Phase One: Hot Wheels
The mission began a few months ago with a call from a good friend, Jonas Medium. Jonas has been editor of several youth-culture type magazines in the past few years, and has gathered an enormous amount of connections and hookups for all types of free product and adventure. Jonas is an established and successful man, which basically means he gets a lot of free shit in the mail. He had recently received a few invitations to press junket/promotional weekends and, currently busy with more important things, decided to pass them my way.
Now, if you read the Land Of Plenty you know I am always looking for a good time. Usually, I have to make up something stupid with shit I find lying around the office, and hope enough philosophy, carefully placed dirty words and non-sequiturs will create meaningful and entertaining content. Balls on the shoulder, balls on the teeth. But now, here were huge wealthy corporations offering to coddle me all weekend, shower me with drinks and free product, and fill my head with interesting events and drama to provide some creamy filling for my supposed writing career. Heh.
The whole scenario makes perfect sense if it involves legitimate journalists who will write intelligent stories that will promote (or at least provide coverage for) a company and their goods. There were about 15 other people at this thing, so maybe the reality of my situation was irrelevant, but the truth was: I am not a journalist. I hate paying attention and taking notes, I hate writing about other people, and usually I just hate other people in general. Writing about yourself and shooting off fire extinguishers works fine at the Crash Site, but it doesn't get a lot of large-audience attention, much less sell a lot of product. Oh well, fuck em. I didn't have anything to lose, and at the very least had an entire weekend of good times ahead. If the company/product was good, sure, I would say some nice things. I might even be good at it, and spark a career of corporate shmoozing and magazine writing. Probably though, I was just gonna fill up on booze and food and ugly t-shirts, and probably end up writing another story about some stupid idea I had a dream about. Like I said, fuck 'em.
I dragged Big Gun member JoJo Johansen along for the trip, billed as my official "photographer". I figured two people meant twice as much free product, and JoJo is always a good egg in unfamiliar situations. The night prior, he slept 3 hours on his neighbor's floor after ingesting large amounts of tequila and losing his apartment keys. Bless his soul. Running a little low myself, I picked him up way too early for rational humans and we drove to the Mattel factory in El Segundo, 20 miles south of Los Angeles, not quite sure what to expect.
What little I did expect was written out on a faxed agenda wadded up in my pocket. (The back of the agenda was also to serve as my "notepad", and the by the end of the weekend it read no more than the following: "475. 130. represent", and a drawing of a penis. I have no idea what any of it means.) Friday morning we were going to Mattel, maker of Hot Wheels toy cars for a tour of the factory. In the afternoon we were going to drive to an actual Hot Rod manufacturer. Friday night, in an entirely separate corporate mission, we were supposed to drive to Long Beach for Grand Prix preparations, courtesy Revo sunglasses, dick around the LBC and hold fort in a hotel for two days until the actual race on Sunday. There was even a rumor that I might get to drive the pace car for a test lap. It was a lot to think about, so the agenda stayed in my pocket and we let the shit just fly on by.
Phase One: Hot Wheels
We strolled into the Marriot Hotel and found our way to a nice complimentary breakfast buffet and a bunch of magazine-types shmoozing and exchanging business cards. I floundered, shook some hands and occupied myself with coffee and pastries. A roster came my way, noting the attendance of editors from Wired, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Rod Action, and Popular Mechanics, among others. Nobody knew who we were and nobody cared, which was fine by me. I did happen to know one attendant writer through Jonas, so we made small talk and pretended that life made sense and everything was in perfect order. "I am a writer", I assured her. "If you will pay me money and entertain my arrogance, I will write stories for your publication", I said. I don't have any idea what she was thinking in return, but breakfast was over and we packed up for the tour, so it didn't matter.
I figured my best angle was to feign curiosity and critical thinking by touching everything and going for "the scoop". This was easier than I expected. As we were walking into the building, I noticed a few picketing workers off to the side. I walked over, sending the PR people in wild circles, desperate to get us back on the tour track. I was excited when a union guy handed me a piece of paper saying, "MATTEL HAS RATS IN THEIR OFFICES". I figured that would make a great story, especially if I could get some pictures. I was a little disappointed to find the RATS were merely unfair carpenting contractors, and there weren't any actual furry rats that I would see running around the Mattel building. Sigh. At least I had made it clear: "I am a journalist! I seek the truth and human emotion in every story! I work for the common man!" Basically, I made it clear that I meant business. I told the picketers they were exaggerating crybabies and got back into line, eager to play with toys.
I have to say that the actual showroom toys were pretty cool. I used to have Hot Wheels as a kid, but hadn't thought much about them in the past 15 years. I found myself instantly drawn back to them and got quite excited making them do loops and all that shit. We ran around the room launching them off ramps and dorking off. Particularly cool were a new breed of Hot Wheels that lock into a little battery charger, and then take off on their own like gerbils stuck with a shot of horse adrenaline and amphetamines. Whee. The guides let us have our fun, and then we were directed to seats for a presentation.
