Texas®

 

There are precious few things that Texans hold more dear than a beautiful, perfectly smoked, juicy brisket. It’s safe to say, however, that helping fellow Texans in dire need is certainly one of the things that easily charts higher on that list.

For Hill Country dwellers, both lending a helping hand and carrying away some free BBQ can be done at the same time on Thursday at Rudy’s “Country Store” & Bar-B-Q in New Braunfels.

The Cans for Q Benefit looks to obtain donations of clothing, blankets, canned goods, bottled water and other vital items that will go a long way in assisting the victims of the recent wildfires in Bastrop County. In return for your generosity, you’ll walk away with a free quarter-pound of Rudy’s Brisket. A better deal for some great BBQ will be impossible to find.

Helping make it all happen for those who’s lives were devastated, and possibly destroyed, by the recent wildfires in Bastrop County is none other than the host of the excellent meat-and-Tex-centric PBS show Daytripper; Chet Garner.

The whole process couldn’t be easier, and the benefits of free food and being a galvanizing force in a community that’s hurting are certainly too much to pass up, right?

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What: Cans for Q Benefit

When: Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011 6:00pm – 9:00 pm

Where:Rudy’s “Country Store” & Bar-B-Q (936 Loop 337 New Braunfels, TX)

How:Bring any of the following items and receive a free quarter-pound of brisket, courtesy of Rudy’s Bar-B-Q ~ Non-perishible canned goods, toiletries, shampoo, soap, bottled water by-the-case, blankets, towels, diapers, clothing and shoes for either gender.

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Texas, among being the capital of so many other things, simply has to be the King of the Easily-Traveled-To Weekend. Awkward title perhaps, but still, it’s actually kind of tough to keep up with all of the cool, resorty, artsy-craftsy, types of places where the culture, food, drink and music collide with practical every day happenings within that city.

While a weekend in touring Fredericksburg, hitting the clubs of Austin or strolling through the malls of Dallas are well-known and oft-occurring, keep Bandera in mind you’re thinking about a fun weekend away from home. While so many associate Cowboys with Bandera, I’ve always looked at it as the past homes of Charlie and Bruce Robison, and even Robert Earl Keen. You know, some of our greatest troubadours. Perhaps that’s just me, though.

Here’s some really cool things that the Cowboy Capital of the World has going for it in the coming weeks…

  • Celebrate Bandera ~ 9/1 – 4: Concerts, Cattle Drives and general revelry will ensue as the town rightfully celebrates itself. Do not miss the Kings of Western Swing concert, by the way.

 

  • Cowboys on Main ~ Every Saturday: See for yourself how the town claimed it’s nickname. Each week, a show takes place in front of the Courthouse from 1pm – 4pm involving gunfights and all sorts of Cowboy-filled good times.

 

 

  • Cajun Festival & Great Jumbo Cook-Off ~ 9/24: This isn’t your typical Texas food festival where the name makes you think you’re in for an authentic experience, only to be submerged with bad red-dirt bands and carnival rides. this is the real deal. Real Cajun bands and real crawfish getting snapped and sucked. Awesome.

For further information on the events and attractions of Bandera, be sure to visit Bandera’s official tourism website.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I really want to hit the Disc Golf course soon. It’s something I haven’t done before and Texas provides many an opportunity to do so. Well, here’s something else I want to do, but haven’t yet. Hit Marfa!

The dry, West Texas town not too far from Big Bend National Park has obviously become quite the trendy locale in the past few years, and from what I can tell, that trendiness is for good reason, really. It’s often referred to as a sort of artist’s retreat of hideaway; a bohemian enclave deep in the heat of our state, away from the typical artistic areas of the Hill Country or even certain parts of the Gulf Coast. In recent years, the town famously provided the backdrop for the Oscar-winning Coen Brothers film, No Country For Old Men.

Something even more than all of that recently caught my eye and really made me understand what I’ve been missing by not having visited Marfa before. Back in April, Mumford & Sons, along with a few other bands condcted a tour where they were carried by train and performed at various, funky spots along the way. Marfa was one of the stops and word of the show that resulted is that it was one heck of an event.

