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!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Saving a Little Money on Tree Removal May Have Cost Me Again!

The new shed is an expense I can be enthusiastic about.
 I'm not the kind of guy that relishes spending big bucks on crap that must be done around the house. I don't mean actual home improvements, but I refer to things that must be done for general upkeep.

I'm happy – almost gleeful, really – to pump bucks into remodeling and refurbishing projects that not only improve my home's usability and/or appearance, but add a little value as well. The $1,300 to $1,600 (My record keeping wasn't all it could have been.) my recent shed project cost me was money well spent in my opinion. Looking at it – let alone using it – always makes me smile. I have no buyer's remorse as I stroke out the monthly checks to American Express, the credit card on which I charged most of the cost. Not only am I pleased with the way it looks, it has proven to be everything I wanted it to be in terms of utility. The $300 or so I recently spent on a new water heater, however, doesn't provide me with the same warm fuzzies.

There is also a definite lack of warm fuzzies with regard to my current tree-removal escapade.

As I gazed out my upstairs bathroom window on Friday morning, I realized one of the huge (three or four stories high) pine trees in my backyard was dead – not dying, but deader than a doornail. How long had it been like that? No clue. Apparently, I don't spend a lot of time in my yard gazing skyward.

Almost overnight, it seems, the tree on the right died.

Originally one member of a cluster of three similarly sized pines – all leaning in drastically different directions – this pine took a big hit a few winters ago when a wet snow snapped off one of its major lower branches. I have no clue if this was the beginning of its end, but something sure as heck struck it a mortal blow.

One of its two siblings was felled by a door-to-door tree cutter a year ago last November. He did it as one element of a job that cleared the air space over my house of trees and branches that could come crashing down in a severe storm. That particular tree was leaning at a precarious angle over my house. I still have several huge logs in the yard that the tree cutter never returned to collect and remove. What do I expect for $250?

Logs left behind by my last bargain-basement door-to-door tree cutter.

The recently dead pine refused to be ignored. (Perhaps it's just sleeping, I briefly hoped.) No, it leans over the street that runs along the side of my lot. Figuring the cost would be much higher to have it cut up and removed from the the street if some part of it wound up straddling the pavement after a storm, I rifled through my papers and found a flyer from yet another door-to-door tree cutter who came a-callin' four or five months ago.

Discovering the phone number on the flyer was still in service was a positive development, I thought. Dialing the number I was connected to the person the flyer identified as the office manager. Possessing a different last name than the flyer-identified owner, I have no clue how she fits into the door-to-door-tree-cutting-company pecking order. I could barely hear her over the racket of a chainsaw in the background. She eventually strolled far enough from the din that I could hear she was turning the phone over to her son Joey. He took my name and other particulars and said they would be by later in the afternoon to provide an estimate. I'm unsure as to her field role with this little company. For the less than three hours they were at my house on Saturday, she and some guy sat on the hood of her car watching her son and Billy work.

Good to Joey's word – another positive sign – I got a knock on my door about 5 p.m. After throwing on a shirt and sandals, I stepped out into my carport to find some old faded-blue sedan of indeterminate make in my driveway with four or five people stuffed in it. Emerging from the driver's seat, Joey extended his hand and introduced himself. He and another guy – Billy, I later learned – walked with me around the house to the problem tree.

10:45 a.m.
Breaking their business-conference huddle, the two turned to me and Joey offered, “We'll take the dead one out for $500, or we'll take it and the other one out for $600.”

“That includes removing all the wood, right?” I questioned.


“Will you remove those, too?” I asked pointing to the half dozen big logs left by the last tree cutter.

“Yep,” the ever eloquent Joey answered.

“How about grinding out the stumps?” I pushed my luck.

“We don't grind stumps,” Joey replied, “but we got somebody who does. It'll probably cost you another $100 for that. We don't remove the wood either, but I got a guy. I included the cost in the $600.”

“Sold!” I said. “When?”

“You're on the top of our list tomorrow,” Joey promised. “Billy likes to sleep in on Saturday; so, we'll be here around 10.”

