Kristin

Kristin
My buddy Kristin, with whom I'll be shooting some BEER2WHISKEY videos, and me at the awads dinner for this year's Texas Truck Rodeo.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Renovating the Living Room Ceiling: I'm Too Old for this Crap!


I'm not the kind of guy who can look at some sort of correctable flaw in his house and leave it, well, uncorrected. I love renovating my house. If I had unlimited funds and time, I'd be tinkering on some project every day. Sadly, even when doing the work yourself, refurbishing a house requires mucho dinero. If you had a chart with two circles on it, one labeled “Freelance Automotive Journalist” and the other “Money in the Bank,” rarely would the circles come remotely close to touching one another; forget about them ever intersecting.

Consequently, serious renovation projects must be planned and budgeted. I typically begin buying materials and required tools not already in my inventory weeks or months ahead. Depending on the project, however, sometimes the space required to store this stuff is well beyond the storage capacity of the 1,100 or so square feet of my home. That was one issue with my recent living room-ceiling renovation. 
Every couple of years I get to patch all the cracks in the interior walls.
Built on a fairly severe hill, my 60-year-old house apparently is in constant flux. Settling a little each year. Although the brick foundation has so far been immune to whatever is going on structurally, I am constantly repairing cracks here and there in the interior walls (particularly spider webbing from corners of door frames and windows), and planing down the tops of upstairs doors that suddenly begin sticking.

I'm not a fan of popcorn ceilings. Popcorn is that drywall finish containing little chunks of some sort of acoustic material that is sprayed on the ceiling after the drywall has been finished. It basically is used to mask half-assed drywall finish work on the ceiling the same way an orange peel spray is used to hide finishing imperfections on the walls. 
Hate the damn popcorn.
Having spent some time running a drywall operation in South Florida, I am more sensitive than some to poor quality drywall work. My house is full of it. It was obvious to me when I purchased the house 9 or 10 years ago that there were problems with the ceilings upstairs and down. Both bedrooms on the third level have a popcorn finish so thick it looks as though it was ladled on with a trowel. The ceiling in the downstairs great room was just the opposite. Here the popcorn was so thin, it was obvious that it was done by some sort of do-it-yourself sprayer rather than a commercial one.

I had only lived in the house for a year or two when cracks began appearing in the vaulted living room ceiling. With my eye always on selling this house, I had to address the cracks. As I saw it, I had two possible courses of action: Remove the popcorn and refinish the ceiling, or install an all-new ceiling over the old. In the end, I opted to install a new ceiling. 
I gained my framing chops for building my shed from first building a pony wall in the great room.
When planning a project involving a new skill, I find a smaller project in which I can try out my hand at the new skill while overcoming the learning curve. Before I built my shed, I built a pony wall behind the TV in the great room. Before installing a tile back splash in my upcoming kitchen redo, I installed a small one in my upstairs bath remodel. And, so forth.

I tested my tongue-and-groove bead board chops on the small ceiling in my upstairs hall. What I learned from that experience is that installing bead board is pretty straight forward, but a larger area requires at least two people. The length of the hall ceiling was about 6.5 feet and I struggled a little getting the boards in place, balancing a nail gun at the same time and then nailing the boards. No way I could handle anything longer by myself. 


Three-quarters of an inch thick and roughly 5.5-inches wide, the boards come in 16-ft lengths. I needed enough of them to cover a 400-sq-ft area. There simply was nowhere in my house I could stockpile that much lumber. What I needed was just-in-time delivery. I have a fraternity brother in Dayton, Ohio who is semi-retired. Ports has visited me in Greenville a couple of times over the past two or three years. He offered to drive down and lend a hand. We agreed upon a five-day window in October. A trip to 84 Lumber set me back around $1,100, but material delivery was arranged for the day of Ports arrival. I spent the morning of the eve of his arrival picking up some scaffolding rented for a week.

My shed was burgled during an extended trip from home a few months ago, and most of my power tools, including my air compressor and nail guns, disappeared. I had replaced the chop saw, table saw, compressor and finish nail gun in the weeks leading up to scheduled date for the ceiling job.

Early on I made the decision I wouldn't endure the mess or take the time to remove the popcorn surface. I decided instead to nail 1.5x.75-inch furring strips over the popcorn. And then nail the tongue-and-groove to the furring. I worked off and on doing that in my rare moments home for the month before Ports was scheduled to arrive. I also took down the ceiling fan and the three recessed can lights.

On the day of Ports' arrival, my carport bristled with lumber and my dining area was crowded with power tools. With all the confidence of someone who has no clue what he is talking about, I had assured Ports we could knock out this job in about 16 hours. I based my estimate on the three hours the upstairs ceiling required. What a moron. By the end of day one, we had maybe 15 to 20 percent of the ceiling completed. Absolutely nothing in this house is square or plumb. By the end of day 2, we had maybe 60 percent finished.

Between the walls not being quite square and some of the boards not being exactly straight, meant we couldn't just cut a 10-ft length of board and expect it to fit flush. Some boards, when set flush on one end would have a quarter-inch gap separating the tongue from the groove on the other end. It was maddening.

Meanwhile, you have two guys over 65, balancing on ladders and scaffolding trying to fit these boards together and nail them in place. It was a miracle neither of us was killed. The rented scaffolding should have been easy to assemble and adjust. It sure looked that way on the video I watched before renting it. Of course, the scaffolding in the video was brand new. What we had was beat to heck. Pieces had to be pounded into place with a rubber mallet. At one point when we were attempting to increase the height, it simply exploded on us, with its parts falling in all directions. Ports got one of his hands caught in it, badly pinching a finger. As he danced around with one hand grasped in the other yelling he thought saw God, I admonished him not to go into the light. Oddly, he didn't appreciate my humor. 
Toughest area to reach was over the stairs.
We began the work on Wednesday morning. By Saturday morning we only had the small section over the stairs left to do. There are about seven steps that go up to the third level and then five steps that go down to the bottom level from the main floor. This small section was left for last because we were having trouble figuring out how we would deal with the stairs in terms of somehow reaching the ceiling. Originally, I planned on using the scaffolding for the stairs going up. We would adjust one side to sit on one of the steps while the other side rested on the great room floor. On the stairs going down, I would put an extension ladder on the top stair, leaning the ladder on the wrought-iron banister running along the upstairs hallway.

In the end, we went to Home Depot and purchased four concrete blocks, which we stacked in two piles of two on the stairs going up on which Ports stood. I took the leaning ladder on the stairs going down. It was a little exciting, but worked fine.

We were done with the job by about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon and downtown celebrating with a few beers by 2:30.

