Thursday, May 17, 2012

Automotive Writers are Similar to Real People

  IMAGERY: Livin' the dream. REALITY: If I live to be a thousand, I'll never afford a Deuce. This car is built and owned by my buddy Dr. Lockjaw. I forced my camera on him and made him document the day I drove a Deuce.

WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD: After all the fuss over my recent double deadline panic (which turned out to be a triple deadline before the clutch dust settled), it seems an appropriate time to shed some light on the reality of the automotive journalist. The popular misconception is that of an arrogant and wealthy playboy, shredding asphalt from coast to coast in factory-loaned supercars, then unwinding at poolside with exotic drinks and supermodels while lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills. While I've heard of a couple publishers who might fit that cartoon image, the actual writers I know live a lot like me. We pick up the dog poop in the yard and pay our taxes, barely existing on a job we're devoted to, just because we're hopelessly in love with the subject matter and the creative process itself. I can't speak for those other guys, but here's how it plays out for me.

WHAT I FOUND OUT: A friend recently suggested Stephen King's "On Writing" as an interesting read. She was right - I was hardwired into it from the opening line. For my tastes, it's much meatier than his fiction. Then I got to the part where King describes his typical day. I nearly dropped the book when I read that he has a dedicated writing room where he's not to be disturbed. He's generally in there from mid morning 'til early afternoon, five days a week, with his phone turned off, fully involved with crafting the perfect sentence.

WHERE I WRITE: I have a dedicated writing room. It's the spare bedroom in my girlfriend's house. It's also her dedicated computer room and doubles as a dedicated storage area and is a hotly contested dedicated sleeping area for our dog and cat. You can't imagine the traffic in that tiny space. Every minute is like rush hour in Los Angeles during an earthquake with Santa Ana winds whipping up one firestorm after another around us. Inevitably, our phones are both turned on, as we're both dependent on news from the outside world to do our jobs. The phones tend to ring a lot. At times, the cacophony exceeds a Jerry Lewis telethon call center. My calls tend to be a 50/50 mix of retired buddies hustling car parts, and pushy magazine feature hopefuls (or pushy friends or relatives of magazine feature hopefuls).  Yes, my phone has caller I.D. But I now have so many contacts, I can't remember my own number, let alone anyone else's. And any call could be the needle-in-a-haystack that can complete the puzzle de jour - I have to take it.

WHAT I ACTUALLY DO IN THERE: You've heard it a hundred times: "Writing is 90% research and 10% writing". It's true that research takes up about 90% of my time. Untold hours of chasing down photo ownership and getting photo permissions chews up a large percentage of that percentage. Another slice of the pie is gobbled up by processing, editing, and organizing said photos. The rulebook says I can't even count the time I spend cussing my lack of computer skills and chasing my tail around binary codes, HTML hieroglyphics, and other cryptic digital evils. I have to eat that lost time and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. And a lot of time is spent pitching stories to publishers and editors. This leaves about 0.007% for writing, which is squeezed in between the aforementioned distractions. Not ideal, but I'll take it. I crank up the computer upon waking (anywhere from 6:00 to 9:00AM) and shut it down just before dragging my dead ass to bed (between 1:00 and 3:00AM). I work seven days a week, holidays and all. Especially holidays. In the process, I've become a championship-contending power napper.

WHAT I DO OUTSIDE OF THE ROOM: The rest of my life takes place out in Realityville. Grocery store, parts store, Post Office - where everybody knows my name. The dog gets walked twice a day, so the neighbors and I know more than needed about each other. The mailman (another member of my lifeline team) knows I have a weakness for football. He has a stalker's obsession about it. I know he's breaking multiple Federal laws in his quest to keep tabs on every player and coach in North American college and pro ball. But I'm dependent on the daily mail and my guy delivers the news. He gets bonus points for saving me time reading the sports page of the newspaper.

You get the picture. I have a life. I'm in a long term relationship, which entails a lot more than just being in a relationship. I have many friends and we care about/for each other. I have a whole other life as a songwriter/musician. Meanwhile, my journalism workload is steadily increasing. I recently quit my gig at the local dragstrip to make more time for writing. This life is beyond the dreams of an unemployed chassis fabricator who was working part time manual labor gigs while living alone in his car, less than two years ago. I'm actually celebrating every noisy and messy distraction in my rich and full life. I savor every minute of my work and my play, which are one and the same anyway. How could life possibly get any better than this? Supermodels and supercars look like fun. I suspect both are high maintenance enough to quickly kill the buzz though. I'll never know. Ignorance is bliss. And I'm a happy guy. The luckiest guy in town.


 Spending some quality time with Sheila the Wonder Dog - my four legged reality slap and spiritual adviser.

            Playing music for a Saturday afternoon gathering of friends with uber fiddler Crystal Reeves.

                       Attending a friend's wedding with soul mate and life saver, Sweet Shellski.

                                                  Chasing a buck to pay for gas and food.

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