Sunday, July 31, 2011


Yes, we ordered food, too.

I am writing this while flying from Greenville, South Carolina, to Atlanta on my way back home to Miami.

If memory serves, and I believe it does, this is the first time in about 40 years that I have actually written something while flying on a plane.
Back then, I was on what was called the Big Ten Skywriters Tour.  We were sportswriters, and we would fly on a small charter to the conference schools, plus Notre Dame.
On our stops, we would interview football coaches and players previewing the upcoming football season.
Often, because of the demand of deadlines, we would pound the keys of our portable typewriters so copy would be ready when we landed. We were in the sky, and we were writing. Hence the term skywriters.
Nowadays the writers all go to one spot and the coaches and players come to them. We had more fun.
This time I am typing not on a portable Royal but a MacBook Pro laptop, and I am not writing about football but my visit with old friends from high school.
One of them, Tim, has a home at the south end of Lake Keowee (an Indian word which I think means “water surrounded by big houses”) just outside of Seneca, South Carolina.
Cottages on the lake. Yeah, right.
I mentioned the visit in a previous blog, wondering if South Carolina would live up to my idea there would be more pretty girls around then there had been the year before when we visited Tom’s place in Manzanita, Oregon.
Frankly, we didn’t really pay a whole lot of attention, so the result is a bit inconclusive. We did visit the Clemson University campus, but apparently school was between summer sessions so hardly anybody, male or female, was around.
The visit did feature the usual amount of reminiscing and consumption of adult beverages, and Tim had an ambitious schedule of activities for us.
We spent most of the first two days on the lake on his pontoon boat where I, as a Florida resident who should be used to such things, managed to get a sunburn. But it wasn’t a particularly bad one.
We also drove up to North Carolina to Highlands, a popular spot for summer visitors, especially ones from Florida, for lunch. It was crowded.
Visitors fill up the streets in Highland, N.C.
One thing Tim had not planned was a trip to the local hospital. On Friday, Syke was really feeling down. He didn’t eat lunch or even get out of the car in Highlands, and he didn’t feel like taking part in the art lesson Tim’s daughter Libby had planned for that afternoon. (We fused glass trinkets for use as pendants for our wives. Aren’t we the thoughtful ones? Well, sort of.)
That evening Syke asked to be taken to the hospital to get his ticker checked, and he ended up spending the night there.
He wasn’t released from the hospital until the next afternoon, but he is on this plane sitting behind me as I write on this Sunday morning, so there is a happy ending at least for now. He faces more tests this week back home.
Aside from that, and the fact one of group couldn’t make the trip at all because of family obligations, our fifth “reunion” went very well. The weather was fantastic the entire time, with potential storms bypassing us and the temperature not being too unbearable.
It was a relaxing four-plus days. I highly recommend such outings. 
You think we need sun block?
We already have talked about next year, but nothing definite has been set.
Florida was mentioned as a destination -- Tom has a place in St. Petersburg -- but a couple of us are wondering if it might be time to return in 2011 to the cabin in the woods of Indiana just outside of Bloomington where we gathered for our first three years.
No matter. It’s not so much the destination as it is the company that makes these summer outings a success.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


The gang's all here!

A theory of mine is about to be put to a test this week.
But first, some background.
For the last few years, some good friends from my high school days and I have gotten together for a few days in the summer to kick back and recall good times. Adult beverages are consumed.
The first three times we rented a big cabin in woods between Bloomington and and Brown County in southern Indiana and just kicked back.

We’d sit around all morning, go into town for lunch (at a spot that offered breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, a southern Indiana specialty), return to the cabin for the afternoon, and then back to Bloomington for dinner at night.
The first cabin in the woods.
During one of our conversations two years ago, Tom (a former Ford engineer, though that really doesn’t have anything to with the subject) suggested that we might want to go out to Oregon, where he had a small summer place in a coastal village called Manzanita. He said he was going to sell the place and this might be a good chance.
He didn’t say this, but he was probably thinking that since he was going to sell the house, it wouldn’t matter much if we burned the place down or something.
It took us all of about two seconds to agree to this and so last year, joined by yet another long-time friend, we all gathered in Oregon for a memorable five days.
Each bedroom has its own private bath.
End of background.

