Saturday, February 24, 2007

Eventful Woman meets Wonder Woman

Land Rover Expedition Time: Late April 1998

One Eventful Woman can spot another at 100 paces. We cruised into Land Rover Knoxville, Tennessee, and found the only female Land Rover sales representative across the entire country. Meg Myers was as excited to see us, as I was to discover her.

New Zealand’s more recent colonial past and the strong role of pioneering women has provided more rights for women, and at an earlier stage in history than in other Western countries. I had been surprised at some of the differences between New Zealand and USA. One of them was on the career choices selected by women. Not that Land Rover USA had banned women as sales representatives. But, it was less common in USA for women to take on what was considered to be "male territory" in a career.

Maybe it was just a natural consequence of the 27 years difference between New Zealand granting women the right to vote (in 1893, as opposed to 1920 in USA)

Meanwhile, back into the more recent 20th Century, we had more trivial things on our minds. It had taken an age to dry off the tent that morning and further rain was forecast. It looked like we’d have to pay for a motel that night. It was also late in the day and Meg was disappointed she would not have much time with us before we moved on.

We said we could possibly come back in the morning. As she was a local, we asked about nearby hostels or camping cabins. She said she could do a lot better than that. If we agreed to display our Land Rover in their dealership and be interviewed by the media, she would arrange accommodation, at Land Rover’s cost, in the hotel right across the road. We were thrilled and readily agreed.

Photo: Meg of Land Rover Knoxville in her "safari" uniform that all Land Rover sales people wore in USA

In my current luxury starved mode, The Candlewood Suites Hotel in Knoxville was a place I could be tempted to hole up in for awhile. Their marketing campaign is "One look at our spacious studio and one-bedroom suites and it’s hallelujah time. " It certainly was hallelujah for trail weary travellers like us.

The hotel was trialling a new idea for travellers in USA - hotel rooms with kitchens. Of course, New Zealand motels have had these for years, as NZ travellers often like to cook, rather than eat out every single night. In a room off the main reception area was a little shop, called The Candlewood Cupboard, which sold microwave snacks and meals at very reasonable prices. After days of campfire food, I felt like a pirate who had discovered an unexpected treasure-trove. Laden with booty I scurried back to our room. I gleefully danced into our room declaring to TH that we were rich beyond our wildest dreams. TH had more good news. While I had been rubbing my hands with delight in the Candlewood Cupboard, he had discovered more bounty in the hotel guest laundry - free washing machines and dryers.

Oh, the luxury of lolling in your own spacious room, on a real bed with real sheets, scoffing snacks and meals, watching the television, while your dirty clothes are washed and dried. I chirruped with delight when it started to rain outside, as there would not be a wet tent to dry off in the morning.

Tummies bulging, we took a rest from eating and checked out a map of the area. It didn’t take long to convince ourselves that there was so much to see and do we would have to stay another night. We enquired at the reception desk. They offered a 50% room discount on the rates for our second night. I was tempted to ask what sort of discount we would get if we stayed for the rest of the year.

However, we were due in Washington DC in a week. The New Zealand Embassy would be hosting a promotional function for us. Maybe we could just drive up there and then back to Knoxville in the next day. Ha ha.

I contacted the Embassy’s Chef de Mission in the morning to confirm arrangements. Our event was scheduled for the 1st May

By 10am we were over at the Land Rover dealer, looking spruce and professional in our freshly cleaned and pressed promotional clothes. Our Series 2A Land Rover took pride of place on their showroom floor. Unlike the two slackers lolling on their bed and scoffing food across the road in the hotel, Meg and fellow sales representative, Brent, had not been idle. They had contacted the local media and also their Land Rover Head Office in Maryland. Head Office wanted all four of our expedition team, and both Land Rovers, at their 50th Anniversary of Land Rover function on the 30th April.

