An Experiment in Going Green

An Experiment in Going Green

Maybe, like me, you've noticed the explosion of hybrid cars on the highways — well-meaning, environmentally conscious people striving for a more earth-friendly lifestyle.

That smug glance from a hybrid owner as she rolls by the gas exit tweaks my memory back to the l970s when finding fuel was almost impossible. It also reminds me of the hectic schedule in our household spawned by the severe gas crisis during that time.

Thirty some years ago, my days went something like this. The alarm woke me an hour early. I prepared for work, grabbed a cup of coffee and hurried to meet my goal. The sign at the gas station indicated it opened at 7 a.m. but savvy neighborhood customers, like me, knew the pumps opened at 6 a.m.

Gas rationing rules of the day dictated the right to even be in that line. License plates ending with odd numbers were allowed to buy on odd days; even numbers on even days. A new rage developed. Emotional meltdowns were prevalent whenever drivers, after waiting in line for an hour, saw an "out of gas" sign when it was their turn. Brawls occurred should someone "cut in line." In our two-car family, we had one even, one odd license plate. On my day to gas up, my husband would get the children ready for school.

An alternative means of transportation was obviously the solution but time schedules, transfers, geographical diversities, distances from work and childcare facilities all combined to rule out using public transit.

While attending a home improvement show at the convention center, an electric car housed inside a Volkswagen Beetle's body intrigued us. Existing electric autos had huge price tags but we envisioned liberation from gas lines with this affordable invention.

After delivering a 10-year- old VW Beetle to a Palo Alto garage, and entrusting the project to the inventor surnamed Stanley, our investment was committed. Stanley, a dysfunctional genius, possessed an interesting background, which included many impressive government and private projects. However, a mysterious engine project for China had placed him on the FBI's watch list. The genius observed no schedule and when inspired, he might work all night, and then not work for days.

My co-workers enjoyed my updates and everyone shared gas station horror stories. One colleague had been so desperate she said, "I'd have danced on the car hood for a couple of gallons." Another bicycled her two children with earaches to the clinic. The gas crisis and our enthusiasm had begun to wane.

Too late for buyers' remorse, our dream of an electric car had developed into a "write it off" mentality. The following Easter Sunday was interrupted by the doorbell. Surprise, surprise, there stood Stanley. The project, started in the fall, was actually delivered on a flatbed. Had he given up and decided to bring us a failure? "No," Stanley assured us. "It works. I gave it plenty of test drives."

The delivery thrilled us, but we had to plug in the battery and charge it before we could take it for a test spin.

The following morning my husband prepared to test-drive our juiced up auto. Removal of the back seat allowed room for twelve batteries to lie side by side. With only room for two, the boys and I waited at home. My turn would come. Whether a precaution or a premonition, before leaving he stowed away a fire extinguisher.

Much later the contraption returned on the back of another flatbed tow truck. My husband explained his predicament. A mysterious buzzing sounded and flames burst from the batteries. He grabbed that fire extinguisher and remedied the situation.

The next day, I endured hoots of laughter from co-workers. We faced our dilemma of owning one VW shell and one electric motor. As adults we analyzed the situation, and blamed the gasoline companies. The Beetle shell sold quickly, and the motor, gifted to the auto department of the community college, became a tax deduction.

Today the hybrids roll on by the gas stations. I recollect our ambitious vision as not a total loss. At least our experiment in being "green" became an experience.

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