“Works for me,” I answered. “Will you take a check?”

“Yep. Make it out to my mom.”

Long story, short, er, shorter: I got a call from Joey around 10 on Saturday morning telling me they were running a little late. Apparently Billy couldn't get his big ass out of bed. I had an errand downtown and returned home around 10:45 to find them preparing to start the job. By noon both trees were down, cut up and ready to be hauled away.

 Joey told me the guy who hauls the wood away and does the stump grinding was on a job and probably wouldn't be by until Monday. No worries on my end, I told him, as long as he could wait until everything was done to get paid. He appeared cool with that.

We'll see what happens from here. I still have my $600 and a side yard full of downed trees.

Sometimes being a cheapskate doesn't make for smooth sailing.

Monday, May 25, 2015

2015 TV Season: Some Canceled and Some Saved

I'm not the kind of guy whose social schedule mirrors TV Guide. That is to say, I'm not a slave to any TV shows, but then, I have the luxury of a DVR to record favorites when I'm not home to watch. Actually, though, I record everything I watch, so I can fast forward through the commercials. 

Among my TV-series box sets are the seven seasons of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" that I purchased 10 years ago at a retail cost of about $250.
One of my few nods to the digital age is streaming a few series from Netflix or Amazon Prime for binge watching. Just a few years ago, you had to buy or rent a season's worth of a series in a DVD box set to binge watch it. I have a few such collections that I purchased at anywhere from $25 to $50 a season. Cha-ching!

I just completed watching all but the most recent season of “Scandal” on Netflix. I'll watch the most recent season once Netflix posts it. I am currently hooked on “The Killing.” It's a four-season crime drama that aired on the AMC network a couple of years ago. It took two 13-week seasons to get through the 25-day investigation into the killing of a 17-year-old girl. Yes, it drags in spots, but over the course of 26 episodes, I was convinced four or five different people committed the crime just to be surprised at the very end of the last episode of season 2 by who actually did it.

The Killing's Enos and Kinnaman.
I like the two detectives Sarah Linden, played by Mireille Enos, and Stephen Holder played by Joel Kinnaman, who are the central characters of the show. Well written, the first two seasons were pretty compelling. I'm ready to launch into season 3. The one thing about this show I find annoying and almost comical is that virtually everyone smokes. Adapted from Danish TV, “The Killing” may just be laboring under a strong European influence. Smoking is almost a medal sport in Europe and Scandinavia. Barely a scene goes by where someone isn't puffing away. Nearly everyone, but the youngest of children, light up at some point or another. If I watched it with someone, we'd play a drinking game where we would do a shot every time someone lights up. Of course, we'd be shitfaced before the first commercial break. Otherwise, this is a wonderfully engaging show.

A couple of times a year I search “canceled TV series” to see which of the shows I follow is returning next season and which isn't. I am often disappointed by shows that their networks ax and by the ones that, despite questionable entertainment value, are renewed. 

Battle Creek's buddies.
Here are some of my biggest disappointments among canceled shows so far this year on the major networks:

Forever ABC – A well-crafted show about a medical examiner who doesn't age or die.
Revenge ABC – A wonderfully decadent soap-opera drama of revenge and hate.
Battle Creek CBS – A terrific buddy story starring the guy in the State Farm “Chaos” commercials.
Stalker CBS – A police drama with a top-notch cast and an excellent sound track.
Backstrom Fox – An unapologetic drunken, misogynistic police lieutenant leads a detective squad.
State of Affairs – A political/CIA drama starring Katherine Heigl (enough said!).

Among the series airing on cable networks I am most sorry to see eliminated is FX's “Justified.” It's a serial crime drama starring Timothy Olyfant as a U.S. Marshal working in Kentucky's Appalachia region. Excellent writing, characters and actors. It's fun TV. You can stream it on Amazon Prime.

Timothy Olyphant as Justified's Marshal Raylan Givens.

