ouray

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It's me doing a little posing while taking a break at the Ouray, Colorado Jeep Jamboree in 1995.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Most of My Efforts to Be Productive Last Week Were Stymied


I'm not the kind of guy who would rather sit around than do something. Well, that's a sweeping statement that isn't entirely true. Sometime between 4 and 7 p.m. every day, I power down my PC, climb the steps to my living room and crank back in my recliner for an evening's TV watching. Even that statement isn't completely true. Two or three afternoons a week my PC is dark by lunch time as I redirect my efforts to tackle a house project. But you get the point: I do sit around most evenings – if not at home, then entertaining a bartender somewhere.

This past week was alarmingly quiet, disconcerting even, in regard to paying work. Planning on being in Portland, Maine with Dodge for the Challenger GT media event for the first three days at the week's front end, I had budgeted my work to have those days free. Weather of some sort had Delta canceling my original flight out of Greenville-Spartanburg to Laguardia and then my backup flight was canceled, as well. The best Delta could muster were backup, backup flights that wouldn't have gotten me to my destination until mid afternoon on Tuesday. Because that was the driving day for the event, there wasn't much sense in going.

Suddenly I found myself at home with three open days. It was, until I considered the impact on my earnings or lack thereof, glorious. I basically did nothing but go to the gym on Monday and Tuesday. At the request of my Autotrader editor on Monday, I did write a short news piece and submitted it. That took me all of 30 minutes. Otherwise, all was quiet on the Greenville front.

By Wednesday, though, I was boring myself and had to do something productive. I wrote a car review of the Chevy Cruze Hatchback in the morning (You can find it here.), and installed the final few pieces of baseboard in the upstairs bathroom in the afternoon. I had been holding off on the baseboard chore because it meant hauling my power miter saw from the shed to the carport and working outside. Most of last week featured Chamber of Commerce weather. With the sun shinning and temps in the mid 70s, I had no reason not to drag out the miter saw. Nearly three hours and sixteen cuts later, I had installed the less than six feet of remaining baseboard. Oh, I suddenly remembered why I had been putting off that project: 16 flipping cuts!

Thursday I decided to edit one of the half dozen or so unedited just3things videos I have stacked up. Once every two or three months when I spool up my Corel Videostudio editing program, I get a message to download a new update to the X9 Ultimate version I use. I always click on the “download” icon, wait for 15 seconds for the download to do its thing and then push on with my editing project without incident. Not so this time. The download seemed to complete and I began work on a video. With the second or third edit, the program froze and then closed itself. This repeated for another three or four attempts. Most of my Thursday was spent trying to overcome the glitch. I finally gave up, and shut down my PC.

On Friday, I did everything I could think of to get Corel working. I even went back and reset my PC to the day before I downloaded the update. Nothing worked. I finally decided to uninstall and then reinstall X9. I found my Corel license agreement with my number, logged on to Corel and found, to my horror, that there doesn't seem to be any path to reinstall the program. Contacting Corel customer service about the issue, I'm still waiting for a reply. Fingers crossed that they reach out on Monday.

Traditionally Saturdays are my do-nothing-without-remorse day. Some Saturdays, I don't even power up my PC. I go to the gym, lounge around, watch a movie or two in the afternoon and think about dinner. (Wow, maybe I sit around more than I think.) This past Saturday, however, I planned on doing some long-overdue cleaning/rearranging in my work area.

I was in and out of the gym by 9:30 a.m. Checking my phone for e-mails before leaving the gym parking lot, I was surprised by a reminder that the deadline for an Autotrader story was on Monday at 10 a.m. What story? Autotrader uses a third-party outfit to receive and accept story proposals, as well as receive the story once finished. This entity notifies me when Autotrader has accepted a proposal and alerts me to the deadline. Then, two days before the deadline, it sends a reminder. I received the reminder that morning, but had never seen the original notice of acceptance. Scrolling back a week, I couldn't locate the assignment-accepted e-mail. For whatever reason, the original acceptance notification never came. Spilled milk. I suddenly had an assignment due on Monday morning.

Rather than beginning my office clean-up project when I returned home, I used the two hours remaining before lunch to knock out and submit the story. I didn't actually begin working on the office until about 2:00.

