For those of you who don’t know me, which is most of the humanoidals and other species on the planet, I am a scientist by inclination, training and dumb luck, and worked as a University Professor for much of a lifetime, but recently gave all that up to work in my own little startup company which has the advantage that I don’t have to do what anyone else tells me, mostly. I was born and educated in England, lived in Germany for a while and moved to the US in 1986. So, to get more or less to the point, I have always been a compulsive early adopter, I was the first of my peer group to have a PC, an internet connection, an iPhone, an iPad, a digital camera and so on, you get the picture. So naturally I might be attracted to the first hybrid and then the first electric vehicles (EV) when they became available. I spent a lot of my youth playing with various cars and motorcycles, all with pure gas engines, and so I know about that kind of machine, having taken many of them apart and put most of them back together again, more or less successfully. So I know how complicated they are, how much there is to go wrong and how difficult it is to get them running perfectly. They also pollute the world, are extremely inefficient, make too much noise and heat and you have to keep buying various noxious oils, antifreezes, greases and other unguents just to keep them running. So when hybrid cars came out I soon had one, and then when EVs came I got into them also.
I initially bought a first generation Honda Insight in 2003. That’s it above on the right, with my new Tesla 85D on the left. It is interesting how similar the body shape is, in both cases low designs which minimize air resistance. At the time I got the Honda I was working a strange routine which involved visiting two work places every day, necessitating a round trip of 50 miles. I was then totally into motorcycles, which was fun but had its disadvantages. Quite often I would get caught in the torrential downpours you get in Florida, especially in summer. I also kept losing cell phones either because they got soaking wet or they fell out of my pocket, so I decided I needed to get a car. I got the Insight at below the reserve price on Ebay, second hand at about $11,000, with only few thousand miles on it. It was and actually still is a great car, since it has now become my sons first vehicle. Not fast, not powerful, a tiny 67 hp, 1 Liter three cylinder gas engine and a electric motor. It looks like a sports car, sleek and low with only two seats because one reason it is so efficient is that it is very small and light in weight. It can do 60 mpg or more if you are careful and pretty much always gets at least 50 mpg. In fact it is still the most efficient fossil burning car you can or in fact could buy, as the original Insight is not on the market anymore. It didn’t impress those who care about how fast a car can go 0 to 60 mph, but I’m not interested at all in that. So I drove that for several years and very much liked the hybrid concept, very new in 2003. At the time gas was around $1.30 for regular, and I had done some maths and figured I would make out well with this car if I kept it for several years and if gas got to be over $2.00 per gallon. A lot of friends and colleagues told me I was crazy and that gas would never get that expensive. So I got that one right, even in today’s depressed gas market it is still more than $2.00 per gallon. However the Honda was still a fossil burner and I had been understanding more and more about the numerous evils of fossil fuels and the numerous evil people who selfishly and dishonestly promote them, so I was determined to curb my ongoing addiction to this processed prehistoric sewage. So I started to do some research.
So I bought a Nissan Leaf about two and half years ago, and loved the car, and it is shown above. Again this was from Ebay, and I paid about $19,000 for a very low miles unit. It was refined, quiet, powerful and big, not a golf cart. It could carry 5 people and all their crap in comfort. There was a problem with the range though, and I typically got between 60 and 80 miles on a charge, which is real world normal for this car. You’ll see claims of 100 miles or more per charge, and on a long straight road with just the driver, no luggage, no A/C at 35 mph you could probably do that. But where are you going to find a road like that? And if you did you would likely greatly piss off everyone behind you. So I mostly used it around town, borrowing one of the other family vehicles if I wanted to go further afield. This was not a problem most of the time, and I never actually ran out of charge, though I got pretty close a few times. I liked the car so much I more or less ignored my motorcycle so I stopped going to gas stations. It was quite interesting when I did visit one after about a year of not going. I was filling up the motorcycle and I suddenly noticed the awful sickening stink that gasoline makes, which I was not used to anymore. I was wondering how and why people put up with this awful stench. I remembered how in the early years of the last century, before gas cars, the big cities of the developed world were full of horses, and so of course huge piles of horse shit were everywhere, bringing horrendous smells, flies, disease and other unpleasantness, not to mention a dead horse every once in a while. Awful, but people got used to that. And in the centuries before that there was no proper drainage system so not just horses but also people pooped and peed in the streets, and people got used to that also. So now people put up with the stench of gasoline but would happily not have to do so in future if there was a viable alternative. So I think a visitor from 100 years in the future would be appalled and sickened by the fossiliferous miasma surrounding any modern city, and wonder how people today can stand all the different stenches from oil, gas, tarmac etc.
So what about a Tesla Model S? A bit expensive at at least $70,000 for a new one but really way cool. So I ordered a new Model 85S in maybe October 2014, there not being much in the way of second hand ones on Ebay at the time. The 85S was not the fastest Model S you could get, but still a pretty substantial performance. It did have the biggest battery then available, 85 kWh, giving the longest range. As you may have realized from the previous paragraph, speed performance doesn’t really interest me much, but range does. Anyway, I had put the order in just before Elon announced the Model D versions. The original S models have single electric motors in the rear and are fantastic cars, but the newer D versions have two motors, one front and one rear, so they have a unique form of 4 wheel drive, where front and rear can be operated independently by the cars computer system. There were initially two of these new models, the 85D and the P85D. The P85D is the performance model, much on YouTube recently, which at that time had a total of 691 horse power. This is a colossal amount, and I was fairly sure that I would only make use of this while showing off, which I do once in a while but it didn’t seem worth the extra cash. Anyway the somewhat cheaper 85D had a still very impressive 422 horse power, far more than I was ever likely to need, and so I could show off perfectly well with that. This is about 3 times as much power as the Leaf and 7 times as much as the Insight. The 85D had marginally better range than the regular S models or the P85D, and I know myself well enough to know that having even a small margin of extra range would be good as I tend to be something of a risk taker. So the range thing clinched it and I called up Tesla and asked when this model would be available. I had expected that the answer would be like 2017 or something, which I would have got from a typical car company. But that is one thing Tesla is not, and I was told the D models were available immediately so I changed my Model S 85 order to the Model S 85D. This moved my order into another waiting list so I had to wait a bit longer and so I finally got the car at the end of March 2015, paying very close to $100,000 for it, since I added some of the other options, and had to pay various other fraudulent government and state kickbacks of one sort or another. Below is an image of me on the right pointing at something or other along with an optometrist guy, also a Tesla owner, who I met in Ocala at the supercharger there.
Anyway, at the end of that April I had a business meeting in Texas, near Conroe, and in looking at the Tesla supercharger map it seemed feasible to drive using Superchargers the whole way without too many problems. The distance from Gainesville, Florida, where I normally reside, was getting on for 1,000 miles, which I figured I should be able to do in 2 days. Of course it would have been much more sensible to fly, but I saw this trip as a proof of concept, so off I went- here is what happened.
So I go into my little company in Gainesville and do a few things, talk to some of my people and break the very sad news that I will be gone for a few days. However they took it very well, there did not seem to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth and in fact they all looked rather pleased. So I set out at about 10:30 am for the Lake City supercharger, and I got there about 1 hr later. I had plenty of charge for that as that is only about 50 miles from Gainesville. I set the cruise control on 70 mph on I75 and crept up behind a truck which slowed me down to 63-65 or so. The car is amazing, the sonar detects a vehicle in front of you and keeps you at whatever distance you programmed into the system. So if the vehicle in front slows down, you slow down, if it speeds up you speed up and if it stops you stop, all without you doing anything. So some poor trucker was my unpaid employee, working my accelerator and brake peddles for me. I find that this makes long distance driving much less demanding as you are not constantly responsible for adjusting your speed based on whatever is going on in front of you. This platooning as it is called was good resulting in Watts per mile below 300, which I realize is a good target, as then the number of miles range estimate on the dashboard is very close to or a bit below the actual range. So the 85 kWh battery at 300W per mile gives 283 miles range, going from 100% charge to 0% charge, and this would be quite feasible if I kept to low 60s on the interstate. The efficiency is due to the relatively low speed, but some must be the effect of slipstreaming the truck, an effect which I could have increased by programming the car to drive closer, but this did not seem very safe. So I get to the Lake City supercharger and plug in. There are six Tesla charging stations, easy to find, and my Tesla is the only one there. The superchargers are in a complex with a bunch of eating places, a barber shop, restaurants, a Walmart a couple of blocks down and of course a gas station on the other side of the road, but nothing else of particular note. It’s a fairly typical interstate stopping point, not a shopping mall like other supercharger locations, just food and gas. I decide to charge to 100% rather than my usual 90%. Tesla recommends routinely charging to 90% so as to prolong the battery life, but you can charge to 100% if you have longer trip to do. Lake City to the next supercharger stop in De Funiak Springs is about 220 miles which is close to the 245 miles range indicated on my 85D at 90% charge. Driving in the low 60s mph this would be no problem, but that speed is a little slow on the average US interstate. However I want to drive a 70mph, the legal speed limit so I charge to 100%, which the car indicates will be about 270 miles, giving me plenty of extra, even though at that speed I will burn (I can’t help but say burn) electrons a little faster, about 330 Watts per mile. Of course I might also get lost or there might be some unanticipated detour. You tend to pay more attention to this in a EV, as there are not (yet) multiple fast charging stations every few miles like there are gas stations.
