Me and the Electrons

Sid Schwab, May 9, 2014

I’ve done something so unlike me that I still can’t quite believe I did it. Bought myself a Tesla Model S all-electric automobile. Me. I wear jeans. I buy them when they’re on sale. Same with my shirts, Eddie Bauer, 40 percent off end-of-season sale. I darn my socks. The first car I bought I kept for 20 years, had the motor rebuilt at 200,000 miles, eventually had it painted and donated it to our local Little League auction. My most recent car I bought used, drove for nearly 20 years, adding 235,000 miles to the 20,000 it already had on it. My wife’s car recently passed 100,000 miles.

Several years ago, I got a used ’87 Jaguar XJ-6, Vanden Plas, the last style year of the most beautiful car the Brits ever made. It cost less than if I’d bought a new Honda, but after two days I took it back. Why? Because I didn’t like the presumption that I was some rich doctor parading around in a fancy car. I did love it, though, for those few hours.

As age began to show on my elderly ride, I considered what I’d replace it with. I’ve always loved Beemers (that first car was a ’72 1600), especially their M versions, but I knew I’d never spend that much on a car. I’d nearly decided on a Mazda 3, one of the best cars out there for the least amount of money. But several months ago, for no reason I can think of, I sidled up to the Tesla guy at the annual car show in Seattle, and next thing I knew I’d signed up for a test drive the following week.

I’d spent some time reading about the technological wizardry of the car, so as we dawdled through traffic in downtown Bellevue, there wasn’t too much Tom, the “advisor,” had to say that I didn’t already know. Then we pulled onto Interstate 90. “Looks clear into the HOV lane,” he said. “Why don’t you punch it?” I did. At which point my wife and I said, simultaneously, something I’m sure he hears several times a day: “HOLY S***!!!”

The Tesla is a big car, a family car, a hatchback that seats five adults easily, and has room for a third row of rear-facing kid seats. It’s gorgeous and sleek, but at first glance one might not be thinking rocket ship. It is. With its strong electric motor it just goes like crazy, accelerates seamlessly, direct drive, no shifting gears. The power is there, instantly, at all speeds. There’s nothing like it. And did I mention it’s gorgeous?

I liked everything about it. Inside it’s comfortable and a little exotic; all the controls are on a giant touch screen, so there are no dials or buttons. It’s spare and clean and elegant. It goes. It wants to run, demands it, and it does so with nearly eerie silence, G-forcing its passengers into the seatbacks as if pushed by an invisible hand. Two hands. Really strong hands.

And it’s gorgeous.

So I read more, looked at videos, went back for a couple more test drives, told myself it made no sense to spend that much money on a car, any car. But it got under my skin. I loved the idea of never using gas again, of plugging it in in my garage and having a full “tank” every morning, of being able to drive over 250 miles without recharging. I marveled at how they came up, from scratch, with a car that’s won about every award there is; and I relished the network of Superchargers they’ve been building, just for Teslas, free, fastest on the planet. Couple of coffees and off you go. People have driven across the US and back using only Superchargers, never spending a penny for “fuel,” producing not a milligram of emissions.

I don’t have that self-conscious feeling I had with the Jaguar. Don’t know why. Maybe it’s that I’m decidedly holding the short end of the life stick. Maybe it’s that I believe manmade carbon emissions are the most dangerous thing happening in the world. Or maybe I’ve finally become the self-indulgent asshole I never thought I would. If so, in this case I’m okay with it.

Sid Schwab is an 85 percent retired surgeon who likes to write.

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