I still have to paint the ceiling, install the new lighting and ceiling fan. Ports will return this spring to help me install the trim. But, the worst is over...I hope.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Texas Truck Rodeo: Choosing the 2018 Truck of Texas


I'm not the kind of guy who wastes a lot of time. Well, at least I don't waste it doing stuff I don't want to do. Every time I gaze into a mirror – something to be avoided whenever possible – I come face to face with my mortality. I just don't want to squander any of the precious time I have remaining doing some stupid damn thing that I really don't want to do.

Some might consider bouncing around on dirt paths in trucks and SUVs a poor investment of time for someone with a limited number of grains of sand left in the proverbial hour glass. Drip, drip drip... But, I really didn't give a second thought to spending four days last week in Texas Hill Country just west of Austin at the annual Texas Auto Writers (TAWA) Texas Truck Rodeo. Its where the TAWA group of automotive media chooses the Truck of Texas every year. 


Indeed, I could have been doing something more constructive. Actually generating some income would have been a sensible alternative. On the surface it may look as though I was just messing around. After all, TAWA would have named the Truck of Texas with or without me, right? Right. I'm hardly a pivotal cog in that organization or in the operation of the Truck Rodeo. Truth be told: I'm a TAWA hanger-on. I'm one of the several out-of-state members who help flesh out its ranks, but the organization would soldier on quite successfully without yours truly.

In fact it did so for the 20 years or so during my sabbatical from its membership. I've only been a member again for two years. The main reason for my reprising my member role is the Truck Rodeo. It's an incredible event orchestrated with the precision of a Patton flanking maneuver. It's really a highly organized business with some trucks and off roading involved. For roughly 14 hours over a two-day period some 65 vehicles spread over 21 categories were driven and evaluated by 75 journalists. The manufacturers represented ranged from Alfa Romeo to Volvo.

Event organizers created three off-road courses with varying degrees of difficulty. Manufacturers decided on which courses its vehicles could be driven. There was a fourth street course, as well. 

We rated each vehicle in a half-dozen or so areas, such as performance, interior and personal appeal. After a total of 300-or-so hours of combined driving, TAWA named the Ford F-150 the 2018 Truck of Texas. The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport got the nod for the CUV of Texas, with the 2018 Volvo XC60 picking up SUV of Texas honors. We also named winners in each of the 21 categories.

To feel better about myself after taking four days away from my home-renovation projects and revenue-producing work to flog off-roaders around the Longhorn River Ranch near Dripping Springs, I did manage to find four stories to pitch to my biggest client. Two for which I already have verbal approval. I feel pretty confident the other two will be accepted, as well. These are story ideas I wouldn't have had otherwise. I also shot three videos for just3things. Oh, and I won a photo contest!

I had hoped to shoot a couple of videos for BEER2WHISKEY, as well, but just couldn't put that together. But, I did make some arrangements to shoot B2W videos in Dallas and Houston in the future. I don't have a time frame yet for the Dallas shoots, but Houston will take place in late January in conjunction with he Houston Auto Show.

Now, however, I'm back to reality. Time to turn the Truck Rodeo ideas into words on a page. Next up? The 2018 Hyundai Accent in Las Vegas. Work, work work.....

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Don't Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls......


I'm not the kind of guy who concentrates very much on my maladies. I've actually been pretty lucky in that department. Up until a year ago, my ailments have been minor, as well as few and far between. For at least 25 years, I worked without the net of medical insurance. I would go a decade or longer between doctor visits of any sort. I don't consider myself a macho guy, but always thought complaining to friends about my health as a direct path to looking puny. I have been pretty rigid in that belief.

My distended knee two or three years ago from a ladder misstep notwithstanding, historically there hasn't been much overtly wrong with me. As long as I kept my mouth shut, no one was the wiser that maybe I wasn't operating at full throttle.

All of that ended with the abruptness of being t-boned in an intersection when I hit the dreaded age of 65. It was like my body took account of itself and decided, let's serve notice to this chump that he isn't immortal. All right already, message received!

To date, nothing is critical or particularly life threatening. In fact, some of it I wouldn't even be aware of if I wasn't visiting Doc Budelmann every six months for wellness checkups, which always include a blood analysis of some sort. When that post-visit phone call comes, my reaction is always, now what?

I won't go into the parade of niggling things that these wellness visits have unearthed, but they are piling up. I did have knee surgery back in March to remove a meniscus tear. (You can read about that here.) This knee thing was just one of the many afflictions rearing its ugly head when I turned 65. There has been a host of others.

The only reason I bring all of this up is, I am in the midst of eight days at home. Any period longer than three or four days is a real treat. I have been traveling nonstop for business, as well as fun, since the end of May. Stuff simply isn't getting done at home. Anyone taking an impromptu tour of my house would probably jump to the conclusion, I'm a hoarder. Stuff is piled everywhere. I have one room upstairs so full of life's flotsam, I can barely navigate through it. My kitchen counters are piled high with junk. I am in the process of ship lapping the ceiling in my great room, and the dining area is full of lumber, power tools and ladders. It's totally out of hand!

Because I have a fraternity brother arriving in two weeks to help me with the actual ship-lap application, I have a lot of prep work to finish. This week at home is my week to do it. I have at least a half-dozen assignments from my biggest client that deadline this week, too. I have two videos to edit: one each for my two video projects. And, if things work out as I hope, I'll also be videoing two or three segments for BEER2WHISKEY.

In other words, my plate is not just full this week, it runneth over.

But, in the midst of all of this, I have two physical therapy sessions plus an appointment with my orthopedist for my shoulder. I have a urology office dunning me with phone calls attempting to set up an appointment that Doc Budelmann ordered. And I have an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doc at the end of the month.

What the hell? I am a sinking ship with little in the way of cargo to pitch overboard.

So, yes, I'm a little stressed out. I'm weary of messing with doctors and squads of their henchmen. I just want to make some money and get a few things accomplished around the house. Fat chance!

The takeaway from all of this is, at some point things just fall apart. For me, it happened virtually overnight on my 65th birthday. I still don't complain about it much. I'm already busy enough without taking the time to whine about my seemingly endless string of less-than-significant medical issues.

Here's to your good health!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Time's A-Wastin' and I Hate It!



I'm not the kind of guy who wastes a lot of time. At least I have myself convinced of that. If I have stuff to do, I want to get it done. I'll wake myself up at four o'clock in the morning with thoughts of all the things piled on my plate. Does this cause some stress? Why, yes, it does. That I don't have an ulcer or a nervous tick of some sort is amazing.