Now for my theory.
It was after we had been in Manzanita and surrounding environs for a few days that I made the observation that I thought one of the differences between Oregon and the South, where I resided for more than two decades (the real South, not just Florida) was that if we were in the South we would be seeing a lot more pretty girls.
Tom's place in Oregon.
I wasn’t saying there were no pretty girls in Oregon but simply that there would be more of them in the South. At least I hope that is the point I made. Tom has a daughter living there, after all, and she resembles very much her mother. They are both on the “A” list.
Now here comes the test to that theory.
During the visit to Oregon, Tim, who was with us for the first time, got so wrapped up in things he invited us to his place for this summer. We readily accepted, of course.
His place is in a small village at the south end of a big lake in South Carolina.
South Carolina, you must recognize, is very much in the South, which I said had more (emphasis on more) pretty girls than Oregon.
So, will I see more pretty girls in Seneca, South Carolina, than I did in Manzanita, Oregon?
I think so, but Seneca is a small town.
Clemson University is nearby, which improves the odds. Of course, summer school might not be in session so I may lose that advantage.
In any case, I am looking forward to doing the research.
The Pacific waves roll in on the Oregon coast.

Friday, July 22, 2011


If you are a fan of Infiniti’s G37 sports sedan and coupe, as I am, but have been put off by a price tag that quickly hits the $40,000 mark, there is good news this year.
The luxury division of Japanese automaker Nissan has put on the market a new 2011 G25 model that incorporates many of the same features found on the standard G37 but with a price tag starting in the low $30k range.
Of course, you’re not going to get quite the power from the G25 that you do with the G37, which is one of the tops in its class.
But it is far from a slug.
According to company figures, the 2.5-liter V6 engine in the G25 is rated at 218 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque, which provides for more than adequate get-up-and-go, if not the neck-snapping acceleration you get with the G37’s respective 328 and 269 figures.
Both drink premium fuel, though the company lists the high octane as “required” for the G37 and “recommended” for the G25. Mileage figures aren’t all that different -- 20 city, 29 highway for the rear-wheel drive G25 (19/27 for AWD) and 17-19 city, 27-25 highway, depending on which trim left and transmission for the G37.
Driving the G25 for the week, I found the G25’s performance to be quite adequate. Zero-to-60 time is in the eight-second range (only a rough personal count, not a scientific test). Cornering and handling is virtually the same as with the G37.
If I have a complaint about the G25, it’s that it is not offered with a manual transmission, only a seven-speed automatic. I really like a manual when I’m behind the wheel of a performance car.
You can shift gears manually with the G25’s automatic (as is possible with most in this class these days), but it’s not the same.
One thing I will say about the G25’s automatic. It’s shifts are nearly imperceptible. Even going from first to second there is no noticeable pause. For a moment, I was wondering if Nissan had made the mistake of putting one of its CVTs (continuously variable transmission) in it, but, of course, it hadn’t. Thank goodness for that.
As for amenities, you’ll find a nice collection in the G25. A rearview backup camera is standard on all models, and there is Infiniti’s signature analog clock in the middle of the center stack. 
Controls for climate and audio systems are easily deciphered. Don’t be intimated by the knob in the middle below the display screen. You don’t need a cram course in owner’s manual obfuscation to figure out how it works to change a function.
The seats are comfortable, and cabin ambience is what you expect in this class. Lots of leather and “Shodo” aluminum trim is spread throughout. A navigation system is available. It wasn’t on the model I drove, but I have operated Infiniti’s system before and found it easy to understand.
So you’re not missing anything in the G25.
What it essentially comes down to is this: If need to save a few bucks, go with the G25. But if you can wait a bit and save up some more money, or it’s in your budget to begin with, then you’ll want to consider the G37.
Either way you can’t really lose.