Mumford & Sons about to perform in Marfa

The concert took place at El Cosmico, a spot that seems to only be possible in the arid environs of the west. Run by Liz Lambert, who is responsible for the always in-demand Hotel San jose in Austin, El Cosmico’s website describes itself as “part vintage trailer, yurt and teepee hotel and campground, part creative lab, greenhouse and amphitheatre – a community space that fosters and agitates artistic and intellectual exchange.”

Sounds pretty cool, right?

Look, I’m sure there are tons of cool bars and foodie spots in Marfa, and I’m sure the lights are cool and all, but I think I’d be fine figuring all of that out once I got my teepee all set up, first…you?

Classic cars and classic movie theaters on a Texas Saturday night. Sounds like a good way to spend a weekend evening, doesn’t it? On Saturday, May 7th on the Largest Town Square in America, located in Graham, Texas, a good time will be had by all!

An open class car show starts at 3pm on the Square and is free to the public. Also, there will be vendors, live music from Tempting Disaster and tons of raffle prizes. All raffle proceeds will be donated to the Young County Volunteer Firefighter Relief Fund, which is a fund in need, as these firefighters helped fight recent wildfires in Young County and the Possum Kingdom Lake area.  

For the best rides, car show trophies will be given to the Top 20 entrants. Awards will also be given for Driver’s Choice, People’s Choice and Best in Show. The cars in the show will then cruise through Graham at 7pm, led by the Graham Police Department and their restored 50′s era police cruiser. The cruise will end at Graham Drive-In, one of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in Texas. The film for the evening will be Fast 5 (How appropriate is that?). The movie will start around 9pm and tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for kids up to age 11.

Register early online for a discounted price of $16 at www.GrahamTexasCarShow.com. All entrants receive one adult ticket to Graham Drive-in. The first 50 entrants receive a free t-shirt, and the first 100 entrants receive a free dash plaque. Participants can register on the day for $20, cash only.

 

 

For more info:

The current automotive landscape has way too many vehicles trying too hard to be everything for everyone. And in doing so they compromise on some things, ignore other things, and become identity-challenged bland-mobiles. The Shelby GT500 is none of that, and plenty more.

Words that should never be used to describe this Mustang-based 2011 Shelby GT500:

  • Subtle
  • Reserved
  • Bland
  • Boring

The Arrest Me-red, two-door arrived at the house on Monday, announcing itself a couple of blocks away with a hearty, lion-esque roar. Complete with white Le Mans stripes, flared fender wells, hyper-aggressive aerodynamics, carbon black wheels and a heavenly short throw shift knob at the pleasure point of a manual Six Speed, the Shel had the road presence of a professional wrestler fully engrossed in his “What are you looking at, Punk?” rant.

It almost had an aura around it.

What is a Shelby? Or more appropriately, who is the man that inspired this poke in the face of mediocrity? Carroll Shelby: A failed East Texas chicken rancher, speed merchant, successful racer, one time fighter pilot instructor, longest surviving double-organ transplant recipient, genuine American icon and the best natural salesman the world may have ever seen. That’s all he is.

After becoming a fighter pilot instructor during World War II, Shelby went home, got married, and started raising chickens on a ranch while racing on weekends. The weekend activities revolved around the now ghostly vapors of old race tracks that used to dot the countryside around north Texas and throughout the South. Many of those legendary old tracks have been swallowed up by suburban sprawl or lawyered out of existence, but in the early 1950’s, the racing world revolved around north Texas.

This was a time of legends, time of men like Hap Sharp and Jim Hall, who’s oil fortunes gave them opportunities to race anything, anywhere. There was also Lloyd Ruby, who is considered one of the greatest American racers ever, and AJ Foyt, a man that could drive, break and fix anything with an engine. It was a time of no seatbelts, leather helmets, and no one talked about NASCAR outside of the South East, and Road Racing was king.

