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!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Often It's the Little Things in Life that Make Me Smile

Me mugging with the Chrysler 200 at its media intro in Louisville, Ky.
I'm not the kind of guy who takes much for granted. When you eek out an existence as a freelance journalist, you gain a real respect for whatever opportunities arise. Over the years there have been a few unexpected lucrative clients that have reached out to me from left field based on referrals – maybe half a dozen over the course of more than 25 years – but the majority of my work comes from ideas and proposals I submit to active clients. It's a day-in-day-out, week-in-week-out grind of thinking up story ideas and proposing them. It is a stressful, and often unrewarding, process that saps my energy, dampens my attitude and deflates my self esteem. But hey, I get weekends off.

Clanging Bell and my Greenville-centric Website are two writing efforts that are more hobby than anything else. That's the reason I've gone from 25 posts per month to 3 or 4 on Clanging Bell. I began this blog three or four years ago during a particularly slow and scary time in my freelance career. Paying work had all but dried up. Writing is like any developed skill: You must use it every day to maintain it. Clanging Bell was my primary writing outlet for several months.

To a lesser extent, GreenvilleInsider provides the same sort of tool to try to keep me fresh in my craft. Love of my new “hometown” is another reason I post as much as I do on it. GI does give me media access to some local events, as well as being a platform for (I hope) some future monetization, but I maintain the site primarily as an outlet for travel writing, which I don't have much opportunity for lately.

As something I do primarily for myself, I am always thrilled when I discover more readers for a particular Clanging Bell post than I can account for by totaling up the number of my family and friends. I am also amazed when a blog post from years ago suddenly produces a comment. Sometimes years after I've written a CB post, I'll receive an alert via e-mail that someone commented on it. First of all, I am stunned someone who doesn't know me actually took the time to read the silly thing. Secondly, how in the heck did this person stumble across a two- or three-year-old CB blog post?

Checking my e-mails this morning, I discovered an alert that someone commented on a post I wrote almost two years ago to the day. Granted, it was a story about the Chrysler 200 media event in Louisville, and the person commenting apparently works for a Chrysler dealership somewhere; but I was still astonished.

It's such small victories, as well as positive feedback I receive from relatively regular followers, that keeps me cranking out three or four CB posts each month, even when I have paying assignments and other pressing issues vying for my time.

Responding to this comment made me smile this morning. And, who doesn't welcome a smile on a Thursday morning?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2017 Chrysler Pacifica: A Rehabilitated Nameplate for a Reimagined Minivan

I'm not the kind of guy who breaks the rules; well, not, at least not all of them. So, I have been patiently sitting by my keyboard for the past week waiting for Chrysler's embargo to expire for the drive evaluations of its 2017 Pacifica that I was lucky enough to experience in California in mid March.

For the uninitiated, in the business of expounding upon cars, an embargo is a drop-dead date issued by a carmaker before which certain elements it shares with the media at a particular event can't be dispensed to the public. It's a gag order of sorts, and quite common. Of course, there are those in my business who believe embargoes are meant to be broken, but I don't count myself among them. At least I've never busted one intentionally. I won't mention the Corvette debacle in 2004 while I was acting editor in chief for Auto World Magazine. Although a victim of things beyond my control, I did not cover myself in glory.

In Pacifica's case the embargo was March 21. So, here I am on March 22, posting my thoughts on this fresh minivan like the good old soldier I am. Ha! Most of my ramblings here didn't really fall under the embargo, which only included driving impressions, but better safe than sorry, I say. 

What the heck is Pacifica? you might ask. It's the replacement for the outgoing Town & Country nameplate. In an effort to shift gears, FCA, the entity currently lording over Fiat and Chrysler brands, wanted to shock the minivan segment by raising the bar for features, technology and styling. To that end, it sent the Town & Country moniker to the ash heap, and will eventually completely discontinue the Dodge Caravan, as well. As part of this shift, FCA dusted off the Pacifica nameplate – used on Chrysler's version of the Mercedes-Benz R-Class back when Benz owned Chrysler – for Chrysler's minivan going forward. I wrote the story on the launch of the original Pacifica for Auto World Magazine in April of 2003; public enthusiasm for the vehicle was short lived. There are those of us who question the wisdom of reintroducing the Pacifica moniker, but I guess the proof will be in the sales. In the long run, the name probably doesn't matter: If it's a solid product – and I judge it to be – people will buy it no matter the name.

Some 30 years ago minivans were invented at Chrysler. Well, that's not entirely true. Actually the core planning, design and research for that first Chrysler minivan walked out the front door of Ford in Lee Iacocca's briefcase as he made his final exit in 1977. Hal Sperlich, the Ford project planner who spearheaded the minivan concept at Ford and was eventually booted over his nonstop lobbying for the project, found a home at Chrysler a year or so before Iacocca arrived with Ford's minivan plans. Like IBM handing Microsoft the keys to the software kingdom in 1980, Ford saw no value in the minivan and allowed Iacocca to haul away all the paperwork with its blessing. Within six years, the two Ford alumni had minivans in Chrysler showrooms. The rest, as they say, is history.

