Sunday, March 30, 2014


Place: Captain D's
Lunch: Deluxe Seafood Platter (w/fries and mac & cheese), Pibb XTRA

This particular Captain D's has a unique atmosphere Sunday mornings.  The place fills with well-dressed church-going folk, Southern-style gospel music plays on the sound system, and everyone from the staff to the customers are very pleasant.  It's a nice warm feeling.  Unlike the very weird feeling I experienced overnight.

I haven't been sleeping well lately, and was dozing in and out at best when it felt like somebody shook me to wake me up.  And I definitely should not have been feeling that since I was the only person who should have been in my hotel room.

I jumped and looked around.  Nobody.  Checked the door.  Locked.  Checked the windows, all of which I had open, but the screens were in place and I'm on the fourth floor anyway.


Ultimately, I decided the only logical cause was that God had found something really cool on TV and decided I needed to see it, so he did it.  So I turned on the TV.

Whatever it was, I couldn't find it.  Most channels were showing infomercials.  I settled on a "Diners, Drive-In's & Dives" marathon.

About an hour later, when Guy Fieri was declaring whatever goofy thing he was eating "one of the top five things I've ever eaten" in whatever category said item falls in for like the third time tonight, IT HAPPENED AGAIN.  The bed shook.  Actually, everything shook.  The ceiling even creaked.

Then the light bulb in my head went on.  I'd just felt an earthquake tremor.  For the first time in my life.

(Well...second behind the one that woke me up.)

I checked the news this morning, and sure enough, a 4.3 earthquake happened near Crescent, Oklahoma.  The USGS confirmed it could be felt through much of eastern Kansas as far away as Kansas City.  There were several aftershocks.

No damage.  No big deal.  Just a new experience, I guess.

I've lived in earthquake-prone areas before, especially when I was younger, but I'd never actually felt one.

I managed to go back to sleep after understanding what was going on.

Peace of mind, I guess.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

As the Auto Mile Turns II - Electric BMW

Place: Hardee's
Lunch: Western X-TRA Bacon Thickburger, Charbroiled Atlantic Cod Fish Sandwich (no tomato), Coke

The first time I ever heard of Carl's Jr (some twenty years ago, long before they bought Hardee's), it was via a coupon that included some sandwich images.  The one that caught my eye was the Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger, specifically because it had onion rings right on it.  That was unheard of at the time.  And that's what got me in the door.  So it's nice to have a version of it at Hardee's right now, even if just for a little while.  Especially with extra bacon.

So remember about a year ago when I wrote a post about the musical dealership game going on at one of the local Auto Miles?  Well, I'm updating it because this goofiness just hasn't stopped.

The focal point here is the old Pontiac-Buick-GMC building, which used to be the Pontiac-Porsche-Mazda-Subaru building.  So here's a quick summary...When the neighboring Buick franchise and the down-the-road GMC franchise were consolidated under one franchise, Mazda moved into the Buick building (acquired from the old Buick franchisee) and Subaru was put into a new addition adjacent to the Mazda..uh, Buick...building.  Then that dealer lost the Buick-GMC franchise in GM's government bailout nonsense, got it back a year later, then gave it up a year after that in favor of being a used car super center, while the Fiat dealership up the street moved into the old Hyundai dealership building, who had moved into the old Honda building, who had moved into the old pre-consolidation GMC building, to make way for a new Buick-GMC dealership.

Follow me so far?

Wait...where'd the Porsche dealership go?

Nowhere.  We don't have one anymore.

Oh.  Bummer.

Yeah.  Somebody needs to pick that up.

Okay.  So now what's going on?

Mazda and Subaru have moved BACK into the building that was the used car super center, aka the old Buick-GMC dealership, aka the old Pontiac-Porsche-Mazda-Subaru dealership.

Apparently, this was spawned by the need of the neighboring (and not co-owned) Mercedes Benz-BMW dealership to expand.  They bought that property from the Pontiac-Porsche-Mazda-Subaru guys, who are now operating their remaining brands in their original footprint.  BMW will move over and apparently will have a showcase space for their new electric and hybrid cars, I guess.  Separate showrooms for gas BMW's vs electric BMW's, at least that's the impression I got.  Why not.  The building has two showrooms now.