In that past world, the foundation of what would later become a formula for success was laid when Carroll Shelby started racing someone’s car for them. It was a MG that had been outfitted with a small block V8 Ford. It was small, light, nimble and had more motor than most could handle. Carroll drove with such abandon and determination he very rarely lost and eventually earned a chance to drive another light, Anglo-American mutt; a Cadillac-powered Allard. It was this car that made him. His success in races around North America in the CadAllard propelled him to drive “Bird Cage” Maserati’s Ferrari’s, and eventually to win the most prestigious race in the world, The 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving for Aston Martin.

At the same time, as he became one of the most famous drivers in the world and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and pretty much every magazine in America, there was a ticking time-bomb ready to go off. Shelby’s heart was dying. Today, we would probably be able to just take a pill and go on, but in those days, a faulty ticker ended racing careers.

A masterful opportunist, he parlayed his celebrity into Gillette shaving commercials and also joined up with Jim Hall to import European race cars to America via Shelby-Hall Race Cars, located in Dallas. It didn’t last very long as Hall was racing Formula 1 and Endurance racing in Europe, and Shelby wasn’t exactly a man easily given to an office job.

Shelby got hold of a light aluminum British race car called an AC Bristol and found out the company had lost its engine supplier. He managed to convince them to send him rolling chassis of the little race car by telling them Ford was going to supply him engines. Of course, Shelby then had to convince Ford to actually supply the engines to him.

At the time, Lee Iacocca was a rising star at Ford, and as legend has it, the master salesman Iacocca was bulldozed by another like him, and was reported to say, “Someone give this guy an engine before he hurts someone.” The Shelby Cobra was born.

The Cobra formula was a light and nimble British car, big friggin’ engine. It worked (Note: I will explore this later in another article). The Cobra beat all comers and became a legend of its own, spawning the Pete Brock-penned Daytona Coupe Race car, which put Shelby back in the winners circle at Le Mans as a manufacturer, embarrassing the Ford factory team attempting to win the race with their new super car, the GT-40. After the Daytona soundly beat the GT-40 in tests, Ford made a deal with Shelby to take over the GT-40 team. But as a part of the deal to bring him in, the Cobra had to die.

Out of the ashes of the death of the Cobra and the now legendary friendship between Shelby and Iacocca grew the Shelby Mustang GT350, GT500 Program. When the Mustang was introduced in 1964, Iacocca knew he needed a performance package on what was initially an underpowered grocery-getter, but politics at Ford and an industry wide self-imposed ban on direct involvement in auto racing gave Shelby the ability to become the Ford racing proxy.

Original Cobra production was only around 1,000 cars. Six Daytona Coupes, and 20,000 Shelby Mustangs made it to the track and to the road, but a combination of his sponsor Iacocca being fired by Ford, the spike in oil prices, falling sales and that pesky now-faltering heart forced the end of the Shelby Mustang in the early 1970’s.

The Legend of the Shelby Mustang is a fascinating one, indeed. I can not think of any other car that has become a legend unto itself, blending its own history and that of the man who inspired it, along with some fanciful inaccuracies (some coming from Shelby, himself) into a story all its own. It has become a movie character (Gone in 60 Seconds), an object of desire as well as abuse. At any event where Shelby is present, there are usually dozens of children who have been named after him and people who approach him, as well as the car, with a blending of respect and fear.

There has been more ink devoted to this car and man amalgam than any other I can think of, and I have written for many magazines, and I’ve even consulted on a couple of books on both principals.

A few years ago, that faulty ticker was replaced and Shelby is now one of the longest surviving heart transplant recipients. Later in time, he needed a kidney transplant, as well. He has also founded the Carroll Shelby Children’s Charity, which raises money for kids in need of transplants.

These days, his health is said to be not-so-great, but remember that he is well over 85 now and has been married at least 6 times. This man has jammed more life into one than most could possibly imagine.

When Ford and Shelby decided to get the old band back together with the current Shelby GT500 they had a lot to live up to, some of it even fact-based. The decision was made early on that there would be no muddling of this legend, and Ford came out of the box with a loud, brash, thirsty, powerful, no-compromise car of unequaled, swaggering bravado.

