Adventures in Media Opportunities – 2015 Edition

The final sunset flight of 2015 - Photo by Randy Stern
The final sunset flight of 2015 – Photo by Randy Stern

Progress is a good thing.

This year, I experienced progress and growth as an automotive writer/journalist/blogger. Though traffic is down on Victory & Reseda from last year's phenomenal year, the real growth came with making inroads with the car community here in the Twin Cities, as well as solidifying my place among my peers in being a generalist in vehicle reviews and other related subject matter.

If you work hard, you can yield some rewards. That came in the increased amount of work-related travel accomplished this year. I never thought I would welcome invitations to participate in various media opportunities both locally and afar. They were received and I yielded some of my better work out of them.

The travel opportunities were either paid out of my own pocket or through the courtesy of the hosting manufacturer. It does not matter who paid for what, the experiences and the work stand above everything else. But, still, for someone like me – a small time writer struggling to make this a standalone vocation – earning each opportunity were completely worth the effort doing so.

With that said, I thought I would share the highlights from seven such travel opportunities, plus three additional local OEM-sponsored events that I took part in during 2015.

GETTING THERE IS FUN: I only had two complaints about my eight flights on Delta Air Lines this year. It was the only carrier I took out of Minneapolis-St. Paul for my travel opportunities. I drove to the other places – two auto shows, two Midwest Automotive Media Association events, a media drive and another media opportunity with a brand-sponsored drive event.

The drives were good for the soul, though I may have to rethink some of them for next year. It was great to carpool with a fellow colleague from Madison, Wisconsin down to the MAMA Fall Rally in a 2015 Lexus LS 460 and back up with a 2016 Mazda CX-3.

It was also fun to almost miss the opening breakfast at the Chicago Auto Show in a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Somehow, I think I would fly to the Chicago Auto Show next year…yeah, just thinking about it…

LIVING MY LIFE IN BIG HOTELS: Living large is not how I roll sometimes. I'm usually happy staying in an affordable room with good Wi-Fi, access to transportation options, dining out at someplace affordable and so forth. This year, I had the pleasure of staying at some extraordinary properties. In Detroit, there was the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel. Despite being a block away from the Rosa Park Transit Center and some not so safe situations, it is an oasis that melds classic Detroit with its present.

Over in Grand Rapids, Michigan was the J.W. Marriott Hotel and its views of the Grand River. The hotel itself is impeccable and very first class. You did not expect this style and modernity in Grand Rapids.

The last trip yielded my first Five-Star experience at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina. The service was beyond amazing – turn down service was a door bell away. I could go on about The Umstead, but sometimes you have to enjoy the life and not too crazy about it.

BUT, ONCE WE WERE THERE… When I previewed the 2016 Hyundai Tucson out in Western Wisconsin, I remarked that given the opportunity a group of journalists could turn into kids. The rain that hit us that day yielded a puddle in a depression of a gravel road. As much fun we had in driving through said puddle, we were doing scientific work to see the Tucson’s ability to go through water while staying dry.

Perhaps it was our opportunity to drive the 2016 Buick Regal GS at the Autobahn Country Club outside of Chicago that became a game of who would move how many cones while doing the autocross course. Or, having people hold on to your camera bag by saying "hold my drink." In the meantime, we discussed about drive modes and vehicular behavior.

In all, we were professionals in the end. Except for the one time my small group and I were heading from a community center in Ferndale for a late lunch at Eastern Market in Detroit when I saw some very attractive gentlemen – that were of my attraction paradigm – holding a car wash at a bank along Woodward Avenue. My media colleague suggested we go back again so I can holler out the window a particular call of attraction to said men. Did I mention this was during Pride weekend in Detroit? Was I allowed? I guess we can be a bit…unguarded, perhaps.

"WHAT WAS THE BEST DRIVE OF ALL OF THESE MEDIA OPPORTUNITIES?" There were two. The route Scion had us go around Grand Rapids to Holland was great. Nothing speaks to the enjoyment of a drive than to go along the countryside. My leg in the iM was a bit more challenging as I had to scramble onto the campus of Grand Valley State University and along the banks of the Grand River en route back to the hotel. That was not bad, though the leg to Holland was fantastic.

Though not as fantastic as the "long" route for the Lexus RX media drive. The route took us along Interstate 40 and dropped us along some classic countryside to the center of Jordan Lake near Apex, North Carolina. While developers were starting to claim some old countryside, there were pockets of what the Triangle area used to be that remained. The wet conditions also added to the classic vistas we experienced along that hour-long route.

Lastly, there is one lesson about this business I am in. It is not about the company you keep, but rather the comradeship you maintain with your fellow professionals. This year was indeed a good year to build relationships with other writers, bloggers and journalists that work alongside me – not in competition. I had the chance to co-drive with some really great people, such as Philip Ruth of and Andrew Krok of CNet. It is always good to hang out with my buddies, such as freelancers William Maley, Tim Esterdahl and Aaron Turpen, Adam Barrera of @HighMileage, Chad Kirchner of Internet Brands, bloggers Jerry and Missy Perez, Harvey Briggs of, Paul Strauss of, MAMA Vice President Jill Ciminillo, Kenny Hoeschen of…and many, many more!

I will admit there were a few people I missed in my travels. Maybe someday we shall see each other again.

As for the remainder of the year, I am finished traveling. I need to return to making a living, to keep a roof over my head, my belly fed and to acquire new assets for my work. To think about next year is absurd at this point. I have to take this one day at a time.

So…if you are wondering…no, I will not be at the L.A. Auto Show this year. Nor will I be heading off to any holiday parties outside of the Twin Cities. The North American International Auto Show is on the bubble, actually.

But, this year is worth celebrating. I thank my hosts, the organizations, the OEMs, all companies involved with travel logistics and so forth for opening up my eyes on what is possible when you work to get to the level of the rest of my colleagues. I have gone this far and will keep on going further.

These were opportunities worth earning – privileges that hard work, dedication and some luck only garner for those who strive to do their best. I hope more will come when the time and chance happens again.

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