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!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Breaking Through the Razor-Blade Scam: Harry's Is Now My Go-To Blade Provider

My recent online razor purchase from Harry's.
I'm not the kind of guy who chooses to order most things online because it pretty much removes customer service from the equation whether that service is good or bad. No, I order things online because they are often less expensive if you do your homework, I am lazy and can place orders sitting in my underwear in the security of my home, and packages showing up at my doorstep makes me happy. Customer service doesn't usually enter into my decision making.

I have Amazon Prime; so, most things I buy online arrive within two days – sometimes in one day because there is an Amazon distribution center 30 miles from my house – and shipping is free. The stuff I order on Amazon isn't always less expensive than buying locally at a brick-and-mortar store, but I don't have to leave the house. I like that. When drones begin dropping orders in my front yard, I'm really going to like that!

About 10 years ago, replacement razor blades apparently became a highly prized commodity: rare as an elephant tusk. Either they were displayed in thick, plexiglass lock boxes requiring a store manager and key to liberate a five-blade pack, or they disappeared from store shelves entirely. Where that is the case, purchasing a pack of razor blades entails approaching the checkout station, requesting the specific brand and count of the blades desired and watching as the clerk or an assistant manager disappears into the bowels of the store where the requested blades are retrieved from a vault. The store employee eventually returns to the checkout station cradling the package of blades in outstretched, cupped hands like the Hope Diamond. Of course, at $3 or $4 a blade, a $15 or $20 five-blade package represents a serious investment in personal grooming.

They are just razor blades for the love of Pete!

Two or three weeks ago I realized I needed some blades. When I'm not on the road, I typically only shave on days when I am going to go out for the evening. Otherwise, I don't bother. On the road, I use disposable razors. I don't pay much attention to my blade stash until the blade currently in my razor dulls to the point it just isn't providing even a moderately close shave. That's where I was at a few weeks ago.

I pondered the whole razor blade-buying experience facing me with some trepidation. There must be a more convenient, less-expensive alternative. I hopped online and searched “razor blades.” I found

A Harry's eight pack.
Investigating the Harry's Web site, I discovered that, at $1.88, replacement blades for its shaving system ran at least a full dollar less than brand-name blades at the drug store. And, orders of $10 or more ship free. As you have probably determined, I like free shipping. Hmmm....

A new Harry's razor handle – brilliantly contoured to fit a hand – with one blade cost me $10. Eight replacement blades rang the register at another $15. So, for far less than the $33 an eight-blade pack of Gillette Fusion Proglide blades cost, I bought a new razor and nine blades. Bargain!

My Harry's care package arrived in the mail about four days later. I was thrilled with the razor handle. I was thrilled with the blades. I was thrilled with the shave I got. And, I was thrilled with the economics of the experience. This is what free enterprise is all about!

Harry's sells shaving kits and offers a shaving club, too.
Here's the kicker....About a week later, I received an e-mail from Katie. Katie is a customer service specialist at Harry's. Now, Katie may really be Deepak, but who cares? I doubt that's the case anyway because in the e-mail she supplied her phone number, offering to act as my Harry's liaison. I should feel free to call or e-mail her, she assured me, with any shaving needs I might have. It was a very nice note also welcoming me to the Harry's family.

I was surprised to say the least. How often do we encounter this sort of customer service, particularly from an online retailer? I fired off a response, telling Katie how impressed I was with the level of customer service blah, blah, blah. The following day I had a reply from Katie thanking me for my encouragement and reaffirming her availability to answer any questions I might have, as well as facilitate any following orders.

Harry's has me hooked. I'll never buy blades in a store again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lake Tahoe in December with the Completely Redesigned Kia Sorento

I'm not the kind of guy who jumps to a conclusion about a new or redesigned vehicle based on where the carmaker decides to host its media debut. That's a good thing for the renovated 2016 Sorento that Kia previewed in Lake Tahoe. The last vehicle introduction I attended there was the Pontiac Aztek; we all know how that turned out. Nope, the Sorento is no Aztek, not even close.

Months in the writing, I've finally gotten around to publishing my early December Kia Sorento adventure. Too much travel, as well as too little motivation conspired to divert my short-attention span to other interests, projects and extended periods of goofing off. I apologize to those readers who have been perched on the edge of their seats awaiting this epistle. And so it begins.... 

Straddling Nevada and California, the Lake Tahoe area is breathtakingly gorgeous. Its landscape is dotted with a network of smaller cities and towns. Most of us flew in and out of the Reno Airport. Kia then shuttled us the 40 miles or so to the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe in Truckee, Calif. Yes, sometimes we stay in very high-end joints; well, often we stay in very high-end joints. The Ritz in Truckee being one of the them. Please don't hate me. 

Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe's great room.
On the Sorento ride and drive on day 2, we had ample opportunity to get a little familiar with both this crossover and the Lake Tahoe area. I was dazzled by both. Unseasonably warm, there wasn't much snow lingering about. In fact, one of the optional activities offered to us – tubing – was canceled for lack of snow. Half of the stuff in my suitcase was for this little side adventure. Disappointed!

Here's what I discovered about Sorento: Kia worked not only to make a Sorento a bit bigger, but to make it more refined as well. Pricing starts at $24,900 for the entry-level “L” trim. As any student of Kia will suspect, there is a lot of value packed into that number. It's loaded with full-power accessories, Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, cruise control, a fold-slide-recline rear seat, and an audio system with iPod interface. 

Depending on the trim, one of three engines power the front wheels. The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-banger that delivers 185 horsepower. Upper trim levels use either the new 240-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four or a 290-horsepower V6. AWD is optional on Sorentos armed with the 2L four or the V6. A six-speed automatic shifts the gears regardless of the engine. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 25 mpg in combined driving for the 2.4L and 23 mpg for the 2L. The EPA rated the V6 at 21 mpg in combined driving.

Inside, much of the hard plastic in the previous Sorento has given way to soft-touch surfaces. With prices escalating to as much as $41,000 for the top-end Limited V6, one would expect, at the very least, a near-luxury passenger experience. Sorento delivers that and more. The audio upgrade is a 12-speaker Infinity system. Available technology includes Kia's Uvo eServices that includes Geo-fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert and Driving Score, all engineered to keep teen drivers on the straight and narrow. 

All in all, the Sorento provides a quiet, stable, comfortable ride. This next-generation crossover certainly advances the Sorento experience not just a few steps, but by leaps and bounds.

Kia mapped a terrific ride-and-drive route that exposed us to a variety of Lake Tahoe scenery and roads. By noon we were lunching at Heritage in Reno. It's part of the Whitney Peak Hotel. My cheeseburger was wonderful. Historically, I eat way too much on these events, but I'm only human. While a salad would have made more sense; I simply couldn't walk away from the beef.

Truckee's FiftyFifty Brewery.
On the way back from the ride and drive, my driving partner and I made a quick detour to the FiftyFifty Brewery in Truckee that, as fate would have it, was just a few miles from the Ritz. This is a major craft beer maker distributing its beers at least as far as San Diego because several weeks later we found it at that city's The Taproom. I sampled a Donner Party Porter that was quite wonderful. I was also impressed with the Eclipse Barrel Aged Imperial Stout that Kia let us sample at dinner. 

Three of the FiftyFifty crew at the tasting on Northstar.
That night Kia swept us up to the top of Northstar mountain via a ski-lift tram to the Tahoe Ski Resort for libations and dinner. This was an entertaining and informal evening. Pre dinner, there were some tasting stations sprinkled around the area. One was the aforementioned FiftyFifty that had three of its beer makers dispensing tastes of a few of its brews. 

Some mountain-top entertainment.
Part of the evening's festivities included the time-honored Kia contest. Usually these competitions are among driving teams. This time, though, it was mano a mano with an ugly sweater contest. I must admit, there were some seriously ugly ones. I managed to snag my third or fourth honorable mention in these competitions with mine. Of course when it's an ugly sweater contest and your entry consists of a head-shot photo of Kia's director of corporate communications (and the contest judge) screen printed on the front of a sweatshirt, you can't really expect to win. After I signed it, my entry wound up in the hands of Kia's VP of sales and marketing. 

My honorable-mention entry with the director of corporate communications looking on.
 A first-drive of the very impressive Sorento, craft beers, first-class accommodations and the beauty of Lake Tahoe: what was not to like?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Enough With the Shed, Already!

The old shed.

I'm not the kind of guy who is ever ready to declare a home-improvement project over. I can always do “one more thing” to make it even better, but I can finally declare my shed project completed. Actually, it was a two-part project that began in August with the epic tear down of the old shed. That required a couple of weeks. I managed to get through that portion of the project unmolested: No falling scrap ricocheting off my mellon; no rusty nail through my foot; not even a splinter in my hand.

With the previous shed demolished, I had to get serious about a new one. Without a shed, I had nowhere to store my lawnmower, lawn tools and other odds and ends that wind up in a storage room.

In planning for the new shed I was torn between going cheap with a plastic or metal shed, and investing about twice what such a shed would cost and go with wood frame. Additionally, I had to decide between going small to just accommodate the must-store stuff or building a structure large enough to house the lawn gear, as well as a work bench and all the boxes and plastic containers stored in my spare upstairs bedroom.

