Taken a few years ago at some joint on Broadway in Nashville, this was one of several photos with good-looking girls I had never laid eyes on before. It wasn't my birthday, but the Nissan crew was telling every attractive female we encountered that it was. Here's to getting older!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Even a Sharp Mind Can Be Confounded by an Unexpected Question

I'm not the kind of guy who spends a lot of time gazing into the rear-view mirror. At least, I don't do it when left to my own devices. Musings of the “good ole days” come fast and furious when gathered with old friends, family or fraternity brothers, but I think that's pretty natural. On my own, not so much.

Because of this lack of self indexing, I was woefully unprepared when asked to come up with 10 things people might not know about me while driving on the media event for the all-new 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport in the Nashville area recently. Umm, well, ah, hmm, ah...what was the question?

My buddy Nik Miles reached out to me a few days before the event asking if I had a drive partner lined up. Many of us who have made the rounds of the carmaker media drives for a while try to secure a driving partner as early as possible. The last thing you want is to be paired with some Bozo who thinks he is the second coming of Juan Manuel Fangio. Also to be avoided are the self-involved snots who have begun populating these events in ever-greater numbers over the past three or four years. You know you've stumbled upon one of these when you climb into a car and they ask what the third pedal is for, as they sit, thumbs poised over the keyboard of their smartphone ready to transmit the answer across several social media platforms.

So, Nik and I conspired to share a car on the Rogue Sport event. Nik has a Website called and also does on-camera reporting on the auto industry for scores of TV stations scattered around the country. Nik and I have developed a friendship over the past few years consisting mostly of giving one another as much crap as possible at every opportunity. We had never before driven together.

Because Nik's schtick is video, I fully expected our test Rogue Sport to be festooned with cameras. I wasn't disappointed. Before embarking on the morning's drive, Nik arranged cameras inside and outside the crossover. My little video setup for just3things seems positively amateurish when compared to Nik's array of video gear.

Nik is a Brit whose heart and soul is still grounded in the Motherland. When faced with a little free time, he watches British comedies on YouTube, and gets some of his news from BBC broadcasts, as he did for the first 15 minutes of our day together. His politics are a mixed bag, which really didn't matter much as applied to our time together. We had other topics to discuss. 

When Nik reached up, snapped on the camera suction cupped to the inside of the windshield and asked, what are 10 things most people don't know about Russ Heaps? I was like a deer caught in the headlights. You can find the video here.
Thankfully Nik simplified the task by asking questions. Left to my own devices, it may well have been a 3-hour video. It was a fun exercise, but later I thought of a couple of things that I can't believe I didn't bring up on my own.

First, I attended military school. Yes, it's true. I was Cadet Heaps in fifth, sixth and seventh grades at Linsly Military Institute in Wheeling, West Virginia. Although there were a number of students who boarded there, I was among the townies who attended as day students. My father's first church posting was in Wheeling. My parents, concerned with the quality of the area public schools, decided to enroll me. I was all for it. The church housing for us was in a rather affluent neighborhood and many of the friends I made during the summer were enrolled there. It was there that I learned to address elders as “sir” and “mam.”

Did it mold me into the fine, upstanding citizen I am today. Well, somebody or something must bear the responsibility, but I'm not certain three years is really sufficient time to mold someone. But when I found myself thrust back into the public school system in Louisville, Kentucky, I was easily a full year ahead of my classmates in both math and English/reading/writing. Oh, and I could read music, a skill now long lost.

The second thing I could have mentioned among my 10 things is that I won a few awards and trophies at public-speaking events in high school. I attended J.M. Atherton High School in Louisville. I think it is quite fitting that J.M. Atherton was a local bourbon distiller of some renown in the late 1800s. Sadly, though, the school was named for a different J.M. Oh, well....

