Keys Disease

Keys Disease
Battling Keys Disease at the Futura Yacht Club in Islamorada, Fla. three years ago.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sixteen Days in Florida and I'm Still White as a Ghost

The cool thing is that I work without a net!
I am freshly returned from several days basking in the South Florida heat. Yep, the temps hovered in the mid-to-high 80s most of the 16 days I was there. Actually, the 16-day marathon was really a 9-day and a 7-day period separated by 3 nights at home. I drove down for both segments and had to return home to swap out press cars.

Ostensibly I was there to help a friend with a house flip. My initial nine-day venture was planned for a while. She had just purchased the property located a few blocks from her home in a West Palm Beach golf course community. Between the time she purchased it and I arrived to help paint, she and her husband decided that when the new flip was finished, they would sell their current home and move into the new one. By the time I arrived, the current home was in the hands of a realtor, who got a contract from the first person he took through the house. This forced my friends to accelerate the completion schedule for the new house from “whenever” to six weeks. That was the reason I returned for round two, which was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Securing manufacturer-test cars for out-of-the-normal-routine needs typically requires a bit of planning. In this case I needed both cars for longer the the typical seven-day loan and would also need to put more than 1,500 miles on each. I had a little more lead time arranging the first car. The second one, however, had to be secured in a matter of hours rather than weeks.

I made the first trip in a Volkswagen Golf GTI and the second in a Ford Expedition. Needless to say, fuel was a much smaller expense on my first trip than my second.

What a back breaker!
Most of my painting time was invested in applying a primer and then two finish coats to the home's ceilings. The ceilings had been “popcorn,” which was stripped and a “knockdown” finish applied. This wasn't a particularly huge task in several areas, but two rooms have 16-foot vaulted ceilings. For a total of four or five days, I was balanced on a eight-foot ladder, using an extension pole to roll paint on the ceilings. Up the ladder, down the ladder, move the ladder, up the ladder, down the ladder, move the ladder..... This Flying Wallenda impression left my shoulders and neck aching to the point that several days later they still hurt. At the end of a couple of these days, I was pretty-well covered in splotches of paint. I resembled a bank robber who opened a money stack rigged with exploding dye. I spent so much time huffing fresh paint, I'm still not totally down from the high.

Both drives to Florida began at 3:30 in the morning. My goal was to arrive in Delray Beach in time for a late lunch. My initial trip included much more free time than the second one – a few days, in fact. That I spent a total of 16 days there and am still white as a ghost, is a good indication I wasn't outside much.

My slogs back to South Carolina were totally different from one another. Driving home from my first trip, I was on a mission. I had a writing assignment I needed to begin and complete during the two and a half days I would be home. I was having PC issues and needed to straighten those out before beginning the project. I left Delray at 5 a.m. and walked in my door at 3 p.m. I had my computer issues solved that afternoon and finished the assignment over the next two days.

Because I wasn't under the gun on my second drive home, I took it easy. I stopped in a couple of rest areas for 20-minute catnaps, only partially filled the Expedition's gas tank during fuel stops as gas became ever cheaper as I headed north. I even pulled off I-95 for a hot fudge sundae at a South Carolina Dairy Queen. Historically I make the drive in nine and a half hours; this trip took eleven.

I also lost about 20 minutes on that drive thanks to Northerners heading home from Florida jack knifing, overturning or simply running their tow vehicles and trailers into a ditch. I came across three such mishaps between the Florida/Georgia line and where I pick up I-26 for the final sprint north. It was like a car-and-trailer demolition derby.

I was glad to get home, sleep in my own bed and not have to spend the day with my arms extended over my head pushing four or five pounds of pole and paint-coated roller across a ceiling.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tooling Around Texas Hill Country with the Chrysler 300 and Ram ProMaster City


I'm not the kind of guy who blows off a carmaker event in Austin even with a freshly blown-out knee. Nope, that just isn't me. However, I did offer Chrysler the opportunity to delete me from its December roll out of the redesigned 300 after hyper extending my left knee climbing off a ladder during my shed-building adventure. It wasn't that I was in pain or immobile, but I was walking with a cane.

