Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy of Rovers Magazine, November 2011]
By Jeffrey Aronson
I searched in vain for a tie. It’s no real surprise that I couldn’t find one; the biggest surprise was that I needed one at all.
During my professional life at UVM and as a consultant in the 1990’s I routinely knotted up a tie. No planned obsolescence for me; I bought the same ones every few years at Brooks Brothers when their predecessors wore out. I know I wore one to a family funeral in 2004 – so where were the handful of ties I still owned?
The need arose because I received a wedding invitation, the first one in a long time for an event at which I wasn’t asked to serve as the bartender. The invitation came from Hallie Vail, a Rovers Magazine correspondent, and Matt Hawkes, a Land Rover technician and off road enthusiast. It would be a wedding of Maine’s Land Rover aristocracy. Hallie, who is ridiculously stunning, rarely returns from any Land Rover event with her Rover intact. Matt, who is ridiculously handsome, can repair any model Land Rover. Hallie works as a middle school guidance counselor; Matt serves as a firefighter/EMT in Portland, ME. Land Rovers mean so much to them that their honeymoon plans include the Maine Winter Romp in February followed by a trip to the Caribbean.
Attending the ceremony would require me to drive at night and that meant replacing my balky alternator. I noticed that the generator light did not illuminate with the key turned to “on.” I checked the bulb and it proved fine. According to my multimeter, my alternator did not appear to charge up the battery when the car was running. Dozens of Land Rover enthusiasts have told me how they removed the connector, sprayed contact cleaner and cleaned the spades, and then reinserted the plug. Naturally this failed to work for me.
Years ago, when Rovers North offered a special on alternators, I bought one which promptly did nothing but gather dust. I was quite chuffed to find it and assumed the swap out would be simple. The nuts and bolts holding the alternator in place came off slickly enough and I bolted up the new one. Then I leaned over the open engine compartment and tried to plug in the connector to the alternator. No matter how hard I tried, the plug would not match up with the spades on the alternator. Rovers North offered a conversion kit that included the plug, so I bought it but that didn’t work, either. Finally, I crawled under the car again and took a small screwdriver to check the spades hidden from view. That’s when I felt a small spade bent over to one side – probably by some nitwit trying to force a plug in blind instead of checking it before he bolted it back to the car. Prying it to one side I plugged in the connector. I started up the car and checked the alternator output with the multimeter, the replacement now completed successfully.
I dusted off the blue blazer, the one with the Land Rover lapel pin, found a clean shirt and reminded myself how to tie a tie. Cleaning me up took some time; cleaning the Land Rover required much more time. Just how I accumulated so much grunge and junk in my Series II-A baffled me but it took quite some time to empty out the detritus and wash out in the seats and the interior mats. When I arrived on the mainland I took the Rover to a carwash and spent many quarters on the exterior. Then I used a gas station bathroom to change into my wedding outfit.
Hallie and Matt held their wedding at a historic church in West Falmouth, ME. While the site meant a great deal to the Hawke’s family history, I did not even know there was a West Falmouth. I stopped to get fuel and a guy watched me climb back into the Rover; “Whoa, a tie and a Land Rover. What a combination!” I felt like a toff.
At the Falmouth exit off the Maine Turnpike, I asked the toll taker if he knew of West Falmouth and he gave me general directions. Miles later, my first hint that I might be in the right area was the sight of Steve Alexander, a Land Rover service technician, coming down a road in the opposite direction. If the church wasn’t back there, we agreed, we should turn around and go the other way. We arrived at the church where Nate Vail, Hallie’s brother and chief usher, pointed me towards a parking lot filled with Land Rovers across the street. Nate proved himself as ruthless as a New York City club bouncer, sending some very nice German sedans and a restored ’58 Corvette into another parking lot so that only Rovers would occupy the elite parking spots in front of the church.
The Land Rovers that filled the parking lot became eye candy for new arrivals and passers-by; what few knew was that one of the Series Rovers had been bolted together during an all-nighter just to have it ready for the wedding. I don’t know what amazed me more; the stunning lineup or the sartorial splendor of Land Rover friends. Hallie noted that “they clean up good, just like Rovers do.”
I’m rather confident that for Hallie and Matt’s minister, this was the first time he had spoken the words “Land Rover” in a sermon. Since the wedding program included a Land Rover oval on the cover, he had little choice. I winced when he referred to the Land Rover life as a “hobby” - I mean, who wants their life’s passion to be reduced to a “hobby”?
The Land Rover convoy led the procession to the nearby Falmouth Country Club. As we entered the grounds I could only thank the Vail’s for choosing this spot. Except for some golfers in the way, the hills, sand traps and tree lined verges would make for a fun, non-damaging night run off road course. Wedding favors at each table included a chocolate Land Rover oval logo and a bar of soap, the latter presumably for washing up after working on your Land Rover.The delicious meal for the event came courtesy of Steve Johnson’s [NAS Defender 90 purchased from Matt Hawkes] MoatMountain brewpub in N. Conway, NH.
An evening of dancing and drinking meant that one topless 109” remained behind in the country club parking lot that night. When Bob Vail, Nate and Matt Hawkes went to retrieve it the next morning, they found themselves without a key, forcing Matt to hot wire it in order to return it to its rightful owner. I’m sure it’s with relief that Bob Vail surveyed the golf course from the parking lot and found no evidence of off road excursions by his guests.
May the joy of Maine’s Royal Wedding carry over to Hallie and Matt, and to all readers, this holiday season.
[Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey B. Aronson and Rovers North]
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."