Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Continued Light Blogging...

...with a chance of watery eyes.

This morning at about 11:00 AM, my wife's grandmother passed away peacefully at the age of 94. She was a wonderful lady who touched the lives of many people. She had fervently hoped to live long enough to see the second coming of Jesus Christ in her lifetime. She is survived by a son and a daughter, several grandchildren including The Queen and more than a couple of great grandchildren. She is also remembered and loved by many, many adopted "grandchildren".

She is missed.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Diarrhea of the Word Processor

One of my job duties as a claims adjuster is to monitor trials on claims. I was recently asked to monitor a case for another adjuster on my team. As part of monitoring the trial, I have to summarize the day's events for the other adjuster, our boss, and our boss' boss so that they can keep their bosses apprised of the developments. 

Since none of those folks are present and accounted for at the trial, I consider it my duty and obligation to provide them with as much information as possible. This is also my one opportunity to send a ration of crap BACK UP the hill.

So, after 6 hours of testimony today for which I took 9 pages of hastily scribbled long hand notes, I just wrote 8 pages and 4500 words worth of single spaced, 12 point type trial summary JUST FOR TODAY ALONE.

You'll have to pardon me if the blogging is a little light over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Overheard at the brother in law's last night - "a bad marriage is like enemies with benefits."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gun Preferences

In the comments section of Sunday’s range report post, GunDiva made a comment about the difference between a shooter being someone who knows what they want in a gun versus just someone who shoots other people’s guns or guns given to them by other people that got me to thinking. Then, I came across a couple of recent posts by Tam and Caleb and also Caleb that got me thinking about the subject of what I really want in guns even more.

Rather than rehash Shepherd K’s ever evolving Gun Wish List (remember, the Bible is quite specific about the subject of killin’, but it’s a little fuzzier on the subject of knee caps), what’s on it, what’s not on it or what’s been taken off it and why, I thought I’d take a few minutes to post about what I want in a gun, what I really like, what I don’t like, etc. Hopefully, it will be food for thought for others as well ‘cause, if you are like me, you can’t afford to buy them all.

Let’s start off with something truly personal: aesthetics. Everyone has their own ideas of what looks good or not so good. For instance, let’s face it, the Glock is a gun only its designer (or Jubal Early…if you don’t know who that is…go watch Firefly and come back…I’ll wait) could love. There is nothing pretty about it. It looks like a brick. It comes in one finish; and, if you don’t like it, you’re out of luck. I admit that I’m a bit on the multiple personality disorder side when it comes to aesthetics. On the one hand, I really admire simplicity of design. On the other hand, I do enjoy a graceful line here or there. Evil black guns? I like those. Polished stainless steel with high gloss wood furniture? That’s nice too. Blue steel that’s so deeply polished that it looks like stainless chrome in the right light? Ooohhh, that’s nice. Laminated wood, synthetic stocks, rails, no rails….I like it all….when it’s put together in an overall package that makes sense. Engraving and gold inlay on a Glock does not make sense. Engraving and gold inlay on a double barrel, over/under shotgun makes perfect sense.

As you can tell, aesthetics boils down to a case by case basis for me as I’m sure it does for most people. In general, for me, revolvers should be 6 shot, stainless steel with a 6 inch, fully underlugged barrel and contoured wood grips (although contoured Hogue rubber is acceptable too). Semi auto pistols fall into two categories for me: 1911s and everything else. For 1911s, I really like two tone finishes especially the finish on the Para Ordnance 1911 Limited which is mostly stainless with the slide serrations blacked out; however, a deeply blued 1911 with engraved “ivory” grips is hard to beat. 1911s are kind of a combination in design aesthetic to my eyes. It’s a combat pistol that has a simple grace and elegance to it. The lines are like nothing else on the market in my opinion. For other semi auto pistols, it all just depends. I try not to measure them against the 1911 or the Glocks, but it’s hard not to sometimes. I am not a fan of H&K or FN when it comes to their aesthetics. Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Taurus are hit and miss for me. The Ruger MKIIIs and full sized SR pistols look quite nice. The P and LC series…not so much. Smith & Wesson as done a nice job with the M&P line of pistols while I think they (or at least me for sure) would rather forget the Sigma line of pistols. Taurus…it all depends on which clone we are discussing. Beretta’s have a certain allure as do their Taurus clones. Sigs are appealing in their own Teutonic, subtly complex way as are their Taurus clones.

