Traveling Puffin Tales

“You’re going where to pick up that pickup???”

Bowling Green, Kentucky.

So I bought a truck on eBay and the Russian fellow on Long Island who called from Baltimore had nothing to do with it.

I started planning a road trip by renting a one-way “Get ‘Em Outta Here” special from Budget. The total $36.47 rental included about $19 worth of tax and stuff. Really.

The bank wasn’t all that keen on sending me across state lines with all the cash money for the sale but that’s almost the only way to do a deal any more. No one wants to incur the charges to put it all on a credit card or Paypal. No one trusts personal checks. No one trusts cashier’s checks any more. It turns out a cashier’s check really would have been easier. All it would take is a phone call from the cashing bank to my credit union. Oh, well.

Geoff grabbed me and my 15 boxes to shuttle all of us to Key Largo where a cheap rental car was really waiting. We have just one suitcase each plus my camera bag. And the cooler and food box (snax!). The rest is just the detritus that lives in the truck.

The car was ready, a Chevy Cruze, unfortunately. Not clean but ready. The price was as booked and I was able to add SWMBO as a driver, even without her presence, just by writing “SWMBO, spouse.”

“A Cruze. I’ve driven them. Not very impressed with them. They’re very … meh,” Liz Arden said.

The Kia we rented a month earlier was better appointed (backup cam and a better radio at least), had better seats, and got a little better mileage. The Cruze was incapable of going in a straight line. With me driving, it’s a holy terror!

And it falls short in too many User Interface areas.

I stopped for lunch right next door to the Salvation Army where a fellow working there was playing a baby grand that had been donated. It was d-i-r-t-y but in tune and he was good.

I stopped at the beach in Hobe Sound. Nice, public beach with free parking, a couple of covered picnic areas, restroom/changing areas, and boardwalks over the dunes. The sand is gray, though. A woman had a cockatoo in the covered picnic area. She had given the bird to another woman there; she talked to it as it sat on her shoulder and posed for pictures. Everyone was exceedingly pleased. I watched an osprey soar on the air, watching the water.

Palm Beach County has just done dune walkover repairs and some dune restoration that included trucking in 13,500 tons of sand from an inland mine in St Lucie County. The sand is all of about 1,200 linear feet of beach. They’re planting Sea Oats and other native species.

I picked up SWMBO in North Florida and we continued on. Got a nice series of pics of a ’50 Ford in Georgia.

Georgia had no welcome center which was disappointing.

Passed the glorious, brick, headquarters campus for the Seventh Day Adventist. Tithing is good.

There were acres of winter canola in the flood plain of the Elk River just before we got to Coffee County. A number of farms are growing it in the Tennessee Valley. Canola or rapeseed is grown for its oil and meal. The plants produce small, yellow flowers, which make for a stunning view spreading across the horizon.

We landed in an America’s Best motel with a HUGE handicap shower. That’s after the Howard Johnson’s refused to honor the coupons they had placed in the coupon mags. The Day’s Inn we tried second had no rooms left at the coupon rate, but the HoJo’s clerk flat out told me “We don’t take those coupons.”

Then they shouldn’t advertise them.

2013 White TruckThe truck is mine. We met the seller at the US Bank, did a fast test drive and inspection, and finished the deal in the bank proper. The seller not only is the CEO of one of my favorite car parts companies, he still had the window sticker. My truck has a good pedigree.

It is what I wanted but not quite as glory as I hoped for. The XM radio, for example, does do iPods but there’s no satellite subscription and there is just ONE cigarette lighter port in the whole cab. It’s the 5.3 V8 but my old truck has more scoot. It has the towing package and the locker rear but the big tires scrub on tight turns. The back doors open 170° (wonderful) and the back windows power all the way down but the front window(s) aren’t express. And so on.

Still, it’s mine and it will pass inspection.

We became tourists.

Bowling Green has a lot to recommend it but the biggie for me is GM’s slowest production plant. The Bowling Green plant builds Corvettes and nothing but Corvettes.

First stop, the Corvette plant and the National Corvette Museum. The plant tour was too short and the museum was too long but we did meet a Yuper who took delivery of his blue Z06 at the museum the day before and was back getting some details ironed out today. And getting it loaded into his enclosed trailer. He noticed that we’re very tan. He lives in the U.P. (“north of Wisconsin”) but has a house and condos here in Florida.

He was very, very proud of his new car.

SWMBO saw a China Jumbo that she wanted to try. We had skipped lunch so we went there for supper. About 150 items including cow and salmon and sushi on the buffet along with all the usual fare. And shrimp. They had boiled shrimp. They had pepper shrimp. They had butterflied shrimp. They had shrimp and veges.

