Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, September 2012]
By Jeffrey Aronson
Living on Vinalhaven, an island off the coast of Maine, I’ve found that I could invite folks for visits and rest assured I’d never see them; in other words I could score points with the invitation without having to do any heavy lifting. Just detailing the steps required to actually arrive on the island, including the 75 minute daytime-only ferry ride, diminished the likelihood of a visit. Add to that the realization that their potential host is a single guy who lives accordingly and their interest waned completely.
I’ve extended the same invitation to Rovers North staff and no one had ever made the 270 mile and 90 minute ferry ride trip – that is, until this July. For years I’ve collaborated with Thompson Smith, the chief designer at Rovers North and this magazine’s art director. If you enjoy reading Rovers Magazine, his artistic talent is the reason. I offered my usual invitation to visit, confident that it would require nothing on my part as it would never happen.
A former Defender 90 owner Thompson loves the precision of German cars. He’s a huge Porsche fan [see his daughter’s name] and adores his BMW MINI. When it came time to purchase a camper for this vacation trip, his thoughts did not turn to a Dormobile but to the VW Eurovan camper in the photo. For a couple of laid-back Californians he and his family [spouse Donna, daughter Portia and her friend Christine] created a tight schedule for the trip whose timetable would rival that of the President on an official overseas jaunt. To my surprise their vacation itinerary included this island.
WWMSD - What would Martha Stewart do? Generally speaking, the duties of a host include providing transportation for guests, setting up sightseeing opportunities, sharing meals and assuring them of a good time. A good start on this list would have been to clean up the QE I of its accumulated junk from landscaping and carpentry. The jump seats should be wiped down, the stillson wrenches should not clutter the floor, the PB Blaster cans and wheel grease tub should be placed back in their storage bags, the hammer in its shop apron, the shop rags removed and placed in a trash can. None of this happened – Thompson and his entourage disembarked from the ferry and stared into the maw of a perfectly filthy Series II-A.
They realized that I wasn’t fully prepared for their July 4th arrival when they watched me scoop out the detritus out of the back of the Rover to make room for passengers in the jump seats. If that didn’t distress them, they had to stand outside and wait for me to move the Haynes manual, the Green Bible and the roll of shop towels from the center seat cushion to create enough room for the adults up front. Despite the fog and mist, Thompson slid his elbow out the window neatly avoiding the rust shards; “Might be time for a new door top,” he opined. We scooted a quarter mile to the local – and only – motel and checked them into their room. The proprietor looked skeptically at them and asked me, “You really have friends?”
Thompson has the twinkle of Zach Galifianakis and an unbounded enthusiasm for anything that strikes his fancy. Donna’s calm manner belied her genuine interest in everything she observed on the island and in New England. Portia and Christine knew they were cool, basked in their glow and enjoyed themselves no matter what we threw at them. Everyone was on their first vacation in Maine.
Every year July 4th becomes a big deal on the island. Our town wharf, which normally doubles as the village parking lot, empties out to become a fairground of booths, raffle sales and a dunk tank. The main street provides the parade route for 20 floats [trucks pulling thinly-disguised trailers], including the town band. Everyone on the island shows up to watch; since the motel borders the parade route, we all stood and applauded every float, including the Town Band and the Little Miss Vinalhaven contestants. We then started to tour the improvised fairgrounds when I had to respond to an EMT call out, abandoning my guests at their motel.
Apologetically I returned later, stuffed everyone into the Rover, and we toured one of our empty beaches. Maine has white sandy beaches but they’re far southwest of this part of Maine. Our beaches resemble the recent shots of Mars, not the white cliffs of Dover. I think we were enjoying the beach walk when another EMT call out came in; we had the chance to see how well the Rover could handle a dirt washboard lane and a town road at speed. Conveniently this EMT call occurred right in front of their motel. Hopefully I made up for this interruption when we went across the street that evening for a lobster dinner (Vinalhaven has one of Maine’s largest lobster fleets) and some pretty good breakfast sandwiches the next morning before my guests fled the island. I’m optimistic that can do better the next time someone accepts an invitation.
People who don’t see Land Rovers very often find the Series II-A interesting and entertaining. All kids adore it; it’s the same shape they learned to draw in kindergarten. Jesse Burke, N. Conway, NH, visited the island and stopped to chat about Series Land Rovers. Caitlyn Cadow, Cambridge, MA, a member of the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympic Women’s Hockey teams, stared at its dirty interior and could only sigh, “oooh, you have jump seats!” Cinematographer Claudio Rietti and actress Adrienne LaValley came up from New York City and found themselves enjoying an island tour in the Rover, blissfully ignoring the mess in the car.
This month I’ve been asked if the QE I would serve as a wedding conveyance for the young bride. She’s been a long time summer resident so she, too, forgives its faults – but I will try and clean it up in time.
Driving a Series Rover, or for that matter, a Range Rover Classic, Discovery 1/11 or any Defender, you’re free from the ever-increasing and somewhat dubious regulations bedeviling automobile manufacturers like Land Rover. In the near future, all automobiles will be required to have a rear view camera and screen on their center dashboard. You would think this an unnecessary contrivance; after all, every car already comes with a rear window, standard. You could turn around and look out the window before backing up, right? Unfortunately every new car must also come with billboard-size headrests because of rear end collisions caused by too many idiots texting instead of, say, looking ahead at the road while driving. So now you’ll need to have a rear view camera and screen. No wonder no one wants to become an automobile mechanic any longer – who wants to replace a dashboard that has more electronic gizmos than the average Best Buy?
Driving my II-A off island I realize that I must be more careful than ever because basically, no one pays attention to their driving anymore. I carry a cellphone, look forward to calls, texts and photos, but I don’t even like to talk on a speakerphone while driving [honestly, it’s hard to hear a phone in a II-A anyway]. I’m with Autoweek’s Dutch Mandel who wrote “Driving is a privilege, not a right. Yes, you have the right to travel across the country freely but not without promising that you won't put me in jeopardy when you hit the streets. The only way--the only way--you can do that is if you pay attention to moving a two-ton vehicle at speeds faster than any animal on the planet, on roads congested beyond belief and with all of your faculties. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.”
Insideline.com listed its “Top 100 Auto Styles.” The list was certainly suspect; there’s no mention of the Range Rover, the Jaguar XKE wound up as #7 and the Lamborghini Countach came in #1. Far back at #78 the site paid tribute to the Defender 90, calling it “rugged simplicity raised to a high art. Flat aluminum panels and the nose of the world's strongest bulldog over two straight axles with tall wheels; it's Winston Churchill equipped with four-wheel drive.”
Maybe if I cleaned my II-A the Series Rover would have gotten on the list.
Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North