I placed first one year and second the following year in the Louisville Optimist Oratory Contest while in junior high school. These weren't one-day affairs, but a series of speak-offs spanning several city-wide competitions. I followed this up by joining Atherton's speech team. This encompassed a number of categories including debate, extemporaneous speaking, story telling and so forth. My forte was story telling. I competed for three years, mostly with yarns told by Mark Twain when he was earning money on stage. “My Grandfather's Old Ram” was my favorite to tell.

So, there you have it. I am now much better prepared for the next time someone asks the 10-things question. What are the chances?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Don't Tase Me, Bro, or My First Time Under the Knife

I'm not the kind of guy who complains about his health. To be honest, I'm blessed with having very little in the way of health issues beyond the occasional ache or pain. My blood pressure has trended a bit high since I began measuring it as an adult. I managed it pretty well by cutting out salt and doing cardio every day.

Finally 18 months ago, my current primary-care physician Doc Budelmann put me on a low-grade blood pressure medicine. And, that's the sum total of my ongoing health issues. Oh, other than the fact I'm packing 15 to 20 extra pounds. I know I need to lose some weight, but just can't muster the motivation and commitment to shed the extra baggage. After all, my Speedo days are far back in my rearview mirror. I'll eventually address the weight issue – maybe tomorrow or next week. Ah, crap, who am I kidding?

Collateral damage in building my new shed a couple of years ago, I hyperextended my left knee. As I finished caulking the last seam and climbed down the ladder for the last time, I thought I was on the bottom ladder rung, but was really on the second-to-the-last rung. I stepped off accordingly and my knee went out from under me. That was in November. I attended two more carmaker events that year and spent Christmas at my sister's using a cane. Getting back to about 80 percent required three or four months. Full recovery took another two or three. For the most part, I suffered in silence.

If I would simply follow my slacker tendencies and stop tackling repair and remodeling projects around the house, I might possibly avoid health problems all together. I say this because last September as I was working on the floor during my upstairs-bathroom remodel, I straightened up after squatting for a while and felt a sharp pain in the inside of my right knee. Man, this getting old stuff sucks, I thought.

Although the pain never completely ceased, when it did flare up over the ensuing weeks and months, it was more discomfort than pain. Sometime after the winter holidays, that changed. Discomfort turned into a steady ache. After sitting at my desk for an hour, I would have to hop three or four steps because my knee would explode in pain for the first few steps. As I would turn over in bed and torque the knee a bit, I'd get a flash of pain, waking me up. That would occur three or four times a night.

At my regular six-month checkup in February, I mentioned it to the doctor. Grabbing my foot, he worked my knee this way and that. When he twisted it in the direction that had me screaming for my mommy, he offered that I probably had a meniscus tear. “That doesn't sound promising,” I responded.

The long and short of it was, it wasn't going to heal itself. For the first time in my rather long life, I was faced with going to a specialist. I didn't have a clue how it all worked. A buddy of mine who has been on Medicare for some time, advised I could just find an orthopedist of some stripe and make an appointment. That didn't sound right, but I decided to follow his advice. I did a little research on the Internet and asked some friends for recommendations. I called my Medicare supplemental insurance company to make sure I could book a specialist on my own and was told I could.

The stage set, I called an orthopedic group attached to the same huge Greenville wellness organization as my primary doctor. It also operates a couple of well-regarded area hospitals and an urgent-care center or two. My initial appointment with the orthopedist lasted about two hours, of which, I spent all of 10 minutes with the doctor. X-rays occupied another 15 minutes. The rest of the time was spent filling out paperwork and texting friends on my phone. The outcome was an MRI scheduled the following week.

I have no idea how someone having an MRI for anything above the waste gets through the 45-minute-or-so ordeal. Only my legs protruded into the narrow tunnel, but the noise still overwhelmed the golden oldies pouring out of my headphones. They were no match for the clanging and banging coming from the MRI machine. By the time it was over, I had fessed up to being the shooter on the grassy knoll and provided three different locations for Jimmy Hoffa's remains.

