Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Almost Flying

Photo: A funny sign for a New Zealander to see in USA

After a few wrong turns, we found our way back to the Seattle customs broker. It didn’t take so long this time to get the Series I Land Rover fired up and ready for the road. Our friendly customs broker, Linda J, already had the petrol can filled up and waiting for our arrival. The Series I had been lazing around in the shipping yard, and was already warm in the spring sunshine. It soon coughed into life.

As Linda J had grown rather attached to the petrol can, we gave it to her as a farewell gift. She seemed quite chuffed with her new toy. I overheard her say to a colleague that it would come in handy if she ever ran out of gas (petrol). HAH – I just knew they were human after all.

As soon as F2 arrived from the bus station, we were on our way. It was well into the afternoon, but we were only headed to nearby Everett, about an hour away.

We were finally going to get the "show on the road". If this was a movie it would be about now that the fanfare, "big things are about to happen" music would be cued. When TH and I had left this same yard a week earlier, we had skipped out like two excited lambs on their first spring adventure. But, F1 and F2 were tense and nervous. Cut the music. Of course, the act of driving out of the safety of the shipping yard and on to the "mean streets" can be a bit of a gulp moment. We led the way out, and the others tucked themselves right in behind.

The NZ dollar was stumbling along at around $US0.50 at that time. So, everything was twice as expensive to us (except the petrol of course). We agreed we would share a motel at Everett.

I stayed in the unit to finish the Land Rover article I had started in Vancouver, while the others went foraging for food. It was the first time I had been alone for days. I had grown up in a big family and had been used to the hum of life happening all around me. Now, in the unaccustomed quiet, I missed everyone. It had been years since I had felt homesick. It was such a strange feeling, considering I had left my childhood home over 20 years ago. Looking back I realise that this was the first inkling I had of how this journey was going to affect me.

Fortunately, the pressure of a publishing deadline pushed such thoughts aside. Just as I was finishing my last edit, the others came back with a congealed mess on a paper plate. At least growing up in a big family meant that I wasn’t a fussy eater and I wolfed it down.

I was going to email the article to the publisher along with the digital images that Eric had taken in Vancouver. However, the images had somehow corrupted. I wondered if Eric still had his copy of the photos and whether he could help me out. It was just on 9pm. Hopefully, it wasn’t too late to ring.

Linda (Eric’s wife, not the customs broker) answered the phone. What a treat it was to hear her warm contralto voice and I poured out all that had happened during the day. If she wondered about this gush of detail from me, she never questioned it. She was so positive and enthusiastic. I always felt 3 metres high when talking to her. No wonder I couldn’t shut up.

When I was finally through, I realised I hadn’t got to the point of the call. She said that Eric had gone to bed early and I felt very guilty when I remember the long nights that he and TH had put in, when trying to fix the email system. However, she was sure Eric still had the photos and she generously suggested that I email the article to her, along with the address for the publication, and she would ensure the publishers received everything they needed.

The entire conversation with Linda had taken place in the motel reception area, where I was using the phone. The proprietor had listened to every word. She apologised for eavesdropping, but she said it was such a brave and exciting story that she couldn’t stop herself. What’s more she said she wanted to help. She would not charge me for the phone call, as I had more than paid for it in entertainment value. Wow, that was really great.

When you’re feeling low, someone like Linda or that proprietor can make such a positive difference. Time and time again this happened on the expedition. People would stop amidst their busy lives to assist us. People who never knew us, and who never expected anything in return. This always humbled me and I never failed to be buoyed up by their kindness.

That night I slept very well, soothed by the soft breathing of my sleeping travel companions. We were in two double beds, almost side by side in the small room. The cosy atmosphere reminded me of me of my early years, when I shared a room with two of my siblings.

In the morning we set off for the Boeing Factory, located in Everett. This was an eagerly awaited visit, which we had planned long in advance for. They have a special visitor centre, with models and interactive displays. Gawking and admiring these displays keeps visitors amused until it is their time to visit the factory itself.

The factory is huge. At one point the staff were working on FOUR jumbo jets (747’s) in one central place. We were escorted along specially constructed walkways above the factory area. The workers looked like miniature robots scurrying around these gigantic aeroplanes.

Our tour guide was an ex-test pilot. He was clean-cut and handsome, in a Ken doll sort of way. He welcomed questions and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t answer. It didn’t seem to matter than none of our group of 20 would probably ever buy our own aircraft. He treated us all like potential customers. Very smart marketing. Nearly all of us would fly in a seven series jet at some point in our lives, even if we didn’t own it. Therefore, we were all potential customers of Boeing’s customers.
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© Eventful Woman, 2005

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