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The End of a Road and a Long Journey

By Warren Brown
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 5, 2009

Dear readers:

You'll notice that my byline has changed. That's because I've retired from the full-time staff of this fine journal, effective July 1.

It was not a tough decision.

I love this newspaper, which has employed me for 33 years. But my love isn't blind. I can see numbers. I can count, and the numbers in The Post's rather generous early retirement offer said I should go.

Thus, I'm going -- but not terribly far.

My semi-departure means this will be the last installment of the Car Culture column on these pages. While I'll continue to review autos for The Washington Post, the Car Culture column will continue in slightly altered form in Decisive magazine, to be published by OnWheels, a company founded 15 years ago by automotive journalists of color (including yours truly) under the leadership of Maryland businessman Randi Payton.

Decisive is the natural outgrowth of several successful OnWheels publications, including Asians on Wheels, African Americans on Wheels and Latinos on Wheels. Decisive, a business, consumer and cultural journal, will unite all of those segments in one publication.

It's a crazy time to be starting a new magazine. But everyone told us we were insane when we launched our initial publication, African Americans on Wheels, in 1994. We've been publishing ever since. We're crazy enough to try it again.

Deciding to accept the Post's economic carrot was easy. Actually leaving the place isn't.

After 33 years, I have many memories, most of them favorable. Truth be told, I owe the place.

The Post and its many fine employees, particularly former staffers Martha McNeil Hamilton and Frank Swoboda, saved my life -- literally.

I had kidney failure. Thanks to the company's excellent medical plan, I was able to get top-notch care. Swoboda, my Business section editor during that ordeal, supported me and my family every step of the way. Hamilton, a dear friend and fellow Business staffer -- and a white woman from Houston -- did him one better. She gave me a kidney.

I am forever grateful for The Post's admirable behavior -- its caring and support -- under dire circumstances. I'm also grateful for the career opportunities the company gave me, particularly my 27-year stint covering the automobile industry.

What began as a news beat in 1982 became and remains a mission. In the process, I have morphed from journalist into servant, which is the proper mind-set for covering an industry on which so many people depend.

I am a servant, happily so.

Families in need of the best automotive bang for their buck need good information. I and other automotive journalists try to give it to them. Ditto parents concerned about the "safest car" for their teenage drivers. (Hint: There really is no such thing, absent effective driver instruction and consistently safe driver behavior.)

Manufacturers, dealers, suppliers and after-market-equipment businesses (like makers of fancy wheels and sound systems) are integral parts of the automobile industry. My peers and I try to give them their due.

It's fun. It's challenging. It's a vocation -- one, in addition to my work at Decisive magazine, I will continue to pursue on contract for The Post.

That means a continuation of our 11 a.m. online meetings every Friday (except the July 4 weekend) in the Real Wheels chat room of http://washingtonpost.com, and it means a continuation of On Wheels vehicle evaluations in the Car Pages of Sunday's Business section.

As I said: Taking the buyout money is easy. But actually leaving is hard to do. I am glad I can do one without having to completely do the other. Service, it seems, has its benefits.

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