Ali Mansour's Job Interview Adventure - The 5-Day Interview

    Chasing Tires, Snow, And A Dream

    Ali MansourPhotographer, Writer

    Four-wheeling is my life. I began exploring the great outdoors with a stock '87 diesel Trooper II that would teach me at an early age the importance of driver ability as opposed to relying onexpensive equipment. Fresh out of college with a degree in writing, it was my passion and knowledge with four-wheel-drives that secured me a position at one of the fastest growing 4x4 shops in Wilmington, North Carolina. An avid reader of 4-Wheel & Off-Road over the last 10 years I knew that the mag was looking for a new guy, so with fingers crossed I mailed off my application in hopes of becoming the next feature editor. A few weeks later I would get the phone call that turned my world upside down. After a phone interview with Editor Rick Pw, I was invited to fly out to Southern California, where I would participate in a tire test in mud, rock, sand, and snow.

    So there I was sitting in an airport terminal anxiously awaiting the start of my five-day interview as a Feature Editor of Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road. This was far beyond simply a job, but rather a dream that I never imagined could be realized. Who would have thought a simple Wilmington, North Carolina, boy would ever have the chance to write for the magazine that he has followed for so many years?

    I hoped originally to use the seven-hour cross-country flight to figure out a few things about my new digital camera, but in my rush to gather the essentials, I mistakenly grabbed the other owner's manual that was written entirely in Spanish. Doh! Somewhere between the puzzled expression on my face and my failing attempt to put that damn camera neatly back into its holder, the passenger next to me sparked a conversation. He was a retired Los Angeles County defense attorney who schooled me on the gang problem, the horrendous traffic, and the fact that you can never trust anyone, although he did say the weather was nice. It was a long flight.

    Armed with only a cell phone and two overstuffed bags, I muscled my way through the hoards of people that lined the drop-off area in front of Burbank Airport. After a few confusing minutes on the phone I spotted Rick Pw in a slightly abused green JK Wrangler. Originally the plan was for me to fly out and help with a tire test that was to consist of two test vehicles (Feature Editor Jerrod Jones' Blazer and Rick's M38 A1 Jeep), six sets of tires, and three days in the elements.

    As fast as a phone call is made, the entire test was put into jeopardy. Jerrod's Blazer had lunched the flexplate and torque converter on the trans. With the test scheduled to start first thing in the morning, there was a bit of urgency to get the Blazer repaired. We headed over to South Bay 4x4 where Jerrod had towed his Blazer for emergency surgery. Luckily for us, the owner, Frank Gilliland, had located an upgraded flexplate and converter and would be able to install it that evening. The decision was made to leave Jerrod with his Blazer at the shop and for us to load the JK onto the trailer and head back to the office. Less than an hour after touching down in L.A., I was pulling ramps, loading vehicles, and absorbing information from three different directions. The interview process had begun.

    Chaos is the only way I know how to describe what locals would have you refer to as traffic. There is a certain level of commitment and blind faith that you have to have to survive in L.A.'s road system. How Rick was able to squeeze the Hemi-powered Dodge 4x4 of the Year, with trailer in tow, seamlessly through that disaster called traffic still amazes me.

    Eventually we made it to Primedia to unload the JK and take the grand tour of the office. I must admit the view from the 11th floor window is quite spectacular, if you enjoy smog-filled sunsets, hills lined with houses, and monstrous rectangular buildings. So, with my arms full of my first taste of 4-Wheel & Off-Road swag and time ticking by fast, we headed off to finish loading the truck and trailer with the last set of tires.

    It was around 7 a.m. and Rick's Ram Jet 350-powered A1 sat idling in the driveway as we made our way over to double-check everything before loading the trailer. A brief inspection would introduce us to yet another uninvited surprise-the trailer shackles had ripped apart on the driver side of the trailer. We made a quick call to Brian Wallach at American Off-Road for a potential backup fix if we had to make our own set of shackles, but luckily, we were able to get it fixed at the local trailer shop.

    After a few hours of driving we arrived at the local mud pit for a fun-filled day of changing muddy tires, taking lots of photos, and did I mention changing muddy tires? As we pulled into the park, we could only make out half of Jerrod's Blazer. The rest laid buried, stuck up to the doors in mud. You never really know the importance of a winch until you have to use three of them to pull out one stuck Blazer. Once safely extracted, I was introduced to the most mellow, down-to-earth group of guys I have ever met. If you ever thought that this job requires an ego, think again.

