More Confessions of a Phony Auto Expert: The Strasbourg Frolic
May 9th, 2018, 10:50 PM
The writer was born in a housing project near Jefferson and St. Jean on Detroit's east side. He worked his way through Wayne State by building Chryslers. He began his career as an automotive journalist and later wrote ads. This is the third excerpt from a memoir he's writing.
By Mike Nickele
Working on a weekly magazine means a mess of stress and daily drudgery. One of the best antidotes for this condition is a “press trip”. That’s when one of the car companies or a supplier rounds up a bunch of automotive journalists and whisks them away on a propaganda laden vacation. And the best of the trips for me had always been those sponsored by Volkswagen. They were the best, “Hans” down.
And, of course, the assigned reporter would again need to curb his or her enthusiasm and pretend that the trip would be nothing more than a tedious series of interviews and conferences or factory tours. That’s just what I did when I was informed by my editor that I would be representing our magazine on a trip to Strasbourg, France, compliments of VW.
“Holy crap! I’m going back to France,” was what I screamed inside my head as I nodded dutifully, calmly took the assignment and jotted a few important notes.
Then, with a shit-eatin’ grin, I told a pal via phone: “Holy crap! I’m going back to France!” He jokingly replied that he only hoped that they would let me back in.
Let’s get the mundane, expected stuff out of the way:
Race to the airport from the office; park in one of the cheap off-site lots to make the boss think I was being careful with his money; meet the VW PR staff and other reporters near the boarding gate; have a few blasts of cognac with said reporters and said PR staff in the nearby airport bar; get on said plane and commence to drink it dry of said cognac with said reporters and PR staff; sleep off the cognac during the hours-long flight so this whole display of hedonism could begin again once the wheels hit the runway. There.
Whew! Now let’s get down to business -- the best of which is pure monkey business!
Engineer in a Lab Coat
Serious fast forward. Everything’s tucked in at the hotel. (Always a great inn when VW was hosting). We’re now sitting in a hotel conference room. Lots of long tables with a set of headphones at each place. There’s a German VW engineer in a white lab coat speaking softly and methodically as he explains the technical details of the brand’s debut models.
Pretty impressive stuff, no doubt, but lost on me. However, I am smart enough to know that it’s pretty cool. (I’ll ask one of them to explain it in dumbbell terms later so I can repeat it to the boss and readers and not sound like an imbecile. And that would have taken work)
The presentation is so boring. This obviously talented engineer in the white lab coat is speaking German into a microphone. A translator is doing his thing through the headphones I mentioned before. This is a bigger sleep inducer than Sominex. “Icht de blah, blah blah — the spritzer gear is connected to the flippen nut.”
You get the picture. And, the room was dimly lit and very warm. Well, the cognac residue in my gut was dragging me into a deep sleep. I just had to pray that I wouldn’t start snoring. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Couldn’t tell you because I was asleep. But I had the security of the press kit in my briefcase to crutch my diminished journalistic capacity.
After the meeting, we adjourned to the hotel lobby bar and the Germans helped us do what they do so very well — drink. I forget what I was swilling at the time (and later you’ll discover why my memory of the early evening was and remains sketchy), and sitting by myself at a small table. One of the PR guys, a skinny, happy older fella with lines in his face and those kind of pipe teeth - you know, the ones that are pretty stained all over and really dark at the edges from chewing on the stem - approached my table.
“Hi, Mike. Waddya wanna do tonight?”, he asked with a wry smile. Sstrap yourself in, ‘cause here we go!
“I don’t know”, I answered, “Guess just have a few drinks and hit the sack.” “Nah,” said Ollie (I’ll call him Ollie, so as not to upset his family and coworkers). “Wanna talk to those two girls?”, he asked whilst pointing to the only two women in the bar. “I don’t speak French,” I said.
“I do”, he snapped back. “Let’s go. But, here’s the deal: You are Nick Pivot, a rock star from the USA and I am Ollie, your manager. We’re in Europe to get you a contract. That’s the deal, so let’s go. I’ll do the talking.”
Je ne parle pas français
So, we walk over to the girls’ table, and Ollie addresses the French duo. I don’t know what he’s saying, because as I said before, I don’t speak or understand French. I was just checking out the girls and I liked what I saw.
