My husband and I had an important appointment and dinner planned for last Monday evening.
So why did he arrive late? And why, afterward, did we get stuck eating dessert in an empty parking garage at 10:30 p.m.?
Welcome to life with an electric car, week one. Already, the experience has the makings of a reality-TV show.
I could tell that the idea of buying an EV had been on his mind for months. Every now and then, he would mention it, and before long the topic came up more often -- especially after we watched "Chasing Ice" a movie about the disappearing polar ice cap. I would listen, nod and ask a question at times: How much would our electricity bill go up? How many miles can you get out of a charge? Where do we find charging stations?
Undeterred, he backed up his arguments with data, including a slew of financial rebates and incentives offered by the state of California to "pioneers" -- or "guinea pigs," depending on your perspective -- willing to enter the mostly uncharted realm of driving gasoline-free.
When we moved to California in 2006, we shed one car before leaving the East Coast and proudly navigated life here with a single automobile for four years. We used public transportation, and rode bicycles, only to be defeated finally by the inconveniences and lack of independence. In 2010, we signed a three-year lease for a second car. My husband got stuck with the old car, a stubbornly efficient Toyota. With 253,000 miles, that car could likely run for 100K more, but it needs oil now at almost every gasoline stop, and feels a little less sturdy.
Perhaps a zero emissions vehicle could give us reliable transportation and assuage our guilt at having a one-car-per-person ratio in our family.
I was not convinced, but I was intrigued, as my husband test drove the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt.
The Volt receives excellent reviews, mostly because it solves the problem that is No. 1 on the minds of Leaf drivers: range anxiety.
I drive 80 miles round trip to and from work, and it would be an unusual day if the Leaf could take me both ways on a single charge. And there is no charging station in my employer's parking lot. As for the Volt? Once the battery charge lowers to a certain level, its internal combustion engine fuels an electric generator, extending its range. Nice!
Still, it is more expensive than the Leaf, and the incentives offered by the state and the dealership are not as sweet for the Volt as for the Leaf.
So, there we were on New Year's Eve at the Sunnyvale Nissan showroom signing papers committing us to three years of battery-fueled driving. After the signing, the salesman shot a photograph of the happy couple posing beside the car. He also told a funny story about a doctor who bought a Leaf and, in the first week, had to cancel all his appointments unexpectedly because ... well, you guessed it.
I was thinking of that story as I ate pomegranate frozen yogurt that same night, standing in the electric vehicle section of the Palo Alto parking garage, waiting for the Leaf to charge.
My husband had driven it from our San Mateo coastside home to the San Bruno BART station to take the train into San Francisco. There are no charging stations at this BART stop (although I could have sworn that, during our negotiations, he'd argued, "Hey, I can charge it at BART").
On a typical day, none of this matters because a single charge can take him to his workplace and back home. On this day, however, he was making a detour to Palo Alto. The dashboard of the Leaf showed 19 miles remaining on the charge. But home was 22 miles away. He left work early to leave time to park at a charging station, and then walk to meet me for our appointment.
According to his smartphone app from ChargePoint (www.chargepoint.com/chargepointnet/mobile-apps.php), Palo Alto has one of the highest concentrations of charging stations. But apparently that city also has one of the highest number of electric cars. At the first parking garage and then another, he had been elbowed out by Teslas and Chevy Volts. California's goal is to construct enough charging stations to accommodate 1 million zero emissions vehicles by 2020, but apparently there's still a long way to go.
He gave up and jogged to meet me. Afterward, I drove him to the garage where he had parked the Leaf, and other vehicles were still consuming the coveted voltage. Couldn't we just unplug them and steal 5 or 10 miles? With these chargers, that would take only 30 minutes.
We restrained ourselves, and moved on to the next garage where we found a vacant charger. My husband pulled the line from the charger, plugged it into the snout of the car and settled in to wait. I kissed him goodbye and headed home. Then I took mercy on him, stopped at Fraiche Yogurt, bought a treat, and returned with it to wait with him.
Our marriage had survived our first charging crisis.
On Sunday, as we were headed out to explore the coastline, my husband said, "Hey, let's take the electric car." Now, that's a story for another day.
Want to know where to find charging stations, how to build one at home, where to apply for electric car rebates? I will be blogging about our car adventures at http://myhusbandselectriccar.wordpress.com. Come join us on the adventure.