"I'm Drawn To It" — The Road Trip for our Times
A staggering work of automotive journalism.
Happy Race Day! especially to The Frick Pittsburgh, a museum which recently opened its new exhibit, “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration: Black Mobility and the Automobile.” Our friend Bradley Brownell recently visited and it looks wonderful. If you’re in the area, stop by and send us a review!
A Return to Breathtaking Automotive Writing
Over the weekend, journalist and Carrara Media author Victoria Scott self-published a remarkable article entitled The Last Great American Road Trip which she wrote, photographed, designed and sold for $4 per digital copy.
Scott’s piece is beautiful, with stunning imagery that has become her calling card (some samples of which you can see published, here). It’s also wide-ranging in content, using the cars involved — a 1981 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Diesel and a Peugeot 405 Mi16 — to examine the eras they come from, and reflect on what we’ve been left with in their wake.
It’s also gut-wrenching, weaving tales of oft-forgotten American ingenuity and ambition, the joy of the cross-country road trip and the reality of living as transgender in an increasingly hostile political environment that changes from state to state.
This intersectionality, this use of cars as a lens through which to examine our society and world at large, is the essence of why Carrara Media and this newsletter exist. Scott used cars as a way to look within and expand our horizons, as a way to find something to believe in, and succeeded in aching fashion.
This issue of Race Day is dedicated to her latest work. Please enjoy our exclusive interview, below.
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Race Day: How has the response been to your zine so far?
Victoria Scott: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. Surprisingly so, because I thought I was rambling. But people seemed to like that. I usually write 2,000 words, tops, but this was 5,000 words and I had to tie together a lot of stuff. It was very encouraging as far as getting to stretch my legs as a writer.
RD: It struck a chord with something I’ve been thinking recently, that it’s impossible to tell the full story of a car without incorporating the environment around it, the social conditions, infrastructure and regulations, etc. And that if you’re not including all of that then you’re not providing the full picture.
Scott: I agree completely. At The Drive I did retro reviews where I’d review classic cars, and I could always talk about the driving experience until I was blue in the face — but I never limited it to that. I wanted to talk about why the car was born. What circumstances led to its reception and canonization in automotive culture. Ultimately, cars are just big consumer objects. Most people our age can’t buy houses so a car is the biggest thing you’ll ever buy. It needs to serve a purpose, it needs to be emotional, it needs to fulfill so many roles and it’s so fluid because the design cycles are so short that you really get a snapshot of the time it was created. By comparison, architecture moves on a glacial scale. Furniture, maybe you could make a case but for the most part things are stagnant. Cars have remained this cultural touchpoint that reflect their era so well. It would have been a waste to not examine things like this.
RD: One of the main themes seemed to be juxtaposing the things we once had and why we abandoned them, and as a result, how the things we left behind compare to the things we have now — not always in a positive way.
Scott: For most of your life you’ve heard all the things we can’t do. We can’t build electric trains, we can’t fix Amtrak, we can’t reduce fossil fuels. And then you go and find the ghosts of when we absolutely did all those things. Here is this massive, overwhelming infrastructure project dating back to WWI that gave us all of these incredible things. I have to thank my friend Richard because they knew about these routes and did a lot of research. I never would have known about it unless they shared all this information, because there’s otherwise no way to know about it. There’s no plaque or commemoration.
RD: Was this your way of providing that commemoration?
Scott: When I started out in automotive journalism I wrote this big piece about a model of the Soviet Buran rocket ship that I bought. It never ran because it was geopolitically complicated. But the whole reason I bought it was here is this massive, stupid project that never achieved anything it could have because the society that built it, failed it. All the people that worked on it never got to see their vision to fruition because the society around it collapsed. In a way, the Milwaukee Road electrified extension went the same way. It got pounded by the growth of cars and highways, they could never get the money to update the substations and failing infrastructure. So it was cheaper and easier to abandon them, and it’s a disservice to the people who built it. Huge segments were built by Japanese Americans who were treated like shit and there’s all this hardcore engineering. It’s all just… no one remembers it and it depresses me. When I see these big impressive feats of engineering that no one cares about, I’m drawn to it.
