ouray

ouray
It's me doing a little posing while taking a break at the Ouray, Colorado Jeep Jamboree in 1995.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My New Year Non-Resolution Resolution


I'm not the kind of guy who likes to talk – or in this case write – just to hear himself talk. I constantly doubt my bone fides as a writer because, well, I don't feel compelled to write. In fact, if I can avoid it, I do. For me writing is a craft, like masonry, carpentry or plumbing. Writing is the vehicle through which I earn a living. Often not much of a living, but a living nonetheless.

Writing is a skill I've honed over more than 30 years, but I don't wake up every morning with some random thought and think, wow, I must express this idea; I've got to put pen to paper. (For you children, “pen to paper” is a euphemism for typing on a keyboard.) Nope; Steven King I'm not. When absent from writing for a while, I certainly don't miss it.

The previous two graphs are a rambling preface to a promise – more to myself than to you – to put more effort into this blog going forward. I am writing this on December 31st , and my previous Clanging Bell post was November 20th. That's not a blog; it's a monthly journal.

When I launched the Bell, I was experiencing a dry patch in paying work. Weeks might pass between assignments. My career was a desert and each sporadic assignment a rare oasis. I stumbled from one to the next, clutching to the hope things would get better. They always had, but 2010 and 2011 were dismal years in a career trajectory that mimicked an Acme rocket in the coyote's arsenal.

I started the Bell toward the end of 2010, simply to exercise my writing skills. As with any other skill, writing demands to stretch its legs on a regular basis. Because I wasn't getting much in the way of money-earning work, I had to fake it til I made it. I had to create a platform on which to practice my skill while waiting for things to pick up.

I contributed posts almost daily. I would search headlines in sports, entertainment and the auto industry mining for blog topics. It wasn't that I believed readers were actually looking forward to my thoughts on topics ranging from movies to shed building, but I knew I needed to be writing something, anything, to flex my creative muscle.

As paying work picked up, my blog posts decreased. They dropped from 228 posts in 2011 to 126 in 2012, 79 in 2013 and so forth until they almost disappeared in 2016. Counting this confession, I cranked out 25 posts this year – barely two per month: a shoddy performance by any measure.

Other distractions beyond paying assignments conspired to foil my best blogging intentions. Home-remodeling projects elbowed their way onto my list of priorities. In late summer, I launched just3thingsvideo.com. I've been pouring the bulk of my creative juices into that for the past six months. In fact, my plan for this morning was to edit a video, but I made myself compose this post before allowing myself to spend time on a video. It wasn't easy.

I don't make New Year resolutions, but if I did, it would be to write at least one blog post per week in 2017. That's my goal. Will I follow through? Well, I've managed to accomplish tougher tasks, but who knows? Stay tuned and we'll find out.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Fall Season Newbies I'm Recording and Watching

The cast of Conviction.

I'm not the kind of guy who watches TV to learn much of anything. I probably average six hours a day five or six days a week plopped in front of my PC monitors researching and writing. When I flip on the TV, I want to be entertained.

To put it another way: I'm fine with mindless escapism.

The new Riggs and Murtaugh.
Having established the rather loose parameters qualifying TV programming as worthy of my attention, here are some of the shows I'm currently watching. Keep in mind that I watch nothing in real time. Although I'm willing to invest two or three hours per day in inane, time-killing TV, I'm not willing to suffer through commercials. This attitude paid off handsomely during the recent election cycle.

Reinforcing my TV-as-simpleminded-entertainment approach is the fact that a surprising number of the shows I follow are on The CW. If you are any sort of TV historian, you will recall The CW began life as The WB. One of The WB's original hit series was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And, yes, I will admit it here once more that Buffy may be my all-time favorite television serial.

Glad I got that off my chest...again.

Arranged in the order I happen to think of them, the newly minted shows I am watching this season include....

  1. Frequency: The CW – Based on the 2000 movie, this is a series about a grown daughter communicating with her father through a Ham radio. The hook, he's transmitting from 20 years earlier. They are both cops and help one another solve crimes, but change the present day in the process. Peyton List stars. Hey, I'd never heard of her either.
  2. Timeless: NBC – In yet another monkeying-around-with time series, Abigail Spencer and Matt Lanter star. I didn't recognize either of their names, but recall
    Abigail Spencer from Timeless.
    seeing her in other projects. A college history professor is recruited by Homeland Security to travel back in time in pursuit of a bad guy intent on changing the future. The likable team always returns from these missions to a changed reality.
  3. No Tomorrow: The CW – A cute, likable, but self-confidence-challenged quirky woman falls for a free-spirit guy convinced the world is ending in a few months. He shares his bucket list of crazy things he wants to do before the apocalypse and drags her along. It's The CW; so, once again the stars (Tori Anderson and Jesse Rath) playing the two main characters aren't well known. It's inoffensive, fun and worth a watch if you have nothing better to do.
  4. Lethal Weapon: Fox – Yep, you guessed it: This show is based on the 30-year-old Lethal Weapon movie that starred Mel Gibson. Damon Wayans, reprises Danny Glover's role. He's been on TV since the early 1990s. Clayne Crawford – I recognized him, but not his name – plays Riggs. Originally I didn't include this among the shows I'm recording this season. I just didn't think it would measure up, but I finally got on board in week two. It captures much of the humor and buddy-movie feel of the movie.
  5. Conviction: ABC – The acting-out adult daughter of a former U.S. president puts her attorney credentials to work heading a special team tasked with looking at old crime convictions to determine if the convicted felon was really guilty. The star of the sadly canceled Marvel series Agent Carter, Hayley Atwell plays the lead. For me, Atwell is easy to watch. This isn't edge-of-your-seat suspense, but it's a fun watch.
  6. Designated Survivor: ABC – I've never been much of a Kiefer Sutherland fan, but I was able to still enjoy the series 24, and I'm knee-deep in his latest vehicle. The title refers to the actual practice of a cabinet member sitting out the annual State of the Union address with virtually the entire federal government in attendance to ensure there is someone left in the presidential pecking order in case of a calamity wiping out the government. That's exactly what happens in the opening episode of this series, catapulting Sutherland's character into the White House. There's plenty of intrigue on a weekly basis.
  7. Bull: CBS – If you liked Michael Weatherly as DiNozzo on NCIS, you'll love him as Dr. Jason Bull, a psychologist specializing in choosing and reading juries on this show. It's loaded with likable characters and likable people playing them.
  8. Notorious: ABC – Every season, it seems, I watch at least one show for little reason other than I have the capacity to record it. Notorious is such a series. A very recognizable Piper Perabo and Daniel Sunjata star. She plays a TV-show producer and he a high-profile defense attorney. There is nothing particularly compelling about it. I usually have three or four episodes stacked up in my recorder because I only watch it when I've exhausted everything else.

No Tomorrow.
I'm still following a number of returned shows like Blindspot, Blacklist, Lucifer, Rosewood, Scorpion, Quantico, Criminal Minds, Madam Secretary, Elementary, Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory.

Shows I watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime include The Walking Dead, NCIS, Arrow, The Flash, Once Upon a Time and Longmire.

And there you have it: How I waste away my leisure hours when I'm not on the road. Now where's the damn remote?

Monday, November 14, 2016

900 Miles in a 2017 Fiat 124 Spider: Nashville, Habitat for Humanity and, Well, Fun

2017 Fiat 124 Spider.
I'm not the kind of guy who typically drives when he can fly. I know, I know. It goes against the grain of being a motoring journalist. Here's my philosophy, if it's far away enough that flying is a consideration, then, given the choice, I'll fly. I travel a fair amount for what I laughingly refer to as making a living. Work-related travel, in particular, I'll leave to the airlines – or, in my case, airline. I pretty much always fly Delta. I've logged nearly 2 million miles on Delta. We have an understanding of sorts: I make the reservation, and they get me where I'm going on the day I want to go.....well, more often than not.

