Nashville

Nashville
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, December 30, 2018

Let's Do Away with the 52nd Weekend


I'm not the kind of guy who is so disciplined that he works throughout the winter holidays. I'm a unapologetic slacker at heart. Despite that, I do half-heartedly keep my nose pressed to the grindstone from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. Though I am only able to do that to the extent I have a client or clients doing the same.

As a freelancer, I can only make money when a client issues marching orders. No assignments, no work. It's a fairly elementary system. I can almost count on at least one client also working from Turkey to Yule Log; although often at a reduced pace. From Christmas until January 2, however, I always find myself adrift in a forced vacation. I suspect if I were on salary with these same clients, they would find a way to keep me busy. But, because I'm contract labor, my clients only pay me for what I produce. No assignments, no production, no money. It's a lose, lose, win (for them).

This in and of itself isn't traumatizing. I know this will be the case. I mentally and fiscally prepare for the lost 10 days from Christmas Eve to January 2. In fact, historically there are a couple of other times during the year when I alert clients that I will be unavailable for assignments because of short vacations. These down times are just part of freelancing.

No deadlines to meet between Christmas and Jan. 2, only exacerbates for me the disorientation rampant everywhere during that period that has most people I know feeling untethered to the realities of time. I also deal with not being at home, which totally disrupts my daily routines like going to the gym. Over the course of my Christmas stay in New Mexico, I crash in two different households, sleeping in two different beds. “Where am I?” and “What day is it?” are questions I have to ask myself every morning upon awaking. It's like every day I stumble out of a long-term coma with no grasp on my place in time nor space. I have nothing to do and nowhere to do it.

I'm of the mind that we should petition the government to reduce the number of weekends each year from 52 to 51. After all, what's the point of the weekend sandwiched in somewhere between Christmas and Jan 2? Throughout the rest of the year weekends are treated as mini holidays, right? What's the point of a mini holiday in the middle of another holiday? What the hell are you supposed to do with the weekend that always falls somewhere between Christmas and Jan. 2? Do you go out? Do you stay home because you are going out on New Year's Eve? What's appropriate. I find myself adrift in a sea of uncertainty. I don't know. I think a government that was stupid enough to come up with Daylight Savings Time could be easily convinced to do away with that post-Christmas/pre New Years weekend.

With all of that said, I am back home this Sunday before New Year's Eve, contemplating the rest of my weekend. I will head to my usual Sunday beer-drinking spot where I will hook up with my buddy Big Jon for a pint or two. A little dose of normalcy in the heart of this holiday, well, holiday. At least I think it's Sunday.

And, here's to a great and prosperous New Year for you and yours!

Monday, December 17, 2018

House Sitting: Did I Mention There Was an English Bull Dog Involved?


I thought I had posted this little adventure on Clanging Bell previously, but when looking for it to send the link to someone, I couldn't find it in the archives. So, I decided to take the chance some of you hadn't read it and posted it. It took place 10-or-so years ago. What follows is all true.

This is a cautionary tale about what can happen when you lack the good sense to avoid talking about house/dog sitting for friends after several beers, a half dozen glasses of wine and a shot of Don Julio. As a guy, I should have more respect for the power of alcohol and its ability to soften one’s inhibitions and crumble one’s capacity to just say, no. I broke down the defenses of many a young lady using alcohol over the years. Now I can’t find a woman who can consume enough alcohol for that strategy to work, but that’s another story for another time.

The friends in question are Karen and John. The house in question is on Lake Norman in North Carolina. And the dog in question is a 100+-pound English Bull Dog named Tully. The occasion was a 10-day May vacation to Italy to celebrate John’s 50th birthday. Although there are neighbors who have and who are willing to drop by the house, feed Tully and even take him for walks, Karen and John didn’t want him left alone for that length of time. Evidently they had worked their way through both sides of the family without securing a willing volunteer. During an overnight trip to my house in early January, and after a 5-hour afternoon saloon slog through downtown Greenville and several glasses of wine at Peddler Steak House at dinner, they posed the dog-sitting request to me. I eagerly shouted, “Yes. Sure. Why not? Sounds like fun. Count me in. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” At least that’s how I suspect I answered.

It was nothing more than a very fuzzy memory that I had to be prodded to recall at all when a month later I was at their house for the Super Bowl, and John asked if I was still willing to baby sit Tully in May. Baby sit? Tully? May? It just didn’t ring a bell. After pondering it for a few seconds, I managed to dredge up a faint recollection of the conversation. Having acquiesced to the Tully-babysitting request doesn’t rank up there with losing your car or waking up next to a carnival freak whose name you just can’t place, but it’s still one of those what-was-I-thinking experiences that all too often seem to be related to binge drinking. (Sometimes I even drink enough to, gasp, dance in public.)

The die was cast, as they say, and it was time for some damage control. I certainly didn’t want them to think I am not a man of my word. I already have a grocery list of creditors who think that. “Ah, what are those dates again?” I stammered. It was May 14 through the 24th. Rolling my eyes up into my head, I concentrated for a couple of minutes trying to remember some pressing commitment I had during that time frame. Nothing! Dammit! There I was caught on the horns of a dilemma, sporting a little pre-Super Bowl buzz, and lacking the capacity to come up with a plausible excuse for reversing my original answer. The snake alcohol reared its ugly head again. I’ve got to stop drinking.

Like a desperate shipwreck victim awash at sea, I grasped for the only chunk of flotsam within my short reach: “No problem,” I assured him. “As long as I don’t come up with a job between now and then, I’m good to go.” It wasn’t much, but it was something. It could happen. People are hired all of the time – just not me. I’d have a better chance of winning Power Ball or getting struck by lightening than getting a nine-to-five job during the intervening three months or the next ten years for that matter. John didn’t appear worried.

As the appointed dates persistently drew closer, events that could have saved my bacon had they materialized six weeks or two months earlier began to present themselves. First there was the Kenny Chesney concert in Greenville on the 21st. Learning of this performance, I e-mailed Karen and told her she needed to find someone to spell me the afternoon of the 21st and morning of the 22nd because I was going to be in Row F, Section 230, Seat 1 at the Bi-Lo Center for that concert. She understood because she and I had discussed going to see him if he played a concert in our area. “I’ll be back in time to handle the Friday late afternoon schedule,” I told her.

A week later my Illinois buddy Joni called to say she and her pal Lynn would be enjoying their annual week in Hilton Head on May 16 through the 22 and wanted to come visit me on their way home on the 23rd. This inspired another e-mail to Karen. I told her I needed to leave again on Saturday morning and could she possibly find someone to handle Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Again, she said, no problem. She had found the adult son of a friend who loves English Bull Dogs (Of course at this point he hadn’t spent any real time with Tully.) and had offered to take care of Tully any time. He would assume Tully duties on Thursday morning for the balance of their trip. Hallelujah! Other things came up as well, such as a 2-day Hyundai event on the 18th and 19th, but I just didn’t have the heart to try to reduce my sentence further.

I arrived at Karen and John’s house at 11 AM on the 14th. My replacement and I were scheduled for a Tully tutorial at that appointed time. During the next 45 min not only did we learn the many intricacies of the 3-bedroom, 31/2-bath edifice known as Chez Kewn, like how the universal remotes for the six flat screen TVs work, where the stash of steaks are kept, how to operate John’s ATV, and so forth; but we also received detailed instructions on all things Tully.