Proving Doc Budelmann's original diagnosis correct, the MRI indicated I had a slight tear in the meniscus on the inside of my right knee. The orthopedist laid out my options as 1) periodic steroid shots or 2) surgery to cut away the damaged area. I'm not a fan of needles and even less so when they are big-honking needles that will be shoved into my knee. Besides, why not cure the problem rather than treat the symptom, right? Right. Right. Oh, God.....

Here's the thing, I'm 65 years old and have never had a real surgery. Never, not one. I've never even had a broken bone. I've had a total of maybe 24 stitches over the years. Most of those from a hand surgeon mending a severed ligament in my wrist the week before I returned for my sophomore year in college. It was performed in a hospital emergency room using local anesthesia. Only the fact that a surgeon stitched me up in any way qualifies it as a surgery. Nope, this would be my first real surgery.

Things have moved rapidly through this process. Less than three weeks passed from my first appointment with the orthopedist and last Wednesday's surgery. I barely had time to register what was happening. In the meantime, I attended some media events surrounding the New York auto show with all the walking such auto-show things entail. It was a teeth-gritting, eye-watering three days of limping around.

Scheduled as an outpatient surgery, I was to be at St. Francis Hospital some time on Wednesday. I wouldn't receive my final marching orders with the precise time until Tuesday afternoon. The hospital insisted someone not only be on hand to drive me home from surgery, but be available throughout the ordeal. Being single and free, unencumbered with family drama on a daily basis is wonderful until you need to find a volunteer to step up and basically take a day off work to fulfill the role of concerned family member. Not only does this require some serious acting chops, but often it's best to tap someone owing you a large sum of money. I have no such indebted friends.

I reached out to my friend Natalie. Thirty years my junior, she and her husband have become good friends over the past several years. They've adopted me into their family; I spend most holidays with them when I'm not with actual family. No good deed goes unpunished: I called Natalie.

We arrived at the outpatient center at St. Francis Hospital around 9:30 for my surgery scheduled for noon. Immediately called into the intake area, I was asked a series of about 20 questions regarding allergies, medical conditions and so forth. They were the same 20 questions asked of me on the phone by the hospital a couple of days earlier.

I hadn't asked much in way of questions leading up to my arrival for surgery. I figured, why bother? It is what it is. I had committed to have the surgery performed; I wasn't going to sweat the details. I arrived at the hospital pretty much convinced I would be receiving a local anesthetic and would be awake for the procedure. I didn't change my mind until faced with the anesthesiologist about an hour before the surgery. Suddenly I began thinking about all the things in my life that I had left unsaid and undone. All the questions about a living will didn't raise my spirits any either. The humanity.....

By 10:15, I was in pre-op where I was hooked up to an I.V. and told to don an open-in-the-back hospital gown. I'm not afraid to admit it: At 65, I have an old man's ass. Thirty years ago I would have welcomed the opportunity to flaunt my chiseled buttocks, but that train left the station about the same time the Clintons moved into the White House. Once garbed in appropriate attire, and lying in bed, three more people associated with the surgery separately asked me the same battery of questions. No, no, no, for the love of God, no, no..... I was also handed a sharpie to initial the body part to be operated on. I wished they had covered my ass as well as they were covering their own.

Poor Natalie was dragged into my room to keep me company and to listen to the orthopedist tick off the things to expect, as well as witnessing him also initialing my right knee. My God, hadn't she suffered enough? Finally, at 12:45, a couple of nurses arrived to wheel me into the operating room.

Once in the operating room, things really moved swiftly. After guiding me from the bed onto the operating table, my arms were stretched out straight and attached to some sort of boards. I looked as though I was auditioning for the Good Friday pageant. A nurse covered my nose and mouth with an oxygen mask as the anesthesiologist spoke in soothing tones as if he was trying to coax a jumper off a window ledge.

