V&R 10th Anniversary Stories: The Decision…Not, LeBron's

Remember when LeBron James made his "decision" on ESPN? 

As it was a waste of televised programming, his decision did yield some NBA championships in Miami, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. Yet, it did prompt me to consider a decision I made regarding this work and the resulting yields it brought ten years ago.

That decision was made after I left the 2011 Chicago Auto Show. 

Until that point, my website was a "catch-all" for everything I was interested in. Not just automobiles and sports, but politics, society, community, music, and so forth. I was all over the place when it came to creating content. 

Sadly, I doubted anyone was reading. I had more readers on my MLBlog, “The Heirloom,” than my own site. 

As part of that old website, I began to try my hand in writing reviews of the vehicles I rented. You had to start somewhere, right? If I wanted something to at least put a toe in the door, that might be it. 

On top of that, the first #VOTYs were named. From 2007 to 2010, the #VOTY lived under the wire. It was not until 2011 when I got serious about this award. With the exception of the 2008 award, all pre-V&R #VOTYs have been presented. Thus, another toe was inserted…

Leading to the Media Preview at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show, I was scrolling through Facebook when I happen upon a posting from Chrysler's (currently Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) Digital Communications team. They wanted to see who was attending that year's auto show at McCormick Place. I commented – rather, "raised my hand."

A short time later, I got a direct message from one of the communications professionals at Chrysler asking me about my work. I responded with a few reviews and articles I wrote on the website. One of them was a / a review of a rented 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport. The gentleman from Chrysler asked if that Jeep was mine. I could’ve easily said "yes," but my ethical said told the truth.

The next message from Chrysler was an invitation to join the then-head of Dodge and SRT (now head of design at FCA) Ralph Gilles for a breakfast tour of the stand on the second day of the Chicago Auto Show's Media Preview – now called Social Media Day. Now, I had something to look forward to. 

We know how much clout Gilles has in this business. He is the designer’s designer with a heart for racing and an eye for extraordinary design. Gilles ran both Dodge and SRT with the passion as he put into the design of the vehicles sold by the company since showing off his big hit with the first-generation LX Platform Chrysler 300. 

I went to Chicago and worked the show. The first day saw Gilles unveiling the second-generation LX Platform Dodge Charger SRT. It was quite the show, but I expected it to be. I could recount all of the unveilings I witnessed at McCormick Place, but, honestly, I cannot. 

The next day began with breakfast at Chrysler’s booth. It transitioned to that little tour of the latest Dodge models, including the then-new Durango R/T.  When the tour was over, I walked up to Gilles and asked a dumb question about whether Dodge – rather Chrysler, LLC (er, FCA) – would welcome us LGBT folks to the brand/company. He said, "welcome." I knew Gilles was the coolest of cool in this business. This made him even cooler. 

That response sent my mind into the high revs. It may have affirmed the one thing I had an issue with on my MLBlog in contrast to my automotive writing: I, as a gay man, is welcomed into this automotive world. 

From some of my LGBT colleagues who had been in this business longer than I, it was never the case. One colleague told the story about an e-mail he sent to a communications person at a Detroit area based automaker. The response he received was to the point where he needed to renounce his sexual orientation. To think that the industry was starting to market to the LGBT community back in the early 1990s.

By 2011, I sensed things were changing. Although I was creating automotive-related content on LGBT websites as early as 2001, the doors were indeed opening a decade later. I felt welcomed in at least a couple of places in the business. 

A month later, I was at the Twin Cities Auto Show. Prior to arriving at the  Minneapolis Convention Center, I e-mailed a contact at Chrysler, LLC to see if they would be at the show. Turns out that I got to meet the regional communications person for the company. She showed me around their booth. Then, she introduced me to Toyota's regional communications person, who showed me the Lexus booth. 

At that moment, the gentleman from Toyota asked me a couple of questions. He asked if I was a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. I was not a member at that time but would become one by the end of the year. I am still a member of MAMA to this day. 

Then, he asked whether I was getting vehicles from Toyota. The answer was "no." His response was something to the effect of "we're sending you a vehicle for you to review." Not his exact words, but you get the idea.

The rest is history…but, still I needed to do some decision-making. 

One decision was made after I left the Twin Cities Auto Show. I turned this website from a blog full of errant topics to one focused on the automobile with related content. 

The next decision was what to call this website. I asked the hive mind of Facebook with a couple of ideas. One was already used by a couple of websites. The other…well, if you’re reading this for the first time, there is a  meaning to this name. 

There was no need to put this on ESPN for some shill show to announce these decisions. Nor was I close to the cache LeBron James had at the time. Nobody was burning t-shirts and jerseys when I made these decisions. Nor did I burn any bridges in doing so. 

All photos by Randy Stern

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