Brett Berk’s weekly Stick Shift auto column in Online Vanity Fair is often like reading a sportswriter covering the crowd or visiting a doctor who tells you how he’s feeling. Yet it works. When you come to the single car in his recent 10-slide report on the world’s most famous Concours d’ Elegance, his idiosyncratic tour and description of Monterey Car Week makes you want to forsake your reality for a moment, join the 1%ers and drive off in the lush 1935 Dusenberg J Gurney Nutting Speedster shown on a Pebble Beach green. Exactly the material lust Vanity Fair hopes to inspire in its readers.
Berk is proud that all the photos in Stick Shift since he began it four years ago were shot with his Iphone without training or patience but in quantity until he gets one that works. Not all are catalog quality but he makes up for it with the words. That, after all, is his training and love. In a piece on the six generations of the Mercedes SL, he used seven modifiers to laud his favorite –the third generation, 1972 –1989 SL. He confesses to being excursive, (e.g.” a Bentley Mulsanne “long and luxurious as summer in the Cote d’Azur) and caught up in the fun of writing on a topic he’s loved since growing up in Detroit and environs. He had a Dusenberg-shaped cake as his bar mitzvah cake and he admits to a lifetime of pursuing luxury – perfect conditioning for a Vanity Fair writer.
He says, “I love being associated with Vanity Fair, as it gives me an excuse to focus in on the cars I love most–those that are luxurious, sporty, unique, or absurd–in a sharp, immersive, and intelligent fashion, blending “high” and “low” cultural references with connections to the arts, politics, fashion, Hollywood, and the auto industry. And I relish the way that being a part of that brand offers me entrée into the world and lifestyle these cars aim to capture, and the freedom to engage with and describe it in a playful and offhandedly critical fashion. I think Vanity Fair is at once inside and outside of this culture of opulence, and I delight in that paradox and oppositionality.”
More than a mouthful, that’s a menu full, but easily uttered after earning an undergraduate degree in creative writing from Oberlin College and a graduate degree in early childhood education from New York City’s Hunter College. He has been published in both fields and spent 11 years as a classroom teacher and preschool director.
He got into auto writing through a contact who had a contact that needed help in producing an American version of Richard Porter’s funny Crap Cars published in England in 2005 but with a third of the vehicles in it not available in the U.S., Berk researched and came up with details and as it turned out, humorous “talking points” for domestically available replacements for the American version of the book.
He’s provided automotive content for Bloomberg Businesweek, Car and Driver, CNN.Com, Esquire, Jalopnik, The L A. Times and Yahoo! Autos. His most recent essay for the latter notes the color brown is no longer down and travels the lexicon of the hue in verbal excursions from upscale umbric goods to Sumatra’s jungles and back.
Recently, he authored a car page for GQ. It, too, appeals to readers’ higher aspirations and reflects his own – if not behind the wheel for sure when employing his talents.