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!

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