Here is a typical day in the life of Tully: At 7:30 AM he arrives bedside whining to get you up and moving. You, of course, are well rested because he has slept in his bed three feet from yours snoring, sputtering, muttering and farting nonstop for six or seven hours. He gets you up at 7:30 AM not to go out – that would be much too much like a normal dog. No, he gets you up so you can feed him stuff. First are his morning pills. This dog takes more vitamins, capsules and supplements than Arnold did when training for Mr. Universe. Most of these have to be wrapped in cheese or he (Tully not Arnold) won’t eat them. Then you give him a little biscuit for being a good boy. Then you put drops in his eyes, so they don’t dry out. He gets another biscuit for being a good boy.

Now it’s time to really feed him. He gets served a cup of dry food in the morning and one in the afternoon. Besides sleeping, this is probably the most normal thing he does during the course of a full day. You pour the cup of food in his dish and simply set the dish on the floor. When he digs in, it sounds like an industrial-strength garbage disposal. It’s a good idea to stand back to prevent getting hit with splashback and to make sure you don’t accidentally fall into his bowl. If you did, you’d be the lead story on the 6 o’clock news in seconds flat.

Usually he is pooped after all of this whining and eating. He’ll lie down and nap for an hour or so. I doubt that he has figured out that this gives you time to make coffee, go to the bathroom, eat some cereal and so forth. I’m sure if he did realize his napping provides some “me” time, he would figure out a way to keep you occupied for that intervening hour or so, too.

Recovered from his early morning routine, Tully is finally ready for his AM constitutional. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just open the door and let him into the fenced-in backyard? Or put a leash on him and walk him down the driveway and around the block? Dream on. No you have to load him into John’s Nissan Titan or ATV and drive him to one of his familiar potty areas. This twice-a-day activity can take 15 min or an hour depending on the spontaneity of his bowels on any given day. For the most part, this activity is consumed with Tully peeing on 15 different objects – trees, shrubs, ferns, sign posts, and the like – or standing pat watching traffic go by. Don’t even dare to think you are in control here. He goes where he wants to go and doesn’t where he doesn’t. If he decides to stand in place for five minutes, you are not going to budge him. If you are lucky, he will find a spot to drop his load. He only did No. 2 once a day while in my care. They were loads of Biblical proportions. After dropping them, he was quite pleased with himself and would prance back to the truck. Built low to the ground, Tully can’t get up into the truck under his own steam. Nope, he puts his front paws into the truck and you have to grab him by his back legs and alley-oop him up into the cab.

Back at the house, Tully gets a biscuit for being a good boy. Then he sits by the refrigerator for his morning ration of ice cubes. He doesn’t like to drink out of a water bowl. I suspect he would if he was thirsty enough, but that’s not his routine. His routine is to be fed 20 or 25 ice cubes after his twice-a-day walks. So you stand by the freezer dropping ice cubes into his mouth one at a time. As he is chewing them up, he is drooling nonstop. So once he has had his fill, there is a puddle of slobber and melted ice that requires mopping up. This is also a convenient time for his daily butt buffing. Yes, you pull on rubber gloves as if you are going to remove a gallbladder; take a baby wipe by its ends; and work it up between his tail and bung. No kidding this is part of the daily routine. He typically sits in the same spot for his butt buffing as he does for his ice cubes. It can create some confusion. I always tried to first feed him ice cubes when he was sitting there. I am the eternal optimist.

With all of his morning activities completed, he is ready to nap for six hours. The temps were fairly cool during my Tully-watch week, so I was able to leave one of the back sliders open giving him free access to the outdoors. So he was able to sleep on a lawn chair by the pool or in one of his many beds scattered around the house. This was the six hours a day when I could get some work done.

Around 4:00 or 4:30 it was time to begin the afternoon Tully routine. Back into the truck for his end-of-day walk. For the first three or four days, I took him for his stand rather than his walk. He would get out of the truck, pee on several things and then stand still for several minutes, while, like a fool, I would call his name, tug on this leash and attempt to cajole him into taking a few steps. No way. He would eventually turn and amble back to the truck. He decided after a few days of this that he would actually do some walking on these little expeditions. But it still wasn’t more than a couple of city blocks.

Back at the house he received a biscuit for being a good boy, and then he’d get his afternoon serving of ice cubes. Sometimes he was so tuckered out from his two-block walk, he would have to lie down to eat his ice. His afternoon pills, wrapped in pieces of Kraft American, would be next followed by his cup of food. Whew, that’s a lot of activity – time for another nap.

Sometime during the end-of-day schedule, he also gets his daily bone. This is the shoulder or hip knuckle from a cow. He gets a fresh one each and every day. He usually chews on it in his bed in the living room, so a towel needs to be laid down to keep all the muck out of his bed. After 20 minutes or so of chewing on it, he is plum worn out and needs to take another nap.

Karen and John recently purchased one of those Tempurpedic mattresses. I wanted to try it out, so I slept in their room. “Slept” would be too strong a term. For the first three nights I tossed and turned in their bed as Tully snored three feet a way. It was like sleeping next to a wood chipper or camping out in a sawmill. The variety of sounds this dog can make in its sleep is nothing short of staggering. It was a relentless sawing racket punctuated by snorts, lip smacks and groans. I may have slept three hours each for the first three nights. After that he decided to sleep in the living room and I actually managed seven or eight hours of sleep a night.

John had assured me that my work would be undisturbed during the day when Tully somehow sleeps for hours on end. For the most part this was true, except for my first full day when he turned into a 100-pound wrecking ball on legs. I spent an hour chasing him around taking things away. Karen had left an 18 pack of beer sitting on the floor in their party room. Hearing some commotion in there, I went in to find Tully with the carton ripped open lapping up beer that he had managed to spill out after biting open one of the cans.

As I was cleaning that up I heard some noise in John’s office and found Tully with a backpack John had left on a chair. He had it by one of the shoulder straps and was dragging it across the floor. I got that away from him. He ran back into the party room and found a 2-foot-long piece of quarter-round molding that he was chewing on. I have no idea where he got it, but I finally got that away from him.

I went back into the office and no more than sat down at the computer when I heard a racket downstairs. I had brought several protein bars with me. They were in a plastic grocery bag on the kitchen counter. Tully, who can barely negotiate a flight of stairs, had dragged the bag off the counter and snatched up one of the bars. Before I could get to him, he swallowed the bar, wrapper and all. He was on his way back for another when I grabbed the bag off the floor. I never saw the wrapper eject from the other end. As far as I know, it’s still moldering in his colon.

On Sunday I didn’t know how I would make it until Thursday. I was like a kid counting down the days until Christmas. Somehow I made it. I handed Tully off to my replacement who stood wide-eyed and slack-jawed as I described Tully’s snoring. As I backed out of their driveway I turned off the car stereo and enjoyed the peace and quiet for a few minutes. No snoring, no whining, no click, click, click of doggy nails on the hardwood floors. Ah, the sweet sound of silence….

Sunday, December 2, 2018

For the Love of All That's Holy, Stop Raining!


I'm not the kind of guy to grouch about the weather. Well, at least not too much. Why bellyache about something you can't change? At least in Greenville, South Carolina, I don't have to train my attention to 10 feet of snow each winter. I'm feeling better already.

But, I'm sick of rain. It's raining here now and feels like it has been raining nearly without pause for months. Forget about getting anything productive, such as mulching leaves, cleaning gutters or opening the chimney, done. Granted, this situation is exacerbated by my travel schedule. I'm sure there have been some pleasant days I've missed by being on the road, but that knowledge doesn't solve the issue.

My house has vinyl siding (I know: classy!) and the trim needs a coat of paint. I was waiting until cooler fall temps to tackle that project. Guess what? We really didn't have much of a fall, and what we did have, was one rainy day after another. In terms of temperature, I guess we may still be in fall, but the chances of getting anything more done than the remaining leaves raked and mulched are slim, indeed.