The Mercedes Benz-BMW guys have a large modern facility they built after moving from downtown around ten years ago.  While building the new property, they temporarily operated out of the building that was the Fiat dealership for about five minutes before becoming the current Buick-GMC dealership.  When the new building opened, it also was the Volvo and Jaguar dealership, and they had a Land Rover dealership on the frontage.  But those three makes are now sold by a completely different franchisee, right across the street.

It's like the Auto Mile for swingers, or something.

Are we done?  Is everybody settled?  Probably not.  I just noticed the Hyundai dealership apparently has a parking problem, because they're overflow parking new cars in the lot of an abandoned restaurant nowhere near their dealership.  Or maybe those were Nissans, who are on the other Auto Mile, and who are going through a shakeup of their own.

I have no idea why I'm so fascinated by this.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Auto Show 2014

Place: Hardee's
Lunch (well dinner at this point): Big Roast Beef, bacon cheddar fries, Hi-C Orange Lavaburst

I'll go out of my way for a Hardee's that still sells the Big Roast Beef.  Specifically in this case, nine miles off the interstate.

Is it Auto Show weekend again?  Yes?  Oh good.  Blah blah blah cars.

The quick and dirty summary?  There's starting to be a growing gap between cars with lots of tech and cars that are overcome with too many button controls and dated instrument clusters.  This is happening at every price point, and some manufacturers (I'm looking at YOU, Toyota) need to get their act together or be left behind.  Then there's companies like Infiniti who are totally botching the new tech.  Make it beautiful and simple, people.  And stop moving all your interior lighting to white.  Jeepers.  Remember when Volkswagen had the coolest lighting with their blue instruments and red buttons?  Well on the new Golf I saw, EVERYTHING IS WHITE.  It's like they're screaming to the world "Please don't buy our cars!"  Drives me nuts.


In all the years I've been coming to the Auto Show, I don't think I've ever set foot in a BMW.  Ever.  That changed this year.

BMW1 -   A new smaller CUV.  I guess, at least that's what the five-door felt like.  It's small.  That's what I said.  That's what everyone I overheard said.  "It feels really small."  Like Infiniti EX small.

BMW i3 - BMW's new 100% electric car.  Like all electric cars, the designers just had to make it really weird looking.  It has different size side windows in the front seats, rear seats, and even the rear hatch area.  It has completely silly blue accents around the headlights and rear logo.  Some models have some completely absurd two-tone paint jobs.  But one thing I thought was cool was the rear hatch, which has a glass body the tail lights sit behind, making the whole thing seamless.  Except for the BMW logos.  Which they could have also done and lit them if they wanted to.  A sales guy I chatted said "We can open it up" and tried to open it, only to find it locked.  He then turned to another BMW rep and shouted "WHY DID YOU TELL ME WE COULD OPEN IT!"


I'd rented a 2012 previously and didn't like the dash or center console at all.  They re-did all that for 2013 and I drove one of those recently.  The new cluster and console are MUCH improved, though I still had complaints.  The center console has touch buttons with a vibrating tactile feedback that took some getting used to.  Cadillac's CUE audio system still leaves a bit to be desired.  The one feature I really loved?  The heated steering wheel.  Because apparently I'm turning into a GIRL.  Anyway, the thing drives too soft and loose for my taste.  When I picked up my Rogue at the airport after a week of driving the SRX, I found myself thinking "Holy CRAP.  This handles SO much better."  Note that I'm saying that about a six-year old car with 230,000 miles on it running on the factory suspension.


Camaro - The 2014's have a new style front and rear, a color trip computer that does nothing the old aqua colored one didn't, and, according to a sales rep I chatted with, "a throatier exhaust note on the V6".  The SS model at least has swankier bucket seats too.  I rent these every once in awhile in Vegas, and aside from "getting in and out of one" should be considered its own exercise group, I really like them.  I've driven models with both engines and I'd go with the V6 over the V8 if I were actually considering owning one.  The V6 version just feels more manageable.  The V8 will fishtail right out from under you if roads are even barely wet.

Corvette - The all new 'Vette was here in red with a two-tone black and red leather interior.  The girl modeling the car noted the rear hatch "can fit two golf bags", proving when it comes to this car, Chevy knows their market.

Impala -  This was new last year, but I still checked it out again to see if I was still impressed with the interior.  A guy got in the back seat and said "Lots of legroom.  You must be short."

Me: "No, not really."