    Naturally, I was the new guy, so most of my time was spent with my arms wrapped around tires covered in the muddy black silt and shuffling jacks from one 4x4 to the other. Regardless of how hard the wind blew or how much dirt was in your face, you had a job to do. Simply put, there isn't much glamour in this part of the business. If you want to be famous, try out for American Idol, not 4WOR. Once finished with mud testing, we headed towards the mountains in hopes of locating enough snow to test the tires in the morning. But as fate would have it, our day of swapping tires was far from over.

    Have you ever wondered what would happen if your wheel flew off while driving down a mountain road at 65 mph at night? Well, the crew here at 4-Wheel & Off-Road likes to conduct little tests of their own for the safety and benefit of their readership, and you will be glad to know that our test dummy (Jerrod) walked away without injury, but the same can't be said for his wheel, studs, and rotor. A fluke accident caused his front driver-side wheel to shoot off while rounding a bend coming down the mountain. Though the Blazer put out an impressive fireworks show from underneath, the only real damage came in the form of a flat spotted rotor and a few shaken nerves.

    Flashlights ruled the dark as we worked through the night to fix the Blazer and switch out another set of tires. Finally we were able to get back on the road, but our mountain hopes were too far gone for the evening as we crashed at a local hotel.

    Shortly after 8 a.m. we hit the road in search of a snow-filled path that would be thick enough for us to justify testing the tires. Without a cloud in the sky and the temperature rising, we headed up the steep winding road to the mountain resort of Big Bear. The view that's offered to you going up the mountain is simply incredible.

    The problem with no clouds is usually no problem, but unfortunately it also meant no snow that day. Rick, knowing that it was my first time in snow, found just enough to chuck a snowball at me. Thanks, Rick. No white stuff meant back down the mountain and off to Johnson Valley for the rock portion of the test.

    Stiff winds, loose sand, and three-story-tall rock formations set the stage for the day's test of tire bashing. The light-colored sticky granite was the perfect platform for testing the tires' grip, flex, and overall performance in a dry environment. Again I was stationed in the pits with a barrage of jacks, Power Tanks, and cordless impacts, and spent most of my time swapping tires and hustling over to the testing area to try and take photos. We worked until dark and as the winds began to blow more frigid and sharp, we headed back out onto the dusty Baja-type roads looking once more for food and comfort.

    After spending two solid days of changing wheels, unloading tools, and airing tires up and down, we decided to head for Doran Canyon near Barstow for a half-day trail ride. Originally used as a mining road, the canyon trail is surrounded by hints of its historical roots. Chunks of old asphalt lined the trail floor, both faded and darkened by rippled canyon walls. Hidden in all directions were dozens of abandoned core burrows and mine shafts along the trail passage.

    In true 4-Wheel & Off-Road style the day could not begin without some type of vehicular carnage. The first breakage occurred less than 15 minutes into the trail, and the victim this time would be the passenger-side CV axleshaft on the Red Sled. Good thing Tech Editor Fred Williams' truck doubles as a rolling repair shop, as with proper tools and extra parts on board, he swapped out the shaft in record time.

    Jerrod Jones and Web Producer Jason Gonderman would both leave a few traces of their fiberglass fenders behind, as narrow passages and tight bends can make light work of those high-dollar aftermarket panels. This part of the interview was a great opportunity for me to walk the trail and get used to taking pictures of a trail ride. For those of you wondering, yes, you walk and work a lot more than you drive; that's part of the job.

    The trail ride had reached its end. Fred needed to get back home so he could fly out for another event and as much fun as we were having, we regretfully headed back for the three-hour trip to the fog-filled basin of Los Angeles.

    I had taken notes, changed tires, and snapped photos every time I could. I had asked questions and told my own stories. The stage was set and all my cards were on the table. Only one day left on the trip and still no job offer! Rick's A1 remained a muddy mess so we quickly hosed it off. Covered in mud and with the Jeep still dripping in the sunlight, we got in and took it for a little air-dry ride to grab some lunch.

    Reeking of suburbia, the steady stream of SUVs and their pill-powered drivers stared in confusion as though Rick's A1 was some medieval time device that should not be allowed on the road. With my ears ringing from gear whine and exhaust noise, and still wet and muddy to boot, I looked at Rick and laughed. "I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a wet ass than an Escalade." Not long after sitting down at the table at In-N-Out Burger I was given the greatest job offer of my life. I had passed the interview that was more like boot camp, and I quickly accepted. By the time you read this I will have started my new job here at the magazine. I hope you'll like what I have to offer and look forward to seeing you on the trail.