It arrives like Robert Duvall’s Lt. Col Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now with a blast of Wagner, and the smell of Napalm in the air. It has a supreme confidence in its stance, letting no one assume it is anything but a serious chunk of car.

The exterior is garish with almost obnoxious sculpted, aerodynamic wings, splitters and curves over big Goodyear racing tires mounted on black powder-coated wheels which give-off a no-nonsense curb appeal. The tail has a high mounted wing, but it’s what is under the other end that counts. The engine. And what an engine it is. A 5.4 liter, four valve V8 lurks under the hood and where most would consider that enough, the Shelby has a SuperCharger to boost an astounding output into the realm of HOLY CRAP! 550 Hp and 510 foot pounds of torque.

All that power results in a snarling beast of aural wonders that make you want to roll the windows down and drive through the Addison Airport Tunnel, over and over again, just to enjoy the roaring sound. The six-speed manual is effortless and really is amazing at dropping all those buckets of power to the ground.

The interior is rather amazing in its own right. Combining “retro” styling that is needed to complete the muscle car redo, combined seamlessly with modern expectations like satellite radio, Sync-integrated GPS, along with every other desirable option in the catalog. One that I personally like is the high-mounted PowerPoint, at the center top of the dashboard, where you can easily plug in a radar detector (yeah, you’re going to want one of those).

This is a far cry from the utilitarian interior one got in the 1960’s Shelbys, but one thing remains – this is not a car for the timid.

On the center console, next to the shifter, there is an understated little button. When pressed, the button turns off the traction control. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T TOUCH THAT BUTTON!

The traction control on the Shelby GT500 overpowers its own tires quite easily, with the happy, little, unassuming button deployed, an average driver is in a whole bunch of trouble where enthusiasm is defeated rather quickly by the reality of kinetics. It is way too powerful for anyone without at least as much high-performance driving training experience as I have.

The old school rear-end on this beastly car gets upset rather easily by bumps inconveniently placed at the apex of corners, and the super-tight suspension makes attempting to drink coffee while driving make you look like an ill-advised, near-sighted epileptic trying to exercise with a shake weight.

During the course of week, the $55,000 Shelby GT500 was gulping high-octane like a kid with a garden hose. While running all over north Texas, I came to a couple of conclusions: It’s a brash handful of a car, not for those who fancy themselves in any way environmentally minded, but in a time when so many cars muddle their way to mediocre, the Shelby is one of the most satisfying, over-the-top ways to consume fossil fuels in a multi-sensual, true muscle car experience there is to be had.

And yes, it is just the sort of thing that should have a name like Shelby.

I know that we still might technically be still in the midst of Spring, but the temps are beginning to suggest otherwise. Each year, as our energy bills rise, so to does the list of concerts we all circle on our repsective calendars. Below are a few of the top tours and festivals hitting the state. Some you may know all about by now, and others on this list may be hitting your radar for the first time, perhaps. Regardless, we’re pretty sure you’ll find something for almost any taste in the list below…

Austin Psych Fest (April 29 – May 1) - As much of an oddball grouping as your likely to find all year. This intense, all-weekend bill will be filling the Seaholm Power Plant with all sorts of industrial noise and racous bad/good times. Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez Lopez group, along with A Place to Bury Strangers, No Joy and even Texan-goup This Will Destroy You, lead a sonic assult that will likely leave any attendees few questions as to why their ears are bleeding.

Wilco (Houston May 6, Denton May 7) – Not much to add to the simple fact that Wilco will be hitting a couple of places in our state. Word has it that some sort of release is nearing completion, but even if Jeff Tweedy and crew dont play new tunes, their classics are just that – classic.

Editor’s Pick! Homegrown Festival (Dallas May 14): What began last year as a relatively humble gathering of local bands, some of which had outgrown the city limits a tad, has become a full-fledged destination festival, this year. the name of the all-day shindig rings true, still though. Headliners such as Slobberbone, Neon Indian, Astronautalis, and School of Seven Bells are widely known around the country, but all started here in North Texas. The still-new and beautiful Main St Garden is an ideal location that soon might be too small for this budding festival.

