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Aaron Turpen: I Jawed At High Schoolers About My… | Cowboy State Daily



Aaron Turpen: I Jawed At High Schoolers About My… | Cowboy State Daily

Recently, I went to East High to talk to an AVID class about what I do for a living.

Being a class full of teenagers, none of them were particularly interested when I, a middle-aged guy with a “get off my lawn” beard and “I don’t like haircuts” style got up on the little stage-like platform in Mrs. Martin’s class.

Such is the way of teenagers, no matter the generation.

Most schools in Laramie District 1 have an Advancement Via Individual Determination class to teach kids things like time management, what’s required to get into secondary schools (colleges, universities, etc), and to broaden horizons a bit.

The East High AVID class, for example, volunteers at the animal shelter making toys for the dogs and tours area universities and colleges to get a feel for campus life.

So standing on the stage and introducing myself, I told this group of ninth graders about myself. I drive brand new cars, supplied by manufacturers, and then write about those cars.

I take photos of questionable quality and sometimes do videos that are often ranked as “worst car reviews on YouTube” by commentators.

I mentioned that, in order to give other YouTubers a chance, I have to cover my glamorous magazine-ready face with hair to tone down my appeal some.

Given my drip, the kids probably thought this was pretty sus.

But they soon began to perk up, learning that I’m not just some guy with some job they’d consider boring. Which was a pretty proud moment for me, as I’m pretty sure my ninth grader son would consider professional skydiving or an X-Games pro to be lame.

Once things warmed up, and Mrs. Martin gave the ultimatum for the class to start asking questions, my presentation got more interesting. I was asked how I got into writing.

My answer was that I’ve never NOT been writing. It’s just taken on different forms.

I just so happened, about a decade ago (or so) to have found a way to parlay that into driving vehicles. It was a natural evolution from being a truck driver, in my mind.

I talked about how my college degree isn’t a match for what I do as a job. I use computers, sure, but a Computer Science degree doesn’t really teach journalism or writing skills.

I know automotive journalists who have journalism backgrounds. They are very good at writing up things that read like they should be in print. I’m better at writing things that are more colloquial, as it were.

That’s my fancy way of saying I like to use first person and try to insert funny bits so I look smarter.

The questions kept coming. These kids seemed genuinely interested in how I got started, what kind of things I do every day, how a freewheeling freelance gig person does it, and so on. Many of them were pretty good.

“Do the car makers pay you?” Nope. Publications that print my stuff pay me. The automakers give me vehicles in hopes that I can get them published to a large audience. Plus I don’t wreck up their vehicles, so they trust me not to be “that guy.”

“How long do you have a car for?” Press loans vary in length, but are usually about a week.

Sometimes a little longer, sometimes shorter. I generally put between 100 and 200 miles on a vehicle while I have it. Mostly doing everyday things, but also including fuel economy testing and sometimes special uses like off-road, towing, etc.

“How many cars have you driven?” Hard one to answer. I settled on 1,000-1,500 since I average about 100 vehicles per year and also go to events and unveilings where I might get to drive more.

“What is the coolest car you’ve ever driven?” Also a hard one.

Vehicles are designed for different purposes, so I can’t say just one was the coolest.

Favorites that I’ve driven include a McLaren, a BMW i8, an Alfa Romeo 4C, a specially outfitted Jeep Gladiator from RMT Overland, several side-by-side UTVs, and things with “SRT” and “Hellcat” in their names.

I judge vehicles based on what they’re used for and have a particular bias towards off-road-ready setups and speedy roadsters.

And especially for those that range into the ridiculous category, like a family-sized SUV with over 600 horsepower or a luxury car with a price tag equal to my house. Or, in the case of the first three on my list, cars that are pure adrenaline pumpers that are made way too small for someone of my size.

“What did you want to do for a job when you were in high school?” This question was a great one. I wanted to be a writer.

At the time, I thought I would write science fiction and fantasy. Isaac Asimov and JRR Tolkien were my literary heroes. What I learned with time was that I’m far better at writing opinions than I am at writing fiction.

Fiction, for me, takes a lot of work. Writing about things I love, like cars, is pretty easy by comparison. It took many years of frustration and working a myriad of non-writing jobs to learn that.

The overall experience was a good one. And the resulting thank you cards sent to me were a nice bonus.

One ninth grader wrote “Thank you for coming and talking about your job. I didn’t care very much about cars before now. I do a little bit more.” Nice! Mission accomplished so far as I’m concerned.

Another wrote “That was a lot of fun to listen about your job. The only problem I have is English, but I’m gonna try hard to get better at writing to get a job.” To which, I would say, being able to write well is not necessarily a prerequisite to journalism. I’ve been an editor before.

“I would enjoy having a new car every week because I could not be able to decide what car to buy.” Fair enough. I think I know some automotive writers who would fall into that category. They own extremely impractical vehicles as a rule.

“I would like to try to do car racing for a bit and I like hearing about cars.” Girl after my own heart there. She should try rally. The last bit of real auto racing left.

“Thank you for not trying to use slang during your presentation.” He’s correct. I didn’t use any of the slang words in the title of this article while talking to this AVID class. That would’ve been cringe.

It was special to have the chance to show these kids that imagination can reach beyond the standard list of professional careers or stretch an existing one into something more.

Back when I was their age, there were no presentations to show me that one could think beyond the established.

Thankfully, we’re getting past telling kids that working with their hands is bad, that thinking for themselves is bad, and that college is the only option for them.

The world is more open and accessible than ever. And they have unprecedented opportunities thanks to that.

I think more of us adults should participate in opportunities like this to show kids what’s out there. The world needs writers, plumbers, engineers, teachers, cooks, and small business owners.

We should be showing these kids, who are so close to being thrown out into the adult world, that it’s not all unfamiliar and scary. That they can get somewhere based on their own dreams and ideas and that perseverance pays off.

Bucking hay can turn into bagging groceries which becomes carpentry that turns into truck driving and becomes automotive journalism. Every path is unique and no job is exactly like another.

So long as it’s not a career in politics, I think kids should be encouraged to work hard and run with their dreams. Because the world needs more workaday dreamers.

Aaron Turpen can be reached at:

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