The 30th April was a big date in Land Rover’s golden anniversary year. On this day in 1948, the very first Land Rover available for purchase was exhibited at a Motor Show. We knew we’d be in USA for 30th April 1998 and, in an offer made via Land Rover New Zealand, we had suggested we could display our Land Rovers in USA as part of any celebrations. We hadn’t had much response with our enquiries. I’m not sure if that’s because Land Rover New Zealand’s efforts were so feeble or whether, with the exception of Land Rover Albuquerque, Land Rover North America hadn’t responded to our earlier requests.

We had decided to call on Land Rover dealers on our way through USA, anyway. While we had been greeted with universal interest, we hadn’t yet raised excitement levels at the Head Office. Of course, that was before wonder woman Meg got onto our case. In return, I invited her and also asked her to extend the invitation to representatives from the Land Rover USA Head Office to attend our embassy function in Washington DC.

Photos and media interviews completed, we set forth to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In spring this National Park was not as drop dead gorgeous as Yosemite, but it was very beautiful.

Smoky Mountains in Spring

Smoky Mountains in Autumn

We drove into Cades Cove, which is a looped road in a lovely valley nestled in the mountains. We managed to catch a glimpse of a red wolf in one part of the woods. Look at the nice doggy!! Yeah, right!

We were told at the Visitor Centre there should be around 1000 black bears now out of hibernation in the park.

But, we didn’t see any. They were either still in their beds or raiding honey somewhere else. I was thankful we were not camping in this National Park.

In 1971 the USA First Lady, Mrs Lyndon B Johnson, nominated Cades Cove as No.1 on a list of places every American woman and her family should see. The Visitor Centre confirmed that the place is bumper-to-bumper in summer and also during the colour change month in autumn. According to visitor numbers, Cades Cove puts Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the top ten of the 54 national parks in USA. In late Spring, during our visit, the traffic was very low and we enjoyed the peace and beauty.

The weather broke into heavy rain as we headed back to our favourite hotel room. By the time we were snuggled in, with more microwave snacks, thunder and lightening was crashing in the heavens. Hallelujah - no wet tent to worry about.

With the heavy rain still pouring down in the morning, we were tempted to stay another day and just slouch in our room. That’s what even modest luxury does for you. Two days of it and I wanted to stay forever. As in the past, I turned over wicked ideas in my head of staying put, pretending to drive around the world and circulating digitally manipulated images of the Land Rover at various famous locations.

We said our goodbyes to Meg and Brent and the fabulous team at Land Rover Knoxville. They presented us with a toy Land Rover Discovery model and two Land Rover badges commemorating the 50th year. In addition, they gave us cans of drink and some snacks for the road. They were all so thoughtful, generous and kind.

We felt very rested and agreed that we should incorporate more two-day stops into the expedition.

On our way out of town we stopped at Kinko’s, a photocopying and design shop. There’s a whole chain of these stores right across America. They are really handy for photocopying, label making, badge making and anything needing quick and economically priced designs.

Meg had arranged with Kinko’s to produce a key part of the 50th Anniversary branding for our Land Rover, with a spare set for the Series I when we met up with F1 and F2 again.

When we met her, Meg had asked why we were only using part of the 50th anniversary branding. We had always suspected something was missing. What we had was a big number 5 – 0, in the Land Rover green and gold colours.

We had thought it was a little odd and somewhat incomplete. Before we left New Zealand, we had posed for photos with Land Rover New Zealand's General Manager. He had seemed happy with the signs. As the official 50th Anniversary branding was still under wraps when we left New Zealand, we had nothing to compare it with. But Meg had spotted the mistake as soon as she saw our Land Rover. For some inexplicable reason, Land Rover New Zealand had given us part of the sign.

A tag line that said "years of motoring, 1948 – 1998", should have been added immediately below the big 5 - 0. With that included, the whole statement made so much better sense. Again, it made me wonder about the marketing department of Land Rover New Zealand.

When we told Meg that the 5- 0 was all we had been given, she arranged the rest of the logo for us. Because of our tight deadlines, she arranged the stickers via Kinko’s, rather than request the signs through Head Office. These were ready for us, when we arrived at Kinko's that day.

Over the years, I have often wondered what happened to Meg. I hope she is in some top marketing or management job somewhere, as she truly deserves to be.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Smoky Mountains National Park

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