Editor’s Pick! Mogwai (Dallas May 15, Austin May 16, Houston May 17) – Perhaps the band that gave real wings to what so many term as “post-rock”. The Scottish outfit has now been together for over a decade and a half, and after three years, they’ve just released an insanely anthemic studio album album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, which is their best effort since their debut record, 1997′s Young Team. Similar to a band like Austin’s Explosions in the Sky, who clearly adore Stewart Braithwaite and his crew, Mogwai has always looked to create moving soundscapes that escape simple categorization. The former Matador stars, now working with Sub Pop have had this American tour planned for a while, actually. The Granada Theater in Dallas announced this show back in November, giving fans plenty of time to brush up on their air-guitar and shoegazing skills. A Pitchfork review of the new record, while not glowing, summed up a feeling that has seemed to evident in the band’s recent performances by suggesting, “ On Hardcore, Mogwai sound like they’re enjoying being Mogwai again.” I can only imagine that us Texans will enjoy them just fine.

Editor’s Pick! Twilight Singers (May 30 Dallas, May 31 Austin, June 1 Houston) – Another Sub Pop act that has been around for a while will be making their long-awaited way through Texas. This project is a bit differnt, however. Greg Dulli, formerly the leader of Afghan Wigs, made this his secondary group, therefore output from this act was scarce until his main act disbanded in 2001. After that, releases havent exactly been prolific, but they have at least bore the mark of a real band and not merely a one-off side project. Case in point: Twilight Singers latest album, Dynamite Steps. An all-out alt-rock album that features agressive rock, with agresive melodies and a real sense for drama. Afghan who?

Houston Free Press Summerfest (June 4-5) - Talk about a line-up that doesn’t need much further explanation? The annual festival, held in Eleanor Tinsley Park, has really topped their already impressive acts from previous years. Weezer, Big Boi, Cut Copy, Yeasayer, Jason Isbell, and Beirut headline a line-up that has really strong support from Lower Dens, Hayes Carll, The Black Angels and Those Darlins, among many others.

Adele w/ Wanda Jackson (Austin June 12, Dallas June 15) – Hello, Girl Power! The current darling of the UK and the US album charts pairs herself with the Queen of Rock and Roll? Yes please! That’s a serious amount of soul to put onto one stage in one night.

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I love cars. I love driving, racing, and traveling by car. I’m that guy who gets up early on a Sunday to wash a car by hand. I love gadgets and gizmos and sensual design, so there are no words that can strike fear as deep into my heart as: “Your minivan is here.”

The Minivan: An anonymous, emasculating, cheerio-encrusted,suburban assault vehicle. Typically, they burst with the soul-destroying songs of Sponge Bob, and Dora the Explorer for the pre-Beiber set. It seems as though the car seat-mounted children stare as blankly at their mobile entertainment units as the sleep deprived parents do from the driver’s seat.

Do you get the notion that driving a minivan is not on my “must do” list? Checking any sort of residual masculinity at the door, Toyota dropped off a 2011 Sienna for Any Driven Sunday to test out, recently. In my front window, my neutered Yellow Labrador Retriever, Carlin, smiled, “Now, you will know how I felt!”

As much as I don’t want to admit it, the Sienna is about the only minivan I’ve driven that might rate as kind of cool. It’s a good-looking vehicle, and with optional, high-end aerodynamic front bumper fascia, and all the bells and whistles jammed into the “Limited” it wasn’t as bad as my preconceived notions warned.

The price starts at $24,000 and steps up to $25,600 for LE trim, $30,000 for the SE, $32,500 for the XLE and $38,800 for the fully loaded-up Limited. Even at the entry point, the Sienna is pretty well put together. The Limited had leather-covered everything, dual DVD, navigation, and pretty much every option available on a car or truck.

Both rear side doors were power and remote-operated from the key-fob, as was the rear hatch. Such an attribute is pretty cool, and for the I-have-to-carry-everything-in-one-trip set, it’s very convenient, indeed.

The more I drove the Sienna, the more I realized that if one is ever forced into this market segment – and no one ever wakes up saying they WANT a minivan unless they need one – the Sienna is easily one of the better choices out there.