One blonde, Armelle. One brunette, Natalie. Pretty girls in their early 20s with cute, firm figures. Armelle had two tiny round scars above her left eyebrow, which she would later tell me was from a dog bite years ago. So, we have a couple drinks with the girls as Ollie yaks in French and I just giggle and nod (like a rock star from the USA would do when in France with a couple of French girls).
Ollie stands up and says “Let’s go”. The girls arise and I get a much better look at those aforementioned frames. I didn’t know where we were going, but if they were going, I was going, too!
We amble out of the hotel with Armelle and Natalie. Now, the other reporters and car company employees were carefully watching me, Ollie and the girls. There was some whispering and pointing going on. I didn’t really care about that, because, back then, there was usually some whispering and pointing going on in my direction.
We hopped into one of the girls’ Opel sedan and headed out into the rainy Strasbourg night. I couldn’t begin to tell you where we went exactly. Next thing I know, we’re sitting on big sofas in a discotheque.
Obnoxious music is pounding, while the girls are pounding J&B Scotch. Ollie is shelling out the dough and the booze is flowing strong. That’s one thing about Volkswagen press trips: Those cats knew how to drink. We drank and danced with those girls in three different discos. Armelle drove the car, Ollie bought the drinks and Natalie and I just danced and laughed.
At what must have been the middle of the night/morning, we headed back to the hotel and into my room. Ollie asks me to play some of my music for the girls, still promoting me as a rock star from the States. I had brought a mini stereo with some music cassettes, of which one was a few new songs I had just recorded with a Detroit band, The Lovemasters.
Now the girls are certain that I am a rock star from afar. They found a jar of expensive pate’ that Volkswagen gave each reporter as a gift. After dunking a couple of mini bottles of J&B out of the mini bar, the gals were hungry. They ripped into that pate’ and gobbled it down with glee. I put on a James Brown cassette and the girls shrieked and turned it up really loud. When James would shout “JB”, they would take swigs of scotch. Then something weird happened.
Ollie was speaking French very softly and close up with the girls. He put his arm around Natalie’s waist and they left the room and began a long stumble to Ollie’s room. Armelle and I just laughed and continued to dance to the music. I pointed toward that fine frame and told her that she should take off her clothes. She laughed and said, “No”. Well, I wasn’t sure if “No” in French was the same as “No” in English. So, I followed quickly with a request that she simply remove her shirt. And she did. Oh boy, something I had heard was obviously true.
Knock on The Door
We were dancing and laughing and maybe trading kisses now and then when there was a firm and rapid knock on the door. I opened it to find Natalie there. She pushed past me and began a rapid fire conversation with Armelle. She said that Ollie had gotten too fresh with her. That he began to grab and pinch her.
So, she abandoned his room and returned to join me, Armelle and the scotch. A few more blasts of J&B and the three of us are dancing sans shirts to the stereo blasting James Brown. Next thing you know, the three of us are naked and rolling around the bed. Natalie let it be known that she did not want to ball. Armelle certainly did. What amazed me was just how firm these women were. Something in the water, maybe — or the scotch! While I performed some American magic on Armelle, Natalie petted her friend’s forehead, pinching her nipples as she moaned and writhed under me.
Then Natalie said something to Armelle. I slowed my act down and asked what she had said. Armelle laughed and said, “She says you fuck for a long time because you are drunk”. “Tell the professor that she’s absolutely correct,” I replied. Armelle continued to grind below me and she mumbled, “And that makes me happy!”
When the rabbit finally popped out of the hat and the magic act was over, the girls and I said our goodbyes. We exchanged addresses with promises to keep in touch. (And, we did. More on Armelle and Natalie — and Ollie — in future columns!)
The next morning, I wandered down to the breakfast buffet that was prepared for us. Hung over, I picked at Euro breakfast items like croissants, bread and jam, cold cuts, granola and the like. The Germans and the other reporters were very curious as to what all the music and racket that was coming from my room the night before. “We heard music. Did you go with those girls?” “Nah, that was someone else. I was in bed by 10,” I lied.