Thanks for replying. I just tried the idea with the same result--it gets to "probing for new hardware" then stops. I apparently did a messy shut down at some point because during one boot, it jumped to the text mode to offer a system integrity check. In the text mode it gets to "enabling swap space:" with a reported [OK] for that step...then locks. Not sure what the next reported step would be but I suspect it's the hardware probe.
Thanks for your help and idea though--I'm already starting to like Linux just for the community feel. Kind of feels like the early 80s with the old C64, COCO, TI, etc user groups