Sunday, October 21, 2007

The End of the Beginning

Land Rover Expedition Time: Early May 1998
Photo: Our entire expedition possessions

Sorting out belongings – what to take and what leave – was a job I hated, due to the warring factions within me. From my father I had inherited spirited "don’t worry/everything will be alright on the day" qualities, whereas from my mother I had been blessed with the opposite: "best to be safe than sorry/always be prepared". All morning conflicting messages blasted from one side of my brain to the other as I shuffled my possessions between two piles.

It was the morning after our function at the New Zealand Embassy and our last full day with J and N. We were preparing the Land Rover and us for transport to England, in a few days time.

The plan was to get the vehicles to our shipping agent, Kuehne & Nagel, in New Jersey. Then, TH and I were going to hire a car for ten days touring the New England States, and calling on friends in Canada. F1 and F2 had decided to fly on ahead to UK.

J and N were hosting a farewell party, where their neighbours and many of the people we had met over the last week could gather to wish us "Bon Voyage". They had generously invited F1 and F2, as well. But, having isolated themselves in a remote campsite in Maryland, and not being part of the previous week’s happenings, F1 and F2 decided it wasn’t worth the hour’s drive to get to where we were. They suggested they go on ahead and met us at Kuehne & Nagel on the agreed shipping date. After the embarrassment F2 caused the night before at the Embassy, I was relieved I didn’t have to see them.

Eventually, my two piles were settled. These were just personal items. One lot would be stowed inside the Land Rover, and the other was for our 10-day holiday. TH had sorted his hours earlier and had spent the rest of the time checking over the Land Rover, his camera gear, my lap top and all the required cables, plus some eating/cooking equipment.

Chores done, it was time for a relaxed and happy party with our friends and supporters. J and N were fantastic hosts and had not only organised the invitations, but contributed all the food and drink for the party.

It was time to move on again the next morning, after Jim’s visit to give us the commemorative Vietnam memorial gifts.
I gave N a big hug, snivelled (just a little) on J’s shoulder and we hit the road. We had two days and one night to travel a fairly short distance to New Jersey.

It should have been a breeze. We had a clear run through Baltimore and Philadelphia and started looking for a motel once we were on the eastern (New Jersey) side of Philadelphia, around 5:30 pm. I don’t know where we went wrong, but we couldn’t find anything other than overpriced Sheraton or Hyatt Hotels.

We stopped in desperation at a petrol station to ask about the proximity of motels. They directed us to the town of New Brunswick on Highway One. We searched desperately, ending up in Edison. All we could find there were scruffy, noisy places, within exhaust belching range of the Highway. It was now nine pm. We settled on the best looking of the bunch. The exhaust fumes mingled with the stale cigarette smell of the room. We were hungry and tired. We had packed some cereal for our last breakfast and we ate half of that, washed down with orange juice, saving the other half for the morning. All night the trucks roared past, shaking the building.

The only good thing was that we had made more progress towards the shipping yard, so it would be a shorter run on the morrow. Cold comfort, when a better night’s sleep and a good dinner, even with a longer run the next day, would have been preferred.

There was no chance of a sleep-in with the increasing racket of the traffic. We both had headaches from lack of sleep, and my legs throbbed from my restlessness during the night. We gagged down the rest of the cereal with the juice.

It was an easy drive to the New Jersey ports area of Bayonne. This was a real, run-down area, but probably not a lot different to working port areas in most countries. The directions that Kuehne and Nagel had given us were very clear to follow and soon we pulled into their yard. F1 and F2 were already there, sorting their gear out.

In New Zealand we had been allowed to drive the Land Rovers into their containers and fasten them down. Here the vessel would be roll-on and roll-off and it was not yet in port. Kuehne & Nagel would be looking after our "babies" in their locked yard until then. We checked and re-checked our gear and filled out numerous shipping forms. The K & N team helped us find a reasonably priced hotel in Jersey City and ordered a taxi for us to get there.