Typically, a work destination must be within 150 miles or so for me to eschew flying for an overland slog. There are exceptions, however. I make the 400-mile schlep between Greenville, SC and Louisville, KY once or twice a year by car. When I want to avoid locking myself into a return date, I'll drive the nearly 1,400-mile round trip from Greenville to Delray Beach, FL. But, these aren't work-related.

Breaking with tradition, I recently chose to drive the 380 miles from Greenville to Franklin, TN for a Nissan program. Nissan's North American headquarters is in Franklin, which is about 20 miles south of Nashville. The event: The House the Media Built. 

Nissan has contributed some 90 or so trucks to Habitat for Humanity.
Nissan has been very involved with Habitat for Humanity since Hurricane Katrina. Contributing more than $14 million in cash, around 90 pickup trucks and enough labor to erect more than 80 homes, Nissan is, what you might call, committed to this house-building charity. 
A few of us hamming it up for the camera.
Someone in Nissan's PR department got the wacky idea to bring in three waves of journalists over the course of a week to build a Habitat house. I say “wacky” because automotive media does not have a reputation for breaking a sweat during carmaker programs. Mostly we are coddled, pampered, fed, housed, chauffeured and generally made to feel much more valuable than we are. Yes, it's a great job, and I get weekends off.

I had been looking for an excuse to request a Fiat 124 Spider for a road trip. I had a late-September boondoggle laid out that would have had me fly into Hartford, CT, pick up a 124 and then drive north to Stowe, VT. It was all in the name of enjoying the fall foliage and talking up a Stowe resort. Sadly, there were some last-minute communication issues with the resort, compelling me to back burner the Vermont trek to the spring.

Then along came Nissan with its Habitat program. Nashville is even closer to Greenville than is Louisville. So, why not drive? I thought. Fiat was happy to change my jumping off point from Hartford to Greenville.

I don't know if you've noticed, but the 124 Spider is on the small side. The Nashville trip would require transporting all my video gear, clothes for three nights and four days, work clothes, and a pair of cowboy boots – hey, it's Nashville, after all. How would I stuff all of my gear and wardrobe into the 124 without looking like the Clampets moving to Beverly? Hills, that is. Swimmin' pools, movie stars....

I contacted the person in charge of Fiat 124 PR and asked her to measure the actual dimensions of its trunk. She e-mailed the info back
My new ECBC bag tucked into the 124's trunk.
to me in less than an hour. I had one small rollerboard that would fit into the Fiat's cargo hold, but I needed another. ECBC is a California company specializing in small bags well suited for airplane carry on and other personal-gear duties. They offer two models that appeared to pass the 124-size muster: Sparrow and Pegasus.

I wound up with the Pegasus. A well-engineered bag targeting business travelers, it's a versatile compact rollerboard that also converts to a backpack. For people who fly and don't qualify for Precheck, it is uber convenient because it has a laptop compartment that opens flat, so you don't need to remove the laptop when going through screening. Lightweight, it holds a surprising amount of stuff. And, it has a charger for juicing up a smartphone or whatever. Retailing for $400, it sounds a bit pricey, but its utility quickly defines its value. If you want an exercise in frustration and futility, though, try searching for it online at a discounted price. You would have better odds finding an Apple iPhone 7 discounted.

When flying, you can simply unzip the Pegasus laptop pocket, open it and run the bag through x-ray.
I was able to stack my two rollerboards on top of one another in the 124's trunk and still had room on either side for my boot bag and some outer wear. I'm a firm believer in driving a convertible with the top dropped unless it's raining. I needed a cap to keep the sun from frying my melon and a couple of jackets of varying warmth for late-night motoring. My backpack hitched a ride on the passenger seat.

The 124 Spider Fiat provided for this adventure was a 2017 Lusso: the mid-range grade. I would have preferred the standard 6-speed manual transmission, but my test 124 used the optional 6-speed automatic tranny to transfer output from the 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo to the rear wheels. This powertrain delivered 36 mpg on the highway, where I performed the bulk of my driving. Engineered for the twisties, the 124 really shinned on the mountain roads. Anyone much taller than six feet might not want to spend hours in this cockpit, but I found it comfortable and easy to live with. The top is a bit of mechanical genius. Just about anyone can easily raise and lower it from the driver's seat.

I viewed this 360-mile endeavor as an opportunity to drop in on one of my fraternity brothers and his wife in Lenior City, TN, which is just west of Knoxville. I spend three or four weekends a year with them. With that in mind, my route took me north on SC 25 to about 25 miles south of Asheville, NC where I hooked up with I-26 North before transferring to I-40 West for the final 130-mile run to Lenior City.

About 25 miles of I-40 between Asheville and Knoxville are across the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's a delicious array of sweeping curves and elevation changes. I have driven this route dozens of times and am always frustrated with its 55-miles-per-hour speed limit. Even more so when driving a little roadster engineered to straighten the most severe of corners. Did I strictly maintain the posted limit? No clue; I was far too engaged whipping the steering wheel from right to left and back as I took curve after curve dodging plodding minivans and avoiding struggling 18 wheelers.

A commitment in Greenville prevented my setting sail until early afternoon on Saturday, but I still reached my destination well before the ribeyes came off the grill. My next-day's travel continued west on I-40 for roughly 150 miles to Nashville and then south 20-or-so miles to Franklin.

Nissan hosted us at the Marriott Hotel near its headquarters. Typically, carmakers put us up at staggeringly exclusive hotels and resorts for events, but this event was anything but typical. Up at oh-dark-thirty on Monday morning and loaded two by two into Nissan Titans, we drove to the Habitat build site in Antioch, TN for breakfast and a briefing on the what to expect for the day.

We started with a blank slab at 9 a.m.
And finished here at 4 p.m.
I embarked on this event expecting the media to contribute little in the way of actual construction work. Again, this is a group of people unfamiliar with fetching their own breakfast coffee on carmaker events. The idea of us carrying, hammering, sawing and climbing ladders simply did not compute. Boy, was I ever off the mark. After handing out hardhats, work gloves, nail aprons and pencils, a half-dozen building supervisors divvied us up into teams.

As the first wave of media, we faced a bare concrete slab. We worked for three hours, beginning at 9 a.m., broke for an hour's lunch and then worked three hours before quitting and heading back to the hotel. In six hours we erected all of the interior and exterior walls, as well as setting one of the roof trusses in place.

Nissan's plan was for media to arrive on the first day, work the second day and fly home on the third. A buddy and I requested that we be able to stay an extra day. We wanted to contribute more than one day's work, but we also wanted some time to shoot video, interview Habitat people and so forth. That wasn't the only part of the schedule where we went off the reservation.

Vince Gil on the right playing with The Time Jumpers.
Nearly every Monday Night, the Western swing group The Time Jumpers, including the amazing Vince Gill, perform at a joint just off Nashville's Broadway called 3rd & Lindsley. Two of us sneaked off with one of the Nissan PR people and his wife for the evening that finished up there. What a night!

Joining the second media wave, we returned to the build site the next morning. I contributed work all morning, but at the lunch break, I shifted into video mode. Knocking out three just3things videos, I finished in time to put in a little more work before heading back to the hotel.

Here's what you need to know about Habitat for Humanity: Volunteering is more fun than it is work. Yes, it's several hours of real labor, but the supervisors are more like teachers than task masters. I do a lot of remodeling around my house, but I still learned some things working with these experts. It was as fulfilling a two days as I've ever spent.