If the minivan didn't exactly save Chrysler, it certainly can be credited for a hefty portion of the carmaker's profits in the late 80s and well into the 90s. All of this is in the way of saying that the minivan is a serious cog in the Chrysler revenue machine. 

The great room in my suite.
Chrysler invited scores of media in several waves to the Pacifica launch at the Resort at Pelican Hill near Newport Beach, Calif. As it did with a redesigned-minivan launch a few years ago, Chrysler invited media to bring family and friends along for the ride. 

Long ago making the decision to die alone, I don't have children or even a wife to drag along on such outings. I do, however, have a lady friend in Illinois, who I keep in my back pocket for plus-one shindigs. We've each been the other's plus-one at weddings and so forth over the years. She accompanied me on a similar plus-one Subaru Legacy event a year or so ago, and was only too happy to accept Chrysler's largess for the Pacifica event.

One of the three stunning sunsets during our visit.
I am no stranger to Pelican Hill, having been there three other times with car companies. It's a gorgeous beachfront property with a wonderfully friendly, accommodating staff. For previous visits, I've stayed in the Bungalows. These are basically large, beautifully appointed rooms. This trip, though, Chrysler bunked us in The Villas. These are two- and three-bedroom suites. Mine was a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath condo-like residence with a full kitchen that must have sprawled over nearly 1,800 sq-ft. I was struck speechless upon entering it the first time.

Chrysler kept the organized portions of the trip to a minimum. Dinners on our first two nights, as well as the presentation, drive route and lunch on our second day summed up the planned activities. That essentially gave us a day and a half on our own. 

Lunch on our drive route was at the San Francisco Zoo Safari Park. Basically an open-range park mimicking an African habitat, it is teeming with elephants, rinos, giraffes and all manner of other creatures. Chrysler encouraged us to take any tours and participate in whatever activities the park offered. 

Oh, my, Oh my, Oh, my.....
That night, we were loaded on electric boats in groups of two and four for a 15-minute ferry to a restaurant for dinner. Snacks and beverages were provided for the cruise. The bay was windy with a bit of a chop on the water. What our pilot lacked in training, she more than made up for with her witty banter, such as, “Oh, my, oh, my, oh, my....” I almost spilled my glass of wine before we were 10 feet from the dock as we collided with another boat filled with our colleagues. I glanced around looking for the professor and Mary Ann. 

On my way to a bacon cheeseburger and caramel-sea-salt milk shake.
Our third day was a completely free day to do with as we pleased. A squeaky-clean Pacifica topped off with fuel was waiting for us in the driveway that morning. We zipped down to Laguna Beach for a late breakfast and a bit of sightseeing. Then we took the ferry to Balboa Island for lunch at a Ruby's Burgers joint at the end of the pier. I couldn't be in the San Diego area without the obligatory brewery stop. After all, I brought an empty suitcase on the trip to haul home some beer. I loaded up four 22-ounce Victory at Sea Porters from Ballast Point Brewery. 

Things were rocking at Ballast Point.
Pacifica was an ideal vehicle for this sort of laid-back sightseeing adventure. Roomy, quiet and finely appointed, it was a joy to drive. Chrysler really wanted to up the ante in what has become a battle among four carmakers for the hearts and minds of minvan owners. I think it has achieved just that. It's styling – particularly inside – is fresh, contemporary and inviting.

Product planners designed Pacifica around its Stow 'n Go seating with second- and third-row seats folding into the floor. Even the base grade comes standard with this unique feature. When these seats are snugly folded away, the cargo floor accommodates a full sheet of plywood and the rear hatch still closes.

Chrysler is releasing a hybrid version, but the Pacificas available to us at this event were all of the traditional gasoline variety. A 287-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 turns the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission. According to government estimates, this will be good for 18 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in combined driving. 

Brimming with technology – both safety and connectivity – Pacifica is a people mover of the first order. Such features as 360-degree-view cameras, automatic parallel- and perpendicular-park assist, and adaptive cruise control with Stop and Hold are all available. An available Uconnect 8.4 theater entertainment system keeps rear-seat occupants entertained with two 10-inch touchscreens displaying movies, streaming video and games. Audio systems include the standard 6-speaker unit, a 13-speaker Alpine system and a 20-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system.

Pricing begins at $28,595 for the LX grade. At the top of the trim pile is Limited at $42,495.

“Beauty and brains” pretty well sums up the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. No question, it has recaptured the top spot among minivans.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Cranky Missive Sent to Delta: Are You Kidding Me?