It was now the 4th May 1998, almost exactly two months since our departure from New Zealand on 3rd of February.
So much had happened since then and I felt like I had done a full expedition already. Our Land Rover had been our mobile home for that time. I felt a real sense of loss and dislocation as we left it behind in the shipping yard. It had been such a part of me. It was my rock and security blanket. I turned round in the back seat of the taxi for a final longing look, until we were out of sight. I wondered if I would ever see it again.
Photo: Last view of the Land Rovers

Each team of two (F1 & F2 and ourselves) were uncomfortable with the other and we said little on the way to the hotel. The bedraggled port area fell behind us. Jersey City approached, but didn’t look much better. I laughed when I saw the slogan for New Jersey – "The Garden State". I couldn’t see any gardens, anywhere. Maybe it was a garden for something else – depression? Ugliness? Graffiti?

The hotel was a high rise "blah" of a building, near the Jersey Tunnel. At least with double-glazing it was relatively quiet. We made our arrangements for the next day. We all agreed to do a tourist bus tour of Manhattan in the morning. Then, F1 and F2 would fly out to England from John F Kennedy airport. TH and I arranged for a rental car for our holiday, which we’d collect the next day from nearby Newark airport. We crashed out for an early night.

Despite the early start, the bus tour of $US38 was well worth it. I would have paid most of that to listen to the sassy New York tour guide. Once we’d collected a number tourists from various Jersey City hotels, we took the tunnel over to New York State. The tour guide hopped aboard in Manhattan. He glanced around the bus and sneered, "Good Morning to you all from The Garden State. Have you seen any gardens over there yet?"

I don’t know how to describe someone who can be so delightfully sneering, but he kept up this New York brand of banter throughout the tour. He obviously loved his city and couldn’t help showing it, despite his sophistication. He punctuated his patter with all sorts of titbits and gossip about his town. I just loved this guy.

It was a drizzly, wet and cool morning. But, we packed a lot in. We learned about the early history, and then its first billionaires – the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, the Vanderbilts, how the metro got built, and the first apartments.

We saw the spot John Lennon was killed outside of The Dakota apartments and we had a short walk in Central Park. The guide was proud of this area too and told us that, even with a name like Central Park it wasn’t just anywhere. It was uniquely associated with New York. He asked the group of twenty, and all Americans apart from us, if we could name a park anywhere else in the world that was as well known. I suggested Hyde Park. He sneered that he supposed I’d said that because I was British. I happily sneered back that I wasn’t. He snorted that he wasn’t so sure about that as I sounded English. Yeah, what did he know! However, he was already onto his next snippet of information. Despite the perceived reputation for crime, in fact Central Park has only 11 felony crimes for the 11 million visitors to the park each year.

An absolute highlight was the visit up the Empire State Building. This building is, to me, quintessential New York.
The lift went up and up for ages. On the observation deck, I looked down into the tunnels of streets. While the day was wet the view was still amazing.

There were lots and lots of yellow taxis. Apparently, only 1 in 5 people have their own personal cars and there are over 17,000 Yellow Cabs in New York City. A taxi licence, at that time, cost $US250, 000. Most drivers rented a cab for $US80.00 per day.

Back at ground level we drove on through Greenwich Village. Our tour guide pointed out a sign, which advertised ear piercing with or without pain. "With pain" was dearer.

We were allowed a quick wander into the famed St Patrick’s Cathedral and around the Rockefeller Centre area of tall art deco buildings. We had another chance to prove to our Tour Guide that we truly weren’t from Britain when he pointed out that this area had the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. TH informed him that it might be the collection of LARGEST (tall) art deco buildings, but Napier in New Zealand, had the largest COLLECTION of art deco buildings.
The tour guide looked very doubtful at this.