Monday, July 18, 2011


This isn’t going to make me very popular, but I’m going to say it any way.
I see a silver lining in the U.S. team loss to Japan in the Women’s World Cup final, and it is this. Maybe now all the clamor about soccer becoming a big deal in the United States will go back into hibernation.
I’ve been hearing the claim that the rest of the world’s favorite sport is going to overtake football, basketball, and baseball on our shores for at least 30, no, make that 40, years now, and it hasn’t happened despite repeated attempts by vocal soccer devotees to make it so.
Back in the 1970s, Kyle Rote Jr. -- remember him? -- was going take soccer to the top in the U.S. Pele’s arrival in the U.S. about the same time was supposed to do it, too.
In later years it was David Beckham.
How did all that work out?
I’ll answer that. It didn’t, at least not the way soccer backers wished.
It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, and it’s not going to happen in yours. It likely never will unless the bickering between players and owners of pro franchises in football, basketball, and baseball (hockey doesn’t count here) finally disgusts U.S. fans to the point they give them up, leaving soccer to pick up the remains of professional sports.
Now, I hasten to add here that I didn’t want the U.S. women to lose to Japan. No, I preferred they win.
But I didn’t care enough to watch any of the games, unless it happened to be on one of the TVs at my local watering hole.
I did see a couple of the decisive penalty kicks in the U.S. loss to Japan when I was picking up some food for takeout, but I left before the result was final. (Speaking of penalty kicks, I can’t think of a worse way to determine a winner in overtime in any sport than soccer’s penalty kicks procedure.)
Yes, TV ratings were good, and that’s fine. I hope you enjoyed the telecast.
But probably half the guys were waiting to see if any of the women ripped off her shirt the way Brandi Chastain did a few years ago. (Not sure why that was such a big deal; women wear less than that, if they wear anything at all, on the beach down this way.)
Most of the rest of the audience now will go back to ignoring soccer pretty much the way they do when ESPN or some network isn’t pumping it up like a Super Bowl or something.
Before you hang me, though, I will acknowledge this about soccer. It’s a great game to introduct kids to team sports with. But as my youngest said when he turned 8 after playing a couple years of soccer, “Dad, I want to play football now.”

