‘Top Gear’ Producer Gets in the Driver’s Seat
The next few days were kind of a blur; some good dinners, a few meetings for other projects, some traded emails making sure everything was locked up for Saturday, and some more $12 pints (off company time of course.) Friday arrived and it was time to head down to Dunsfold Aerodrome and start location scouting. We decided to rent a car and make the trip ourselves, that way we’d have a car while we were in Surrey. Denny had booked an economy car through one of the International car rental places… it rhymed with “nifty.” When we got there, they said they didn’t have any more economy cars and asked if we would take a free upgrade? Of course! We were loading up when Denny asked if I would drive.
“You don’t want to drive?”
“No, you drive”
“Because I drive once a year, and you’ve driven over here before”
I agreed with somewhat mixed feelings. In one sense, I was glad to get behind the wheel of that car. I just wished that wheel was on the other side of the car and the car was in rural New Jersey. Driving a car through London during rush hour wasn’t my idea of fun. I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., worked in L.A., and even driven through the Holland Tunnel a few times. So, bumper-to-bumper traffic is something I’ve come to know. But doing it on streets built for horse and buggy on the opposite side of the road, was new to me. Before we could leave the car rental place, the lot attendant needed to go over the controls. He was a very nice guy, with a very, very, pungent body odor… like nearly losing my breakfast pungent. Because I was in the driver seat, this guy was directing most of his orientating energy on me. He did this be leaning into the car and manipulating the controls. With every movement, another puff of his BO filled my nostrils. Denny, quickly picked up on this unpleasantness and thought it would be funny to make sure he got an explanation on every single knob, button and vent in that Audi. Onward to Dunsfold!
As expected, London traffic was bad. We caught a few breaks and made some lights, and then we hit a stop light. All of a sudden, the car just dies. The engine quit and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I messed with the car for a few seconds before I realized it was a fuel saving function and all I needed to do was step on the gas again and we’d be in business. Twenty minutes of dry heaving orientation from Igor and no mention of fuel saving shutdown… thanks Denny! So after about forty minutes of start, stop, engine on, engine off, we finally hit a highway. Great I thought, I can open this sucker up and see what it can do, but no. It turns out we only needed to be in the highway for a few minutes before we were back on secondary roads. This time originally designed for mule passage judging by the width.
The country lanes of Surrey are quite quaint, provided you’re not driving a really expensive rental car on which you refused the supplemental insurance. In that case, they are downright terrifying. I found myself longing for the familiar cramped London streets, with safely swerving buses, darting cyclist, and droves of tourist looking the wrong way while they cross the street. The Dunsfold Aerodrome is about twenty five minutes south of Guilford and the roads in that area of Surrey are tightly lined with tall, arching trees. Whenever a car approached in the opposite lane, I was faced the decision of either clipping the car with my driver’s side mirror or ripping the passenger’s side mirror off against a tree. Neither seemed like a good option. This dilemma was compounded by Denny constantly reminding me of the quandary by loudly saying “mirror” every time a car approached.
After some twist and turns, a few sheep, more than a couple missed turns, we arrived at the Dunsfold “Business Estate”… both side mirrors intact! Yes, you heard right, the Dunsfold Aerodrome where the mighty commie killer, the Harrier Jump Jet once rolled off the assembly line and vertically leap into the fray of the Cold War, had become an industrial park. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a really cool place and it’s still a working general aviation airport. They even have one of the best restored DC-3 airplanes I’ve ever seen sitting right on the tarmac about 70 inches from a portion of runway used as the Gambon turn on the “Top Gear” test track.
After a few minutes of figuring out if the Americans really did work for the BBC (it’s always a head scratcher for a lot of Brits), we were given the key to the “Top Gear” production office and directions to find our way to it. I eased our rental car into the parking lot just next to the “reasonably” priced car and we got out to begin our location scouting. The building is actually a series of three double-wide type mobile homes bolted together. It looks like a building that was temporarily built for six months of use about thirty years ago. Yes that crappy. Everyone had warned us about the production office; Andy had mentioned it wasn’t very lavish, Elena reiterated it, and even the brand and marketing folks said it wasn’t much to speak about. We of course, thought they were all being modest, that they didn’t want to set the expectation too high etc. Nope, they were being candid. It’s kind of a dump. I should say at this point, I was in the military. I’ve stayed in World War II-era barracks (in the ’90s). So crappy 50-year-old military buildings are nothing new to me, but this one is bad. It took several attempts with keys before we finally found a door/key combo that actually opened. When we did, we realized that the outside of the office was “the good part.” The inside of the office is decorated in the 1960’s style of nouveau shitty.