August 2008

Hybrid, Byebrid

By David Feela

I took a quick glance to the left, then to the right as I pulled into the parking lot, looking for a convenient spot. Heat rippled off the tar on this hot summer afternoon, the air heavy with the sweat of pavement. I wanted more relief than a lamp post’s shade, and then I saw it – the perfect parking place. I released the clutch and skimmed my greenish twoseater hybrid toward it.

What luck! What are the chances, I thought, that somebody in America – much less in Durango – is still driving a full-sized Hummer and that the sun had positioned itself so the space beside it offered me ample shade. I parked, got out with my digital camera and stepped back – way back – just to get these two opposites into focus. A millisecond after I took the shot the driver stepped into my viewfinder and climbed into his Hummer. He gave me a dirty look before driving off, punctuated by a dark puff of his exhaust.

It all happened so quickly. I stood there in the parking lot, the hot sun turning my bare head red, but not with anger. What I felt was plain old embarrassment. You see, when I bought my hybrid I believed I was investing in a better future, that I was joining the rest of America to reduce our gasoline indulgence. What I realized in the time it took the Hummer to back out of its parking spot is this: The earth doesn’t come equipped with reverse.

The pixels caught inside my camera still take me back to that moment nearly two years ago. I can rationalize the past, that Mr. Hummer didn't know any better at the time, that simply being able to afford the gas it takes to fill up the tank amounts to the only justification we need for what we drive.

I’m sure the Hummer still has humongous fans, but a few people also come over to ask me about the car I drive. It’s the color that attracts them – a bright green (“citrus yellow,” the manufacturer calls it). I wondered when I bought it if it would drive like a lemon, but after two years and about 50,000 miles I can say it’s the best car I’ve owned. It runs on three cylinders, averages 55 miles per gallon, puts out ultra-low emissions, stops idling the engine at every stoplight, and it moves quietly as a moth. Granted, it still uses gasoline, but we’re supposedly, as a nation, working on that. Right?

I could go on about its features, but who cares? Inevitably, the first question anyone asks me is, “How fast does that thing go?” I should answer that it cruises at 200 mph, zero to 60 in seven seconds, then point to the deck where the batteries are stored and conspiratorially whisper, Illegal rocket pack.

Next, they’ll say something about car wrecks and how they worry about me, as if to say intelligent driving is parallel to playing football. I should ask, Wanna go for a ride? We can always test my air bags.

Speed and size, America’s two obsessions. I see them repeated each time I start my engine. Sadly, my car – the first hybrid available to consumers in the year 2000 – got dropped from production over a year ago for more roomy alternatives, with worse gas mileage. And what’s the best strategy auto manufacturers have come up with since I took my picture? Free gas with the purchase of a new vehicle.

Actually, I’m hoping gas prices continue to rise, even skyrocket, like on the Fourth of July, a chorus of Oooohs and aaaahs as each increment hits a new height. We can wave our little flags and shout, Hoorah for America. It may take $20 a gallon before we have the guts to start another revolution, a retooled Boston Tea Party where we toss our Hummers into the harbor, once we figure out, of course, how to do this without polluting the harbor.

David Feela is still lost in rural Montezuma County, Colo.