If you were able to ask André Idzikowski how I got here—road test editor at Car and Driver—he'd launch into a story about a four-year-old girl playing dress-up and wearing her mom's high heels. He'd tell you that he stopped by that little girl's home to say hello to her parents and that the precocious four-year-old asked for a ride in the bright-red Ferrari he was driving. Pretty much from that point on, it was over for me. I was totally into cars, and André fed the flame by taking me for rides as often as he could.
At the time, André held the job that's now my responsibility: scheduling review vehicles, maintaining long-term cars, managing the team of road warriors, and organizing 10Best. But André had a simpler way of describing his work. He was the babysitter of the Car and Driver "children." The editors were always doing dumb things with the C/D fleet, and André believed it was his responsibility to solve those problems.
When I turned 16, André began to bring me to the Car and Driver headquarters at 2002 Hogback Road in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I started as a road warrior in 1996 during 10Best testing and quickly discovered the joys of driving brand-new cars. My male friends at school simultaneously loved and hated me. To impress my Jaguar-loving auto-class teacher, André drove C/D's long-term X-type to school so I could show off. André began to introduce me to all the aspects of his job. We went to press days at the Detroit auto show together. When I was still in my teens, he introduced me to the PR reps for nearly all the automakers.
André loved to teach, and what I learned from him shaped me. The first thing he taught me was how to drive a car. Now, I don't mean checking blind spots, or learning the right of way at a four-way stop, or getting a driver's license. I'd done that already. I mean driving a car like I had no choice but to follow and keep up with a group of C/D editors or risk getting left behind. André understood the importance of using his turn signals, and while he deftly moved from lane to lane on the highway, he'd always tick his turn signal once. Just once. If you asked him about it, he'd reply, "It's not my fault if they didn't see it." I learned how to drive at school, but I learned how to drive at Car and Driver.
André's lessons weren't confined to the work at hand. He also taught me the value of wearing pantyhose. Yes, pantyhose. When I started attending auto shows, he introduced me to a dress code of sorts. He suggested I wear pantyhose and not have bare legs or wear tights, because, as he put it, tights were for eight-year-olds. André also encouraged me to speak up in a male-dominated industry. As a young woman, I learned about sexism and ageism, but André always made sure that I knew I had as much right to be there as anyone else. It was okay to be young; it was okay to be a woman. I could prove myself, and he gave me the confidence to do so.
In the office, André reveled in his paternal role of keeper of the cars. He'd warn road warriors and editors alike with "Be careful out there. It's never you I'm worried about" or "Don't pork this car up." If you did something wrong, he'd aim and shake his pointer finger and pinky in your direction. His phone calls with his family were infamous with staffers. Always exasperated with his parents, he could be heard swearing in "Frolish," a hybrid language he spoke with his French mother and his Polish father. There were also his calls for the road warriors to pick up his breakfast—McDonald's hotcakes and sausage—or lunch—a Brawny Lad from Big Boy.
He was less vocal about his decades-long fight with leukemia. During one battle, André went back to school to get his master's degree and swore to my mother that he would graduate before my older brother graduated from college. André did it, of course. Courageous, strong-willed, and passionate, he was rarely ruffled by adversity. He suffered through some serious car accidents that took a toll on his body, but despite cancer and crashes, he persisted with a wry smile and a great story.
In André's 24 years at Car and Driver, he came to define the road test editor role. More than a half-dozen people have held the title between his tenure and my hiring, and Car and Driver moved out of those old Hogback Road digs more than a decade ago. Yet his name still echoes around these hallways. While he's not the household name that Csaba Csere, Patrick Bedard, Brock Yates, and John Phillips are to C/D readers, André Idzikowski is a legend among the kids who were so fascinated by cars and magazines that they became a part of it all.
André died in 2007, finally taken by leukemia at age 47. I had left C/D a year earlier, taking with me a life's worth of the wisdom that he imparted. I went on to manage press fleets and product launches for automakers, then spent six years outside the auto industry. But when you truly love cars—the way André did, the way I do—there's no better job than one at Car and Driver. I don't just want to drive cars. I want to compare, dissect, evaluate, and argue about them. That's why, after 12 years away, I'm back where it all started for me. André led me back.
André helped set the course for my life. All the knowledge, experiences, and friendships I found in this industry were because of him. I'm here because he thought a little four-year-old girl deserved to be here as much as anyone else. In his memory, I will make sure that my five-year-old daughter knows that the possibility to follow the same path is there if she wants it. If she decides to do something else, I guarantee that she will at least know about cars. Her education is already underway. A drive with her has her spotting and calling out Mustangs, Corvettes, and Chargers. She goads me to "do that vroom-vrooming again!"
But I'm the road test editor now, which means I've also got children to babysit and miles to cover. If you're on the road and you spot a car changing lanes with a last-second tick of the turn signal, know you've come across a disciple of the legendary André Idzikowski.
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