All my days I had moldy bread
Robot brains and the flying airplanes
Hollowed out, and filled with dust
Rocking like a hurricane under the rug.
I don’t know if Beck’s “Corvette Bummer” was part of the set list for his July 17 concert at FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine, but the song was in heavy rotation nine-and-a-half miles away the following evening in Tustin, where large speakers stacked next to a World War II-era blimp hangar blasted that song, John Hiatt’s “Cherry Red” (You were waving goodbye in a cherry red Corvette), Tom Waits’ “Gun Street Girl” (Blew a hole in the hood of a yellow Corvette) and assorted other tunes that mention Chevrolet’s premiere sports car.
The occasion was the carmaker’s 2020 Corvette Stingray “reveal” for invitees who included current Vette owners, Chevrolet dealers and company folk and, most importantly of all, the media, of which I was generously included (for a change).
Before leaving my Fountain Valley office, I’d caught an email from event promoters instructing attendees to park at the Irvine Marriott and then ride a shuttle bus over to the former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin, whose two giant hangars now serve as odd curios for the retail and residential planned community sprouting all around them. Having earlier received instructions to go directly to the hangar, I contacted the Chevy people to see if I could still park there since it’s closer to my home than the hotel is. “It’s crazy right now,” came the reply. “You’d be better off going to the hotel and taking the shuttle.” So that’s what I did.
Our shuttle load of journos was dumped off in a field next to rows and rows of Corvettes, in various shapes, colors and model years. On one side of them was the hangar that would be hosting the reveal, and on the other were tables, two In-N-Out food trucks, a chrome trailer from which street tacos were served, tents with beer, wine and water, and pop-ups showing off Corvette race cars, golf bags, luggage, apparel and other add-ons.
Soon, the massive hangar doors slowly slid open so people could file in for the reveal. I am 99 percent sure this marked the first time I’d set foot in one of the ex-blimp garages/soundstages for Stanley Kubrick’s phony moon landing footage. More Corvettes from different years were on display inside, with my favorite being a white ’62 convertible with white sidewall tires (of course).
Attendees walked past these cars to get to grandstands facing the stage where the 2020 Vette would be displayed. I took up the perfect position next to a guardrail to get shots of the Car of the Hour. Unfortunately, I was foiled by a Chevy minion who said the aisle had to be clear during the program. I was just about to join press photographers shoved way off to one side when she instructed me to take an open seat in the fifth row facing the stage. Score!
Or so I thought.
Fold-up chairs were set so close to one another that it was like getting the middle seat between sumo wrestler on a long Southwest flight. I had to hunch forward the entire time, and I could barely see the stage because once the program began, everyone in front of me (and in back, I presume) held up cell phones to capture the action.
The first “action” was video of rocket ships headed for the moon. “Oh dear God,” I said under my breath. “Are they going to equate a new car with July 1969 moon landing?” That seemed to be the gist after the video and the appearance on stage of Dr. Mae Jemison, an engineer, educator, physician and former astronaut, and Scott Kelly, the engineer and retired astronaut, U.S. Navy captain and twin brother of Mark Kelly, the engineer, retired astronaut, U.S. Navy captain and U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona who is married to former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-Tucson). To their credit, Jemison and Scott Kelly did not compare the space program with the car industry, although he did mention that many who lived above Earth later applied their engineering talents to pursuits on the ground.
It would be up to slick videos to draw the connection between rockets and Vettes, and a compelling case was actually made because the early Apollo astronauts really did drive those Chevy models, especially after a dealership near Cape Canaveral cut the spacemen special deals on them. After that section of the program, the video makers had no choice but to lay it on thick before the reveal, as I previously posted here:
Once the lights stopped flashing in the faces of audience members, a red 2020 Corvette Stingray arrived on stage. Revs of rumbly mid-engine gave way to foreboding purrs. Behind the wheel was General Motors President Mark Reuss with a toothy grin. He and others on his team would go on to describe a truly impressive new sports car with a 6.2-liter V8 that will produce 495 horsepower and goes from 0 to 60 mph in fewer than three seconds.
We were told that it took 60 years for Chevrolet to realize the dream of “Father of the Corvette” Zora Arkus-Duntov, who that long ago first extolled the virtues of putting a mid-engine Vette into production. Today’s design and engineering leaders boasted to the crowd about the improved chassis, computer system, aerodynamics, built-in bumper and expanded interior color options. But my favorite feature–especially after returning a $99,000 Vette I test drove with a crack in the strip under the front bumper–is the ability to automatically raise the front end by up to 18 inches, with memory so the car will do it every time without the driver having to think about it. Amazing!
When Reuss returned to the stage, he produced a loud gasp from the audience when he said he was not ready to talk yet about pricing. Obviously not wanting to spoil the mood, the GM prez then reported that the 2020 Vettes would start at less than $60,000, which turned that gasp into an ovation (Not to drop the proverbial turd in the punchbowl, but I believe the operative word here is “start,” because the audience’s googly eyes, woot-woots and cell phone cameras were directed at three Vettes on stage with Z51 Performance Packages that add beefier brakes and power and cooling and better handling and an exhaust system. Current performance packages on Vettes can push their price tags past $120,000. Whatever you are prepared to pay, know that dealers including Simpson Chevrolet in Irvine are already taking orders on the 2020 Corvettes .)
As for the three Vettes that has ultimately rolled onto the stage, I never did see all of any of them with my naked eyes due to the mass of humanity that was invited to huddle around them. By then I decided I’d had enough of the crowds and made my way back to the field and my shuttle ride home.
Aboard were some car journalists from the Midwest joking that they believed Reuss had gotten blasted earlier in the day, caught a couple hours sleep, put some product in his hair and showed up to weave in the new Vette moments before showtime. Surely, they jest; I witnessed no signs of such a thing.
Actually, from my crappy seat, I witnessed no signs of much of anything.
I figured my final indignity came during the ride back to the Irvine Marriott in which the shuttle driver got lost–twice!–and made wide, illegal u-turns on busy streets–twice!–until we passengers told him the way back. The Midwesterners became unhinged over that, dontcha know. I can only imagine what their hotel bar tab was that night.
But guess what? The actual worst part was yet to come. The Chevy reps who’d checked me in were nowhere to be found, so I tried to get my parking validated at the front desk. The front desk sent me to the parking valet. The parking valet sent me to the parking machine. And the computerized parking machine voice informed me that to get my car out of the fucking hellhole that is the Irvine Marriott, where I never wanted to park in the first place, and which had only held my vehicle for three hours and change, the cost would be a whopping $32.
A Corvette bummer indeed, Mr. Hansen.