Shotguns? There must be wood involved. Preferably highly polished wood (unless it’s a home defense gun in which case synthetic is marginally acceptable). Over/under shotguns are the only guns on the planet, in my opinion, which should be adorned with engraving or inlay. Rifles? No. Handguns? Definitely not.

Rifles are another area where I’m dealing with that split personality thing again. On the one hand, I really like the evil, black rifle. Heck, I’m building one from parts. Even there, though, clean and simple is better for me. My first EBR will not have a railed hand guard, forward grip, swing in this or fold out that. I really like bolt action guns too. A Remington 700 with a stainless, fluted, heavy barrel in a wood laminate, thumbhole stock is a thing of beauty to me.

Anyway, moving on from looks, let’s chat about feel. Ergonomics are important. Here again, what’s good for one person won’t necessarily be good for another. If a gun don’t fit or feel right, you ain’t going to shoot it right. Take the Glock again. It feels like a plastic 2 x 4. Until recently, there was no way to fit it to different hand sizes. Some people really dig the grip angle. Others hate it. When you go looking for that first gun, try to find the gun that FITS you first before you find the gun that you think looks pretty. When my mother went to buy her first gun, we looked for hours and handled just about every available option at the gun show before she settled on the Ruger 10/22. I happen to like the Ruger 10/22 and will eventually have one of my own; however, the carbine version she purchased does not fit me the same way my Marlin Model 60 fits me.

I happen to have a fairly average sized hand with longish fingers. That sometimes makes trigger control a challenge for me as my trigger finger tends to stick out a tad more than it does for “normal” folks on most guns. A longer trigger reach is helpful; however, unfortunately, longer trigger reaches are usually associated with fatter/wider frames which my average sized palms don’t wrap around as easily. That’s one thing that’s frustrated me about the Sig for a long time. The trigger is in the right place for me, but the frame and grip width doesn’t allow to get a good handle on the gun. Yet another reason I am such a fan of the single stack 1911s. And contoured grips. They just feel right.

I think it’s time to really through a hand grenade into the mix and talk about caliber preferences. Setting aside the always fun and venerable .22LR round for a moment, I really don’t like nor do I have a need for anything smaller than a 9mm…and I really don’t like the 9mm either. For revolvers, I think the .38 Special/.357 Magnum chambering is perfect. It’s a good mix of low recoil, easy shooting, mild loads up to full power, excavate body cavities magnum rounds. I’ve shot my share of .44 Magnum rounds, and I have no need or desire for that kind of power. If you live in bear country, your experience may vary. For pistols, I like both the .40S&W and .45 ACP rounds. The .45 is hard to argue with in terms of making big freaking holes in soft targets while the .40 has certain advantages in magazine capacity and using velocity to balance the scales in the terminal ballistics department. For a dedicated carry pistol, I would choose the .40S&W every time. For rifles, I like the .223 for a small to medium sized, short to intermediate range round. A lot of people have commented on its supremacy as a varmint round, and it’s starting to get some attention as a home defense round. For anything bigger than a coyote or farther away than the end of the block, I’d have to go with the .308 as my rifle round of choice. I might choose the .30-06 as my second choice, but I really don’t think it gives me much, if any, advantage over the .308. For shotguns, there is no other load other than the 12 gauge as far as I am concerned.

What about other considerations like trigger pull, barrel length, etc.? As mentioned earlier, I think a revolver should have a 6 inch barrel. A pistol should have either 4 ¼ or 5 inches. Anything more than 6 inches just isn’t practical for anything but hunting in my opinion, and I’d rather use a rifle for that purpose. Anything shorter than 4 ¼ inches is going to be hard to make an accurate shot with outside of 7 yards. On a shotgun, I think 18 ½ inches on a house cleaner and 26 inches on a piece of field artillery are about right (although my 870 has a 28 inch barrel which I have found to be very useful). On a rifle, 20 inches is a minimum and 24 inches is a maximum. I’ve never been able to find anything to suggest that more or less than that it useful for accuracy which is the whole point in using a rifle to my way of thinking. Trigger pull should be no more than 5 pounds for me and 3 to 3 ½ would be preferable.

Safeties are an area that gets a lot of attention these days too. People want to say that too many safeties affect reliability by giving yet another point of potential failure. Others, including me, talk about guns getting “lawyered up” with safeties. Personally, I think safeties create a false sense of security which is an invitation for disaster. A gun is an inherently dangerous object just like a cordless drill, circular saw or other power tool. Freak accidents are going to happen just like they do with kids running through the halls with scissors. If you don’t learn how to handle the object safely in the first place, no amount of safety switches or other contraptions is going to prevent someone from getting hurt. I do believe that a gun should be designed that so that it is highly unlikely to go off “by itself” when dropped on the ground from a reasonable height (no more than 6 feet). The only other safety that is necessary is the one between the shooters’ ears. Obey the Four Rules of safe gun handling, and no one will get hurt.