I ate a lot of shrimp. A lot.

She declared the salmon firm and good and salmony. All the shrimp was farm raised but still good. And the rest of the buffet tasted pretty good. I was impressed.

My fortune cookie said, “You will be hungry again in one hour.”

We stayed in Bowling Green in a truly wretched motel that is at least marginally quieter than our Nashville choice. It has a very slow (36K!!!) connection via my tablet but no internoodle at the laptop all.

It may be the worst motel we’ve been in anywhere. Certainly, the worst $50 motel. The building itself is old, two story cheap motel to begin with and it’s tired. I had to crawl under the bed to plug the light in. There’s no receptacle by the table. The sheets don’t fit and the pillows have cigarette burns (it’s a no smoking room). The desk drawer was missing. The floor was dirty. No tissues. There was a great thumping sound that comes and goes. Sounded like a Harley pocketa-ing. Kept SWMBO awake. No bikes around. The shower temp kept getting hotter and hotter and hotter. Ycch. Sadly, it was the last choice we had.

We met Arnie Franklin and saw the jet Neil Armstrong flew! And we met the sexton of the churchin which Johnny Cash was married.

I picked the Aviation Heritage Park because it had kite day and fiddle music today and the Kentucky museum for their Instruments of American Excellence exhibit. Both are in Bowling Green.

It took a bit of doing to find the museum but worth it when we got there. We pretty much had the place to ourselves; the reception guy and the two work-study docents were starved for attention. The IAE has everyday objects used by people “to achieve extraordinary things.” Jimmy Carter’s ordinary hammer at Habitat for Humanity (it’s marked “Jimmy C” on the handle). They also have Civil War set pieces, slave stuff, the Snell Arts Gallery, and Duncan Hines who was born in BG. Somehow we missed the L. Y. Lancaster Gun Collection and guitar-maker Hascal Haile, darn it.

Dr. Snell was a frequent traveler to Europe and he did exactly what so many wealthy American southerners did: he bought the place out. Interesting art and furniture. We got a private tour of the Felts Log House because it was locked and the museum was pretty much empty so Miss Giggles took us through. She’s a theater major and intern. This particular log house is a “double-pen,” two story building with a “dog-trot” floor plan and poplar, oak, and walnut construction typical of the folk architecture. It had been lived in until 1960, I think, so it had paneling and other features that would have been added as the families got more money. It was probably accurate to the mid-19th Century.

We met Arnie Franklin of Franklin at the Aviation Park. Interesting guy some four-five years older than I. He received his commission in 1967 and completed pilot training at Williams Air Force Base and at Hurlburt Field. He was assigned as a Pave Nail Forward Air Controller and Instructor Pilot in the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron in Thailand. He ended up as a command pilot with over 3,500 flying hours including 782 combat hours in F-111s over the Nam. Then he did a Masters in laser physics and then War College. He does a lot to keep the aircraft at the park going.

They have the F-111 that flew as his wingman for the 1986 Libyan Raid (El Dorado Canyon) — he was Mission Commander. That was the longest and most complex fighter mission in aviation history. This aircraft also dropped the last bomb on the last night of Desert Storm. They also have a Grumman F9 in Blue Angels colors, McDonnell Douglas F-4D, a Lockheed T-33 he’s stripping down to repaint (the paint lasts about 10 years sitting in the sun), and the world’s first supersonic trainer, the NASA T-38 Talon; this one is #901. The aircraft are used by the astronauts for necessary travel, keeping current, and as chase planes. Every astronaut who flew the six Mercury missions, every astronaut who flew the 10 Gemini flights, and every astronaut who flew the Apollo Program all 9 lunar orbiting 6 landing missions flew #901.

We followed the GPS to Crocker Farm Winery in Franklin. They say theirs is the first bonded winery to open in that area since prohibition. It’s very small with a two-acre vineyard and fairly new (the vines are seventeen years old).

Crocker Farm BridgeFinding the address was no problem but it was just a mailbox, and a rusty one at that. I drove down a gravel drive to the rickety bridge. Decided not to cross same — it would have been about the same as driving on my barn floor except the bridge deck bounced when I walked it.

We drove from there into Franklin proper just because it was there and because I saw a banner for an art show on the square. There was a pretty girl in a green hoop skirt having pictures taken there in front of the red and pink bushes and cherry and dogwood blossoms. I was taking pix of the old stone jail when we met the sexton of the First United Methodist Church in Franklin, the church in which Johnny Cash married June Carter in 1968. He told us about some of the other historical buildings including the shop across the street that had once been a car dealer.