While the car is charging I stop at Moe’s Southwestern Grill and have a coke and taco, excellent and really cheap. Lively place, whenever someone enters some or all of the people working there shout out loudly what sounds like “Guacamo” or “Wecamo” or something which I thought sort of colorful. Some sort of version of “Guacamole”, a major part of the Mexican menu? Then I realize it’s “welcome to Moe’s” in a deeply southern accent and apparently deliberately somewhat garbled. Cool. I then get onto Moe’s free WiFi, which works fine, and am in no time happily stuffing my face, cruising the web, Facebooking, reading emails and the like. When my face is fully stuffed I wander around the area a bit, as there is a wooded area behind the chargers, almost a little nature park, but like everywhere in the US, lots of trash, mostly the disposable crap like polystyrene cups, plastic bottles, beer cans, McDonalds bags etc. This garbage is unfortunately everywhere in the US, and you tend to notice it around superchargers as they tend to be on the edge of big cities with countryside nearby. As I wander around I come across a tent hidden in the trees and surrounded by shopping carts and various odd items, but I don’t see anyone there. I wonder if you are counted as homeless if you live in a tent. I suppose if you have to live in a tent it’s most convenient to be close to a Walmart, while the Tesla supercharger is probably not much of an issue. I don’t see anything else very interesting so I go back to the car, now fully charged.
The Tesla software is great, with a great big screen, but the GPS won’t seem to let me navigate directly from Lake City to the supercharger in De Funiak Springs. It wants me to go to the Tifton supercharger in Georgia and then on to De Funiak. This is presumably because the software is suggesting a longer trip with an intermediate charging rather then a shorter more direct trip but one close to the range limit of the Model S. Oh well. Later I figured out how to program the GPS to give me a route to the second closest charger rather than the closest. Not a big deal, I needed to learn the software better, and this was my first long trip. Having now driven a bit more I can see that the software is also a bit conservative, warning you a bit more than it really needs to, factoring in that you might be a much more aggressive driver than I am or that you might have taken your four 300 pound cousins and all their rock collections with you. Either of these will cut down on the range and presumably Elon does not want to see pictures of Model S cars with flat batteries being towed off of the interstate. So I set out and it doesn’t seem to be a problem to do this leg of the journey, and I arrive with a margin of 40 or so miles, even though there are some fairly steep inclines and I did 70mph most of the way. So I get to De Funiak Springs at about 4 pm but now in a different time zone. At De Funiak I plug in again, six superchargers in a row, but mine again being the only Tesla there, and then go off to explore as I have never been there before.
There are some antique shops, a nice lake, some railway lines, a theater, a small restaurant and a hotel, but not too much is going on a Monday afternoon. De Funiak seems to be an old railway junction which mutated into one of those picturesque places people go to at weekends to buy useless stuff and hang out. It is also raining a bit and most things appear to be closed. So I had a cheeseburger, avoiding the frd ckn which I think must be a Bosnian delicacy, at the little Corner Café while the car is charging.
After charging to about 90% I set off and do 70 miles per hour to the Mobile supercharger, about 150 miles further on, this will be no problem. I get to Mobile and look for the supercharger, as usual going around the block at least once before I finally find it, in a large shopping mall. For the first time on this trip there is another Tesla charging, and I meet a guy sitting in a P85D and yak with him a bit. The P85D must obviously be very new as they have only been on the market for maybe 3 months at that time. He tells me had a Tesla Roadster before this and is clearly therefore an early EV adopter. I ask him how come he can afford this, and like pretty much everyone else who has a Tesla, he says he is not particularly rich. He is a semi-retired air force guy, flew the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom but not in combat, now does some consulting for the air force. As we are talking a lady mall security person comes by in a police type car and asks us about Teslas, which she has only apparently seen one of before. She asks how long they take to charge up and I say half an hour, which is what I usually say and is somewhat accurate, as if you are not fully discharged it takes about that long to get add 150 miles charge, which is usually enough to get to the next charger. The military guy is clearly much more precise then me as he says it depends on how much charge you had when you started and to what level you want to charge to. Going from almost fully discharged to 100% charged would take longer, but less than one hour. As I noted above you generally only charge to 90% and you likely have about 20% or so when you start, so 30-40 minutes on a supercharger is probably a reasonable thing to say, but what the air force guy says is correct also. In fact, the charging rate varies as a function of how much charge is in the battery. So if the battery is almost discharged a supercharger will charge my 85D at a rate of 360 miles range per hour, while if the battery is at 90%, it now does more like 240 miles range per hour. So you can get a lot of charge in a short time, but to get all of the charge takes a bit longer. But it is all free so what the hell?
Anyway, I talked to the P85D guy a bit more about the McDonnell Douglas F15, which he had flown also, but not the Lockheed Martin F22 and Lockheed Martin F35, which is what he somehow was involved in consulting about. He does not seem to think much of the F35, hugely overbudget, delayed, underperforming and the most expensive weapon system in the the history of the known universe. That might be sort of OK if it actually worked but it appears that in many respects it is inferior to the F15s, F16s, F18s and A10s except of course in unit cost. This is unfortunate as it supposed to replace all these 40 year old designs. An unusually bad Pentagon contract even by awful Pentagonian standards in my default mode cynical opinion. He is clearly also some kind of religious guy and he strangely gives me a card with a psalm on it and also details of his P85D, which I unfortunately somehow lost. A bit odd. He stops talking to me as it starts raining a bit and he wants to sit in his car and eat some food he got somewhere, so I wander off into the mall. The mall has McDonalds, Starbucks and the usual rubbish of designer clothes, shoes and sports stores and apparently no book stores, computer stores or anything a nerd like me would be interested in. There was a period in the 70s in men’s fashion when you could dress like a slob, which suited me fine, and I never progressed beyond that, so all the fashion clothes stuff is wasted on me, I only wear clothes to avoid legal problems. But anyway I have a quick look around, buy a coffee at the McDonalds, futz with my portable a bit using the free McDonalds WiFi, and then head back to the car, which is now charged up. I meet the religious P85D guy again, who is heading back into the mall to go to the restroom and I give him a hail fellow well met kind of thing. I wonder if a religious, military guy like that also does not believe in evolution, climate change and so on, common beliefs in the military and the South. Or if he does not believe this sciency stuff why he has this environmentally benign and very sciency car. Of course he may just see Teslas as really good cars, I will ask him if I see him again. As I am leaving I notice that his P85D decal is “Acts 8-29” and out of curiosity I later Google that. That is apparently “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing”. So now I am really confused. Who is Philip? Is the P85D guy a rejoicing eunuch? Or rejoicing because he has a Tesla? One day I may figure this all out. I personally don’t believe any of this religious stuff, having been brought up in a devout Catholic family and attended two Catholic schools. I notice that my charging has now gone above 90%, that’s because I didn’t reset the charging level back to 90% after the 100% charging in Lake City. My fault, not a problem but not necessary as the next supercharger is not too far away, only 132 miles to the next one in Baton Rouge, LA.
I then set off and drive up the I10 and find a hotel near Gulfport since I am getting tired. The hotel is not too bad, nice well dressed slim middle aged lady behind the counter and some more slobby looking guy hanging around, lounging languidly against the desk, facing her and they are yaking away when I come in. Maybe he’s trying to get off with her, I don’t know. She checks me in and after I ask tells me they have no bar or restaurant, but there is a convenience store and a pizza place, just walk out the door and pass by the liquor store. I say thank you but I will walk out the door and likely not pass by the liquor store but go in and get some liquor and both she and the guy hanging around laugh. Nice people. Anyway I buy a 6 pack of Belgian Blue Nun beer, some cashews and some chips, and I drink all of the beer and eat all the food- Such a high class life I am living.
Day 2. Tuesday
I wake up very early, snooze again and get up finally at about 8:00, eat a not great but free breakfast (toast, bagel, French bread, egg), do emails, Facebook, New York Times, Reuters, Huffington etc. and get on the road at about 9:30. Head to the Baton Rouge supercharger and manage it after about 15 mile detour to go off to some strange place that the GPS randomly directed me to. This takes me off on a heavily vehicle infested road to some side street which seems to be, ironically, some sort of processing facility run by the fossil fuel industry. I imagine that I must have somehow pressed a random spot on the GPS screen and that somehow the software made that a destination. Or, if you type in part of the location of something into the GPS the system will attempt to guess the text of the entire location, and I may somehow have accidentally selected one of these guesses. Or maybe I’m just a doofus, who knows? So the detour could have been a problem if I was short on battery power but fortunately this was not the case. Would also not have been a problem if I was concentrating more or if I had someone with me who could focus on the navigation. Anyway, I get to the Baton Rouge supercharger about noonish, as usual driving around the block a time or two before I find it. I plug in, buy a coffee at a gas station and walk around a bit. I had arranged to visit an old friend Owen who now lives in Galveston, and he emails me to ask where I am. I email back and say I am now at Red Stick, and wonder if he will figure that out, since Baton Rouge is loosely translatable from French to Red Stick. He is pretty smart, having a PhD and coming somewhat close to getting a Nobel Prize, but I’m not sure how much French he is aware of, being from Australia, where they have their own language. When the car is up to 90% charge again I head off.
