I get the question at odd times—like yesterday, when my husband and I were renting a vanilla sedan to negotiate L.A. freeways. “What kind of car do you usually drive?” the white-blonde boob-jobbed salesgirl asked from behind her tablet PC as she tapped through the options.
I distracted myself from her sparkling clicking acrylic nails for long enough to answer. “A Prius and a Leaf.” L.A., meet Seattle.
“How do you like the Leaf?”
I love it. My taste in cars tends to runs passionate, and idiosyncratic. I loved my dad’s Chevy Carryall, for example, but not his Camaro. I loved our PT Cruiser from the first turn of the key, but never fell for the Prius. Prius over promised and under delivered, I whined. And the shades of grey in the interior don’t work well together. Purplish-gray, bronze-gray, blue-gray . . . Seven years after I drove it off the lot and became a slave, evermore, to great gas mileage, the relationship is still merely cordial.
But I love our Nissan Leaf. Not that it was love at first sight. The interior options were cream and cream, not ideal for throwing a bicycle in the back, and what’s the point of a hatch if you can’t? There’s no way to create a practical level surface in the back when the seats are down. While the PT Cruiser carried home our living room sofa, the Leaf might not fit an armchair. It can’t get to my cabin and back without three or four charging-stops along the way. You’re getting a sense of my lifestyle. But love isn’t rational or practical. Here’s why I’m smitten despite our differences.
- The sounds of silence. It’s amazing how much you can hear when the engine compartment in front of you isn’t a big noise generator. My neighborhood is full of life: Men clanging I-beams together, birds arguing, pre-schoolers shrieking. But my favorite is those quiet corners where I hear the sound of almost nothing.
- Zipping around gas powered cars. Last summer our family borrowed an old tech (all-gas) minivan for a vacation that included a couple of spare kids. Crossing the flats of eastern Washington, my daughter took the wheel. Truck traffic was heavy. “How is it going?” I asked, twenty minutes in. “We’re all going to die!” she exclaimed. “I step on the pedal and nothing happens!” I realized that she had never before driven a car that wasn’t at least partly electric. With an electric drive, you step on the pedal and move! Not that I personally would weave in and out of traffic on a busy freeway, or anything like that.
- Skipping the gas pump. I was raised so frugal that when I got out of grad school, I had enough saved for a down payment on a house. My little brother wanted to grow up so he could go dumpster diving. My favorite department store is still Value Village. A couple of days ago, I took the Prius in for her monthly mainline. Thirty-six bucks! I’d forgotten.
- That heated steering wheel. One day last winter I was wistfully telling my husband that my friend’s luxury sedan had a heated steering wheel. He reached over and pushed a button. On a limited energy budget it’s more efficient to heat your hands and bum than the entire car. The warmth seeped into my forever-frozen fingers, and I was hooked.
- Parking privileges. The last time I had designated parking spots around town it was because I’d fallen off a ladder and splintered my knee–way, way pricey compared to leasing a Leaf. Yesterday I pulled into SeaTac Airport parking, followed the plug-in symbols instead of driving around, and then walked half-an aisle to the elevator. Sweet.
- Giving the fat middle finger to big oil. I hate those fuckers. I hate the fact that they spend my money buying my democracy–lobbying to keep our country dependent on their dirty old technology while the rest of the world moves ahead. I hate it that to get what they want they casually support reactionary politicians who are flat-out afraid of the future: multiculturalism, women with dreams, the demise of religion, or any technology that smacks of clean. My are going to have to live in the future we create!
- The lack of a suicide tailpipe. Running a hose from your Leaf tailpipe into the front seat won’t kill you. In fact, you can’t because there isn’t one. At some level, I believe we all should have to live with the poisons we produce. That’s karma, right? I wouldn’t run the PT Cruiser in my daughter’s bedroom. Why should I run it in her world? Once you get used to not spewing carbon monoxide and toxins out the tailpipe it actually feels weird to go back—like throwing your trash out the window.
- Incenting innovation. I believe in rewarding ingenuity, whether it’s a first grader selling her artwork or a small start-up or, in this case, the next wave of transportation technology. It feels good to support determination, creativity, and out of the box thinking. I like being an early adopter, even if the risks are high.
- Visible identity. People spend a lot of money on cars they think say something about who they are. My first car said, “Cars are tools. I’m not interested in playing the car identity game.” But honestly, I like driving a car that that says I’m someone who gives a shit. I’m more into the future than the past. And unless you’re driving a Fisker or a Tesla, I can out-accelerate your sports car.
- Cool stuff evangelism. I love sharing discoveries with my friends—interesting bits of trivia, new scientific breakthroughs, recipes, bargains, travel tips, contraceptives that get rid of your period, TED talks, great books—you name it. The Leaf keeps giving me an opener—even in someplace as alien as LA.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.