I popped out of bed early Wednesday morning, ate breakfast with a couple of pals and then pointed the 124 Spider toward home. My
The finished product!
test 124 didn't have a navi unit; so, I used Google Maps to call out directions. Rather than routing me back through Nashville, Knoxville and Asheville, it took me through Chattanooga and Atlanta. It's about 15 miles longer that way, but it was a change of scenery....well, at least until I arrived in Atlanta. I slug my way between Greenville and Atlanta on a regular basis.

Basically, though, I drove about 750 miles with the top dropped. I crammed a lot of activity into five days; however, it left me smiling.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Laboring During the Labor Day Weekend: This Just Isn't Right!

My upstairs bathroom at the start of the renovation.
I'm not the kind of guy who goes out of his way to labor during Labor Day weekend, but I made an exception this weekend. Any halfway-regular reader of this blog knows I don't go out of my way to labor at any time. I used to say work interfered with my social life. That, of course, was when I had a social life. Now I have to face the fact that I'm just lazy. Even without a social life to speak of, I still don't like working.

Several things are competing for my time. I have several videos for just3things that require editing and uploading. Autotrader assigned a story due the morning after Labor Day. A deadline and a pay check are compelling motivators. I wrote the story on Saturday and submitted it Sunday morning. 

Here it is with most of the demo done and the new water lines in.
Finally, my upstairs-bathroom remodel continues to drag on my bank account and time. As with every undertaking in this 60-year-old house requiring anything more than a screw driver, this project is punctuated with skyrocketing costs and much greater demands on my time than I budgeted. My goal was to have the room functioning – not finished, but functioning – by the Saturday evening before Labor Day. Ha! I crack myself up. Not only is it not functional, the new commode and vanity are resting undisturbed in the upstairs spare bedroom. 

What it looks like now.
I did lay the new flooring last week. This took longer than I anticipated, but I can chalk that up to never having laid a floor before. It's only vinyl tile, but it did require a lot of measuring and cutting. It's done, and I'm fairly pleased with the results, in spite of it being a half a step up the quality ladder from linoleum. Because of the neighborhood in which I live, there's not point in investing big bucks in the flooring. Anyone who buys this joint isn't going to pay a premium for ceramic tile. Since my goal is to sell this place in the next year or so, I measure everything by the return I calculate I will get when I sell it. I'm not going to spend money on which there will be little or no return.

What got me off the dime to begin this project in earnest was visiting the Home Depot down the street from me a couple of weeks ago. It happened to be inventory day. Whenever I'm in a home-improvement store with a little time to kill, I wander around, dreaming. Yes, I know, I used to dream about sex; now, my fantasies revolve around paint colors and power tools. It's hell getting older! I headed down the bathroom-vanity aisle and discovered a 48-inch vanity top no longer on the store's books that the inventory had uncovered like some ancient-Egyptian archaeological find. It had just been marked down from $239 to $57. Dashing back to the front of the store, I grabbed a double-tiered cart and headed back to the vanity aisle. Fortunately, Honda had dropped off a new Ridgeline pickup for my driving pleasure that week.

At this point I had a vanity top in search of a bathroom remodel. The stage was set, the die cast: I had no choice, but to forge ahead. About $1,200, two trips to the dump, 11 trips to assorted home-improvement stores and 30 hours of work later, I still don't see light at the end of the tunnel. I will be gone 18 or so days in September; I don't anticipate making much headway this month. Did I mention that my other bathroom is also under construction. Yep, I'm redoing some of the drywall around the shower. For the time being, I am showering in the upstairs bath and doing everything else in the downstairs one.

The downstairs-bath project is child's play and won't require more than a few hours to complete. I just haven't gotten back to it, well, because I just haven't felt like it. No doubt it will require someone wanting to come visit to get me off my duff to finish that project and then paint the room. Here again, no social life. Who in the hell wants to visit me? I think I'm safe.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

I Really Hate Covering the Same Ground Twice!


I'm not the kind of guy who welcomes covering the same ground twice. It runs counter to my nature. I am such a slacker at heart, I can barely stand to do something the first time; let alone, go back and do it again.

This goes double for sending off an e-mail to an editor to make a correction in a story that I've already filed or, heaven forbid, one that has already posted. I found myself doing that twice in the past week with two different first-drive reviews that I had to knock out over a 36 -hour period. It's even worse when the error is pointed out to me by the carmaker, as one of my recent errors was. Ouch.

One of the best things about writing for dot-coms is that errors are easily fixed. It doesn't alleviate the embarrassment; but it does mean that, if caught in time, most readers will never be aware of the initial foul up. Unlike print media where the error remains for eternity, only mildly mitigated by a correction in the next issue, online mistakes can be erased. It's still not fun to go hat in hand to an editor bearing the evidence that you are an idiot. Not to mention, it's wasting time that shouldn't have been wasted.

I hate covering the same ground twice.

In that vein, here's a bit of advice: Don't turn 65 if you can avoid it. Here endith the lesson for the day.

Sprinkled within my parade of personal and business trips the past six weeks – and there have been a bunch of them – were all-too-brief periods at home during which I was faced with addressing all the nonsense involved in turning 65, which I will officially do this Sunday. Gasp!

My dad died at age 52 and my mother at 55. Those who know me are aware that I always believed I'd be dead by age 60. Had I known what a pain in the ass it would be to turn 65, I might have worked harder to make that age-60 end date a reality.

At the top of the turning-65-BS-hit list is making the transition from Obamacare to Medicare. I didn't want to participate in Obamacare to begin with. In fact, I didn't its first year, opting instead to pay the $95-or-so fine – and yes my civics-challenged friends it's a fine and not a tax – rather than be just another leech on the butt cheek of society. However, when that fine grew to more than my piddly income dictated I would have to pay in premiums, sadly, I capitulated.

Because I did the math and decided the best way to maximize my Social Security benefits over the long haul was to begin accepting payments at age 62, I didn't have the choice as to exactly which month Medicare would kick in. Without wading too far into the weeds, anyone not already accepting SS benefits at age 65, has a four or five month window in which to sign up for Medicare. Those already accepting SS benefits when they turn 65 are automatically signed up for Parts A & B in their birthday month.

See, you've learned something else today.

Once I was aware that that the Feds were going to enroll me in Medicare this month, I had to take some action. I had a small three-day window the end of July to meet with an independent insurance agent to discuss my Medicare options. There is a lot to digest in this arena.

I met with Marvin Carter of the Carter Agency in Mauldin, SC on the Thursday morning of July 21st. Marvin gave me the basic 411 on my options using an automotive metaphor. Yes, he dumbed it down for me. He sent me home with a hearty handshake and an armload of research materials.

I occupied myself through most of Friday pouring through my Medicare homework and considering my options. Having come to a decision, mid afternoon I called Marvin. I had already discussed with him my jammed-up schedule that had me flying out to a Nissan program on Sunday that was backed against a personal trip to see my family in New Mexico that carried me through the end of the month. He volunteered his wife Bonnie to come in on Saturday morning to meet with me and sign all the paperwork.

The issue was an appointment with Doc Budelmann, scheduled five months earlier that was to take place on August 19th. I wanted to have all my ducks in a row, so to speak, so there weren't any insurance issues in paying for that visit.

Sometimes I make myself laugh.

Then began my quest to cancel my Obamacare policy. What a shit show. I won't bore you with the details of this fool's errand, but it required nearly two weeks to finally determine the agency responsible for processing my cancellation request. Any sane person would think that it's the insurance provider carrying your policy, right? Wrong. Nope. You've got to go the Obamacare exchange. Because it's government, and that this government agency has to sift through the layers and finally notify the insurance provider, my Obamacare policy remains in effect until August 30th.

“So what?” you ask. So what, indeed.