This principle applies to magazine disconnect safeties as well. A gun should go bang when a booger hook pulls the trigger. It’s as simple as that. Especially in a “duty” or “carry” weapon. Anything that prevents the booker hook from making the boom stick go boom is useless. Like my grandfather said, there is nothing quite so useless as an empty gun. Except perhaps one that isn’t empty but won’t fire.

Ditto for integral key locks. Who thought those were a good idea?

It occurs to me that I haven’t discussed sights yet. Sight preference depends greatly on the intended purpose of the gun. A bead sight is more than adequate on a shotgun but near useless on a pistol. For a rifle other than a .22 plinker, a serious scope is a must (I’ll put a scope on a .22 for giggles, but it’s not a requirement). If I can’t see the target, I can’t hit the target. The better I can see the target; the better my chances of hitting the target. If they are close enough that I can see them clearly without a scope, they are close enough for me to use a handgun. For pistols, I am partial to the Novak adjustable three dot set up although I am getting to the point where a fiber optic front sight is a must. On revolvers, fully adjustable target sights are the only way to go.

So, what do you want in a gun?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Name Change

It occurs to me that, since I love Firefly so much, I should be calling myself Shepherd K instead of Preacher K. I will make this an official change when I get home. Now, I must go find someone to threaten with "the special Hell."

The Bling Is Back

Today was a very special day. It was the day I was able to give my wife, long live The Queen, a wedding ring...again.

I know. I know. I can hear some of you now asking yourselves and muttering at the screen "Preacher K., what do you mean again?"

It's a long story. I starts with a ring that looks just like this:

The Queen and I found what we thought was a beautiful engagement and wedding band set, six diamonds in a platinum setting. I remember clearly commenting when we bought it that the center diamond looked like a flashlight. The jewelry store where we purchased was a small family owned shop run by a grandmother and her grandson. The grandmother gave us a fair price on the set. We were happy.

After the honeymoon, the recently crowned Queen took the ring back to the shop for an appraisal for insurance purposes. This time, the grandson was present when The Queen was dealing with the grandmother. According to The Queen, grandson blew a gasket when he found out how much grandma sold the ring to us for. He took the ring into the back of the shop for "the appraisal".

The Queen didn't pay his behavior too much thought at the time. However, after that, the diamonds never had the same clarity and brilliance they had had before. The Queen immediately began to suspect that the stones had been swapped; however, we could never think of a way to prove it.

So, for almost seven years, The Queen walked around with a wedding ring set that she never really was sure about. Until August of last year. The Queen's mystery illness had an interesting side effect in that it made her highly sensitive to certain metals. It turned out that platinum was one such metal. The Queen couldn't wear her ring without having a reaction. So, we began to search for a suitable replacement. In the process of that search, we learned that there was evidence that the prongs in the setting on the original rings had been bent as if the work had been done hastily. Another jeweler confirmed that the diamonds in the ring were not much better than industrial grade.

It REALLY stinks to have your suspicions confirmed.

Anyway, we found a new setting in yellow gold that we liked. While we were there, we asked to see what a 1 carat diamond would look like in the setting. One was brought out. It was gorgeous in the setting. We asked how much? A price was mentioned which was approximately $1000 less than the going rate of the reported stone's quality. The Queen and I put it on layaway on the spot.

It took a little longer than expected, but the layaway was due to be paid off last week. With the snow and ice storm that blew through, we were not able to pay it off until today. I took an early, long lunch and made a dash for the jewelry store hoping to have the ring back before The Queen woke up. Unfortunately, I found out later that she woke up just minutes after I left for the jewelry store.

So, when I got back, I smiled and presented her with the little black box that held this:

Please pardon my poor photograpy.

The Queen's response: "SQUUEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!"

Light vs. Dark

I had an interesting email exchange earlier today with a business associate who happens to be the managing attorney of a law firm I deal with almost daily. One of the attorneys in the firm and I are in the process of negotiating a disputed liability claim involving a slip/trip and fall in a parking lot. I won't bore you with all the gory details, but the basics for establishing liability in a case like this is that the plaintiff must prove that: 1) an unreasonably dangerous condition or premises defect existed on the defendant's property, 2) that the dangerous condition or premises defect was the proximate cause of the alleged incident, 3) that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of said condition or defect, and 4) that the defendant failed to take steps to remedy the condition or defect or otherwise protect the public from harm. There are other nuances that come in to play; however, those are the basics.

