Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

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!