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A Day At The LA Auto Show

me 911

I was fortunate enough to attend one of the press days at the LA Auto Show this week, and needless to say I had a blast. This was my first big industry show, so you can imagine what sort of googly-eyed, auto-induced haze I meandered around in. With all the shiny steel and new designs it was easy to get sucked into one manufacturers area. After walking well over 5 miles, and seeing everything from a dancing hamsters to a full sized Mini Cooper slot machine I was beat. As I boarded a plane back to Atlanta that evening I found myself reminiscing of a few particulars from the day.

Here are the 5 most interesting things that come to mind from the day.

1. Matte is in! You know a new finish is moving into the scene when BMW, Mercedes, and Aston Martin are all sporting the look.
The new BMW M5 sporting a beautiful silver matte finish. It looked almost like polished steel.
matte m5

Aston Martin had the most unique matte finish with this beautiful white, that was acceded by the black body panels, and wheels.
aston martin

The SLS grabs attention anywhere it goes, but the matte silver finish on this roadster had my attention from the second I saw it.
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sls 1

2. The life-sized Mini Cooper slot machine was a riot, and something I’ve really grown to expect and appriceate from such an innovative and irreverent brand. Too bad I didn’t win a JWC.
mini

3. Now of course Porsche had some amazing cars on display, but the most unique part of their participation in the show was their exhibit itself. The exhibit wasn’t really part of the show, but rather it was off to the side as to say, “We’re different than the rest”, or perhaps “We forgot to reserve a marquee space, and we’re winging it.” Either way, it worked to their benefit as they were able to build this entirely unique experience that felt like nothing else at the show. Very Porsche of them.
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porsche

4. Probably the most surprising car I saw at the show was this C63 AMG Black. This car reached out, slapped me, and grabbed my attention from 50 yards away. I just love watching a manufacturer step outside the box and push the limits of their brand all while keeping the price and usability of the car well within reason.
cl black

5. Electrified autos were a common thread woven throughout the show, but some manufacturers were already kicking their flux-capacitors into overdrive. Audi had the most drastic of electric cars on display with the e-tron Spyder.
etron spyder
etron 2
Audi did balance the drastic looking Spyder with the ever so popular e-tron A3. After owning an A3 I couldn’t help but love this car as I sat there staring at it in the middle of the crowded show.
AUDI A3

Of course BMW had a really cool full electric 1 series on display that would grab you simply because of the motherboard-like graphics all over the car.
BME ELEC

It was an amazing day, full of hundreds of unique cars. I can only hope to go to a few more shows in 2012 and watch the evolution of the industry first hand.

First Day Fail

1st day

The transition to a new role is never that easy, much less when you’re changing industries all together. My first day was nothing out of the ordinary…you know how it goes. Say hello to the new team, get your credentials, find your seat, get your computer, try to keep up with what floor you’re on, and who’s who. Aside from that I had the pleasure of checking out a pretty slick new Lotus one of my coworkers just purchased. See, the culture at Autotrader.com is all about cars as you’d expect, and the building is full of motoring enthusiasts.

The Lotus Exige S is a car you’ve probably never seen, as they aren’t as common as their Elise counterpart. Either way, both cars are simply stunning, and look like something out of an auto designer’s encounter with LSD. We took a stroll to the parking deck, walking past a myriad of other drivers’ cars, and come around the corner to see this bright yellow shifter kart looking car. As I walk around the car drooling, admiring all the track friendly goodies, Meghan asks if I’d like to go for a drive. The only logical answer to a question like this is of course, “yes.”

The car drives like you’d expect a track car to drive. The gearbox is aggressive. The interior is sparse, the engine is loud, and the amenities are non-existent. Ok, it has a radio, but that’s about it. The short little drive around the residential roads was a blast, and the car was all I’d hoped… and more.

You see, I say more because not only is the car unbelievably fun, but also holds up amazingly well in a high-speed crash. Yeah, we ended up wrecking the car at a rate of speed that would have landed most people in jail if not a coffin. After losing the backend of the car in a switchback, we spun around a few times before doing a backside nose grind of sorts on the median, missing an oak tree by less than a foot.

