Posted on 3 Comments

Out of Electrons

[n.b. This first draft is riddled with typos.]

The first statement everyone makes when you tell them you drive an electric car (an ev) is "I could never drive one of those. They don’t go far enough." The truth of the matter is they do go far enough and once you start driving one range anxiety is laughable. The next thing out of their mouths is the question "how long does that take to charge?" I answer with the 120V numbers of trickle charging 11-22 hours, 220V recommended charging is 2-4 hours, and 440V charging gets a full charge in 30-40 minutes. They respond, "I can gas up in 5 minutes and gas is everywhere." The 220V chargers are fairly prolific but you have to know what you are looking for and that’s where I made my mistake last night. I drove past the charger.

The naysayers of electric vehicles really are just making excuses. It’s a comfort zone thing. They are used to having their internal combustion engines and gas stations. Truth of the matter is we have all run out of gas before. Or been down to fumes praying the next exit on the interstate has a gas station that is open. We’ve all borrowed a can of gas to make it to the gas station. I was in the car with a friend whose car ran out of fuel in a dangerous curve. A policeman pulled up, opened his hood, picked a coke bottle up off the ground, fished a tube out of the engine and put 40 ounces of fuel in the car so my friend could get to the gas station. Until then, I didn’t know that feature was built into a police cruiser.

What happened?

I have not gone to the expense of installing a 220V charger at the house so we trickle charge over night. We get about an 88 mile range on the car which is great for daily commuting and most of the things we do in our lives. We’ve even taken our Nissan Leaf to the entrance of the Smokey’s so we could go tubing in Townsend with no problem. Next year, Nissan will release a new EV with a 200 mile range and Telsa will release a less expensive version of their car with a 300 mile range. Those ranges are comparable to any ICE (internal combustion engine) and when you factor in the power of those direct drive motors, the lack of maintenance (all I have to do is rotate tires and change break pads…that’s it!), the quiet of the car, the lack of a fuel bill, and the pleasure of driving them, we will see more and more EVs on the road. Since we trickle charge, after a day of heavy use, we might wake to an incomplete charge. Yesterday, we began with a 50 mile range and a long list of errands.

I begin heavy driving days by looking at the map of chargers. This is not dissimilar to planning a road trip in the 70s. Yesterday, I knew we would be near the Cracker Barrel with a 440V charger and thought we might take a 30 minute snack break there but we didn’t. When our errands were done, we had not hit any chargers and I said to the wife, "We need to go to Calhouns and have appetizers or drinks for half an hour before going to the in-laws." We didn’t. I said, "We have enough charge to make it to the in-laws but we will have to plug in at their house." I looked for an extension cord only to find it being used in the boys’ room. I said, "Shut down your computers and give me the extension cord." The boys whined. The wife said, "Granddaddy will have an extension cord." We drive to the in-laws and I as my son, the 18 year old who starts college next week, to plug in the car. A bit later I decide to check on it only to find it not charging. After 15 minutes of fiddling and manual reading, I decide to plug into a different outlet. Upon unplugging the extension cord, I find the ground plug has been broken off. Of course the car circuitry will not attempt a charge on a non-grounded system. My disbelief that my son who wants to study physics and chemistry doesn’t know better leaves me feeling like a failure of a father. I see another extension cord and they are all broken. My choices? Have someone follow me to Cracker Barrel (4.1 miles away with 3 miles on the battery) or I could drive to Home Depot and buy an extension cord (this, I should have done!). Granddaddy insists on fixing his cord and steals the 18 year old away. Light begins to fade and I decide to leave the 18 year old but he shows up just as we were pulling away…good thing, I ended up needing him to push the car.

I had a plan: Go shopping. While shopping, get some juice.
I had a backup plan: Charge the car over drinks.
I had a backup backup plan: Charge the car at the grandparent’s house.
I had a backup backup backup plan: Charge the car at Victor Ashe Park.
I had a Hail Mary: Charge the car at Cracker Barrel (taking the wife and two bashful adult boys into the neighboring Hooters for half an hour would have been amusing).

My first plan of charging while shopping failed and I had not really counted on it anyway. Most businesses have not yet caught onto the fact that providing charging to customers will pull customers in. We went to Costco yesterday to inquire about membership. The salesperson repeated proudly, "and you get discounted gas" over and over. I wanted to say, "I don’t care about your gas. Why don’t you have an electric charger?" Thursday, when Cathy and I went to see the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy, we didn’t need a charge but I paid Calhouns $3 to use their charger to top off the car while we watched the movie…because it was convenient. Right now I split my grocery shopping between Fresh Market, Earthfare, Kroger, and Publix. The first one of those businesses that realizes they should provide a charger will probably win the lion’s share of my grocery shopping. EVs en masse are coming rapidly and businesses are completely missing the boat as they install more gas stations. Petrol stations are going the way of the dinosaur. I truly can’t remember the last time I pumped gas. Businesses need to install electric charging stations and they need to do it in parking spaces closest to the entrance. Mark my words!

My backup plan was to have drinks at Calhouns but we dillydallied at the house. Nonetheless, we still stopped at West Hills Park and took a 15 minute charge. We should have made it a 30 minute charge as planned. Hindsight.