I'm not the kind of guy whose feathers are ruffled by short flight delays. However, I have flown the trip between Greenville-Spartanburg and Atlanta 10 times over the past three weeks and 7 of those flights have had posted delays between 25 minutes and 2 hours. The most recent was on my way back from the Chrysler Pacifica media event. My flights originated in Orange County Airport with a connection in – where else? – Atlanta.

Delayed more than 45 minutes – not a huge interruption for those of us who fly a lot and deal with delays all the time – the circumstances were such that I simply couldn't let it go without firing off a complaint to Delta. What follows is the exact copy of my note after filling in all the blanks for the date, flight number and so on and so forth.

“I arrived at the gate for DL 5432 to find that it was delayed 21 minutes. The gate agent announced the delay, attributing it to the crew being late arriving on another flight. I was close enough to the desk to hear the agent eventually phone someone to ask why the delay because the crew was currently on the plane and had been. Obviously I couldn't hear the response, but it became clear as boarding began. The missing crew wasn't flying the plane, but was a crew deadheading back to Greenville. Oh, and it turns out this crew was sitting in the gate area the entire time. Do you know how many times in my more-than 1.8 million miles of flying with Delta that a plane has been officially delayed for me? That's right: never. And it gets better. After the craft was loaded, we sat for another 10 minutes waiting for another deadheader. Do you know how many times in my more-than 1.8 million miles of flying with Delta a loaded plane has been held for me? Correct: never. With that person on board, the door was shut and the jet bridge was being pulled back when the process reversed for yet another deadheader. Do you have any clue how many times in my more-than 1.8 million miles of flying on Delta the jet bridge has been returned to the plane and the door opened for me? You guessed it: zero, zip, zilch, nada. Then the flight attendant made an announcement thanking us for our continued patience because we were waiting for one more passenger. On stepped another deadheader. Finally, the plane pushed back about 45 minutes behind schedule.

"The issue isn't so much the delay – the flights between GSP and Atlanta are delayed more than they are on time in my experience – but to have one set of rules for paying passengers and another for deadheading crew members is insulting. I have run up to the gate for a connecting flight when my inbound flight was late, been able to look out the window and see the jet bridge still connected to the plane and been refused boarding because of Delta's 10-minute rule. I guess one way around that is just to officially delay the flight. But, even that wasn't enough as more deadheaders continued arriving.

"Apparently the 10-minute rule is really more a guideline that can be ignored under the right conditions and for the right people.

"I never ceased to be amazed at the ever more creative ways Delta finds to inconvenience its passengers.”

Sunday, March 6, 2016

I'm a Schizophrenic About Home Projects and So Am I

Lovely though the new closet looks, the new baseboards sill require installing in the upstairs bedroom.
I'm not the kind of guy who likes to begin one project before the current one is finito. I know people – mostly guys – who leave partially completed projects in their wake like a trail of Michael Moore's Ring Ding wrappers. These ADD-addled handymen, bored with a current home-improvement project, abandon it to begin another and then, another. Not a damn thing ever gets finished.

Sorry, that's just not in my makeup. In fact, I typically obsess over an unfinished project to the point I forsake attacking paying projects in the name of completing some in-progress household renovation. (Maybe that's why I have no money. Nah.)

Usually if I walk away from a project it's because 1) I run out of money and have to wait for the coffers to replenish, or 2) I've encountered an unexpected problem and need a couple of days to noodle out a solution.

I recently put my upstairs renovation project on hold to tackle another fixer-upper endeavor. I've been sleeping in the downstairs guestroom for the past several months for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that my bed in the master bedroom is stacked with stuff from the unfinished upstairs-bedroom project. I usually sleep downstairs during June, July and August anyway because it's cooler. Otherwise, I rarely even enter the downstairs guestroom. A couple of weeks ago I noticed several cracks in the walls from the house settling. I've probably patched a dozen such cracks in the nine years I've lived in the house. No big deal, right?

An area with three of the cracks currently under repair in the downstairs guestroom.
Well, that's true, but I happened to have about one-third of a bucket of drywall mud left over from the upstairs projects. The stuff doesn't keep forever once the bucket has been opened. I decided to go ahead and patch the cracks in the downstairs bedroom. With my recent spurt of travels, what should have been a three or four day project – five with painting the involved walls – has stretched into about three weeks and still isn't finished. So I have to walk around stuff and squeeze past the sofa that's pulled out from the wall in that bedroom to get into bed.

Having half of my house in disarray is driving me nuts. I don't know how much more I can take. I should be sanding down the most-recent application of drywall mud rather than writing this post. What is wrong with me?

I have one more scheduled trip looming on the horizon and then a dry spell as far as the eye can see. Well, at least my eye. My goal is to have the downstairs guestroom and the second bedroom upstairs finished by the end of March. Then it's on to finishing the upstairs bath. That will free me up to start on the three outside projects that need doing.

Man, it makes my head hurt. Do you hear voices?