Historically, slip/trip and fall cases are very difficult for plaintiffs to prosecute and win here in Texas. Part of the reason is the high incidence of fraud in this type of case. Part of it has to do with the general "stuff happens" mentality. Pretty much everyone has fallen on their butt at one time or another. Most folks get up, dust off their pants and sheepishly look around to see if anyone is laughing at them. These people might or might not bow to the applause. However, some folks actually hurt themselves in the process.

Anywho, the plaintiff in this case allegedly tripped and fell after stepping on a 1 inch wide expansion crack in the parking lot concrete. The same kind of expansion crack you see in just about every parking lot in the country. The crack was even filled with that rubbery caulk material you frequently see used as sealant or gap filler.

The policy of insurance my insured purchased includes what's known as Med Pay coverage (short for Medical Payments) which is a no fault coverage that provides payment of up to $10,000 in medical expenses incurred arising from an injury on the insured's property. There are a few caveats and exclusions none of which applied in this case. So, the plaintiff's attorney provided us with documentation regarding her medical expenses, and we promptly paid the $10,000 coverage limit.

But that's not enough for the plaintiff. She and her attorney wanted more. A whole lot more.

Let's go back to the required elements to prove liability for a moment. Was there an unreasonably dangerous condition or premises defect? No. Not hardly. A one inch expansion crack is not only NOT a premises defect, it's a purpose designed part of the parking lot structure. It's supposed to be there. The corollary to that is how can something that is designed to be there and present in a significant percentage of all parking lot structures be considered an unreasonably dangerous condition? Thank you ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it can't.

Since we don't get past the first element, I'm not going to spend anytime on the other three. Here's a hint though: the plaintiff can't prove them either. However, I do want to address the topic of contributory negligence here for a moment. Contributory negligence (or "comp neg") is the concept that the jury can assess the PLAINTIFF a percentage of the responsibility for the accident. In Texas, if a plaintiff is 51% or more negligent, they cannot recover damages for their claims.

One of the main defenses defendants have in premises liability cases is called "open and obvious". In other words, the condition that allegedly caused the accident was so clearly obvious and not hidden that any reasonable and prudent person would have/could have seen it and avoided it. It's related to the "last clear chance" doctrine which may or may not be applicable in any given state.

Anyway, you as a member of the occasionally pedestrian public have a duty to WATCH WHERE YOU ARE GOING. As it applies in particular to this case, the plaintiff had a duty to watch and make sure she wasn't going to stick her cute little heels in an expansion crack and fall on her butt.

So, after all is said and done, I evaluate the case and come up with a figure that I believe is fair and reasonable given all the quirks of this particular case including credits for the amount already paid under the Med Pay coverage, comp neg, the likelihood that a jury "pours out the plaintiff" (i.e. a finding of 51% or more negligence on the plaintiff or no negligence as to either party), etc. That number is a small number. The plaintiff's attorney, knowing full well the problems he has with his client's case, has been trying to get us to pay 10 times the amount I am willing to pay.

My defense attorney and his boss, the business associate with whom I exchanged email mentioned in the first paragraph, had a discussion about the proper method of applying the credits and percentages (I'm right, and they are wrong by the way) which makes a $6000 difference in the final offer number; and I, in an effort to be reasonable, agreed to allow defense counsel to approach plaintiff's counsel with the higher number as a "soft number" with the message that we would offer it if they would take it.

Plaintiff's counsel first tried to extort us for an additional $12,000. We told him to start preparing for trial. Now he's just trying to extort us for an additional $2000 (or $8000 more than my original evaluation). This led to the following email exchanged referenced above:

Me to Defense Counsel: "Our official authority is the $X previously offered. I agreed to extend the "soft number" $Y offer as a concession if and only if it would settle given the uncertainty regarding the method of applying the med pay offset and comp neg assessment. $Z is not happening."
Managing Attorney to Me: "Yeah, so tell [plaintiff's counsel] to put that in his pipe and smoke it."
Me to Managing Attorney: "I'd rather tell him to print it out, fold into a bunch of tiny sharp corners and use it as an origami suppository"
Managing Attorney to Me: "Dude that's dark"
Me to Managing Attorney: "Naw, that's just dimly light. You want dark...I'll give you dark."
 What do you all think? Do I need to shed a little more light on it?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Range Report

I’ve been needing some recoil therapy for a while now. Apparently, Number One Follower (“NOF” from this point forward) has been needing some too. We’ve been trying to put a range trip together for a couple of weeks now, but one thing or another kept getting in the way. First, it was some unexpected expenses that ate into the range budget on our first scheduled attempt a while back. Then it was an ice and snow storm that struck most of the freaking country this past week including the Dallas Fort Worth area late Monday/early Tuesday that whacked our plan to get together on Wednesday after work.