I pity the sanitation worker tasked with dragging this thing full of books out to the truck.

As with every home project I undertake, my office clean up exceeded the time I had budgeted for it. I had three bookcases in my office crammed with books, press kits, office supplies and other assorted flotsam accumulated over the past five or six years since my last big clean up. Feeling like Cinderella as I carted armload after armload of junk up the stairs and out to my garbage can, all I could think about was hunkering down in my recliner with a movie and a glass of wine.

The biggest part of the chore was moving one of the bookcases out of my work space up to the upstairs spare bedroom. As part of that project, I decided to move the remaining two bookcases to different locations in my office. It meant unloading all three bookcases. Not only do I now have roughly 70 novels that look like they just came out of the Amazon box stacked up on the floor, I carted shelves of crap out to my garbage can. The books must go, but I can't bring myself to just pitch, what must be, $1,500-$2,000 in books. Next week I'll reach out to the library and see if I can donate them.

I did toss all manner of car-related books, manuals, press kits and so forth that I hadn't used in years. I wish I lived closer to some of my auto-journalist peers because I'm sure someone would have taken a lot of this stuff off my hands. I'm not a saver nor a hoarder. I have little sentimentality for things I don't use. But even I felt a little guilty about a few of the items I pitched. My thinking: Either I toss this stuff now or some poor, unsuspecting family member tosses it after I shuffle off this rock.

I worked until around 6:30 and still have a few hours of work to finish up. But the garbage can was filled to the brim – no doubt whichever sanitation worker attempts to wheel this can out to the truck will be flirting with a workman's comp claim – and must weigh 200 pounds. I'm going to struggle to pull it up the driveway to the street for pickup on Monday.

So, in a week in which I had little real work to do, I did manage to occupy myself. I always do.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Bit of New-Year Self Reflection

Ah, the world was my oyster in 1974. I had hair, a cool car and nothing but optimism.

I'm not the kind of guy who gives much thought to “what if.” Maybe that's why I haven't written the great American novel. Every novel sets sail in the writer's mind as a what if.

Nope, I don't waste time mentally thumbing through the archives of my life wondering, what if. I got myself here and that's all that really matters. At times it wasn't particularly pretty, but there isn't a whole lot I would change. Had I thought I would live this long, I might have made a different choice or two along the way, but I have few regrets. It's been a good run, and Lord willing, it ain't over yet.

Twelve months ago, I thought I would be focused this year on selling my house. However, my career (Referring to how I make money as a “career” always makes me smile.) took a turn for the better last year. Now I'm able to think of the work I'm doing on my house as remodeling, as opposed to getting it ready to sell. That takes a bit of the pressure off.

For the past decade or two, I haven't considered the New Year as a fresh start. One year has been pretty much the same as the last and the one to follow. It was about the time I reached the point in my life that I was not longer chasing – or kidding myself that I was chasing – the typical things in life most younger people pursue: family, upward mobility and so forth that I simply relaxed and tried to enjoy the ride.

Sure, there were years that I struggled to keep away the wolves. During those times I just kept my head down and plugged away. A few friends provided a hand up, and I survived to fight another day. 
When I began at the Boca Raton News in the mid 1980s, I had no idea it would lead to Sebring and the 1991 Dodge Viper.

The past few years have been a challenge. My industry has all but disappeared. Newspapers and magazines are relics in today's digital world. That I've managed to somehow bridge the gap between print and digital is more serendipity than a testament to any skill of mine. I guess you can attribute my continued association with Autotrader to some combination of talent and personal relationships, but that gig took seed from a conversation during a limo ride from an airport to some carmaker media event. It was pure happenstance; luck, if you will.

I have not adapted well to today's many forms of social media. Beyond Facebook, I'm a digital hack. I can lay some claim to using Instagram and Twitter because when I post a photo on Instagram, I can share it on Twitter and Facebook at the same time. Otherwise, I'd never post on Instagram nor Twitter. When I was with family over Christmas, one of my grand nieces set me up on Snapchat. I have yet to post anything and only sporadically do I think to check on what my handful of Snapchat friends (mostly family) have posted. Although I've been on Facebook for five-or-so years, I don't even check it daily.

