A Little Background on “Who Needs a Road?”
I was in Al’s office, going over the photographs for the article that the magazine had bought, when Al asked if I ever considered sponsors. “What for?” I asked.
My Willys Jeep had served me well. With a camper trailer, I drove all across Europe and through the Iron Curtain countries into Russia. Had I not been arrested in Russia and thrown into jail for a couple of months, I would have continued on to Asia. The magazine had already bought my story on Russia, and with a check in my pocket, I was off to Spain where my Jeep was awaiting me. I intended to continue on overland to Singapore.
“I think I can get you a Toyota,” Al said.
“Never heard of it,” I fired back. This was in 1965, and Toyota wasn’t well known in the U.S., nor any other place around the world for that matter. Japan back then had the reputation of manufacturing cheap Tinker toys and Playboy firecrackers. Besides, even if l had heard of it, it didn’t matter. I had my Jeep waiting in Spain.
Al is a real salesman. He can outdo a car salesman. I still am not quite sure how he did it, but I agreed to give him a few weeks while I waited at my home in California – he did a little promotion. When he phoned two weeks later, he said he had a new Toyota for me, plus products from 30 sponsors, and $25,000 in the bank. “But do I need that Toyota?” I asked. “I still have my Jeep.”
He asked me to come to New York as quickly as possible, He said I could bunk with him at his posh apartment on 55th Avenue. I did. I went to New York and moved in with him. When I woke up one morning, a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser appeared outside our door. “It is yours, all yours,” Al said, “and it’s free.” What he didn’t tell me, until later, was all I had to do was drive it around the world. What a romantic thought. Around the world! The only trouble was, I didn’t want to drive around the world. I only wanted to drive from Europe to Asia over the Asian Highway. But Al had a different idea.
That was a number of years ago. Until all these recent world troubles began, driving from Europe to Asia was not unusual. Travelers were making the trip in converted buses, Mini Mokes, Jeeps, bicycles, and two Frenchmen even tried it on skateboards. My reason for the drive was that I wanted to have my own rugged four-wheel drive vehicle in Southeast Asia and to investigate some of the out-of-the-way sites on my way there.
The plan at first seemed to work. I bought a new Willys Jeep in America and shipped it aboard across the Atlantic to France. In Paris, I found a back-alley travel agent who boasted he could arrange a visa anywhere. Which they did: a fake visa. In three weeks, with a couple hundred dollars less in my bank account, I had a visa to motor across the Soviet Union to reach Asia. Six weeks later, while making an exit from the country, I was arrested at the border. The charge was spying, but after two months, without explanation, I was freed. But now I was also broke. I had to leave my Jeep in Spain and return to America to raise more funds for my trip.
I was solvent again when Argosy bought my story on Russia. And then I met Al Podell. There was another catch, aside from driving around the world. Al wanted to go with me. Now it was a Toyota, a camper, an extra body. No, I didn’t want anyone tagging along. “But I already have a Jeep in Spain,” I explained.
“I’ve raised $24,000!” he emphasized.
The next day, I was in New York, and I was about to learn something about the promotion game.
“There’s only one catch,” Al said.
“Your mother’s coming too,” I said.
“No. I needed a peg to hitch it on.”
“Hitch what on?” There was that word again. As I said, I didn’t understand New York PR talk. Al explained. To sell the trip, it had to be more than a drive to Asia. He had us booked for a motor trip around the world-the longest motor trip, non-repetitive miles, ever to be attempted.
This wasn’t what I had in mind. “What about your job?” I said.
“Never mind that,” he answered. “I quit.” “You did what?”
“I quit,” he repeated, only louder this time.
He quit, and I was stuck with the ex-picture editor of Argosy.
So began my motor trip around the world, 42,500 miles. Such a trip today-across North Africa, through the Middle East to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Burma, and then from South America up through Central America to the U.S.-would be impossible.