Photo: The National Tobacco Company Building, by architect J.A. Louis Hay, completed 1933. Napier, New Zealand

The bus dropped us back at our Jersey City hotel in the early afternoon. F1 and F2 left for JFK Airport, and we took another taxi in the opposite direction to Newark airport and the car rental centre.

It took ages to complete the paperwork - longer than it took to fill out all the forms at Kuehne & Nagel to ship the Land Rovers. It was 4 o’clock when we pointed the hired Chevrolet’s nose north on the freeway out of town. We were very tired after two busy days and early starts. So, we agreed we’d drive for an hour just to get out into the countryside. For once our plan worked.

By five pm we’d found a lovely motel at Nyack, not far from the Hudson River. We’d had a proper feed at the nearby Chinese restaurant and were back in our nice, quiet room by seven.

Over dinner I finally relaxed. The first leg of the expedition had been nothing like I had expected, mainly due to the crap team dynamics. However, we had successfully planned an expedition, got it underway, driven across America in what the locals considered "antique jeeps", had been warmly greeted and helped by wonderful people, seen fabulous scenery and we hadn’t killed each other. That was definitely worth celebrating. What’s more, I was now in a warm, comfy bed and I wouldn’t have to pack up a wet tent for at least another ten nights. Now that was certainly celebration territory, too!

© Eventful Woman, 2007Want to keep up with Eventful Woman? She can notify you as soon as she has updated her blog. This is a FREE service. Please email her on and type "update ASAP" in the subject line

Monday, October 15, 2007

Speaking for your Country

Land Rover Expedition Time: 1st May 1998

I had a restless sleep. I was mulling over what I could say to F1 and F2. My instincts were to just tell them to p#$! off back home and that TH and I were better off without them. But, we needed that damn Series One Land Rover. I cursed the day that F1 had met F2. The expedition was blighted from that moment. Without her, it would have been just the three of us. We would have stayed together, rather than being in this sticky alternative position now. In hindsight, we should have just made the decision back in Tuba City to have just gone on without them.
Or, for the sake of nicety, we could have stayed together until we got to England and then permanently separated after the 50th Anniversary functions over there.

As TH and I would end up with all the work obtaining the visas and medical supplies in England, while managing the sponsorship relationships and doing the entire route planning, it would have been so easy to have left F1 and F2 to sort out their own arrangements. It was likely that they'd never manage this on their own, and we would sail across 'The Channel' unencumbered. But, we felt we had to have a Series One Land Rover. The whole marketing and sponsorship of the expedition was based on this one vital component.

Around three in the morning I resolved that we’d have to somehow make a go of it together, all four of us. That said, I wasn’t going to let them off too easily. They would have to comply with all sponsorship arrangements in future and call in regularly, if we ever separated.

By the time F1 phoned in the morning, I was calm but very firm – their lack of communication and consideration had disappointed more than just TH and I and had compromised the credibility of the expedition. They were to meet us early at the New Zealand Embassy for our special function and they were to wear their Land Rover sponsored clothing, which needed to be clean. I conceded on the photo shoot. F1 wasn’t to know that the Embassy staff had already been in touch with me. It was pouring with rain, and unlikely to stop. The outdoors area we had planned to have the photo, near the Embassy, was now out of the question. The Ambassador had wondered if we could postpone the shoot. Of course, I had agreed.

TH had already left to spend the day in Washington DC to have another look at the Smithsonian Museums. We’d agreed that we would meet at the Embassy ahead of time. I would wash the promotional clothes we had worn at Land Rover North America last night and bring them, cleaned and pressed, for him to change into. He went off happy that he wouldn’t have me in tow, and he could linger as long as he wanted over old planes, engines and machinery.

I was so tired and needed to catch up on some sleep. I also wanted to review the speech that I was to give that night. The Ambassador had asked me to speak for at least fifteen minutes on the expedition, our preparation, and what we hoped to achieve by the end of it. With the important trade guests invited by the Embassy, all my business experience and instincts confirmed that my presentation needed to be about the New Zealand "brand". That is, the "can do", innovative Kiwi attitude that can effortlessly deliver on whatever has been promised, while being sophisticated, yet comfortable in any culture. I needed exactly the right pitch and not come across as an obvious advertisement. To sound natural and "unscripted" takes a lot of effort and preparation. The pressure weighed heavy on me.

