a terrific way to end the day and begin the auto-show festivities. 

A shuttle whisked us off for the short jaunt to the nearby Miami Beach Convention Center around 8:15 on Friday morning. I say, “us,” but in truth, I was the only one who rallied for the earliest shuttle. I was surrounded by amateurs. The kickoff press conference was at the “Cars Meet Art” exhibit. This is the second year for this unique display that pairs well-known street artists with 10 new vehicles serving as their canvass. 

The show also features other one-of-a-kind displays, such as “Topless in Miami.” This area shows off cars that were in the Southern Automotive Media Association's Topless in Miami competition. It's the ideal way to become familiar with South Florida's signature car: the droptop. 

Every 30 minutes for the rest of the day, we media types walked from one carmaker's display to another to hear representatives from Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Ford, Ram and others talk about their freshest products.

This was the 45th MIAS and it featured hundreds of new cars in state-of-the-art displays. It was the first auto-show appearance of the redesigned Nissan Altima and 2016 Ram Rebel. MIAS also provides show visitors with the opportunity to drive a number of new cars from such manufacturers as Kia, Honda, Chevy, Toyota, Buick, Ford and GMC. A presentation of the 190-member South Florida Automobile Dealers Association, the show attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors during its 10-day run. 

With the manufacturer press conferences wrapping up about 3 p.m., we had more than two hours to kill before the Toyota-sponsored closing reception. What to do? What to do? Perhaps a cold beer would be the answer. One of the locals suggested my craft-beer-drinking buddy and I would be well served at the Abbey Brewing Company on 16th Street, about six blocks from the convention center. Despite the 95-degree temperature and Florida humidity, we struck out for this highly recommended joint. 

Just one section of the Abbey Brewery's whiskey and bourbon selection.
What a find! If someone hadn't suggested it, I would have never found it, let alone gone in. A hole-in-the-wall of the first order, it is almost invisible from the street. Inside is every bit as unassuming. The beer, however, was topnotch and it offers one of the most comprehensive selections of whiskeys, bourbons and ryes I've stumbled across. I recommend the Brother Dan's Double, as well as the Father Theodore's Stout. 

The view from the Juvia Miami Beach.
Ubering our way back to the Sagamore, we dumped all the flotsam we acquired at the show before walking the half block to the Lure Fishbar at the Loews Hotel for the Toyota reception. By 7:30, we were on our way to the Hyundai-sponsored dinner at Juvia Miami Beach where we ate, danced and drank the night away.

Nope, I don't need an excuse to visit South Florida, but you might. If so, mark your calendar for next year when the show will run a couple of months earlier than usual from September 9th through the 18th. Cool cars and hot sand, it's Miami Beach at its best!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Making House-Cleaning History: Uncle Russ Buys a New Vacuum

I'm not the kind of guy who brags about doing a few chores around the house. But, my doing almost anything in the vein of housekeeping is an alert-the-media event. Frequent readers (and you two know who you are) of this blog are all too familiar with my distaste for dusting, sweeping and scouring. As long as my feet don't stick to the kitchen floor, I am pretty much at peace with things.

I have discovered over the years, however, that I am more prone to take care of chores for which I have the proper tools. I am much less likely to remove an electric switch face plate when touching up the paint in a room if I have to use the end of a butter knife to remove the screws. But, give me a flat-head screw driver and I'm all over it. Things like that.

My Greenville house is small by most standards. Depending on whom you talk to or which Greenville County web site you consult, it is between 1,000 and 1,300 square feet crammed into three levels. It's more vertical then horizontal. The flooring is carpet and real hardwood with some linoleum tossed in for good measure. If you ever had the energy or motivation to measure it all out, I think you would discover it's roughly 50/50 between carpet and hard surfaces.

The structure's diminutive size and my notorious lack of motivation notwithstanding, I do like to occasionally vacuum the floors. My go-to weapon for this epic waste of my time was a Hoover upright vacuum that I am convinced was manufactured when its namesake was in the White House. Actually, it's sufficiently modern that it has a filter and dirt catcher as opposed to a bag, but that's little consolation when I have to wrestle its 25 pounds up and down the stairs.

Although it does an acceptable job of sucking particles out of the carpet, it mostly just blows bits and pieces of refuse from one corner of the hard-floor rooms to the other, much as a leaf blower chases leaves and such from your sidewalk into the street or on to a neighbor's lawn.