Franklin’s a pretty town, big enough to have a Dollar Store and a Walmart, small enough that everyone knows your name.

We landed back in Nashville, settled in a Super 8 where the coupon rooms were all in the back, unrenovated, section. The manager would not let me rent the room before I looked at it.

It was just fine. Hey, the lights (mostly) work, the WiFi (mostly) works, the taxes are (mostly) high, the staff is very nice, and we heated up our supper in the nuke. What’s not to like?

And I’m very impressed by the whole Super 8 team there going out of their way to make sure we were happy with their offerings.

1 Music Circle NorthDrove around and walked around Music Circle and Music Row.

We had lunch at a Maggianos with Sylvia, an old friend from Misc.Writing days. She’s as bubbly as ever and still writing, now for a company in the music industry that protects royalties for songwriters. Maggianos is a chain but they hand prepare and lunch was most excellent.

We gunkholed around after lunch. Made it to the Opry for the foto op but no shows. They have shows on Tuesdays and Minnie Pearl ain’t there no mo.

Turned around and went to find the Bluebird Cafe. We didn’t want to eat! The Bluebird is a smallish music club famed for intimate, acoustic music performed by its singer-songwriters. It’s a little storefront in a strip mall and it had a line across the parking lot and another down in front of all the other stores. Wow.

On to the Loveless Motel and Cafe. No Vacancy. Turns out motel operations ceased in 1985. Onward.

I wanted to buy a bottle of wine at a winery to give Geoff as a thank you for driving me halfway up the Keys to pick up my rental car. We went to the Arrington Vinyards which had a good review and found a festival going on. “Is there a festival going on?” I asked the car parker.

“Nope,” he said. “We’re just busy.”

We walked up the side of the mountain (the parking lot is at 643′ elevation and the sales building is up two flights, 500 feet higher. Got there and found Arrington is actually 6 Flags in disguise. There was wine somewhere, under a lot of pretentions words like “ginger finish.” but it was all show.

And they charged to taste.

“Lotta tasting rooms do that, especially if they’re not in California, but even there,” Liz Arden said. “I eschew those wineries.” Me, too.

I don’t mind paying for the “premium” tastings or for the little tray of glasses and cheese but a Robitussin cup to swirl and spit? I don’t think so. Not how we do it in Vermont, anyway.

I’m thinking Geoff will like a nice South Carolina Scuppernong white.

First day with the truck, I recorded 21.5 mpg at pretty steady, flat driving, 65 mph with the air on. The second day, coming down from Bowling Green, the city driving ate my shorts but I zeroed it and did 19.3 with the mix of gunkholing and Interstate. We refilled after Arrington and I zeroed again. Climbing the one big hill knocked it down to 18.8 but coming down again brought it up to 20 all by itself. We ended up here at 20.3 for that Interstate run. I was surprised to see a “Grade Braking On” message on the Magic Mystery Dash (the Driver Information Center) while we came down the hill.

For the 2013 model year, full size trucks and utilities now have Powertrain Grade Braking while in Normal mode (Normal mode = Tow/Haul mode OFF), along with a new DIC message “GRADE BRAKING ON” when it goes active for the first time. Powertrain grade braking has been available since 2007 on some models.

It uses the engine and transmission to slow the vehicle to help when driving downhill to help reduce wear on the traditional braking system. It defaults to “ON” after each ignition key cycle. Turns out it requires the driver to apply steady brake pedal pressure to maintain desired speed while driving on a downhill grade. The onboad computer calculates brake temperature and enables grade braking if necessary.

<Eyes glazing> Ms. Arden said.

We planned to stay in Georgia. We didn’t.

The Honorable Nathan Deal, Governor
State of Georgia
my Dear Mr. Deal,

Mrs. Harper and I passed through Georgia twice this week. It’s a pretty state.

We were on vacation and opted to stop and stay in Tennessee and Kentucky because they have Welcome Centers at the entrances to those states on I-24 and I-65. Those Welcome Centers have hotel guides and product displays and knowledgeable staff, all ready to make a visitor feel at home, all ready to help a visitor plan that visit.

Georgia has none of that on I-75 at either the Florida end or the Tennessee end.


Since we weren’t able to find out what was available, we drove on to the next state. I know we missed out. Looks like Georgia did, too.

We lit in a Knight’s Inn in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Nicest place of the trip. Quiet, upstairs, inside room with an elevator. Clean and well-appointed. 300Mbps “N” Wifi.

Knight’s Inns are another Wyndham property and I suspect this one came to them from Marriott or one of the other better nationals. Only downside is that the Interwebs kept dropping but I connected to the second router and am back up.