To compound the sky-water issue is that the damn rain is following me around. I was poured on for a week in Dallas last February, a week in Austin in October and it was raining as I left Los Angeles this past week. Los Angeles!!! WTF?

If you are living in an area that is below its average rainfall for the year, simply invite me for a week's stay. I can almost guarantee an inch or two or the wet stuff will accompany me. I'm like the Pied Piper of precipitation (a bit of alliteration for my English-major readers).

Having lived in places where water is in short supply, I almost feel guilty for bitching about the rain. We survived on well water when I was a little kid. Water was such an issue that during the summer my cousins and I would have to take baths in steel tubs located at a separate well 200 yards behind the house. I've lived in southern New Mexico and West Texas. I get the scarcity of water. That, however, doesn't mean I want to be rained on for days at a stretch.

Enough already. Stop it! 

As a post script to this blog post I'll share what is ultimately a rain story some folks from Nashville told me as we enjoyed a libation at my Friday night watering hole, Soby's. I've heard that the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has reliability issues. I guess this isn't just rumors.

This couple was in town because their oldest daughter plays on a travel soccer team and they came to watch a tournament. Apparently she had a game on Saturday and was dining with her team. They told me one of their current family cars was a Mercedes Sprinter. It is, in fact, the second Sprinter passenger van they have owned. They drive a Sprinter because they have five children and it's the only vehicle large enough to seat seven and still have plenty of cargo room for luggage or whatever.

On their original Sprinter they experienced chronic engine problems that they tried to get resolved at around 19,000 miles. Finally at close to 50,000 mi, Mercedes offered them a deep discount on a new Sprinter to resolve the engine issue. So far so good on the engine in the newer Sprinter. However, in both Sprinters leaks formed around the air conditioning unit located on the van roof. Whoever sits in the second-row seat usually holds an umbrella over his or her head when it rains. The first Sprinter actually had mold growing in it by the time it was traded. They are currently attempting to resolve the leaking in their current Sprinter.

I find the story fascinating and worthy of sharing. Oh, and a 2019 Ford Transit is in their future.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Daisy Duke and BEER2WHISKEY: What?


I'm not the kind of guy to give up on things. I'm a stubborn S.O.B. when it comes to not backing down from accomplishing something I have set my sights on. (Pretty-strong words for a slacker of my caliber.) Perhaps this should have been my approach when pursuing a career, but, yawn, nope. No, this never-give-up attitude is more about projects I begin.

I have found that solving many problems is much like trying to remember the name of that actress who played Daisy Duke in the 1980s TV comedy Dukes of Hazzard or any other actor in any other show or movie. If you stop thinking about it and let the old subconscious do the heavy lifting while you turn your attention to other pursuits, the answer will, at some point, pop into your head. It was Catherine Bach, by the way. And, for some odd reason, I didn't have to think about it or look it up.

When needing to get over some hurdle in a home-improvement project, I'll try the solutions I can think of; but if they fail, I will put the project on pause, noodling over a solution for the next hours, days or, sometimes, even weeks. Eventually, a way through will come to me. I'm not just going to throw in the towel. I have been struggling with such a problem in my greatroom-ceiling project for a year.

I installed bead board with the help of a fraternity brother over the entire greatroom ceiling a year ago last month. I just finally got around to painting it the end of September. I hung the light fixtures and ceiling fan. Now, I need to install crown molding. The issue: It's a vaulted ceiling. The extra angles created by a vaulted ceiling are a major problem. I'm no professional. Perhaps a professional finishing carpenter has a ready-made solution. I don't. Yesterday, however, I messed with it again for a while and think I've got this critter tree'd. I'm going to go ahead and order the materials and work on it during a little down time in December. We'll see.

That brings me to my video YouTube project BEER2WHISKEY. When a friend first mentioned the concept, suggesting I give it a go, I was skeptical. Would anyone really be interested in watching videos of breweries and distilleries where one or two of the core people (owners, managers, brewers and so forth) would sit down with me and sometimes a sidekick to talk about the business, their backgrounds and the products? I seriously considered the idea for a couple of months as I researched similar video projects on the Internet. The more I pondered it, the more the idea appealed to me.

I shot the first videos for it on my annual trip to the Florida Keys in July of 2017. I had a graphic artist whip up a logo over the next few weeks. In the meantime, my buddy Big Jon agreed to do a series of short videos where he and I sat down and talked about a specific beer (today's “Big Jon in 5” segments) and I schlepped my video gear to my annual fraternity brothers getaway where four of us sat down with different bottles of whiskey and talked about them. By mid September 2017, I had enough segments in the can and edited to launch the channel. A new segment has gone live every Thursday since.

I shoot these segments with two cameras. Two cameras makes editing out things much less noticeable because you can jump from one camera to the other when cutting. It also means you have backup audio. Two cameras also adds a bit of production quality sadly lacking on most YouTube videos. I invested in a second camera, tripod, lights, a 4-station wireless mic system, assorted odds and ends like extension cords and a small monitor. Of course, you need cases to cart all of this crap around. I invested in a couple of large, hard-sided Pelican Cases. This was a huge outlay of cash for a guy who at any given time is one major-appliance replacement away from bankruptcy.

As is the case for most people who launch a YouTube channel, my ultimate goal was to monetize the channel, either with enough views to begin making money from YouTube or with some sponsorships, or, a combination of the two. Yahtzee! 
Platypus Brewing in Houston, Texas.
 I decided to really put the pedal to the metal in 2018. I did a series of shoots in Houston, Dallas and Northwest Montana. These were trips on which I usually shot two videos per day over a three- or four-day period. I dragged my gear along on carmaker-event trips and shot segments in Hawaii, California and Kentucky. To date I've shot roughly 70 segments and edited 60 or so of those. They range from 6 to 35 minutes in length. I figure just editing requires approximately 15-20 minutes of my time for each screen minute. This has been a huge investment of time and capital.

What in the wide, wide world of sports does BEER2WHISKEY have to do with the first four paragraphs of rambling prose? you may ask. Well, simple, even with all the effort and investment, this YouTube channel hasn't gotten any traction. It picks up 3-5 new subscribers each month, but in the world of social media, that's like sap rolling down a tree.

Don't get me wrong, I'm having a blast doing this. And that's a good thing because with each passing week it looks as though I'll have to settle for the joy it gives me. I may have to let virtue be its own reward.

I get all manner of suggestions from well-meaning friends about how to grow the audience. Most of them require sinking even more time or money into this project for which each segment requires about an 8-hour day total to shoot, edit and upload. I still need to work for a living.

I haven't given up. I'm too damn stubborn for that, but I have shifted into pondering mode. Coaxing a brewery into hosting a shoot during the holidays is next to impossible. So, I've got a month or so before I do another shoot. I still need to edit a segment each week, but I'll use the extra time I have to re-evaluate this project and my expectations for it.

In the meantime, I'll keep cranking out the videos. Maybe there will be a Christmas miracle. Even if there isn't, I'll be back at it in January.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Holiday Season: Here We Go Again


I'm not the kind of guy who humbugs his way through the holiday season (Thanksgiving through New Year's Day), but I don't look forward to it either. Until 15-or-so years ago, it was my favorite time of the year. Today: not so much. Now this five-week period is more of an interruption to my schedule and a drain on my bank account than anything else. I don't dread it, but I could easily do without it.

Here's a breakdown by “special” day.

