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!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Slacker's Mantra: Tomorrow Is Another Day

I'm not the kind of guy who sleeps the day away. Typically my feet hit the floor somewhere between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. I only use an alarm clock when I have to catch a flight that, just as often as not, involves a two-and-a-half-hour slog to Atlanta.

Some mornings I wake before 6:30, and love getting that head start on the day. I'm what my hater friends refer to as a “morning person.” It's a term they usually spit out with the same disdain as “Nazi” or “hedge-fund manager.” Here's the deal, though, I'm at my best before noon. Once I've eaten lunch – no matter what it might be – I'm ready to coast to the finish line. Sure, I might drag myself to the gym or toil away for a couple of hours on some renovation project, but my enthusiasm for any post-lunch undertaking is utterly nil, as my inner slacker rears its ugly head.

I can't put into words just how rare it is for me to sleep beyond 7:30, regardless of what time I arrived in bed, or of what the previous evening consisted. If I go to bed at 10:30 or midnight, my eyes pop open between 6:30 and 7:30 (or earlier), just the same.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my eyes this morning to my digital clock announcing that it was 9:15! What! Yep, I merrily snoozed my way nearly two hours beyond 7:30, stranding me in uncharted waters. Even more amazing, my cat, that is usually meowing at my door by 7:30, demanding her breakfast, chose this morning to sleep in, as well.

A bit of wine and a 2 a.m. bedtime were the culprits in this tale of sloth. A buddy of mine invited me to dinner last night while his wife hosted a girls' night at home. He Ubered to the restaurant; so, I dropped him at his house on the way home. He invited me in for a nightcap. It would have been rude of me to decline, right? His wife was still entertaining one of her gal pals poolside. My one nightcap glass of wine turned into a three-hour gabfest. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What I've garnered from this experience is, dragging myself out of bed nearly two hours behind my typical schedule really shortens my day. I mean, significantly so. It's not so much the two hours of peak productivity lost, but the realization that I didn't have the time to accomplish much of anything before lunch that weighed on me like an anvil. Such a profound inertia overcame me that I can barely function.

Wallowing in my ignorance yesterday, I had made grandiose plans to work on my home's backdoor today. I haven't attempted to open it in two or three years. As the house continues to settle, it jammed shut. After forcing it open, I need to shave some of the wood from the door frame. I figured it would be a two- or three-hour job. It's just another task requiring my attention as I try to get this joint into some sort of shape to sell.

However, after addressing the usual load of overnight e-mails, I glanced at the clock only to discover that it was after 11 a.m. Realizing my day was already nearly half gone simply sucked all the initiative right out of me. By the time I finish this post, it will be time for lunch.

I am so crestfallen over the lost morning, I can't motivate myself to tackle a project of any sort. I have two Autotrader assignments that require cranking out over the next few days; as well as, my backdoor project and a couple of renovation projects around the house that are in need of completion. I won't address any of them today. I can't.

I have two episodes remaining of the most recent season of “Walking Dead” that I recorded in its entirety and have been binge watching this week. I think this is the ideal afternoon to get those behind me as I mentally repeat the slacker mantra: Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Getting Down In San Diego with the 2017 Kia Sportage

I'm not the kind of guy who sniffs at another opportunity to visit San Diego, despite returning there three or four times a year. Although some of the same elements of life in this area, such as cost of living, would discourage me from ever moving there, as they were key in my moving out of South Florida, I still love to visit San Diego. What's not to like?

When I learned a few weeks before the event that Kia had chosen San Diego as the site to introduce the redesigned 2017 Sportage to the auto media, I didn't immediately begin tossing stuff in my bag; but I did find and dust off my old, smaller rollerboard to take along for beer. San Diego is arguably the craft-beer Mecca of the U.S. – a key reason I love to visit. I knew I would be bringing back a stash of 22-ounce bottles of some unavailable-back-East beers. Like the good Scout that I am, I was going to be prepared. 

I was fired up about a first drive of the renovated Sportage. As Kia's longest-running nameplate, this fourth-gen Sportage will have a major impact on the brand. Sportage is among the 40 percent of Kia products sold in the U.S. that are assembled in the U.S. It's an important piece in Kia's North American product strategy. 