Then we get out and he's easily a foot taller than me.

Me: "Okay, I'm short by YOUR standard."

SS - If the void in your life is a big powerful sporty American (sort of...GM's Australian division Holden is responsible for this) sedan, the SS is your ticket.  With a 415hp V8 and rear wheel drive, think of this as a modern-day performance-oriented Caprice. As in the Caprice cop car Chevy makes today, not the old bouncy boat of the seventies.  My aunt used to have a Caprice wagon she named "Cleopatra's Barge".  It bottomed out in my grandmother's driveway every time.


Dart GT - An orange Dart GT with red accent trim on the interior was here.  That's about as notable as it got for Dodge as far as I could see.  I'm not hearing good things about the longevity of this car.


500L - If you go by the name, you'd think this is a stretched 500 with real back seat room.  But it isn't.  It's taller than the 500 and doesn't feel anything like the 500 inside.  It has a completely different dashboard, instrument cluster, and controls.  It actually felt more like a reboot of the old VW Bus to me.


C-Max - Tiniest. Speedometer. Ever.

Mustang - There were some rumors going around that the next generation Mustang would NOT have the retro look of the current one, and that kind of worried me.  But the new one looks fine. More streamlined on the outside and supposedly a much improved interior.  I'm all for that...the one I drove had a horrible interior lighting package, and I love a good night drive.  The girl modeling the car referred to it as "THE ONE THAT STARTED IT ALL".  Is she referring to muscle cars or Ford itself?  She's wrong on either count. 

Transit Connect - The Transit Connect is a small panel van that Ford sells mostly for commercial small business use, though some have seen individual van use.  They're highly configurable.  You can get big empty ones for hauling stuff or doing your own customization, or you can get a seven-passenger minivan version.


Canyon - It's all new and was on a turntable with a show model who proudly proclaimed to all "I don't know what gas mileage it gets, I don't know what it will cost, and I don't know anything about the engines!"  You can't make this stuff up, people.


Sonata - A couple of guys were REALLY impressed by the new Sonata "for the price".  This and the Elantra have some really nice headlamp accents similar to what some of the nicer makes are doing these days.


Q50 - The G37 replacement (or if you live in Japan, the next generation Nissan Skyline) is every bit as fine a performer as its predecessor, at least with the base model rental I tore around in for a few days.  But reviews for the more advanced models have been poor.  Owners haven't been happy with the all-electric "Direct Adaptive Steering" (mine didn't have it) and the center console infotainment master control, which apparently gets buggier and bugger in more advanced upper end model versions.  There's two touch screens on all cars, and they should be simpler to use and a lot more flexible to customize than they are.  And the lower screen has a glossy front that really reflects fingerprints.  Also, the system takes time to boot up, making this the first car I've ever seen where, if the radio station playing when you start the car isn't what you want to listen to, you actually have to wait a significant amount of time to change the channel.  As in you'll be down the road a few blocks by the time you can do that.

That's absurd.

Still, the hotel valet guy noted to me how impressed HE was with the thing.  I wonder if he took it out for a proper spin.  If he didn't, he should have.

Nothing else new from Infiniti aside from the idiotic, stupid, and completely pointless name changes across the line.


Soul - The hamstermobile that shares this niche market with maybe the Nissan Juke and the Hyundai Veloster has been restyled and it's pretty darn cool.   I like that these funky cars are being made at reasonable price points for the younger market.  And the fact that said market is buying these.

Sportage - Um, I think this is restyled.  Those headlights certainly look new.  But compare the inside to the new Nissan Rogue and you have to wonder where Kia gets off charging $31,000 for one of these.


Mazda2 - It's cute and tiny and girly and stuff.  A young woman walked up to it, said "Oh cute!" and went to get in it when her boyfriend grabbed her by the arm and said "YOU'RE NOT GETTING ONE OF THOSE!" as he dragged her away.

Mazda6 - Mazda's bread-and-butter sedan  is all new and has a swanky two-tone interior on the upper end model.  Actually, most Mazdas seem to be doing two-tone interiors on their upper end models these days.


Some Guy: "How's Mitsubishi doing these days?"

Mitsubishi Guy: "Great!  Sales are up 21 percent this year."

Yeah, well 21 percent of practically nothing is still practically nothing.  Mitsubishi sold 67,000 cars in the US in 2013.  They sold 345,000 in the US in 2002.

