Happy Birthday, America!

by Ben N on July 4, 2011

Independence Day Parade Entry

Happy Independence Day everyone!

Our local 4th of July Parade was on Satruday, and I decided to enter my home-built electric car as a float. On the side, I had a hand-made sign calling my entry “Freedom from Foreign Oil”.

What was interesting was the responses I got in the parade.

To start with, when the parade was lining up, I found out that I was behind the Historical Society’s old Ford pickup truck, and in front of the local Girl Scouts pack. As soon as I had my sign up on my car, the Revolutionary-Garbed flag bearing behind me struck up a conversation. Much of it was about how he remembered farmers running trucks on natural gas, and that in the 70’s, he remembered seeing electric cars running around. Why can’t we do even better today?

Some of the most oddly interesting comments on my car were from children. One of the Girl Scouts asked if my car was a Smart Car. I explained to her that it was a Geo Metro that I converted to run on battery-electricity instead of gasoline. It took me a moment to realize that Metros have been out of production for longer than this girl has been alive.

At two other points in the parade, I heard boys yell out “It’s too small!”. This coming from someone who is only 4 feet tall. How exactly does a boy define that a car is too small? Well, sure, I suppose it is smaller than his parent’s Suburban or Yukon.

The overwhelming response of the crowd was positive. Lots of applause. Lots of thumbs-ups and cheers. Plenty of “Really? you built that?” – “Yep, sure did” – “Hey man, nice job!”

The best part is that the car is so quiet, that I could carry on conversations with the crowd. I could hear people reading out loud the signs on the car. “Wow, it’s gets the equivalent of 130 MPG!”

Actually, that wasn’t the best part, I’ll tell you what was…

In front of me was a 1930’s pickkup truck. Once the parade was ready to go, I turn my key, and silently proceeded forward. (One of the Girls Scouts ooooh’ed “It’s moving!”) The truck in front of me fired up it’s engine and started chugging forward. Now, our parade is traditionally on a very hot and sunny day. My car doesn’t have air conditioning, so my windows were rolled down. Hey, it’s a parade, even if I HAD AC, my windows would have still been down! But anytime I got close to the Ford during slow parts of the parade, I would start gagging on its exhaust. There was really no breeze. I don’t think 1930’s Fords had catalytic converters, evaporative emissions controls, or anything similar to what we had today. The fumes really were pretty bad.

So, HERE’s the best part of the parade – the Girl Scouts behind me didn’t have to breath my exhaust. No exhaust system. No fumes straight out the back of the car pointed at little girls lungs.

Now don’t get me wrong. Electric Cars DO pollute, but they do it CONSIDERABLY less than gas cars, and the pollution ISN’T AT STREET LEVEL  in the middle of your downtown. In fact, I pride myself that my car is run nearly entirely on renewable energy sources, rather than coal or nuclear.

Girl Scouts behind my parade entry

Some people get it, some people don’t. One woman in the crowd yelled out, “But the heat’s not very good in the winter, is it!?” I’d love to sit down and have an hour long conversation with each and every one of the people in the crowd. Kinda hard to have a real, nuanced conversation out the window of a moving car for a few seconds….

The other odd thing is that my throttle seemed to get a little more touchy near the end of the parade. I have no idea why. Maybe it wasn’t but, my foot was just getting tired. I don’t know.  The acceleration on my car is actually very nice and smooth, the car just was never designed to travel at one mile per hour. So, by the end of the parade, it was getting a little tough to go from almost a stop, to just one or two miles per hour. The car would jerk and bounce on its suspension a bit as it got going. This certainly didn’t make the car look like the smooth and easy to drive vehicle that it actually was. So, instead, I momentarily turned the car into a “performance car”.

I simply put the car in first gear, waited for the entry ahead of me to get ahead a bit, and then burned rubber. Instantly, the crowd was impressed. No more kids saying it’s too small, instead, I could hear little voices saying “coooooooool!”.

I burned rubber and glided for the last couple blocks of the parade. Next year, I’ll have to reprogram the controller to a special “parade mode” for very low speed travel and acceleration.

I hope I got people thinking a bit. Some people don’t know that electric cars even exist. That Girl Scout had never even seen a Geo Metro, and those boys were used to seeing huge trucks as the “normal” family vehicle. But the people who were cheering at my car after reading my sign, those are the ones who might buy a Volt or a Leaf as their next family car. Heck, maybe even those college students drinking beer, sitting in lawn chairs in that front yard might even try BUILDING an electric car!

This year, I did NOT ONCE hear anyone say “Drill, Baby, Drill!”, and one person even said “You’re a REAL patriot”

That’s the weird thing. I never have been particularly patriotic. The United States is a great place to live. We have the best of so many things right here, but we also have a certain way that we live that uses a tremendous amount of energy and other resources, and is based almost exclusively on consumption! And we just think that’s “Normal”! I guess I’ve never seen the world quite the same way as other people around me have. And I’ve grown weary of the powerlessness of consumerism.

If there’s a better way to do things, we should do it. We should no longer be dependent on foreign nations for either our debt or our energy. Heck, I didn’t even use a credit card when I built my electric car! Soldiers die every day because of military action around the world to keep the oil pumping. If one fewer person dies because I put up a solar panel, or drive an electric car, it’s all worth it.

Does that make me a patriot? I hope it does, but even if it doesn’t, we all need to take small, positive actions in our everyday lives to make this world a better place to live in.

In the parade, it meant no little girls were breathing smog.

Happy Independence Dayeveryone!

Support Energy Independence!

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