To anyone out there in my readership who is a global warming fanatic, I have two words for you:


Anyway, NOF and I postponed the plan until today when the forecast indicated we should have some above freezing temps and the ability to actually drive on the roads without the potential for sacrificing paid for cars on the altar of stupid drivers.

First up on the agenda, lunch. We met at the greatest Tex Mex restaurant on the planet: Chuy’s in the Arlington Highlands (other locations conveniently located around the state to serve you). We both had the Elvis Presley Memorial Combo which is three enchiladas (1 each of beef, chicken and cheese), a beef taco, queso dipped tostadas, beans and rice. If you have never eaten at a Chuy’s, you must come to Texas to partake of this culinary goodness. And be sure to order the Creamy Jalapeno Ranch to go with your chips and salsa. It’s like crack for adults.

After we were fat, dumb and happy, it was off to an indoor gun range in East Fort Worth. I brought The Queen’s Marlin Model 60 .22 rifle and the previously pictured Ruger MkIII .22 pistol. I also took the opportunity to rent a Springfield Armory Mil Spec 1911. In the comments on my post about my desire for a 1911, a few of you recommended the SA. I thought I’d give it a whirl and see what all the hubbub was about. 

I’ll get to my thoughts about the SA Mil Spec in a minute.

First, a couple of photos of targets (yes, GunDiva, I changed targets every 10 to 25 rounds just for you). For reference, the black dots on the 3 x 5 note cards are just a smidge under 1 inch in diameter.

The top target is self explanatory. The bottom target is 10 rounds through the Ruger MkIII at 3 yards. 

Now, back to my thoughts about the SA. In short, I didn’t like it. To be fair to SA, it may not have been their fault as this was a rental gun.

The rental gun had some issues (which I reported to range management) not the least of which was that it had  not been cleaned in a while…maybe ever. The slide stop did not want to hold the slide back; and, when it did lock back, it had a tendency to drop the slide forward unannounced and without assistance. Also, whether by design or malfunction, the magazine follower was not engaging the slide stop after the last round. Most annoyingly, shooting 230 grain FMJ round nose ball ammo for which the gun was originally designed no less, there were several (at least three that I recall clearly) instances of failure to feed and/or to go fully into battery. For instance, the first round out of the first mag hung up on the feed ramp. Fortunately, there were no stovepipes or failures to extract.

The trigger was okay but not great. I may have to give SA the benefit of the doubt on this as, after the first magazine, I attempted to clean the crap off the feed ramp with a gun cleaning wipe only to be rewarded with the slide dropping on my trigger finger without warning. That’ll smart especially if you’re not expecting it.

The sights were of the Mil Spec, three dot, non-adjustable, blade and post variety. They’re adequate for blasting away, but not exactly precision shot placement material. If it were me paying hard earned cash to own one, I’d probably opt for Novak adjustable three dot sights with a fiber optic front sight (my eyes have gotten to the point through excess computer use that I need something that glows brightly) as a good balance between Bomar target sights and the blade and post. Accuracy was minute of bad guy out to 15 yards. I know I can shoot better than that (as proved on other guns later in the range outing); however, the target suggests that I might have been jerking the trigger some and/or breaking the wrist down. I really need to get out to the range more. 

After shooting through 50 rounds of .45 ACP and approximately 200 rounds of .22, I got fatigued. While NOF was shooting off the last of some 9mm he had with him for his Glock 19, I stuck my nose over the shoulders of the gents in the lanes next to NOF. One guy had a lovely brace of 5 1911 including an SA, 2 Kimbers, and two Taurus’. One of the Taurus’ belonged to this guys friend and had been customized with an 5 ½ to 6 inch compensated barrel. He was a real nice guy who had been a Colonel in the army by the markings on his biker jacket, but he REALLY needed some more target practice. His target at 7 yards looked more like it had been hit with a couple loads of buckshot instead of aimed fire from a 1911.

