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!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Little Keys Soul in the All-New Buick Cascada Convertible

I'm not the kind of guy who whines about taking a break from a workation to, well, do a little work. So, when Buick offered me a berth on its Cascada event in Key West, I dropped my paint roller, repacked my bag and headed to the Ft. Lauderdale airport.

I try to pick up a house-painting gig or two in Florida after the holidays each year. I like to paint. Most people don't. I pick up a few bucks, enjoy the warm sunshine – although not so much this year – and get to reconnect with Florida friends while freeing someone of the burden of putting a coat of paint on a room or two. It's a win, win, win, win, win.

Buick took a rather novel approach to this early showcasing of its all-new convertible. The four-night event was broken into two waves of two nights each. Buick then divided each wave into two groups of roughly a dozen or so media. On day 1, one group flew into Miami and the other into Key West. Day 2 had the Miami group driving south to Key West and the Key West group driving north to Miami. Both groups lunched together near their drive's midpoint in Islamorada, just north of Marathon. Each group reached its destination in time for dinner and a good night's sleep before flying home.
You can't go to the Keys without enjoying a sunset or two.
For the uninitiated, there isn't much in the way of steering required on most of this 170-mile slog. It's a straight line along US 1 for 125 miles from Key West to Florida City before picking up the Florida Turnpike extension for the final 50 miles or so to Miami's South Beach. You make more steering adjustments traveling through a car wash. Urban sprawl occupies much of the US 1 landscape. “Oh, look, another T-shirt shop!” The monotony of the string of bars, sea-shell shops and restaurants is periodically interrupted for some drop-dead gorgeous sights like the Seven Mile Bridge.

Believe me, hauling butt through the keys in a convertible is not a bad way to spend a January afternoon. Sometimes I love being me. I was lucky to be on the wave with decent weather. The wave earlier in the week had to choose between rolling with the top up and being toasty warm, or dropping the top and dressing like they were on their way to scale Mt. Everest. My wave had sun and temps in the high 60s.

Cascada (pronounced CASS-cah-dah) is Buick's first convertible in 25 years. It was well worth the wait. Amply insulated the top screens out most outside noise when in place. Raising or lowering it requires just the push of a button and 17 seconds-- a process that can be accomplished when the car is in motion at speeds up to 31 mph.

A head turner, Cascada is handsomely styled. At a mid-morning stop at Sombrero Beach near Marathon, our eight or ten cars were mobbed by passersby. Before we knew it, we were opening hoods, trunks and doors to give everyone a better look. A pair rode up on bicycles and each snapped the other's picture while sitting behind the wheel of my Buick.

Buick's intent was to build a halo car capable of attracting shoppers to Buick showrooms. Mission accomplished. Even at the reasonable starting price of $33,990, Buick doesn't expect Cascada to be a huge seller; but it will put the brand on people's radar. Buick created a humorous 3-minute video (Check it out here.) with “Bridesmaids” star Ellie Kemper that represents the way it expects this soft top to bring shoppers to the brand.

Buyers won't need to waste a lot of time dithering over content choices. There are only two grades: the entry-level “Standard” and the upscale $36,990 “Premium.” Basically, a few added safety technologies, like forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, front/rear park assist and rain-sensing wipers separate the two trims. There are also differences in their 20-inch wheels. Even in its Standard trim, this car is loaded with content, such as high-intensity discharge headlamps that follow the direction of the wheels, leather seating, a seven-inch color touchscreen, Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free, navigation system, Wi-Fi hotspot, remote start and dual-zone climate control.

Designed and engineered from the ground up as a convertible, Cascada has plenty of reinforced framing built in. It feels firm and stable over the road. A 200-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine flows power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. This isn't a sports car by any stretch of the imagination, but it is responsive and nimble.

Surprisingly roomy for a smaller convertible, the interior comfortably holds four adults. A unique power-sliding front-seat system moves the front buckets forward for easy backseat access. Sensors in the seat backs recognize the position of the rear-seat passenger's knees, automatically stopping a half inch or so from them when the front seats return to their original position.

Buick hosted us at the Casa Marina in Key West. This was the winter home of Henry Flagler, whose railroad basically put South Florida on the map. Situated about 15 blocks from Mallory Square, getting from the hotel to the action on Duval Street requires some mode of transportation. But once there, be prepared to party.
A squad of seagulls preparing to buzz diners at the beach-side tables.
Casa Marina has no shortage of personality. During my beach-side lunch at the hotel, various birds mounted a two-pronged offensive. Roosters wandered around my feet as seagulls – rats with wings – buzz bombed my table. A gull's wing actually smacked my head at one point. My fish and chips was delicious, but there was a bit too much ambiance for my taste.

On the other end of the drive, Buick put us up at The Edition Miami Beach on South Beach's Collins Avenue. It's fairly typical of South Beach hotels: lots of white paint and furniture. For dinner, Buick spirited us off site to Milo's where I had a terrific steak.