Of all the things I have to do, producing work that translates into a payday is numero uno on the list. I often know when an assignment will be issued or a story idea accepted by my largest client. Usually these are fruits of some event they have sent me to cover. Other times it's because they have asked for a specific story, but I still must pitch that story through their third-party content organizer. On the surface, that may sound silly, but it's through this same content organizer I must submit finished stores and, most importantly, it's through this content organizer that I am paid. So, every story must begin at the beginning, which is submitting the idea for approval. When it's a story they have requested, I know it will be approved and I write it.

Despite this drive to get paying work done ASAP, I still manage to procrastinate when it comes to chores around the house, such as renovation projects and so forth.

I am less likely to put off doing work-type projects, but some are more important to me than others. My two video projects fall in right behind paying assignments in terms of importance. I have a backlog of just3things videos to edit. Currently, I have perhaps eight unedited videos for that Website. I make it a point to edit at least one a week. This isn't a huge effort. On average, editing a j3t video takes from 90 minutes to two hours.

Then there is my new video project: BEER2WHISKEY. This is for a YouTube channel of the same name. I post a new video there at noon every Thursday. Although, eventually I will have a series of shorter videos in the three-to-four-minute range, the videos shot and edited so far range from 9 to 15 minutes. These require three or four hours to edit.

Of the things I like to do, writing a post for this blog is at the bottom of the list. That's why, despite making a vow to write a new post every week in 2017, I'm back to writing two or so a month. As I am doing today, I typically write for Clanging Bell on Sunday mornings. If I'm jammed up with paying assignments or behind in editing videos, that's what I do on Sunday mornings rather than create a new blog post.

Bringing up the rear in this creative scrum is writing car reviews. Many weeks I knock out as many as six or seven assignments for my biggest paying client. Even I can grow weary of writing about cars. I need to massage a different area of my creativity. After writing two or three thousand words of auto content for pay, I just don't have the steam left in me to write another eight hundred words on some new car I have just driven. Does that make me a bad person?

So, back to my opening statement that I don't like to waste time. I don't. I don't like covering the same ground twice, either. Although I didn't post anything new to Clanging Bell last week, I did write a new post last Monday morning. I just didn't post it to the blog.

It was a nine-hundred-word rant on the Steelers refusing to leave their locker room for the national anthem before their game last week with the Chicago Bears. Having been a Steelers fan off and on for more than half a century, I was more than disappointed by their actions last week. But, I decided as I prepared to write my very first post to this site six or seven years ago, that I wouldn't use it as space to air my political views. Who cares anyway, right?

So, I did write about 900 words last week, but after thinking about my pledge not to politicize Clanging Bell, I didn't post those words to the site. After a full week of reflection, I made the right choice. Now, though, I am kicking myself for wasting the time to write that post. 

I do hate wasting time. I say that as I prepare to head to my Sunday watering hole Smoke on the Water in downtown Greenville for a couple of beers. Here's the thing: Now that I have my BEER2WHISKEY channel on YouTube, sipping a beer or two is really research, isn't it? I'm honing my craft. At least that's how I'm going to look at it going forward.

I'm not wasting time; I'm doing research! I feel better about myself already.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

And the Beat Goes On: Fighting the Good Fight on YouTube


I'm not the kind of guy who obsesses about things. But, when I need to be, I am focused. The past couple of weeks I have been homed in on getting my YouTube channel up and running. Not just running, mind you, but humming right along. I am pouring huge amounts of time and treasure into this project. I believe in it. If it doesn't do everything I want it to do, it won't be because I didn't invest the sweat equity or the capital.

I have six segments in the can, of which four are edited. Two are posted. You can see them here (I hope.). For the present, Thursdays at noon will be the schedule for posting new videos. I already have another “Fiji Brothers Panel” video on deck for this coming Thursday. The following week I will post one for the Islamorada Beer Company. If you visit the BEER2WHISKEY YouTube channel, click on the “Subscribe” tab. Apparently 100 is the magic number of subscribers allowing me to do a few unique things with the channel. I was on the channel this morning and I have one subscriber. One down, 99 to go!

I am not abandoning just3thingsvideo.com. In fact, I have a fresh video on how to get the most out of a Jimmy Buffet concert nearly edited. I will post it in the next day or two. I have at least another six or eight segments shot. I just need to find the time to edit them.

I continue to struggle with all of the nuances of YouTube as a platform. It's easy enough to post videos on YouTube, but to establish a presence there is a whole different cat. The people I know who are truly successful there don't do much of anything else. I, on the other hand, have other things to do. I still need to earn a living.

My goal is to transform both of my video projects into their own brands. To do that, sadly, I'll need to broaden their reach through social media. To be honest, I'd rather slam my hand in a car door than invest even 30 minutes a day flitting around all the social media sites promoting my projects. I really don't want to be one of “those people.” But, it must be done.

I think my solution to the social media issue is to hire some entity to handle most of that end of things. I am constantly dunned by companies in India claiming to have the answer for making my projects successful. I have no clue why India is the Promise Land of social media, but when I was a project editor for a book publisher while still living in Florida, we would outsource some of the projects to a company in India. They did an acceptable job. So, I'm not ruling out India.

As I wrestle with the social media issue, I still must shoot more segments. This is no small feat. Not only must I convince breweries and distilleries to participate, the panel format I have established requires I have a sidekick. This is a major hurdle when shooting outside Greenville, SC. It means finding a person I actually want to be with on camera who has the time to shoot a segment or two. At this point, I am forced to restrict my shoots to locations where I have a built-in sidekick. Otherwise, I must get them to the location, as well as house and feed them. I'm not in a position to shoulder that expense, yet.

Yep, I still have a lot to work out. But, it's Sunday, my beer-drinking day. No better opportunity to ponder the possibilities and make a decision or two than over a delicious craft beer.

Cheers!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Creating a YouTube Channel Is Not for the Feint Hearted


I'm not the kind of guy who spends a lot of time futzing with social media. This, of course, renders me a dinosaur within my field and among the carmakers to which I must appeal. Despite the fact that a fair amount of it is more activity than accomplishment, companies like to see themselves mentioned as often as possible whether that really translates into sales or not. At this point, no one actually knows. But this narcissism on the part of auto manufacturers has created a sea change in my industry to which I have been slow to adapt.

I do have auto-media peers who successfully navigate the sea of social media, but the investment of time and treasure it requires is staggering. So, I muddle along doing a few Instagram posts (Which allows me to also share those posts on Twitter and Facebook.) each month on my iPhone 6, and call it a day. My seven followers seem to appreciate my effort.

My lack of social-media skills, however, does have some negative consequences for me. Whenever I do wade into a social-media project, what would take someone familiar with the various platforms an hour to do, takes me days. It's just another reason I basically avoid social media.

