Surprisingly, the experience left me feeling stirred, not shaken.
Exterior. A Stunt Track. London. Day. Scattered sunlight dapples through dreary, gray, English skyline.
Two stunt motorcyclists whiz past, spraying espresso-tinted mud through the air while onlookers cheer just paces nearby.
For a few moments, complete silence. At first nothing, then a low humming, picking up louder and louder…
A sleek Land Rover Defender V8 careens into view, drifting sideways, at what looks like 100 miles per hour before coming to a perfect stop. Right in front of me.
I heard my name over the walkie-talkie. “WE NEED EVA!”
Thump thump. Thump thump.
My heart ticked inside my chest almost in sync with the revving of the car’s engine.
Flashback. LAX. Night. The trauma of watching my expensive skincare be tossed into an airport. trash. bin. may take years to recover from. Nonetheless, I soldiered on, making my way across the pond to London, all done up right for Christmas.
A nearly 11-hour flight into town had left me tired and crumpled, and after checking in, all I wanted was a hot bath (accompanied by the exquisite sounds of Adele’s latest, of course). A waltz through the halls of my temporary home away from home, The Dorchester, felt more like a dizzying turn ‘round a snow globe, and I couldn’t help but be struck by a dazzling ornament here, a perfume of cinnamon there.
Sufficiently entranced, I made my way to room 648, where a plush oversized king bed, heated towel rack, and warmed bathroom floors awaited. A foggy London day peeked out from behind heavy velvet curtains and I plopped myself onto a chaise, taking it all in.
A knock at the door. Welcome wagon! On a literal silver platter stood the fixings for exactly two martinis presented by a very dapper waiter. Next to two bespoke gin bottles were lemon twists, olives with juice, and a bucket of perfectly formed ice cubes. Hmm, martinis at 2 in the afternoon. What would Bond do?
A very swanky invite from Universal Pictures earlier in the week had promised the ultimate Bond experience, complete with dinners at posh, elite casinos (à la Casino Royal), spins down the Thames (like in The World Is Not Enough), and perhaps the real adventure (one I had placed on the back burner of my mind)–a stunt driving experience mimicking iconic chase scenes from Daniel Craig’s final chapter, No Time To Die. Would I be MI6 material by the end of the week?
Interior. The Dorchester. Day. I had 8+ hours to kill at the Dorchester, remaining in quarantine until my negative test results came back. Currently, the British government requires that fully vaccinated travelers quarantine until receiving a negative PCR test result. Remember those early days of quarantine? Sweatpants without abandon, shoveling some kind of dried cheese snack by the fistful in your face? Frankly, I never left them.
The Dorchester takes a more civilized approach, making endless hours milling about a hotel room a vacation in itself. Helping myself to martinis 1 and 2, I unpacked whilst treating myself to hours of British game show television and obscene amounts of room service.
The more luxurious aspects of 007’s lifestyle I found certainly came very, very easy to me. Like my post-quarantine reward, a dinner at Les Ambassadeurs Club, a very VIP, members-only casino with a centuries-old past-definitely something Bond would do.
What wouldn’t Bond do? Well if Bond were me, a mere 2 hours earlier (flashback), he’d be racing around Kensington’s High Street not taking aim at bad guys, no, but hurriedly combing the racks of H&M in search of the perfect Bond Girl-esque outfit to wear to said dinner.
Despite being at the mercy of the fast-fashion stalwart, I managed to find a slinky black sequin dress suitable for that evening. My heels clicked through the halls of the casino past gold accents, dramatic staircases, and carved wood within every vantage point.
Thirty minutes into a decadent three-course dinner (with wine pairings!), my eyes began to glaze over. Mayhaps it was the looming jetlag, the previous, uh, several martinis, or the rich meat, but soon I was down for the count and had to waddle back to my hotel room. I imagined the Bond girls that came before me, women able to wield a gun in a bikini. Would they have been taken out by *checks notes* a heavy dinner?