If there is a nit to pick with this car, it's its name. It's one of those names that isn't pronounced as it looks. Figuring Buick had to have a reason to pick something that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, I had to Bing its meaning: “waterfall” in Spanish. They probably told us the meaning and the reason it was chosen at the formal presentation, but I was concentrating so hard on writing out the phonetic spelling, so I could say it with some degree of accuracy, I missed whatever explanation was offered.

There is no question in my mind that Cascada will make its mark within the Buick lineup. Convertible choices are limited, and this one should get its fair share of that market. I'd be happy to drive it between Key West and South Beach any time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winter Blahs: I Ain't Got 'Em

I'm not the kind of guy who slips into a winter funk. I guess I just don't have time for that nonsense. Well, and I don't really deal with winter, and haven't for more than 30 years.

Every year after the Christmas holidays there are always stories about people who, looking forward and not seeing another real holiday until May's Memorial Day, are consumed with despair. Slogging through snow and ice as your nose goes numb only adds to the melancholy.

According to a Gallop Poll, in 2014, 70% of people hated their jobs. Man, if you've got to deal with winter weather to get to a job – if you are one of the ones fortunate enough to have a job – that you abhor, you probably define misery.

I made a promise to myself decades ago that I would never live north of the Mason-Dixon line again. And I haven't. My family moved from Ohio to Wheeling, WVa when I was the tender age of 10. Although I would move to another 11 cities in 9 different states before coming to rest in Greenville, SC forty years later, they were all located in the South and Southwest. Sure, other then the 25-plus years I spent in South Florida, and the 3 years I lived in West Texas and New Mexico, I resided in places that get cold and even have an occasional snow. Most winters, we have three to six inches in Greenville. But here's the kicker: Most winter-afternoon temperatures sneak into the 50s and the sky is sunny four out of five days. 

Nope. Winter weather has little impact on my attitude.

And as for my job....what job? Sure, this is a two-edge sword. While I don't make any money that I can count on, my time is pretty much my own. Rather than day dreaming in a stuffy cubicle in an office somewhere, I am sitting in my home office in my sweats typing this lame attempt at some prose. Would I rather be making money? You bet, but I do what I want when I want and I get weekends off. Sweet!

So, although my job – such as it is – may be found lacking in several areas, such as generating an actual income, it certainly doesn't inspire hate. I'm mean, really? Later this month I fly to Key West to drive the all-new Buick Cascada convertible and then head to the California coast to test out the redesigned Nissan Sentra. Woe is me; my life sucks.

To those laboring under the gloomy skies of the winter blahs, I'd like to say, I share your pain; but, of course, I don't. I may not have any money, but I am pretty damn pleased with myself.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

It's a New Day, Not a New Year

I'm not the kind of guy who gets all sappy over a new year. Perhaps it's because I've seen so many of them that the bloom is off the rose, so to speak. I don't make resolutions or wax on poetically about how great or bad or sad or meaningful the past year was. After all, a year is just time: 12 months, 52 weeks, 356 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes and 31,536,000 seconds. Tic-toc, tic-toc.....

Some years are more fun than others. Some more prosperous. Some more tragic. Some just plain tougher. But, it's almost always a mixed bag of some or all of the above.

Do I always hope for the new year to be better than the last? Sure. But because I have no one through whom to live vicariously as I get older – kids, grand kids and so forth – as I age, each successive year is pretty much as the last only I have fewer things to do, fewer people to share them with and less money to finance them.

In truth, if it wasn't for my career – winding down though it may be – as a freelance journalist that spirits me off to various locations two or three times a month, I'd be in a rut so deep I couldn't see over its top.

The consequence of all of this is that I don't get particularly revved up about New Year's Eve/Day. Yes, it's another year; but anyone who thinks it's a monumental fresh start of some sort, is kidding themselves. It's a turn of a page only to the extent that time marches on. There is no real magic in it. Days are equal-opportunity time frames. Every day is a new day offering a similar clean slate on which to improve your self and your lot in life. January 1st is no different.

I don't bother with New Year resolutions. Yes, I am captain of my own ship, but I have no control over the waters through which I sail. I can't calm the sea or raise the wind. Many people use the New Year as an annual opportunity for self reflection and that self reflection as a precursor to a pledge of self improvement over the course of the next year: I will lose weight, I will save more, I will be more kind and on and on. That's fine in my book, but time is funny. Most of us are procrastinators to some degree. This works against any intention to make a change over a time span as great as 31,536,000 seconds. These intentions – as good or noble as they may be – tend to get lost over the course of a year.

Nope, changing one's behavior is a day-to-day struggle, requiring a re-commitment every day. Framing change over the course of a year provides an out from fighting the good fight every day. There is always tomorrow, right? Each year has 364 tomorrows. Today is one, in fact.

I've found that enforcing a change in oneself is a battle that must be waged each and every day. Tomorrow is for losers.

On that note: Not Happy New Year, but happy new day!