Thanksgiving. I vaguely remember, as a young whippersnapper (Only the second time in my life I've written that word and both times were today. Kind of catchy. I like it.) when we lived within a couple hours drive of family, doing actual extended-family Thanksgiving meals. You know, a kitchen full of older female family members creating traditional family dishes while the men sat around smoking cigarettes be'essing about life and the kids played outside.

When I was age six, we finally moved sufficiently far away that more often than not, Thanksgiving was just my parents and me. My sister and her family made the trip for Christmas. Working solo, my mother continued making all the dishes to which we were accustomed: turkey, chestnut dressing, Pennsylvania Dutch dried corn, jellied cranberry sauce and so forth. From that point forward, the day became more about the food than family for me.

By the time I was 23, both my parents were gone. With my mother's passing in 1975, I was cast adrift for Thanksgiving. As a Thanksgiving orphan, I've always had friends who invited me to their homes for their Thanksgiving meal; but it was their Thanksgiving meal. I gratefully accept an invitation each Thanksgiving, but it's just not the same because the meal isn't the same. Often I try to preserve some of my family's tradition by whipping up some dried corn and bringing my own cranberry sauce, but it's still not the same.

Christmas. My father died in 1973. I spent that Christmas and all but two Christmas holidays since with my sister's family in New Mexico. The two I missed fell on the Christmas after I relocated somewhere new: South Florida in 1984, and South Carolina 10 years ago. I just didn't have the money or the motivation to make the trip.

My sister's family does Christmas the way it should be done. Christmas is such a big deal to them, historically the house is completely decorated by Thanksgiving. And, I mean completely decorated. Outside and inside. My brother-in-law spends days putting a train set under the tree with its very elaborate village. There are lights, candles and poinsettias all over the house. Her adult children follow suit in their own homes. This will be the first year my sister isn't hosting the Christmas dinner. The family has simply outgrown a sit-down meal at her house. This will be yet another change.

Because I'm never home on Christmas, I don't decorate....much. When living in Florida, I threw a big holiday wine tasting and decorated for that. I don't entertain at my Greenville home. Other than some out-of-town guests, I've had people over maybe half-a-dozen times since moving here. It's not a house set up to entertain. I usually put up some outside Christmas lights, but this has more to do with making it look like someone is home during the 10 days I'm gone than it does about dressing up the house for the holiday. Taking down Christmas decorations makes me melancholy. I've always hated it. I now use the fact that I'm never home for Christmas day as an excuse not to decorate.

Along about Thanksgiving, I begin stressing out about the gift giving aspect. To whom do I give and what do I give them? The family just keeps growing. I used to have 6 people to concentrate on and now there are about 20. That doesn't even count nonrelatives. It's just a lot of pressure.

There is no way for me to look at the Thanksgiving-New Year's holiday period any differently than I do any other holiday, which is that it's a huge interruption to my revenue production. Not only am I spending all this money on travel and gift giving, but I'm not making any money. It's a double whammy. In fact, the not-making-any-money part oozes into the first week or two of January. This brings with it a lot of stress. Not that I don't have savings, but that I must dip into savings to survive this six-week or longer revenue drought. This sucks much of the joy out of the Christmas season for me.

New Year's. This is a day that to me simply means I advance the year when dating a check. At my age, I don't view the new year as a fresh beginning. I see it as being a year older and more likely that something is going to go wrong with my health, my house or a loved one. Although no one would ever accuse me of being the glass-is-half-full guy, I have always been basically optimistic that things will somehow work out. They always have for me. How else can you explain my freelancing for basically the last 20-plus years and still having my nose above the water line? But I long ago quit waiting for my ship to come in. I don't think it ever set sail.

The odds simply aren't with next year being better than this year. I'm no longer in my 30s. Things are winding down and not up. I'm not sad about this. It is what it is. I don't even dwell on it, but it does frame my perspective on the new year. I don't hate it. I just don't care about it.It is meaningless to me.

And there you have my thoughts on the next few weeks. I'll be glad to spend some time with my family in New Mexico and tip a few in honor of the holidays with assorted friends. But, this time of year just doesn't mean to me what it once did. I have lost my enthusiasm for the holidays.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Steelers: My Obligatory Commentary on This Season


I'm not the kind of guy who puts a lot of stock in professional sports teams. Those who know me, recognize that I care little about sports on much of any level. I know people consumed by college sports. I am grateful that I matriculated from a small, private Midwest college with no national profile. I don't even need pretend I care about what its competitive teams are doing.

I am the same with professional sports. Although I get the poetry of baseball, it puts me to sleep. Basketball: I barely understand the difference between a lay up and a dunk. I never liked the sport growing up and certainly don't waste my time with it as an adult. I am amazed by what hockey players can do while balanced on a razor-thin steel blade, but I'm done when the first (of several) fights breaks out. If I want to watch fights, well, I'll watch real fights. All of the ice ballet in the world can't outweigh my loathing for the constant fighting and the NHL's apparent lack of interest in really correcting the issue.

Then there is the NFL. And, I suppose, CFL (Canadian Football League) for those who simply can't get enough of following competitive sports. I am, what I would call, a casual Steelers fan. That is, I follow the Steelers, but I don't lose sleep over missing one of their games. My (whatever day of the week they play) day doesn't revolve around making sure I'm in front of a TV at kickoff. If I get to see them play, fine; if not, I'll survive. I have become even more lackadaisical about following them since I moved to South Carolina. I left my Steelers-following friends with whom I watched most Steelers games behind in Florida. Football is more fun to watch with fellow travelers.

This is my 10th football season in Greenville. For the first nine years, whoever at the local CBS affiliate made the decision about which games would air on Sunday afternoons, no longer seems to be calling the shots. I judge he/she was a Steelers fan. Probably no more than two Sunday afternoon games a season weren't offered locally. That same person either moved on or was struck down by a bus. So far this season, only two Sunday-afternoon Steelers games have been televised locally, and I was out of town for the first one.

I'm not a fan of sports bars, particularly on “game” days. If to see a Steelers game I have to go to a sports bar by myself, chances are pretty good that I'm going to miss it. I will watch other teams play if I'm somewhere and a game is on the TV. But, I really don't care about watching other teams play. On game day I root for two teams: The Steelers and whichever team is playing the Patriots. Otherwise, I have nada real interest.

I used to usually pepper my daily then weekly Clanging Bell posts with two or three Steelers blogs during the fall and winter. Mostly they consisted of rants about what I considered to be poor play, coaching and/or officiating. I've missed so many games this season that I just haven't had much fodder for a blog. My knee-jerk reaction to the sorry-ass Browns playing the Steelers to a tie in the season opener was to fire off a scathing blog, but there is simply too much talent among the Steelers roster for me to believe that game was anything but an anomaly. Of course, at the end of four games the Steelers had racked up only one win. I was tempted to blog that Tomlin was, perhaps, looking at overseeing his first losing season as Steelers head coach. I resisted that urge; although, I did say that privately to a couple of people.

Quality of play has relentlessly improved since that second loss. The Steelers offensive line is turning in brilliant work in both pass protection and opening holes for the season's biggest surprise, running back James Conner. Le'Veon who? Big Ben is still razor accurate (mostly) and he and Antonio Brown finally seem to be on the same page. It seems no one who plays a position qualifying them as a potential point maker doesn't have at least one TD under his belt. There is no shortage of heroes.
This is how Newton spent much of his evening.

After last Thursday's robust 52-21 blowout of the Carolina Panthers, I felt compelled to blog. It was an awesome performance marred only by a questionable TD call that wasn't overturned by a review. So, maybe it was actually a TD. Otherwise, the Steelers were firing on all cylinders. Panther quarterback Cam Newton never seemed more than a half-an-arm's length from being dragged down and was sacked five times. He was hurried multiple times and hit more often than not. On nearly every Panther offensive play there were at least two or three black jerseys running around the backfield.

