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
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