The other guy was shooting a .45 Long Colt Peacemaker clone of one sort or another. When I got to talking to his buddy about the 1911s, Peacemaker guy offered to let me shoot a mag through his Firestorm Commander sized 1911. Never one to turn down a friendly offer at the range, I accepted.

A quick aside here, just before making the offer to shoot the Firestorm, Peacemaker guy shot a mag through it. When he was done, I noticed that the slide didn’t lock back after the last round. Given that the SA Mil Spec had not been locking the slide back after the last round, it didn’t automatically register to me that the gun might still be hot. He was pointing it at the ceiling in the general direction of his buddy and NOF, finger off the trigger and pulled the empty mag. He passed it to me to handle; and, employing the corollaries to Rule Number 1, I pulled the slide back at which time we discovered that there was still a live round in the chamber.

Oops. Nothing like a little friendly reminder to always, always, always personally check every firearm to insure that it’s not loaded.

The Firestorm had the Novak three dot sights, beavertail safety, skeletonized hammer, lightweight adjustable trigger, etc. I have to say I was impressed with how it handled and shot for what is basically a budget priced 1911. I was able to hold a 2 to 3 inch group at 7 yards with no trouble at all.

If I had to choose between the Firestorm and the SA as the only two choices I had based on my experiences shooting them both “side by side” so to speak, I’d have to give the nod to the Firestorm. I’m sure some of SA’s higher end products are nice; and, if anyone wants to give me one, I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. However, since I can’t afford their higher end stuff, I won’t be plunking my hard earned cash down for the Mil Spec.

Any day I get to shoot something is a good day. Hopefully, NOF and I can make this a more regular occurrence. I know I need it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Name is G., J.G.

Since The Queen and I don't have kids, you're stuck looking at photos of the animals. Deal with it.

Car Review: 2010 Hyundai Elantra GLS

As mentioned in my last post, I had the “opportunity” to drive the 2010 Hyundai Elantra GLS for a couple of days earlier this week. I say “opportunity” because, like my previous car reviews, this “opportunity” was occasioned by the need to take a short business trip…this time to the lovely and scenic destination of Beaumont, Texas. I hope you caught the sarcasm. If you’ve never been to Beaumont, you’re not really missing anything. I generally try to avoid going there myself. Unfortunately, I was not able to find anyone of the three other adjusters on my team based in Houston who could cover the mediation. So, that left me stuck playing “which would you prefer” with my travel options.

To put it simply, there is no easy way for me to get to Beaumont. Option A involves me submitting myself to the tender mercies of the TSA and boarding an inconveniently scheduled puddle jumper flight from DFW to the regional airport in Beaumont. I say inconveniently scheduled because I have yet to find a flight option there and back that worked with my scheduling needs. Option B also involves a TSA tickle and grope before boarding a Southwest Airlines flight out of Dallas Love Field to Houston’s Hobby Airport and THEN renting a car and driving an hour and a half to two hours to Beaumont. That was the option that I used to choose before the TSA got their Larry Flint and Hugh Hefner on with the traveling public. It wasn’t the best solution scheduling wise, but it usually got me home the same day. Option C involves me renting a car in Dallas, driving the five hours to Beaumont the day before my meeting, staying the night in a hotel, conducting business on day two and driving the five hours back home after business is done.

Since I don’t generally enjoy getting groped by anyone other than The Queen, I chose Option C. The Queen, who has become accustomed to having me within minute of household reach, did not like the idea of being without her house preacher for the better part of two days. The Queen has started feeling somewhat better than she has in the last four years since her mystery illness began and decided that it was time to visit other realms. So, the plan was hatched for The Queen and I to pick up the rental car and leave Sunday, stay the night at the lovely MCM Elegante` Hotel (a horrible name for a decent hotel which used to be a Hilton back in the day before being sold to new management and renovated), and return Monday after a mediation in the afternoon. While I was attending to business on Monday, The Queen would take the rental to explore the foreign land of the greater Beaumont/Port Arthur area affectionately known as the Golden Triangle. She had a particular interest in laying on a beach in a garden spot known as Pleasure Island. That’s a story for another day, but the short version of it is that Pleasure Island is anything but a paradise unless your idea of paradise is petrochem refinery central.

My normal Enterprise rental car outlet is closed on Sundays. So, I had to revert to a previous favorite for out of town rentals: Avis. The good folks at Avis set me up with a Silver 2010 Hyundai Elantra GLS and sent me on my merry way. 

As with my previous car review, here are the official disclaimers and disclosures.

1) Hyundai has not paid me one thin dime for this review. As far as I know, Hyundai has no clue that I exist.