Hey! Is anesthesia the bestest thing ever or what! It's now what I want for my birthday this year! I have absolutely no recollection of going under or waking up. One second I was staring up at the nurse holding the mask on my face and the next second I was partially sitting up in bed looking out over the recovery ward. It was the best hour nap of my entire adult life. I want to have the other knee done and there's nothing wrong with it.

I had four prescriptions for assorted pain killers and other medicines. While I was in the operating room, Natalie ran to the drug store and dropped off the only two I wanted filled. One was for Oxycontin and the other for some sort of industrial strength stool softener. You can never have too much of either, I reasoned.

Roughly 30 minutes after I awoke in recovery, a nurse pushed me out to the curb, dumping me into Natalie's minivan. We stopped to pick up the prescriptions before she dropped me off at home. I spent the balance of the day in my recliner watching TV. Having stuff to do on Thursday, I was up and around. I never did partake of the Oxycontin The pain after surgery wasn't any worse than before.

It's now three days later and, as ordered, I'll unwrap my knee for the first time and change the dressing. I'm eager to see what things look like. I'll be on an airplane to Nashville for a Nissan event in two more days. I'll probably take my cane to help me navigate the airports; otherwise, I don't expect to need it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

2017 New York Auto Show: Hey, I Actually Get Paid for Some of This Stuff

Ford's new pursuit-rated Responder Hybrid police cruiser.
I'm not the kind of guy to turn down a payday, even if it involves attending an auto show...even if that auto show is in New York. Auto shows are simply something one, who earns a living covering the auto industry, must tolerate from time to time. There's just no escaping it.

I do enjoy the Chicago Auto Show. It's a sufficiently big deal to attract many of the industry's movers and shakers; yet, not so large that a person working alone can't cover everything. It's manageable. Of course, it's Chicago in February, but even that usually isn't a big issue. The other big shows I can live without, unless there's a payday involved.

When a client asked me to accept its invitation from Ford to fly into New York City (ugh) a couple of days before the show to cover a couple of pre-show events it was hosting and then attend the first of two auto-show media days, I was all over it. Neither a fan of auto shows nor New York, I had plenty of reason to turn down the request, but as a freelancer, I've learned to never say, no. Here's the basic tenet of freelance journalism: Yes, makes you money and No, doesn't. As a freelance journalist, once you grasp that basic reality – embracing it, if you will – you still are not guaranteed a living wage. Nope, you still must scrounge for assignments. However, when those assignments are offered, you are savvy enough to accept matter what.

Having mastered the making-money-versus-not-making-money law of freelancing, I found myself in New York city last week. My first two days of Ford/Lincoln events were less than demanding. Checking into the Park Hyatt Hotel on the edge of Central Park around 10:30 a.m. on Monday, I had to catch a shuttle from the hotel to the first Ford event at noon. Although I had no intention of dragging my video gear around the Javitz Center on Wednesday, I brought it with me on this trip in the hopes that I would be able to tape pieces on the three vehicles Ford and Lincoln were unveiling. Indeed, hope is for missionaries.

Sometimes I crack myself up; thinking that I might get a couple of just3things videos out of this trip was nothing short of sheer Pollyanna optimism. Ford's venue for both of its reveals that day was small, cramped, noisy and marginally lighted. It just didn't work for me. My video gear remained in my room for the balance of the trip.

The afternoon reveal was Ford's new hybrid Police cruiser called the Responder. Based on the Fusion Hybrid, it's a rather cool exercise in urban policing. Ford promises it will be pursuit rated by the big law enforcement bodies that certify such things. With a top speed of just over 100 miles per hour, it should do fine in the city. As a hybrid, Ford projects an annual savings in operational costs of about $4,000 per car. Not bad for cities that want to catch bad guys on the cheap.

