Watch Your Step

After the fall: Dan Bedore, director of product communications at Nissan North America, joins me on the fateful stair. Above: It’s OK. Only six more weeks until the walking boot comes off.

I tend to fall down and go boom with annoying regularity. It is often because my head is spinning off my neck stem, trying to catch the action around me. You can imagine what happens at an auto show, especially this year’s Detroit show, which was overrun by 5169 journalists (from sixty countries, including Mongolia and Qatar) battling for a scrap of quote, a minute of a designer’s time, floor space, press kits, and all the cool USBs they could grab. The humanity (oh, the humanity!) was the stuff claustrophobia is made of. And I can’t say enough bad things about video crews from Russia.

You can only imagine. But not really. Here’s the blow by blow.

This year’s auto show was particularly dangerous for the airheads among us—those whose focus is right where the carmakers want it to be—above the fray at eye level, staring at the gorgeous new Mercedes-Benz C-class, the shocking aluminum Ford F-150, the Audi Allroad Shooting Brake concept, the wild Kia GT4 Stinger, the transformative Chrysler 200, the luscious Cadillac ATS coupe, Acura’s TLX teaser, the aggressive Lexus RC-F coupe—and on and on. Lights blazed and flashed, music blared a siren’s song, and we all looked up.

We stumbled from carpet to rubber to hard-polished laminates, half tumbled from steps where the eye saw no step, banged into foot-high clear plexiglass fences around concepts, and windmilled arms to stay upright as we stumbled off turntable drop-offs that blended with the floors around them. The harsh lighting, blinding LED movie walls, monochromatic floors, and the difficulty of negotiating floor surfaces as varied as the cars themselves had me feeling like I had vertigo. I just missed going ass over teakettle at Chevy. I jerked my spine lurching from the Audi stand where I thought there wasn’t a step and there was. I nearly went down like a sack of laundry at the Chrysler stand, the Acura stand (which had dire warnings laminated on the edge of every step but the one I was on), and the Mercedes-Benz stand.

Nissan was my Waterloo. It was a shining white laminated Mayan temple of a center stage surrounded by theater seating. Atop the rather too-short white steps sat the Sport Sedan Concept, striking in all but name. I met design chief Shiro Nakamura at the top of the temple to video his comments on what we were all calling the next Maxima. The steps terrified me after two days of near-misses everywhere else.

“Those stairs were diabolical,” design editor Robert Cumberford said. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio concurred: “That stand was notorious. The steps were sharply curved and had very narrow tread depth. One wonders if they met building codes.”

I did fine, and I handed Shiro off to the next journalist while I relaxed with our crew in the surrounding seats. This is when I should have heeded the classic skier’s caution to call it quits an hour before the hill closes. I was beckoned by the journalist interviewing Shiro, turned, trotted up the temple, and executed a massive face-plant, whacking my ankle on the edging of the top step and splatting practically at the feet of the chief designer. No, I was not wearing a dress.

Shiro ran over and got down on his hands and knees next to my head. “Jean! Jean!” he said, so horrified that I finally got embarrassed. “Go away, Shiro. Go away. I’m OK. It’s OK.” I slowly rolled to my back, like a turtle on its shell, to see the crowd in the cheap seats stunned into horrified silence. I don’t recall seeing anyone gloating, but I could be wrong. It was dead silent as I came to a sitting position and announced that everyone should “go back to what you were doing. Everything is fine here.”

Two Nissan PR guys rushed over and sat on either side of me, like we all meant to be sitting around on the steps. One apologized for not having any ice. “I have this cold beer bottle you could use on your ankle,” he said.

“Bring me a cold water bottle and open that damn beer,” I suggested. And we had a beer and pretended everything was cool.

My ankle was broken, which I found out after I walked out of Cobo Center, drove fifty miles home, and went to the doctor the next day.

The walking boot comes off in six weeks, when it should be all better. The mortification might take a tad longer.

For more of Jean at the Detroit auto show, go to JeanKnowsCars.com.

Lori Jo Vest
Jean - You just gave me my laugh of the day. Makes me feel so much better to know that I'm not the only one who face plants with some regularity. 

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