Kia's choice of a venue to host the three-day, two-night Sportage confab was also reason for my Christmas-morning level of excitement. Home for those three days would be San Diego's Hard Rock Hotel. Never having stayed in a Hard Rock, I was elated to finally sample that experience. Doubling down on the allure of the accommodations is that this Hard Rock is in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. It doesn't get much better.

Arriving in San Diego around noon, I had plenty of time to check into my room and do a little sight-seeing. Of course, “sightseeing” is Russ-speak for “craft-beer drinking.” In my Sportage pre-trip research, I had found a couple of craft breweries within a mile or so of the hotel. I could have Uber'd to and from where I wanted to go, but after several hours crammed in an airplane seat, I wanted to stretch my legs and air out my road-weary posterior. 

Navigating the historic avenues of the Gaslamp Quarter and beyond, I hiked the mile or so to Monkey Paw Brewery. Monkey Paw won't earn any kudos for its d├ęcor, but I give it high marks for its beers. As a taste of its wares, I chose a Julie's Bizzaro Carrot Cake Stout. “Yum” pretty well sums it up. With that under my belt, I hoofed it back to the Hard Rock.

Kia scheduled dinner that first evening at a eatery a few blocks from the hotel. We were presented with the option of walking or riding in a Pedicab. For the uninitiated, a Pedicab is a human-propelled rickshaw. Think of it as a tricycle with a large backseat. A buddy of mine and I hopped on the first one in line – it's always good to be in the first wave of journalists, whose credo is “drink free or die” that arrives at cocktail hour. We thought we would be the first to belly up to the bar. Ha! 

"89" apparently refers to her weight soaking wet.
Alas, we failed to notice the human engine on our Pedicab was a 90ish-pound woman who probably struggles to manhandle a bag of groceries up two flights of stairs. We represented nearly 400 pounds of combined cargo. This woman didn't stand a chance. As Pedicabs loaded with our colleagues raced by, my buddy and I could barely hear one another over our driver's wheezing and sobbing. We did arrive before the end of the cocktail hour, but were relegated to the outer fringes of our cohorts packed against the bar. I suspect our driver didn't fare as well, probably winding up in an emergency room somewhere. 

My concentration level at these presentations is astounding.
 Our first order of business the following day was to attend a 90-or-so-minute presentation of all things Sportage. Salted among the avalanche of information were tidbits like, Kia ranked No. 2 in JD Power's 2015 Initial Quality Survey and was ranked No. 6 in reliability by Consumer Reports. We also learned that the new Sportage is the widest CUV in its segment and that its two engines for 2017 are heavily revised versions of last year's powerplants.

Here are a few other gems you might want to know about the 2017 Sportage: Entry into Sportage begins at $22,990 for the LX. There are also EX and SX Turbo grades. Even the LX version comes standard with Kia's new UVO3, featuring Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, 14 telematics services and 8 GB of music storage.

We drove both front- and all-wheel-drive versions of the top-end SX Turbo during our romp around Southern California. We rocked out to the sounds of the eight-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system as we negotiated the hills and curves of our drive route. Although we were surprised our Sportage with its 2-liter turbo is only rated by the EPA at 21 mpg in combined driving, my driving partner and I were impressed with its handling and aggressive acceleration. Not to mention the interior fit and finish.

The SX comes right out of the box crammed full of goodies, such as push-button start, leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone auto climate control, Smart hands-free power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, front/rear parking assist, autonomous emergency braking and a lot more. Our AWD SX totaled out with delivery fee at $34,895.

After the formal drive, we took advantage of the SX's navigation system to guide us to the Belching Beaver Brewery's auxiliary tasting room a few miles from the Hard Rock. I stocked up on two bottles each of its Peanut Butter Milk Stout and its regular Milk Stout.