2018 Ford Explorer
Ford returned us to the hotel to regroup and freshen up before returning us to the same venue later that afternoon to see the 2018 Ford Explorer. Something akin to Geraldo Rivera's reveal of Al Capone's vault on national TV 30 years ago, pulling the sheet from the 2018 Explorer was greeted with a collective yawn by the attending media. It's not that Explorer isn't a terrific SUV, but the 2018 is pretty much a mirror image of the 2017: second verse, same as the first. A few extra high-tech goodies inside provided the entire story. I was back in my room and in bed by 9:30. Woohoo! Do I know how to party or what?

It being a gorgeous evening, I chose to walk the 20 or so blocks back to the hotel. It was basically a straight shot that even I could manage without getting lost. I poked my head inside St. Patrick's Cathedral and strolled by Carnegie Hall.

With nothing on the day's agenda until leaving for the Lincoln event around 4:30 that afternoon, Tuesday was more or less open. Although I could have done some additional sightseeing, my right knee, which goes under the knife this week, was screaming at me after the previous evening's hike. I chose, instead, to write the stories required of me on the Responder and Explorer. Lunch in the hotel restaurant and a short 10-minute catnap filled the rest of the time before our late-afternoon departure to the Lincoln event.

Lincoln picked a different venue closer to our hotel for its get-together. Although much of the presentation was devoted to an explanation of Lincoln's terrific sales advances the past few months, we were afforded a sneak peek at the totally redesigned Navigator scheduled to be officially revealed at a press conference on the show floor the next morning. It is truly impressive.

With the auto-show media days beginning the next morning, a number of carmakers had receptions and parties scheduled that night. Leaving the Lincoln event, I headed to the Acura party. I arrived too late to see the live performance by Elle King, but did touch base with a number of Honda and Acura execs and PR types. I was disappointed to have missed King. I like her music and have a couple of her songs on my playlist.

Dodge Charger SRT Demon! Oh, Momma!
From Acura, a buddy of mine and I headed to the reveal of the Dodge Charger SRT Demon at Pier 94. Quite the extravaganza, Dodge pumped a lot of dough into the unveiling. I can probably leave the description of the car to just one thing: 840 horsepower! Because of Dodge's participation in the Fast and Furious franchise, Vin Diesel, the Sir Laurence Olivier of his generation, put in an appearance, as did the Dodge Brothers from the Dodge advertising campaign.

Wednesday kicked off the two-day press-conference blitz. Although initially I was there to cover the three Ford/Lincoln reveals, my client asked that I cover an additional three events during my only media day. Back to that never-say-no thing. I had roughly 90 minutes or so between press conferences I had to attend to write the assigned stories. I used those 90 minutes to write. By early afternoon, my client requested I cover three additional unveilings. My response: You guessed it, YES!

By 4:00, I was tired, cranky and my knee felt like someone had pounded a red-hot nail into it. I hadn't eaten lunch. I hadn't even visited the Little Auto Writer's Room to attend to a personal biological imperative. I still had a story to write that deadlined at 5:30. I had been working at a table in the food court most of the afternoon. My laptop was about out of juice and I adjourned to the media room where I could plug in. At 5:20 I finished my last story of the day and the seventh piece I had written in about 24 hours. It was Miller time!

Hitting a couple of more carmaker parties that night, I returned to my hotel room just before the stroke of midnight. Ford scheduled my airport shuttle at 7:30 a.m. for a 10:00 flight out of Laguardia. Setting my alarm for 5 a.m., I fell into bed and was immediately asleep.

Answering my alarm the next morning, I popped out of bed, made coffee and wrote the eighth story of this trip before showering and heading to catch my shuttle. Flying to Atlanta, I picked up a Dodge Charger SRT Daytona for the 160-mile slog to Greenville. Walking in my door at 3:45, I set up my laptop and knocked out the my ninth and final auto-show story by its 5:00 deadline.

Hey, it's a living.....