My gut told me to postpone my doctor's appointment until September when all of this would be resolved, but I pressed ahead anyway. Arriving at the doctor's office, my shiny, new Humana Medicare Advantage card in hand, I explained to the doctor's assistant that I was changing insurance providers. After clicking away on her laptop for a while, she reported that both insurance providers were listed as my primary insurance and I needed to choose between them. Despite having to fork over a $15 copay with the Medicare insurance – office visits were free with my Obamacare policy – I opted for Medicare.

Once I got into see the doc, we agreed I would have a couple of tests Medicare requires, as well as a couple of immunizations that Medicare pays for in full. As I cooled my heels waiting to get into the in-house lab to have blood drawn, the doc's assistant tracked me down to double check on my insurance-provider decision. Totally confused, I hemmed and hawed for a few seconds. She said I could have the weekend to think about it. I was to call her on Monday.

Calling, I left a message on her voicemail that I would stick with Medicare. Thinking all was right with the world, I went my merry way. Later that day, I received a call from her that the insurance clerk at the office reported that she couldn't file the insurance-claim request with both insurance companies still designating themselves as my primary insurance. I had to go to my Obamacare provider and get them to designate themselves as my secondary insurer.

Knowing the carrier would just pass me off to the government, I called the Obamacare agency. A 15-minute phone call produced virtually no results. Although the person with whom I spoke was very accommodating, the long and short of it is that they could make themselves the secondary insurer, but it would require about two weeks. Let's see, it's August 23rd and the policy was already scheduled to officially cancel on the 30th....carry the one.... So what good would that do me?

Calling back the doc's office I explained the time issue and offered that if the insurance clerk simply waited until September 1st to file the claim, there (fingers crossed) shouldn't be an issue. Three days later I haven't heard anything more about it. I have no clue if the problem is solved. If not, round three.

Did I mention I hate covering the same ground twice. I really hate it a third time!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A July I Barely Remember, But Then I'm Old



I'm not the kind of guy who whines about the little things. Well, as a rule I'm not. Of course as the number of years in the rearview mirror continue piling up as those in the future dwindle, things that were relatively insignificant in my thirties are now front-page news in my sixties. Even minor setbacks are viewed through my short-timer's filter.

Yep, there's something about mortality slapping one in the face that makes those little things we used to claim not sweating now cause a flood of perspiration. I just don't believe I have the time to bounce back. I'd probably write more about this, but I can't remember why I started complaining about age in the first place. Forgetting things is one of the “little things” I didn't used to sweat, but now see as evidence that I'm doing some sort of slip-sliding into senility.

I have no clue why I detoured into that pseudo rant on aging other than I'm currently overcome with all the horse hockey involved with turning 65, which I will do the end of this month. It's just extra stuff I must address at at time when I am swamped with other things – most of which I'd much rather be doing.

As only the third Clanging Bell I've written in the past 45 days or so, I have a lot to catch up on. So, without further ado.....

Away roughly 26 days during July, I have fallen woefully behind not only in creating these blog posts, but in writing car reviews for GreenvilleInsider, as well as writing other entries for what was just a year ago, my main focus. That was before Autotrader really cranked up my assignments, Bankrate found me again for some of its automotive and I embarked on my latest Internet endeavor: just3things.com.

Nothing like sunset in The Keys.

First, let's talk travels. I was in The Keys twice, three times if you count the three days I spent with Honda for the media launch of the 2017 Accord Hybrid in Napa Valley in the middle of my first Keys visit. In actual days spent in this wonderful island-like setting, it was about 10 give or take half a day.

Honda Accord Hybrid.
I made that second Keys trip because, well, see paragraph 2 above. I don't go much of anywhere any more that I don't shoot at least one video for just3things. (Yes, there is a lot of gratuitous plugging of just3things in this post.) I had two videos in mind for the Keys visit. I even had made an appointment to shoot one of them at the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon. As I was getting ready to head to that interview, I gathered my gear and prepared to check the batteries in my camera and wireless mic.

I should preface this anecdote by telling you that I had already called home to one of my Greenville friends to go to my house, find the lens for my Sony still camera and overnight it to me. Yep. I forgot it. Well, I didn't forget it, exactly. I keep all my cameras and accessories in black padded, drawstring bags. I have a total of maybe seven of them. I threw what I thought was the lens to my camera into my carry-on backpack. It turned out to be my still camera's mic and flash instead. My lens arrived on day 2 of my Keys stay.

Capt. Tim grilling up some burgers on his boat.
So, I'm putting together my gear for the Sea Turtle shoot when I discover that I don't have my video camera. Rather than bringing the video camera, I packed the long zoom lens for my still camera. They are in the same size bag and are approximately the same size. I had judiciously separated the bags I wanted to bring from the ones I didn't want. I must have diverted my attention from that task to some other packing issue. When I returned to pack camera gear, I scooped up all the stuff I wanted to leave at home and tossed it in my backpack. I couldn't shoot a single video.

So, I went back to the Keys to pick up the videos I missed on the first run. 


Me partaking of the Bee Experience at the Carmel Valley Ranch resort on the Nissan event.

In between my Keys visits, I went to Carmel, Calif. for a Nissan media intro of its 2017 Armada, Pathfinder and Titan. A fun, action-packed trip, it yielded four videos and three Autotrader assignments. It was three days well spent.

I had to red-eye back from the airport in San Jose, Calif. to Atlanta. Arriving in Atlanta at 5:30 a.m., I sprang for the $29 for a day pass to Delta's Sky Club. I needed a comfortable chair, as well as some free food and drink. Oh, and the free WiFi didn't hurt either. I hung out watching a few episodes of NCIS that I am currently binge watching and drinking decaf coffee with Bailey's. About 11:30, I boarded a flight for Albuquerque for my brother-in-law's 80th birthday celebration. I arrived there on Wednesday July 27th and flew home on Monday August 1st.

I had a day and a half at home, during which I wrote an assignment for Autotrader, petted the cat and took stock of what a wreck my house was. I hadn't mowed the dirt in five or six weeks, but there had been so little rain, even the weeds that comprise the 80 percent of my lawn that does have something actually growing on it hadn't grown.

On August 3rd, I headed back to the Keys for five more glorious days. Had I a crystal ball, I would have realized a couple of days before this trip that the flying part of it would be an exercise in self control. The night before I was to leave, I mis-set my alarm. For my 6:30 a.m. flight I needed to be up by 4:00 and in my car by 5:00. Please see paragraph 2 above.

I went to bed concentrating on my 5 a.m. departure and set my alarm for, um, 5 a.m. I have a little fat built into my departure times. I skipped my shower and was in my car by 5:15. It's a 10- to 15-min slog to the airport. I always park in the economy lot, but to find a space and then schlep up the hill to the terminal is usually about 20 min. Instead I parked in the close-up parking garage. I managed to check my bag, pass through security and arrive at my gate just as boarding began. I somehow made my flight!

I landed in West Palm Beach around noon on Wednesday. Nissan had a new 370 Z roadster waiting for me. I had time to grab some lunch before my appointment with the Highland Beach Sea Turtle Rangers. I shot that video and was on the road to The Keys by 5:30. Despite slugging my way through Ft. Lauderdale and Miami rush-hour traffic. I was in Islamorada by 8:30. My first stop was Hog Heaven to have a couple of beers with my buddy Capt. Tim. 

Yucking it up at the Islamorada Brewing Company
 I was on the road to Key West by 8:30 the next morning to shoot a just3things video with the Dolphin Whisperer. I met Captain Victoria while on a Keys Tourism press junket four or so years ago. I was there for AAA. The six of us on the event spent an afternoon on her boat. It was a magical experience. I really didn't have a hope she would remember me as I made preparations to contact her. My first step was to go to her Dancing Dolphin Spirits Tours Website. To my surprise, the first sentence on the home page mentioned me by name. Wow, who woulda thunk it?

