Reporters on the Job

I Can't Drive 55: Talk to Americans about auto clubs, and they may think of a group of classic '56 Chevys cruising down the highway. But in China, it's a bit different, as staff photographer Andy Nelson found out in shooting today's story about the Chinese auto culture (see story).

"I tagged along on a weekend outing of the Audi club," says Andy. The group was very organized, he says. "We left at 9:30 a.m., just at the right moment to sit in traffic for 45 minutes while we crawled forward about six miles. Finally, we broke free of the masses of traffic that choke Beijing every day and picked up speed. There were about 20 of us, almost all in Audis, each with a number in the window to keep the caravan in order," Andy says.

The group took the Badaling expressway and were driving about 60 m.p.h. "I tried to get them at least to slow down as we sped by the Great Wall, which I was excited to see, but no luck," he says. "About an hour later, we arrived at the Long Qing gorge, where we pulled into a guest house and spent the afternoon eating and hiking."

Andy says that he was struck by the fact that, like other car enthusiasts, they were eager to talk about the nitty gritty of their cars - engines, tires and wheels, and transmissions. But the car clubs here seem to be much more focused on the social aspect, with the unifying theme being the make of the car.

Around 8.30 p.m., the group started to head back to Beijing. "Once again, we ran into huge amounts of traffic - this time, big trucks heading into the city to be ready to enter after midnight, when they're allowed to unload," Andy says. "It was a 15-hour day, but it was my first chance to get out of the city and see some countryside - and breathe some moderately fresh air."

David S. Hauck
World desk editor

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