As I was setting up next to a suburban soccer field to take some pictures of the van, I couldn’t help become hyper-aware that I didn’t belong there. As a 45 year old, single dude with a pretty expensive camera in tow, driving a minivan, I figured that someone would have called Chris Hansen, and that any second, the “To Catch a Predator” staff was going to jump out from behind a bush. So, I took the pictures and got out of there as quickly as I could.

Really, the minivan just isn’t a vehicle I would ever get for myself, unless there was a very significant shift in my world. The funny thing is: The market whose parents owned the first generation minivans in the 80’s are now old enough to be the target consumer. For the most part, those former back seat passengers of minivans have run away from this product at break-neck speed. They’re the folks who have created the SUV and Crossover segment as one of the biggest parts of the automobile market.

They seek out the functionality but, in their minds, they also avoid the stigma attached to the minivan.

As the generation before them created the minivan market because they swore they would never drive a station wagon like their Mom’s, the Minivan has created its own anti-market. For those who do not have that particular bias in their heads, and don’t mind the look of defeat that seems to come with piloting one of these very functional vehicles, the Sienna is the high-water mark for drivability and livability.

When Toyota came back to pick up the Sienna, they left me with a Scion TC, equipped with a six-speed manual. As a result, my manhood was restored faster than a spike of Viagra. For the week of Suburban Amnesia and for all my whining about driving a minivan, the Toyota option proved its worth. Hauling all sorts of stuff without any problem and finding its way around town very comfortably was quite the treat.

It is most definitely not for me, but for those looking at Chrysler’s Grand Caravan, or the other benchmarks of the market, the Sienna should be considered seriously. I don’t love it, but I have learned to respect it for what it is.

For some of us, Hillsboro was the first town with a large outlet mall anywhere near us. For others, Lake Whitney, just a few minutes away from Hillsboro, has been a watery get-away for years. And even for others, Hillsboro is just that spot where I-35 splits and, if you’re heading north to D/FW, it means you’re almost home, or if you’re heading down south to San Antonio, it means you’ve still got a ways to go, yet.

Well, for this upcoming Mother’s Day Weekend, Hillsboro stands for action. Activities of all sorts are planned during the weekend of May 7th and 8th. From triathlons for in-shape humans to races for spunky little chihuahuas, there seems to be a good bit going on ’round town that weekend.

Triathletes can help make history by participating the first-ever Tri-Hillsboro Triathlon on May 7. The race event begins Friday evening with a spaghetti dinner, and will take place Saturday morning along the glistening waters of Lake Aquilla and the rolling hills of Highways 1534, 933, 310 and 1947. Registration for the race is a reasonable $55 up to April 18 and $65 for late registration up to May 2. Event proceeds will go to Hill County’s Volunteer Fire Department and Boys & Girls Club. Sponsorships for the triathlon of various sizes are welcomed and appreciated. For registration and additional sponsorship information, visit www.HillsboroTriathlon.com or contact Bhavini Ankuda at 254-266-4355.

If you want some exercise but swimming and running are not your forte, jump on your bike and head out to the Waggin’ Trail Bike Ride on May 7. The fourth annual race will benefit Hill County’s Paw Pals and Boys & Girls Club. Early registration is $25 by May 3, $30 up to race date and $15 for children under 12 years old. Contact Mike Hendricks at 254-580-0679 or HCPawPals@Yahoo.com for additional information.

Think you have the fastest pint-sized canine? Well, bring them out to go-for-the-gold at the Fourth Annual Chihuahua Racesat Outlets at Hillsboro. Non-Chihuahua pedigrees will have their chance to strut their stuff as well at the Pet Fashion Show. Visit www.OutletsAtHillsboro.com to pre-register and receive a free Gold Goody Bag with hundreds of dollars in coupons and savings. The $10 entry fee will help support Hill County Paw Pals.