I am in the process of launching a second video project. I will continue expanding content on just3thingsvideo.com, but I will now also be producing videos for BEER2WHISKEY. These will be videos dedicated to introducing viewers to various delicious adult beverages, craft breweries and distilleries. To date, I've shot six B2W segments and edited three of them. The two craft breweries I videoed in Islamorada, however, may be history. Hurricane Irma is crashing through the Keys as I write this. The fate of Islamorada Beer Co and the Florida Keys Brewing Co is uncertain at this writing. Fingers crossed!

In terms of how I make these videos available, the big difference between j3t and B2W is, j3t videos are posted on a dedicated Website, but I am hosting the B2W videos on a YouTube channel. At least I'll be hosting those videos on YouTube if I can ever get the damn channel set up and operational.

I was supposed to be in South Florida much of this week and all weekend. The Miami International Auto Show was to kick off this weekend with Saturday designated as media day. The show invited me to attend. I was to fly down early and stay late to spend some time with friends. Tuesday I was in the midst of packing for my Wednesday morning flight when I received an e-mail that the show was postponed due to Irma, and all the media flights had been canceled. Suddenly I found myself with a few unexpected, unbudgeted days at home.

With only a couple of assignments due, I had some extra time to devote to creating my new YouTube channel. I thought I'd have the channel up and running with at least the three already edited videos posted by now. I crack myself up.

I have spent roughly eight or nine hours attempting to set up the channel. “Frustrating” doesn't begin to describe the experience so far. I am ready to body slam an orphan. Every inch of ground gained has been met with stubborn resistance at a level equal to the Japanese defending Iwo Jima. It has been a slugfest of Biblical proportions.

Sure, there are videos posted on YouTube supposedly engineered to help the feeble, ignorant newbie create a channel, but half the time what they show in the tutorial isn't what I see on my channel as I vainly attempt to follow along. Just setting up the banner art was an exercise in patience, restraint and uber research. If I possessed my father's temper, I'd be typing this post on my trusty iPhone because my home laptop workstation would be a pile of bits and pieces in the corner of my office. Should my left arm feel this numb?

I will walk away from this challenge for few days. The Steelers play their first game of the season this afternoon, after all. I need to knock out an assignment for a client on Monday. Then I'm gone for three days for a Lexus event in San Francisco. The earliest I will get back to working on the YouTube channel is next weekend. I have revised the B2W channel up-and-running date from today to December 1. And that's not a shoe in.

I need a beer.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Circle of Life or, In This Case, Death


I'm not the kind of guy who puts much faith in fate. We won't wander into some sort of existential quagmire here, but I think we pretty much determine what happens to us through our decisions, as well as our reaction to things that happen around us over which we – nor anyone else, for that matter – have much, if any, control.

In my mind, serendipity, rather than fate, plays a far bigger role in our lives. Was it fate that determined I'd never find a woman with whom I'd spend my declining years? I don't think so. It was good luck. In any case, here I am, unencumbered with a joint decision maker gumming up the works and complaining about hair in my ears.

Whether fate or serendipity, I have returned to a period in my life that I never thought I'd revisit. Here's the back story.....

My father was a Lutheran minister. This was a late-life career choice that had our family moving every three-or-so years as he completed college on the G.I. Bill, attended seminary and took a call at the two churches in which he ministered, the last of which was in Louisville, Kentucky. There was a funeral home nearby that church. It was there that probably 3 out of 5 funerals my father presided over took place. To say he knew and was friends with the staff there would be an understatement. He probably officiated at a half dozen funerals a year there.

If I pondered it sufficiently, I could probably remember whether it was during the spring of my senior year in high school or my freshman year in college, but the precise time reference is incidental to the story, and I just don't have the motivation or energy to think that hard. The point is that in the course of overseeing someone's send off to the afterlife, my father mentioned to the owner and funeral director who had asked about me that I was struggling to find summer employment. (Yes, this was at a time when kids over the age of 16 were expected to have summer employment.)

Thinking about it for a moment, the funeral director told my father he was a man down and had a spot for his young son, who he knew to be charming and hard working; a “highly motivated go-getter” was no doubt bandied about more than once.

So began my three-month apprenticeship at a funeral home.

A surreal period in my life, it was both strange and fun. Because of my age at the time, I immersed myself in the experience with a degree of irreverence. Not yet 21, death wasn't on my radar. Like string theory, mortality was something for someone else to consider and debate.

As I think about it, my three-month stint was more than likely during the summer of 1970. Not only were there no cell phones, Internet, answering machines and even beepers were technologies of the future.

My primary role at the funeral home was to spend every-other night and every-other weekend there. If a late-night call came in regarding a loved one's passing, my job was to phone whichever licensed mortician was on call that night, roust him out of bed and have him come to the funeral home to get the meat wagon, then accompany him to pick up the stiff.

I likened my workload to that of a firefighter: Days of little action punctuated by sporadic activity. That is to say, many days and nights I was there didn't produce much in the way of activity. In the back of the funeral home was a two-bed dorm where I and the other guy, who covered the nights and weekends I wasn't there, slept, showered and so forth. It had a TV with cable service. My evenings there were typically filled with TV watching. A couple of times a week, one or more of my friends would drop by with a pizza. Other nights, I was on my own. I occupied some of my idle time thinking of different ways I'd like to answer calls when they came in. The one that sticks in my mind is, “If you're soon to join the dear departed, we've got the equipment to get you started.” I crack myself up.

All things considered, it was a positive experience, not only providing an array of war stories with which to entertain friends over the next few years, but also providing experience with death and grieving that you can only get through facing it day after day.

So far behind me, I hadn't really thought much about the experience for years. Not until I became good friends with a couple who have become increasingly more involved in a funeral home in which they were nothing more than mere investors three or four years ago, did my own brush with the funeral-home business surface among my memories.

In the past couple of years they have gone from being behind-the-scenes money people in the enterprise to taking over the day-to-day supervision of the business. Just a week or two ago, they moved the business into a much larger space and added a crematorium. Needless to say, bidness is boomin'.

I never ever thought I'd be back here, but I will be helping them out occasionally. I'll be filling in when their need for an extra hand coincides with me being in town. I've run some errands for them and worked a funeral where – like riding a bicycle – I easily reprized my apprenticeship role by standing by looking solemn during a funeral viewing and service.

Fate or serendipity? Who knows. But, I've purchased a black suit and am ready to go.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Your Definition of Haves and Have Nots Depends on What You Have

A quiet afternoon on the sandbar.
I'm not the kind of guy who belly aches too much about First-World problems. At least I try not to be. My lawnmower issue of a couple weeks ago could, I guess, be categorized as a first-world problem. I mean, there are a lot of people out there who don't have either a yard or the wherewithal to own a mower to cut it. I guess to a person living in a cardboard box under a bridge, any problem I might have with my new $400 mower is fairly trivial. I'd have to agree.

