My Leaf Chronicles: Road Warrior car vs Zen car

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Have you ever been passed by one of those big diesel pickup trucks with smoke stacks belching smelly black clouds? I’ve seen a few where I live north of Austin, Texas. They always make my skin crawl — the aggressive displays of testosterone and environment-be-damned defiance that they are. Being passed by one while you’re driving a big SUV is one thing. Seeing and feeling one blow by when you’re in a quiet little Nissan Leaf is quite another.

I heard one coming yesterday. The driver waited until he was along side of me to gun it and accelerate from the 35mph I was driving to a black cloud accented 60 or 70, only to let off the gas 100 yards down the road and belch an explosive backfire that made some pedestrians duck. What strange extremes of perspective and inclination we encounter on our roads when we’re driving an EV. I don’t know if that holds true for someone in a Tesla S — a magnificent electric automobile that is intended to compete in every way with the high performance luxury sedan market. They have a range of over 200 miles on a charge, so maybe the inclination to go gentle is less so than with the 75-100 mile-per-charge Leaf. But I’ll bet Tesla S drivers still find themselves embracing the challenge of seeing just how far they can go on a charge. And when you combine that with the quiet of an EV, you find the heightened awareness of your surroundings makes you a new witness to things you had previously been numb to.

Tesla S (photo credit: The Torgue Report)

One of those things is the impatient way most of us drive. Why is it that when we get behind the wheel we think that anyone not moving faster than we are is an obstruction? It’s a subtle thing. But that is what I’m seeing now as an EV driver. Let’s call it the Road Warrior perspective. I like that movie title as a reference because that post-apocalyptic film was all about surviving the roads and a frantic quest for gasoline, as rare in director George Miller’s nightmarish world as patience seems in ours. I think there are many reasons why we’ve, as a culture, come to drive the way we do — multi-lane high-speed highways, suburban sprawl, daily commuting to and from work, fractured attention spans, talk radio and car stereos, cell phones, and all of the other things that we submit to. But one result is that driving has become about the shortest route, the fastest time, and everyone is an obstruction to that end unless their shortest route/fastest time plan is better than ours, which means they are accelerating away from us.

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If the internal combustion engine automobile can generally be characterized as the Road Warrior car, then the EV might be called the Zen car. The Road Warrior car is the vehicle of choice for the shortest route/fastest time/get-out-of-my-way driver. Not everyone driving a gas car feels that way, but it is a powerful cultural paradigm that often sweeps even those naturally inclined toward gentleness into its vortex of angst. I’ve become keenly aware of it as I switch back and forth between our new Zen car and our small remaining Road Warrior car. It’s a mental struggle which most lose. How else can we explain a senior citizen riding up on someone’s bumper, flashing her lights, beeping her horn, and speeding past that car when it was going 55 in the slow lane? That’s the only explanation I can come up with. That happened to me this week. But the Zen car encourages us to change our perspective and, maybe ponder some questions.

  • What if I left earlier so I don’t have to drive so fast and maybe enjoy the trip a little more?
  • What creative ideas, or solutions to problems I’m facing, might come to me if I turn off the radio or CD/MP3 player, quiet my mind, and just listen?
  • What might I see along this familiar route that I’ve never noticed before while rushing by, overloaded by sensory input?

Those are questions that have come to me, and I’ve enjoyed starting to follow through on them. I think they’ll continue to yield ideas for this blog series. And I’d love to here from other EV drivers out there about what they’ve experienced and learned. I’m just a babe at this, and it’s a wonderful, eye-opening education. Here’s a cool related post with some beautiful photos by a fellow EV lover.

Cool EV Tip: If you drive an electric car in the Austin, Texas area, you can get a Plug-in Everywhere charge card from Austin Energy for an initial $25 giving you unlimited charges at any participating Plug-in Everywhere pedestals for six months.

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