It’s a lot harder to hire for this dang place than it looks. Sure a person can drive, but can they write? Sure, a person can write, but can they write well? Sure, a person can write well, but can they truly be Jalopnik?
It was late June of 2016, and we were desperate to hire another writer. We’d interviewed at least a dozen people, and while every single candidate we spoke to was wonderful and amazing, we still hadn’t found someone who we knew, I mean really knew, would work out.
And that was my fault.
I had this whole system worked out, you see. Patrick George and I would do the interviews, and we’d always make sure to ask one question:
“What’s something that’s not about cars have you been reading lately?”
We like to ask that sort of thing, because we’ve always sort of seen Jalopnik as a car blog for non-car people. You can talk to the same person all day about their dad’s Camaro, but the people we really want to reach at the site are the people we can tell all about the Mitsubishi Starion, and keep coming back for more. It helps to have dipped a toe into the non-car waters for that. We expected people to answer with articles from the New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Vice, Deadspin, the New Republic, on and on and on. The normal stuff that people with broken internet brains read. We didn’t get much of that.
(I think one person said that the only thing they read was “Instagram.” They refused to elaborate, and I’m still trying to figure out what that means.)
And then there was Kristen Lee. She definitely had the resume to stand out, but not a ton of experience. I distinctly remember Patrick asking her what she had been reading.
Kristen Lee went on and on and on about this novel she was reading, which for the life of me I can’t remember the title of now, but I remember getting some Ursula K. LeGuin vibes.
I hated it. She misunderstood the question, I told Patrick. All she reads is car stuff and some rando novel. Her brain was not broken, like ours were. In fact, it appeared to be perfectly functioning.
Patrick probably called me a moron or something. I’m pretty sure he told me that I was being very dense, and that I had no idea what I was talking about. I was going to SAVE this website, I thought, from the evil interlopers who do things like read “novels.”
He was going to hire this Kristen Lee, whether I liked it or not.
Fine, I thought. Throw this on the top of the pile, I steamed. Patrick loved to throw stuff onto my plate anyways.
And I, for one, am forever grateful he did. Working with Kristen has been an incredible honor these past (almost) four years. She’s not only reported out incredible journalism, she’s explored the depths of Fanciness, and held every car up to a standard that everyone else can only aspire to.
Not to mention that she’s incredibly kind, hilarious, supportive, and a wise friend.
And for that, she is now dead to us.
Eat shit Kristen Lee!!!!!!!!!
Wait, you’re telling me I have to work with her again?
Sometimes, when I’m boarding the pneumatic pod at my stop in North Carolina that whisks me to Jalopnik’s Head Office in Gargolye Four of the Shandor Building in New York, a child will approach me and tug on the hem of my caftan to get my attention.
“Sir,” he or she will screech, “are you that writer-hobbit for Jalopnik? I recognize you from the pictures-radio. Please, sir, tell me what the lady writer Kristen Lee is really like? What shouldt’ve I know about her?”
It’s at this point that I always laugh to myself quietly before gently but firmly seizing the child’s arm, making it hurt, just a little. “What shouldt’ve you know about Kristen Lee?” I whisper to the child, eyes locked with theirs with a fiery intensity, “everything,” I say.
I say this not just because Kristen is a fascinating, wonderful person, bright and witty and charming, intense and caring and alarmingly clever, fashionable and perceptive, but because, above all, Kristen is dangerous, and people need to be aware of this. Their lives very likely will depend on it.
That’s not to say I don’t absolutely adore Kristen, because I do. But I also absolutely adore electricity and vipers and birds of prey, and all of those things will fuck you up, badly, if you do something to cross them, and the same goes for Kristen, but much, much worse.
Kristen watches everything. Kristen knows what you’re doing and what you say, whether she’s around or not, with a Santa Clausican omnipotence and judgement, and while visually she’s about as much the exact polar opposite of St. Nick as any human can be, she shares his penchant for record-keeping.
Kristen keeps notes. Kristen has lists and may any god you can flatter enough with prayers help you if you should fall onto those lists. If you’ve wronged Kristen in any way, or, even worse, someone Kristen cares about, your name has been entered, and from that moment on your existence is subject to her whim and mood.
