family stuff

Some Thoughts on Meeting Your Heroes

There’s an old adage that you should never meet your heroes because you will inevitably be disappointed, or something to that effect. As I ponder the people I’ve come to know and in many cases befriend over the past decade, I’ve come to believe the core premise of that statement is fundamentally flawed. We are all after all simply human beings and without our inherent flaws and frailties, raising anyone to hero status diminishes that humanity.

In many ways, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the course of my life and career. When I was young I spent countless hours pouring through car books and magazines wishing I could be the narrator or protagonist in those tales. After focusing on engine design and vehicle dynamics while studying mechanical engineering, my later work took me off in very different directions which would later prove be very valuable to me. However, throughout the first decade of my professional life, I never really imagined where my path would ultimately take me and who I would know today.

It was only the emergence of blogging and online journalism that opened new doorways that I was able to pass through. As a young reader and engineer I was aware of the many names on bylines and the characters they wrote about. Executives, designers, engineers, racers and writers. In some respects I saw some or many of them as personal heroes that I’d like to emulate.

Now however, as I’m well into middle age, having met many of these people, my view is more tempered. While I’ve obviously never met many of the people that are widely considered truly heroic like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Eleanor Roosevelt, we’ve all heard enough about other aspects of their respective lives to realize that above all else, humans.

This is not meant to denigrate the accomplishments or actions of any of those people. The accomplishments must be taken in context. The context of our limitations and flaws and humans and the environment in which we live. In some cases, that context will serve to further elevate while in others, we’ll find that the accomplishments came about by mistreating those around the person we might have admired.

I’ve been remarkably fortunate in that I feel like the balance in my life has been generally toward the positive people. Despite some of the personal struggles along the way, having the opportunity to know and befriend many of the people whose work has inspired, educated and entertained me over the 40-some years since I became interested in cars has been a wonderful experience and I’m eternally grateful to my amazing wife for supporting me along my path.

But there have been those that I now know enough about that I would never want to consider as friends despite still respecting what they achieved.

Ultimately though, I’ve come to believe that hero worship is not a positive thing and it should be discouraged. It would be better for society as a whole if we all looked at each other in the context of our lives. By elevating people excessively despite the decidedly not heroic aspects, we are dehumanizing them. In that, we lose the perspective that we are all capable of doing admirable things great and small and being better humans.

15 years! 1

sam-and-jules-kauai15 years ago this evening we walked out onto the steps of a bed and breakfast on the south shore of Kauai. As we turned, our backs were to the Pacific with Spouting Horn off to our left as sun slowly sank toward the horizon. Over the next several minutes, we said our vows to each other in the presence of a retired minister, his wife and a photographer.

15 years later we’re still going at and still in love. Happy anniversary Jules! I still adore you! Here’s to many more years.

Maximum Max at the TDI Cup

Max and I are in Virginia this weekend for the inaugural race of the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup. You can read all about that at Diesel Forecast and AutoblogGreen. If you’ve been watching TV in recent weeks you might have seen Volkswagen’s new brand campaign featuring a series of interviews between some pseudo celebrities and “Max”. Max is the star of the ads and he/it is here this weekend for the race. Max and Max met face to face for the first time this morning. The TV Max is the one on the right in the commercials.

Opportunity knocks… 4

There’s a tap on the door, the phone rings, a message in your in-box, you bump into someone you haven’t seen for a while. Who knows how it will happen, it just does. For whatever reason sometimes you don’t feel like getting out your comfy chair, other times you respond. Sometimes you’re looking for it, other times it looks for you. In the fall of 1991, I called about a job that I wasn’t sure I really wanted, sixteen years later I’m still there, but not for much longer. In the fall of 1993 I responded to a message and ended up meeting the love of my life.

Over the years I’ve gotten many, many calls from recruiters and none ever felt right. When the company that I worked for decided to unilaterally cut the pay and benefits of many of their best people while at the same time continually increasing the compensation of those at the top, I began to express my thoughts here on this forum. This place became my soap-box, a place to just spout off on whatever I felt like, the good, the bad, the obscene. This little corner that I carved out for myself allowed me to find another part of myself, to use the knowledge I had gathered over the years and to find my voice.