I was back in Islamorada by 3 p.m. I shot standups for that interview and another I had shot of the Mazda CX-9 a few weeks earlier in San Francisco. I shot that piece before I had a wireless mic that makes a huge difference in audio quality. The audio for the interview itself wasn't terrible, but I was forced to shoot the standups on a street corner in downtown San Francisco. The audio was horrendous.

Here's all you need to know about spending some time in The Keys: It's an ideal spot to drink, boat and relax. I devoted a lot of time to all three.

My trip home, however, was somewhat challenging. First, I forgot (see paragraph 2 above) that I had booked my flights home on Tuesday rather than Monday as I usually do when returning from Florida. Had I not been so harried with all my travels and other concerns, I would have realized Delta hadn't contacted me to check in for my 7:35 a.m. 24 hours earlier. I showed up at the West Palm airport at about 6:15 a.m. on Monday to discover my flight wasn't until the next morning. It didn't really matter, that was the morning Delta's entire computer system crashed stranding passengers, planes and crews all over the place.

I headed back to the friends where I was staying, carried my bags back into the house and did a little work. I made the 10:45 a.m. showing of the latest Star Trek movie in 3D. This was the best exhibition of 3D that I've ever experienced.

My travel day on Tuesday still suffered from the Delta snafu. Arriving at West Palm's airport at 6 a.m., expecting to be faced with long lines and mass confusion, I stepped into the Sky Priority line at the ticket counter. It was manned by my buddy Tony, who was a Skycap at the time I was flying out of West Palm four or five times a month with video crews. He would check the flight manifests of all the flights on his shift looking for regulars. When we pulled up to the curb, he would step away from whomever he was helping and come help us. His tips put a serious dent in my expense account. 



Tony did what he could to get me back to Greenville, but by the time I landed in Atlanta four hours behind schedule, the flight he backed me up on was canceled. I spent nearly six hours in Atlanta trying to get home. I finally scored a standby spot on what was probably the last flight home that night. What a circus. My euphoria at actually getting home was soon dampened when I paid for my airport parking. Remember when I had to park in the garage because I mis-set my alarm. I was hit with a $98 parking tab rather than the $24 I would have paid for parking in the economy lot. Are you kidding me? That was a very expensive goof up.

The following day Delta sent an e-mail notifying me that it was depositing a $200 voucher good toward a ticket into my account. The day after that, it notified me that it was depositing 20,000 miles into my Sky Miles account. I purchased my round-trip ticket to West Palm for 19,000 miles. So, I walked away with the $200 voucher and an extra 1,000 miles. I thought I was doing pretty well until I spoke with a colleague who scored a $1,000 voucher for less of a wait than I had.

Oh well....I'll probably forget all about it anyway.

And as far as just3things.com goes, the Website developer who is working on it has fallen mute on where we stand. Accessible, it currently has very little content. I am the one tasked with adding content, but can't do it until the developer sends me the instructions. So, it's just sitting there.

I leave tomorrow for a Kia event in Virginia. At least, I think it's tomorrow. Maybe I should double check.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

When Is a Vacation Not Really a Vacation?

Just another brilliant Keys sunset..

I'm not the kind of guy who grumbles about either vacationing or partying, but my current run of vacation days is beginning to take its toll.

I'm sitting in my sister's kitchen in Los Lunas, NM with my laptop squeezed into a small section of the table, as she is utilizing some of the table in crafting my brother-in-law's birthday cake. I'm not particularly creative when not spread out in my own office with the use of the twin monitors there to write, or edit photos and videos. For the record, I simply don't like to work on the road.

I have been in pseudo-vacation mode since I stepped on my flight for West Palm Beach on July 6th. It it now July 31st and I don't return home until tomorrow, Aug 1st. Granted, that's a long time when you are a freelancer who makes money only when he is actually producing something. There are no paid holidays nor vacations. Work I miss while goofing off is simply work lost forever. Money I will not make nor ever recover.

I was home for four days between my stay in the Keys and heading to New Mexico for my brother-in-law's 80th birthday. My Autotrader editor was kind enough to allow me to do several assignments before I left and to cram three more into that little stint at home. During my New Mexico stay, I did have to knock out a couple of assignments. Getting my head around them took a little doing, but I finished and submitted them.
2017 Honda Accord Hybrid.

In the middle of my time in the Keys, I drove up to Ft. Lauderdale, caught a flight and flew to San Francisco to cover the media first drive of the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid in Napa for Autotrader. That two-night, three-day bite out of my Keys vacation hurt, but it did inspire me to book tickets to go back down for the first weekend in August.

Before heading to New Mexico, I made a little detour to Monterey, Calif for a Nissan three-day media event for the 2017 versions of the Armada, Titan and Pathfinder. Historically, such trips didn't involve me doing much more than showing up, eating and drinking my fair share, and then driving whatever vehicle or vehicles were featured. Now that I am consistently collecting content for my video project, I have to actually work on these events. 

Getting the 411 on the 2017 Nissan Titan.

While neck deep in all of this, I have also been working with my Website developer on the just3thingsvideo.com Website. He assures me it will be ready for me to add content before Aug 1st. I'll only have a day and a half at home before heading back to South Florida. As of now, I don't have anything deadlining that I need to do in that 36-hour period, but never say, never. That may provide a little time to add some content to j3tvideo, but maybe not.

Of course, I click over the 65-year mark in August. That entails addressing all manner of issues. For the most part, I have Social Security all squared away; although, I do still have an issue there that I will need to eventually handle. I did meet with an independent insurance agent to help me navigate Medicare. Glad to say that's resolved, at least for the time being.

I also have a small pension from my almost eight-year stint at The Boca Raton News that is being administered by McClatchy Publishing. It purchased Knight-Ridder's pension liability when it bought most of the KR's assets. They thought I was dead – not kidding here – when I contacted them six months ago regarding some income records I need for my unresolved issue with Social Security. I received the paperwork for my pension from them just before leaving for my Nissan/NM trip. I must take care of that during my short home stay.

Part of the collateral damage from my nearly month-long absence from home is my ever-expanding waistline. I'm sure Doc Budelmann isn't going to be happy with me when I waddle into his office for my scheduled appointment in mid August. I've only managed to visit the gym three times in as many weeks. In the meantime, I've been eating and drinking like they award gold medals for it. I fully expect a stern talking to that will include some finger wagging when I next see the doc.

This is only my second Clanging Bell post in a month and, other than updating the Greenville Drive's monthly home schedule, I haven't hit a lick on GreenvilleInsider during that same period. I also have five assignments from Bankrate piled up in my to-do box. Ugh.

The bottom line is that I'm busier now than I have been in years. Not complaining, mind you; but I haven't quite been able to relax much during my 30-day goof-off period. The price of success, I guess.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Successfully Doing Nothing in the Florida Keys

Dinner at the OV (Oceanview) our first night in the Keys.

I'm not the kind of guy who vacations halfheartedly. I'm in the Florida Keys – Islamorada to be exact – and I'm totally focused on doing nothing. Despite using valuable tanning and beer-drinking time to knock out this half-assed blog post, my mind simply is not in creativity mode.

This is my third year to spend a week – give or take a couple of days – with friends who rent a condo for a month on the beach in Islamorada. My liver doesn't look forward to this annual getaway with the same enthusiasm I do, but sacrifices must be made. Right? Right!

The trip was off to a rocky start when I arrived in Delray Beach at the front end of this trip and discovered I had left the lens to my Sony camera on the side table in my kitchen in Greenville. I have all manner of still-camera and video camera gear in neoprene pouches of various sizes. I didn't double check the pouch I tossed into my backpack, believing it contained the lens, but instead, held a small mic and flash that I rarely use.
Sunset at Lorelei on our second evening.