The last hours of my first day were spent on the side of the road, with a wadded-up 2-day-old Lotus waiting for a tow truck and a Police Officer. You may be asking, “What did your boss say?” Well, I can only assume that he probably decided that I was lost in the building somewhere, and left to go home. But have no fear, he drove right past us on his way home and saw me standing over the car in the middle of the road with the Police Officer on site. That moment had more fail associated with it than any other in my life. The thought must have been something like, “Hey, there’s Ryan the new guy, with a wrecked Lotus and the police…. really?”

So that was my first day in a nutshell. Oh, let’s not forget that we were dropped back off at the office by the nice police officer… in his cruiser, for the rest of my new co-workers to see.

Hanging Up My Apron

sock puppet
It’s bitter-sweet when you decide to leave something you know well for uncharted waters. I’ve decided to take another path with another local company here in Atlanta. The past year with The Home Depot team was an amazing experience to say the least. The knowledge I’ve gained and the friendships I’ve made will be life-long. I can honestly say that after all I’ve learned I still can’t use a sock puppet to save my life. It’s been refreshing to work for people who truly “get” social media and the value it brings the company.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of the madness that ensues when you grow a team of 30, from scratch. The social efforts at Home Depot are about to take on a whole new face in a very exciting way. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of that growth, and now I’ll get to watch it evolve from the outside looking in.

It’s been an awesome ride and I’m very grateful for the opportunities I had with the Home Depot team. Keep knocking it out of the park guys.

The Woodfire Experience

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We finally did it. Emily and I were able to get reservations at Woodfire Grill for our anniversary. We’ve tried a few times to get into Chef Kevin Gillespie’s restaurant, but it’s typically booked weeks or months in advance. The restaurant was everything you’d expect from a top-rated restaurant in the city. The food was divine, and by far the best meal I’ve ever had.

The food, atmosphere, and wine were simple, well thought-out and paired perfectly. We went with the Chef’s 7-course grand tasting on a recommendation from Melissa Libby. Melissa knows food, and manages Woodfire’s PR efforts, so I knew she’d steer us in the right direction.

You expect greatness going to a place like Woodfire Grill, but they have a secret that makes them a step above the rest. What puts this dining experience above all others is the level of customer service and pride the staff takes with the guests. The staff was amazing, and even went as far as calling me the afternoon of our reservation to see if we were celebrating anything special. When we arrived to our table that evening we had personalized menus waiting for us, as well as an amazing amuse-bouche compliments of the chef.

Our Sommelier recommended a great old-vine red Zinfandel to accompany dinner, and our server was spot on with the plates. The whole experience was more than I could have hoped for. We even had the pleasure of shaking the Chef’s hand on the way out and thanking him for an amazing anniversary dinner.

This was definitely one of the better evenings we’ve had in the past four years. We can now check the box on a Top Chef dining experience.

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Make The Call

The Unknown

The “unknowns” in life can be a real mind-screw at times. It’s human nature to want to know what’s next or what may be behind a tough decision. Unfortunately, most people don’t have a crystal ball and we can only speculate as to what may be. This is usually where your gut feeling comes in if you’re anything like me. I’ve relied on my gut to get me through some rather tough decisions and it’s typically panned out well. However, there are times when you’re just not sure what to do, and no amount of dwelling or contemplating will help you make a decision.

My trick is simple. It’s to go with what you know. You can assume your way into the future or make educated decisions based on what you know to be true. The assumption method will leave you in the dark and possibly make you look like an ASS-ume. Take what you know, make a decision and go with it. Don’t second guess, don’t waffle and definitely don’t assume. Give that a try the next time you’re conflicted and see how it turns out.

My Honda S2000

It’s time to let another toy go. In short, the S2000 has been a blast to drive and I hate to see it go. I’ve wanted an S2000 since I saw the first Fast And The Furious movie back in 2001. Yeah, I know the movie was pretty awful, but for gear heads it was a fun movie to watch with some really cool cars. Both the Ford Lightning and the S2000 caught my attention, and I’ve officially owned and love both.

The car handles very well, which you’d expect from a low-slung roadster. The surprising characteristics came when I drove the car through the nasty Atlanta streets. The suspension had great feedback, but not too much. The ride was surprisingly smooth despite the stiffer springs and low-profile tires. The trunk has enough room for your clubs, so couple that with not so brutal ride and you get a fun car that a retiree can take to the links or a thrill-seeker can take to the track.

