When Toyota invited me to attend the 2013 Lifesavers Conference in Denver as their guest, I knew that they would treat me well — which makes this as good a point as any in this post to insert some disclosure language: Toyota picked up the cost of conference registration, transportation, meals and lodging. I was not paid to attend and I have not received any kind of compensation or promotional consideration to write this post.
I had no idea what to expect at Lifesavers — other than some sobering lessons on automotive safety (no pun intended, even though there was a lot of material to ingest on impaired driving).
I am now trying to wade through pages and pages of notes I took over the three days of the conference, which need to be organized and condensed into a nice, concise round-up for my editors at AskPatty. So far, all I’ve managed to get through is the opening keynote; an emotional address by former MADD President Karolyn Nunnallee, who lost her 10-year-old daughter in a horrific school bus accident in 1988.
I’ve finished that portion of the post for AskPatty, but Nunnallee’s presentation was so haunting, I am having trouble letting go.
The bus crash in Carrollton, Kentucky was the impetus for today’s school bus safety standards, and is the subject of “Impact,” a documentary that will be released on May 14 — the 25th anniversary of the accident:
Nunnallee was the grief-stricken mother profiled in that trailer. Her daughter Patty was one of 27 people who perished in a fire that broke out on the bus after its fuel tank was ruptured by a drunk driver. Flammable seat upholstery caused the flames to spread quickly. Those who managed to escape the inferno had to squeeze through just one small emergency exit in the back of the bus.
“When it comes to school buses, safety should never be an option,” Nunnallee said.
Grief and anger spurred Nunnallee to join Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has become her life’s cause. She was eventually elected President of MADD, and continues to fight for safety rules and legislation against drunk drivers. Her determination made me think of the parents of Newtown, who are now actively campaigning for gun safety legislation. I have a feeling they, too, will prevail.
My husband brought work home over the weekend, and it took up most of his time on both Saturday and Sunday. And with midterms this week, my daughter was pretty much in the same boat. This meant that I was pretty much on my own for the entire weekend. This allowed me to engage in “secret single behavior”: a phrase I first heard in that episode of Sex and the City where the gals talk about activities one indulges in only when alone.
For Carrie Bradshaw, it was standing in her kitchen and reading fashion magazines, while eating crackers with jelly.
For me, it’s getting into the car and taking a drive. As a teenager, I would borrow my mom’s car on a Saturday and just see where the roads took me. I wasn’t allowed to go on the freeway, which I figured was my parents’ way of keeping me close to home. But I soon discovered that there were roads that led out of the Valley and into the City; knowledge that served me well a few years later when I had to commute to work.
At the risk of sounding like that “Californians” sketch on SNL: A typical Saturday might start with a drive through Topanga Canyon down to Malibu, south on Pacific Coast Highway, east on Sunset and then back into the Valley through Sepulveda or Cahuenga pass or a trifecta of canyons (Benedict, Coldwater, Laurel) — with my radio blasting. It helped me work through whatever writing projects I had going on — or simply to clear my mind. And gas back then was cheap: just 60 cents a gallon.
Obviously, I don’t have that kind of time any longer — or the money to keep filling up the tank.
But I don’t mind an excuse to do some recreational driving. And on Saturday, I had an errand to run that took me into the city.
No, I’ve never indulged in street racing. But I did end up taking Sunset Boulevard on Saturday, and remembered how I cringed the first time I saw that clip — because I knew every single curve in that road. My date and I were sitting in the front row of the theater, which made that race scene even scarier.
I don’t think they could film that scene today without completely trashing the Porsche and the Ferrari — there are too many potholes on that road now, which meant that I had to take those curves even slower than I would do normally. This was OK, because it made the drive longer.
I had two very specific LA Auto Show assignments at AskPatty: (1) a post about green cars on display and (2) a post about cars moms love. The latter is live now.
But there was so much more to see than that.
LA Auto Show Nostalgia
Vintage Lincolns on display for the media at the LA Auto Show
There were these gorgeous classic Lincolns on the first of the two press days I attended.
This included the 1956 Continental Mark II that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s, and was said to be custom-matched to the color of her eyes.