I absolutely love working with Kristen because she’s a brilliant co-worker and has a wonderful insight and perception into cars in a way I can’t match. The idea of an auto show trip that doesn’t involve sharing a weird Air BnB with her fills me with gloom. But also, when I’m working with her, I can at least keep a better eye on what’s happening to keep myself safe and off her lists.
Now that she’s leaving, I’m fucked. Not interacting with her daily is already going to hurt, but without a regular check to suss out if I did something foolish enough to make A List I’m going to be a wreck. I’ll be checking every beverage for that metallic tang of poison, every corner for lurking shadows, obsessively seeing if my credit rating is still a healthy 320-something. Because I won’t really know, anymore, and she’s always out there, always watching.
I don’t want Kristen to go. This one hurts. And, even worse, now I’m afraid. She’s probably listening right now! And I mentioned The Lists! Fuck. Shit.
I gotta get out of here. Now.
Kristen made working with the insane staff of Jalopnik (i.e., Ballaban) very much more enjoyable and tolerable, and I wish her nothing but the best.
What’s worse is that all the dirt I have on Kristen is shit she would take as a compliment. “Kristen is constantly plotting and scheming her way to global domination.” I can picture her pursing lips and nodding. “Kristen’s the type of person to make diligent lists about those who have wronged her and god help you if you’re on one.” Yeah, fuck, she’s probably looking at me through the periscope of some gold-plated submarine and just laughing right now!
We all know Kristen’s other alias Fancy Kristen... but that is actually just a cover for her real alter ego which may be a deadly assassin. She has admitted to me that she has a collection of knives and possibly even swords. Now she says she keeps them around to “open boxes and stuff.” And I am pretty sure that is just code for “gut my enemies.” All that Fancy Kristen satire about projecting power and such is really just a manifestation of her saying “Don’t fuck with me, I will end you.”
Of course, Kristen is also one of the nicest people you will meet and a badass writer. With her gone, there no longer any cool people here at Jalopnik, just a bunch of dorks. I am among these dorks and I love them all.
Kristen Lee. How do I even begin to explain Kristen Lee?
Kristen Lee is flawless.
She has two Fendi purses, and a silver Lexus (black Mercedes).
I hear her hair is insured for $10,000.
I hear she does car commercials, in Japan.
Her favorite movie is Varsity Blues.
One time she met John Stamos on a plane, and he told her she was pretty.
One time, she punched me in the face. It was awesome.
My favorite story about Kristen is the first time that I met her. It was at the New York Auto Show a couple years ago (I was still at The Drive at this time... RIP PG) and I was on my way back out from the press room to the floor to shoot with a coworker. She struck up a conversation with them and after I stood there, silently, doing that quiet smile and nod thing I typically do when I am in group social situations, I introduced myself and she said “oh, I have met your dad! Paul!” What. My dad, readers, is not in this industry, in case you were curious. I asked how. Then she explained that she met him up at Team O’Neill’s, which is where we sent him for a Father’s Day gift- to learn how to do fun driving stunts. Of course that cracked me up, picturing my dad getting all chummy with a bunch of automotive journalists, feeling like a true Cool Guy, and talking about me and where I work to the people there, so that he was a Drive employee as well, by blood, who knows. It wasn’t the longest conversation as I had to get back on the show floor, but definitely one to remember.
But anyway, to Kristen, my work wife, one of the greatest, most real friends I could ever have (because you keep me in check)- you will be missed so greatly around here. You immediately welcomed me into this bizarre Jalopnik family when I started here, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to bullshit with you on Slack since then. I have the utmost respect and love for you, my dear. You’re a badass.
I can’t remember exactly how many times I had to listen to Mike Ballaban or Patrick George complain that Kristen was not dutifully forging ahead on a long feature that they believed it was her mission and sole purpose in life to complete, no matter how unclear their assignments were, nor how many back and forth changes she would have to deal with as they’d edit over each other.
Kristen was, through all of these times, out driving Aston Martins.
She is worse off for it, but her IG is popping.
She’s always been damn good on every NBC shoot. A real pro, with the exception of constantly talking about the C32 AMG on set...
The only other name I’ve heard repeated more times in a row is Robert Paulson.