Don't worry, this isn't another lawnmower post. I just present it as evidence that most problems are relative. To some third worlder, surviving by chewing the bark off a stick, would see not being able to find another stick as a huge issue. Me, not so much. I'm guessing you are right there with me.

On my recent trip to the Keys, I was with my friends who rent a place in Islamorada for a month every summer. I can pinpoint within a week the exact month they will be there by simply going from the weekend after Independence Day and tracing out the month on my calendar to a total of five weekends. Easypeasy. 

We were anchored on the sandbar about a mile off the beach of, what used to be the world-famous Holiday Isle, but is now called, ugh, Postcard Inn. Although there are boats anchored in the waist-deep water there every day of the week, Saturdays and Sundays will find as many as 200 smaller craft crammed into this rather tight area, each with its contingent of beer-swilling passengers and blaring music. The water around these boats is filled with people hanging onto anything that floats like survivors of a torpedoed trawler.

It is a social gathering of the haves. The degree of having is usually measured by the size of your craft (Insert your “size” joke here.) with the larger boats typically indicating those having more. From my perspective, if you have a boat and are on the sandbar in Islamorada, you certainly have more than I. But you might be amazed at the size of some of the boats, the age of those owning them and their stories.

On my first trip to the sandbar this year we met a 50ish couple with a boat in the 27-ft range. They were from Pompano Beach, Fla. They were spending the summer in the Keys. The boat they brought to the sandbar was their little boat. They also have a 57-ft boat that was docked a couple of miles away on which they were staying. Serious haves, right? The Kennedys might disagree.

On my last trip out to the sandbar, we met a family with a boat of similar size. The parents were in their late 40s with a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-yr-old son. They had two small dogs with them, one of which was a puppy with its leg in a cast. They were friendly, chatty people with whom we visited as we floated around on noodles with our beers. The dogs spent the afternoon on a huge float the size of a living-room sofa. Even the pets of a lot of these people are “haves.”

Driving home the whole first-world-problem thing: The wife related their latest story of woe. Seems they live full time in Miami, but have owned a weekend house in the Keys for more than 10 years. They are currently in the process of building a pool behind their Keys house. She regaled us with the misery of having the back of the house all torn up as this pool-building process drags on.

The really horrific part of the story is that while the pool excavation was going on two weeks ago, the pool builders cut an electric line running from the house to the dock. At the time, the pool contractor promised to get an electrician on site the following week to fix the problem. They returned this weekend only to discover electric to the dock hadn't been restored. The humanity!

Faced with not being able to lower the davits cradling their boat out of the water, they considered packing up and heading back to Miami. But, no, where there's a will and a wallet stuffed with 100-dollar bills, there's a way. Their solution was to have a generator delivered to the house. Using the generator, they lowered their boat, (I'm not making this up) named Positive Electricity, into the water, saving the weekend. Thank, God!

No question, having is a matter of perspective. And, no matter how much you have, you have problems. Last night we broke the cork off trying to open a bottle of wine to drink while watching the sunset from our dock. Panic was about to set in when I finally found a larger, better cork screw in the silverware drawer. Opening the bottle, I saved the evening.

Now that was a close call.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

My New Toro Mower: When More Expensive Doesn't Translate into Better

A representation of my old lawn mower.
I'm not the kind of guy who often suffers buyer's remorse. In the great scheme of things, I don't buy all that much to begin with. Since I can justify purchasing some must-have piece of video gear for one of my video projects (because, well, I've got myself convinced I can turn one or both of them into money makers) I don't lose much sleep over those purchases.

An exception was the nearly $50, I wound up spending to secure a $3 adapter plug to go from the back of my new four-station wireless-mic setup to the mic jack in my video cameras. In one of my recent disappointments with Amazon Prime's delivery service, they missed their two-day guaranteed delivery by a day, which meant a $31 package of two apparently platinum-plated, diamond-studded adapter plugs was delivered to my mailbox the day I left on a 10-day trip. While I was gone, vandals stole the mail out of the roadside mailboxes of half a dozen houses along my street, mine being one of them. I got back on Amazon two more times, ordering much less expensive versions of the pilfered plugs only to discover both times that they didn't fit. My total outlay at that point was roughly $45. I finally found the only Radio Shack still in business within 50 miles of my house about 20 miles away. An hour of my time, a couple gallons of gas and $3.48 in cash, and I finally had the part I needed.

I'm still fuming over the entire affair.

I also can justify purchasing tools. I do a lot of renovating around my house. I learned long ago that any job can be made easier with the proper tool. I'm all over easy. Nail guns, table saw and all the other power tools one might need for a job never fall under the want-or-really-need purchase test.

When I do buy something – almost always online – I do a lot of price research (my $31 dumb-ass adapter-plug purchase notwithstanding). I look on Amazon. I look on ebay, as well as other sites. I usually know what I'm buying and that I'm getting a good deal. End result: I'm happy with my choice.

That is, until now.

A couple of weeks ago, unforeseen circumstances forced me to buy my second lawn mower in three years. Quite happy with the Toro with its Kohler engine and front-wheel drive, self-propelled feature that I bought at Home Depot three years ago, when faced with replacing it, I decided to step up a little. I bought another Toro, but this one has a Briggs & Stratton engine, electric start and rear-wheel drive for “better traction on hilly surfaces.” I now live in lawn mower hell.

The electric start is terrific, by the way. Well worth the extra $40. The issue is that before using it the first time, it needs to be charged for 24 hours. I have nowhere outside that I can leave anything other than an automobile or anvil unattended for 24 hours. So, I rolled it into my dining room and charged it there. I'll charge it every three or four uses in my carport going forward.

The electric starter and a fuel cap that is much easier to seat and screw back on than the one on the Kohler engine are the only two bright spots on my new mower.

There are a couple of issues with the new mower, but all roads lead to its rear-wheel-drive configuration. Whether RWD is the problem or it just that this mower's RWD is so crappy, in no way shape or form is it easier to use on hilly surfaces than my previous FWD mowers. It's not just a bit less efficient, it just plain sucks. I don't exaggerate when I write that I probably work twice as hard with this RWD mower than either of the two FWD mowers I've owned since living at my current address.
My new $400 death machine.

The only semi-flat spot on my two-thirds of an acre is where my shed sits. It represents perhaps 10 percent of my yard. All the rest is hill. That means that over the course of 45 percent of my lot (uphill versus downhill), I have to put forth a lot more effort now than before. I was able to mow the entire yard in about 90 minutes without stopping. It now requires about two hours or more because I have to stop, shut off the mower and rest half a dozen times. It goes like a bat out of hell mowing down hill, but who needs that? I have to physically push it going up hill and sprint along behind it going down.

