Monday, May 30, 2005

Sparrow Down!

It was the belt drive that went. I heard the thunk and the man in the pick-up truck next to me was looking at the rear of the Sparrow and then at me. I was in the far left lane of El Camino, the main road through town.

"I'm down," I said and he slowed to half my speed so I could pass in front of him. So thoughtful. The right lane was empty and I was able to cross it and swoop into a side street on what remaining momentum I had. It was raining and my window was down a few inches for air, but rain was coming in. There was no power to the windows. No power at all. Uh oh. A broken belt was not a serious thing, but no power was more ominous.

"I need a flatbed truck," I told the dispatcher at AAA. A Sparrow cannot be towed. No bumper. A burly, tattooed, tow-truck guy showed up with a flatbed that could fit a Cadillac. He had seen a Sparrow before, but not towed one. "It looks like a banana," he said. It didn't take him long to figure it out and soon he was winching the bird onto the flatbed. It sat right in the middle like a cartoon celebrity on a parade float.

"So where do we go?" he asked, "who works on these?"

"He makes house calls," I said, as I tried to think where to go. Our driveway has a 30° incline. My tow man and I agreed that it would be hard to push 1500lbs of car up an inclined driveway from a road that was also on a hill. I decided to go to my Dad's house, (my stepmother's house now). It wasn't far and it was flat with lots of space. My stepmother wasn't home and her large Volvo was parked smack in the middle of the two-car garage. I couldn't reach her. Turns out she was in Italy on holiday. I measured the space on either side. There was just room to squeeze the Sparrow in with barely inches to spare.

Ed my Sparrow doctor had already come to my house to bleed the brakes and fix the rear brake light. He promised to come that weekend. (He has another job - not much call for Sparrow doctoring). As I suspected, it was more than just the belt. There still was no power to the motor. And it wasn't just a fuse, it was the controller, a major component. Luckily, Ed had one in stock so we wouldn't be waiting on parts. It would be expensive though and take a while as Ed worked on it at home in his spare time. I let him take the Sparrow away on his little flatbed trailer.

Without the Sparrow coming home to roost, it was as though the sun had gone behind a cloud. Both Catherine and I had come to think of the little car as a pet living in the house with us - a mascot to our eco-sensibilities. We had been local ambassadors to an alternative paradigm garnering attention everywhere we went. Without it, our lives were dull, lackluster and ordinary. We were polluters again.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Fuel Cell Car Letter to the Merc

The San Francisco chapter of the electric vehicle association decided not to support the hydrogen highway plan being promoted by Schwarzenegger because the electricity needed to make hydrogen from water would be four times what would be needed to power an electric car the same distance down the road. We also didn't trust that automakers would be able to produce a fuel cell car anytime soon and see their support of the hydrogen highway as a boondoggle. When the San Jose Mercury did a cover story on May 23rd, they did not really explain how inefficient hydrogen production is and there was no mention of the dangers of hydrogen. We wrote letters. Two were printed on May 28th including mine. I said hydrogen was 12 times more likely to ignite than gasoline, but actually it's 20 times. I was rushing.