Normally, I’d love to be completely effusive in my praise of Kristen Lee. I’d love to tell you that from day one, her writing was a needed breath of fresh air at Jalopnik. That she quickly rose to be one of the smartest and most essential voices in car journalism. That she constantly went above and beyond in ways that went deeper than her work on the page, from managing logistics at auto shows to effectively leading all our reviews coverage when Andrew went on the injured-reserve list. That she was a damn fine soldier in the struggle, working with the rest of GMG’s union bargaining committee last year to secure one of the best contracts in the business. I’d love to sit here and tell you how much I respect and admire Kristen, and how honored I am to call her my friend.
But no! I’m not going into any of that. Because when it was her turn to “roast” me, all she did was complain about how I stole her snacks on occasion. Really, Kristen? After all the shit we endured together, that’s what you focus on?
Do you have any idea of the energy that’s required to run a website that employs both David Tracy and Jason Torchinsky? The caloric intake you need to stay ahead of those guys? I was eating an entire deep-dish pizza every two hours for a while. When I left GMG, I had to be put into a medical coma until my metabolism went back to normal.
So I’ll just throw this out there: Kristen Lee, indomitable, steely-eyed veteran blogfighter and Knife Enthusiast that she is, can’t hang in Detroit. It appears to be her greatest weakness. When she did the Detroit Auto Show for the first time (how she managed to dodge it so many times, I do not know) last January, she complained constantly about such trivial things. “Our house maybe got broken into” and “Our press Jeep got stolen in the middle of the night” and “Half the city still looks like a smoldering crater” and “Someone should be fired over all the poor decisions that went into planning this trip.”
Come on, Kristen! That’s just life in the Motor City. It builds character. Sorry it’s not fancy enough for you, but it’s good enough for me!
I don’t need to wish Kristen luck at Business Insider. She’s destined for success and greatness no matter what she does. But I hope she never has to go back to Detroit. I just don’t think she’s cut out for it.
When I first started at Jalopnik, Kristen was off on vacation. When she did arrive back on my second week, I learned that she was off on a three-week excursion in Italy visiting the most extravagant parts of the Amalfi Coast. I quickly learned why they called her “Fancy Kristen.” Now, she’ll tell you that is just a “joke” or a “persona” but I’m here to say that no, Fancy Kristen is real. She is the most fashionable and put-together person on the Jalopnik staff for sure. She drives a Mercedes. She vacations in places most people only dream of going. And she hates poor people. (OK, I made that last part up, but let’s just go with it.) She’s smart, charismatic, and most of the time gets what she wants. It’s amazing to think she ever ended up at Jalopnik; she should be writing for The New Yorker, or some other publication that uses big, fancy words. Here’s the kicker though: She has the most gutter mouth I’ve ever heard. This girl would make a sailor blush the way she talks. People get really bent out of shape for her using fuck or shit in her headlines, but that is getting off easy. I sometimes cannot believe the stuff that she says. It’s equal parts disgusting and hilarious. I thought she was Fancy Kristen, until we became friends. Then I learned she embodies that strong New Jersey culture of hers and is more Trashy Kristen.
Now that may seem like a bad thing, but let me tell you about Trashy Kristen, the real Kristen Lee. She is also smart and put-together, this much is true. She also drives a Mercedes, but it’s way too old and rusted, but is cared for deeply. And she is loyal to her friends. If I could choose anyone to be in a bar fight with on Jalopnik staff, it would be Kristen. She would smash a beer bottle over someone’s head without a second thought. The real Kristen is a hell of a fun-time to be around, and one of the most organized and talented colleagues I’ve ever had. In my three years at Jalopnik, I’ve seen a lot of folks come and go. Kristen is the one I’ll actually be upset about leaving. Kristen has the best hot takes and is one of the best on-camera hosts I’ve had the chance to work with. They don’t make many like her, and that’s a damn shame.
I’d be remiss in not including one of my all-time favorite Kristen Lee videos, in which she smashed a car with an APC. (She did almost run Erica and me over with said APC, but that’s another story):
Kristen, we’re truly losing an amazing writer, a talented host, and a wonderful friend. I hope your next job fires you and you have to come crawling back to us. We’d be lucky to have you back. Until then, fuck you.
It sucks that Kristen is dead now. Long live Kristen.