2) I (actually my company) paid for the privilege of being able to rent this vehicle from Avis. Again, no promotional consideration was paid by Avis to me for this review. Aside from the guy at the Avis rental counter, I don’t think they have a clue who I am either.

3) I have nothing personal against Hyundai or any other car manufacturer. I have looked at Hyundai products on several occasions, and I can honestly say that I really like what they’ve done with the Genesis. To date, I have not purchased one of their products; however, my mother purchased a 1986 Hyundai Excel GLS when they first started being sold here in the U.S. She drove that car for into the early ‘90s, and I drove it from time to time when one of my early cars was down for maintenance.

4) I am not now, nor will I be in the near future, in market for a new car. In fact, I will probably never buy a brand spanking new car ever again. I’m more than happy to let some other hapless soul take the hickey on depreciation while I merrily pick up gently used cars for more reasonable prices.

The car I was given was fairly well optioned out for a GLS model. It had cruise control, a CVT automatic transmission, AM/FM radio with CD player and XM Satellite, power locks and windows, and a sunroof. It had a few other interesting things that we’ll get to shortly.

The exterior of the car is unremarkable. The styling, if you want to call it that, is neither stunningly award winning nor psychotically strange. In fact, I had to walk out to the car at lunch on Monday to retrieve The Queen’s cell phone and walked right past the stupid thing. Not exactly an eye catcher there. The Hyundai website claims that the 2011 Elantra has a drag co-efficient of 0.28. That might be true, but the aerodynamics of the 2010 weren’t exactly gusty wind friendly.

The interior is a little more remarkable than the exterior if not necessarily in a particularly user friendly way. That’s not to say that the interior is bad. It’s just that it has some quirkiness to it.

For instance, let’s talk about the sun visors. Most sun visors on normal vehicles have a vanity mirror that you flip a cover up which switches on a light next to the vanity mirror. Well, the Hyundai engineers apparently wanted to be unique. So, they designed a vanity mirror cover that you slide to the side instead of flipping up. But wait…there’s more. When you buy the Ronco sliding vanity mirror cover it comes with the alternative installation location for the vanity mirror light in the headliner at no extra charge.

Another “interesting” interior design fixture is the goofy door map pocket “cup holder” which apparently isn’t really a cup holder since the Hyundai engineers saw fit to make sure that they imprinted a “no cups” symbol into the plastic door panel. So, what exactly is a circular shaped spot in the map pocket supposed to be used for?

Head room was mostly adequate for my 6’4” frame; however, the sunroof takes just a skosh too much away from the ceiling for my comfort. The manually adjustable seats were good enough but not great. After a few hours of sitting in them, I was stiff but not in tremendous agony.

The instrument cluster was well laid out if a tad minimalist. There was an interesting little green light that came on next to the odometer that said “ECO”. I have no idea what information this was supposed to convey to me, the driver, as there was no owners manual in the car and no quickly locatable information on the nets. I assume that it is intended to let the driver know that the car is achieving economical gas mileage as it would go off when accelerating from a stop light; however, that’s just my theory.  

The cruise control buttons were well placed on the steering wheel where they were supposed to be (instead of hanging off the wheel like the Dodge Caliber), intuitive and easy to use. The cruise control performed its appointed task and held speed well.

The radio controls were a little confusing. More than once, I went to hit the info button and accidentally hit the set up button by mistake. That was annoying. I generously overlooked that small issue because the car came equipped with XM Satellite radio which, as I’ve previously mentioned, is the must have option for a long road trip. Had the XM not been available, the Hyundai engineers thoughtfully provided a USB port in the center console for an iPhone or other audio device. Fortunately, we didn’t have to resort to using that option.
Performance was about what you would expect from a 2.0 liter, 16 valve, 4 cylinder, 138 HP engine. The Hyundai website claims the 2011 will get “up to 40 MPG” gas mileage. Edmunds.com claims the 2010 will do 34 or 35 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 in the city. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to give you a firm answer on the gas mileage. When I picked up the car, it had just a needle width under a full tank on the gas gauge. After 311.4 miles of almost exclusively highway miles, I put in 11.456 gallons of gas which calculates to 27.18 miles per gallon. Not terribly impressive for an “economy” car. If you assume that the needle width on the gas gauge meant that the tank was a gallon light when I picked it up, that still only gets you up to 31 miles per gallon which doesn’t beat my eleven year old Nissan Maxima by much, if any. The Elantra does come with an 14 gallon gas tank which is easily sufficient for a 300+ mile range (beating the Dodge Caliber in the legs with a baseball bat all day long).