“Dream big,” I always say; so, for the past year or so, I have been surfing the web looking at vacuum cleaners. I like the idea of sweeping the floor with a machine from the mind of an English inventor – love those hand dryers in some public restrooms – but I can;t see my way clear to spend $400 on an appliance that I will barely use. Consequently, a Dyson never made my wish list. No, I've been searching on the cheap.

I liked what I read about Shark vacuums. Receiving rave reviews from a variety of sources, they average less than half the cost of most Dyson vacuums. Less than half works for me.

My most recent monthly book of sale items from Costco featured a Shark Rocket for $30 off Costco's already comparatively low price of $159. Now or never, I concluded.

The first day of the sale was Sunday, November 1. Ideal timing, I thought. When you live in the buckle of the Bible Belt, the best time to shop is Sunday morning. Even Costco is relatively empty. Yes, I admit, rather than going to church, I headed to Costco. That this was also the first day of changing the clock, which no one bothered alerting me to, and I arrived at Costco an hour before it opened, didn't deter me. Nope. I was on a mission. I amused myself for that hour wandering the aisles of a nearby grocery store.

Arriving back at Costco at the appointed 10 a.m. opening, I breezed in grabbing a 50-gallon drum of Virginia Peanuts and the box containing my target Shark Rocket. I was the first person in the check-out line. I located my items, checked out and was back in my car in less than five minutes. Had I been at a Costco in South Florida, simply finding a parking spot would have required 15 minutes.

Arriving home, I quickly assembled my new toy. Weighing less than 10 pounds, I wielded it like a fencing foil. Light, maneuverable, and remarkably powerful, I attacked first the hardwood and then some carpet. Before it was all over with, I had vacuumed the entire house and scared the bejeebers out of the cat.

I installed the Shark's wall holder on the wall of my downstairs coat closet and hung it up. I trust it will be there in 60 or so days when I decide to vacuum again.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Definition of a Great Trip to California: Wheel Time in the Redesigned Honda Civic and Two Bottles of Slow Hand Six Woods Whiskey!

I'm not the kind of guy to hold a grudge. Well, not usually. There is that kid who sucker punched me in second grade over some sort of playground teeter-totter dispute. If I ever run into her again, she'll get a stern talking to. But, generally, I try to look ahead and not into the rearview mirror. So when, after years of not being invited to Honda media-launch events, Honda did include me in its recent media first-drive of the Civic in the Los Angeles area, I jumped at the opportunity.

Of course, the decision to accept was made easier because Honda headquartered the event in Westlake Village where I had been in July with Mazda. On that junket, my driving partner and I located several nearby craft breweries, as well as Wade's Wines – one of the best liquor/wine stores I have visited. Since my Mazda-sponsored trip, a Greenville friend had turned me on to a hard-to-get spirit distilled in the Los Angeles area called Slow Hand Six Woods Whiskey. I figured if any liquor store would stock it, it would be Wade's Wines. Not to mention this is the same store where I scored two 22-oz. bottles of Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout that I carted home in my luggage the last time around. 

Honda put us up at the Westlake Village Inn on Agoura Rd. It's an upscale joint with a spa, golf course and lake. A gorgeous property with spacious, nicely furnished guest rooms, West Lake Village Inn is just a mile or so distant down Agoura Rd. from the aforementioned Wade's Wines. I arrived in my room in plenty of time to grab my camera and embark on a little hike to Wade's before getting ready for dinner. After sitting on a plane for several hours, I needed the exercise.

Arriving at Wade's, I scoured the shelves of bourbons and whiskeys in a futile search for Six Woods. Eventually one of Wade's helpful experts came to my rescue. Unfamiliar himself with this hard-to-get elixir, he looked it up on the store's computerized inventory. Deciding two bottles were hidden away somewhere among the displays, we played “where's Waldo” for another five minutes before he returned to the computer. This time, he went to a search engine, typed in the whiskey's name and found images for the labels. With a knowledge of the label design, finding the elusive bottles required less than a minute. Deciding that I wanted one bottle, I called my Greenville buddy to see if he wanted the other. Why, yes, yes he did.