On my van trip across the country I visited Hoover Dam, which was incredible. Obviously it’s one of the greatest civil engineering feats in America, ever, and thousands of people died over seven years to make it possible. The thing that struck me is it’s so grand in recognizing those accomplishments. It’s a beautiful living tribute to their accomplishments. And we never do that! We had this brief wind of socialism in the 1930s where we recognized workers’ accomplishments and then we got away from it. But this is what all of those projects deserve.
RD: Did you choose the layout of a traditional print automotive magazine because of A) the nostalgia factor; B) a statement on the kind of article we’ve lost in recent years; or C) because it simply seemed like the best way to present this particular story?
Scott: It conveniently worked on several levels. I had 72 pictures I could take on that film camera, and film is crazy expensive so I was trying to make every shot count. Every time I lined up to take a picture I thought about how it could fit into the narrative. When you write for blogs, I love it, but they generally do not understand I’m doing things in an order with pacing — they kind of get thrown in. I understand, that’s the reality of digital publishing, but I wanted pictures to go where they needed to be. The other thing is I grew up reading Motor Trend and especially Car And Driver when they would do these wild adventure articles and a lot of it was gonzo-era bullshit but I enjoyed the stories. And it was better than a standard product review. Part of it too was I wanted to see if I could do it. I’ve never been printed in a car review. Our book, Postcards, is the only time I’ve ever actually been printed. That felt amazing and made me want to do a car review. I thought this might be my last big road trip. This may be where I step back from automotive writing, at least temporarily. So, what if I wrote that magazine piece I’ve been dreaming about? Part of it was wish fulfillment for me.
RD: Your piece emits an overwhelming fear — the fear you must be living with every day.
Scott: Since this was published, a ban on drag just passed the House in Texas. That’s the same kind of bill Montana tried to pass and failed; North Dakota tried and failed so it banned youth care, Idaho tried and failed so it authorized lawsuits to go after physicians who prescribe blockers — that’s their legal loophole. Florida made it so you can’t fill a prescription for hormones. It doesn’t stop and it hasn’t stopped. We just recently had International Transgender Day of Visibility, but visibility doesn’t count anymore — we need actual assistance. There’s a disproportional amount of attention on us. We’re in Week 6 of the Bud Light saga, which revolves around us existing, and it’s been a hot button issue. There’s been almost no opposition. When you do you get the Zooey Zephyr situation in Montana; so even when you play by the rules, they still will not allow you to do it. None of this is surprising but it adds to this air of inevitability I was feeling on the trip. I felt like as it continues, this will probably stop me in my tracks. I will not want to leave my town. That’s when the totality of the situation really sunk in, even though I’ve been living in it for awhile.
RD: Do you still enjoy cars and how do you envision yourself enjoying cars in the future?
Scott: Truthfully I don’t know. I miss my van since I broke it and haven’t had the money to fix it. It’s hard to make money as a writer and it’s part of the reason I’m leaving. Cars, as a hobby, has been leaving me at a speed I can’t move fast enough to catch up. When I lived in Reno and went to car events I got stares and no friends, and Idaho is similar. Seattle is great — I like the cars and the crowds, and it helps me remember why I liked the car scene. Maybe if I can get my van fixed, that will help a lot. I would love if I’m wrong. I would love if [the fight against trans rights] reaches a high-water mark and people realize this is incredibly stupid, and maybe we should let them do what they feel like and I can go back to traveling. I do enjoy the trips and I enjoy driving cars. Walking through a museum does nothing for me, but I can drive my friend’s Peugeot which is a stinky old French car and it’s phenomenal. It’s the greatest experience in the whole world because we’re doing things in a car, having adventures as friends and meeting new people. It’s about the experience, and not the car as the be-all, end-all.
If you enjoyed our conversation with Victoria, and you live near L.A., join us next weekend! We’re welcoming friends and supporters with a car show and book signing, to sell the final few remaining copies of her book. Details below:
Also, the annual FuelFest car show and drifting showcase takes over L.A. this Saturday, June 3rd in Irwindale hosted by our friends at Throtl to benefit charity. Website here. I’ll have a video up covering the event next week!
Endurance racing holds a special place in my heart. Unfortunately I haven’t followed it much in recent years, so I loved this video putting the genius of Porsche driver Kevin Estre on full display, in layperson’s terms. Sit back and enjoy.
Drive hard and be safe. Black Lives Matter.
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