When Big Ben left the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter, he had thrown more touchdown passes than incompletions! Even the Steelers kicker Chris Boswell, unreliable this season, was seven for seven point afters and nailed a 50-yard field goal.

After the game Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said something to the effect of “We're really not that good.” Soundly thrashing a 6-2 Panthers team maybe something the Steelers couldn't do on a weekly basis, but for sure, this is a significantly improved team than met the Browns in week one. And, the really good news for Steelers fans, the team just seems to be getting better and better.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Retirement Is for Quitters


I'm not the kind of guy who wishes he was playing golf or fishing rather than working. Yes, oh, to be well enough off financially to laze around and not worry about money. Sadly, a misspent youth, and quite frankly a misspent middle age, put the whole retirement thing permanently out of reach. Sure, I know that unless I'm lucky enough to be struck down in the street by a runaway sanitation truck, at some point I won't be physically able to sit upright at my keyboard and peck out revenue-producing prose. I get that. If I was a roofer, I'd already be done. But fortunately, I've made a living the past 30 years sitting on my ass. I can probably eek out another decade or so doing the same. Fingers crossed.

The real issue, however, is that I'm often busier than I wish to be. Don't get me wrong: I'm not busier inflating my cash flow – not by a long shot. I am always on the market for more paying work. I challenge you to show me a freelance writer who isn't. Nope. Most of my scheduling issues are of my own doing.

I currently have two video projects demanding a fair amount of time each week. My BEER2WHISKEY YouTube channel must be fed on a weekly basis. That entails a two-to-three-hour shoot and between four and six hours of editing, depending on the subject matter. I also have my somewhat neglected of late just3thingsvideo.com that doesn't usually involve any dedicated shooting time, but does eat up two or three hours editing time. Currently, most of my just3thingsvideo.com shooting is done on carmaker media events, which adds another schedule-eating component to my work week.

Carmakers have media coming-out events for all-new or totally redesigned vehicles. These are typically two-or-three-day affairs that are scattered all across the country. On average in any given month I attend three such events. I could turn down many of these invitations, freeing up nearly a week most months, but, hey, I enjoy them. Also, at least one or two of these trips each month are at the behest of my biggest client. They are big revenue makers for me.

In the midst of all of this work and work-related travel, I always have at least one home-improvement project underway. I am still struggling with my greatroom-ceiling project that began more than a year ago. All that remains is trimming it out, but that will be a huge undertaking.

Then, because I do need a little R&R on occasion, I have a number of annual trips baked into my scheduling pie. I make a trek to New Mexico to visit my sister and her extended family twice each year: summer and Christmas. Each trip is 7 to 10 days long. I get together with a group of my fraternity brothers every year, which is a four- to seven-day commitment. For the past four or five years I have also been spending between 10 and 14 days each summer in the Florida Keys. Although the Keys trip is up in the air for this year, I'll go if the opportunity arises.

Plus there are shorter long-weekend side trips to Louisville, Knoxville and a couple of other destinations to visit friends.

Then there is this damn blog. It is my Frankenstein monster. I began Clanging Bell eight or nine years ago when work was agonizingly slow. I started it primarily to give myself something to do, as well as keeping my writing skills at least somewhat sharp. Writing, as with any skill set, must be nurtured on a consistent basis to keep it honed. Now, if I take a couple of weeks off from blogging – often because I'm just plain tired of writing – I receive verbal and e-mail grumblings from people complaining about my lack of motivation and ambition.

To all of that add that I've been attempting – not succeeding mind you, but attempting – to recapture Saturdays as a MY DAY. A day to do whatever I damn well please without remorse or guilt. If I want to sit in my recliner all day and watch movies, by God, I'm going to sit in my recliner and watch movies. I don't have anyone nagging me about raking leaves or fixing that dripping faucet, and I don't even have a pet making demands on my time. It's just me and more often than not, I still can't pull it off. There is just too much to do.

That leaves Sunday afternoon as my last oasis of Uncle Russ time in an otherwise slammed week. Come hell or high water, by noon or so on the Sundays I'm in town, I'm on my designated stool, which they save for me, at the bar in Smoke on the Water in downtown Greenville sipping a brew. Ahhh....

So, it's probably some sort of unconscious self-preservation process fogging out any wishful thinking about a life of leisure. I find fishing utterly boring. And, golf! What a colossal waste of money and time just to work myself up into a ball of raging frustration. I'd much rather work; thank-you very much.

Click here to watch the latest BEER2WHISKEY segment on the Blue Stallion Brewing Co. in Lexington, Ky.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Let There Be Light: Life Is Full of Mysteries


I'm not the kind of guy who wants to live in the dark. Who does? So, when the electricity abruptly went out in about 30 percent of my house, including the great room and some of the kitchen, I felt as though I had taken a little journey in the Wayback machine.

A year ago, as part of my greatroom-ceiling project, I had disconnected the can lights in the greatroom, rewired those light boxes and threaded the wires through the new beadboard ceiling. That's the way things remained for more than 11 months as I procrastinated over painting the new wood ceiling. I never touched those wires again during that time. All of the outlets continued functioning as did everything else on the greatroom grid. I survived just fine without the overhead lights that I rarely used anyway.

Roughly three weeks ago, just after I finally broke down and painted the ceiling, I had my typical Saturday night at home. I don't often venture out on Saturday nights. I snatch a container of homemade red sauce (gravy to my Italian friends) from the freezer, whip up some spaghetti, watch a couple of Redbox rentals, drink a few glasses of wine and enjoy the solitude. Around 10:30, I shut everything down and went to bed. So far, so good.

Sunday morning I arose to discover the electricity out in the upstairs bath, most of the outlets in the greatroom and part of the kitchen. What the hell?

My house was built in the early 1950s. Much of the wiring dates back to that time. I'm sure there have been some half-assed DIY wiring since. I should know; I've done some of it. None of that, though, easily explained an entire circuit mysteriously going out over night. My breaker box is outside. Yep, another symptom of dating back to the 1950s. Unlocking the box, I checked all the breakers. None were flipped off. I found the breaker for the greatroom, flipping it off and on several times. Back in the house, still no juice.

I ran an extension cord to my coffee maker and one to the surge strip into which all my entertainment components are plugged. I also got on Amazon and ordered some under the cabinets lights, so I would have lights to make coffee in the mornings. None of these temporary fixes were ideal, but they sufficed as band aids to get me through until I had time to bring in an electrician.

Being a Sunday morning, I had beer to drink and my usual bar stool awaited me at Smoke on the Water. There was little I could do about the electric anyway. I did go online and check out how to replace a breaker. I hoped a bad breaker was the culprit. I spent about $2.50 on a new breaker, installed it and...nada.

I had to head out of town on Tuesday to the Miami Auto Show and a little pre-event down time with Florida friends. I didn't return until the following Monday. By then, I had reached out to my pal Natalie regarding the electric issue. She and her husband are constantly upgrading their home, plus have a business that is always in constant rehab. I was sure they have an electrician on speed dial.

Luckily, their electrician was already booked to do a project at their business on Friday. Natalie got him to stop by my house on the way. Two guys showed up late Friday morning. They crawled under the house and into the attic. After testing this and that, they determined that the house is wired in a series like Christmas tree lights and somewhere in that series a wire must have broken. The proposed fix? To run a new wire from the breaker box into one of the dead greatroom outlets, which they said, would restore the entire grid. Whatever it takes, I told them.