Toyota Motors was the sponsor, along with more than a dozen other companies. For each of them, I had to prove the world was a safe place in which to live and sell their products. An idealistic dream! The tragedy was that instead of the world becoming better for the traveler, as we all believed it would, conditions have grown worse. No longer can we hop in a car and drive not only from Europe to Asia but from one country to the next. Instead of announcing a new beginning for travel, my motor trip heralded the end of overland travel.
Looking back, in spite of difficulties, the trip did have its compensations; there were humorous moments, along with trying ones. It’s sad that it was the last motor trip anyone can make around the world.
At Al’s apartment, I spent a week answering the doorbell and telephone. A new Toyota Land Cruiser appeared on the street beneath my window, followed by a tent camper on two wheels. “It sleeps eight,” Al said proudly.
The doorbell continued to ring. Delivery boys appeared. Firestone high-flotation tires, plus an extra set. Picnic boxes. Gasoline stoves. Lanterns. Vacuum bottles. Two fast-erecting pop-up tents; they made a mess out the living room when they popped up, and we couldn’t get them down.
For our wearing comfort, the sponsors said, we needed raincoats, jackets, sports shirts, knit-shirts, insulated underwear, regular underwear, socks, gloves, trousers. Hat Corporation of America came across with cowboy hats and desert hats, safari hats and rain hats, cold weather hats and tropical hats.
There was more. Shoes, fourteen pairs. Not for the expedition but fourteen for each member. Then flashlight batteries, six cases, seven flashlights. Over one hundred aerosol cans with everything from shave cream to dog repellent. An archery company, with an assignment from a magazine, sent four bows and hundreds of arrows. An insect company sent twenty-two cases-repeat, twenty-two cases-of insect repellent, insecticide, disinfectant, car wax and shoe polish.
And still more: sun glasses and suntan oils, anti-freeze and desert coolant for the radiator, floor mats and mud guards, a year’s supply of paper plates and cups, fishing rods and fishing reels, a portable car massager and cigarette lighters that worked from solar energy. And a complete assortment of Pentax cameras and all the accessories to go with them.
There was a catch, and it was not Al’s mother. We had to advertise each company’s products. This meant taking along a photographer. Then a copywriter. Another journalist was added. We now had five, which meant we would need my jeep in Spain after all.
Public relations representatives appeared with stacks of typewritten sheets of instructions. A suntan lotion PR sales woman had five hundred mimeographed questionnaires for us to hand out, to see “what the natives use along the way for suntan oil.” The press agent for a clothing company wanted photos taken at “photogenic waterholes, especially with crocodiles and elephants and interesting things like that.” Another manufacturer wanted photos of us in woolen sweaters in front of the Taj Mahal. The Bourbon Institute of America arranged for us to pick up cases of Kentucky Bourbon in major cities around the world.
Imagine trying to drive with such a load. I couldn’t put on the brakes without boxes of paper cups hitting me on the head, or one hundred flashlight batteries falling out when I opened the glove box. In desperation, when we were in Spain, I unloaded a half-ton of supplies on a band of roaming Gypsies. But then in Jerez, the wine capital of Spain, Gonzales Bodega, not wanting to be outdone by our New York sponsors, presented us with six cases of brandy and another six of sherry. Now when I threw on the brakes, I was threatened by a couple cases of brandy sailing through the windscreen.
Sponsorship for exploration and major expeditions, where costs are high, is often necessary, but one can overdo it. Since that first motor trip around the world, I decided to limit sponsors to only a few sponsors. Besides, I hate driving around with labels and logos plastered all over my vehicles, like a Formula One racecar. And how miserable it can be posing in woolen sweaters in front of the Taj Mahal in India in 110-degree heat-just to please a sponsor.
Some sponsor, however, are easier to satisfy than others. I didn’t mind the Bourbon Institute of America. They gave us six cases of whiskey, shipped ahead and waiting for us in capital cities along our route. All we had to do was drink the bourbon.