Over the last year, I have revitalized my creative juices with just3things. I'm having fun doing it. Will it actually grow into something? I have not a clue, but I intend to continue adding to the content of just3thingsvideo.com. When the video count reaches 100, I'll invest some money into promoting it. Then we'll see what happens.

I have allowed GreenvilleInsider.com to molder. I haven't even been on the site in three or four months. I haven't updated anything nor added any content in at least that long. I knew when I launched it, I would have trouble keeping up with it. When I wasn't busy making money, I had more time and energy to devote to it. Now, not so much. I'll keep the domain name and continue paying the annual fee to the site host, just in case I want to relaunch it someday; but I don't see myself doing anything with it this year.

In the meantime, I'm going to get cranked up again doing car reviews for Cardata.com. I'm sure my editor there will be glad to hear that. He continues bugging me about diving back in. Otherwise, I will just keep on keeping on.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hi, I'm Russ and I'm Visitor Challenged


I'm not the kind of guy who rolls out the red carpet for out-of-town, stay-overnight company – nor company of any stripe, for that matter. Anyone who has been to my house – and there are damn few of you – know that it isn't exactly engineered for visitors.

Although it's not much smaller in living space than was my house in Boynton Beach, my Greenville home doesn't have a screened-in pool terrace nor the single-floor layout of my former Florida house. Where, despite only about 1,300 square feet under air, 50 or 60 people could mingle in total comfort. I've seen them do it. Five or six people, willing to crane their necks and talk over their shoulder, can sit and visit in the living room of my Greenville home, but after about 10 minutes, that grows old. I've had as many as eight or nine standing people squeezed on to my screened-in front porch, but that only works in cooler weather.

No, about the most out-of-town visitors can expect is the dusting off of my blender to create a round or two of margaritas. Teetotalers (Yes, that is the proper spelling.) are simply out of luck.

Although I'd like to put on the dog, I just don't have the facilities. I do have a side table against one wall in my dining area that will expand to seat 8 or 10. However, I only have four matching chairs. My intent was always to add at least two more chairs, but during the five years I've owned this table, it's only been converted into a dining table twice. Why buy two more chairs?

Other than making and freezing spaghetti sauce, typically my culinary efforts are pretty much confined to grilling chicken, and the occasional pork cutlet or steak on the gas grill in my carport. When out-of-town company comes a callin', they should be prepared to eat most meals out. I'll stock in some bagels for breakfast and a few munchies, but I'm not going to load up the fridge with food that will go bad if not consumed by the visitors. I have had multi-night visitors for whom I've stocked foodstuffs for eat-in meals. Before the exhaust from their departing vehicle has totally evaporated in my driveway, I've loaded up a huge garbage bag with all manner of condiments, produce and other assorted food items that will just go bad if left on the refrigerator shelves, hauling it out to the garbage. What a waste.

Reading the preceding paragraphs, one might jump to the conclusion I don't welcome overnight visitors. Nothing is further from the truth. I am excited with the prospect of hosting friends and family. I wish more of them would take me up on my invitation to visit. Having said that, though, doing the all the prep work required to receive company exhausts my motivation and energy to the point, I have nothing left to plan meals, grocery shop and cook.

What I want visitors to my home to understand: Revel in the fact that your feet aren't sticking to my kitchen floor because 24 hours before you arrived, they would have. 

The major weapon in my arsenal for the fight against crud: the Shark Rocket.

I don't have a weekly “cleaning day.” Hell, I don't have a monthly cleaning day. Other than wiping down the kitchen counter on a daily basis, I clean as I notice things require cleaning. And I must confess, I'm not nearly as observant as I once was. Every once in a while I'll notice the layer of dust on the TV stand and realize it must be time to dust. Or, I'll be cranked back in my recliner lording over my meager digs and realize it has been two or three weeks since I last vacuumed. Yep, that's how I roll.

So, as the arrival date approaches for visitors, I begin gearing up for a major house cleaning. It's not exactly planning the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it is a huge endeavor, made even more daunting because I don't regularly clean. Usually taking five or six hours, not much escapes my attention. But, it is a lot of work and, to my way of thinking, a colossal misappropriation of time.