Next stop is the Lake Charles supercharger, 195 miles but I now know this is no problem at all on 90% charge and 70 mph, so I drive there, park the car and plug in and it is clearly a novelty. A thin middle aged guy with very poor teeth and scruffy clothes comes by in a dirty white pickup and asks me about it, how long it takes to charge and I tell him half an hour, which is sort of somewhat correct, as I discussed above. He says that is the way of the future and I agree. Just after he goes another pickup, black and stretched this time, and sort of dirty also, comes by with a family in it. There are two of them in the front seats, apparently the husband driving and the wife, and they are both, how can I put it politely, grossly overweight. There are children in the back half cabin of the truck but I can’t be similarly judgmental about their body type as I can’t see them very well. The parents have clearly never seen a Tesla before either, and are surprised that there is no place to put gas in. I then tell him the range, charging time, cost of charging all the rest of it. Chargers and Teslas in the South are clearly very novel, and the chargers round the gulf coast had only been put in very recently, so there is a lot of interest. So they drive off apparently impressed and educated. I think it is important to let people know about EVs, and I wonder if part of my motivation is simple ego, showing people I am more up on new stuff then they are. Oh well, maybe partly, but there are many other good reasons to go electric besides my ego, which I will probably bloviate on later in this blog. Anyway, this time I get a coffee and a hot dog at the Sonic, a drive in hamburgery and hot dogery place, which is right next to the supercharger. There are various other shops, restaurants, coffee bars, a Target, quite a nice mall, but again not much that interests a nerd like me. So I do some emails, internety stuffs and when I get to 90% charge I set off to Huntsville, Texas, 171 miles, another easy trip.
I get to the Huntsville Texas supercharger, about 8:30 or so, again a bit difficult to find, though that may be my fault, I’m beginning to develop more of a tendency to believe the doofus theory. In this case there was always someone close behind me annoyed I’m not going faster, while I am looking for the charger and at the GPS so going slow, so I have to go round the block a couple of times before I figure out the right turning which is a tricky one at the top of a hill, with local people who know the roads always speeding behind me. The charger is right next to a Hampton Inn, which I find out is full and so I am worried that they won’t let me charge up, but I ask and apparently anyone can charge there, resident or not. Mine is again the only Tesla there so I plug in and walk over to the Days Inn, the neighboring hotel which has one room left. Apparently there were bad storms in the region and locals stay in hotels while the power is out, and also workers come in to fix things. A problem in the US is that trees grow out of the ground generally speaking and then fall over in storms, and power cables are mostly above ground next to the trees, so they get knocked down too. Inconvenient but a good job creator I suppose. So, unusual for April, the hotels are all pretty full. To me this is another early indication of climate change in action, but likely not to too many other people, but, well, we all have our prejudices don’t we?
My friend Owen in Galveston emails back and asks me how I plan to get from the Redstick golf course in south Florida to Galveston in one day, so I guess he did not figure it out. He should also know that I may have changed as I aged but I’m never going to get involved in something as pointless as golf. Anyway I email back Red Stick = Baton Rouge, and I later found out that his 17 year old son did manage to figure this out. Ah, the advantages of youth!
I walk to a convenience store get 4 cans of Dos Equis, hungry but don’t fancy chips or hot dogs so I don’t get any more food, reflecting on all the calories in beer. After two beers the car is charged up so I move it to the neighboring Days Inn, but I have to go round the block twice to get the right entrance, as there are again people speeding right behind me and its now dark so not so easy to see things, and the beers may not be helping much either. So I sit in the hotel, drink more beer and watch Bill Maher, John Oliver and look at a YouTube of a Tesla trip through Europe by Robert Llewelyn on his FullyCharged Youtube channel, all pretty funny. If you’re interested in EVs and alternate energy stuffs you should check out the FullyCharged thing, it’s informed and often quite amusing.
Day 3 Wednesday
Get up at 6:30 or so, have breakfast in the Days Inn. Fox news is on in the breakfast room in the hotel with Rudy Guiliani blaming liberal governments for the rioting that just happened in Baltimore. I’m wondering why he doesn’t blame conservative governments for the much much bigger troubles in the Middle East, but what the hell? And remember this is the guy who said GWB “kept us safe”, apparently forgetting that the biggest terrorist attack on the US or anywhere else for that matter, happened while GWB was supposed to be keeping us safe. Some middle aged white guy has breakfast there also, clearly a traveler like me. Also a Hispanic lady, talking loudly in Spanish on her cell phone. These two then get into a conversation, but apparently neither gets the others language, so this does not get very far. The guy apparently is a visitor who wants to buy real estate in the area and the lady can’t understand what he wants. I don’t intrude as I am sure I know even less about the local real estate than the Hispanic lady, and my knowledge of Spanish only comes from guessing based on the little French and Latin that I did in school and that was a lifetime ago. So I watch impassively but with mild interest as two humans blather away energetically and completely fail to communicate. Humans are strange, why do we have all these different languages? Like DNA, every time you copy a language from one generation to another the copying is imperfect so random alterations are introduced and pretty soon you have a new language (or species). But it seems that new languages can arise very quickly. As an Englishman I can say that that I can’t understand all English spoken today in Cornwall or Wales, or spoken by Shakespeare and I have an even harder time with Chaucer. Why is this? My theory is that we are basically a tribal species, evolved as small groups living in Africa where we competed with other similar small groups. Perhaps rapidly changing language gave tribes that did this the ability to communicate with each other without other tribes knowing what they were talking about. This might have been useful in wartime, which is something that humans seem to do a lot of.
Then I drive the Tesla back to the Huntsville charger again as I suddenly decided to top up to 100%, about 275 miles, as there are no superchargers round Galveston, the next stop. Actually this would not be necessary if I were to do the same trip again, as Tesla recently put in a Houston supercharger, which would also have made some of the delay I experienced later unnecessary. In the few minutes while the car is charging I wander off into the land around the hotel, and see a lot of interesting plants, some birds and of course a large amount of trash, as everywhere else I stopped. Plastic bottles, McDonalds polystyrene cups, plastic bags, beer cans etc. It’s a shame that a lot of disposable stuff doesn’t actually get disposed of, but just let to blow off in the four winds. Anyway I heard somewhere that if you charge up to 100% you should use the charge immediately but I am not sure if that is fact, confabulation or hallucination. But anyway I set off immediately.
The whole reason for the trip was to visit Bethyl labs where I have a 9:00 am meeting. So I head out to Bethyl labs, in Conroe in the Texas countryside and get there at exactly 9:00 am- in fact I had planned to get there a 10 minutes early but got held up in rush hour traffic. My fault maybe, I never warned the local people I wanted to use the road so consequently all kinds of other people were on it. I stay in Bethyl till about 11:00 or so doing the usual blah blah at these kind of meetings, then head off to Galveston. Go down I45 the whole way, crazy insane drivers around Houston. I’ve never seen such pathological speeding, dangerous lane changing, tail gating, compounded by confusing diversions and in progress road works everywhere. The locals know all about these problems, so they can still navigate at well over the speed limit, but I of course can’t. At one point I see a sign for the Texas Battleship Park, which sounds sort of interesting, so I make a detour but can’t find it, so I carry on to Galveston. I later found out that this ship is the only remaining example of a true WW1 era dreadnought in existence, so will have to check that out some other time. Get nearly to Galveston and stop off at the side of the road. Call Owen and talk to his wife. He’s at his house, so I go there. He looks OK, older, hair a bit whiter, chin a bit jowelleyer, but otherwise not to bad. He’s 66 now, still working in the University of Texas Medical Branch, still enthusiastic about science, but having problems with research grants like almost everybody in the sciency cohort that I know. The US public generally does not know about the carnage that recent cuts in funding have done to the NIH, NSF and other federal funding agencies in the US. Of course I could also point out the the US public doesn’t generally know much about anything, but the cuts result in many highly competent and motivated scientists not being able to do valuable research. And even the best scientists have to spend a lot more time writing grants than before. Writing grants can be useful as it gets you thinking, but your time would be much better spent actually doing the science. It’s all very short sighted as advances in science lead to better treatments in the clinic, new technologies, better understanding of our world and create lots of spin off companies, like for example mine. Because of this recent lack of US investment it is inevitable that other countries will reap more of the benefits of new knowledge in future, so the US is just planting the seeds of its own scientific decline. So Owen worked in the lab of two Nobelists, Erwin Neher and Bert Sakmann, and then did a lot of important work in his own lab so it’s sad and counter productive that he has these problems. Anyway, he is much impressed that his two big dogs, which normally viciously attack visitors, bounce right up to me and bond immediately, I don’t know why, maybe they sense my inner lupine.
