Lord, I don’t quite know what to make of writer Matt Phenix’s obsession with driver’s education car-wreck films. Still, I couldn’t stop reading “School of Wreck.” It grossed me out more reading about those movies now than it did back in 1970, when I was forced to watch who-knows-which-one of those gore-fests (it might have been Last Date) in my high school cafeteria – immediately after lunch, for full effect.
The times being the times, I was certain it wasn’t real gore and breezily dismissed it as the automotive fake-o scare-tactic equivalent of that anti-marijuana classic, Reefer Madness. It had no effect whatsoever on my behavior behind the wheel. I went on to get my driver’s license and practice triple-digit speeding on the brand-new interstate in my family’s Rambler wagon. (It was my father’s fault. He told me that I had to drive flat-out every now and then to blow the carbon out of the engine. I did it more now than then.)
Please note that we thoughtfully put thirty-nine pages between the giant photo of the sausage pizza and the first gory description of car-wreck carnage. Still, I expect there will be letters of outrage.
Speaking of wrecks, our new West Coast editor, Jason Cammisa, recalls his first BIG crash as an eighteen-year-old passenger in a rented Plymouth Sundance that launched off a seventeen-foot cliff in upstate New York: “My friend who was driving was complaining that it wouldn’t go 100 mph. I told her the Plymouth was limited at 112, and sure enough, she managed to get it to 110. That was right before she lost control in a bend. The Sundance flew four feet down an embankment, bounced off a service road below, and flipped back-over-front through the air and down another thirteen feet to a field. The impact when we landed on the frozen ground was so severe that it reclined both of our seats, leaving only the lap belts to hold us for the ensuing five or so barrel rolls. We crawled out of the hatch, which had flown open.”
They were in a rental car because his friend’s car (with Cammisa riding) had been totaled three weeks earlier by a drunk. On the last day of eleven months of physical therapy, Cammisa was riding his bicycle through campus and was hit so hard by a librarian in a Toyota Camry that the Camry was totaled. By his body. But I digress.
I take the future of this magazine in my hands every time I feel the urge to brag about one of the truly special people who work here. Apparently the talent scouts for media as diverse as the New York Times, Esquire magazine, and NBC’s dubious attempt to recreate the utterly British Top Gear television show use us as their very own monster.com. Be that as it may.
There was no question that I was going to hire Cammisa the minute I met him. That was before I found out that he owned four cars: a 2000 Porsche 911, a 1987 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V, a 1987 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16, and a rare 1990 BMW 325i wagon. There were also a dozen or so cars bought and sold before he settled in with this happy little Teutonic quartet that made the move with him from Pittsburgh in 2006 when he became our Web editor.
His obsession with cars might have been triggered when his family moved from New York to Germany ten months before he was to get a driver’s license. He was almost eighteen when he moved back to the States and could finally drive. Legally.
I knew about him before he burst into my office like a hand grenade. Having cofounded and then sold an e-commerce company, he flew to Germany on his own dime and attached himself to our then Web editor at the Frankfurt motor show, volunteering to photograph every new car there. He bagged the only photo of the hot BMW Z4 coupe’s interior by jumping onstage after the press reveal, opening the door, and snapping just as the guards dragged him off the stage. Our kind of guy.
Cammisa followed with another volunteer photo stint at the Detroit show and copyedited the entire section for our Web site. When our Web editor moved on, the fast-talking, cologne-drenched, whirling dervish Cammisa presented himself.
He toned down the toilet water, doubled our online traffic in short order, and became the quirky star of numerous homemade videos at automobilemag.com. His encyclopedic knowledge of German cars was a welcome addition, although his highly operatic style took some getting used to, despite my having paved the way for bad office behavior. His Web skills were brilliant and his inner lunatic uncontainable on film. But Cammisa was born to write, something we discovered early on.
So, please meet our new West Coast editor, Jason Cammisa. In a rare treat, unlikely to ever happen again, we have two Cammisa features in one issue. Indulge yourselves.