Because the shed would be visible from the street, I opted to go with wood frame. Not to mention I have some hope a wood-frame shed will add to the house's value when I sell the joint. I found an 8'x10' shed at Home Depot's Web site that appeared to fit the bill. The price tag was under $1,000 and came pretty much ready to build. It required buying some additional elements, such as sheets of plywood for the floor. I figured the final cost would reach about $1,300. Home Depot didn't stock this particular shed; so, I would have to order it online. I thought I'd order it and have it drop shipped to the Home Depot about 2 miles away. Then it would be a small delivery fee. Nope, I would have had to have it freighted to my house at an additional cost of $300. My $1,200 shed just escalated to $1,500!

My carport full of building material.
For whatever reason, Home Depot has changed this policy and this shed can now be picked up at the store. But the extra delivery fee at the time was enough to get me looking at other options. I took a look at 84 Lumber's Web site. It offers the lumber to construct a 10'x12' shed with fewer extra elements to buy for less than $1,000.

I considered 84 Lumber because I have a buddy who works there. I called him. He put together a estimate for me that included a few extra things I chose to add. He crunched the numbers, added a nice discount and arrived at a total with delivery of $1,060. A larger shed with more stuff and at a savings of more than $400. Deal!

The material delivery came as promised. Because of my travel schedule, I knew I wasn't going to begin construction for another week or two. I had the lumber dropped in my carport to provide at least some degree of protection from the weather. I waited until late October to buy the material and begin the building phase to get past mosquito season. Among just about every other nasty thing that can be said about a backyard, is that in mine mosquitoes reproduce like they are performing for a segment on Animal Planet. My plan then was to wait out the warmer temps that seem to be some sort of a mosquito aphrodisiac, holding out for the first frost. This semi backfired as the temperatures began a downward spiral.

Should have paid more attention to my level.
Structure placement was a big decision. I chose not to build the new shed on the site of the old one. My entire backyard slopes. Where the old shed sat would have required a major excavation, including adding sand and gravel. Instead, I decided to locate the new shed in the only spot in the yard that resembles a flat, level surface. It still required a good bit of digging before laying the cement blocks on which the floor framing would sit. I then laid three 12' 4x4s on the blocks. Despite my work and the relatively flat surface, the floor still wound up about 2 inches out of level. I didn't think it a big deal at the time, but it would come back to haunt me.

I framed the floor and nailed the OSB board to the framing. I bought a compressor and framing nail gun online along with a couple boxes of two different-size nails. I never used a nail gun before. It really made the work fly.

With the flooring down, I framed the walls and stacked the walls on top of one another on the shed floor in wait of an extra set of hands or two to help me set them. That came in the form of my buddies Erick and Jeff on Black Friday. Arriving about noon, we set the walls and nailed on the siding. It was pretty chilly eliciting a fair amount of grumbling from the unpaid help. With only one electric cord, things slowed down a bit as I had to plug and unplug the circular saw, drill and nail-gun compressor as each was needed. We pushed and pulled the walls to get the plywood siding to halfway fit. This is where the floor being out of level first reared its ugly head. We really struggled with the siding, but by the end of the day, we had sided most of the shed.

The next day my 84 Lumber buddy Steve arrived to help with putting the sheets of OSB on the roof. Truth be told: It was more like me helping him. He did the heavy lifting and most of the nailing. This job was also impacted by the unlevel floor. I had a series of car events in early December and the shed took a backseat. I was shopping for a roofing nail gun and dreading the shingling process when Steve suggested he give a roofing buddy a call. As it turned out, the buddy was willing to finish the roofing for $75. How could I turn that down? I returned home four days later to a fully roofed shed. I was so happy with not having to shingle the thing, I gave the roofer $100.

In terms of construction, all that was left were the trim, doors and ramp. I assembled and added the doors. Now I was finally able to put my ladders, compressor and so forth in the shed rather than hauling them back up to the house. I was ecstatic. The next day I added the trim. My math failed me in guestimating the length of the trim pieces along the roofline on the l2-ft walls. I had to piece them a little and then caulk the seams. I was coming down the ladder after the last bit of caulking when I took a misstep resulting in a hard landing and a hyper-extended left knee.

After rolling around on the ground for 30 seconds, I limped around the yard cleaning up my tools and putting stuff away. I walked with a cane for a couple of weeks and still have a brace on the knee, but I was back working on the shed by the first week of January. I added a ramp that folds up in front of the door, locking in place.

I nailed 14 2x4s together to construct the work bench. I built a few shelves, bought hangers to secure my ladders. Moving all the boxes, containers, and other odds and ends from the spare bedroom to the shed took more than a day – a job that still isn't quite finished.


It took me an afternoon to cut in the siding with stain and another morning to roll the flats. Putting a primer coat on the trim took a couple of hours as did applying the finish coat. My three-month shed building ordeal was finally over.

Now it's on to the closet-building project in the spare bedroom. Oh boy.....