He has to go to work for one hour doing some teaching thing so I go for a walk round Galveston, a very cute little city where you can actually walk, unusual for the US. I check out the Galvez hotel, which has a low power charger according to the Plugshare app, which is on my iPhone and tells me where I can charge my EV. I will need some charge from somewhere as there are no Tesla superchargers anywhere close. Well the hotel has chargers, but you have to be a hotel guest, so that’s not much use. I then realize that Galveston must be named after Mr. (or Senor) Galvez, whoever that was, but then, as now, I did not bother to Google to find out more about this. Oh alright I just did, Galveston is named after Bernado de Galvez Y Madrid, Count of Galvez, and the island was the capital of the Republic of Texas at one time, so there. It was also basically washed away in the hurricane of 1900, supposedly the US’s greatest natural disaster, so far anyway, but not counting George W. Bush of course, though you can argue about whether he was natural or not. So they built a huge sea wall (around Galveston, not GWB) and basically rebuilt the whole place much higher. I notice that Owen’s house has a plaque on it showing how high the water got in 2008, from hurricane Ike, clearly pretty much flooding the whole island, something likely to happen again with increasing frequency and seriousness in the next decades as the sea level is in fact really rising, no matter what the right misinformation system says. Furthermore the rate of rising is also rising. A young person should not invest in beach front property since such property is going to be at progressively increasing risk in future, and will fairly soon become too expensive to insure.
Owen comes back and we go to see bats, sloths, frogs and snakes in some zooish place, the Moody Gardens pretty neat. Then we go to see some pyramids from the top of a tall building hotel thing, where we drink some beers and reminisce a bit- we worked in the same institute in Germany for a few years, and did a few trips together, so there is quite a lot of material to go over. Later I meet his wife and son, and we go to a restaurant in the Tesla, and I show off the acceleration a bit to howls of terror and/or joy. The restaurant is on the edge of the sea next to a big oil rig. Apparently there is some oil rig museum there, which might be interesting, though I personally wish that all oil rigs were in museums. I spend the night at his place without breaking or messing up anything or embarrassing myself in any obvious way that I can remember, apparently I am learning to behave better as I age. I could have charged up the car there, but his house has no drive way so I would have had to run a cable out to the road where someone could have tripped over it and so I got sued. Also this would likely have been at 110V, the slowest and most time consuming way to charge, only about 4 miles per hour, so hardly worth it. For those of you who don’t know this, a Tesla will charge at that rate in the US on 110V, because the US grid is quite weak, not up to European standards. But you can charge at 20 miles per hour on a 220V socket which most US houses have on their clothes driers. 220/240V is standard in most other countries, so your Tesla charges faster out of the US. You’ll hear about J1772 or level II chargers, these are getting more and more common, run by Chargepoint and a lot of other companies, these are 220V also and so charge at the same rate. Or you can do faster on the NEMA 14-50 socket found in RV parks, about 30 miles per hour, or you can do 250 plus miles per hour on the Tesla superchargers. This is why I am mostly interested in the superchargers. Tesla just put in the 500th one of these, and they basically allow you to drive anywhere in the US, Europe, parts of Australia, Canada and China for free. However, if you were retired with no reason for speed you could go anywhere in the world for virtually no cost using local electricity, if you are prepared to wait around. Of course electricity is pretty much everywhere there are humanoids while gas stations are not, so you can argue the infrastructure for EVs is already better than that for gas guzzlers, if you have the time.
Day 4 Thursday
Get up at 6:30, go out for breakfast with Owen, then I go looking for chargers using the Plugshare app on my iPhone. I find three other lower power chargers in downtown Galveston, one in a hotel again only for residents, so that is not on. Another outside a Jimmy Johns, and it is already occupied by a black Tesla P85D, and is some sort of one that needs a card or something, a Blink it says, so I can’t use it as don’t have an account. I find another at the Galveston Historical Society, a Chargepoint but some big fossil burner truck is parked right in front of it, and it may not even work, so that is no go also. I drive around slowly and some guy in a pickup sees I have a Tesla and starts talking to me, says there are no Tesla chargers on the island, and I knowingly agree, so he says he plans to put one in, smart man, maybe. I wonder about that since Tesla might put a free charger around Galveston somewhere and then his business would be pretty much bust. Then he drives off and I won’t ever likely find out the rest of his story. I then find that the local Chevy dealer has a charger, so I drive off down there. I walk in and ask a guy with an impressive David Crosbiform face and plumpy Crosbiform body where the charger is, but I don’t think it was the actual David Crosby, as he would likely not be working in a Chevy dealer. He thinks a bit and says he doesn’t know but will find out. An attractive Chevyish lady overhears the conversation and not very usefully opines that she don’t know either, but is very nice about it. They go get a tall guy in clean white shorts, shirt and glasses who does know where it is, and he takes me off to one side of the building. He tells me he was involved in putting in these chargers 4 years ago, and I am only the third person from outside to ever use them. There are two chargers and Chevy Volts are plugged into them so he gets one of them moved so I back up inexpertly and plug in. It is a J1772 220V charger and so charges at about 20 miles per hour, pretty slow. I’m pleased to learn that there will be not be a charge for the charge, (charge no charge!) and I comment that my next EV might be a Chevy and he laughs. Of course I’m thinking not very likely as I say this, but I’m trying to be nice, but all the same feeling a bit sleazy,
So I go off to walk around for a while, into some scrub, wander down a dead end road, which I don’t mind at all. I have plenty of time to get back to Gainesville as the weekend is coming up so it matters little if I get back on Friday evening or Sunday evening. Also I am a keen photographer and I take some camera gear to document the local floras, faunas, landscapes and whatever else. However I am obviously suspicious looking, a tall poorly dressed male wandering on foot, so some tattooed rather porky local homeowner guy asks me rather aggressively if he can help me. I speak with my poncy British accent explaining how I am charging my electric car at the Chevy dealer don’t you know and just walking around somewhat, and he no longer sees me as any kind of threat. I reflect on how effete all that probably sounds, but so what? I find that as soon I talk the Brit accent it disarms Americans, they seem to be impressed for some reason, quite useful quite often. Obviously he does not understand the extensive British history of invasion and conquest although that may be not be all that relevant in my particular case, as there is only one of me. See here for an amusing article on the surprisingly numerous British invasions, in fact the Brits appear to have invaded more countries than any other nation, perhaps not something to be too proud of. Realizing I’m just a wimpy foreigner and no threat to a red blooded and bulky ‘Mercan he gets a lot more friendly and even shows me how to get down to the waters edge without trespassing on someones land. I wander around some more and I see birds and a dog and I immediately bond with the dog. Somehow dogs always seem to like me, I have no idea why. The dogs owner is sitting and working on the fuel injectors of some old Ford or something and I yak with him for a while. I sort of like this as I usually am too busy to just shoot the breeze with people as I am normally trying to finish THIS so I can start to work on THAT, both of which I have to finish to make time for the OTHER. I tell him that the reason I am there is also a car issue, telling him about the Tesla, which he has never heard of. He is 70 and I point out that fuel injectors and a whole lot of other things are not going to be a problem on an electric car. He never heard of Elon Musk either, but he has heard of Ted Turner, so we talk about Ted and Jane Fonda for a while, who I actually don’t know too much about. So when the conversation is sort of about to dry up, I say I am almost charged now and so I wander off. The dog follows me at first but then goes back to the guy.
After about 2 hours I now have maybe 40 miles more, up to 120, which I think should be enough to get back to the Lake Charles charger. So I drive to the tip of Galveston Island to the ferry port and am surprised to find that I can drive right on to the ferry and it is free. Socialism in the South, what a surprise, or maybe not. The ferry takes maybe 25 minutes to get from Galveston to Port Bolivar, and I attempt to take some artistic pictures of birds and stuff, and I am soon on the Bolivar peninsular which I have been told is pretty nice.