I am skeptical over this, as this car was blue and Taylor’s were famous for their violet color. But that could have been an exaggeration, like everything else in Hollywood. Still, I recall reading about the amethyst necklace Richard Burton gave her for her birthday (to match her eyes). And one of her signature perfumes was called Violet Eyes. So perhaps the makers of the Mark II simply did not get the memo?
At any rate, Liz’s car was a work of art, all tailfin and chrome, with nice fat whitewall tires. This was a nice contrast to all the sleek modernity of the rest of the Auto Show. Alas, by Day 2 the old vehicles had been removed and replaced by 2013 model Lincolns. The new cars are beautiful – but not as memorable.
Volkswagen debuted the convertible version of the Beetle they launched last year, and they also paid tribute to their heritage with three special editions that are meant to invoke the model’s glory days: The 50′s (black), the 60′s (baby blue) and the 70′s (brown, which really was a huge color in that earth-toned decade). On the second, quieter media day, there was some nostalgic filming going on at the VW booth. I posted a picture of it yesterday – but also caught a teeny bit of it on tape:
smartcar concept by Jeremy Scott
People attend auto shows for a variety of reasons. Some are practical (if you are planning to buy a new car, this is the ideal place to begin shopping as just about every automaker on the planet is represented). But it’s also aspirational. I will likely never own a Bentley or Aston Martin – but I can admire them at close range at the show. There were dream cars aplenty, including this unusual artist’s concept smartcar by designer Jeremy Scott.
I took a lot of photos of the usual suspects: futuristic concept cars. Lots and lots of crossovers and SUVs and EVs and hybrids (for the AskPatty post) — most of which did not end up in the finished product, but can be seen in my Flickr photostream. And of course, a lot of cars that are out of my price range: Audis, BMWs, Jaguars, Infinitis, Lexuses (Lexii?) the Range Rover Evoque, a Fisker Karma (which has gotten my attention at every LA Auto Show for the last several years — but has anyone seen one on the road yet?)
I spent a lot of time at the Ford and GM exhibits, but barely mentioned them in my posts, because I’ve been doing a lot with them outside the show. That is too bad, because I really, really like a lot of what they have on hand: I could see myself a happy owner of a CMAX or Fusion or Cruze or (if I could get the price down!) a Volt.
But every year at the Auto Show, I always find myself gazing at the higher-end, convertible version of the car I already drive. Volvo’s C70 convertible may just be my dream car – if only because I covet these creamy white leather seats. This is the reason I ended up buying my current 2006 Volvo S6: the seats are really comfortable.
Apres Show at LA Live
Thanks to my carpool buddy and the fact that my daughter no longer requires me to be home with her 24/7, I stayed through to some of the social events that followed the first day’s full schedule of press conferences. I had been told there would be an opportunity to interview some of Nissan’s executives at their reception, but could not find anyone at busy Katsuya to ask!
But I neglected to post any pictures of how pretty LA Live looks right now, all done up for the holidays – nor did I share the photo of the costumed performer on stilts who greeted guests at the Hyundai party held at the Figueroa Hotel. I am rectifying that oversight now.
By the way: When I checked into the party on Foursquare, I was informed that this hotel is home to one of the best bars downtown. The Moroccan decor of the lobby and pool area were definitely inviting, and I probably would have checked out that bar if I had not been anxious to get home to my family.
Which goes to show you that you can take the mom out of the house, but you can’t take the house out of the mom for very long. I guess that mommy guilt came over me earlier than I’d thought.
I wrote this post over the course of a couple of hours on Day 2 of the LA Auto Show on Thursday, posted it and deleted it. I have since decided what the hell and have put it back up (with a few edits).
A musical homage to the 1960s at Volkswagen on Day 2 of the LA Auto Show.
Day two of the LA Auto Show. I arrived late, but thought I did OK, considering Thursday is my day to drive carpool AND it was raining lightly. I was craving caffeine when I got to the Los Angeles Convention Center around 8:45, just after the scheduled breakfast was about to end. I headed straight for the coffee setup, only to discover that there was none left. Not. A. Drop.