Wandering back into the beer section, I found a few 22-oz. bottles of my beloved peanut butter stout of which I captured two. Now I was in a quandary. I had enough bubble wrap and space in my suitcase for two bottles of something, but not four. My helpful Wade's counter person to the rescue. He suggested I buy a three-bottle shipping container and put it on the plane as checked luggage. Problem solved. Now all I had to do was lug the packed shipping container and remaining bottle of beer back to the hotel. I considered calling Uber; however, Wade's is not on the street proper, but actually about a city block off of it. I had no confidence the Uber driver would find it. So, I hoofed it back, struggling with my load of goodies. Checking the shipping container as luggage was a fine idea; everything arrived home in mint condition.

I arrived back at the hotel in plenty of time to quaff a couple of beers with some of my buddies who had driven that day and were waiting for their shuttles to the airport. This was one of those one-and-done, arrive-one-day-and-leave-the-next trips. I'm not usually keen on such overnighters – particularly when in Calif. – but it was what it was. Either I was going or I wasn't. Full disclosure: Honda provided an option in my time zone, but I went with Calif. Mea culpa.

Dinner that evening was at the hotel. It was casual and the food was pretty good. After breakfast the next morning, we media types were given a 90-minute tutorial on the redesigned Civic. Honda knows a little about building and selling Civics. More than 10 million Civics have left U.S. showrooms with more than 35 million sold worldwide. Seven million of the 10 million-plus Civics sold in the U.S. were built in the the U.S. 

Four decades of Civic.
The original Civic sold here was a 1973 model with the second generation following in 1980. The 2016 will be the 10th generation. To say its exterior lines are stunning doesn't do it justice. This sedan, designed in Calif., is drop-dead gorgeous. But, it's not just a pretty face. Honda is calling it the most ambitious Civic remake in its history. Rather than benchmarking other cars in Civic's segment, planners and engineers targeted European performance sedans. In areas of acceleration, fuel economy, handling, noise and vibration and safety, among others, Civic stalks the best Europe has to offer.

Two new powertrains provide the go. LX and EX grades get the 158-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder engine; while the upper three grades – EX-T, EX-L and Touring – get a tasty174-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. A CVT hustles engine output to the front wheels of all but the $18,640 entry-level LX 2.0L version, which uses a six-speed manual. Remarkably both engines deliver 35 mpg in combined city/highway driving, except with the manual tranny which drops that number to 31 mpg.

Its most tricked-out Touring trim starts at $26,500. Honda doesn't really offer options. To gain content, you move up to the next grade. So, $26,500 is about as much as you can spend. Our turbo was not only fun to drive, but it was quiet and smooth as silk. 

Offering scads of elbow room, the cabin is spacious and its premium materials provide the illusion of a much more expensive four-door. And, its trunk has as much cargo room as a Jaguar XJ sedan. Every Civic comes with such features as remote engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control and rain sensing wipers. Honda Sensing is corporate speak for its suite of safety technologies such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation. It is available on even the entry-level LX grade. No question, in the Civic, Honda has raised the bar in the compact-sedan segment.

This is what a Pinewood Derby loser looks like.
Our drive route took us to Malibu Wine's Saddlerock Ranch where we lunched from several food trucks. Not only could we drive the new Civic on a route near the lunch, but some competitive models were also available. Otherwise, we amused ourselves building and racing some Pinewood Derby cars as well as playing some other games. If you are curious, my Derby entry was a real dog. Moral: Never compete in a Pinewood Derby against auto engineers determined not to lose. 

I certainly can eat and drink $29 worth of free stuff in seven hours; I've seen me do it!
My red-eye flight home wasn't until around 11:30. Honda shuttled me to LAX at 4:30. Wow; seven hours to burn! I wandered into Delta's Sky Club to inquire about the number of Sky Miles needed to buy a day pass. I was shocked to learn Delta doesn't accept miles for day passes. No way was I going to pony up $50 to buy one. I can eat and drink a lot of free stuff in seven hours, but not $50 worth. Then the Sky Club desk agent said the magic words, “American Express.” Turns out my Delta AmEx card was good for a $21 discount. Now, $29 is a number I can work with.

Sixteen hours after Honda dropped me off at LAX, I landed home in Greenville, SC, reminded of why I'm not a fan of one-night car events in Calif.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I Am Flush With Excitement: A New Guest Commode!