I drive down the peninsular, which looks more like a strip mall than I had expected, but begin to run short on electrons, and I then realize I had just guestimated the distance from Galveston to Lake Charles, and the distance is quite a lot further than I had thought. This sort of underlines that you have to plan a bit if you want to transelectricate in the minimum amount of time. I’m not big on spending a lot of time in planning and that’s one reason I went for the Tesla with the longest range. So I check out the Plugshare App and stop in the Beaumont BMW, they apparently have a charger. I wander into the Mercedes dealer and ask where the charger is, but meet with total confusion, they don’t know what I am talking about. Then I realize that this is not the BMW dealer, which is the neighboring building, so then I transambulate off there instead. I note that BMW appears to be a lot more progressive than Mercedes in the EV business, I then think about that and realize I would have guessed that anyway. In the BMW dealer I meet a very friendly guy called Willie, a very large African American who is how can I put it, seriously overweight. The outside BMW charger is a J1772 Chargepoint and you need a Chargepoint card and my ordinary credit cards won’t work, even the snazzy new one with the chip thing in it. I wonder why these charger companies don’t either take cash, coins or any kind of credit card, as demanding that you have an account with them makes the chargers much less useful to the traveling 4 wheeled or 2 wheeled electromechanical hominid like me. I guess they just want you to have an account so they can charge you a monthly fee, evil capitalists, but maybe I’m being cynical again, my usual default mode. I later find out that the Chargepoint card is free, but you have to order it and give the company credit card information, so they can presumably charge you when you use the chargers. So now I got a card but I don’t know too much about how it works in practice, since I haven’t tried to use it yet. So anyway I tell Willie my card don’t work and he says no problem, and takes the car into the garage, where they have another charger, presumably so they can charge up the BMW i3, a Leaf like EV they started selling recently. Also there is the BMW i8 which has pretty big battery and electric motor, along with a crappy old fossil burner engine. So I’m charging again, but again it is the relatively slow J1772 20 miles per hour rate. So I sit and text, read and write emails, drink coffee and look at Facebook, NYT, Reuters etc, all in the BMW dealership. Willie has to go home after an hour or so, and I thank him profusely and tell him that my next EV might be a BMW, and he laughs. Me being a bit sleazy again, though the odds on me getting a BMW at some point do seem rather better than those of me getting a Chevy, but who knows? I get handed over to a nice BMWy lady who basically just makes sure I don’t break or steal anything or pass out on the floor I guess, and so then I email, web cruise and so on away another bit. The people in the BMW dealer don’t seem to mind me loafing around, and in fact having a few extra hominids sitting around might be good for business, creating an impression of interest and industry. After a total of 2 hours I have another about 40 miles and I thank the lady and get back on the road and head off to Lake Charles, after again not paying anything for all those electrons.
It turns out I still did not have quite enough charge to get the whole way to Lake Charles basically as I am being conservative. I could probably make it but I would get there with just at or possibly slightly below 0 miles range. The Tesla is rumored to go to minus 20-30 miles before it actually stops, but I am not sure if this is true and I also heard running that low may hurt the battery, which may also not be true, but anyway I decide I need to charge up yet again. Using Plugshare and the Tesla site I head for the Best Western Casino Hotel in Vinton on the I10 as there is supposed to be what Tesla calls a destination charger there. From the web it looks like you might need to be a resident at the hotel to use it, so I first try to get a room. I go to the check in desk and am disappointed to find out that they are completely full. So I ask about the chargers, and the friendly rather largish young lady behind the counter says they are in front of the building next to the hotel, and she has no idea how you use them or if you have to pay or whatever. So I go there and there is some sort of J1772 charger run by one of these new charger companies, Clipper Creek, that you need a card for, and I am despondent as I don’t have an account with whoever that is. I think, once again, that a much better business model would be to take cash or credit cards. But then, joy of joys, I notice that right next to it is a single shiny silver Tesla charger!
I plug in and it seems to be 220V charging at about 40A, not up to supercharger standards, but still adding a respectable 30 miles per hour. I go to the Subway there and eat a footlong while I am waiting. An Indian guy, from India not the US, in informal jeans and dirty work clothes with rather bandy legs comes up to me while I am eating and asks me very politely if that is my Tesla. I say yes, and he tells me he is the manager of the complex, and the charger was only just been put in, and he is wondering how I found it- apparently I am user number 1. I tell him it is on both Plugshare and the Tesla site as a “destination charger”. He thanks me for the information and heads off. Then I think I will check out the Casino. I am a little hesitant to go in as I wonder about getting hustled into something or other or getting accosted by prostitutes or whatever, either of which would force me to be rude, which, being British, I generally find very hard to do, though I have been getting much better at this recently. But the casino is just a bunch of shooting and gambling machines with mostly retired looking ladies sitting there and pulling levers or whatever. Somewhat disappointed I head back to the car and head to Lake Charles. I get there and charge up, but there are 4 stupid great pickups in the 6 Tesla parking spaces. So there are two spaces left, and I back into one. I am annoyed that these people in trucks just park in the Tesla spaces, and I wonder why it does not state that non-Teslas will be towed. But actually no sign of the sort is there, so why shouldn’t people park there? It’s a Thursday evening and some sort of a social thing appears to be going on in a couple of the restaurants, perhaps explaining this. But I mumble a bit about these ridiculous oversized, noisy, smelly, inefficient and unreliable fossil burners. So I get a coke and a hot dog from the Sonic fast food place, and pretty soon the charging is done. Oh well, I get on the road and then find a cheap hotel close by, a Comfort Inn, and crash for the night.
Day 5 Friday
I wake up early and decide to look at some parks and stuff, explore Louisiana a bit, might as well, so I head off south to check them out. I do the Cane River Creole Park and there is a visitor center which I visit and appears to be deserted, though I do hear what appears to be some human or possibly a bear or cow or something making noises somewhere in the building. I walk out onto a boardwalk and see some big fat animals trundling around on the swamp which I think are a family of capybara or pig dogs or something. Take a bunch of pictures of them waddling across the swamps. They have notably big whiskers.
And there is another park just down the road, which I check out. I go around a drive trail in the Tesla and I stop and get out to look at some bird things, taking pictures. A ranger guy from the park overtakes me in a white pickup with a trailer on which is a lawn tractor. He tells me I should not get out of the car as the alligators have been fed by humans or something and so they might be dangerous or something, all in a rather condescending manner. So I just thank him, deciding not to point out that I live in Florida, in fact Gainesville, home of the so-called Gator nation, and have probably seen far more alligators than he ever has. In fact one day a gator was wandering around outside my house while my daughter, then 12 or so, happened to be home alone. She called up and asked what she should do, and I advised her to take some pictures. Gators are not really a problem unless you mess with them. Anyway the ranger drives off ahead of me, parks his truck and starts up the ridiculous noisy fossil burning tractor. I park at a boardwalk and start walking, with the outrageous din of the tractor in my ears. So I’m reflecting that you might want to go out to some version of nature, get away from human influences, and you, here anyway, have to listen to hydrocarbons being rapidly exploded in the crappy and inefficient Otto cylinder engines, with the production of unnecessary noise, heat and smell. And if you are close enough you will also breath in some of the excrement from this primitive hopeless type of engine which after all runs on processed prehistoric sewage. Anyway, mildly fuming, I go to a boardwalk and I meet two old people, man and women, most likely husband and wife. Both are fit, thin and look healthy although I would guess maybe 70s, so I, judgementally perhaps, think maybe retired airline pilot and stewardess, retired doctor and nurse, something like that, but I don’t find out. Possibly my guesses are a bit sexist, but then again when those guys started their careers women did not have much opportunity to get to be pilots, doctors or whatever. The guy asks me if I get good pictures, as I have a bunch of photogear with me as usual. I say I hope so, and for some reason I pass on the advice about the dangerous gators, just something to talk about I suppose. I tell them that, living in Florida, I know all about gators. They notice my funny accent and ask me where I am from and I tell them that I’m a ‘Mercan from Florida but I have this accent because I watch a lot of Downton Abbey and other PBS shows, which is a stupid thing I have been saying to people recently. I have told people my true origin so many times now I got bored with that. Anyway the Downton Abbey thing usually gets a laugh, as in this case, though, ironically, I have never actually watched the program. Then I tell them where I am actually from, Nottingham, England, and we make brief references to Robin Hood, Sherwood forest, Sheriff of Nottingham etc. etc. which usually happens. Anyway they walk ahead of me and I get a bunch of what might turn out to be good pictures of them: the boardwalk has nice curves in it, has a lot of interest in terms of details on the wood, the sky, and their two figures and I take several pictures of them, which I think might have some promise in Photoshop, or maybe not.
At one point they stop and look at something swimming in the water. I walk up and look at it too, something with a slow sinusoidal swimming movement. I can’t tell what it is, but it seems to me to be most likely to be a snake. The guy says he saw fins on it, so he thinks it was a catfish. I opine that it’s more likely to be a snake as they swim at the surface as they have to breath, will catfish don’t usually. But of course maybe I didn’t see whatever it was as closely as he did so he may well be right. I realize I am slipping into my usual role, the snotty well educated Brit. This happens very easily not only to Brits but also to University Professors, and I am both of these, used to passing on which may sometimes pass for wisdom, but may also be bullshit. So anyway I then say, to make him feel better, “that was a USO”. Unfortunately he nods seriously as if he knows what a USO is, like it was a real thing, but that was not my intention at all, I was trying to defuse the “I am smarter than you” bullshit we got into, my fault I’m sure. So he is now playing the role of the American pretending he understands what the snotty Brit is saying, when he doesn’t. Then I should have just shut up, but then I say “A USO is an unidentified swimming object”, and he laughs, but I know he is not going to be feeling good as he knows I obviously would have noticed his attempting to bullshit me. Snotty Brit wins again. Funny how complex the relationships can get between people who never met before. I guess the basic problem is that Brits, especially those who managed to get jobs in the US, really are better educated than most, but my no means all, Americans. So Brits like me tend to feel superior to the average American, unforgivable prejudice I am sure, especially as you don’t know who is average and who isn’t. And Americans, for whatever reason, seem to have an often uncritical respect for Brits, apparently just for being Brits. Inexplicable. Of course these two could have been Nobel prizewinners in something I don’t know anything about for all I know so thinking about it later I feel like a jerk.