Monday was mostly drive-drive-drive but we had a nice success right at the start. I found the Georgia Winery just across the Tennessee line, still in the Tennessee Valley, and right off I-75 so we stopped there. They have a very nice muscadine, locally grown so I bought a bottle for Geoff and Sharon and one for me. The server was knowledgeable about the wines they bottle and the grapes they grow, but they will shortly lose him. He’s moving to South Royalton, Vermont, because his partner is entering Vermont Law School. (Just what we need: another environmental lawyer.)

This is a bloody big truck. Curbs get in the way. I darned near pulled out into a Nissan Leaf because I.Did.Not.See.It. Good thing I had the windows down so I heard its little teeny eep-eep-eep-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeep horn.

I sold the Silverado a couple of days after I got back. Kept the topper for the new truck. Cool.

The buyer just three weeks ago bought a ’99. He was driving to Daytona with his trailer when the frame broke. The good news is that he has a lot of parts that will fit my old one. He seems pretty handy and willing to do the work if he has to swap parts. The bad news is that he doesn’t have much money left.

I disclosed everything, I think. He looked it over pretty carefully and took a lot of pictures. He needs a truck. He’s going to talk it over with his wife and show her the pix. I told him to bring her over to see it. And now it’s his. We’re both happy.

My old truck cap doesn’t fit my new truck.

I talked to some truck cap retailers and learned stuff. Turns out GM changed the pickup beds. A Sierra bed tapers out — it’s wider at the back than a Silverado bed — so my cap would never have fit this truck.

What I’ve learned.

From 1973 (I had one of those) to 1987, full-size GM trucks had perfectly rectangular beds. That changed in 1988 when they became tapered. The full-size Chevy Silverado pickups and GMC Sierras are the same from 1988 to 1998 (I had one of those, too). The Silverado/Sierra changed again in 1999 but some ’99 models are the older body style. The 1999-2006 models are now called the “classic” Chevys. I just sold one of those.

The full-sized GM trucks changed again in 2007 but we have to be careful. Up until 2007, the beds were the same between a GMC and Chevy, but now the Silverado bed is NOT identical to the Sierra bed. The insides of the beds are the same; it’s the outside rails that are slightly different. The differences are subtle, but they affect the fit of most hard tonneau covers and bedliners.

They are back to identical for 2014 on.

I wish GM’s bean counters had played monkey-see-monkey-do so the parts I have to touch every day work like the other guys’ and that the bean counters hadn’t played monkey-see-monkey-do with the other guys who think bulkier monster trucks mean better trucks.

I spent some time yesterday deciding not to build the crap box for under the back seat but I’m back to rethinking that. The wells are big and I hate to lose that space. Not to mention the fact that, when the seat is up, the wells are deep and lumpy and the hump tall so it’s tough to put stuff back there and have it lie flat.

Rufus is determined that I not buy a cap that actually fits my new truck. I don’t know why. I’m gonna crap it up enough without having a leaky, not-quite-right cap on it, too.

I’m an op-ed writer, so I’m not allowed to write one of these columns without a hook. This one turns out to be the interface. I just bought an “upmarket” truck. It’s the SLE model with leather, power seats, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, and oh so much more. I’m very pleased with all the things it does have but none-the-less disappointed with the user interface. The tailgate is so high that if you pull up behind me in anything but a Kenworth, I won’t see you. The magic mystery dash is awkward to use compared to the rental Kia and with other manufacturers I’ve driven. The GM-branded bed liner has side “steps” for 2x6s planks to lay a “second floor” but the pockets aren’t at the same height and they are too narrow for standard 2×6 lumber. There’s only one power port in a time that all six people this truck can carry have at least one device to plug in. And it is so darned big on the outside.

I really like my truck but I wish GM’s bean counters had played monkey-see-monkey-do so the parts I have to touch every day work like Kia and Ford and Toyota, and that the bean counters hadn’t played monkey-see-monkey-do with the other guys who think taller, bulkier, angry-looking trucks mean better trucks.


4 thoughts on “Traveling Puffin Tales

  1. The truck sounds great. I’m impressed with the locker. And, unlike MizArden, I’m also impressed with the grade braking. Interesting what’s possible with CAN bus and a fully computerized drivetrain.

    If you wanted to upgrade the entertainment/computing system, MizArden could probably offer guidance. She knows about that kind of stuff. I’m pretty certain you can find a way of cleanly adding more power ports (probably USB rather than cigarette lighter.)

    • I need a schematic and a look at the wiring harness, but the truck has the capability and there are plenty of cubby holes in the dash to mount the ports in. I do need a couple more of the ubiquitous cigarette lighter style, though, as well as USB because there are still plenty of gadgets that use them.

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