They left promising the owner would get back to me to schedule the work and with an estimate. Actually he got back to Natalie with the estimate and the promise he would contact me to schedule. The estimate: $500. Frankly, I expected it to be more. I wasn't keen on spending the dough, but it had to be done.

I was gone another full week to Austin for the Texas Truck Rodeo and my annual fraternity-brothers get together. The electricians were scheduled to knock out the project late in the afternoon on the Monday after I returned.

Sure enough, around 3:30, three of them came trooping in. I was in the process of installing the new overhead fixtures in the great room. I had two installed and was working on the third when they arrived. I was trying to get this project finished before they got the electricity in that room working again. I left them to it and climbed back up the ladder. Less than a minute later one of them walked up to the ladder, looked up and said, “As much as I'd like to take your $500, your electric is already working.”

WTF?

I shot down the ladder, walked into the kitchen and flipped on the overhead light that was among the things that hadn't been working. It came on! Trumpets sounded, birds began singing, angels began to laugh. The only explanation they could come up with is that somehow in installing the greatroom overheads, I had moved something enough to reconnect the series break. Granted, that seems the only likely explanation, but it doesn't really make sense. Those exposed wires for the overhead had gone unmolested for nearly a year when the electricity went off. I hadn't touched them. I had moved them a little while painting the ceiling, but the electric still functioned after the ceiling was painted.

It's a head scratcher.

They are coming back this-coming Monday to rework the ground for the entire system. I knew there was a problem with it. While they were there with nothing to do, I had them check out the ground. They told me what needed doing and that it would be $180 to complete that job.

Ah, the joys of owning an older house. 


Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Whiskey Vault at Austin's Wizard Academy: Five Went In; No One Remembers How Many Came Out


I'm not the kind of guy who historically says, no. One of the most impactful things I ever read was an interview with Sir Richard Branson. When asked why at that stage in his life and with his amassed fortune he continued doing things that most of us would classify as crazy, he simply replied, “Because life is more interesting when you say, yes, than when you say, no.

Indeed. I took that to heart and my outlook changed forever.

So, when the group of my fraternity brothers who gather somewhere for a few days every year decided to make Austin this year's destination, I was an immediate “yes” vote. It was just a happy coincidence that the dates we chose months ago wound up following on the heels of the Texas Automotive Writers Association's (TAWA) annual Texas Truck Rodeo headquartered just outside of Austin. I belong to this group and participate in the rodeo that climaxes with picking the Truck of Texas.

Actually, I would have said, yes, without the influence of the Branson interview, but I like to impart a little positive life philosophy whenever I can.
Wow. The Whiskey Vault is like being in a candy store.
Jumping on board this Austin trip wasn't the real test of my always-say-yes mind set. Nope. The real test was saying, yes, to the trip to Austin's Whiskey Vault. I have to justify to myself a $25 expenditure on an afternoon matinee at the movies with popcorn. When pondering ponying up $150 for a 90-minute experience in the Whiskey Vault with its thousand whiskeys, I required some self convincing. Once committed, however, I was like a reformed smoker or a newly minted husband: My goal was to get as many others on board as possible. After a bit of button-holing, coaxing and coercion, a group of five (out of a possible nine) were paid up. We had a 2 p.m. time slot on Thursday reserved with trainer/taste leader/guide Andrew.

I arrived in Austin on a sunny, warm (85 degrees) Sunday. It was the driest, warmest day of this trip. By Monday morning the rain was falling in buckets and the temp had dropped to 40 degrees. What followed was a week of the most relentless rain I've ever experienced. Lake Travis is at a historic high level and flash-flood warnings were a daily occurrence. While still at the rodeo, our bus back to the hotel from dinner came upon a water event where two feet of water, according to the water-level indicator on the side of the road, blocked our path, requiring the bus to reverse back up a narrow two lane for about half a mile before being able to back into a driveway and turn around.

The subtitle to this Austin week would have to be Rain, Rain, and, for the Love of God, More Rain.
Our trainer Andrew leading us into Nirvana.
When Thursday finally arrived, we slogged our way to the Wizard Academy: home of the Whiskey Vault. Wizard Academy bills itself as a summer camp for adults. There are mini schools on all manner of topics to help people achieve their goals. One school features three- and four-day curriculums for getting credentialed as a whiskey sommelier. But there are lots of other courses available. Students stay on the property, which is amazing.

The guys with us who weren't participating in the tasting volunteered as our designated drivers. Following the directions on the GPS-based nav unit in the Nissan NV3500 12-passenger van Nissan provided for my Austin adventure, we headed out of Austin. Apparently I somehow overlooked the e-mail providing instruction for finding our destination. I had no clue that the Whiskey Vault was simply a very big closet crammed with booze in what is a multi-story tower housing the Wizard Academy. There were no “Whiskey Vault” signs. After wandering around for a bit, we came upon one of the academy's employees who escorted us to an outside waiting area near the vault. We were supposed to be at the academy welcome center somewhere else on the property.

Eventually our trainer Andrew found us. Leading us into the bowels of the tower, he began regaling us with stories about the the founder and the property. Yeah, swell, but where's the booze?

Walking up to a large bookcase in an alcove just off the main classroom, Andrew pulled out a book from the top shelf, triggering a switch allowing a section of the bookcase to open into a secret entrance to the Whiskey Vault. We had finally arrived.

This is the same small room where the Whiskey Vault YouTube show is shot. Having watched a few of these outrageously funny videos, I began misting up. I was home!

I had spoken to Andrew on the phone a couple of weeks earlier and knew we were in for a real experience, but had no idea just how much fun it would be. Andrew made it clear right from the get-go that there were few rules in the vault. Based on smaller pours, we could exceed the 8 tastes we each paid $150 for. A couple of the guys were more interested in Scotch (Yeah, I know. Philistines.) than Bourbon. Andrew bounced back and forth between the the groups egging us on with samples of another and then another rare spirit. Our 90 minutes drifted into 150 minutes.

What a rush! It may have been the best $150 I ever spent. Our event finished up with a detailed tour of the tower during which we continued sipping on the spirit of our choice.

I must admit, I can't find much else to recommend Austin. Our afternoon revolving around Congress and 6th Street was an eye opener. San Francisco's homeless, panhandler issues are only marginally worse than Austin's. Austin's sidewalks have yet to be decorated with human poop, but that day is not far off. We couldn't take more than a dozen steps before being accosted by some homeless person looking for a handout or wanting to tell us a story as a preamble to asking for money. Every vacant-building doorway has a bum sleeping in it. Every underpass is a homeless camp.

Here's the thing: I will return to Austin. Carmakers love holding vehicle unveilings for the media in Austin. I will be back, but the only thing that will get me back to Austin on my own dime is another visit to the Whiskey Vault. Best time ever!

Here's the first of the BEER2WHISKEY Fiji Brothers Panel segments we shot in Austin. More to come.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Milestone Unheralded


I'm not the kind of guy who likes to take credit for things I either didn't accomplish or that I didn't put forth much effort to accomplish. Cleaning a bathroom doesn't rank up there with curing cancer, right? Well, for me it sort of does. Cleaning a bathroom is nearly as far out of my reach as curing cancer is for a qualified researcher. But, in the grand scheme of things, they don't compare. When I finally break down and clean a bathroom, I don't post a photo on Instagram....despite being really pleased with myself.

So, I didn't expect a brass band to meet me at the gate area when I arrived in Atlanta from San Francisco on Friday. I wasn't looking for confetti, a thousand brightly colored balloons dropping from the ceiling or the launch of 100 doves. Nope, none of those things was expected.