Kristen Lee is the only person I’ve ever known who has worn a $1,000 Canada Goose jacket to a junkyard. This, is, as I’m sure you’ll all agree, absurd. Pretty much every car at any given junkyard is covered in dirt and oil, and nearly all vehicles at the Detroit-area junkyard we attended were layered in sharp, nasty rust that would tear into even Kristen’s diamond-coated (it has to be, right? It costs more than most of my cars) luxo-jacket. Being unable to get close to vehicles because you don’t want to smudge or rip your garb is ridiculous, and if you think about it, defeats the whole point of junkyard-ing.
Admittedly, I had to spend quite some time digging through my box of memories to find anything even remotely resembling “roast” material, but the Canada Goose jacket incident (also referred to as Goose-gate in southeast Michigan junkyard lore) is truly all I’ve got. And in some ways, I have to admit, it’s a cheapshot, because during that week that Kristen stayed at my house back in November, she was 100 percent down (or should I say “goose down”) to wrench. We welded things, cooked food using car parts, and eventually did crawl all over automobiles at a junkyard (this time, with Kristen wearing a cheaper jacket, but one still much nicer than the $20 flannel one from Aldi that I was wearing). By the end of the trip, Kristen had actually become me. This isn’t something I ever thought possible, and I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t have photographic evidence. But I do:
Look at that greasy welding apron, and that filthy gray and orange jacket that I probably hadn’t washed since 2016. With a welding helmet on, her resemblance to me was uncanny:
Anyway, now it’s time for me to gush a bit. There’s a reason why I’m writing this roast submission only minutes before its deadline: I know that no matter what I write, it won’t be good enough to explain Kristen’s impact on Jalopnik and on me. Her writing is creative, thoughtful, and fun. Her work ethic is phenomenal. She handles stress with unparalleled composure, and she’s got a fire in her that demands constant improvement in whatever team or processes she’s working with. It’s infectious and motivational, and her leaving is a huge loss not just my coworkers and me, but for Jalopnik’s audience.
I’m going to miss working with Kristen day-to-day; Over the past four years, we’ve become good friends. She always finds a way to make you feel like 1 million bucks, and she does this through openness and honesty. I’ve had some of my most memorable and powerful Jalopnik team moments with Kristen. There was the time I hung out with Justin and her on a New York City rooftop, drank beer, and just talked about life. About our triumphs, our vulnerabilities, our pasts and our futures.
There was the time that she, Jason, and I sat in a Ford Bronco in Detroit’s Boston Edison District, just outside of the Air BnB we’d rented for the Detroit Auto Show (someone stole our $100,000 Jeep press car, but that’s a story for another time). We’d just come back from a dinner party, and it was probably midnight, with Jason and Kristen having imbibed a bit, and sober me at the wheel. I yanked the column shifter into park, let the truck idle with the heater on in the cold Detroit January, and the three of us just chatted the night away about some deeply personal, and rather spicy, topics. Nothing was off the table, and nobody was holding back. We were talking about subjects that I had never discussed so openly with anyone in my life, and as hours flew by and the conversation progressed, so too, did the bond between us. This was a moment of trust—of three people laying bare their secrets, almost as gifts to one another. At least, that’s how it felt to me.
I have so many other great Kristen stories, one involving a trip my mom and I took to Prague to hang out with Kristen, her boyfriend, and his family. And then there are all the wacky christmas parties, one with a sex fetish theme (again, a story for another time). We also recently did a video chat where Kristen showed me how to use an eyelash pencil (Edit: It was an eyebrow pencil. Sorry Kristen, I have failed you.-DT)—not a useful thing for me to know, but fascinating. It will suck logging into slack (that’s the chatroom software we use) and seeing an empty circle next to Kristen’s name, but luckily, my friend is just a call or text away.
I don’t know what else to say here, other than that I know Kristen is going to excel in her new role. I realize that everyone says that when a colleague leaves, but I’m not just being nice—Kristen literally kicks ass at everything she does.
Give ‘em hell, Kristen.
One day, Kristen Lee picked me up in an Aston Martin DB11 to go play mini-golf. Her first swing, she swung at the golf ball with all of her strength, essentially vaporizing that colorful golf ball and completely missing the hole. “That’s how I play every sport: I just throw all my strength behind it.” She proceeded to play the entire green that way.
This should tell you everything you need to know about Kristen Lee.