Here are announced renewals that have me scratching my head, wondering who exactly watches these turkeys:

Terrible acting and lackluster writing characterize each and every episode of 2 Broke Girls.
The Bachelor ABC – An idiot acting idiotically toward other idiots.
Extreme Weight Loss ABC – This is entertainment, really?
How to Get Away With Murder ABC – Perhaps the least watchable show of the 2015 season.
Secrets and Lies ABC – With neither a character nor an actor with any redeeming quality whatsoever.
2 Broke Girls CBS – I laugh more in 10 minutes of “The Bachelor.” Worst-written comedy on TV.
Big Brother CBS – we really care about any of these people?
Survivor CBS – I'd like to vote it off the island.
Hannibal NBC – A grim, dark train-wreck in which every character is nuttier than squirrel poo.

And there you have it: my current TV status.

I'm sure you were wondering.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dazzling the One Percenters: All-New Fiat 500X Goes to Beverly Hills

I'm not the kind of guy who spends a lot of time wandering the boulevards of Beverly Hills. In fact, I don't think I had ever been there before the recent Fiat media event introducing the all-new 2016 500X crossover. I may have skirted this community on some previous carmaker ride and drive, but if so, I don't remember it. But then my memory isn't all that it used to be.

Fiat put us up at the trendy Mr. C Beverly Hills. This is an accommodation both upscale and a bit odd. The dominating art lining its public spaces and guest rooms is a series of large black-and-white candid photos of people you think you should recognize, but can't quite place them. That's because they aren't celebrities; rather, they are just civilians mugging for the camera. I guess that's one way to save a few bucks on the decorating. 

Mr. C Beverly Hills is buffered from the city itself by three or four blocks of private residences. Upon arriving at the hotel, I took advantage of the early hour by hiking the few blocks into the heart of Beverly Hills in search of some craft beers. Strolling by Rodeo Drive, I eventually arrived at Bedford & Burns on Bedford Avenue just off of Wilshire Boulevard. There I had the bar and the attention of the bartender all to myself. Only three craft beers were on tap and one of those an IPA from the despicable Stone Brewery. That alone almost sent me packing. Calming down, however, I searched the bottled-beer list and found Moose Drool Brown Ale from Montana's Big Sky Brewery. A staple of my Eatons' Ranch visits over the years, I simply couldn't pass it up.

Dinner that evening was at the Smog Shoppe. This is a wedding venue. No one tied the knot, but the catered dinner was good. If memory serves, I think there were some drinks, too.

The next morning, we were introduced to the star of the show at an hour-long presentation. The 500X looms over Fiat's core 500 in size and cost. Offered in five trims, the 500X base prices range from $20,000 for the entry-level Pop to $27,100 for the Trekking Plus. All grades but the Pop can be armed with all-wheel drive. 

Beneath the skin, the 500X shares mechanicals with the recently released Jeep Renegade. This isn't a bad thing. Renegade is a wonderfully competent off roader. Roomy and comfortable, the 500X relies on either a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter engine. Both use a nine-speed automatic transmission to transfer output to the wheels. 

AWD versions get a rear axle that completely disconnects when only two-wheel propulsion is required. That saves fuel. A grocery list of available and standard features provide as much safety and gee-whiz technology as you could want. Things like Uconnect, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and so forth are among the 500X's goodies.

We zipped around southern Calif. on our ride and drive. We cruised along the beach, as well as negotiating the foothills. This wasn't a particularly challenging drive, but it did include a healthy dose of twists and turns. The 500X really handles!

Lunch was back at 3Labs Warehouse in Culver City where we had soaked up 500X details with rapt attention earlier in the day. The lunch highlight was a food truck offering wood-fired pizza.

The 500X should raise Fiat's U.S. profile. Although the tiny 500 can be written off as one of many econoboxes, the 500X casts a much larger shadow, difficult to ignore. Italian styling plus a high level of utility will put the 500X on the consideration list of people who, up to this point, probably haven't given Fiat much thought.

Once returned from our 500X outing, Fiat kept us at the hotel where we had dinner, wrapping up the evening with cocktails in the hospitality suite. Not being much of a shopper, the lure of Beverly Hills is lost on me. However, rubbing elbows with the one percent is always entertaining.