Because I hadn't really done all that much other than make the effort to have the lion's share of my flights over the past 30 years booked on Delta, I don't count the miles I've racked up as an accomplishment. For the most part, it wasn't even my money buying the tickets. More often than not, even the effort to book Delta flights was well within the wheelhouse of slacker me. “Hey, you're invited on a trip, our travel agent will book you on your airline of choice.” “Delta,” I would reply. “Done!” they would confirm. Easy-peasy.

I knew I was close to rolling over 2 million miles with Delta and would achieve it this year. Delta, as I assume other lines do, keeps track of such things. I received a nice Tumi soft attache case when I crossed the 1 million mile mark. I didn't expect that; not even realizing I had reached that milestone until the gift arrived.

Reaching that first 1 million miles required about nine years. I was on the road with “Discover America” on the average of three trips per month and then sandwiched in some carmaker events, too. It was a wild ride. There are still a couple of Delta employees at Palm Beach International who remember me from those crazy days. We often speak as I pass through PBI on my Florida excursions. The second million miles, well, that required the balance of my 30 years flying Delta.

I didn't expect a lot of fanfare over turning 2 million miles. I'm sure it happens with some regularity. But, I must admit, I was surprised that either the captain, which happens sporadically, or one of the flight attendants, which is somewhat more common, didn't seek me out and thank me. They often take a few minutes, walk down the aisle, personally acknowledging million milers. I sat next to a Delta flier on a flight a few weeks ago who was about to cross the 5 million mark. A flight attendant thanked me for being a million miler, but handed him a personal thank-you note. He said he has received them before. I don't think a “Hi, Mr. Heaps thanks for being a loyal Delta customer to the tune of 2 million miles,” is much to ask.

Maybe my disappointment arises from the fact that to be on a Delta flight on this trip to put myself in a position to cross 2 million miles, I had to jump through some hoops. Nissan chose Santa Barbara as the host city to introduce the totally redesigned 2019 Altima to the media. Delta no longer supports Santa Barbara with flights. Unless someone is flying me first class, I don't cross time zones on any airline but Delta. If something goes sideways, it's tough enough to get things straightened out on Delta with which I have a 30-year relationship. On an airline on which I have no clout, I'm just another casual flier. Nope, I don't cross time zones on any carrier but Delta.

For Delta fliers, getting to Santa Barbara means either flying to LAX in Los Angeles and driving the 100 miles north to Santa Barbara, or flying into LAX or some other California airport on Delta then changing airlines to United for the final leg into Santa Barbara. I was on a Toyota event in Santa Barbara a year or so ago. Toyota provided the option of flying into LAX and then shuttling us to and from Santa Barbara. It's a two-hour shuttle ride each way, but that doesn't really add much extra time to the overall trip. Because Nissan didn't offer that option, Delta fliers were left with the changing-airlines option.

In Atlanta or most other airports this wouldn't be a big deal. You simply change terminals and you are good to go. Sadly, neither LAX, which I flew into, nor San Francisco, where I made the airline swap on the home-bound trip, have terminals fully connected to one another. Both require fliers to exit security and then reenter security to make the airline change. Although you can do that in San Francisco, remaining within the confines of the general airport, at LAX you must actually walk outside the airport, cross through two parking garages, reenter the airport and pass through security.

This isn't exactly slogging across Death Valley in a covered wagon, but it's a pain in the ass.

Normally I drag along video gear requiring me to travel with at least one bag too large to carry on the plane. Because United, with which we've already established I have no clout, made up two legs of this six-leg round trip, checking a bag would have cost a total of $50. My status with Delta is such that I can check three bags for free. I wasn't going to pony up 50 bucks to fly on damn United. Also because I have no clout on United, meaning I might wind up in the last boarding group, I had no confidence I could carry on a rollerboard and find overhead space to stow it. I chose instead to only carry what would fit in my backpack. Typically, I carry cameras and at least one laptop with me. Not so on this trip. I had a couple of changes of underwear and three clean shirts in my backpack. That was it.

Although I didn't expect a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding my rolling over the 2 million-mile mark, at least having it acknowledged would have been a welcomed atta boy for the extra effort I put forth to make that milestone happen on this particular trip.

I readily admit, this tale belongs in a tome of first-world problems. But, hey, I had to blog about something, right?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Guessing Game That Is Hurricane Forecasting


I'm not the kind of guy who looks a gift horse in the mouth. The fact that what we South Carolinians call the Upstate was spared most of havoc reeked by Florence isn't lost on me. Areas on and near the North Carolina coast were mercilessly pounded. I'm glad we avoided the worst of it. Actually, at 10 a.m. on Sunday, it appears we will only see a few inches of rain. It began falling early last evening and continues this morning, but it's nothing out of the ordinary in what has been a very wet summer here.

Having lived no more than 10 miles (sometimes less than 2 mi.) from the beach for most of my 25 years in South Florida, I've been through my fair share of hurricanes. When I moved to South Carolina, I chose a city about as far away from the coast as I could and still be in South Carolina. Greenville is closer to Knoxville, Tenn than it is Charleston. I've had my fill of boarding up, being without power for days, and driving around on streets covered in debris with no working traffic lights.

Although its done a fine job of getting back on its feet after last year's Irma, the Florida Keys was far from healed on my recent stay in July. Restaurants in which we ate a year ago, simply were gone this year. Entire marinas were washed away. They have been or are being rebuilt, but the evidence of Irma's power is still very apparent. Thank goodness, Islamorada's two craft breweries were spared! There is a God!

So, hurricanes do hit. And, when they do, the destruction can be devastating. Been there, done that.

But here's the ugly truth about hurricane forecasting, the people and the agencies spitting out their predictions of where these storms are going to make landfall and their intensity when they do, don't really know much of anything with any degree of certainty. Depending on the speed of the storm, they can only provide guesses as to where the storm will hit up until about 36 hours before it strikes the coast. The same goes for its severity. They just don't know.

At one point, the media was reporting that Florence would reach the Carolinas (They, of course, couldn't pinpoint if it would be South Carolina or North Carolina.) as a Cat 4 storm. Had that happened and it had been South Carolina, I'd probably be sitting in the dark, sweating and reading my Kindle right now. I was skeptical at the report. The storm was days away. While Cat 4s making landfall aren't exactly rare, they aren't common, either. Other than frightening the bejesus out of everyone, as well as helping the bottom line of some grocery stores by increasing the sales of bottled water and bread, these reports were worthless.

When Florence finally did creep on land, it did so as a Cat 1. That was bad enough for those most directly impacted, but nothing compared to a Cat 4. Anyone who has experienced both will agree, there's a big, big difference. As with Katrina a few years ago, most of Florence's destruction has been from flooding and surges.

At the beginning of every hurricane season some nincompoop gets air time and ink predicting the worst hurricane season in (fill in any amount of time). Yes, the year will come when some such prediction will prove true; in the meantime, though, it's just a lot of noise.

I'm glad the predictions of the severity of Florence at landfall proved wrong. It would have been a much bigger story of death and destruction.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt

The reason I was in Pittsburgh on my birthday: 2019 Kia Forte!
I'm not the kind of guy who expects much brouhaha on his birthday. Well, at least not any more. There was a time when my birthday was a two-week celebration marked by a party or two and several nights out for dinner with different friends. My 50th was a surprise party at my favorite Delray Beach watering hole with roughly 80 of my friends and family, several of whom traveled in from out of town. My 60th, celebrated in Greenville, included two parties, one a surprise with friends from out of town and one planned with local friends engineered to keep me local and available for my surprise party. A lot of planning and coordination went into those efforts. Now birthdays are just another day, but with a little cake and a card or two.