If you prefer Captain Jack Sparrow over racing or tails and tu-tus, the Texas Pirate Festival at Middlefaire is the place for you. Over 100 vendors, belly dancing, singing and re-enactments will take you back in time to an otherworldly mid-seventeenth century English village of tri-corne hats, gypsies, and skulls and crossbones. Vendor forms are available at www.Middlefaire.net. Make sure you bring your eye-patches and booty to 8581 State Hwy 171 on May 7-8.

So, when your mother hints at hitting the nearest, elegant brunch for her special day, remember, brunches don’t have racing chihuahuas!

After reviewing cars for over 25 years, it really takes a lot to make me stop and say, “Oh, now that is cool.” Recently, I found myself mesmerized by a gadget in Infiniti’s Crossover SUV’s; the FX and EX 350.

Here’s the thing: I’ve seen a lot of silly, over the top, doodads and gizmos on cars over the years. For example: Head’s Up “Fighter” displays on windshields and winking digital dashboards that look like a neon brothel, even. Massaging, heated seats that relax not just the back, but induce napping have been “hot” in the past. Even crash-avoidance alarms that twitch and beep, and night vision displays have all seen their time in the sun. But in the Infiniti the aw-shucks item in question is not just functional but, is a great innovation in safety.

When you’re parking, the center display (radio, GPS, information system) activates 4 overlapping cameras as you back up. The cameras, located in the front and rear bumpers, and port and starboard outboard mirrors, provide an almost perfect, 360 degree view of blind spots and other obstructions. The display combines the four images in a near seamless “overhead” display that honestly looks like there is a camera hovering around, 30 feet above the truck.

The principle reason this is such a good idea, oddly, is so the driver avoids backing up over children, pets and neighbors. Seems a little dumb if you think about it, but since the SUV and minivan replaced the wagon as suburban-soccer-mom-assault-vehicle, there’s been a significant up tick in said soccer moms running over things, as they “just didn’t see them” in the blind spots.

It’s also something that you can turn on with the push of a button when pulling into a parking spot so you can avoid obstructions as well. Given how many times I see people who have not mastered the fundamentals of pulling into a parking spot or parallel parking, I can’t help but think this is a remarkably good idea.

Cool gizmo’s aside; the vehicle still has to be worthy of the nifty bits. The EX & FX are both more sport wagons than they are true SUV’s, as they are weighted heavily to ON-road prowess, rather than anything involving going deep off-road, it’s just not part of the end use of the vehicle.

In town the very functional seating set up and ease of use makes this crossover a nearly perfect everyday vehicle with tons of get-up-and-go, lots of cargo hauling, and excellent maneuvering abilities. There’s not much you can’t toss into the back, and it has an upscale appeal that is still black-tie and valet-parking chic.

I had the chance to take the EX Journey on a run to Houston, and for under $40 in fuel and following a guy with 2 radar detectors in his car, I can tell you that the EX is remarkably stable at better-than-speed-limit-speeds. I loaded my camera gear and a kit bag in the back, turned on the Sirus/XM satellite radio and was in H-town in no-time. Upon arrival I was still fresh and didn’t feel like I usually do after a few hours on I-45.

The only grumble I have with the layout is a minor functional issue with the way the radio works, in order to change the stations. I found it a little cumbersome, but the GPS works very well and I didn’t sound like I was yelling from the bottom of a well while on the BlueTooth speaker phone.

The base on the EX is just north of $35k with an as-tested price of $42,000.00. The slightly larger FX ticked off a $41k base and an as-tested value of $49,950.00. Each was well-appointed with every option in the book; from high-output headlights to air conditioned and heated leather seats.

EPA ratings of 16 in the city and 24 on the highway are pretty much spot-on and are closer to reality than in most other EPA ratings I’ve seen, and overall, both are great ideas for folks who want to do most everything with one vehicle.

Given Nissan’s well deserved long-term reliability reputation and how well put together the Infiniti is as a package, both are great options that should be seriously considered by almost any consumer.

As part of the best-selling vehicle lineup in North America for almost 30 years, the Ford F-Series is without a doubt one of the best choices for a pickup truck in the full-sized market. Now, the question is which one to choose, as they start with the 1/2 ton F-150 and proceed in increments of 100, from F-250 to F-650, for those who simply need a dump truck that only looks like a pickup truck.