J and N drove me into the New Zealand Embassy, which is located on Observatory Circle (shown by the red pin).

I was keyed up like an over-wound spring. My speech was prepared, but I was apprehensive about meeting up with F1 and F2 again. Things had been pretty tense on the phone earlier in the day. I had this nagging feeling that they would somehow let the expedition, or me down.

TH had already charmed them at the Embassy, despite arriving dripping wet from his walk in the heavy rain from the train station. They had given him some of the promotional clothing from the Baltimore Trade Stand to wear, so he could get out of his wet clothes. He had that slightly hangdog expression when I walked in - the one that makes people love him and want to help. Fortunately, I had brought a complete change of clothes, a towel and a comb. He was soon looking his handsome self once more.

F1 and F2 arrived at the agreed hour. Instead of wearing her promotional Land Rover green outfit, F2 was in a purple dress. She looked tidy, but that was not the point. As soon as we were alone I hissed the question at her. Her answer was that she had thought she looked more presentable like this. Not a bad answer I suppose for someone with a complete lack of business or promotional sense. But, what annoyed me even more, F1 had not thought to question her or remind her of the direct request I had made over the telephone that morning. I sighed, maybe he just hadn’t noticed. That was his usual response to most things.

The evening had to go on, of course. And, I had to concentrate on being at my best and not waste energy on angry thoughts. Guests were arriving and TH and I had a lot of talking to do. We soon lost F1 and F2 in the crowd. In her purple dress, hopefully people wouldn’t realise F2 was part of our team.

It was such a great experience meeting up with so many Kiwis and a number of American business people. They were all charming and interested in our expedition. It was a very relaxed and easy function. Speech time soon rolled around.

The Chef de Mission (deputy ambassador) was the MC. His role was to welcome everyone, invite the Ambassador to say a few words, and then to formally introduce me. I stood at the front and concentrated on looking calm and professional. Inside, the butterflies were fluttering overtime. TH stood to one side. I made a quick eye contact with him. I love that look in his warm brown eyes that is just for me and helps me believe I can do anything.

The Chef de Mission was about to speak and I turned back to face the crowd. J and N gave me positive smiles, and the room quietened to an expectant hush. He started to say that the Embassy had some special New Zealanders tonight and, as such, he wasn’t going to speak for too long. In a brief pause, while he took his next breath, F2 suddenly called out a loud response, "Thank bloody goodness."

She had completely misjudged the deceptively relaxed nature of the occasion. I think the Ambassador and the Chef de Mission were far too professional to let too much show on their faces. But, in that tiny pause, I felt the shock wave between them and a flood of amazement around the rest of the room. Then, the Chef de Mission continued with his introduction of the Ambassador. I kept my eyes on him and I didn’t dare look at anyone else, in case I totally crumpled with embarrassment.

In his speech, the Ambassador said some wonderful things about adventurous and innovative New Zealanders. He frequently looked at TH and I, but never at F1 or F2. There was something in his eyes, when he turned to me, that told me he didn’t blame me for F2’s ghastly gaffe. It boosted my confidence once more.

I gave my best during my speech and the adrenaline took over. I hardly needed to look at my notes. I kept my gaze sweeping around different people in the room to include everyone. Well, everyone but two people, who were best forgotten.
I finished with a presentation of a gold enamelled Land Rover for the Ambassador, the extra one that "wonder woman" Meg from Land Rover Knoxville had given us, expressly for this moment.
The Ambassador and I shook hands, and posed for TH’s ready camera. The Chef de Mission invited everyone to stay on for refreshments and to talk with us.

