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!

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.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Seeing the San Francisco Bay Area Through Volvo's Windshield

2016 Volvo S60 Inscription.
I'm not the kind of guy who turns down a carmaker's invitation to San Francisco simply because I don't much care for the place. So when I received the nod from AutoTrader to represent it at the recent Volvo event there, I cowboyed up and went. And, despite having to travel across the bulk of the city from the airport on the way to the Cavallo Point Hotel where Volvo hosted us, the hotel is actually in Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Technically, I wasn't staying in SF at all.

I had bunked at Cavallo Point before, as had some of the other older hands on this trip. I was there with Jeep Cherokee perhaps 10 years ago. Occupying much of what was Fort Baker from the Civil War through WWII, the hotel sits at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Army compliment stationed there manned the artillery guarding the north end of the bridge and the access to San Francisco Bay. V.M.I. has seen more combat. 

Several of the fort's buildings remain arrayed around what was once the parade ground, and today serve as both guest rooms and common areas. We could clearly see the Golden Gate Bridge from almost anywhere on the property. I got a good look at it from my room's perch up the side of one of the hills overlooking the bay. I calculate I had a climb of roughly 80 steps straight up the mountain every time I returned to my room. It was like a training course for Sherpas. I could have ridden to my room in one of the available hotel cars, but it was a matter of pride. I now realize I might well have joined Fort Baker's handful of casualties over the years, following into history soldiers who accidentally stabbed themselves with a fondue fork or took a fatal header off their barracks' front stoop. My legs ached for three days after my return to South Carolina. 

A beautiful property, Cavallo Point is more than eight miles from downtown SF. Ten or fifty would have been better. I could still see SF across the bay. Those of us, though, who like to strike out from wherever we are staying, taking a walk to enjoy the sights – or in my case, sample some craft beers – had to settle for hanging out at the hotel. It's not within walking distance of much of anything, but it's not a bad place to be stranded. And, I must admit, the hamburger I ate there for lunch on my first day was one of the best I've had. So it's got that going for it.

Singing for their supper....
Dinner both evenings was on the property. Among other hotel features is a cooking school. Ostensibly we were to participate in preparing our own dinner on the first night, taking directions from the hotel's chef and her gaggle of minions. In the finest military tradition, they organized us into several five-person squads and assigned us to a squad leader. A few of the squads wound up being under manned as some of us, deciding discretion the better part of valor, drifted out through the bar to the balcony to enjoy some wine and fresh air rather than shuck corn. Dinner turned out okay, but, unsure of where some of my colleagues' hands had been prior to the dinner prep, I picked at my salmon and ignored the baked chicken thigh. I did wrap an extra dinner roll in a napkin in case I grew feint during the mile-high climb back to my room.

Volvo introduced us to two new versions of its midsize S60 sedan: S60 Inscription and the S60 Cross Country. Both are labeled 2016s. Because these are variations of the popular S60, they don't really break a lot of new ground for the Chinese-owned Swedish carmaker. Each in their own way, however, are unique S60 variants.

2016 Volvo S60 CC.
When it arrives in Volvo showrooms in early fall, the $38,700 S60 Inscription will assume its place as the S60 flagship, replacing last year's Platinum grade. It's a long-wheelbase version of the sedan, and has the historic distinction of being the very first car built in China to be imported to the U.S.. Volvo stretched both the S60 Inscription's wheelbase and overall length by three inches, translating into more legroom. At 36.9 inches, Volvo claims bragging rights to the most rear-seat legroom in the S60's class.

Front-wheel-drive versions derive go from a 240-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine mated to an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Opting for AWD will change the powertrain to the 250-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbocharged engine and six-speed automatic transmission found in other AWD 60-series models. Government-estimated fuel economy for FWD is 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway/29 mpg combined. AWD scrubs about 6 mpg from each number. 

A butched-up, off-pavement sedan, the $43,500 S60 Cross Country has AWD as standard equipment. It also provides 7.9 inches of ground clearance – about 2.5 inches more than the regular S60, and the same as the Ford Edge. Its power comes from the same 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder and six-speed automatic in other AWD 60-series vehicles. Fuel economy estimates are 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway/23 mpg combined. Volvo is only importing 500 units of the 2016 S60 CC, so get-em while they're hot!

Among the many high-tech features included in the S60 CC is Volvo On Call app that allows you to remote start, as well as lock and unlock the car from your smart phone. There is also standard 3D navigation with Map Care, which includes free map updates twice each year.

On our ride-and-drive day, we dined from a food truck.
Our morning drive included some wonderfully windy roads, and concluded at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds where we had lunch. Volvo had set up some cones designed to demonstrate antilock-braking steering control. 

Relaxing by the fire pit at dinner the second night before the frostbite set in.
Dinner that evening was on an outdoor terrace. By the time the sun set, the temperature was probably in the 50s, and the wind was roaring. It was like being on the foredeck of the Titanic. This was all well and good for the dessert of ice cream and homemade cookies, but made keeping the hot main-course items even remotely warm between putting them on a plate and returning to our seats a serious challenge. Thank goodness there was a fire pit. If nothing else, however, we automotive-media types are hardy and resilient; so, we somehow managed to endure. I wrapped up a couple of extra cookies for the long trek back to my room.

In the S60 CC and S60 Inscription, Volvo has two strong additions to its 60-series lineup, which accounts for roughly 75 percent of all Volvo sales in the U.S. Although SF is far from my “happy” place, it was as good a spot as any to get a first look at these new Volvos.