Last year my still camera stopped working on the first day of the Keys portion of the trip and I had to buy a replacement. I was never happier to have Amazon Prime. But, I was again faced with going into a multi-day Keys stay with only my cell-phone camera. Not acceptable.

After quickly investigating and rejecting the idea of renting a lens, I also looked at used ones on eBay. Nope. I just spent more than $500 on a long zoom, that I intentionally left at home, for this camera on eBay, and I'm not interested in spending a pile of cash on a lens I already have.

Although I'm not keen on involving other people in rescuing me when I goof up, my back was to the wall. I picked up my cell and called my pal Natalie. Her family lives five minutes from me and I knew it wouldn't be too big a deal to go to my house and retrieve it, but then I would have to ask her to overnight it to me. In short, you can thank her for the sunset photos I've been posting on Facebook.

Captain Tim grilling burgers for lunch on his boat.

Unlike previous years, we don't have a boat on this trip – at least not so far. The trailer hitch on my friends' Hummer was destroyed in a freak rear-end accident last week and won't be fixed until sometime this week. No hitch, no Hummer, no Hummer, no boat.

We have other friends who rent a place nearby for the same month. They, happily, do have their boat with them. We've been hitching rides on their boat. This year they also brought a float that's positively huge. It even has a soaker pool. Nice.

The Cadillac of floats.

Motivated by Facebook posts containing references or photos of Corona and Miller Lite beer cans, my craft-beer friends have been unloading on me as if the photos caught me clubbing a baby seal. To them I say, Get a Grip. I'm a when-in-Rome sort of guy. I'm not belly up to a bar somewhere sipping on two or three craft beers, I'm hanging on a boat or poolside slamming back a dozen beers. I can quaff a dozen Coronas over eight hours, but no way can I do that with a peanut-butter stout.

In M.E.A.T. with pals having one of the rare craft beers on this trip.

What was to be 10 uninterrupted days of intense Keys training now contains a 2-day jaunt to Napa for a Honda Accord Hybrid event. I wouldn't have made this detour on my own, but Autotrader asked me to cover it for them. As a freelancer, I never turn down an assignment if I can accommodate it in any way. So, on Tuesday evening I'll drive up to Ft. Lauderdale, spend the night in one of the airport hotels, fly to San Francisco on Wednesday morning, drive the Accord on Thursday, red-eye back to Ft Lauderdale Thursday night, and be back in Islamorada for lunch on Friday.

To be honest, my liver will be doing the happy dance over this beer intermission. So will my wallet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Bay Watching the 2016 Mazda CX-9


I'm not the kind of guy who looks a gift horse in the mouth. (For you children out there, the term “looking a gift horse in the mouth” came from a time when horse buying and trading was as common among the public as the commerce in used cars is today. One element of the process for the potential horse buyer was to attempt to gauge the steed's health by inspecting its teeth and gums. Back then, it was considered bad form, when given a horse as a gift, to check its mouth.)

In any event, when Mazda invited me – well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Mazda didn't invite me; it invited Autotrader, and Autotrader sent me – to the media launch of its redesigned 2016 CX-9 three-row crossover in May, I refrained from bellyaching about my general dislike of San Francisco, where Mazda staged the event. I simply wasn't going to turn down the assignment because it was in a city I don't much like. In other words, I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Nope, I dawned my game face, researched craft breweries near the Hotel Vitale – the host accommodation for the event – on the Embarcadero, packed a bag, gritted my teeth and headed to the left coast. 

Hotel Vitale.
 Located on Mission Street, basically overlooking the Bay, the Hotel Vitale is well situated for tourists and sightseers. My craft-brewery search netted nearly a dozen beer makers or brew pubs within three miles of the hotel. Several didn't open until mid or late afternoon; I crossed those off my list. I settled on the 21st Amendment Brewery that Mapquest pegged as just one mile – give or take a couple of blocks – from our lodging.

Uber is my go-to rental transportation when away from home. I'm a fan and have never been disappointed with its service. Using my trusty smartphone app, I checked on the estimated pick-up time and rate for my one-mile brewery excursion. I wasn't so put off by the estimated 10-minute arrival of a car – abnormally long for Uber – as I was by the $12 estimated fare. Are you kidding me? Really, $12 to be taken one mile! I could have probably talked one of the hotel's bellmen into piggybacking me there for $20.

I have a good buddy living in Northern California who complained to me of being similarly scammed by Uber one night in San Francisco, dinged by a comparatively outrageous rate, which he neglected to check before summoning the car. I just filed my experience away in the simply-another-reason-to-avoid-San Francisco folder in my head. Using my smartphone GPS, I set out walking to my destination. After spending nearly five hours scrunched into a plane seat, I needed to stretch my legs anyway. 


Parched from my mile-long stroll to the 21st Amendment Brewery, I heaved myself onto a bar stool and ordered a refreshing Enjoy Porter. On my hike back, I took a small detour to grab a pint of Nitro Porter at the Thirsty Bear Brewery on Howard Street. Hmmm, this whole San Francisco thing isn't so bad after all, I thought. Two or three more beers and I would have penned a sloppy love note to the Chamber of Commerce.

Our immersion into all things CX-9 commenced at 8 a.m the next morning, when we departed the hotel to the product presentation and jump-off spot for the ride and drive. Mazda gave us our first exposure to its largest crossover with our airport pick up on day one. As I stretched out in the comfortable second-row seat during the 25-minute trip to our hotel, I was able to not only appreciate the excellent legroom, but also take in the upscale look and feel of the cabin in general. 


Mazda shoved the latest iteration of the CX-9 up market. Its top-of-the-heap Signature grade actually elbows its way into the near-luxury segment. There is an abundance of quality materials and craftsmanship throughout.

To sit through a Mazda new-product presentation, one must be prepared to digest and keep up with a variety of Japanese terms, like Kodo and and Jinba Ittai, describing Mazda's approach to designing and engineering its cars and crossovers. I won't clog up the works here with definitions and examples of these philosophies, needless to say, though, they seem quite central to what makes Mazda tick.

Beyond the CX-9's well-designed and well-crafted cabin, here are three things you need to know: Mazda not only didn't replace the previous crossover's V6 with a newer V6, it abandoned the V6 entirely. With the CX-9 being the final product in its lineup to receive the full SKYACTIV treatment, Mazda went with a high-torque 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine. You won't hear much from Mazda about the engine's 250 horsepower, but its engineers are quick to bring up its 310 lb-ft of torque. Torque is what turns the wheels. Mazda wanted drivers to have a big reserve of power on call regardless of the engine's rpms. 


Second, opting for the i-Activ all-wheel drive system delivers, what CX-9 product folks describe as, almost intuitive performance. Using 27 different data channels already in play, the AWD anticipates front wheel spin -- instead of waiting for it to happen -- and transfers some power to the rear wheels before actually encountering any front-wheel slippage. Everything from the steering system to the windshield wipers are constantly mined for information indicating conditions are ripe for front-wheel slippage.

Third, the EPA recently recognized Mazda as the most fuel-efficient carmaker, and it doesn't even have a hybrid in its lineup. Again, this has much to do with its SKYACTIV technologies. In the CX-9, this translates into a government-estimated 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 25 mpg in combined driving.


Pricing begins at $31,520 and creeps up through the trim levels to $44,015 for the top-of-the-line Signature trim.

I guess if you are going to spend three days in San Francisco, gliding around in the totally redesigned Mazda CX-9 isn't a bad way to do it. And, the beer was pretty good, too.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Mazda CX-9: I'll Get Around to It, Eventually

Despite shooting video, I did manage to snap a photo or two on the Mazda CX-9 media launch.