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Outside of football season, I rarely make predictions. I can kid myself that I may know something about picking winners of college football games, but I can’t convince myself I know enough about anything else to get a peek into the future.
But I am going to make an exception here.
I think the new model the Italian automaker Fiat is bringing to the U.S. market -- the 500 and 500 Cabrio (or 500c) -- is going to be one popular Italian export. Well, maybe not as big as pizza and Sophia Loren, but a hit nonetheless.
I base that opinion on the feedback I heard during the recent “Topless in Miami” event sponsored by the Southern Automotive Media Association. (Full disclosure here; I am the group’s president.)
Convertibles lined up at Topless in Miami
The members who gathered at the Ritz-Carlton resort on Key Biscayne to rate the best convertibles on the market today thought enough of the 2012 Fiat 500c to score it the winner of the Small Convertible competition, a class that included the popular Mini Cooper S and Mazda’s iconic MX-5 Miata.
They liked its styling and the fun one had getting behind its wheel, if even for just a few minutes. 
Later, I had the opportunity to drive it for a week, and that time confirmed their judgment. The Fiat 500c can add fun to many of  the daily driving chores we face every day, like commuting to work and back, making a grocery run, and simply popping out in the evening for dinner.
The new 500c (and its hatchback cousin, the plain-old 500) marks Fiat’s return to the U.S. market after an absence of over a quarter of a century. It is the first of three models Fiat plans to introduce to these shores since it acquired a controlling interest in Chrysler in 2009.
With its sub-compact lineup, Fiat will be a valuable asset for the company when it comes to meeting to meeting CAFE standards set down by a government that seems intent on raising fleet mileage requirements on a whim.
But let’s get back to the car.
This is a small vehicle -- on U.S. roads, only the Smart ForTwo is smaller -- and there are the customary drawbacks that come with diminutive size. The back seat is miniscule and probably is better used for cargo space as the there is only 5.4 cubic feet of stowage area behind it.
But the front seat has surprising legroom (though taller folks may find the headroom to be spare), and I didn’t get a cramped feeling or feel dwarfed by other vehicles on the road.
Even though it is less than 140 inches long with a wheelbase of under 91 inches, the 500c comes with a 1.4-cylinder four-cylinder engine. Frankly, I might have expected only three under the tiny hood.
That engine pumps out only 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque, so even with its relatively light curb weight of under 2,500 pounds, it doesn’t provide a lot of pop in performance.
I was told the five-speed manual transmission provides a little more lively response, but both at the one-day “Topless” event and the following week I had only the six-speed automatic transmission at my disposal. You can select gears manually with the automatic, but really, what’s the point?
The mileage figures could be better. With the automatic, the 500c is rated at 27 miles per gallon city, 32 highway. The manual tranny improves those numbers to a more respectable 30/38.
Oh. And premium fuel is recommended, though 87 octane is acceptable, according to the company.
With the lack of power, much of the fun of the 500c lies in going al fresco. Push a button and the cloth top slides along the side arches of the roof support to the level of the rear spoiler. Push it again and the top continues to slide backward, folding behind the rear-seat headrests.
The top also can be stopped at any point along the way, making the exposure more of a moonroof (or sunroof, your pick) than a true convertible.
There is one problem when the top is completely retracted, however. The folds of the cloth completely block the view to the rear, meaning the driver has to rely completely on the side mirrors to monitor surrounding traffic.
There’s no problem when the top is closed. The glass backlight provides in the retractable soft top provides the same view as one gets with the rear window of the hatchback.
As distinctive as the 500c’s exterior profile is, its cabin also is unique. The dash has a lean and uncluttered look with no knobs protruding from the smooth surfaces. Everything in the way of audio and climate control is accomplished by pushing a button. Actually, you push only part of a large button that is sectioned off to denote various functions.
One thing I did find odd. When the car was delivered, the radio was off, which isn’t all that unusual. I found out why later. After my first drive, I didn’t find it unusual that the radio remained on after I turned off the ignition. Other models operate that way with the radio going off after a short time or when the driver’s side door is opened.
In the 500c’s case, however, I found the radio still going when I returned some time later. I made sure I turned it off after that. (I emailed the company with a question about this but am still awaiting the answer.)
Those idiosyncrasies aside, I had no other real issues. The 500c (or 500 hatchback, which has a base MSRP some $4,000 under the cabrio’s $19,500 starting point) is a must-see for someone in the market for a second family car, or it would serve equally well as basic transportation for a single person living in a crowded urban environment with its ability to slide into cramped spaces.

Wait. There is one more thing. That’s the matter of having to put up with comments from bystanders about how “cute” the 500c is. I can’t stand that.