Not only that, my back is killing me within the first 15 minutes. The handle is positioned so low, I literally must slightly bend at the waist to use this thing. It has an “adjustable” handle, but an airline seat has a greater range of recline than this handle has adjustment. I'm only 5 ft-8 in tall! I can't imagine someone 6 ft or taller using this mower without having a chiropractor on hand.

I've named this piece of shit, The Widow Maker.

I envision the day when, unable to reach me for a week or so, one of my friends decides to stop by my house to check up on me only to find me lying in the dirt that is my front yard with my decomposing hand still gripping the handle of old Widow Maker lying on its side next to me. My house will have been ransacked, my shed emptied and whatever test vehicle I had will be long gone. But that damn mower will still be there, taunting me.

I laughed, I cried, I kissed 400 bucks good-by.

Watch for it on Craig's List next April.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Glamping with Subaru and Crosstrek in South Dakota: Second Stop in Destination Hat Trick


I'm not the kind of guy who doesn't like to get back to nature. I'm willing to flirt with the great outdoors to a limited extent and under very specific conditions. After asking my first (and key) question, “What is the bear situation?” I am ready to embark into the wilderness, if satisfied with the answer.

Yep, this is roughing it.

Although not new, there is a trending experience for the tenderfoot who believes roughing it is using hotel-supplied shampoo. It's called “glamping.” Pseudo camping, really, it involves upscale camping with most – if not all – the modern conveniences. My 79-year-old sister just spent a night or two being pampered glamping in the New Mexico mountains for her 59th wedding anniversary. How rugged could the experience possibly be, right? Right. 


So, I didn't hesitate a second when Subaru reached out with its invite to the media launch of its redesigned 2018 Crosstrek. The catch: Accommodations would be tents in the tradition of glamping. Although I don't consider glamping much of a draw, it is certainly different as auto-media events go. Typically we are housed in four-star resorts or hotels where staff fall all over themselves meeting our every need. While glamping might not be an enticement, it certainly offered a refreshing experience. 


Moreover, I found myself seduced by the location: the Black Hills of South Dakota. After nearly 30 years of attending carmaker media events, which overlapped 10 years of traveling with the TV travel series “Discover America,” I had only ever been to S. Dakota once. I've been to Alaska half a dozen times and Hawaii with at least equal frequency. When would I ever get to S.D. again? Additionally, Subaru tossed around the name Deadwood, as well as Mount Rushmore. I was hooked.

In fact, I was so eager to go, I opted to take a sabbatical from my annual Keys trip to attend. As things developed, I felt compelled to accept an assignment from a client to attend a Hyundai event backing up to Subaru. Now I wasn't simply talking three days off for Subaru, but a total of five days. I wasn't happy about the development – well, other than ultimately making some money for the Hyundai portion of the trip – but it is what it is. I had been committed to the Subaru trip for weeks, and I never say, no, to a client. I was sad to see my Keys trip slowly evaporate, but work is work.

I'm one of those people who tends to over pack a bit for just about any trip. I was totally overwhelmed when faced with packing for three totally different kinds of trips in three diverse locations. I had to pack for the laid-back Fla. Keys, glamping in the wilderness of S.D. and the business-casual event in San Diego. I also had to drag along all my video gear for just3thingsvideo.com. Decisions had to be made and compromises forged.

Early Monday morning I drove the two hours from Islamorada in the Keys to the Fort Lauderdale airport for an 8:30 a.m. flight. I flew from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta, Atlanta to Salt Lake City and Salt Lake City to Rapid City, S. Dakota. Yep, Delta doesn't regularly fly into Aspen, Colorado and never flies into Santa Barbara, Calif., but it does have regular flights into and out of Rapid City, S.D. Who knew?


Upon landing in Rapid City, I was whisked by car the 50-or-so miles to the campsite just outside of Deadwood. In the early planning stages of this trip, I was optimistic that I might be able to line up an on-camera interview or two in Deadwood as travel segments for just3things. These hopes were soon dashed, though, when I realized I wouldn't have a lot of free time. Also, I couldn't find anyone associated with Deadwood to help with the endeavor. In fact, Deadwood was one uber-size disappointment. Deadwood from the TV series of the same name is long gone. A couple of big fires over the years took out the original buildings. A Tombstone experience it's not. The oldest building on its “historic” Main Street is from the early 1900s. It is shoehorned among casinos and T-shirt shops. Disappointed!

The morning after the "big" storm.

Our campground consisted of about 40 guest tents, a registration/logistics tent, a kitchen tent and a large common tent with sofas, chairs and a couple of big flat-screen TVs. There were also trailers housing bathrooms and showers. An open-air dinning area projected the misplaced optimism of the event planners that we would be greeted with blue skies. Although we were never rained on at meal time, storms pounded us both nights I was there. So severe was the storm the second night, a few people bordered on hysterical. After nearly 25 years in South Florida and riding out several hurricanes, I didn't see what all the hubbub was about. I finally got to the place where I didn't even take my pool furniture inside for a category 1 hurricane. But, for the uninitiated, it was a closer brush with nature than they wanted.


Having contributed heavily to the past several years of Subaru sales growth, Crosstrek is an important vehicle for this Japanese brand. Totally redesigned, the 2018 Crosstrek is the second Subaru to ride on the brand's new Global platform that increases crash-energy absorption by 40 percent. The 152-horsepower 2-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine is 80 percent new and 26 pounds lighter than the previous powerplant.

Either a 6-speed manual (standard in the base and Premium grades) or a CVT (available in Premium and standard in Limited trim) distribute engine power to all wheels. Active Torque Vectoring, first introduced on the WRX and WRX STI, is now standard on all trim levels. The government puts fuel economy for the manual at 23 miles per gallon city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined. Those numbers increase to 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway/29 mpg combined for the CVT.


Subaru stretched the wheelbase more than 1 inch, translating into that much extra rear-seat legroom. Among some of the higher-tech goodies are Subaru STARLINK multimedia interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and available EyeSight driver-assist technology with adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

Subaru laid out a rather extensive drive route that included a large percentage of dirt and gravel roads. Its X-Mode helps on ultra-slippery surfaces at slower speeds and 8.7-in of road clearance provides some piece of mind over rock-strewn roadways. We found Crosstrek to be surprisingly quiet and quite comfy on paved surfaces. Off pavement, it was stable and well planted. Power is a bit lacking and a CVT, while delivering impressive fuel economy, doesn't squeeze the most out of the four-banger's 152 ponies. The manual delivers the more satisfying drive from a performance perspective.

There's nothing like an early morning stroll in the wilderness, coffee in hand, watching the sunrise. It was a nice contrast with sitting on the dock, glass of wine in hand watching the Keys sunset. Don't feel too sorry for the lost days of my Keys vacation. I've already booked flight back in August.