That’s not a problem on Day One of the Auto Show, which is so packed with automotive press conferences in both exhibit halls that many of the manufacturers serve a breakfast of their own, complete with baristas and cappuccino servers. So I poked into the South Hall, where the first press conference of the day was being held, and searched for a little caffeine.
But the hall looks very different on the second day of the Auto Show. The chairs setup for press are gone and the exhibits are rearranged into the form they will take tomorrow, when the show officially opens to the public. I moseyed over to the auto makers most likely to provide goodies for their customers: the luxury brands, like Lexus and Mercedes. Nada. I finally found breakfast being served at BMW, but that was only for invited guests.
There wasn’t much else to do but head over to Mazda, whose conference was my reason to be here on Day Two at this time in the first place. And I’m glad I did; they were the sole automaker to bring their barista to the floor a second day.
As the conference began, it was apparent that they were not going to be unveiling anything that fit easily into my assigned topics of cars moms would love and green vehicles. So I wandered around the hall again, taking photos of models that I might actually write about – as well as cars I just loved.
And that’s when I felt my phone vibrate in my bag. It was my husband.
“Oh, THERE you are,” he said accusingly. “I’ve been trying to reach you. And so was the school. Megan’s feeling sick and I’m leaving work to get her.”
And so begins the guilt.
I explained that I am wearing women’s business clothes (instead of my usual jeans) and they have NO POCKETS so the phone is in my bag and unless I’ve got it pressed right to me, I don’t feel it vibrate. I compensate by holding I on my lap every time I am seated, but I was busy taking photos on the floor.
Perhaps this is the best reason to finally upgrade my old Blackberry for a modern smartphone that takes decent photos?
Anyway. I told him I would leave earlier than I had planned to be with her. He said no, he could work from home today. He noted that she does, after all, have two parents.
I reminded him that for 16 years, I have always been quick to answer a call from the school. “Except when you don’t,” he said.
I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t like to talk when I’m driving, even with a Bluetooth device – I find it too distracting. So not answering when I’m in the car is NOT a bad thing.
And I don’t answer right away when I’m talking to someone else. That is just common courtesy. Nor do I always remember to take my phone with me when I run into the kitchen for something.
I remember a time when people did not expect you to be available 24/7 (I am not talking about family now, but in a broader sense: employers, clients, others who send an email and want an answer right away). There are times I wish I did not have this wonderful mobile technology which has enabled me to do amazing things no matter where I am (like write this from the floor of the LA Auto Show) but are kind of a double-edged tether.
ADDENDUM: Our poor daughter made it as far as first period at school that day before wisely going to the school nurse. It took my husband an hour to get from his office to the school to bring her home, and once he had her, he had to stop the car to allow her to be sick. Yes, she has two parents. But for most of her life, when she’s been ill, I’m the one who has taken care of her. And this did not feel right.
I had one more press conference to attend that morning. I thought about leaving, but decided to stay. It turned out to be the one event of Day 2 that generated some actual news that was relevant to the green car assignment: an announcement by Mitsubishi that they were partnering with USC’s School of Engineering to build a working smart grid infrastructure. As such, the automaker is donating 12 i-MiEV electric mini-cars and charging stations that will be placed around the campus. The conference also had some of the best visuals, as a unit of the USC Marching Band and a couple of cheerleaders paraded around a little i-MiEV.
I should have gotten some great photos, but I was too upset to focus. Even though my husband assured me he was home and our kid was taken care of, I left the press conference while the band was playing “Tusk” and hurried home, because that’s where I felt I needed to be.
Does motherhood necessarily mean always feeling guilty when something goes awry? For me, I guess it does.
I found the Nissan party easily at Katsuya, at LA Live. Some sprinkles but no real rain yet, and not so cold that I regretted not stopping at the car for my jacket.
But a quick walk around the private party area confirmed the shy person’s nightmare: no one that I knew. I saw a lone Asian man sitting by himself, so I joined him, hoping he was a Nissan employee who I could make contact with for future car review opportunities. But while he was from Japan, he was merely another freelancer. No problem – we spent the next hour chatting away, which made it easier to relax and enjoy the excellent food.
I also enjoyed an excellent hot sake, which arrived in a larger carafe than I expected. So after about an hour, we said our goodbyes and I made my way to the Figueroa Hotel for the Hyundai party, where I was greeted by a man and woman on stilts.