I’ve always been one to appreciate a truck for being a truck, rather than a personal car with a big, open trunk. With that being said though, the pickup in Texas is a car, truck, personal expression, external display of one’s DNA, office and even a workbench.

Ford sent over a 6 cylinder F-150 a couple of weeks ago, and it was a very comfortable, competent, and solid performer. I was surprised the considerably smaller power capability didn’t result in any significant fuel economy increase. Obviously, this is something that’s becoming more important as gas prices continue to creep north of $3.50 per gallon. And for a vehicle over 1/2 ton, my personal choice is to go diesel every time.

Even with the recent spike in diesel prices I can always justify the enhanced price of entry (in Ford’s case it is a $7,000 premium) to achieve the long term reliability, durability and fuel-usage economy that comes along with the far more powerful, big diesel engine. It’s amazing how the technology on the power stroke direct injection system has evolved over the years. Most may remember the staccato beat of incoming artillery and black clouds of unspent crud coming out of the tail pipe in the old school diesels. But with the newer, cleaner and quieter systems, you will be hard pressed to actually be aware that you’re driving a diesel from inside the well insulated cabin.

This quiet, but still fantastically powerful, truck with its solid frame and all of the expected cargo and towing capabilities – which put the stamped “SUPER DUTY” across the front grill – makes quite the visual statement, as well. As someone who spends a great deal of time on motorcycles, the front facade of this truck is almost frightening, what with its large swath of chrome glistening in the sun. Simply put: It’s one of the sharpest looking, heavy-duty vehicles ever to bear a big blue oval that I’ve ever seen.

Anyone in the HD pickup market knows it is a very tough room, loyalties in this subset of the market run into warring clans with family dynasties of Ford owners who can’t imagine anyone driving another type of truck. I have to tell you, I learned how to drive on my uncles F100 as the first enclosed vehicle, after lawn mowers, motorcycles and farm tractors when I was 10 or 11 years old. I don’t really know if anyone else in the family was aware that I was out driving around the property in Uncle Charlie’s truck, but I have my own personal bias when I hop into the big Ford: It feels as much like home as the smell of my mother’s Brown Sugar cookies.

The Super Duty 4×4 crew cab 3/4 ton truck has an entry price-point of $44,500, and with the addition of the V8 Turbo Diesel, power everything, cloth interior, shiny wheels and satellite radio, the price as-tested for the “big truck” comes in just north of $60,400.00. But, if you also look at the fact that most who do buy this kind of vehicle almost live in them, as they have morphed into mobile offices that is really not that heavy major of a switch from the real thing.

Both Nissan and Toyota have ventured into the full sized market over the last few years, but have purposely not wandered north into the Heavy Duty Diesel market. If they ever do, they are in for a hell of a fight as the Dodge, GM and Ford competition is very intense, already.

From the high step into the Super Duty, to its large turning radius, there is nothing wimpy about its look or impression on the road. In town or on the highway, the 6.7l v8 single turbo’s dual impellers rocket you unencumbered from a stop and overtakes almost everything on paved or unpaved roads. I didn’t have any opportunity to test out the towing abilities, but it can handle nearly anything from small trailers to mobile homes with not so much as a blush.

Really, everything about this truck is spot-on spec, from its handsome exterior to effortless interior, but were I to be in this market, I would have a very difficult time making the decision on what to take home. Personal opinion: The Ram has a better interior, and the Chevy has a quieter drive train, but the Ford has one of the best combinations for the consumer. It’s a really tough choice, regardless.

One thing that may push you into the land of Ford is this new power plant is designed to run up to 300.000 miles before a major service. Judging from talking to owners all over the state in my travels, I have to report that they claim the 6.7 is the best diesel Ford has ever put in a pickup. This is a big deal, as problems with the prior big D had resulted in a bit of a black eye for Ford.

In many ways this truck reminds me a little of the Cattle Barron’s Ball – an annual society must-do every year, here in Dallas where folks get all dressed up in tuxedo’s and cowboy boots – it’s flashy chrome still comes with a whole bunch of real truck.