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!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Dreaming the Impossible Dream: It's Time to Lose a Few Pounds

I'm not the kind of guy who obsesses about his weight. Take a look at recent photos of me and that becomes all too apparent. However, every few years I take stock of my girth, and come to the sad conclusion that I need to shift gears and peal off a pound or ten. One of those times is now.

I've gained about 15 pounds in as many months. It all began when I hyperextended my knee taking a poorly planned step off a ladder toward the end of my shed-building project a year ago this past December. Roughly two months passed before I tentatively reentered the gym. Returning my daily cardio workout to pre-injury levels required another two or three months. Moreover, that December was uncharacteristically busy with carmaker media events presenting endless opportunity to eat stuff I shouldn't eat and drink stuff I shouldn't drink. And that was just a ramp up to my holiday eating binge upon which I always embark when visiting my sister in New Mexico at Christmas. Cookies, homemade candy, home-baked bread and other once-a-year treats present an irresistible sirens' call to a weak-willed pushover like me. When my sister offers to make grilled-cheese-and-ham sandwiches for lunch, my response: “Why, yes, I'll take two, please!”

Always the diplomat, Doc Budelmann hasn't scolded me about my gains during my six-month visits, but he always mentions, with a raise of his eyebrows, that the pounds are building. Then there is a pregnant pause as if he expects me to either try and defend the increase or promise to do better, during which I avoid his gaze and ask about the diploma hanging on the exam room wall.

I have been in denial. Every few days I screw up the courage to look at my body in full profile in the mirror, suck in my gut and convince myself the extra weight will magically fall off if I simply think happy thoughts and steer clear of ice cream.

In the past couple of weeks, however, I've had to take a ride around the block on the reality bus: Damn cleaners shrunk my pants again! Yep, I've reached the point where I need to take action. And that action needs to be either moving up a pant size or dropping some poundage. I'm too cheap to buy new clothes; so.....

Now it's time to pay the piper, sleep in the bed I made or whichever cliché you want to trot out to describe my predicament.

Not all that long ago, I pretty much managed my weight with the gym. Put on five pounds over the holidays? A couple of weeks in the gym burned them off. Today, all the gym is good for is maintaining my current weight – whatever that total might be. If I splurge and gain a few pounds, 40 minutes of cardio a day won't take them off. I need to monitor my daily intake. Oh the humanity: That means a diet. Ugh.

In the eight or ten diets I've embarked upon over the years, only one was truly successful. I spent about three months in 2002 or 2003 on a low-carb diet and dropped about the same amount of weight I now find myself in need of losing. That was a tough row to hoe. As far as I'm concerned, life isn't worth living without pasta, fried rice and craft beer.

I made the decision to shift into diet mode as I was standing in the bar at the Hotel Emma in San Antonio's Pearl District waiting for the shuttle to take me to the airport after the Infiniti Q50/QX60 media event. I was hauling down massive gulps of Ballast Point Victory at Sea porter in a courageous attempt to kill the 22-ounce bottle in the 15 minutes before the shuttle's departure. I wasn't entirely successful, but hope to do better with the diet that will begin in earnest after the upcoming Kia Sportage media event in San Diego: home of Ballast Point and Belching Beaver breweries. I mean, I am only human, right?

My goal is 12 pounds by June 1st. It's not going to be pretty.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Steelers Great Tight End Heath Miller Simply Fades Away

I'm not the kind of guy who usually begins fretting over his NFL team's next season just after the end of the most recent one, but fretting I am. Why? Because next season the Steelers will take the field without Heath Miller. He unexpectedly announced his retirement last week. Well, actually the Steelers announced it.

In typical Miller low-key fashion, he privately told the Steelers front office of his decision to retire, leaving it to the team to break the news to the rest of us. There was no press conference, no scrum of microphones in front of him, no bursts of light from camera flashes, no shouted questions from a gaggle of stunned sports media. None of that. He simply walked out of the locker room at the end of the playoff game against the Denver Broncos, never to return.

At risk of over romanticizing this – it is just football after all – it made me think of General Douglas Macarther's final speech to a joint session of Congress when he said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

Fade away is exactly what Miller did. A class act to the end.

At 33, Miller probably had another two or three really good years left in him. So, “old” doesn't necessarily apply, even though NFL years are something akin to dog or cat years. But he certainly was a warrior and I doubt there is a Steelers player who wouldn't willingly share a foxhole with him. I'd storm a fortified beach with him in a rubber raft.

In this age of real tools populating the rosters of the NFL – Richie Incognito, Ndamukong Suh, Johnny Manziel and Vontaze Burfict spring immediately to mind, but 50 other names could be inserted here – Miller was one of those players who let the quality of his work define him. He never ran his mouth. In fact, you have to search for quotes from him. He behaved himself on and off the field. He never embarrassed himself nor his team. If it's possible for an NFL player to be beloved, he was. With every reception, and there were lots of them, Steelers fans would rise up as one chanting, “Heath, Heath, Heath....”

Had he continued playing, there is no predicting where he would have wound up in the pantheon of NFL tight ends. He was closing in on some records and another season or two could have seen him topping many of the stats.

With 11 seasons and 168 regular-season starts under Miller's belt, here is what the Steelers and the NFL lost with his decision not to return for season 2016:

Total receptions: 592
Total yards: 6,569
Total touchdowns: 45
Total first downs: 346

These were all franchise records for a tight end.

In those 592 receptions, he fumbled the ball just seven times and lost it only five of those seven. He was a machine. But his value wasn't only in his reliability as a receiver, but also in his prowess as a blocker. He was fierce, competent and dependable protecting Big Ben and clearing a lane for the running backs.