I don't think the issue is so much that after racking up decades of birth anniversaries they have become routine; I think it's that as I, and my friends, have become older, we have moved on from balls-to-the-wall celebrations and partying at the drop of a hat to more sedate expressions of marking special occasions. Parties within my circles have morphed into get-togethers. Yawn.

Deciding who is bringing the Rumple Minze and Cuervo has turned into discussions about cheese dip and veggie platters. I couldn't care less about what sort of finger food will be available and who is bringing it. I guarantee it won't be me. To begin with, I avoid eating standing up. Secondly, I don't give a rat's patootie about little wienies on toothpicks. It's a party! Where's the bar? Oh, that's right; it's a get-together. My bad. “Could you please pass the three-bean dip, Brother Smith, and by the way, how's that prostate?”

Another factor scrubbing away some of my enthusiasm for “get-togethers” is the absence of any thrill of the chase. I may be old, but I'm not dead. One function of parties was always the potential for meeting someone new or the opportunity to get close to someone you had seen around, but didn't really know. The whole heing-and-sheing thing always held great allure for me. Parties provided ideal settings for advancing carnal agendas. Get-togethers not so much. In fact, not at all. Opening lines have gone from, “Wow, you really know how to toss back a kamikaze. How about another,” to “Gee, Gladys, this is some good potato salad. What's your secret?”

Please, just shoot me.
A few of my team members attempting to high five. It's tough to do when one guy is 7-feet tall.
I wrote all of this as a preface to telling you that my 67th birthday was toward the end of August. It was the third or fourth birthday in a row landing on an out-of-town carmaker event. This year I was in Pittsburgh with Kia taking a gander at its redesigned 2019 Forte. My birthday was on the main day of this event. Kia always makes a big splash the second night. On this trip it was a game-night theme based on Pittsburgh sports teams. Kia divided us into teams and we competed at a number of different stations. Once Kia compiled the scores, they announced the top-scoring team.

Uncle Russ getting all misty.
It was a raucous evening with lots to eat and an open bar. It was, dare I say it, a party.

After announcing the evening's winners, they announced it was my birthday. Out came the obligatory cake with candles for me to snuff out. They also presented me with a nice bottle of 10-year-old bourbon that one of the PR guys had made the rounds of Pittsburgh liquor stores to find. It was a thoughtful gesture in a partying atmosphere.
A little candle snuffing out.

This crowd wasn't partying for me. More than a few of them didn't have a clue who I was before my birthday was announced. But it was a party of sorts. And, I liked that. So, maybe I am still a guy who likes a bit of birthday brouhaha.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.....

I'll be more of a get-together guy once I am no longer mobile and alcohol is forbidden from my diet. Until then, I'm stubbornly clinging to the institution of parties.

“Who wants a shot of caramel vodka?”

Sunday, May 27, 2018

iPhone to LG V20: Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire



I am not the kind of guy who takes change in stride. I remain at my gym of seven years – which I only joined because my previous gym closed it doors – that I am not happy with because I don't want to go through the process of joining another or getting comfortable with new machines. I haunt the same watering holes when I am at home because I don't want to make the effort to break in new bartenders. As much as possible, I reside in my comfort zone.

I tell you all of that to provide a baseline for my determination to stay the course, remain in my rut, or whatever other term you choose to describe my stubbornness in clinging to what I know rather than embracing the unknown. I simply don't like to sail into uncharted waters. Hell, I owned my house in Greenville for six months before I finally mustered up the moxie to leave my home in South Florida and the friends I made during my 25-year tenure there to relocate to a place where I knew no one. I didn't have a Florida house to sell and I wasn't working a nine-to-five job that I couldn't leave. Nope, I simply didn't want to endure the change.

Imagine the garment-wrenching, hair-pulling experience it has been for me to caste off my iPhone 6S for an Android-based LG V20 smartphone. Why would I do such a thing? I was pissed off at Apple. I know, Apple to Google: frying pan to fire. It wasn't a rational decision. It was one made in the throes of passion.

I arrived in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago with the plan to pick up a press-fleet car at the airport and then drive to my buddy's in Tucson. A Volkswagen Atlas awaited me when I landed. I had convinced myself that I had double checked with VW's fleet vendor there that the Atlas had a navigation system. Later research into exchanged e-mails revealed that, in fact, I hadn't made that determination after all. Because I was operating under the belief it had a navi unit, I didn't bother to print out directions from Mapquest or make any other provision for finding my way from the off-site parking lot in Phoenix to my buddy's house in Tucson.

Why not just use the maps app on my iPhone, you are probably thinking. That's the question my buddy texted me after I discovered the no-navi issue and texted him I had no clue where I was going. All I knew was that I needed to head east on I-10. Of course, I had no idea how to get to I-10 or how to get from I-10 to his house. Does anyone, including my Tucson buddy, actually believe I wouldn't have thought of the maps app on my iPhone? Yes, I am a Luddite to some degree, but c'mon, I do know about the maps app.

The issue is that my Google Maps app hadn't functioned properly for more than a year. If you have an iPhone, you are well aware that at least two or three times a month, Apple duns you about the newest update. It's like you owe them money. After getting an update message for the fifth or sixth time, I would finally break down and accept it. Somewhere in those updates, the maps app ceased functioning properly. It could locate me and provide a directions list to where I wanted to go, but it couldn't announce step-by-step directions. Once I began to move, it had no clue where I was.

Because most of the vehicles I drive have navigation units, I viewed the lack of a working maps app on my phone as more of an annoyance than anything else. The Phoenix experience, though, was the proverbial camel's back-breaking straw. Upon looking into the maps-app issue more closely with a little Internet search, mine was a common problem among owners of older iPhones. Another underhanded way to motivate those of us with outdated iPhones to pony up a grand for the latest iPhone version? Maybe. I don't know, but I was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it any more.

My Tucson buddy has an LG V30 Android-based phone with which he is quite happy. I did a little research and determined an LG V20 would serve my purposes nicely. I found brand-new ones on ebay for $235. I ordered one my second day in Tucson. It arrived on Wednesday and I've been struggling with it ever since.

Once upon a time, I considered Walmart the great retail Satan. I often proffered that the street address of every Walmart should contain the number 666. It wielded its buying power like a club, making demands on manufacturers and artists. To this day, getting me inside a Walmart is a major accomplishment. In truth, when held up to the blinding light of a Google or Apple, Walmart is small potatoes in terms of influencing society. At least Walmart, to the best of my knowledge, never mined my data. Pretty much forced to deal with these two tech giants every day, I'm not a fan of either. I certainly don't view one as more virtuous than the other. They are out of control.

In any event, I am struggling with learning my new phone and the Android way of doing things. There seems no easy, free method for transferring all my iPhone date to my V20. I did manage to migrate my contacts list; although it didn't make the transfer unmolested. In the past as I moved from iPhone to iPhone, I would just take both phones to the AT&T store and they would transfer everything as part of their service. This time, not so much. In fact, other than trying to sell me device insurance, the AT&T rep who “helped” me barely took an interest. All she did was transfer the Sim card from my iPhone to the V20. Having accomplished that, she turned the phone to face me and said, “There you go.” She did tell me how to access the appropriate app to transfer the contacts on my own. Otherwise, I have been on my own.

Now I am reevaluating my relationship with AT&T. Remember when telephones were simple? Yep, those were the days. Oh, and the first day my new V20 was activated, I received an update notice. Here we go again.