Everyone came rushing up to TH and I. There were so many questions. It was almost overwhelming, but very exciting. Through the swirling crowd I saw F1 and F2 sitting alone. And then I saw dear, sweet N going over to talk to them, and to sit with them. He told me later that he did that to avoid further embarrassment for TH and I, rather than because he felt sorry for F1 and F2 being on their own.

The Chef de Mission approached me as the evening was coming to a close and the crowd had thinned. He asked me if I’d ever thought about making a career move into Embassy work. I knew then that the event hadn’t been stuffed up for them.

I thanked him for the offer and said that I had a job to do first – driving around the world. He said he expected me to complete my current mission, and gave me his card. He asked that, when I was getting close to arriving back home again, if I would give him a call. I promised I would. This conversation really made my night and confirmed again that the whole function had been a success.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
Want to keep up with Eventful Woman? She can notify you as soon as she has updated her blog. This is a FREE service. Please email her on and type "update me on Eventful Woman ASAP" in the subject line

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Show Must Go On

Land Rover Expedition Time: Very late April 1998

We still hadn't heard from F1 and F2. Our 30th April function at Land Rover North America’s Head Office was fast approaching as was our New Zealand Embassy "do", scheduled for the day after.

A neighbour of J and N’s, keen to help the expedition, had kindly offered to host F1 and F2 in her home. She was excited to be part of it all, and to help us, and was so thrilled to be invited to the promotional BBQ at our Embassy. She had never attended any event at an embassy before and wanted to look her best. She asked if we would all be wearing evening dress. Of course, she was incredulous at my reply, even when I tried to explain that the event was to honour intrepid expeditioners. Fortunately, J and N reassured her that dressy casual would be smart enough.

The morning of the 30th slowly ticked by. We were edgily waiting by the phone for F1 and F2 to call in. It never rang. Around lunchtime we left to make our way to the Land Rover North America’s head office in Maryland.

Whether they were dead or alive, we’d look fools either way. TH and I wrestled with what we were going to say when the inevitable question would be asked on their whereabouts. Here we were, only two of the expected four guests-of-honour at a 50th Anniversary Event, representing New Zealand, and the vital Series One Land Rover was missing. I was a mixture of being totally pissed off and filled with dread that the worst had happened to them.

We arrived in good time. Nancy, our favourite PR person, was expecting us and immediately escorted us to meet the North American General Manager. While nervously waiting in his guest reception area, we overheard him discussing his outfit to his personal assistant. He sounded unhappy. Having decided that the 50th Anniversary event was to be "safari themed", with all the staff dressed accordingly, he was clearly not pleased how he looked. I think he had hoped for a fearless hunter/swashbuckling effect. I knew his instincts were correct as soon as I saw him. He looked a proper prat in his pith helmet and "bwana-in-the-jungle" outfit. It sure took some of my nerves away and it had certainly distracted him from the fact that there was supposed to be four of us, as well as a 1948 Land Rover. With a bit of luck he might not notice that our 18 years newer, Series 2A Land Rover, wasn’t even a Series One.

He shook our hands, warmly welcomed us and said it was an honour to host us. He then asked me if I could keep my speech to less than five minutes. My mouth opened and then shut. What speech? This was the first I had heard about it. I really had something to worry about now. I asked him how many people would be attending.

"Around 400."

"Gulp", I thought.

He was clearly busy and we said we’d be happy to just mingle with the guests until the official bit. I wanted to get away and write some speech notes. TH and I were asked to position our Land Rover in pride of place in the showroom. Most of the mechanics knew the difference between a Series One and Series 2A. However, they happily gathered around the engine bay with TH, while I furiously wrote my notes in an isolated corner. People started to congregate and eventually I had to put my PR hat on and mingle.

There were plenty of nibbles and drinks, plus some new Land Rovers to drool over. An added attraction was a zookeeper from Baltimore Zoo. In keeping with the safari theme, he had been asked to bring along some animals – a chinchilla for the kids and a real, live snake for us "bigger kids".