I am king of all I survey from my lofty perch atop this, the Hope Diamond of commodes.
I'm not the kind of guy who gets all giddy over something as mundane as a new commode; but when replacing the old one requires as much effort as my recent encounter with the guest-bathroom toilet did, I think I was entitled to a certain sense of achievement as I settled onto it with a sigh for its maiden cruise.

The silly thing had been running for two weeks and I was weary of listening to it as I worked at my desk. When at my PC, I look directly into the guest bath when I turn my head to the left. I had been busy and just didn't feel like dealing with it. Besides, my master bath upstairs was (and remains) in complete disarray because I have an unfinished remodeling project ongoing in that section of the house. While that's been underway, I've been sleeping in the guestroom, and utilizing the guest bathroom for showers and personal-biological imperatives. The potty in question was a squat, round thing that I had wanted to replace since buying the house. Rather than just replace the guts in the tank, I decided this was the time to switch out the whole Magilla. Silly me.

No, replacing the old commode didn't measure up to curing cancer or surviving a climb to Mt. Everest's summit and back, but changing it out wasn't nearly the walk in the park the DIY videos on YouTube portrayed it to be. Not even close. Not even in the same ballpark. Not even on the same planet.

At the heart of the matter is the same issue as with nearly every repair or home-improvement project I tackle: This house is over 60 years old. Even if lurking around every DIY corner wasn't some half-assed, jerry-rigged, messed-up bit of amateur workmanship that must be dealt with, home building six decades ago was much different than now. The cement board/plaster walls, 60-year-old wiring and one-step-up-from-outhouse plumbing all conspire to add hours and extra expense to even the simplest of chores.

I went to Home Depot (the first trip for this project) and found a perfectly acceptable chair-height, elongated crapper for $98! I was ecstatic. This isn't going to cost much at all, I thought to myself as I wallowed in my ignorance. I was driving a Fiat 500X that week, which has a cargo area roomy enough to cart home my new acquisition still in its carton. Manhandling it up into the cargo hold was a chore, but doable. Arriving home, I left it in the car and headed in to begin taking out the old throne.

From the get-go, I am not keen on any task requiring me to enter the dark, mysterious confines of my home's crawl space. But, I was forced to when I couldn't complete every DIY toilet-replacement video's Step No. 1: Closing the shut-off valve controlling water flow into the toilet tank. The knob would turn, but nothing happened. Under the house I went to stop the water flow at its source.

As these nasty areas go, mine is sort of the Taj Mahal of crawl spaces. The floor is covered stem to stern with a thick layer of visqueen. It seems both water and critter tight. I can bend a little at the waist and maneuver around freely. The main water-line shut-off valve is just to the right of the crawl-space entrance, which is located inside my house. So, it's not quite as nasty as I make it out to be, but it's still a pain to climb down in there.Not to mention that I think I can sense little beady eyes looking at me.

With the main water supply into the house turned off, I went about emptying all the water from the tank and disconnected the water line. Removing the tank from the seat, I started to think the worst was over. I decided to head to Home Depot and purchase a new shut-off valve. HD trip No. 2. Oh, but first I needed to wrestle the carton with the new toilet out of the car and onto my carport.

Back home, I was ready to move forward. Now all I had to do was free the nuts holding the bowl to the floor via a bolt on each side of it. At least that's what the DIY videos showed. Yeah, not so much. This bowl wasn't attached to the floor by bolts sticking up, but had been secured by sinking screws into the floor. What? The screw on the left side broke free easily; however the one on the right was frozen solid. After 10-or-so minutes of trying to break it lose, I hiked out to my shed and got a small sledgehammer. I broke the bowl base into pieces and then removed the screw. I then hefted the bowl off the drain.

If you've never replaced a potty, you might be surprised to learn that once you pull the bowl lose from the floor, you are left with a big, waxy mess. A time-honored way to keep sewer gasses from escaping into the air is by inserting a wax donut that's roughly 2-inches thick between the bowl and the drain pipe. It's sticky and just plain nasty. All of that muck must be cleaned up before moving on to the next step of the installation.

At this point in a normal installation, I would have been home free. According to the DIY videos, all I needed to do was insert a new wax ring around the drain, push the bowl down on top of it, put the nuts on the bolts on either side of the bowl and connect the tank. I had now been messing with this for about three hours and had yet to remove the new toilet from its carton. But I thought I might be on the home stretch. Boy, do I crack myself up.