I'm not the kind of guy to put off things indefinitely, but I am a slacker of the first order. There, I've said it. I have a stack of assorted stuff on the corner of my desk from the Mazda CX-9 media launch from which I returned on May 20, screaming at me to write up the event for Clanging Bell. Not to mention, the editor of MotorwayAmerica.com, that carries my auto-related Clanging Bell posts, has been hounding me as well. But I am totally unmotivated to set to work on it.

One issue is that I covered the event for Autotrader and wrote a “First Drive Review” on the CX-9 for it that posted a couple of weeks ago. This is going to feel a little like covering the same ground twice. I've also been fortunate the past 60 days to have had a ton of paying assignments. Unlike my personal-writing demands, I actually have set deadlines for most of my paying assignments, eliminating the luxury of procrastination. Simply put: They come first.

Add to the mix my weekly car review for my Website GreenvilleInsider.com that also posts to MyCarData.com, as well as some other places, and you have a perfect storm of writing demands that are swamping my meager creative vessel.

Then, of course, there is the video project I'm in the process of launching, to keep the boating/sea metaphor going. I am as excited about this project as anything I've undertaken in the past 15 or 20 years. I believe it has real legs.Consuming me in ways I didn't think were still possible, it is also making demands on my limited resources of time and money.

To date, I've probably shelled out around $1,500 for it, and have probably another $2,000 in expenses ahead of me. I am surprising myself with my degree of restraint in spending money on this project, but it won't take flight until I pony up at least another $1,500. In the meantime, I'm shooting and editing video. I've shot ten videos specifically for it and have edited half of those. I want 25 videos finished and in the can before going public. This will probably take me until summer's end.

My home renovation is at a standstill. A standstill!

I've always thought of myself as someone capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, but I may well have overrated myself. Here's why I think that. I suddenly realized that since I began shooting video, my photography has seriouslyt lapsed. This was driven home to me after returning from the Topless in Miami event last month. It's an annual convertible competition hosted by the Southern Automotive Media Association (SAMA) in Key Biscayne, Florida. 

Some of the FCA crew at Topless in Miami: This is representative of the photos I took at the event. Where are the cars?
Lucky enough to attend, I spent most of a day driving convertibles, as well as vehicles with panoramic sunroofs – some quite expensive. I managed to shoot three videos during this event. It wasn't until I returned home and downloaded my photos that I realized the only photo documentation I had was of the evening social activities. I had not snapped one photo of the cars nor the event itself. What! I then went back to the past three carmaker events I attended during which I also shot video and discovered I had damn few photos of those, as well.

See what I mean by “consumed?”

I intend to get a blog post out on the CX-9 later this week, but I'm sure you've heard about that road to Hell.....

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Well, We'll Always Have Nashville: A Boondoggle and a Half to the Music City


I'm not the kind of guy who dwells on the negative. And that's a good thing because, other than the horrendous traffic, there weren't any real negatives on which I could dwell during a recent boondoggle trip to Nashville with fraternity brothers.

If you speak to some of my friends out of my earshot, they may confess to you that I'm more of a glass-is-half-empty sort of guy. I don't think that's entirely true, but I'm no more likely to hold up a mirror to myself than anyone else. That's another way of saying I'm probably not very objective.

Trying to put on a happy face at Biscuit Love.
Nashville as the location for the most recent confab of a bunch of my Fiji fraternity brothers, who collect as a group to catch up and tell each other lies, wasn't really on our radar until six or so months before we descended on Music City. You could argue that I was the instigator behind Nashville as the destination. I love Nashville. First hatched on a visit with my Knoxville-residing fraternity brother, Hal, this trip took shape over the next few months as e-mails crisscrossed the country and we settled on dates, as well as destination.

You might think finding a fitting date would be one of the simpler aspects of planning such a trip, but you would be wrong. Unlike yours truly, some of these eight other guys have real jobs and responsibilities. They must actually plan vacations around the demands of their workload. I know, it makes no sense to me either, but that must be what it's like to be employed. As it turned out, even after a lot of back and forth about dates, one of the guys had to bail at the last minute because of a family emergency. 

Doing a little craft-beer sipping at Yazoo Brewery.
With the dates set, finding a four-night rental became the next hurdle. I had volunteered to oversee the logistics of this trip. But I cheated. Because Nissan's North American headquarters is in the Nashville area, I knew I could call on a few of my PR buddies there to provide some planning support. Having hosted a number of media events in Nashville, at one time or another, they have looked into every venue, restaurant and point of interest within 50 miles of the city. Delegate, delegate, delegate....

Although I knew my Nissan resources would step up with suggestions about where to eat, where to listen to music and so forth, I had to do the heavy lifting when it came to searching out a rental. We started out with nine guys and ultimately needed nine beds. It's one of those Venus-Mars things. Some women apparently feel comfortable sleeping two to a bed in a purely Platonic way. I can't speak for how gay men with no interest in one another feel about sharing a bed, but I can tell you straight guys would rather sleep on the roof rack of their car. Sharing bedrooms and bathrooms? No problemo. Sharing a bed? Not just, no, but hell no!

Listening to some music at Second Fiddle.
Of course, we wanted something close to Broadway's honky tonks. And, we wanted a place that wasn't going to set us back to the point the cost dipped into our beverage cash. Well, at least that was the reason I didn't want to spend a lot on lodging.

I searched airbnb.com and vrbo.com. Nine beds, close to Broadway, not too expensive: This was a taller order than anticipated. I finally found two possibilities. The more expensive one was about 3 miles. from downtown and the other about 7. Everyone seemed to be willing to pony up a little extra for the closer house. One of my braver brothers offered to act as treasurer of this aspect of the trip. Contacting the owner, he worked out a deposit and total price. Investment per person was about $330. He personally underwrote the returnable security deposit. This would have been a very dangerous undertaking 25 years ago, but with a bunch of 65-year olds, the only possible reason for the security deposit not to be returned would have been a clogged commode. 

Yeah, I'm not proud, but when in Rome.....
As the date approached, we coordinated flights and driving arrivals. A couple of us drove to Knoxville the day before our Wednesday kick-off day, spent the night with Hal and then drove the leg to Nashville together.

Nissan offered up one of its 12-passenger NV Passenger Vans for our use. This was an ideal transport for moving our group from place to place. It required a bit of time for me to get used to piloting it. Roughly a foot and a half longer than a Chevy Suburban and about as wide, it was a lot of vehicle to hopscotch through Nashville's crowded boulevards. The size was exacerbated by the fact I couldn't see out the rear windows to use the inside rearview mirror with the collection of bucket heads I had to ferry around, forcing me to rely on the huge outboard mirrors. 

The Nissan NV Passenger Van parked in front of our rental house.
I felt like Ralph Kramden as I weaved through the Interstate scrum. Otherwise, the NV was comfortable. Ours was the SL grade with a navigational system, dual-zone climate control, color touchscreen and rearview camera. Surprisingly, its 261-horsepower 4-liter V6 had more than enough grit to haul around this crew – there are a couple of pretty good-size boys in this group. A folding seatback on the fourth-row seat would have been helpful. The three rows of rear seats can be removed piecemeal, but none fold in any way. Upon picking up the three guys who flew in, we had to alley-oop the suitcases over seatbacks for the run to the house.


Nissan's offices are in Franklin, which is roughly 20 miles south of Nashville. One of my Nissan PR buddies offered to drive the van about halfway to Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville. We hooked up, had some terrific BBQ and took possession of the keys. After lunch, two of us headed off to make the airport pickups while the third took the vehicle we came in to buy some groceries. By 4 p.m. all of us, including the last two stragglers driving from Ohio, were gathered at the house.

As pleased as we were with the house itself, the neighborhood was a bit sketchy. Only a few blocks off of I-40, the first couple of blocks between the highway and the house were downright scary. The five of us heading in from the airport were apprehensive to say the least. Let's just say, it would have been easier to locate a crack dealer than a Starbucks. As we closed in on our rental, however, things improved...a little.