 Despite the fact these events are driving centered, there is often some amount of walking involved. Because I didn't want to surprise the Chrysler folks with my disability, I contacted them offering an out. They wouldn't hear of it. After issuing assurances they would take care of me, they told me I was a key person on this trip and the event would be an utter flop if I was missing. Yeah, no, they didn't say that. Are you kidding? I am but a tiny grain of sand on the miles of beach that is auto journalism.
Meat and bourbon at Austin's Searsucker.
They did promise to take care of me and take care of me they did. My room at the W Austin hotel was right next to the elevator. When the group walked the couple of blocks to dinner at Searsucker the first night, I had my own shuttle. I could get used to the preferential treatment I received. This trip was a twofer. Not only did Chrysler introduce us to the 300, Ram tagged along to present its ProMaster City as well. This was a lot to cram into a two-day program, but it wasn't overwhelming; it was just very busy.



Chrysler continues to take the 300 upmarket. The availability of Nappa Leather, hand-sanded wood accents in the cabin and engine options including a 363-horsepower Hemi V8 are just a taste of possible upgrades.

The price of admission to the 300 is $31,395 for the entry-level 300 Limited. There are three other trims ranging in price from $34,895 for the 300S, $37,895 for the 300C and $42,395 for the 300C Platinum. The standard engine for all four trim levels is a 292-horsepower V6. Chrysler squeezes another 8 horsepower out of it in the 300C. All but the Limited can move up to the V8. Both engines are hitched to a driver-shiftable, eight-speed automatic transmission. In the 300S and 300C Platinum it comes armed with a “Sport” mode. The shifter is a console-mounted dial.

The V6 can be fitted with all-wheel drive. With RWD it delivers an EPA-estimated 19 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. This, Chrysler claims, is the best-in-class V6 highway number. AWD mileage drops to 18 city/27 highway. The V8 is rated at 16 city/25 highway.



Hugely enjoyable to drive, the 300 provides ultimate road manners with loads of interior space and all sorts of technological geegaws to make the driver's life easier and wow the kids – if they happen to look up from their smart phones to notice.

The W Austin served as our overnight accommodations and headquarters for this event. Although it's located downtown, I wasn't able to rally to hit any of the music haunts on 6th. I just wasn't up to hoofing it around from joint to joint. Damn knee!

 Dinner our first night was at Austin's Searsucker. GM introduced me to this meat-intense restaurant at an event in San Diego a few weeks before. If there was one near me at home, I'd spend some serious time there. Good food and terrific bar.



Our 300 drive threaded through the Texas Hill Country. It was a rainy, dreary day of driving. Fortunately, the 300 performed well and kept us entertained. We paused mid-day at the Union on Eighth in Georgetown, Texas. There we chowed down and drove some of the 300's competition.

Returning from the 300 ride and drive, we were handed off to the Ram group for our ProMaster City indoctrination. Things began off site at Austin's Brazos Hall, where we sampled some cocktails and had dinner.

ProMaster City is a smallish work van well suited for urban areas. Reflecting its Fiat roots, its size focuses on the need to negotiate skinny, ancient European trails more than anything else. The panel version's cargo area falls just a few inches short of being able to carry a standard 4x8 sheet of plywood.



Available as a cargo van or passenger wagon, the ProMaster City can be very basic or pretty well contented. Base prices range from $23,130 to $25,665. No matter which version, though, the engine is a 178-horsepower 4.4-liter four-banger. Joining the four cylinder in turning the front wheels is a nine-speed automatic transmission. Together they can haul up to 1,883 pounds of payload.

Ram squeezed our driving of the ProMaster into the morning of our departure day. Pairing up, we drove an example of the ProMaster City to Austin's Troublemaker Studios. Owned by Robert Rodriguez, the movie it's best known for is “Sin City”. A fun place to stage further ProMaster City drives, we were prohibited from shooting any photos because we were basically using the sound stage for a current production. Being the rule follower I am, I complied with the studio's request.

Later that day, we hustled off to the airport for our return flights. I always hate leaving Austin in my rearview mirror, particularly when I couldn't take full advantage of its music scene.