A Sillier Season Than Usual

02 Jean Jennings

Love us or hate us for it, Automobile Magazine has always felt that automotive journalism is a broad field that allows us to explore the limitless boundaries of our lust. In a sentence written seventeen years ago by Automobile Magazine's editor emeritus, David E. Davis, Jr., our mission was described as "taking interesting cars to interesting places, and meeting interesting people along the way."

0311 Vilegossip A

That broad definition has pretty much left us wide open. We have raced, rallied, hill-climbed, sped, and sometimes towed cars from Michigan to Alaska, across the sands of the Sahara, through the jungles of Belize and South America, over the Alps, across the Pyrenees, around Mount Fuji, and down the length of the Great Divide, and we've hot-lapped racetracks on nearly every continent. We have been to international auto shows, autoramas, concours d'elegance, street cruises, and drive-in cruises; we've entered the Pan Pacific Rally, the Pirelli Classic Marathon, the Targa Florio, the Tour de France, the Colorado Grand, the Mille Miglia, the California Mille, the Hillbilly Mille, the Double 500, and the Baja 1000; and we've even made an official Lap (or two) of America.

We have machine-gunned old cars and run a school bus in a demolition derby. We've been to driver training for business executives, driver training for chauffeurs, driver training for teenagers, rally school, stunt-driving school, antiterrorist driving school, NASCAR school, off-road truck-racing school, and remedial driving school to keep points from appearing on our driver's licenses.

Along with extensive coverage of the latest new-model launches, you are just as likely to find us writing about pickup trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, monocycles, scooters, tractors, motorhomes, motorized skateboards, motorized barstools, steam engines, steamships, locomotives, and any other conveyance that strikes our collective fancy.

The people we have met and written about include captains of industry, racing driver heroes, brilliant racing mechanics, witty museum curators, nutty car collectors, car-loving movie stars, musicians, athletes, the world's greatest car designers, politicians you should impeach, engineers who have made a difference, and, occasionally, our most interesting friends, neighbors, and families.

0311 Vilegossip B

All of this has happened over the course of more than seventeen years. But the summer of 2003 will go down in the books as one of the wildest, most exciting, most psychotic mishmashes of automotive reverie in which we have found ourselves. You'll be reading about a few of these adventures in all their gory detail as the year winds down, but I thought you'd like just a little taste of the madness from a story-behind-the-story perspective.

The foundation of our summer is always an unending series of new-car launches. There were enough of these that sometimes it seemed as if every staff writer, every freelancer, the managing editor, the road test coordinator, the production staff, the art department, and even a spouse or two were mobilized to move cars to and from test and photo locations. On top of that are the great car shows such as the prestigious Monterey Peninsula weekend (great vintage races at Laguna Seca, auctions, a concours of Italian exotica, the most fabulous Pebble Beach concours) and the more wild and woolly Woodward Dream Cruise in the Detroit suburbs that we always try to slot in among the test drives.

Just to make life more interesting, we assigned ourselves a few extra adventures this summer, and that's when life got complicated.

It started with the World's Longest Yard Sale, a 450-mile, four-state extravaganza of a rolling flea market, running south down the U.S. 127 corridor, beginning at the Ohio-Kentucky border. We thought it would be a great way to review two new minivans—the Toyota Sienna and the Nissan Quest. Boy, howdy, did it ever. I won't give it all away here, but we set up a rival scavenger hunt between two teams. As it turns out, the crazier the item on our list, the more likely we were to find it. The first place we stopped was so nasty, and the proprietor so odious, that my initial reaction was to check his crotch to make sure his fly wasn't open. My teammate's initial reaction was to make an immediate beeline for the van and lock herself in. We used a year's supply of Purell instant hand sanitizer in two days, and we learned how to roll along the side of the road, scan the hay wagon covered with filthy-dirty used baby clothes without coming to a complete stop, and peel out. We were more than finished after two days of scavenging, and everyone who went may very well be cured of anything resembling flea markets for the rest of their natural lives.

0311 Vilegossip C

Somewhat traumatized by that experience, I flew almost immediately to New York City to work on a story for the December celebrity issue of Automobile Magazine. That is how I found myself, closing in on fifty, in the front row of the sold-out, heavy-metal, Iron Maiden "Give Me Ed 'Til I'm Dead" concert at Madison Square Garden, surrounded by screaming headbangers making devil-horn signs and pouring beer down my back. It was only a matter of time (five tunes) before I realized my precarious position and crawled out of there on my hands and knees, across a row of folding chairs. You can read the full story next month. You will also (I hope) find out what, in God's name, aging rockers straight out of Spinal Tap might possibly have to do with cars.

Meanwhile, still experiencing some hearing loss from the evening's entertainment, I flew to Pebble Beach, where I wore a fancy hat but couldn't get the image of fat, bare stomachs and dirty flea-market clothes out of my mind as I passed for normal among the truly wealthy, the only wealthier, and the most polished cars on the planet. Naked, sweaty beer bellies; babies in tiny, pleated Burberry skirts. Backward baseball hats; wide-brimmed straw hats with cut-feather appliques. A broken-down, rusted Dodge van parked on cinder blocks; a perfectly restored Bugatti Atlantic Coupe. With its owner Ralph Lauren posed fetchingly beside it. Pimiento-cheese sandwiches on Bunny bread at the Citgo gas station; scones, clotted cream, and marmalade at the Rolls-Royce hospitality suite. My senses were atwitter.

Two days home, and I was invited by John Oates to the Hall and Oates "Do It for Love" concert at the DTE Energy Music Theater outside Detroit. Car freak Oates suggested that if I brought a cool car, he'd let me park backstage. The Cadillac XLR applied for and won that prestigious position. I'd brought along a couple of friends from Ford, who asked Oates how long he'd been on tour. "About thirty-two years now," he said with a straight face.

0311 Vilegossip D

The ubersweet Kenny Loggins opened. The ushers wore earplugs. Earplugs for Kenny Loggins! As Loggins warbled "Celebrate Me Home," a man in front of us turned and asked us to be quiet so he could enjoy the music. I was so embarrassed. I could totally relate; I had wanted to ask the same of the entire main floor of Madison Square Garden two weeks earlier. In the next month, I will write this temporary psychosis thoroughly out of my system. Then I'll completely reset my internal automotive switch by intensive immersion in the Frankfurt motor show.

But right now, it's still a little Spinal Tap around here.

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