Anyway I drive off further south, to Conway, where there is a ferry. The Tesla GPS is a bit confusing here, calling it Conway Fry, which may mean ferry, and I arrive just in time to miss the last boarding so I sit for maybe 20 minutes in the car, until the ferry (or fry) comes back. I pay $1 to get on, the only cost of my transport on this whole 2,000 mile plus trip. The ferry is called the Acadia, and my car is the first to get on. I am waved on by two southern boys who are both, how shall I put it, very much larger in two dimensions than the third dimension would normally predict. The older couple I spoke to earlier get on also, but we are told not to get out of the cars, which seems totally stupid, so I don’t get a chance to talk to them again. On the other side I take off and drive up to the Sabine national wildlife refuge, where I walk on another path through the swamp, reflecting on how low the whole region is and how only a few inches of sea level rise would wipe it all out, and that this is likely to happen pretty soon. Then I peruse on what a plague humans are to this unfortunate planet and happen to listen to something about Paul Ehrlich on the radio who in the 70s or so predicted how every person on the planet was going to starve, which of course did not quite happen yet overall, though there are undoubtedly a lot of people starving right now. Starvation now is due to wars, climate change and bad management rather than overall lack of food. In fact in the US the opposite of starvation is an obviously problem especially here in the South. The radio goes on about how Norman Borlaug made sure that the predicted food shortage would not happen by selectively breeding crops with very efficient food generating potential. In other words he genetically modified the crops, although in a very unsophisticated way, selecting the best producers from random mutations but not knowing what genetic changes he was making. So it makes me mad to hear all this nonsense about GMOs, with creepy companies like Chipotle pandering to ignorant people about this. Almost all current foods, like Borlaugs, are genetically modified but exactly how they were modified is not known in most cases since it was done by human selection of random mutations. In fact did you know that the original cow, the Aurochs, is extinct, all beef animals today are inbred genetically modified forms of this original wild species? Only the recent GMOs, made by modifying or incorporation specific genes, seem to raise any public interest, although we actually know more about how they work than those generated by selective breeding. And they are also much more heavily investigated by the FDA. So I say bring on even more GMOs or we will all starve.
Anyway I drive off to Baton Rouge (Red Stick) again, and get diverted by the GPS for some unknown reason on some side streets away from the interstate. Possibly the GPS factored in some road works, accidents or something I dunno. This means I go over the Huey Long bridge and drive through some real Louisiana countryside, very nice, better than the interstate. At red stick I wander around a bit. I buy a coffee in the gas station, use the rest room in Trader Joe’s and then wander back to charger. I see a nice white Tesla Model S come silently by and a professional looking lady gets out. I start talking to her and we yak about Teslas for maybe 20 minutes. She is obviously smart, attractive and not at all overweight, a bit unusual in the South, clearly one of the American illuminati. She has one of the first Model S 85s, bought when they first came out and says she had to charge mostly at 110V, which was her only convenient option when she got the car a couple of years ago. No superchargers in those days. This must be painful, but if you plugged in every night you would gain about 60-70 miles range by the next day, so I guess it would work. For pre-supercharger era long distance trips she went to RV parks which have the NEMA 14-50 sockets, giving about 30 miles per hour. She said she can do this for free usually, and that all the time the opportunities for charging are increasing everywhere. I give her my card and get hers in return. She’s not on Facebook, but on some Tesla web site and I have the feeling I might run into her again, and it might be fun if I did. She is a judicial assistant to a bankruptcy attorney, a job which I don’t know much about. I ask if that might be a bit depressing to do, and she says she rationalizes as being a way of helping people who got into a mess often because of health care costs, divorce or other financial problems. I opine that this must pay pretty well. Like other Tesla owners I met she says not really. Thinking about it I usually claim not to be particularly rich also, I’m not sure why that is. I suppose it is just a matter of priorities, $70,000-100,000 is really not that much if you have a decent stable professional job, certainly much less than the cost of a house which most middle class people can manage. Anyway, clearly she is one of the believers, interesting to meet such people. I’ve met several other Tesla owners now, a plastic surgeon, a guy who runs an rope company, an optometrist, the ex-military religious guy and now the bankruptcy lawyer, so now I now know where to go for all my plastic surgery, rope, optometry, military/religious and bankruptcy needs.
Get on the road again, drive away from red stick but get tired. I find a random hotel, a Comfort Suites at Mandeville Louisiana. I talk to the guy behind the counter who says sign here at these three places, no pets, no smoking and some other stuff, and he highlights the places to sign with one of those fluorescent yellow markers. There are actually four places, and I say, sorry to be pedantic, but there are four places to sign. He looks puzzled and I apologize for being pedantic, which I say is something the British are good at, part of the national character don’t ya know. Again I am the snotty Brit, twice in one day, but, well, there are four places not three so what is one to do? Can’t let the colonials get away with sloppiness. He says he had another Brit in the hotel a few days ago and he had fun talking about the differences between British English and ‘Mercan, quite interesting he said. He says rubbish and trash. I say yeah, lift and elevator, holiday and vacation, flat and apartment, but I don’t say potayto and potarto, that would be too obvious. I then quote old Winston in my best Churchillian deep voice, “England and ‘Merca are two countries divided by a common language”, and he laughs. I then think about Douglas Adams and the translation worm thing which ensured eternal persistent intergalactic war since every species could suddenly completely understand every other, but I decide it would be too complicated to go into that. I ask if there is a bar or restaurant in the hotel, and he says, unfortunately no, he wishes there was. So I go off and get some more beer at a convenience store. I’m a bit hungry so I notice there are round objects wrapped in aluminum foil in the convenience store and, on finding out that they are hamburgers decide to buy one, well there is not much else to eat. The guy at the counter, tall, intense and thin 25ish with long black straight hair, likely a student trying to come up with tuition cash, says I can just have it, as they are closing soon and the burgers would have to be thrown away. I thank him and am a bit surprised. Maybe my usual slobby appearance and the fact that I walked to the store, apparently not arriving by car, makes me appear to be a homeless derelict or somesuch. Perhaps derelicts in the South often have British accents, I dunno.
Day 6 Saturday
Woken at 8 by the radio/phone thing in the hotel, don’t know why, presumably the last resident set it that way. Goodish free breakfast with burgery things, toast and coffee. I head off to the Mobile supercharger, no problems finding it now I know where it is. I pull into the mall and start to charge, the only Tesla there, as appears to be usual, for now anyway. A lady in a white Toyota slowly drives by, circling around. She stops and asks me about my car. She is a young attractive African American and is clearly quite informed about Tesla, though this is the first time she has seen one. She knows that Tesla cars do not need oil changes, and that impresses me as most people don’t have any understanding of why fossil burners need regular oil changes and therefore don’t understand why an electric car does not need them. She says she has been thinking about getting one, especially now that there is a Supercharger in Mobile, this one only having been there for a few weeks. Nice and smart lady, she thanks me and drives off. I then wander off into the mall while the car recharges. I look at the list of shops and, like in most US malls now, no book shop- a shame, the local mall in Gainesville used to have two bookshops in 1986 when I first came to the US, but now has none. I wonder whether this is because of the internet, Kindles, iPads and other ways of getting information or a general reduction in the level of reading in the US. I conclude probably a bit of both, reflecting also how quite a lot of ‘Mercans appear to be quite proud to not know anything about anything, this not boding well for the future of the country. The only other shop that I would like to browse around is a Radio Shack, listed on the mall map. So I hoof it over to there, and, as I sort of expected, it is gone, closed down. Once again a shop which could expand your horizons has gone and will likely be replaced by some sort of fashion shop for shoes or pants or something which will likely just fit your expanded thighs and not expand your mind. Oh well. I go to the Macdonald’s and, deciding not to expand my personal thighs anymore, just buy a coffee and head back to the Tesla. As I walk back I try to imagine what this mall will look like in 20 years time. Will there be a line of charging stations along the entire length of the parking lot? Will every second car be an EV? Will there be zombies and/or space aliens noisily feeding on the mall customers? I suppose that eventually shops will want to attract customers by giving them free or at least cheap charging. Maybe charging will be inductive so there won’t be any need for the plugging in. Or maybe an automatic charger based on a snake thing will slither out and automatically mate with your charge port- Tesla is working on something like that and just posted this. Difficult to predict the future, nobody ever really gets it right, but it’s interesting to try.