Monday, July 11, 2011


There seems to be some worry in some parts that we won’t have a pro football season to enjoy this fall. The owners have locked out the players until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached, and that hasn’t been accomplished yet.
I say “yet” because though I haven’t followed news reports all that closely, I have seen some headlines that say an agreement may be close.
In fact, maybe one will be reached before you even read this, though I doubt it. This process to divide up millions, no, billions of dollars has a tendency to take two steps forward and then one or two, or even three, backward, it seems.
Wake me when all the papers have been signed, please.
I am not concerned about the absence of a pro football season because I have drifted away from the NFL in recent years, and this is from someone who once arranged his days off so he coul take in Monday Night Football.
But in 1998, I started doing regular reports on college football for an outfit called the Sports Xchange, and those reports were due on Sunday afternoons.
Hence, my TV viewing of Sunday afternoon NFL games was curtailed.
My assignments on the college game now have been expanded so that unlike in the past when I could easily finish them up to catch the second half of 1 o’clock games, I now am occupied by them until much later in the afternoon.
I have even drifted away from Monday Night Football.
So I would only mildly miss the NFL this fall if it wasn’t around.
Oh, I still like football. But I prefer the college game.
Here are a few reasons why:
-- You don’t see college teams threatening to move if you (the taxpayer who lives in the city) don’t build them a new stadium with more luxury boxes. My alma mater is going to stay in Bloomington, Ind. Ohio State isn’t going to leave Columbus. LSU will always be in Baton Rouge.
UCLA some years back left the Los Angeles Coliseum to go play games in the Rose Bowl, but that was just a short jaunt up the Pasadena Freeway from Westwood.
-- I like the different styles of the game you see. Some teams like to run the ball, others throw it. Others mix it up. It’s interesting to me to see how a team like Miami is going to defense a triple option team like Georgia Tech. I like to see Air Force and Navy bewilder opponents.
-- I like that the players aren’t all cut from the same mold. As a college quarterback Vince Young led Texas to a national title with his ability to run as well as throw. With the exception of a guy like Michael Vick (and look at the off-the-field baggage he carries), you aren’t going to see quarterbacks in the NFL win many games with their feet.
-- The quarterback’s ability to run the football also adds another dimension to the strategic aspect of the college game. Even in Miami’s glory years (2001 national title), the Hurricanes had problems defending against a running quarterback. The quarterback’s ability to run the football may be the least of an NFL defensive coordinator’s worries. (Again, except for Vick.)
-- I like it that the players may be flawed. When they are too small or too short or too whatever by NFL standards, it makes it all the more remarkable when they make great plays. I will never forget the catch a receiver named Tim Horton made against Texas to help his Arkansas Razorbacks beat the Longhorns back in 1988. Horton never got a sniff from the NFL draft (too small, too slow), but he came up big that day.
-- I also like the whole atmosphere around the college game, even though I must confess I rarely stick around for the halftime show.
So, no, if the NFL can’t manage to figure out how to divide how the money it generates in time for the 2011 season, I won’t miss it. I’m not rooting that way, you understand, and hope the games are played. But you’re just as apt to catch me watching some nondescript bowl game in December than whatever the NFL has to offer for the holidays, lockout or no lockout.

Friday, July 8, 2011


I have mentioned before, including an entry in this blog several months ago, my feeling toward Jaguars.