Kia always spices up the drive experience with a contest of one sort or another. This event's contest was tailored more toward the social media crowd, requiring a video of each driving team pantomiming to some song as it played on the Harmon Kardon system. In the spirit of participation, my driving partner and I threw together a three-minute video. Knowing we didn't stand a snowball's chance of winning, or even collecting my usual “Honorable Mention,” umm, mention, we didn't put a lot of effort into this thing. Besides, thinking the contest was going to be the karaoke performance scheduled after that evening's dinner, I had invested a fair amount of time working on one of the songs from the playlist we were e-mailed a couple of weeks earlier. I wasn't in the mood to spend much time on this video contest that I knew we couldn't win.

I won't go into detail about the video other than to say we did it to Ray Wylie Hubbard's “We're From Texas.” There is actually a bit more to the title, but you can look it up. Needless to say, this was the first Kia contest in a couple of years that I didn't at least get an honorable mention. My fans were crestfallen. I was a little misty myself.

The blow was even greater when we got to the karaoke portion of the night and the song I had rehearsed and choreographed wasn't on the final play list. What? Kia had actually brought in a band specializing in karaoke. Yep, it was live music backing up the amateur vocals. Cool? You bet.

Somewhere between sending out the original list and the actual event, someone replaced some of the songs; mine among them. Drat, I had even taught myself to moonwalk. It wasn't good, but I judged it good enough that people would figure out what I was trying to do. I had also rewritten some of the lyrics. I wound up not performing at all. After all, it wasn't the contest, right? I didn't feel honor bound to participate. It was a great evening of entertainment, however. 

I may have been a bit disappointed in the contest/karaoke elements of the Sportage event, but I am smitten by the crossover itself. Kia continues to amp up the quality and performance of its vehicles. Sportage will do well.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

What I Don't Know, I Look Up: American Muscle Cars Is My Newest Resource

I'm not the kind of guy who deludes himself into thinking he knows a lot about everything. I clearly don't know much about anything and, at my age, that's not likely to change. In the words of Dirty Harry Callahan: “A man's got to know his limitations.”

I am in awe of a handful of my auto-media colleagues who can glance at a 40-, 50- or 60-year-old car and rattle off its statistics. One such colleague, long-time pal and former Washington Times editor Vern Parker can look at a 1956 Hudson Hornet – or just about any other car assembled between 1920 and 1980 – sitting in a museum, a driveway or barn and tell you that the taillights aren't stock. I've seen him do it.

The only reason I can remember what I had for breakfast this morning is that I almost always have the same thing: a protein bar. There's no way I can look at a 1955 Chevy Bel Air and opine that the wheel covers are from a '54. I'd be as likely to accurately explain string theory. “Uh, it's a theory about, um, strings.”

It's in this spirit of self awareness that I added a new coffee table book to my collection. Published by Motorbooks, it's titled, American Muscle Cars and costs $32.15 on Amazon. Although it primarily covers, what author Darwin Holmstrom calls, the classic muscle car era, spanning the ten-year period from 1964 to 1974, AMC also provides some historic context for the phenomenon, as well as the series of technological developments that made muscle cars possible.

Graduating high school at nearly the center point of Holmstrom's classic muscle car era, I have an enduring affection for those smaller cars with big-honking V8s. That I can't rattle off from memory statistics or years of production, doesn't diminish my enthusiasm for those vintage GTOs, Cudas and Challengers.

Illustrated with some brilliant photography from Tom Glatch, AMC is brimming with historical and anecdotal information. Holmstrom's writing style is as entertaining as a Dave Barry column and as comfortable as an old pair of Hush Puppies. Readable? You bet.

As a freelance journalist, I am always on the lookout for source material for the articles and stories I am assigned. AMC now plugs the glaring muscle-car gap that was in my home library. The comprehensive index is a Who's Who and a what's what of not only the muscle car period, but also for the pre-and post-periods.

Full disclosure: I haven't read it cover to cover, but certainly intend to. I have cherry picked a couple of chapters to write this post, finding them extremely readable, as well as rich in information.

My guess, though, anyone who is truly a muscle-car fan, will find AMC difficult to put down. Whether, like me, your library is absent a solid muscle-car tome, or you already have a book or two on the subject, American Muscle Cars will prove to be a valuable addition to your collection.