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Killing Seven Days: The Next Home-Improvement Project

The upstairs hallway in all its glory. I find the ceiling exhaust fan particularly decorative.
I'm not the kind of guy to sit around doing nothing, despite my acute slacker tendencies. I find myself facing a week without travel. Because paying work has dried up to, well, zip, zilch, zero, nada, I must find other tasks to fill the next seven days until leaving for the New York Auto Show.

Having assembled a list of home-improvement projects requiring some investment of time and treasure, I always have something I could be doing. Right now, that list includes small jobs like putting a coat of stain on the shed all the way up to much larger undertakings, such as remodeling the kitchen and replacing the great-room ceiling. All any of these projects really require are time and money, right?

Although such a list might prove daunting to a lesser do-it-yourselfer, it's simply a matter of taking things one step at a time in some sort of logical order.

Here's what you need to know about my handyman, er, sorry, handyperson skills: I have acquired most of what I know about renovating things since buying my current house roughly nine years ago. Up until then, my construction-skill set consisted mostly of holding the far end of the tape measure as my brother-in-law calculated the lengths of various elements of some home-improvement project I would find for him to do on each of his visits to my South Florida home. Oh, and I was also in charge of making him a Rum Runner at the end of the work day. That, however, was a task that came much more naturally to me – instinct rather than training.
The pony wall was instructive and key to providing skills needed in building my shed.

So, I take things one step at a time, building from small efforts to master a skill to larger projects exploiting that skill. I was able to build my shed from scratch because of the framing skills I learned building a pony wall to hide the back of my audio/video equipment from the dining area, and the framing work entailed in switching a small guest-bedroom closet to a bathroom linen closet.

When I eventually tackle replacing the great-room ceiling (perhaps this fall), I will be cashing in on what I learn from this week's project: covering the upstairs-hall ceiling. I will be using the same material for both. Teaching me what I will need to know for the great room, the much smaller and more manageable hall ceiling doesn't seem at all scary. The great-room ceiling on the other hand is a journey that I think would have given Magellan pause.
My biggest project to date.
Although I only decided how I was going to address the upstairs-hall ceiling in the last few months, I have wanted to do something with it since buying the house. Most of the ceiling area is occupied by a large exhaust fan. My house is nearly as old as I am; apparently, these huge fans were a common element of South Carolina homes constructed in the 1950s. I removed the switch for this fan when I repainted the hall a few years ago, but the fan itself was just too big a task for me to consider. I finally gave up on trying to figure out how to remove it. Bulky and, no doubt, heavy, I couldn't think of anything else to do other than pull it up into the attic and leave it. There is virtually no room to move around in that area. Nope. That just wouldn't work.
These stacks of material call to me every time I glance at the dining area.
Initially, I decided to cover the great-room ceiling with some sort of wood. Whether that wood would take the form of shiplap or something else, I had no clue. As I pondered the great-room ceiling, I realized that doing the same thing in the upstairs hall made the most sense. I wouldn't remove the exhaust fan, I'd cover it over.

Putting in an emergency call to my buddy Steve at 84 Lumber, I located a suitable wood planking. I picked up a 16-foot stack of it that they cut into two 6.5 ft and 9.5 ft sections so I could get it home. Both sections have been laying in the middle of my dining area for about a month now. A sliding barn door for the upstairs bath is also a part of this project. I ordered the hardware for it through Amazon Prime roughly six weeks ago. It along with other assorted materials for this effort have been accumulating in the upstairs guestroom. 
A roll of insulation and the hardware for the sliding barn door await my attention.
With all the needed materials in house, I'm ready to go. Now it's a matter of dragging the power tools, saw horses, nail guns and compressor, and so forth up to the house. I have my eye on a new portable table saw that will make the great-room ceiling project go easier, but, because I suddenly find myself without paying work, I can't justify the expenditure for this much smaller project. I'll just have to tough it out with a circular saw.

So, that's my plan for occupying myself this week. If all goes well, next week's Clanging Bell will feature the fruits of my labor. "If all goes well" being the operative phrase.