This is the baby ... we still haven't come up with a name for her. Rumba, Caramba and Hot Pistil are contenders.
Miami to Atlanta and back in 48 hours was quite the whirlwind tour. At Miami International Airport, I was carted around in a wheelchair and whisked by check-in and security faster than you could scream "we won't be fooled again." And even though Horatio Cane wasn't present to conduct a body cavity search (damn it!), the security personnel did wipe my cast boot with a cotton pad -- I imagine it's some CSI way of checking for explosives.
Alas, dear readers, there are more expletives than explosives involved with being on crutches. Honestly, I'm surprised more people don't take advantage of the system and fake being cripple. Nevertheless, there's nothing funny about the way the world works when you can't use your own two feet in a normal manner. I've been learning quite a bit about accessibility issues and what it must be like to be handicapped, but let's save that for another blog post, shall we?
I do, however, need to thank Delta Airlines for how wonderfully they took care of me both at Miami International Airport and Atlanta Hartsfield. There is no way in hell I could've walked those interminable terminals on crutches. I mean, I could have, had I arrived at the airport a day earlier. And besides, I'm not exactly running for martyrdom here. I wish I could run, but I can't!
At MIA, my team agent Brad A Schenck joined me at the lounge by the gate, where we enjoyed a couple of pre-flight cocktails. Next thing we know, we're met by Natasha Tsakos, another Ford Fiesta agent from Miami. Natasha is a brilliant theatrical artist who has been working for years with a high school buddy of mine, also an amazing performer, Octavio Campos. I had never met Natasha before. Small world, eh?
Once we got to Atlanta, we met the other seven agents training with us, a diverse group of people with one thing in common -- that social media bug. Ford arranged for us to stay at a well-appointed and comfortable Marriot in midtown Atlanta. Brad and I got a suite on the 15th floor with sweeping views of the city. It felt like I was on one of my Caribbean travel press trips of yore, except that they didn't send up the poolboy with an ice bucket and a stiff cock ... oh, never mind.
And speaking of cocktails, I'm certainly not complaining! Ford wined and dined us in style. Dinner at Home, a gorgeous colonial house turned into gourmet restaurant, was excellent and choreographed in such a way so that training time didn't interfere with our enjoyment. If they wanted to kiss our asses and give us some magical Kool Aid, this was the way to do it. The whole process never felt corporate or forced; it was utterly cordial and professional. Even though it was all about the car, it was also about connecting.
And speaking of Kool Aid, I did actually discover a Southern take on the mojito called the Old Cuban (video). The concept of a bastard mojito has already intrigued my buddy and mojito expert Ines over at Miamism. I dubbed the cocktail Viejo Verde, which translates as "green old pervy dude." The beverage is so delicious and refreshing, yet I have never, ever heard of anyone ordering it in Miami, so it could be a purely Southern twist on what I'd then have to call a Limp Julep. (Please note: the secret ingredients in this version were agave nectar and angostura bitters.)
The next day, we sat through some more training over continental breakfast, where we went over policies and procedures (zzzzzz) and specs about the car (cool!). Brad, nursing a wee bit of a hangover, rested on the sofa afterward, and I wondered if Bed, Boy and Beyond might have this kind of cushion for sa ... oh, never mind.
And speaking of sales, driving for hours is not a hard sell for Brad; his idea of a short trip is picking up a friend in Arkansas on his way to DC! But we did have a long day ahead -- Brad had to transport us across state lines. A quick snooze after booze was absolutely needed.
During check-out, we received our car keys at the hotel, so by the time we got to Turner Stadium's parking lot for that much-anticipated moment to meet our cars for training and test driving, we were quite eager to make sweet love to our four-wheeled models. And as you'll see, I almost mean that literally.
Ten cars were lined up in a row. Because Ford Fiesta has keyless entry, we would only know which car was ours when we approached it and could open the door. Ladies, heed me! This is great technology: imagine a world in which you never, ever have to fumble for your keys in the black hole that is a woman's purse, those Prada bags that suck every bit of matter into the dark recesses of a zippered pocket.
Purse notwithstanding, I knew which car was ours, because I was the only agent in Atlanta who had ordered the yellow flower graphic on the passenger side.
It's hard to explain, but once we were in the car, even I could understand why my co-pilot Brad started tonguing the steering wheel, after which point I had no choice but to call him Pervy Young Gringo. "Yeah, I took it there, already," he groaned. "Oh my gawd," I replied incredulously. "Did you have a manual fluffer?"
Ok, ok ... seriously ... moving right along ... two professional driving coaches were at hand to teach novice and experienced stick-shift drivers how to handle the car. All the Ford Fiesta Movement models are manual transmission because they're fresh out of the factory from Europe. The models that will be sold in the U.S. in 2010 will be both manual and automatic.
I enjoyed a fantastic observation lesson from Chris (video), a great coach who went through all the nuances of driving. Since I couldn't get behind the wheel, I tried to mentally understand the whole tachometer - gear - shift - throttle and clutch - coordination thing. When you've been driving automatic transmission for so long, it's easy to take for granted what a car does to get you from point a to point b.
Brad, who is an experienced stick shift driver, maneuvered like butter with a whopping shot of Tabasco. He took to this car like nobody's business and went around the orange cones of the course with great ease and some modest bravado. (I'm sure he was holding back with delight! I'm sure of it!)
After a couple of hours, we headed down to Miami on I-75 and the Turnpike. Natasha -- brave and spunky girl -- had never driven manual transmission before, so she followed us for most of the way. This never-before-seen convoy of magenta Ford Fiestas stopped at a Starbucks in Macon, Georgia, where we meet a gregarious, blond peach of a gal who regaled us with stories about movies featuring zombie monkeys. You just never know who you're going to meet when you're on the road, which is part of the pleasure.
We also stopped for boiled peanuts (video) and dined at a Cracker Barrel in Gainesville, where Brad, searching for an alternative to caffeine, drank some pickling juice from a bottle of Bruce's Jalapeño Sauce.
Did it work? Well, we made it to Miami in 12 hours flat. Atlanta departure: 2:40 PM - arrival at Maria's house: 5:40 am.
Stay tuned for our first official mission, which will take place sometime this month. We're not quite sure what it is yet, but if we get to do what we proposed to Ford, I promise it will be EXPLOSIVE! In the meantime, don't forget to follow Fordfiestamiami on Twitter for the latest photos, videos and updates.
Feel free to make suggestions for the name of the car, or places we should go in Florida that you'd like to learn more about!
Want to see more pictures? Here's a slideshow on Flickr. Below, a video recap of our trip, originally live streamed on Qik.