The backup backup plan was to charge at the grandparents. Haven’t relented on taking my own extension cord, we arrived, as described above, only to find no available extension cords. Acting against my gut once again, I did not take the car to a charging station nor did I go buy an extension cord. Can you guess why I’m buying and leaving in the spare tire compartment? Yes, a very long extension cord dedicated to the Leaf!

The car now reported 3 miles on the batter. Cracker Barrel was 4.1 miles away so it was the Hail Mary. Had I gone straight there, I think we could have charged at Cracker Barrel while having drinks at Hooters and giggling as the boys struggled to look and not look at the waitresses. That didn’t happen of course. The backup backup backup plan ended up being Victor Ashe Park. We made it! The park was open. The two chargers glowed like lighthouses in the night. One was flashing out of order. The other looked like it was going to work but when I plugged in it declared "Electrical fault: Charging station will reset in 15 minutes." I pressed the button on the steering wheel to locate nearby charging stations and Copper Cellar popped up 1.1 miles away. Where was a Copper Cellar 1.1 miles from Victor Ashe Park? My curiosity piqued and my hopes rose.

The new backup backup backup backup plan became the Copper Cellar (still could have drinks!). With three dashes where numbers usually tell me how many miles I have left and Hal chanting loudly, "You aren’t going to make it Dave" but in a woman’s voice using the words, "Extremely low battery charge. Find a charging station now." I drove off into what quickly became an industrial park of offices in chain length fence. I knew exactly where I was. I hidden treasure trove of Knoxville’s restaurant industry’s corporate offices and supplies houses (you can get some killer kitchenware here). I panicked. I presumed the chargers were behind a fence for employees. I failed to read my app that said the charging stations were available 24/7 for Blink customers. As I rounded a corner I looked down at the dashboard map and compared it to my phone to calculate the most direct route to Cracker Barrel. Looking down, I failed to see the two available charging stations glowing brightly like beacons in the light. Angels sang. Daylight penetrated the night illuminating the stations. And we drove right past them. The director looked dejected. Coughed. Signaled the angels to stop their chorus. Apologized the the crew and asked them to reset the set in hopes that some other moron in an electric car would come by within the next year. Three tenths of a mile later, a turtle appeared on the dashboard. A message said, "Motor power limited." And the car died. The Holy Grail of Cracker Barrel and Hooters was a mere 2.3 miles away. The boys pushed the car onto a busy road and I rapid costed away from them to park in Hell on Earth…the Weigel’s at Pleasant Ridge Rd and Wilson Rd. They offered the plug by the ice machine as long as I didn’t unplug their ice machine. I unplugged their ice machine and 40 minutes later gave up and called a tow truck.

I learned several things in the next hour of my life.

  1. Statefarm roadside assistance doesn’t know what an electric car is.
  2. Nissan doesn’t list the number for their roadside assistance anywhere but once you find it the NoGas roadside assistant is awesome!
  3. Cracker Barrel turns off their chargers when they close.
  4. Apparently I should be carrying a gun.

I got towed twice last night. Something I had assured myself I would never allow to happen once. As an evangelist for electric cars, I’m embarrassed. As someone who made choices against his gut feelings, I’m irritated. As a moron who drove right past his salvation, I’m angry at myself. Overall, it made a great story and I am laughing at it. Plus I’m motivated to install a 220V charger at the house now.

While trying to arrange a tow with Statefarm, my phone announces its low battery. I pull my Energizer portable battery out of my Scottevest and it is dead too. Can this evening get more ironic?! I tell the boys to get their uncle to pick them up and Statefarm arranges to send a tow truck at no expense within the hour. My son hugs me and I’m left to enjoy the heavy bass, tire squeals, wafts of cigarette smoke, and overhear talks of drug deals, and prostitution arrangements. Okay, perhaps I embellish slightly.

Cathy has left her phone with a better charge with me and I eventually find Nissan’s Roadside Assistance number. They check my vin and tell me of a wealth of benefits I am entitled including towing me to the nearest charger (plus 50 miles…which means the house) at no charge to me. Is this a one time deal? No. Whenever I need it. But the Statefarm tow driver arrives with his flatbed as I am speaking to Nissan so I tell them, "next time."

The tow driver quirks his head, "Can you get it in neutral?" We discuss options: 1) My house with the difficult driveway 2) the mystery charger three tenths a mile away or 3) Cracker Barrel next door to boobies and beer. He says that is close to his house and he is on his last run. We arrive at Cracker Barrel and unload the car only to find that the chargers are inactive. They don’t operate from 11pm-6am (only during Cracker Barrel’s business hours) WHY?! We stare at the map and decide to try the industrial park. Sure enough, there they are…and working. The driver unloads the car. Wishes me well. They turns and asks, "Are you carrying protection?" He meant a gun. I answered, "No." He replies, "You really should carry protection." I play the game, "I don’t have my permit yet." He answers, "It’s really not hard to get. You gonna be okay?" "Yes." He looks east, "I think they’ve gated it but I’d get out of here as quickly as possible if I were you.&quot And he drove away.

I spend 40 minutes charging my car, my phone and myself (with a little chanting), and I played a lot of World of Tanks Blitz because I’d left my book, I Am Pilgram, at home by mistake. I am a pilgram in the electric vehicle world. I’m an early adopter. I understand the risks and I embrace the adventure! No regrets.