But wait, there weren't any bolts to slide the bowl over and tighten it to the floor. Around the rim of the drain, there should be a flange to which those bolts are attached, and that flange was missing. It had been cut off and removed. Whoever installed this toilet simply put the wax donut on the floor, pushed the bowl down on top of it and screwed the bowl to the floor. I could have saved myself some money and a lot of time had I just done the same thing. But, hey, this is my house and I wanted a cleaner job. Back to YouTube to find a video with ideas of how to handle things if the flange is gone. 

The shiny new replacement flange in place, but not secured to the floor.
It turns out that a broken or missing flange isn't an uncommon problem. They make replacement flanges with those upright bolts that fit down into the drainpipe and can be screwed to the floor. Trip No. 3 to HD in search of a replacement flange. Home Depot had one that looked as though it would work. So far, in addition to the cost of the toilet, I had spent nearly $20 on the new shut-off valve and 12-inch connection hose and another $20 on the replacement flange. My time invested in this project was fast approaching four hours and the new commode was still in the box.

Returning home with my purchases, I looked at the clock and realized it was 6:30. The main water line was still off, I needed to install the new shut-off valve, get a shower and get something going for dinner. Getting a water-tight seal where the shut-off valve connected to the water line required two or three tries and a couple of return trips to the crawl space turning the water on and off. Finally around 7:00, I was ready to call it a day. But wait, the new toilet was still sitting on the carport in its box. Nuts. I had to open the box and remove the tank to make it light enough that I could wrestle the box up the steps and into the house.

A trip to Calif. with Honda and a couple of assignment deadlines prevented me from returning to this project for a week, during which I navigated around the commode carton in the middle of my dining area. It did give the cat something different to sleep on; so, at least she was happy.

Returning to this task, the first thing to do was to secure the replacement flange to the floor. In this bathroom the floor consists of small mosaic tiles over a concrete slab. Sinking screws into the floor would require a drill bit engineered specifically for tile. Trip No. 4 to HD. I found a pack of tile bits in four sizes for $10. I mounted the appropriate one in my drill and proceeded to drill the first of four holes. There was a lot of racket, a little dust and even less of a hole. The bit was completely burned away and I had little more than a dimple in the tile. Okay, plan B would be using a hammer and chisel to chip away all of the tile where the screws would go. I drew the outline of the flange on the tile with a Sharpie and started chipping away.

An hour later, the flange rested on the tile, but the screw holes were suspended over bare concrete. Now I needed a concrete drill bit and concrete screws. Trip No. 5 to HD.

Drilling the holes and sinking the concrete screws went fairly smoothly. The flange was squared up to the the back wall and secure. But there were some fairly wide spaces between the flange and the tile in places. I didn't want to get the new throne installed only to discover some sewer gas was leaking out. Trip No. 6 to HD was to buy some $5 foam sealant like you put around doors and windows. You spray it in and it expands creating an airtight and watertight seal. I applied it, wiped away the excess and let it cure for 24 hours.

While buying the sealant, I also spent $9 for a cleaner solution to the wax donut. I think there is still wax involved, but it's contained in a rubber skin. Fitting over the two bolts the bowl attaches to, it slides down into and over the flange.

Finally, after seven or eight total hours of labor, it was time to remove the new toilet from its box. Excitement was running high at Casa de Heaps. I slapped the bowl down over the bolts and worked it around a bit to flatten the rubber/wax donut. Tightening the wing nuts over the bolts, I realized the bowl wasn't flush with floor. It was a little uneven, rocking back and forth a bit. Trip No. 7 to HD was to buy some shims to level things out. Eventually the bowl was secure to the floor. A quick check with the level assured that I would list neither to starboard nor port when in a seated position. Dumping a couple of buckets of water into the bowl, I was pleased to see there were no leaks.

I fitted the tank to the bowl and bolted it on. Now it was just a matter of attaching the line running from the shut-off valve to the tank. Dammit. Too short. The instructions called for a 12-inch line, but that didn't account for the extra inch this toilet sits away from the wall. The typical distance is 13 inches; here it's 14 inches. Trip No. 8 to HD was to exchange the hose for a longer one and to buy some caulk to seal the space where the bowl joined the floor.