Finally, I wanted to take a moment and talk about safety and build quality. Overall, build quality wasn’t bad. Fit and finish are what you would expect for a car that has an MSRP of $16,895. There were no annoying rattles, and this particular car had 16,000 miles on it giving plenty of time for anything not properly tightened down to work its way loose. The car came equipped with seat mounted side impact air bags. Fortunately, I didn’t get to test those out, but I hope they do more to protect the occupants than the doors will. The door skin metal on the Elantra sounds and feels like the skins are made of lighter gauge metal than I would normally expect for a car. In fact, I am fairly sure I saw the door skin bulge outward when I pulled on the exterior door handle. Not very comforting.

I will say this though. The windshield is tough. We had an encounter with a golf ball sized chunk of rock tossed of by a rock hauler headed the opposite direction on a two lane state highway. The speed limit in that area was 60 or 70 making the closing speed well over 100 miles per hour. I was in the passenger seat with The Queen driving when I looked up just in time to see the rock coming straight at me at eye level. I had just enough time to raise my arms before impact. The rock did a fairly good job of pulverizing the safety glass, but the windshield held even though it showered the interior with little tiny (and some not so tiny) shards of glass. 


As the song “Signs” goes: “Thank you Lord for thinkin’ ‘bout me, I’m alive and doin’ fine.”

By the end of the trip the cracks had migrated all the way down to the bottom of the windshield and had made significant progress across the width as well. 

So, overall impressions. The Elantra isn't a bad car, but it's not a great car for its intended purpose either. The price you pay for what you get is fair; however, an "economy" car should get at least 40 miles per gallon on the highway in my humble opinion to make it worth the sacrifice in power and comfort over a bigger car. I probably wouldn't purchase one myself, but your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Redneck Kitchen Skills

I have another car review post in the works for the Hyundai Elantra that I rented earlier in the week for a roadtrip to Beaumont, Texas. Hopefully I'll have some time to finish that up tonight or tomorrow. 

In the meantime, I have to take a quick moment to share with you all what transpired earlier today. As most of you know, I have the privilege (sometimes curse) of working from home. The Queen, due to her health circumstances, is also a stay at home person. My mother in law, father in law and grandmother in law all live here as well. We also have frequent visits from the niece and nephews on The Queen's side. My sister...the devil doesn't seem to trust me with her kids. Perhaps that will change when they are old enough to drive. 

Like most of the country, the suburban realm where Castle Erickson is situated fell under the influence of Old Man Winter late Monday night/early Tuesday morn. Tuesday morning found the area waking up to a solid sheet of ice thanks to the rain we received Monday night being flash frozen by the artic front that came in pushed by wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour dropping the temps to subfreezing levels faster than a politician drops a campaign promise after the election. So, it was a bit of a surprise when last night, E., the oldest nephew, skated his way over to the Castle from the suburb to the west where he lives and goes to college...in his spiffy little rear wheel drive manual transmission Chevy Camaro no less. I give the boy bonus points for getting here in one piece with not much more traction than a sugared up three year old on a slip and slide. I might have to listen a little closer to find out if the clanking noise coming from his pockets is loose change or something else.

Anyway, putting E. and The Queen together is a recipe for interesting things to happen. After taking to the frozen streets for a little sledding in the dog's swimming pool (which had only been relieved of a 4 inch thick block of ice moments before), E. and The Queen decided to take a whack at making butter...from scratch...in the clothes dryer. 

Uh-huh. That's what I thought too. 

I had stepped out of the command center/man cave here at the office to go in search of a snack or water or something to find my Queen pouring over a recipe book and looking slightly guilty. She inquired if I knew what she and E. were up to. I responded that it looked like she was in the midst of making the Butternut Squash soup she had been talking about earlier in the day. She affirmed that, yes, in fact, she was in the process of doing that but wanted to know if I knew what else they were up to. I allowed as how, no, I did not have a clue what was afoot. After some poking and prodding in (not so) appropriate places, the butter plan was revealed. 

The Queen and E. came up with the idea to churn the butter by putting liquored cream in a jar that was tightly tied in a pillow before being tossed in the dryer for a cool tumble. I haven't sampled the results yet, but the jar is full of roundish looking butter balls.

Blink, blink....Who'd 'a' thunk it? 

It's pure genius I think. I'm a little annoyed that I don't think I would have ever come up with the idea myself, but it's pure genius nonetheless. I dare one of those froo froo cooking shows to try that idea.