The presentation reminded me of high school and made me instantly want to do a lot of drugs, an understandable reaction considering how much I hated high school. Either way, I wanted a drink at the very least. Maybe I'm just romanticizing the plight of good ol' Hunter Thompson, but this whole press junket thing was definitely inspiring a desire for extreme chemical detachment. Lucky for Mattel there wasn't a bar or bag of cocaine in sight, and the presentation was soon over.
We geeked off some more, with JoJo eating some of Mattel's pre-fab "clean dirt" and me getting in a kung-fu fight with our tour guide Kris Gilbert. Kris was a gigantic trained killer, and would have taken off my face with a roundhouse kick if the security guard hadn't busted things up. We packed up and left the building to head over to the design factory, making jokes about Chinese slave labor with the other journalists. By this point I was having a great time, feeling very comfortable with my fellow hacks and actually enjoying the content of the trip.
The design factory is where all of the ideas for Mattel toys are created. Toy making is a huge industry, and the factory was deep with security guards and closed doors. We signed in, made our way into a conference room where we sat through another presentation, this time by one of the car designers for Hot Wheels. It was interesting, a new line of cars was introduced, everything was just goddamn wonderful. Then they took us even deeper into the bowels, to the actual cubicles of people making and designing new fun toys. There were flashing lights and sounds and bright colors everywhere. There were huge Hot Wheel tracks, with cars flying through the air and in loops and spinning out and I raced them and laughed and screamed with delight and drooled and clapped like a retarded seal. That was it. They had won, I was broken. I submitted to the great god of toy manufacturing, Mattel, and worshipped at the altar of Hot Wheels. I couldn't possibly write a bad story about these guys, despite their oppressive Chinese work contracts and carpenter RATS and eating disorder inspiring Barbie dolls. I was a happy consumer, and to make things even happier, they flowed us free shit.
JoJo scored a $150 limited edition giant '49 Merc Hot Wheel, with working steering and trunk and all kinds of shit after he placed in the top four of the journalist Hot Wheel race. Everyone scored two limited edition regular size cars, and when we stepped outside, still more product came: racing tracks, boxes of differenty cars, a bag full of hats and shirts and stickers, and oh boy was it great. Our heads spinning with fun new toys and "better than Christmas" thrill, we slowly walked to the parking lot and realized the best treat of the day hat yet to come.
Lined up outside was a row of donated sports cars from Chevy, Ford, and Mitsubishi. Apparently, we were going to drive them 30 miles south to Boyd Hot Rod manufacturer, whose car designs have been the basis for several Hot Wheels. It didn't matter where we were going, because oh boy do I love to drive other people's cars, under any circumstance. I ran down the line looking for the automobile that I would get to call my own and drive with reckless abandon, transmission be damned. I was hoping for the Eclipse but got snaked, so we went completely against all instinct and rationality and picked the goofiest car out of the bunch: a convertible, purple Ford Mustang, with a big ass "Hot Wheels" magnet on the side. Oh boy. We signed some papers, I think, grabbed the keys and started up the strange, insufferably macho machine.
The next thing you know, there we were: peeling out and singing old Wu-Tang songs in a convertible purple mustache, breaking all laws of good taste and common sense, swerving through Friday afternoon traffic at 100mph down the 405 freeway. Living the American dream. Ocean wind in our hair, horsepower peeling the road away behind us- it was fucking awesome. Reeling in the depths of a 'Stang binge, my perception began twisting the landscape and surroundings; women seemed suddenly drawn to us, literally tearing off their under-garmets at our sight. The police drifted out of our path, as if to say, "You've got it son. Don't let it go." The heavens shone a light on our purple steed, and we drank deep the hearty spirits of muscle cars, free things, and getting paid to have fun. It was a glorious day indeed.
We got to Boyd hot rod factory way before everyone else, so we drove around the streets some more and waited for lunch. The food arrived and was plentiful, and as we ate we listened to industry gossip from all of the magazine editors. We walked around the shop and looked at hot rods and motorcycles, our brains now fully saturated with all forms of car culture and nonsense. It was too much. Looking at the clock we realized we were going to be late for our next engagement, so we split early and drove back to Mattel to pick up our own car and head out for Phase Two: Revo Sunglasses and The Long Beach Grand Prix.
All in all, Phase One was a complete success. We had scored the pre-requisite free toys, product and food. We had seen all kinds of cool shit, learned a lot of interesting things about Hot Wheels and Mattel, and even got to drive a silly car around for a day. Our fellow journalists were all very cool, we made new friends and hooked up possible freelance jobs to support our new habit. I had plenty of nice things to write about Hot Wheels, and JoJo and I even came up with a proposal for a whole new line of cars. (I'm not going to tell you about it though, I don't want you to steal our ideas.) Just like planned, everyone came out on top.
As we drove back to our car, with full bellies and warm hearts, we thought perhaps we had found a new calling in the Land of Plenty: having people pay you to have fun and get free stuff. It had all been too easy- and we still had an entire weekend ahead of us.
Phase two comin' up.
-- slap maxwell