As New Zealand is one of the few countries without snakes, and all imports of snakes are forbidden including for zoos, I had never seen one up close before. The zoo keeper let me touch the snake as it slid along his arm. It had a dry skin; not warm, but not cold either. I had been expecting something cool and slimy.

Finally, it was time to begin the formal proceedings. Nancy stood by me for support on one side, with TH on the other. The General Manager talked about historic links with Land Rover, the spirit of adventure, and the Land Rover creed of "Go Anywhere, Do Anything". He then looked over at us and said our expedition personified these brand assets. That was my cue to come to the podium.

Once there, I looked around the huge crowd and tried to stop my knees from knocking. The people all looked so stern. They seemed nothing like a New Zealand audience, who usually appeared curious and interested. I was concerned they didn’t like me.

I took a deep breath and started. I began by saying that I had been apprehensive about coming to USA, the land of great motoring, in an old, slow, British copy of a Jeep. They looked more uncertain at this, perhaps worried that I may have been mistreated in some way. I then said I could NOT have been more wrong. I talked about the love affair that the American public had had with our "antique" Land Rover. I described how people had been so friendly and helpful. The audience all suddenly relaxed and smiled in a huge collective sigh of relief. I enjoyed giving the rest of my speech, touching on what I hoped were all the right marketing buttons for the sales team. I was given a rapturous applause at the end. Nancy gave me a big hug and said I was perfect.

The General Manager removed his pith helmet and looked more "statesman" like, as he continued his speech. He launched the new Mark 2 Land Rover Discovery, which spectacularly rolled down a ramp and onto the stage, after bursting through a large paper banner that had previously hidden it.

Speeches over, the crowd was free to top up their glasses and partake in the big spread of food. Everyone seemed to want to talk to TH and I and to look at our "primitive" Land Rover. I found out why the audience had initially appeared stern. Many told me that they had been surprised and taken aback that a woman was the spokesperson for the expedition and that I was also from a tiny country like New Zealand. Not just any woman either, but one so short she could barely see over the podium. So, it wasn’t dislike at all, but uncertainty. They needed to get used to the idea.

I reminded myself that, while it is common for women to take leadership positions in New Zealand, it wasn’t like this in other countries. I mentally thanked those suffragettes who gave us the vote in 1893, which meant attitudes changed quicker in New Zealand to enable women like me to have opportunities earlier, and not twenty years later when I would probably be too old to do this odyssey.

It was a very happy and worthwhile promotional event for us. Nancy was well pleased, as was the General Manager.

We returned to J and N’s on a high, although tinged with worry about F1 and F2. However, they had finally phoned in, around dinnertime. They had arrived in the area early afternoon and had booked themselves into a campsite in Maryland, about one hour’s drive out of Washington DC. Ironically, the campsite was not far from where we had been at Land Rover North America. When J asked them why they hadn’t called days earlier, or at any stage over the month we had been apart, F1 said they hadn’t thought it was necessary.

I was so furious. Their thoughtlessness had caused us a lot of worry and embarrassment. The whole shine had now gone from our evening at Land Rover. Not only that, F1 had told J that he didn’t want to bring his Land Rover into the New Zealand Embassy for a photo shoot the next day. He’d heard somewhere that it wasn’t safe to leave classic vehicles on the streets of DC. J dryly informed him about the usual security measures around any embassy, and that a photo shoot with the New Zealand Ambassador was one of the prime purposes of our visit to Washington DC.

J had asked F1 to ring back in the morning, as she knew that I’d want to talk to him. Talk to him? I wanted to throttle the living daylights out of both of them. The last few weeks on the road without them had been such a joy. Obviously, they hadn’t changed at all during our time apart and the last thing I wanted now was to get back together with them.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
Want to keep up with Eventful Woman? She can notify you as soon as she has updated her blog. This is a FREE service. Please email her on and type "update ASAP" in the subject line