Gone But Not Forgotten

Well, after 8-1/2 years and 72 or so columns, the San Diego Union-Tribune has decided cut the freelance budget for the car section and Weekend Driver’s first print life has ended.

I can’t really complain. Back in 1999, I was the public information guy for the San Diego city building department, wanting to rekindle my journalistic noodle, so I sent an e-mail to Mark Maynard, the auto editor of the Union-Tribune, my hometown paper.

Would he be interested in a car-touring column, something different than the usual tourist story, where the road and the car would be the star. Yes, we’d stop at cafes, antique shops and other attractions along the way, but mainly it would be about the road. About the drive. Not something that would have run in the travel section.

To my shock, the answer came back an enthusiastic “yes.” I didn’t have a lot of writing credits — five years as a reporter, including a couple of similar columns for the old Leisure section of the U-T’s predecessor, the San Diego Tribune. In the days when folks could make a living as a freelance writer, editors normally didn’t take chances with writers like me. But he did.

The first column ran on July 1, 2000. Since then, 72 journeys in the paper. A book from Sunbelt Publications, several TV appearances, a website, blog and a lot of fun. The column lead to a few other freelance gigs in the Union-Tribune, such as the One-Tank Trips in the Night and Day section, travel stories and several pieces in the Homes section. I left the city and focused on freelancing in early 2002. The column went monthly.

Things started winding down in the freelance market in 2006 (the U-T cut freelance rates and cut me back to every-other-month) and I retreated back to a PR job, and I found a good one with the local school district. They let me keep one bit of my old freelance-writer life, Weekend Driver. Now, as newspapers face their latest-biggest challenge, my column goes away.

But the drives go on.

I have two columns in the can and will be rolling them out over the next couple of months at the website, weekenddriver.com. Of course, the question is whether I can even bring in a few bucks and enough readers to make it interesting for me. I’m a professional, meaning I make my living at writing (even in the PR jobs). So, will the website bring in a few bucks to cover its costs and a bit for my time of doing a drive (it takes about two days to put together a column)? I hope so.

There are some interesting things out there in the future, even with our current economic crud. The last couple of years, I’ve been posting GPS downloads with the columns. Several hundred folks have at least looked at the GPS pages. Next-generation GPS units (both portable and in-dash) have the capability to play audio clips at coordinates. Download not just the GPS route to guide you through, but play an audio clip to describe what you’re seeing. Neat stuff.

In the meantime, check back to the site and this blog for new columns. At least two of them for now. And I’ll hopefully be putting some more vehicle reviews here on the blog for those of you who enjoy my perspectives on the cars. Maybe buy a copy of the book. If you’re in the San Diego area and want a speaker for your car club, drop me an e-mail.

In the meantime, I’ll see you on the road.

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