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Giving Back To The Vets

I’ve been fortunate enough this week to tag along with our Foundation and see the incredible work they do. The Celebration of Service is a 2 month long program where the Home Depot Foundation donates $1 million per week to veterans housing projects. The job is truly the best in the world and the recipients couldn’t be more deserving.

The great thing about helping our veterans, other than helping people that gave us our freedoms are the partnerships you develop along the road. The guys from 3 Doors Down are huge military supporters. They’ve done the USO tours and their music is inspired by our service men and women. They were cool enough to reach out and see how they could help.

The project was an awesome experience and the impact we were able to make in one day was incredible.

I Love Racing

I love racing. I seriously can’t get enough time at the track. I love the competition. I love the friendships. I love the speed and all that comes with it.
gsxr 1
This year has been tough. I took time off this season for personal reasons and I’ve been tweaking like a junkie needing a fix. I haven’t been to the races, and for the most part I’ve fallen off the grid to many of my racing friends and family. Not exactly the way I like to leave something l enjoy so much.
turning irons
I miss wrenching on the bikes and getting everything dialed in before the weekend. I grew up a gearhead, so it’s really therapeutic to put wrenches on a bike and adjusting things just the way you like.
gsxr 2
The friends I made at the track are some of the best people you’ll ever meet. I could go toe to toe with these guys, swap paint and take an inside line on someone only to have a beer with them later that day. It’s a family atmosphere and the majority of folks are there to have fun, win races and leave in one piece.
pits
Taking the season off this year was a tough decision, but I can promise you I’ll be back in 2012. I can’t wait.

6 Reasons Why I Love The Keys

The Florida Keys may be the best place on the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of great, tropical retreats, but I just can’t get enough of the Keys. I’ve been heading to the islands for 15 years or so and each year brings some new adventure or experience. On our last trip we were fortunate enough to see some amazing sites. These are just a few of the many reasons I love the Keys.

1. Quality Time With Family & Friends
boat shot with everyone
Whether your’re 20 miles off shore looking for Tuna or just sitting on the dock having a cold beer, time with family and friends is the main reason I love heading to the islands. You get to unplug here more than any place I’ve ever been.

2. Reef Life
brain coral
The reef life you’ll see in the Keys is among the best in the world and certainly the best for the U.S. I’ve seen better reef eco-systems, but not in this depth and not this close to home.

3. Sharks
shark
I love sharks. They are a lot of fun to watch in the wild and even more fun to dive with side by side. You’ll see everything from Hammer Heads to Bulls in the Keys. Fins to the left!

4. Sunsets
sunset palm
Some of the best sunsets I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing have been in the Keys. An inspiration for this blog was a sunset I witnessed in Key West.

5. Local Flavor
chatting with eric
The locals in the Keys are simply amazing. The lifestyle and laid back nature of the islands lends itself to some of the most colorful ex-patriots and entrepreneurs you’ll ever meet.

6. Rays
ray
The reef life in the Keys is amazing enough to keep you coming back time and time again. To add to the euphoria you may just get to see some of the local Spotted Eagle Rays cruising along the coral.

Brands Walking The Human Line

One of the greatest things about social media is the ability to humanize a large brand to a mass audience. It’s really cool to interact with companies as large as Coke or Delta on social sites. It’s even more fun when they talk to you like a real person would. Well, I’m a bit of a nerd so it’s cool to me. No one wants a lame, boiler plate response to a praise or complaint. It’s boring, disingenuous and for the most part a turnoff. With the expectation that brands are accessible in the social space we’re all getting used to conversations with otherwise nameless corporations. It’s been an interesting shift to say the least.

Now, keep in mind some brands have an easier time being “cool” on social sites due to the nature of their business. With all the information and fun-loving conversations taking place; there is a struggle going on behind the scenes. How much casual conversation is too much? Do people really want to have fun, joke and interact with a company like they would a real person? I can tell you from my experience that most do, but some don’t. For me it’s refreshing to know I’m speaking to a person and not some Twitter bot. It’s important for Community and Social Managers to remember who their audience is. We’re constantly gut checking ourselves on content, and messaging we’re about to use. You have to because you owe it to your communities. No community is the same, and each brand deals with its own opportunities. Remember who you’re talking to and you should be just fine.

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