As much as we, his fans, will miss him, no doubt Big Ben will miss him more. He was Big Ben's target of choice for converting third downs into first downs. Stone-cold reliable, he could be counted on to make the play.

Arguably NFL's best tight end over the past two or three seasons, Heath Miller will be a tough, if not impossible, act to follow.

Monday, February 15, 2016

2016 Chicago Auto Show: What Better Reason to Hit the Windy City?

I'm not the kind of guy who refuses to travel to the snow belt for an auto show simply because it's mid winter. I am the kind of guy who won't spend his own money to do it. That's why I haven't been to the Detroit show in 10 years. Fortunately, Nissan steps up and underwrites the cost for somewhere between 100 and 200 auto media to make the pilgrimage to the Chicago Auto Show's media days each February. They also throw a huge reception the night before the official proceedings begin. 

Nissan Armada reveal at its Wednesday evening reception.
Despite not being stuffed full of new- and concept-car reveals as Los Angeles and Detroit are, you would be hard pressed to find a seasoned journalist who won't admit Chicago is his or her favorite show of the season. The simple reason is, there is still a lot going on, we don't have to sprint from one press conference to the next, all the carmakers' PR wonks who have even a passing interest in interacting with the media show up, and the herd of media is concentrated enough that we have plenty of access to the executives and PR types.

I won't take this opportunity to rant on the Detroit show, but it is essentially the antithesis of the Chicago show in virtually every respect. I don't miss it one little bit. What's worse than going to Detroit in the middle of winter? Being at its auto show and competing with 5,000 “credentialed media” at least half of which probably have never earned a penny reviewing cars or covering the industry. Attending every press conference is like trying to be among the first group through the entrance of your local Walmart when the doors open on Black Friday.

Nope. Chicago is different – much different.

Although Chicago doesn't host the season's most product reveals – in fact, it's probably fourth behind Detroit, Los Angeles and New York – it is the nation's biggest retail show. That is, it is the best-attended show in the land. 

During its nine-day run this year, show promoters expect in excess of 1 million visitors to cruise past more than than 1,000 vehicles displayed across more than 1 million square feet of show floor at McCormick Place. Launched in 1901, the Chicago show holds bragging rights to being the most frequently held auto show in the country.

Journalists attending the media days witnessed the covers being removed from 21 new, redesigned or unique-trim-edition models from Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Kia, Hyundai, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz Nissan, Ram and Toyota. 

Kia showed off its all-new Niro – a crossover hybrid delivering up to 50 mpg. Nissan rolled out its redesigned 2017 Armada. Chevrolet unveiled its track-bred Camaro 1LE that returns to the lineup in 2017. Infiniti took the wraps off three new engine versions of its Q50 sedan – one will deliver 400 horsepower. Ram dominated the stage with its Power Wagon – basically a 1500 Rebel on steroids.
In addition to lots of vehicles over which to drool, there are interactive exhibits, driving courses and Family Day.

There's never a dull moment during the three-day, two-night media event. Nissan always kicks off the festivities with a huge cocktail/hors d'oeuvres reception on Wednesday evening. Nissan spiced up this year's event with its unveiling the redesigned Armada. 

Ram Power Wagon.
Thursday kicks off with the MAMA breakfast. MAMA is the Midwest auto media's trade organization. In addition to bacon and eggs, the event always includes the announcement of MAMA's choice for its Family Vehicle of the Year. This year it went to the Volvo XC90. I must admit, I sneaked out as the breakfast speaker from Ford marketing took the podium to regale the overfed group with feats of Ford's wonderfulness. Kia was the first scheduled press conference of the morning and I wanted a front-row seat. It's always highly entertaining.

There were eight more carmaker press conferences scheduled throughout the day, as well as a couple of non-carmaker pressers. In the middle of all of this was the annual Economic Club of Chicago's luncheon. Credentialed media are invited to attend.

Kia kicked off the press-conference lineup with a little music.
Chevrolet closed the day with its reveal of its redesigned 2017 Trax crossover and track-worthy 1LE package for Camaro. The announcements were followed by a reception. Marching back and forth across the expanses of the show floor – one of my peers' Fitbit clocked more than seven miles – from one press conference to the next for six hours is mighty thirsty work. The Chicago Beer Company Chi Town Lake Shore Lagers Chevy dispensed at the reception provided at least some temporary relief.

Because Nissan housed us at the Hyatt Regency attached to McCormick Place, thankfully we had only a short walk back to our rooms at day's end. The walk carried us past the hotel bar where a few of us detoured for another brew. More walking, lots of thirst.

Some of Geno's staff serving up pizza slices at the Mazda dinner.
Mazda always throws a dinner on Thursday evening at Chicago's Geno's Pizza. Although its menu offers sandwiches, salads and apps, it's really all about the pizza. You can spend up to $35 on a deep-dish pizza at Geno's. Hey, it is that good!

Several of the carmakers pitch in to underwrite the after-dinner party. This year it was at Reggie's Rock Club. It features two rooms with stages where bands perform throughout the night. The music was nothing short of awesome. A hardcore group of us continued the evening at the hotel bar until they turned off the lights. “You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here....”

Rocking at the after party.
For the media, Friday morning is specifically geared toward social media. Although many of us Tweet, Instagram and Facebook throughout the show, Friday mornings target people who do nothing else but keep one another up to date on their comings and goings through various social-media platforms. The rest of us basically take the opportunity to catch up on photos we missed the previous day, wander around shooting the breeze with carmaker PR types and hanging around the media lounge debating about which shuttle we will take to the airport. 

I was in Chicago for a total of six meals. Two of these were breakfast. I ate pizza three times. My doctor would not be pleased, but, it's Chicago! What do you expect me to eat? I love this show!