Next Event: LA Auto Show

I’ll be flying down to Los Angeles to see all the shiny cars and shiny people at the automotive press days Nov. 18-19. The Connected Car Expo takes place the day before in the convention center, and I’ll be there too, reporting on the latest automotive tech. Fingers crossed Nissan brings in the fancy grilled cheese food cart again this year! I’ll be posting about all the coolest, shiniest stuff I find on my Take the Wheel Facebook page and on Twitter, where I’m @kristenhg. Follow me to find out if grilled cheese dreams come true!

The Traveling KHG: Rally in Snoqualmie

I’ll be in Snoqualmie, Washington, this coming weekend for the Red Bull Global Rallycross event September 26-27, 2014. It’s being held at Dirtfish Rally School, which is one of my favorite places to visit. If you want to come up and visit me — and Bucky Lasek, and Sverre Isachsen, and Ken Block, and Tanner Foust, but mostly me — please do! I’ll be the one with the notebook in my hand. I’m pretty sure none of the drivers will have that distinctive feature.

If you want to check out the race, here’s more info: http://www.redbullglobalrallycross.com/

Shout Out to the L.A. Auto Show!

I spent most of last week in Los Angeles for the auto show, which I attend for my job, but maybe not in the way you think. I do go to the press conferences and take pictures and notes and write stuff up immediately for About.com and later for the likes of HowStuffWorks.com or anyone else I can pick up as a client. But I also work the network.

The L.A. Auto Show is one of those events where I am guaranteed to run into a lot of people I know — mostly West Coasters — who then introduce me to people I want to know (hello, Lotus PR guy!). For example, fellow About guide Jeff Zurschmeide gave me the contacts to get into the swanky FIAT party, where I saw fellow NWAPA members and MSN Autos editors Perry Stern and Mike Meredith.

At that same party, I met up with Doug Newcomb, technology writer for Edmunds.com and also living in Oregon. It turns out our birthdays are only days apart, and we both wanted to visit Cole’s the oldest restaurant in downtown L.A. Whiskey and French dips, my friends. The necessary antidote to a day spent at a glitzy auto show.

At the Lotus booth, I ran into another About.com guide, Aaron Gold, who worked his networking magic on the Lotus people for me, and there was yet another guide at the Mercedes-Benz press conference, Basem Wasef, who helped me out with a picture of a Lamborghini reveal that I missed.

Thanks to all these folks, I didn’t have to spend a single evening alone in L.A. watching Cake Boss reruns on TV. Which was nice, since the Cake Boss brought a giant FIAT 500-shaped cake to the party. Tasty.

Are You Smarter than a Sixth Grader?

Having spent time with 81 sixth-graders in three writing classes today, I can say I am indeed smarter — in most cases. But Miss Guttag’s classes had some great questions when I visited her at school today. Just about every year since my friend Bev started teaching, I’ve come into her classroom to talk about writing and how much professional writers and student writers have in common. A short list:

  • The challenge of coming up with new ideas
  • Finding the best story in those ideas
  • The benefits of having a plan before you start to write
  • The need for revision. Lots of revision

The classes all wrote questions ahead of time on index cards, and I got to pick which ones to answer. Some of the questions were asked often, like, “How did you become a writer?” “What is your day like?” and “What do you do if you have writer’s block?”

Two of my favorites happened to be back-to-back in the stack of cards, which made for an easy answer: Have you ever had any other jobs besides being a writer? and What inspired you to be a writer? Yes, I have had jobs besides being a writer, and they were awful (waitressing) or boring (data entry). That is what inspired me to be a writer.

And there were the out-of-nowhere questions, like, “Does your hand hurt?” from the kid who gets writer’s cramp. (No. I type.) Or “Are you famous? Like, very famous?” (No. Lady Gaga and I do not hang out. Which I regret.)

But if you freelance writers out there want a boost, go talk to a room full of kids. Tell them you write about Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and that you set your own schedule, all day every day. Tell them you sit at your desk and write for as long as two hours at a time — without a break — and listen to them marvel at your stamina. After you’ve described the ins and outs of your craft in the plainest terms, bask in the glow of a room full of people under five feet tall clapping for you and your achievement.

I may be smarter — and taller — than a sixth grader, but they are pretty awesome kids.

On the Importance of Being Mobile

Last week, I cleared out some time in my schedule to bring my car in for a recall repair at the dealership (no, it’s not a Toyota and it has nothing to do with brakes). I visited the manufacturer’s web site — that’s how I found out about the recall — and made my appointment there.

When I got to the service center, though, the appointment hadn’t gone through. I had to reschedule for a the next week. One wasted hour later, I was back in my home office working on my About.com web site. One hour of my life spent with nothing to show for it — not even a new lap time on Forza 3.

For the rescheduled fix, I brought my netbook, planner, work glasses, a pen, and a to-do list that included writing a new blog post for this web site. When I checked in at the service center desk, the guy asked if I wanted to wait, and I asked “Do you have wi-fi?”

“We do if you want it,” he said. “All you have to do is ask.” He walked me through the garage to a very nice waiting room with comfy couches, free wi-fi, free Starbucks from a magical machine, and a stack of People magazines.