I get in the car which is not quite charged yet and start doing random things, when a very serious looking skinny boy steps out of a car and starts taking pictures of the Tesla with a cell phone. I get out and start talking to him. He is a very intense maybe 9 year old, and his parents soon get out of the car also. They are large middle aged individuals, not tall, but, well, rather overweight, the man by maybe 100 lbs and the women by 50. They are friendly and ask about the car and I give the usual party line story. They are impressed that charging is free, and they tell me the kid is very interested in cars. As we are talking a lady in a white Prius comes by and I go into the whole Tesla spiel again. None of them have seen a Tesla before, so they get a bit of education.
Then I get on the road and head to the USS Alabama Memorial Park, in Mobile bay, at maybe 2:00 so there is plenty of time to look around the battleship, museum and all that. I get a ticket and go on board the battleship for what I figure will be an hour or so. A very impressive bit of machinery, one of the few all big gun battleships left in the world, not one of the original dreadnoughts, but from a 30s-40s design, massive 16 inch guns and all. I’m also impressed by how cramped it is, and it must have been really cramped with 2,500 people on board, the wartime complement. See all kinds of little rooms for mapping, communications, navigation, stores, sleeping, pooping, the canteen, get inside a gun turret, all pretty neat. Can see how it would be basically impossible to get out in an emergency and reflect on the deaths of entire ships complements in wartime. Must have been very scary to know that if the ship was shelled, bombed or torpedoed it could sink pretty much immediately and that you could be on a one way trip to Davy Jones’ locker with no chance of escape but some time to think about what just happened. I also visit the USS Drum, a submarine, which is even more cramped, and a collection of aircraft, including an A12, F14, F15, F16 and a MiG15 among others. There is so much there I don’t leave til 6:00, when the place is closing, and have taken a bunch of pictures of this, that and the other. I reflect that my cameras are digital, so the images are free, not like they used to be when I had to consume film. This is how my Tesla compares to a fossil burner, free versus obligatory consumption. So there is some progress in the world in photography as well as cars.
Then on the road to De Funiak Springs again, which I reach at just about sunset. Deadly quiet and peaceful, even though it is a Saturday evening. The little frd chk restaurant I went to on the way out is now closed, and it seems like it closes every day at 2:00 pm except, inexplicably, on Monday, when it closes at 7:00 pm, which was why it was open last time I was there. So I wander around at bit. There is a Hotel which has a bar and grill, but I can’t see any life in it at all, so I just walk on. I heard later that this is actually a pretty nice place, so maybe I will book a room there some time when I am traveling. I find a Mexican shop where I thought I might get a burrito or something, but it turns out to be not a restaurant but a store. So I buy a Gatoraid and head back to the car. Not much going on in Dr Funiak on a Saturday night. I later found that there is a gas station a few blocks from the charging station, so I could have sauntered over there to get a coffee or whatever, but I did not know that at that time. Since I have that long trip, ~220 miles, to the Lake City charger I charge up to almost 100%, 270 miles, and off I go. It gets dark and I keep to 62-65 miles per hour for the most part. After a while I get tired and pull off at a Days Inn for the night, at Lamont, Florida. An Indian guy, from India again and presumably the owner or manager or something, gets me checked in, and some other taller white bearded white guy comes in and starts asking about the car. They both seem to think it is a hybrid, but I tell them that it is not and it will not take gas. They don’t seem to understand that and so I repeat that there is no useful place to put gas in the car, and now they sort of get it, but they are clearly a bit challenged still. One of them asks me where it is made and I tell them it is a ‘Mercan company, made in California, but you can’t buy one in very American state, like Texas for example. I then rant on about the scumbag dealer franchises and how they try to lobby Tesla out of “their” states, stifling the competition for utterly selfish reasons. We then go on about charging, range, cost blah blah etc., but briefly as I am now getting tired, so then I go off and crash in the room.
Day 7 Sunday
So I get up about 7:00 and have breakfast at the hotel, I go into what passes as a breakfast room and there is an old skinny unhealthy looking white haired guy, with the hair greasy and showing bald patches, sitting there. I look around for the coffee and toast and he points out where the bread is with an Irish accent. I am mildly annoyed as I had just figured out where the bread was on my own, but thank him anyway. I don’t feel like yaking much so I check out emails, news and stuff with my computer on the free WiFi. The old guy then gets up and goes to the toaster and puts some bread in. I notice he has something odd about his walk and I wonder if this is booze, old age, Parkinson’s or something similar. Anyway he puts the bread in and then can’t figure out how to turn the toaster on, which is one of those fairly simple ones where you just push down this lever thing right next to where the toast went in. I am about to offer help, as the guy makes some comment about people thinking he is a bozo since he can’t turn on the toaster, but the Indian hotel owner or whatever he is shows him how to do it. I feel sorry for the guy and hope I don’t end up like that. I eat some toast, drink some coffee and that is it. Then head off to Lake City, get there with 20 miles charge remaining, after doing at least 70 mph almost the whole way. It’s also quite hilly between De Funiak and there, so this is not too bad. As I write this Tesla has indicated that there will be a supercharger in Tallahassee soon, halfway between De Funiak and Lake City, so I won’t have to plan much for that trip any more. In fact, as I revise this, the Tallahassee supercharger is now up and working. I get to Lake City at about 10:30 am and wander around again while I am charging. I try to go to Moe’s again to hear the “Whacamo” thing, but they open at 11:00 on a Sunday, so I head off to Firehouse Subs in the same complex and as I go in they shout “welcome to firehouse”, with not quite as much enthusiasm as Moe’s. Obviously they are trying to compete though. The sub is good, but no WiFi. I eat and then sit outside and write a little on the computer. Some guys come up to the Tesla and look at the charger, seems like Teslas are not well known in Lake City either, but I don’t feel like going through all that again, so I don’t volunteer that I am the owner. I’ve now charged maybe 10 times in Lake City, but never saw another Tesla there. I’m about to leave, having fully charged, when there is a screeching of brakes and a very loud crash. When I do leave, there, on the main road to the interstate, a large, white and ancient pickup has somehow seriously collided with a newer dark blue Honda or Toyota or something, and police, spectators and ambulances are all there, gawking, doing something useful or just getting in the way. Oh well, there but for the grace of Dawkins go I. Perhaps if I had left a minute earlier then the pickup would have hit me, who knows? Anyway, off to Gainesville, back there at about 12:00, a trip of a total of 2,150 miles.
So what is the conclusion from the trip? Well I can clearly do a very long trip in a Tesla without any problems. The only cost, apart from food and hotels, was $1 for the ferry (or fry) in Louisiana. For almost free, so if I can you probably can too. Almost all of the time I used the Tesla superchargers and having to wait 30-40 minutes to charge was not generally an issue. After all, after ~200 miles driving anyone would probably want to stop for a bit anyway, so in most cases I was fine with this. As this was my first long distance trip I mostly charged up to 90%, about 245 miles on my car, as I wanted to have a big margin if the charger was not working or some other problem came up. This meant I spent a lot more time charging than was absolutely necessary to get to the next charger. On subsequent trips I knew that the chargers were reliable so I now only charge up enough to get to the next charger with 20-40 miles reserve, and this saves a lot of time. So quite often I am charging for just 20 minutes or less. The Tesla software will actually tell you when you have enough charge to get the next charger, with quite a big margin, and on subsequent trips I trusted this without any problems arising. Some of the chargers are in places where there is too not much to do, which could be a problem sometimes for some people. However there is always some kind of hotel, restaurant or fast food place, though depending on the time of day they may not necessarily be open. I never saw more than one other Tesla at the superchargers over the entire trip, which usually have 5-8 charging points so I never had to wait, though this will likely change. My 85D has a number in the 70 thousands, which is the number of these cars built. Since Tesla is producing roughly 11 thousand of these cars per quarter, not all of them going to the US, it seems that the superchargers are not going to be overcrowded at least for a couple of years. The other interesting thing was that I went cold turkey, driving through parts of the country where there are no Tesla superchargers. This turned out to be not a problem also, though you might need to have some time on your hands. On this trip I used J1772 chargers at Chevy and BMW dealers, a Tesla destination charger and on previous trips with the Leaf I had used J1772 chargers at Nissan dealers. In every case these were free, though of course this might also change. Also in every case the people in charge of the chargers, if that is not too alliterative, were extremely friendly and helpful, though this might also change if a lot of people with EVs start to show up at dealers expecting free electrons. The J1772s are slow, but Nissan dealers and some of the charging companies are now putting in the CHAdeMO DC chargers, rapid chargers somewhat comparable to those of the Tesla network. You can buy an CHAdeMO to Tesla adapter which I don’t have right now. At the time I took this trip I actually was not totally aware of the option of charging at RV parks, which the lady in Baton Rouge had told me about. These did not show up on the apps I was using, so I now got an RV park iPhone app, RV Parky, so I can find those in future. Most RV parks have those big NEMA 14-50 sockets and the Model S comes with an adapter for these. I’m told that RV parks will often not charge for this, but again this might change if lots of people start doing it. You can sleep in a Model S, as was demonstrated by a guy who put his Model S as a hotel on Airbnb. This was apparently sort of a joke, but he did have one customer, which you can read about here. I also did not know much about Chargepoint and other commercial chargers, mostly J1772 type chargers, but again likely to get upgraded. So all in all there is a already a large EV infrastructure and it is growing all the time. So anyone with a Tesla can travel the whole of the US for pretty much free, and the Model S is a very comfortable car, extremely well suited to cruise on the interstate with the cruise control, which I mentioned above, making it almost effortless. A retiree, with time on his or her hands, should seriously consider this car as, following the initial investment, it is is not going to cost much to run. No cost for gasoline, oil or antifreeze and no maintenance of spark plugs, oil levels, radiators, fuel lines, water lines, exhaust systems, valves, drive bands and all the rest of the complicated nonsense in a gasmobile. And the Tesla software should soon include the ability of the car to automatically stay in the lane, giving the driver even less to worry about. Anyway, a comparable trip to this one in a fossil burner of similar price and performance would have been, maybe, a little bit quicker as the 30-40 minute stops could have been shorter, though as I noted above I was spending more time charging than was really necessary. I actual checked out the Model 7 V8 sedans from BMW which are about as heavy, powerful and expensive as my Model S. These have real world mpg values of 16-17 mpg and require premium gasoline, which was at around $3.00 per gallon at the time I took this trip, and so would be around $380 for gasoline, compared to $0 for the Tesla, or $1 if you count the ferry (or fry) in Louisiana which the BMW would also have to pay. The BMW is, even though a V8, a little less powerful than the 85D and the base price was a little more, so the conclusion as to which is the better buy is fairly obvious.