I like them.
I like their sleek exterior profile, their classy cabins, and their performance, especially in “R” models with supercharged V8 power plants.
I like the way the leather on the steering wheel feels on my fingertips and the way the leather seats cradle my butt.
And I like the reactions I get from others when I am behind the wheel. (“Oooh, baby,” I heard a sultry voice coo one Friday night as I sat idling at a stoplight in Miami Beach in an XK convertible some years ago.)
So while it is not the only luxury car I like (with a couple of exceptions, I pretty much like them all), Jaguar is definitely near the top of the list of my favorites.
A week’s experience recently in the 2011 XJL did nothing to change my mind.
Jaguar introduced the current generation XJ a couple of years ago at the South Florida International Auto Show in Miami Beach, and the judging committee that choses the awards presented by the Southern Automotive Association immediately dubbed it the “Star of the Show.”
The styling was magnificent, a major upgrade over the previous XJ models that were beginning to show their age. No doubt, it immediately was transformed into a worthy competitor in its class, which includes the best Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, and other luxury brands have to offer.
Of course, I didn’t get to drive the XJ until last month when Jaguar delivered to my driveway the 2011 XJL (the L is for long wheelbase, which extends the length to 206.6 inches or nearly five inches over the base XJ but also runs the price tag up to $91,575).
As good as it looked on display at the auto show, the XJL didn’t disappoint on the road either.
The power generated by the 5.0-liter, supercharged V8 engine is awesome. With 424 pound-feet of torque available at the touch of the accelerator, it takes gentle pressure from the right foot to avoid giving your passenger a neck-jerking head bob when pulling away from a stoplight.
The 470 horsepower delivered to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission (featuring sport mode complete with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual shifting of gears) is a boost of over 85 hp over the normally aspirated V8 on the base XJ.
Jaguar scores the zero-to-60 mph time as a tick under five seconds, darn impressive for a vehicle this size.
Speaking of size, much of the extra length found in the L version has been extended to the backseat area. There appears to be enough legroom behind the driver and passenger seat for a quick game of handball (but not on a regulation court, of course).
Yet I found the XJL to be extremely responsive in handling and steering. It is extremely agile when set to sport mode and the dynamic driver setting, thanks in part to its relatively light (for its class) weight. Curb weight is just under two tons.
Though I was conscious of the XJL’s size when maneuvering in parking lots (making sure I didn’t scrape the air dam as I pulled into my place), I did not get any similar feeling out on the road. Just the opposite, in fact. The XJL has a nice balance between performance and comfort, keeping both driver and passengers happy.
There is one thing, though, I wish Jaguar would get hopping on.
When it comes to technology, Jag engineers should keep in mind that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should  do it.
Here’s what I mean. Take the radio.
A good friend of mine, who is quite a bit younger, so it isn’t necessarily a generational thing, said he thought all car radios should be operated by turning knobs. It was a system that lasted for years and years with buttons used for presets the only necessary update over the original system.
I couldn’t agree with him more.
But for some reason, many designers today -- most of them in the luxury segment -- like to make their car radio operate off the navigation touch screen with all kinds of “short cuts,” which generally means you are pushing some sort of arrow or button to do something as simple as change radio stations. Such layouts can be a distraction when driving.
So it is with the XJL. I found the audio, and some other controls for that matter, very fussy to operate. And the navigation screen is a bit on the small side and not the most intuitive to operate either.
But with all that the XJL, and other Jags for that matter, have to offer, I’m willing to put up with those idiosyncrasies.
The looks, the feel, the performance, the overall panache ... did I mention I like Jaguars?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I have never served on a jury in either a criminal or civil case, though twice during my time on active military duty I was an officer on court-martial panels (and, contrary to popular belief, found then to be extremely fair and impartial).
A couple of years ago I nearly made the cut for a murder trial, but my contention that I probably would want to hear from the defendant before making a final judgment disqualified me.
One other time I made it to a courtroom for the questioning stage, but never made it past the preliminaries. Meanwhile, a much older man who couldn’t follow the simplest of instructions was selected.
Go figure.
Most of the time when I have been called for jury duty, I have sat around all day and done some sketches of the nearby river during the noon hour, then gone home.
I say all this in way of background before I get to my topic today, which is the Casey Anthony murder trial. As you may have heard, the 25-year-old Orlando mother charged with the murder of her 2-year-old daughter got off pretty much free, found guilty only of giving false information to police officers.
Most of the television commentators were stunned by the verdict, much like they were when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the murder charges against him back in the mid-1990s.
I, too, thought that Casey Anthony was guilty, mostly because I couldn’t see any other reason for how her child died or why she had to lie to investigators. If it was an accident, why lie?
But I’m likely not as outraged as many seem to be and for a couple of reasons that are very opposed to each other.
No. 1, though I had the opportunity to watch more of Casey’s trial than I did the O.J. case, mostly because I had a real job (well, as real as a newspaper job is, which isn’t very real) back then, I still didn’t hear all the testimony that the jurors did, and that is important. News reports are going to go heavy on the dramatic aspects of what a witness says when the mundane may be just as vital. And I had no way of evaluating the truthfulness of the witnesses, which also is key.
No. 2, I got to see a lot of what the jurors didn’t. For instance, one of the commentators made the observation that when the jurors were present in the courtroom, Casey had a tendency to react more emotionally, crying at times, to what was being said on the stand or by the lawyers. When the jurors were not present, Casey was more composed, perhaps even cold.
Would that have influenced the jurors had they seen how Casey behaved? No way of knowing, of course, but it certainly could have.
For whatever reason, though, the jury was not convinced of Casey Anthony’s guilt, and so it set her free (less the penalties for lying to police). That’s our system.
It’s based on the principle set down by an English jurist, William Blackstone, back in the 18th Century: "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
I suspect that Casey Anthony is more likely among that ten than she would have been that one, but with our justice system, we have to live with it.
A PERSONAL NOTE: Yes, it has been a long while between blogs, and I hope I haven’t lost you all completely. I have really been tied in some other business, and that summer cold simply really sapped all my energy.
I’ll be back on a more regular basis from now on with a review and pictures of the new Jaguar XJL sedan coming up next!