The party is in the pool area, which has a plexiglass overlay allowing people to seemingly walk on water. We were promised surprise entertainment; the people on stilts lead me to believe we’ll be seeing some performers from Cirque du Soleil. But you know something? I am tired and want to go home. And am not looking forward to another drive down here tomorrow for day #2 of the Auto Show. So I will sit here and accept the tray passed hors d’ouvres until I feel it’s safe to drive home.
Subaru was my last press conference of the day. There were others following it (Audi comes to mind), but luxury cars were not part of my assignment this year, and as much as I love me an A6, I have had a splitting headache for most of the day.
I was also just plain tired. I am supposed to attend a reception the Nissan folks are giving, and have half a mind to be a no-show. But I kind of like the idea of waiting a while for traffic to die down. So I am still here.
I ended up wandering up to the media room, and since it is no longer lunchtime (with no free food buffet), there are now plenty of places to sit. I finagled some Tylenol from the staff’s first aid kit, grabbed some hot decaf and enjoyed the wi-fi (none on the auto show floor, just in these media spaces).
Am happy that I caught up with my friend Sarah before she left. A number of local bloggy moms were invited to the show as guests of Toyota, so I saw their tweets – but we were all in different areas of the show today.
Have caught up on email and Facebook and starting to feel like a little bit like myself again. And look! It’s nearly time for the Nissan event, which is at a nearby restaurant. Guess I’ll mosey along.
As many times as I’ve covered the Auto Show I don’t think I’ve ever figured out the right way to do it.
One nice thing about media days at the Auto Show is that there is plenty of free food and coffee. So many of the auto companies have employed baristas here that I wonder why the line at the Convention Center’s Starbucks is so long.
The one problem I do have is finding a place to sit – especially in the huge press room located a story above the exhibit hall concourse. Fortunately, I discovered a Media Lounge near the entrance to the West Hall, where I was able to grab a couple of sandwiches and a comfy white leather chair. Not to mention access to wi-fi. Not too shabby.
This year, I am not the only writer attending from AskPatty, so I’ve been able to narrow my coverage just to my immediate assignments (instead of trying to cover the entire show). So I’ve picked the press conferences I’m attending accordingly. I skipped Mercedes Benz so I could be seated at Volkswagen, which was promising to reveal a new version of an iconic vehicle. Since they debuted a new Beetle last year, I was hoping there might be a new VW bus in our future. But alas, when the moment came, we were treated to a new Beetle convertible. That’s not a bad thing; just disappointing because it’s not within my purview of mom cars and energy efficient vehicles. So I moved on.
I skipped Fiat (too small) and Ford, because they’ve been really good about including me on all their new product launches, so I feel particularly well informed about what they are doing. In fact, I feel I’ve been so close to them that when I visited their exhibit, I got a hug from one of their PR people… Who also showed me these lovely OPI nail polishes to match the colors of the new Fiesta debuting today. Again, that’s not a car that lines up with my assignment…so I moved along.
I did not have to drive carpool today, so for the first time since I started covering this annual event, I managed to arrive at the Los Angeles Convention right at the start of the LA Auto Show.
That is not to say that I got here without drama. Living the freelance life means never being able to say “no” to an income-producing assignment. And this month, I’ve had more of those than I am comfortable with. This, of course, is a good (and rare!) problem to have. But I have never been a good multi-tasker and keeping all the different jobs and tasks associated with the, straight in my head is more difficult than I expected…and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m forgetting something.
Actually, yesterday, I did discover that I had made a major mistake on a job that I was counting upon to turn into something more permanent. And this morning, I discovered a myriad of small mistakes that needed to be addressed before I hit the road to the Auto Show. So I got here early…but I keep wondering if more erroneous shoes will be dropping on the other gigs while I am here pretending to be a productive member of society.
Fortunately, getting here as early as I did gives me the luxury of settling into a nice seat near the front at the first automotive press conference of the day: Toyota. And so I was able to check my email, take care of some more business and hammer out this little post.
I may add some fun photos and observations to this as the day progresses. In the meantime, you will be able to read my reports when they go live next month at AskPatty.com.