In 1994 I heeded Mark Twain’s advice to write without pay until someone offers to pay, and began publishing an automotive commentary called CAR-MA. I sent it via snail mail to friends and clients of my Buyer’s Advocate service. In it I would occasionally quote from a mainstream automotive journalist, and as a courtesy I would send the quoted writer a copy.
One day, returning from a holiday weekend in Crestline, I found my mail box full of letters, all from Houston, Texas. Every one asked me to send a copy of CAR-MA. How they knew to ask had me baffled, since I knew no one in Houston.
The mystery was solved when one of the correspondents enclosed a clipping from the Houston Chronicle. It was the syndicated column Drive She Said, written by Denise McCluggage. In it was a report on my Buyer’s Advocate service, and CAR-MA. She included my address and suggested her readers might write me and request a copy, and a lot of them did – from all over the country. I answered each one personally and offered to send them a copy every month for a small subscription fee, and thus became a “professional writer.”
For those who are not automotive freaks, Denise is today what some would call (and probably get cussed out by Denise for saying it) the Grand Dame of automotive journalism. She co-founded Competition Press, which grew into what is now AutoWeek. She raced against the greats of the golden era of sports-racing cars, winning her class in a Ford Falcon in the Monte Carlo Rallye, the GT class at Sebring and 2nd at Daytona (driving the same Ferrari Faye Dunaway drove in the Polo scene in The Thomas Crown Affair), hobnobbing with such legends as Juan Manuel Fangio and (now Sir) Stirling Moss..
She had written an article for AutoWeek following the theme of her book The Centered Skier, called “The Centered Driver” which I had quoted in a column of my own. Naturally, I didn’t want her to be sipping a cocktail at some press introduction in Monte Carlo and get blind-sided by someone asking her, “Did you see what Dick Stewart wrote about you in CAR-MA?” so I had sent her a copy.
In her column, she was very complementary about both my service and my observations, attributing to one of them “The clear crystal ring of truth.”
Apparently she does not regret those words now, even as I have parlayed them into press credentials at many events, including the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where she is an honorary judge. In email correspondence she called my 2010 coverage in CARMA (I’ve dropped the hyphen since switching to email distribution.) “lovely.” The blog version, replete with photos and pithy commentary, is available elsewhere on this site.
Early on in the publication of CAR-MA I began including little sketches, and eventually invented the comic character Harmonica Verjance/Vergance (Spelling seems to vary.), whose eclectic (to a fault, perhaps) spiritual pursuits parody the extremes I’ve seen as founding member and Board President Emeritus of a spiritual community. I added characters like self-styled loser Lois L. Festeem and Harmonica’s boyfriend, rich entrepreneur Luke Ratif as the panel evolved. The illustrations attached are a couple of my favorites.