Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Toyota C-HR Event: Austin, Garrison Brothers, Angel Envy Rye and Bubble Wrap

2018 Toyota C-HR

I'm not the kind of guy who heads off to overnight destinations unprepared. I've been a road warrior for more than 30 years, and have racked up nearly 2 million miles on Delta alone. There are times when I only keep up with the day's date to meet the demands of my next plane ticket. When on the road, expect a pregnant pause if you ask me to name the day of the week. And, I don't travel nearly as much as some of my peers, and certainly not as much as I once did.

I've become fairly adept at packing. I'm hell on wheels gathering together what I will need for a two-night stay somewhere. Two nights is the common length of media car-event trips. Although some carmakers have turned their media events into one-night death marches, while others occasionally stretch an event into three or even four nights, two remains the industry standard. As an East Coaster, there's nothing like hopping on a plane at 5 a.m., spending six or seven hours on planes and in airports to reach a California destination, arriving at noon or so to wolf down a cold-cut sandwich, receiving an hour's indoctrination on some new vehicle, driving it for three hours, being fed dinner and then jumping out of bed the next morning to catch a flight home. Agreed, it's a first-world problem; but not much fun nonetheless. There's a good reason that two nights remains the industry standard.

Faced with a two-night outing, my packing skills know no equal. I am usually on autopilot when laying out the clothing I'll need. Two pair of underwear: check. Two shirts for dinners: check. A sport coat for dinners: check. And so forth. Now that I'm shooting video for, I must inventory and pack video gear, as well.

No matter the duration of a trip, I also always carry bubble wrap with me. It's part of that being-prepared thing. I stumble across a craft beer or hard-to-get bourbon with enough regularity on these trips that I've learned to be prepared to haul home a bottle or two in my checked bag. However, even with this level of preparedness, at times I'm not prepared enough.

A couple of weeks ago I headed to Austin, Texas with Toyota for the media reveal of its all-new C-HR crossover. (C-HR, incidentally, stands for "Coupe-High Rider.") From my previous junket to the Lone Star state a week or so earlier with Jeep, I was on a tear to secure a bottle of Garrison Brothers Bourbon. Carrying my standard-issue 12-inch by 48-inch sheet of bubble wrap, I felt as though I could easily meet the challenge of safely transporting a bottle of bourbon back to Greenville.

Lost a few hours in Banger's taproom that was within a block of our hotel.
Toyota hosted us in Austin's Hotel Van Zandt. Yes, that Van Zandt. Situated in an upcoming trendy area of the city, this hotel is surrounded by older homes converted into all manner of chic restaurants and watering holes. As one might expect with Austin as the event's home base, our C-HR drive took us into Texas Hill Country.

If since Toyota's announcement that it was deep-sixing its Scion brand you've spent some sleepless nights fretting over its demise, you only need look as far as Toyota's all-new C-HR to assuage your angst. The C-HR provides ample evidence that at least the phantasm of Scion lives on. Fully qualified to wear the Scion nameplate, C-HR exhibits Scion's two most prevalent traits: radical styling and somewhat tepid acceleration. Oh, and as with Scions of the past, it offers a value story, as well.

In fact, Toyota originally intended the C-HR to be Scion's first crossover. As for styling, it looks like the love child of a Nissan Juke and a Toyota RAV4. That's really okay, though. Toyota styling has always erred on the side of conservative. Think of C-HR as Toyota's version of your crazy uncle you give movie money to when company visits. It's fun and refreshing in a way, but will look a little odd when it arrives in showrooms in April parked between a Highlander and a Camry.

As with Scion's FR-S Coupe, Toyota defines C-HR's sportiness through its handling, rather than acceleration. Providing spirited handling, it corners sharply and without drama. Armed with what Toyota calls a “punchy” 144-horsepower 2-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission, the C-HR offers acceptable acceleration for urban street warfare. On the highway, it cruises effortlessly once up to speed, but requires a lot of runway to get around slower-moving vehicles.

Toyota will offer C-HR in two flavors: XLE at $22,500 and XLE Premium at $24,350. Every C-HR will come right out of the box with a standard pre-collision system with active braking and full-speed range radar-based cruise control, as well as dual-zone climate control and backup camera. All-wheel drive isn't available.

After our C-HR ride and drive, my driving partner and I returned to the hotel, regrouped and then headed to a liquor store about four blocks away. Well stocked, this purveyor of spirits had a healthy variety of bourbons. Among them were a couple of bottles of Garrison Brothers. Immediately scooping up one, I continued down the aisle in search of other hard-to-get treasures. I didn't find anything else of great interest on the bourbon side, but I did a double take as I strolled by the ryes. Can it be? I thought. I looked again; and sure enough, I was staring at five bottles of Angel Envy Rye: the unicorn of rye whiskeys.
Mission accomplished!
I hadn't seen a bottle on a store shelf in months. Knowing I couldn't leave without one, I grabbed a bottle and headed to the checkout. Setting my two finds on the counter, I suddenly realized I couldn't take a bottle of Angels Envy Rye home for me without checking to see if my buddy Jeff would want one, too. Calling him, I wasn't surprised when he told me to get it.

Despite my careful packing, I knew I only had sufficient bubble wrap to secure two bottles in my checked bag. The store clerk directed us to a FedEx store another block up the street where I invested four bucks in a 10-foot roll of bubble wrap.

As I struggled back to the hotel with my purchases, I suddenly realized that although I had room in my checked bag for my newly acquired stash, my bag tipped the baggage check-in scale at 43 lbs when I left Greenville. I calculated the three bottles would push the suitcase precariously close to the 50-lb weight limit. Well, nothing I could do about it now. If push came to shove when checking in the next morning, I'd remove my tripod from the bag and hand carry it on the plane.

Checking in the next morning, I smiled at the counter agent as I ally ooped my bag on the scale, admitting to her, “It's the moment of truth.” I watched in alarm as the pound count whirled upward beyond 50 lbs, landing on 53 lbs. Wide-eyed, I looked at the gate agent expectantly. She smiled, shrugged and said, “You're okay.”

(Insert sigh of relief here.)

Delta is far from perfect, but occasionally, it comes through.

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