Ready to go, I pressed the flush button. I swear I could angels singing.

Hours of work, roughly $60 in installation parts and more cussing than I've done since erecting my shed, but it was worth it. It's my home's showplace.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I'm Falling Behind in My Home Repairs!

If that blue ring was actually secured to the floor, that's where the new toilet would go.
I'm not the kind of guy to make excuses when I've been negligent in my blogging duties, but, hey, I've been busy. In fact I've been so negligent, I suspect there are some followers who have given up on me. I'd like to say that I will double my efforts and do better, but that's probably not the case.

Although I haven't been traveling the past two or three weeks, I have been covered up with work: paying and otherwise. Don't feel neglected. I haven't hit a lick on my upstairs renovation project in more than two months.

Most of last week was occupied working and playing at Greenville's Euphoria. That was a four-day weekend affair where I shot about 150 photos and 175 video clips. Following that weekend, I spent four days retouching photos and editing together a 3-minute-20-second video, which turned out pretty damn good, if I say so myself.

Thinking I was basically going to coast through this past weekend, I was unpleasantly surprised by a malfunctioning toilet in my guest bath. This normally wouldn't take on emergency status, but my master bath is part of the unfinished upstairs renovation. I'm only human; I need to perform my biological imperatives somewhere. The nearest gas station rest room is a half mile away.

I don't have the time to recount the Biblical proportions of the Chinese fire drill replacing the commode has become, but what would have normally been a 30-to-60 minute job in a newer home has already sucked up nearly six hours of my time and the new toilet isn't even out of the box yet. Did I mention the five trips to Home Depot? I'll go into more detail once this life-changing challenge is completed or I'm dead, whichever comes first.

I'm back on the road this week; so, not much will get done. In the meantime, I have a big box loaded with commode in the middle of my kitchen and an upstairs bath that the only thing that does really function is the toilet.

What's happened to my life?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Post Game-One Thoughts on the Steelers: I Am Optimistic

I'm not the kind of guy who predicts a pro team's season record after the first game or two. So, I certainly won't attempt to draw any conclusions about the Steelers chances to make the playoffs after it's NFL opening-day game against the despicable Patriots. But I am uncharacteristically optimistic.

First an editorial aside on Brady escaping his four-game suspension: All evidence points to his complicity in “Delfategate.” Even the judge, who overturned the suspension, in his ruling stated he took no issue with the NFL's decision in the case. Nope. It was like the police finding the victim's head in the suspect's freezer and then the case being thrown out of court because there was no search warrant. The judge's ruling was based solely on the ham-handed way the NFL handled the case. There is little doubt the Patriots cheat at every opportunity. Although they rarely are caught – Deflategate and Spygate being two examples of when they have been – they persist in attempting unfair advantage. Even in last night's game, they jammed the Steelers coaches headsets for – if Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is to be trusted – most of the first half. Such things are a common occurrence at Patriots home games. Cheaters cheat. Brady shouldn't have been on the field last night or for the three games to follow. Period. 

One of my favorite plays of the game!
 He was, however, and it was a Tom Brady-led team the Steelers needed to beat. Despite Mr. Brady dodging his Deflategate punishment and playing last night against a young defense -- under the leadership of a new defensive coordinator -- that often appeared as though it had never practiced together, last year's Super Bowl champions only managed four TDs. This was by far too many points scored against any team that expects to make the playoffs, but the defense has the talent and leadership to improve....a lot.

The main reason the 28-21 score was as close as it was in this Steelers loss, was the offense. Sure it scored those 21 points, but it also managed to keep Brady and company off the field. In terms of possession: Steelers 32:05 versus Patriots 27:55. In out-possessing the Pats, the Steelers had 103 yards more offense: Steelers 464 versus Pats 361. Big Ben, who just seems to get better and better, tossed for 351 yards. DeAngello Williams, filling in for suspended running back LeVeon Bell, averaged 6 yards per carry for a total of 127 yards. 

Williams gains a few more.
The offense accomplished all of this without three of its offensive starters: Bell, center Pouncey and wide receiver Martavis Bryant. A fairly remarkable performance, if you think about it.

I went into last night's game expecting a Patriots win with a margin of at least 21 points. It was 7!

Yes, I am optimistic about this year.