For the past couple of weeks I've been boarding at my friends' non-working farm. It's a typical southern-Tuscan spread set between the cliffs of Monte Amiata and the Mediterranean Sea. I've just taken Zoe, a Labrador mix, for a run in the vineyards and my faithful sneaks are caked in thick, red clay. As existences go, rural Italian life is an order of magnitude less frenzied than standard. There's no rush to get out of bed before eight, and good luck buying an aspirin or a jar of mayo between one and four in the afternoon. But despite a lack of certain stimuli, cars still manage to dictate the firing order in my temporal lobes.
About an hour ago, along a dirt track leading to the beach, I recognized a nondescript econobox ambling up the road as indeed a Renault 5 Turbo, in a condition best described, considering the salt air, as astonishing. "Che bella macchina!" I called to the driver, a large, bearded man whose bulk packed every inch of Le Tweaker's compartment as if he'd been poured in. As the only other motorized vehicles in sight were tractors and pitch wagons, the emergence of a rare, French, mid-engined hatchback was beyond incongruous. It was ethereal, like bumping into the ghost of Ayrton Senna shopping for bibb lettuce.
During my first visit here a few years ago, Zoe and I would take daily sprints up a long knoll to follow the scent of quail or wild boar (Zoe) and get an eyeful of the Baratti coastline (me) and the Thyrrenian waters that lay beyond. Back then, blogging about cars for a living was as remote a prospect as delivering pizzas by nuclear submarine. I'd pretty well resigned myself to a second decade publishing business-to-business market research, and didn't imagine it would be much damn fun.
Then, curiously, Gawker tossed me the keys to its new car site, which we named Jalopnik by way of a Roget's thesaurus, a vague notion of personality, and a bottle of medium-grade champagne. As sole writer (and editor), all I knew to do was articulate my own automotive proclivities and Google-led flights of obsession. To my thinking, Jalopnik would be the antithesis of traditional car media, with a natural inclination to follow the bizarre, the extreme, the whispered, the forgotten, the geeky. It would be the equivalent of indie-rock radio, with a voice inspired not by its most direct antecedents, but by others once (or twice) removed, or by random association. It wouldn't be out of the question, for instance, to find references to Udo Dirkschneider, the pygmaic lead singer of 1980's German heavy metal band Accept, a Japanese TV show about Decotora trucks and Dutch reverse-gear racing all on the same day. In short, it would be obscure and fun, if you went in for that sort of thing.
This year, Zoe and I are a bit rounder in the middle, and getting to the top of the hillside requires stopping off for a few extra breaths. Jalopnik has grown to become one of the most trafficked car sites on the 'Net, and a daily read for untold thousands. I mention this not for horn-tooting purposes, but as a source of continued amusement. Of course, writing weird stuff about cars every quarter-hour and getting paid for it is one thing, but running an organization devoted to sussing out and posting on the vast quantity of automotive information in the universe requires an altogether separate set of skills, a different head and a motivation to be first, above all. After all, is not speed the primary benefit of a publication with the lead-time of a soft-boiled egg?
Thus, fair readers and car-information junkies, from this day forward, you'll be in the capable hands of Ray Wert, Jalopnik's ascendant editor-in-chief. I'll be assuming the inflated title of editor-at-large, which means I'll be focusing not on the day-to-day operations of the Jalop, but broader issues like what color the T-shirts should be, whether scotch is best drunk with water or without, and if the word "hoon" should have an apostrophe like in some UK papers. I'll also be writing more and racing the guys from Autoblog back to the car shows' media centers less, though that's been great fun too. But for now, it's back down the road to find the guy with the Renault and beg, in broken Italian, for a quick drive down the block, to where the Etruscans used to bury their dead. Zoe sends her regards.