So all in all the current network of superchargers was perfectly adequate and the infrastructure is improving all the time. After this trip I have done two even longer trips, from Gainesville to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a round trip of 3,700 miles and Gainesville to Bristol, Rhode Island, a round trip of about 2,850 miles. The Santa Fe trip was free, but the Bristol trip cost a surprising amount in tolls, but no cost for electricity. In no case have I come close to getting the battery flat and in every case the supercharger was where it was supposed to be and was fully functional. One day I managed to do over 800 miles, which would be hard to do in any car, and shows how the waits for charging don’t have to have much impact. Meanwhile people are getting more and more understanding of the numerous problems of fossil burners compared to electric cars. It’s not just the global warming, though that clearly ought to be problem enough. I am actually a scientist and I read the two preeminent science journals, Nature and Science, every week. As a scientist I can tell you there is absolutely no doubt that climate change is real and that humans are causing it. It is true that a very few scientists doubt this, but most of these are paid to confuse the public by the fossil fuel industry. One or two true doubters do remain, but there are still a few scientists who doubt that HIV causes AIDS for example, though the vast majority do not. Heretics are useful as they help to make the consensus case even stronger but they are almost always wrong and destined to be forgotten. I don’t know any climate change doubter with scientific credentials although I know hundreds of scientists. The CO2 level in the atmosphere has been and is progressively increasing and CO2 is without question a greenhouse gas, this was established before Al Gore’s great great grandparents consummated. There is also strong isotopic evidence that the extra CO2 in the atmosphere is derived from fossil fuels, so the case is really closed. As a result of human activity we can expect more CO2 in the atmosphere in the near future and more extreme weather, forest fires, droughts in some places, floods in others, sea level rise and agricultural disruption, all on a small planet with an increasing number of humans to feed. All this will causing famine, strife, migration and war. The only good thing is we will be constantly reacting to damage, destruction and disruption by repairing and rebuilding stuff which will generate jobs. However that is not the kind of economy most of us would like to see. There is also the health effects, breathing exhaust fumes causes cancer, asthma and other lung diseases, causing at least hundreds of thousands of premature deaths all over the world each and every year. There is also the issue of the political corruption generated by the fossil fuel industry, who buy elections in the US, think the evil Kochs who plan to buy the next President using their inherited fossil fuel wealth. Also countries which have oil actually lose in the long run. Pumping oil is cheap and the stuff sells well so Saudi Arabia, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuala and others can support their crappy regimes without educating their people or investing in any kind of productive or competitive businesses. So eventually, when oil either runs out or becomes irrelevant, these countries will be in huge, huge messes. Fossil burner cars are also just plain inefficient and unreliable. You need to change the oil all the time and you have to keep the engine in tune, as the spark plugs loose their ability to spark, the pistons wear in the cylinders and so the compression goes down, the exhaust system rusts out, the radiator leaks and drive bands wear out with potentially catastrophic results. A fossil burner engine has hundreds of moving parts while an electric motor really only has a handful. So you will have a long term and persistent dependency on your garage and the fossil fuel industry, and spend a lot more time and cash maintaining a fossil burner than an EV. At best fossil burners put only 30% of the energy in gasoline to moving you down the road. In the past I might have said something more favorable about Diesel engines, which are a bit more efficient than gas burners, getting up to maybe 50% efficiency. But that was before the recent VW scandal which brings into question how much pollution this type of engine really makes. Electric motors can do 90% efficiency or more with no trouble. Finally fossil burners have no option but to burn fossils unless you count biofuels and ethanol, neither of which currently make any real economic sense. In contrast an EV can run on free energy from superchargers, wind, solar, nuclear, hydroelectric, thermal or from your own solar panels. It’s interesting to see how the fossil fuel industry and the electric utilities are trying to slow down the EV and sustainable energy movements, obviously because these movements will make them extinct. Of course other fossils are mostly extinct so why not these?
Also you might have noticed I noted that a lot of the people I met on the trip were, how shall I put it, a bit on the largish side. Unfortunately Americans think it is necessary to eat three meals a day, each one large and each one often made of stuff largely goosed up with carbs and sugar. Just read the labels, bagels, tomato sauce, bread, peanut butter, soup, baked beans and much else in the US contain added sugar, usually high fructose corn syrup, which does not need to be there and I will not even mention all the cakes, cookies, sweets, soft drinks and other crap which you would expect to contain a bunch of sugar. And I was driving through the South, where these problems are at the worst, most meat and vegetable are fried, which is the default cooking mode, resulting in even more extra caloric intake. I’m not a crazy nutritionist, but I do notice that most of the people in my age group are way overweight, and many of them have type 2 diabetes. More and more of them are having strokes and heart attacks. I am personally just a little overweight, about 198lbs for a 6ft 1 body, but that is nothing compared with most people. My solution to the overweight problem was simply to routinely miss breakfast and lunch, just eating in the evening. I am not sure how healthy that is, but I am myself pretty fit, so I guess it is not a bad way to organize your life. Americans uniformly think that is completely crazy, but why? I never get a good reason. You may have noticed on this trip I ate irregularly usually taking advantage of the free breakfast in a hotel and often not eating anything else much each day, basically avoiding food. This is not my normal routine, but, well, if food is free why not get some? In summary, the US is OK to visit but try not to eat the food while you are there.
On the road I saw an occasional Nissan Leaf in towns, easy to recognize because of the slightly unusual styling. Of course the range issue means that currently the Leaf is not likely to show up much on interstate highways, and I did not see any there. As far as I know I saw no other Teslas on this trip on the interstates, but I am not sure if I would recognize another Model S just yet since it is not especially unusual looking. I know I would not recognize a Tesla Roadster as that would appear to me like any other little sports car, and that kind of vehicle has never interested me very much. As I mentioned above I only saw two other Teslas at the the charging stations on this trip and since then this has been the pattern- usually mine is the only one there, sometimes there is another one and one time, in my now over 15,000 miles, there were two other ones. So as I drove around I reflected on the huge preponderance of fossil burners and wonder how long it will take to get a significant percentage of them off of the road, and hopefully replaced with much more sensible EVs. Probably a depressingly long time, cars, if they are looked after, last 15 or more years. Also in the US certain politicians are doing everything they can to keep all of the fossil industries alive, because of course they get paid to do that. However I think that people are slowly realizing that EVs are just better in many respects. I think adoption will increase much more quickly than most current predictions, particularly if the Tesla model 3 and the inevitable competition from BMW, Nissan and other Asian companies are marketed at about $30,000-35,000 with a range of 200-250 miles which appears possible. A sudden peak in gas prices for one reason or another is very likely to happen, as it has several times before, and this always engenders much more interest in alternatives. And of course coal is rapidly dying and renewables are accelerating rapidly. As solar and wind get progressively cheaper they will soon outcompete the fossil industry which will mean that less and less electricity will be generated from fossils, so EVs will become fossil guilt free. Something that people don’t seem to realize is that renewables are really different from fossils. If you get your energy from fossils you are always dependent on fossils. If you get it from renewables there is some up front cost but very little expense afterwords. So each percentage increase in renewables is a percentage that will never go back to the fossils, they will inevitably loose, it’s only a question of how long they can hang on. Eventually of course fossil burner cars will become like horses and steam engines, a few still around and running and displayed at specialized events by aficionados, but not part of normal transportation. The sooner this happens the better IMHO.