The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Beer2Whiskey


I'm not the kind of guy who backs down from a challenge; well, unless it involves some sort of high-noon shootout on Main Street. In such instances my fight-or-shuffle response defaults to shuffle. Once upon a time it was fight-or-flight, but my days of running, skipping or even brisk walking are about over. Nope, these days it's shuffle.

I'm in the process of launching – trying to launch, really – a new video project. Just3thingsvideo.com isn't going away. In fact, I have at least a dozen videos shot that require editing. I'll be adding several more this month as my travels take me to the Florida Keys, as well as Deadwood, South Dakota and San Diego. The new project will be something in addition to j3t. But, I am struggling with it.

Since I wrote my first post for Clanging Bell seven years ago, several followers (Several is more than three, right?) have urged me to write a blog on craft beer and/or bourbon. You may well find this surprising: There are people out there who think I'm an expert of some sort on craft beer and bourbon. To them I say, drinking my fair share of both doesn't make me an expert any more than a guy who religiously goes out every Saturday and shoots a 110-stroke round of golf is an expert golfer. Although I certainly enjoy craft beer and bourbon, consuming both on a somewhat regular basis, I am far from being well versed in either.

That's the first reason I haven't launched a beer/bourbon blog or Website. I'm no expert. I know what I like, but that's about the extent of it. The second reason I don't have an alcohol-centric blog is that even I grow weary of writing. I can barely spool up the enthusiasm to write one post per week for Clanging Bell. Many weeks I write four or five auto-related stories or car reviews. Even my well of creativity has a bottom to it. There was a day when I didn't even log on to my PC on the weekends. Those days are far in the past, but I still need some down time. I abandoned GreenvilleInsider a year ago because I couldn't write enough content on my own to keep it relevant. I don't need an additional blog, no matter the subject matter.

Which brings us back to my wobbly new video project. It will have a craft beer and bourbon – well, craft beer and whiskey – theme. I have secured the domain name, if I choose to create a Website for it. If not, I'll probably just post videos to YouTube. 
Yes, I carry bubble wrap in my suitcase to carry home treasures like these.
It's an ambitious undertaking. I intend to have multiple participants each segment and at least two cameras. I am already gathering the gear, including a second camera and a four-station audio system. I still have a few other items to acquire, as well as having a logo created and so forth. The deeper I get into it, however, the more massive the challenge of actually getting it off the ground appears.

My fear is that it will turn into a real time eater. Lining up the first segment has been a frustrating exercise in absorbing the word, no. Well, not that anyone has come right out and said, no; but what should be a fairly straightforward decision-making process on the part of beer experts, craft breweries and distilleries, so far has morphed into a cremation-or-burial level decision for the people I have approached. Even people who have shown great interest in the abstract, suddenly began stuttering when I contacted them later, attempting to pin them down.

I am plowing ahead because I think it's an idea with merit and some earning potential, but, to date, nothing has validated my optimism. If it succeeds, great; if not, I'll have some gear to unload on eBay and a nice, worthless logo.

Cheers!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Hero? I Think Not; Just a Victim of Circumstance

Me mugging it up with the 2018 Toyota Camry in Portland.
I'm not the kind of guy who is comfortable with uber-long absences from home. I define uber-long as anything over 9 or 10 days – and even that's pushing it. Three days, five days or even seven days are well within my comfort zone. Even when relaxing on vacation, anything past seven days can bump up my levels of angst and stress.

I am currently on day 13 of a 15-day sentence away from home. I am bonkers! How did such a thing happen? you may ask. Aren't you master of your fate, captain of your ship, king of your castle? you might add. Why, yes I am, sort of, to a point. I certainly don't have a significant other to whom I answer or feel the need to discuss plans. That in and of itself makes life less stressful and puts me in a better position not to have to spend more time away from home than I prefer. But, at times, I can screw things up all on my own as they just spiral out of my control.

A number of forces conspired to put me in this position. I am basically a victim of circumstance. At the heart of it, though, I am simply too loving, loyal and reliable for my own good. There, I've finally admitted it.

Here's how it went down....

I visit my sister and her family in New Mexico twice a year: Christmas and again sometime in the summer. Nearly a 1,600-mile trek, I am no longer keen to drive it, take the bus, train nor hoof it. That leaves flying.

Because I must bear the burden of the ticket price (very rare for me), I always book early to minimize the cost whether in Sky Miles (Delta speak for frequent-flier miles) or dollars. This means booking not just weeks, but sometimes several months in advance. I book the trip for 10 days just in case a carmaker media event crops up during my stay that a client asks me to attend. I can zip away for three days in the middle of my New Mexico stay and still have seven days to spend with family. Yes, I'm a peach.
My Goddaughter and I celebrating her Masters Degree at a nineties theme party in Albuquerque.
I booked my summer visit from June 9 through June 19. A few weeks after booking this trip, Toyota sent out invitations to its 2018 Camry media launch. Although it offered multiple waves, I chose the first wave, which meant flying to Portland, Ore on June 5 with a return home on June 7.

No problemo, right? I get home the afternoon of June 7, have that night, as well as the night of June 8 at home before heading to New Mexico on Friday, June 9.

Three weeks later, a client forwards an invite to me, requesting I attend. It's for the 3-day Audi A5/S5 Sportback media launch in Seattle beginning June 7. Freelancing is never saying, no. Not ever. If ever offered an assignment as I lie gasping for air, clutching my chest on my deathbed, I will screw up the last dregs of my strength to squeak out a raspy, HELL YES! Get it? I never say, no.

That's not to say I've never turned down such an assignment. I am this client's last-ditch go-to for carmaker events. Think of it as if I was part of some sort of homeland defense unit. This client wouldn't call me up until the enemy was storming the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. I'm that far down the pecking order. Consequently, often I don't receive these invitations until two or three weeks before the event. So, there have been a couple of times I've had to turn down the assignment simply because I was already booked on conflicting car events.

I immediately agreed to attend the Audi event and then had to try to figure out how I would overcome the logistics. Never, ever say, no.

What I wound up doing was blowing off my return flights from Portland to Greenville, and then flying on Wednesday the 7th from Portland to Seattle. Friday the 9th was to be the travel day home from Seattle. Luckily, I always book my longer flights out of Atlanta, rather than Greenville/Spartanburg. I can drop off whatever test car I have at the airport, picking up a replacement on my return. Unfortunately, though, my flight out of Atlanta to New Mexico was at 11 a.m. on that Friday.