Mirage - If you're looking for a cute colorful car, this is it.  There's a bright green metallic and a bright purple metallic and...

Outlander - Did they do this new style this year, or last year?  I can't remember.  Anyway, the front end makes me think of the classic film "Metropolis".  You could drop one of these in any factory scene and it would blend right in.  But inside, it's really really boring.   The Outlander Sport still has the Lancer's front end.


Juke Nismo -  The Juke has carved out a niche for itself, and this Nismo edition is pretty cool.  I'd consider one of these if I could get it in all wheel drive with the manual transmission.  That's probably not happening.

Rogue - All new for 2014, the successor to my existing ride is uglier and boxier by my eye, but has some welcome interior and tech upgrades...the best and most sensible tech in its class as far as I've seen.  And the new interior is by far the nicest in its class that I know of.  This is Nissan's second-best seller (behind Altima) and the new model should only continue to grow in sales volume.  But if you're feeling nostalgic, the previous generation is also staying in production as a lower-price option called "Rogue Select".

NV Passenger - A Nissan Commercial vehicle, this beast  was configured with seating for TWELVE on the Auto Show floor.  Don't tell your Mormon wife about this...she'll just want to have more kids.


Macan - Remember when Porsche came out with the SUV?  The Cayenne is Porsche's best seller now.  So here's another one.  The Macan (which I was genuinely surprised to see here) is smaller and looks a little sportier.  It's REALLY beautiful.  It's also $11,000 more than the Cayenne diesel model sitting next to it, which had a lot of people scratching their heads.  If they can get the price down, I could see this as the first true competition to Infiniti's FX (now tragically known as the QX70).


Crosstrek Hybrod - This appears to be the more youth-oriented CUV in Subaru's lineup with a few bright colors available, and it's now (or soon) available in a hybrid.

Forrester - Subie is finally learning to make cars that look more normal.  The new Forrester fits right in with the other CUV's in the market.

WRX STI - New for 2015, the WRX is essentially a really souped up sport version of the Impreza.  The STI Launch Edition will be limited to 1,000 cars.  Subaru won't have a problem unloading them, even at nearly $40,000.


Toyota makes really reliable cars that are horribly boring.  They're trying to get people out of that line of thinking, but it's not working because THEIR CARS ARE HORRIBLY BORING.  I rented two Toyotas last year.  The first was a Yaris.  I nearly died of boredom while driving it.  Then I was issued a Camry by Hertz on a rental.  I put my bag in the trunk, I got in, I started it, I sat there for a minute, I shut it off, I got my bag, and I left with a red Camaro SS.  It cost me $150 more on the whole, but my soul says it was totally worth it.

Corolla - You know that commercial where the guy walks up to Jan in the dealership and says he wants something sporty and she says "How about Corolla?" And he points to a Corolla and says, "No, something more like that."  Well, the new Corolla does look pretty good.  The inside still needs work.  But if you're looking for great fuel economy and near bulletproof reliability at a great price, this is still your car.

Highlander - Toyota wrapped the all new Highlander in a vinyl Muppets movie crossover promotional wrap that included the phrase "NO ROOM FOR BORING" across the top of the windshield.  Well I sat in it and it was...pretty boring...


Beetle R-Line -   It's red, it's sharp, it has cloth seats, and costs $26,000.  Huh?  It didn't even have a sunroof.  Not sure what makes it so "R".

Golf - The USA FINALLY gets the new 7th generation Golf that's been on sale for a year in most other major markets and third-world countries.  The two-door looked pretty nice on the outside, but pretty stale on the inside.  Guy sitting next to me in it and I agreed that VW has gotten far too homogenized.

GTI - Cool!  A golf ball shifter.  On an automatic transmission.  On a four-door car.  Um...can we PLEASE have the new Scirocco in the US?

Touraeg - Not sure if it got a style refresh this year or last year, but it FINALLY has a push-button start.  As well as that clunky big plastic key thingy.  What...are you supposed to put the key in THEN push the button?


XC60 - The new Chinese-owned Volvo appears to be getting its act together with improved interiors and instrument clusters.  Still too many buttons in the center console, though.

That's about all I noticed.  This show seems to be getting smaller and smaller every year.  It was once the seventh biggest in the nation and there were exhibits on the upper AND lower levels.

I don't even recall a single concept vehicle this year.