Just a little something to sip on in our spare time.
 Things were even better when we lined up all of our whiskeys on the kitchen counter and took stock. It was a fairly impressive and ambitious selection.

From this point forward this merry band will be known as "The Russ Heaps Group."
By the time all hands were on deck and everyone had sorted out who was sleeping where, we didn't have much time for happy hour. A few opened beers, which were consumed as we prepared for dinner. Nissan had arranged for us to attend the weekly live Music City Roots Webcast at The Factory in Franklin. A BBQ dinner was included. Nashville's Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant did the catering and the food was outstanding. 

Somebody gong this sorry SOB.
Four different acts comprised the musical entertainment once the Webcast began. Jim Lauderdale hosted the affair. Two of the groups were actually the same group that replaced one or two people between sets. Although the core of the group seemed talented enough, the front man for the first set – Marty Wilson-Piper – was some washed-up rocker whose claim to fame appeared to be having been booted from several 80's European rock bands that none of us had ever heard of. The selection of music was ridiculous. You'd get a better sound tossing an accordion down a flight of stairs. 

What a welcome relief Beat Root Revival was.
Round 2, featured many of the same players, sans Mr. 80's Rock, but now calling themselves HuDost. I suspect HuDost loosely translates to “Racket to Render Men Sterile.” Its singular claim to fame: It included a young lady guitarist – Christie Lenee – who, during a solo, played the guitar in ways I simply have never seen before. (Click here to see and hear it.) It was almost magical. You'd have to see and hear it to believe it. Half-way through the song, I was kicking myself for not videoing it with my phone. She was about the only bright spot in the first 40 minutes.

Christie Lenee.

Although things did get better, during the first song of the second set, the lead of this iteration of the band made sounds that would shatter a jelly jar. Within three miles of the place there wasn't a dog not howling nor a child not crying. I had to hold back one of my brothers, convinced that doing so would make them stop, from confessing to being the second shooter on the grassy knoll. Eventually they grew weary of vocally waterboarding us and got the hell off the stage. 

The Vietti Chili singers.
Somewhere in the mass hysteria before the third group took the stage, the second-best burst of talent was a guy and two gals singing a jingle for Vietti Chili. It, as it turns out, is one of the sponsors of this Webcast along with Nissan and a couple of other products. I was waiting for someone to pop on stage and begin singing and yodeling about Altima, but, alas, it didn't happen. I'll need to have a word with Nissan's marketing squad. They are missing the boat.

Gabe Dixon knocking it out.
The music and talent took a 180-degree turn for the better when the final two groups arrived. Outrageously good, Beat Root Revival was composed of Brit Ben Jones and Irish Adrea Magee. A couple of guys in our group liked them well enough to purchase their CDs. I downloaded one of their songs upon returning to Greenville. They were followed by an amazing song writer and piano player Gabe Dixon. We all but forgot the teeth-gritting chaos of the first 40 minutes. When Dixon completed his set, all the performers, including Lauderdale, gathered on stage and jammed. That in itself was worth the admission price.

Much ado about nothing.
Our first night passed without incident. Now we were faced with our toughest decision yet: Where to eat breakfast? Somewhere along the line a restaurant called Biscuit Love was suggested for morning vittles. Whether on the Internet or in magazine/newspaper reviews, it was two thumbs up all around for Biscuit Love. We decided everyone couldn't be wrong and took the plunge. Guess what? Everyone can be wrong. Suzuki would still be selling cars in this country if it had had the talent hustling its brand that Biscuit Love apparently has. Located in a trendy area referred to as The Gulch, Biscuit Love is a marketing phenom. 

Don't ask....
Upon arriving at this glorified urban Cracker Barrel at close to 10 a.m., we were met with a 45-minute wait and a line composed of wannabe hipsters and duped tourists winding down the stairs and up the sidewalk. We joined these other fools in line and began shuffling forward. Once in the door, we had to pass by a table brimming over with Biscuit Love-branded kitchen accessories. Had we been so inclined and stupid rich, we could have ponied up $20 for a set of four measuring spoons, $25 for a rolling pin, $27 for a dish towel or $160 for a 10-inch iron skillet. Hey, where's the $30 egg separator?

We placed our order and then searched for a table. Remarkably, we found two four-tops next to one another that we pushed together. Our meals arrived. Other than the Bonuts, some sort of stuffed fried biscuit concoction, which everyone but me in our group raved about, and the Chronic Bacon that even I had to admit was good, everything else was either very mediocre or downright disappointing. 

Attempting to stay warm outside the Sky Blue Cafe.
Breakfast the next two mornings was much, much better. The second morning we decided that because we liked the Puckett's food at The Factory our first night, we'd give its breakfast a try. Our efforts were rewarded with a well-stocked breakfast buffet that was wonderful. Saturday morning we followed another suggestion to the Sky Blue Cafe in East Nashville. The weather had turned a little bleak overnight. We found ourselves with a 35-minute wait that we had to endure stomping our feet to stay warm as we huddled in a nearby doorway hoping for our names to be called. A couple of the guys wandered across the street to a flea market where they offered to buy the coats off the backs of a couple of vendors. After eating, though, we all agreed that knowing how good it was, we would have waited another 30 minutes. Maybe the best breakfast I've ever had.

Funky, indeed.
We filled our days with sightseeing, listening to live music and drinking the occasional beer. Well, maybe more often than occasional. We toured the funky Lane Motor Museum. One afternoon we boarded the hop-on-hop-off Old Town Trolley Tour. We stepped off the trolley three or four times as it wound around the city. 

Mugging it up at Billy's Idle Hour Tavern.
One of the stops was on Music Row where a score or more of music studios are located. The stop was in front of Bobby's Idle Hour Tavern. I dragged our crew off the trolley for a little local color and a much needed adult beverage. It was us, the owner and a young-lady bartender with the obligatory collection of tattoos up and down her arms. What an unexpected hoot. 

The band playing at our Thursday dinner spot.
Friday night several of us made use of Uber and headed to Broadway. Winding up in Layla's, we met up with some of my Nissan pals. One of the bands performing was scheduled to play at Robert's Western World the following afternoon. Like a bunch of groupies, we made it a point to stop in and listen to a couple of sets.
Wasting away in Roberts during our last afternoon.
I lost complete control of the agenda when a few of the guys wanted to drift into a boot store and do a little shopping on Saturday afternoon. Hey, we're Fijis not Chi Omegas! One thing led to another and the first one of us decided to pull the trigger on a pair of Lucchese boots. A few of these guys are wheeler-dealers. As the clerk continued sweetening the pot with discounts as one after another chose a pair, another guy would get serious and begin trying on boots. When the dust had settled, five of them were at the register cashing in on a 40-percent discount. 

A 40-percent discount can move mountains.
I, of course, resisted this bit of mob hysteria. Besides, earlier that morning I had ordered a new video camcorder and had, as they say, shot my wad.

I had to pop out of bed at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning to make the first airport run. By 8:30 a.m. everybody was either at the airport or in a vehicle heading for home. I was able to drop the Nissan van at the airport when I delivered the last two guys to departures. 

Another craft brewery stop.
We had all been a little worried about trying to keep eight guys herded together and agreeing on where to go and what to do. Everyone compromised a little, participating in something (or things) he didn't really want to. It all worked out in the end.

What we did learn is that next to maybe Las Vegas and New Orleans, Nashville is America's favorite location for bachelorette parties. At night a platoon of bouncers is kept occupied tossing drunk female twenty-something pre-wedding partiers out of joints up and down Broadway.

I suspect the bride to be is in white.
In another six months, we'll need to begin thinking about the 2018 gathering. Not for college days alone.