My only choice was to hop the red-eye from Seattle to Atlanta on Thursday night. Delta checked my bags all the way to New Mexico and, once landed, I had three hours to make that flight. The one big fly in the ointment, however, was that my flight to Portland at the beginning of this mess was out of Greenville/Spartanburg, but my flight back from New Mexico at trip's end terminated in Atlanta.

I had to work out with the vendor supplying me with test cars to pick up one car in Greenville and drop off my replacement car at the Atlanta airport two weeks later. Geesh.

There you have it: my loyalty to my client, love for my family and reliability in my work ethic drove me to a 15-day absence. I'm no hero; just a victim of circumstance.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fighting the Good Fight, or I'm Mad as Hell and I'm Not Going to Take It Any More!

Residential use? I think not. This isn't the Cleavers preparing for a picnic.

I'm not the kind of guy who yells, “Get off my lawn!” at the neighborhood kids. Actually, the neighborhood kids here are pretty respectful of other peoples' property. Of course, you could make the argument that my moonscape of a lawn doesn't warrant Defcon 2-like policing, and you would be correct. Anything short of driving an M2 half-track onto my grass...er, weeds...umm dirt would have little or no impact upon its condition. In fact, conspiracy-theory wackos, convinced we didn't actually land on the moon in 1969, believe the event was staged right here on little-ole earth, and suspect my yard served as the set. Drop by and I'll present you with a faux moon rock.

I must admit that the two-thirds of an acre upon which my Greenville home sits hasn't received much of my attention beyond mowing every 10 days or so from the start of April until mid October each year. From the time I purchased the house in the late spring of 2007, my only real cash investment in landscaping upkeep has been sporadically cutting down six or seven tall pine trees scattered around the property. (I still have two to go.) Otherwise, the only treasure spent has been on gas and mower maintenance, as well as barrels of weed killer.

The simple truth of the matter is, I have bigger fish to fry. Most of my energy and all my spare change have gone into remodeling projects inside the house. Ultimately, the inside is what will sell it once on the market. I'll address the landscaping if and when the inside is completed.
At the moment, this is the sign sitting on the corner of my property.
The other issue with focusing assets on the landscaping is, at least a dozen times since I moved into the house in the winter of 2008, some public entity has arrived on the scene to dig things up. ATT, Sprint, Greenville Water, the South Carolina DOT and other assorted felons descend on my property to lay cable, pipe or whatever. Although they do often stray inside my actual property lines, they mostly tear things up within the setback. Mine is a corner lot; so, this means they strip mine within the section of land roughly 15 feet from the edge of the two streets bordering my property. I don't exaggerate when I say that I have yet to get through 12 consecutive months without my lawn being violated in some way.

At this juncture, you might jump to the conclusion that I'm not particularly vigilant regarding what goes on outside my home. I do keep my head down and my powder dry, but that doesn't mean I don't pay attention. Because many of the homes around me are rentals, I historically have let minor annoyances slide, knowing most of the tenants last no longer than a year. The house behind mine has hosted more than a dozen renters in my eight years here. No matter how bad they are, I know these people will be gone in six or eight months.

As you see, my default attitude where my neighbors are concerned is one of laissez-faire. What sort of behavior on the part of a neighbor might motivate me to take action? I'm glad you asked. That's the real topic of this essay.

Here's the back story: When I moved into my home in 2008, the house across the side street from mine was occupied by an 84-year-old guy, who had owned it since honorably separating from the Navy at the end of the Korean War. Last year he apparently died at the ripe old age of 92. Clearly chain smoking and bitching 24/7 are pluses for longevity. After his death, his fat, chain-smoking hillbilly of a son, who also resides somewhere in this neighborhood, sold off his inherited house for the tidy sum of $29,000. No doubt in celebration of his windfall, the son waddled off, purchased a carton of Pall Malls and case of PBR, and partied like it was 1959.

Obviously, this was his house to do with as he pleased, but as the only house that has sold in this neighborhood in five years, $29,000 doesn't make for a good comp. I was ticked, but optimistic when it appeared the new owner was renovating it to flip. I even turned a blind eye when a crew of guys sans protective gear or even breathing masks stripped the asbestos siding from the house, tossing it in a dumpster that wound up who knows where. New roof, new siding, new paint, new wood deck on the back: The exterior was looking great. There was a lot of construction activity inside the house, as well. I had visions of the house reselling for four times the purchase price.

Sure, I thought it odd that it looked like the same crew of guys did the roofing and deck, as had replaced the siding, but I didn't give it much thought. Once the house appeared finished, there didn't seem to be much activity over there. I began to worry when a “For Sale” sign didn't appear in the front yard. I began noticing a heavy-duty diesel pickup truck or two over there from time to time. I thought they were merely contractors working on the interior. Silly me.
The poor quality of this photo is from being shot through my front-porch screen.
About three months ago, the side yard facing my house was suddenly full of heavy-duty pickup trucks and construction trailers with back hoes and so forth. Every night at least four or five diesel pickups and three or four trailers of some sort were parked there. Hmmm....me thinks this smells like a business being operated out of this house.

Around 6:30 each morning, it's like the staging the Normandy landing over there. In unison, all the diesels fire up and then idle for 15 minutes. There's beeping as they reverse to hook up trailers, guys are barking instructions at one another, and four or five sets of headlights blast into my bedroom windows. After the trucks depart with their respective loads of equipment and personnel, the lawn, which has yet this season to feel the sting of a mower blade, is strewn with all the flotsam one might expect of a construction site. There are big wood spools, like the coffee table in your first apartment, laying around along with lengths of cable and other assorted junk.

A month or so ago, as I was working around my shed, the owner wandered over and introduced himself. Turns out, he owns a cable-laying business in Atlanta. His only customer is Comcast. The house across the street is his South Carolina satellite office. A crew of his day workers, who look suspiciously like the same guys who did all the work on the exterior of the building, use it as a bunkhouse.

His main reason for approaching me was to ask if I had seen any suspicious activity around his house the night before. It seems someone hooked up one of his trailers and drove it off. About two weeks later, there were several sheriff's cars over there along with a CSI vehicle. Apparently he was robbed again. A real tragedy, right?
The carnage has now seeped into the lot behind him, as well.
There is a vacant lot behind his house. A week or so later, I saw him overseeing the cleaning up of that lot by the two brothers who own it. Evidently he either purchased or is leasing the property because now one of his trailers is parked on it. I fully expect him to eventually fence it in to try to secure his equipment.

I have been seething over this for three months. Last week I finally reached out to the zoning folks with a written complaint. This area is zoned residential and there is no way what's going on over there falls into a strict definition of residential. If this was within the city limits, I'm sure something would be done; however, this is the county, and I would guess things are a bit looser here. We'll see.

This was just the first of what may well be many shots fired in this struggle for truth, justice and the American way.