This is why no one should ever expect to be out with me somewhere and hear me offer, “hey, let's just go back to my house.” At times, when I've been tempted to do that, my mind races through a room-by-room inventory of my hovel, squashing any chance of my issuing a spur-of-the-moment invite. It's also why my rolling out the blender for margaritas is the epitome of my graciousness as an overnight host. By my tally, I've already exceeded any and all expectations by scrubbing bathrooms and chipping Cheez Whiz off the kitchen-cabinet doors.

Otherwise, I'm the ideal host.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

CES: Too Bad It's in Las Vegas


I'm not the kind of guy who shrinks from breaking some new ground. Having said that, however, you'd have to threaten my life to get me to eat hummus or sushi. Nope. If I'm going to each chips and something, that something will be salsa or queso. Hummus? It doesn't even sound good. And, if I'm going to eat beans, I don't want them mushed up into some sort of spread. I'd like them baked, please. Toss in some BBQ sauce and brown sugar while you're at it. And, don't even get me started on sushi and its many iterations.

I did drift into uncharted waters this week when Nissan invited me to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It's the annual clearinghouse for all the next-big things in technology. It was the first time Nissan participated as an exhibitor and Fiat/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was the keynote speaker. Nissan brought in media from around the world for the event. Benefiting from a bit of serendipity, I made the cut. Never having attended before, I was really stoked about the experience.

I'm not a fan of Las Vegas. I don't gamble. I don't like crowds. And everywhere you try to go, expect a two-mile hike. This is true even moving around inside the hotels. I'm not a health nut, but I do work out pretty much every day I'm home. I do at least 40 minutes of cardio during these workouts. Despite my advanced years, I'm not in bad shape, but, hoist a backpack stuffed with 25 lbs of video and camera gear onto your shoulder, and that daily 40 minutes of cardio is woefully deficient.

Not only did I probably clock five miles or so of walking inside my hotel during my three-night stay, going from the SLS hotel to the convention center added several more miles. Nissan armed each of us with a two-day Metro Rail pass. The SLS and convention center are separated by a single stop. But even catching the train requires repeated climbing up and down and up and down flights of stairs. Then there is the show floor. The Las Vegas Convention Center is a huge complex that seems to have been designed to defy getting from one hall to the next. In fact, Vegas routes its pedestrian traffic over, around, up and down apparently in a ridiculous attempt to drive people into taxicabs. You can stand on one corner and see the opposite corner 150 feet away, but, thanks to barricades erected along most streets, you must walk four blocks out of your way to cross the street. It's maddening. 


Chrysler unveiled its latest high-tech concept.
After finally locating the area in the convention center where the half-dozen-or-so carmakers were exhibiting, I didn't stray until I channeled my Lewis and Clark, searching and walking, walking and searching to find my way out of the maze to head back to the train. Many of the exhibits aren't even in the convention center. They are scattered in several other venues around the city. Did I visit any of these? Hell, no.

A client wanted several stories from the event. Before I had even left the SLS for the first show presentation, my editor reached out to ask if I could write three of those stories and file them by 10 a.m. East Coast time the next morning. Um, well, probably not. I hadn't even hit the show floor. I had things mapped out throughout the day I wanted to do and see. I had to be at the airport for my return flight by 8:30 a.m. East Coast time that next day. We agreed two were doable. To accomplish that, though, I needed to write one of them that afternoon. I cut my time on the show floor short and was back in my hotel room writing by 2:00.

I was up at 2:30 the next morning writing the second story. I finished and filed it, packed, showered, and made my 5:30 shuttle to the airport.

When you don't much care for Vegas, it doesn't take long to grow very weary of it. Nissan's hospitality suite was on the opposite side of the casino from the tower housing my room. Every trip to it required my walking through the dinging and clanging of the slots. Thankfully, the SLS casino is a ghost town. At any time while I was there, I doubt there were ever more than 75 gamblers scattered throughout the sprawling game floor. That kept the smoke to a minimum. I can't express how odd it is to see people smoking in all the hotel's public spaces. Only the hotel restaurants seemed to escape the non-stop puffing.

Although I was excited to attend the show for the first time, I was glad to get the hell out of there. I didn't really get to experience much of the show. I guess I'll just have to settle for getting a week's worth of cardio in two days.