As it happens it also allowed others who otherwise wouldn’t to hear that same voice. Some liked what they heard, others carried on about their lives. After the incident that prompted my set up corner here, another opportunity arose that I meant to pursue, but my response to the message somehow fell through the cracks. A few months later it thankfully popped up again in a slightly different form and I went after it with a vengeance. It worked and my name began to appear on another nascent site related to cars. I began to make some contacts and not long after that opportunity presented itself yet again. My colleague Alex was busy and I was on vacation from the day job. A quick day trip to New York and back introduced me to a remarkable new car and a lot of very interesting people. That quickly ballooned as I talked to those people on a regular basis.

During one of those events I encountered a pair of gentlemen who would soon reappear. In the fall of 2007, barely a year after I stumbled into automotive journalism, the message appeared in my in-box. I called back. We talked and eventually the deal was struck. A new phase of my life and career would begin. I wish to express my gratitude to the clumsy, ham-handed HR department without whose bumbling, this may not have happened. Thanks to Sebastian and John for plugging in the amplifier that allowed my voice to spread to a wider audience. I look forward to continuing to work with you guys for a long time to come. To John, Rob and Scott for giving me a chance to make a left turn against the prevailing traffic. And most of all to Jules, Sofia and Max for supporting me so much as I make this momentous non-trivial change. Sometimes when opportunity knocks you need to respond in the affirmative.

Up north for a few days 2

sleeping bear dunesWe just got back from a little vacation up in Traverse City for a few days and while most of it was great, there is one thing I feel I must warn you about.  West of Traverse City on the Lake Michigan coast is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   The Platte River flows through part of the park and there are at least two companies that offer canoing and tubing trips down the river.  The river is shallow and meanders down to the Michigan shoreline at a very slow pace.  It’s a great way to spend a sunny summer afternoon.  Just don’t go with Riverside Canoe Trips.  They have the most convoluted process I’ve ever seen for getting the tubes, getting transported to the drop-off point and then returning the tubes to get your deposit back. I won’t get into all the details, but suffice it to say that if you choose to do this I would go with the Trading Post instead.

The other problem with Riverside is their tubes are too small for adults to get comfortable on.  They had these funky tubes that had an inner ring in the center that prevents an adult from letting their butt slide down into the tube so you end up sitting up on top of the whole thing.  Aside from that the river was great and it’s an awesome way to spend a couple of hours.  The whole Traverse City area was nice and the beaches there and at the Dunes were wonderful.   We’ll definitely be going back.

Driveway Drive-in

saturn outlookMy kids are of an age where they will very likely never get to experience going to a drive-in theater to watch a movie or whatever it is people used to do at drive-ins. However, today I received a Saturn Outlook that I’m driving for a week for a review. As soon as Max got in and saw the rear seat entertainment system he immediately wanted to watch a movie. So he’s been sitting in back row of the Outlook for the past hour and a half watching Little Miss Sunshine on the seven inch screen, complete with a big bowl of popcorn and a drink.

Valentines Day 4

Today is Valentines Day. This will be the 12th valentines day I have spent with my wonderful wife Jules and I love her as much today as I ever have. On this day 12 years ago I got down on my knee and asked Jules to marry me. We had already talked about it previously and decided we wanted to get married, but on valentines day I actually gave her a ring. Three months later we got married by the beach at sunset on Kauai. The wedding took place at Gloria’s Spouting Horn Bed & Breakfast on the south shore of Kauai. Our marriage got off to a beautiful start. Not a day goes by that I don’t treasure my life with Jules. I never leave the house without kissing my wife and telling her that I love her. As in all relationships between people we have had our disagreements, but we have had remarkably few serious fights. We have almost never gone to bed angry. After 12 1/2 years together, I can’t even imagine my life without her by my side. I love Jules with all of my heart and I am glad that we are soulmates, lovers and friends.