So far, I’ve completed my Monday morning plan of attack, attended to my email, caught up on RSS feeds, and, now, written that blog post. Oh, and I had a crazy little latte from the machine.

If the freelance life is about freedom, that means untethering yourself from your desk and working wherever work can be done. I’ve spent weeks in my office, all day, every day, for no very good reason. If I can choose my work, I can certainly choose my venue.

Today, I chose the Subaru waiting room, and I ticked things off my to-do list as my fuel something or other got fixed.

The Monday Morning Battle Plan

About a month ago, I bought myself a little Asus netbook. It’s wee, and blue, and I love it. I will love it more when I have to lug it around an auto show for two days and it doesn’t tear my shoulder apart like my five-and-a-half-pound laptop did, no matter what bag I used.

But if I’m not traveling, what use can I put this little guy to? As a freelance writer and editor working from home, getting out of the house is always nice. So I’ve instituted a new ritual: the Monday morning battle plan. It gets me out of the house and makes the rest of my week far more productive.

Here’s how it works:

  • Throw tiny computer, Moleskine planner, pen, lip balm, and obnoxiously sparkly change purse into my backpack
  • Head to a coffee shop, usually one within walking distance
  • Order a cup of coffee (preferably one with at least one refill) or a pot of tea and find a table
  • Check email — all four accounts — and my About.com Exotic Cars page
  • Figure out what must be done that week and what I would like to get done that week, and write it in the planner, along with any firm deadlines, meetings, appointments, etc.

Ta da! This takes about an hour, maybe a little more. Without the distractions of home (the dog, laundry, podcasts on my office computer), I can see what I need to do, and give myself five days to do it. And if I plan it all out on Monday morning, I find that don’t usually add much to the list as the week progresses. It’s more about crossing things off than adding new items.

This week’s to-do list is short, which means more time to pitch new markets (Oprah, I’ve got my sights on your magazine) and add lots of new content to my About site. And, of course, more time to play fetch in the backyard.

Live from L.A.!

I landed in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon, way earlier than necessary. I figured I’d use my afternoon wisely and work in my room (at the Millennium Biltmore, which is lovely), but they wanted $10 per 24 hours for wi-fi. But, resourceful freelance journalist that I am, I noticed that the Central Public Library was right next door. Guess what? It has free wi-fi everywhere in the building. I found a table and set up for an hour of work, then saved a couple of web pages for working offline later. It was a slow connection, but it was free. Libraries FTW!

After taking a walk around downtown L.A., I returned to the Biltmore lobby for the lighting of the Christmas tree. There were carolers, cookies, and hot apple cider. I happened to stand next to a man who works in Texas governor Rick Perry’s office on automotive issues, among other things. We chatted for quite a while. Poor guy. If you ask me questions about new automotive technology, I’m going to tell you what I know. It takes longer than you’d think.

A couple hours later, I had an awful dinner of two oversized shrimp with the shells still on, feet and all. There was a yummy tomato sauce drizzled over the shrimp, but I defy you to get the meat out of the shells without making a tomato-sauce mess. Luckily, the bottle of Kirin was pint-plus sized, so that was really my dinner. Also luckily, the media breakfast at the show this morning was a full breakfast, with bacon and blintzes and the like. So it made up for my two big shrimp.

Bob Lutz just took his turn at the podium to open the show. He was a last-minute replacement for Fritz Henderson, who was head of GM until yesterday afternoon. It was an incredibly boring speech. Also, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, and Bentley pulled out of this year’s show, so I have a lot of time to myself this morning. I’ll go take pictures while everyone else is at the Chevy, VW, and Toyota conferences.

Aston Martin DB9 Volante Test Drive

I can’t believe I didn’t post this sooner. Last weekend, I had to (had to? please) take the train to Seattle to pick up a 2009 Aston Martin DB9 Volante at King Station and drive it back home to Portland. In case you aren’t hip to the Aston lingo, “Volante” is James-Bond-style code for “convertible.”

It was sunny and 71 degrees for the entire 175-mile drive. I brought my Maserati hat to keep the sun off my nose. It’s my favorite hat, and yes, I do realize that wearing a Maser hat while driving an Aston puts me in full d-bag territory. Whatever.

You can see pics of the car taken by yours truly at my About.com Exotic Cars site. I’ve got a review to write this week, too, but that’s proving more of a structural challenge. Ah, the life of the automotive journalist.

Twitter Networking FTW

Yesterday, The Square, local NBC affiliate KGW’s live news magazine, sent out a tweet looking for a Portland-based auto writer. Another journalist I follow on Twitter, who follows The Square, re-tweeted the post, knowing I was out there somewhere. I picked up on it, and emailed the station. A quick phone call confirmed that I was knowledgable enough to answer host Stephanie Strickland’s questions about the new CAFE standards, and I was slotted in for five live minutes at 7:10 p.m.

So, thanks to Twitter, I had my first experience being interviewed for my auto analysis skills. Here’s the clip, in case you’re interested.