Exterior. The Thames. Day. Bond loves a boat, appearing on an aquatic mode of transport in seven Bond films, including the fan-favorite opening chase scene in The World Is Not Enough. Our version of the stunt was a bit more chill–a cruise tour down the Thames to be exact. As a new lover of Boat Life™, this was exactly my (literal) speed. Sunglasses, bubbly, a surprisingly bright winter sun beaming on my face? Yes, yes, and yes!
Refreshed and relaxed, I lay back down in my bed for an afternoon nap. But I was rudely awakened by a reminder email. I needed to be checked out and ready to board a bus for the countryside later that day. Oh, hell Dr. No! My luxe, relaxing, VIP bubble was being shattered! I imagined myself being pulled kicking and screaming from the lobby of The Dorchester, dragged away from my afternoon tea.
The truth is, since The Unprecedented Times began, I’ve retreated further and further into my teeny-tiny bubble of me, my partner, and my cat. Once a raging extrovert, I now have to summon the energy for a big night out, and by big night out I mean a switch from my daytime pajamas to my nighttime pajamas. I didn’t want to leave my swaddled cocoon of cozy, fancy exploits to go to the country and splash around in the mud. Thus far, my stay in London had been skewed far more Downton Abbey, less Die Another Day.
Begrudgingly, like a child being pulled from the playground, I hopped on the bus mentally preparing myself for the next day and attempting to calm my anxious mind.
Exterior. The Muddy English Countryside. Day. When the words “not responsible for loss of life” are involved in an activity, it is usually considered a red flag. Pre-pandemic me would’ve been more than game for a stunt driving experience inspired by a film scene, but I felt rattled and nervous approaching the swamp-like stunt track where the whole thing was being filmed.
Oh yes, did I forget to drop that an entire crew was present to document the experience? Not to mention the entire stunt team from the actual film No Time To Die to orchestrate and coordinate.
I watched others go on the drive before me, ripping through the stunt track like the car was zapped by a bolt of lightning, all the while being chased by another mud-covered Land Rover and two stunt motorcyclists. I trembled behind a chain fence, separating me from the action, as gentle rain began to fall onto the set.
“WE NEED EVA!” I heard over a walkie-talkie.
Did we? Was it too late to run for the rolling hills of the English countryside? My teeth-chattering, I plowed through the mud to reach the car, driven by legendary stunt driver, and Top Gear universe alum, Mark Higgins.
Lifted into the car, and securely fastened in, everyone around me kept asking, “You ready?” with an affected, signature British twang.
But what would Bond do?
Mark pulled off, immediately drifting the car sideways down a turn at the beginning of the track.
Strapped in like a toddler, I let out wild, unbridled screams, the kinds typically provoked by Six Flags roller coasters. My helmet protected my skull from bouncing inside the car’s interior like a tennis ball. But then, laughter. Mark somehow made the drive feel like a cross between a driving lesson with your Dad and a virtual reality arcade game. Narrowly avoiding cyclists and winding through the track actually felt exhilarating and gleeful. In three minutes I’d been resurrected from the depths of pandemic fatigue.
Emerging from the Land Rover, dizzy but triumphant, I had what patron saint Oprah oft refers to as an “aha moment.”
This final film, No Time To Die was set to debut during the pandemic, but its release date was pushed for obvious reasons. Around the same time it was supposed to be released, I turned 30 years old. Thirty was supposed to be my year! I was going to dominate! I was going to party ‘til dawn! I was going to dress like a Bond Girl and live my best life. And just like No Time To Die, all of that was put on hold, and I slowly but surely, over the course of 600+ days of quarantine, made the transition from 30 to 85.
But travel, much like films, has the ability to transport, to inspire, to reinvigorate! Thirty may have been put on hold, but that didn’t mean the rest of my life had to be.
Later that day, I poured back over the video footage on my phone while smiling. From my plush, king-size bed, post-nap, of course.
The most recent entry to the world of James Bond, No Time To Die, comes to Blu Ray and DVD on December 21st, 2021.