Going places in an electric sports car

19 06 2015

About a million years ago, when I was young, naive, and full of optimism and potential, I was chosen for a prestigious fellowship that allowed me to spend a year in Germany, on someone else’s payroll. My alibi was that I was “working”, learning about and looking to advance the transatlantic relationship when I returned to North America. For the sponsoring foundation, nothing less than five stars was ever good enough, and the group had a standing annual invite to visit with the Chancellor and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I was 23 and boy, was I going places.

Fast forward 20 years. I returned to North America two decades after they expected me to return, with a healthy dose of cynicism and significant life experience. I am no longer the bright-eyed bushy-tailed young upstart that I once was… I am now middle-aged and much wiser, and definitely more realistic about my abilities and my station in this world.

But every year the foundation that sponsored my initial expensive jaunt through Europe throws an alumni weekend party that rivals the fellowship itself. There is always crazy, fun stuff to do, interesting speakers, high-profile guests, fantastic food and appropriate adult beverages.

This year’s party included a tour and a test drive in a Tesla.

The factory in Freemont, CA.

The factory in Fremont, CA.

I won’t go into the background of where, what, when… you can research all that on the internet yourself. But one interesting factoid I would like to add: The brain behind this unbelievably fascinating and disruptive new technology is my alma mater’s most famous non-graduate. After two years of business school there (which actually coincided with my own time on the same campus) he said, “Ahhh…. toss it. I have better things to do with my life.”

And he did. And all I can say is… well… wow.

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Hello there, Beautiful!

As you can tell from the photo, the Tesla Model S is a luxury ELECTRIC sports car, and it can go 0-60 miles per hour in just over 3 seconds. I tested that myself on a road where the speed limit was a paltry 35 mph. It seats seven (including two rear-facing child seats in the back trunk), it has every electronic gadget, bell and whistle you can think of… and many, many more that would never even occur to you. The engine has only 17 moving parts and uses no oil… so it never needs to be serviced. The battery pack is located in the floor of the vehicle so as not lose any interior space.

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The view from inside.

Looks pretty good on me, huh?

Looks pretty good on me, huh?

I posted this photo on my Facebook timeline with the caption: “Test drove my new car the other day.” To my great amusement, a whole slew of my friends actually believed I had purchased a vehicle which costs more to buy than the entire pre-tax salary I earned in 2014.

So I guess I still am going places. Just maybe not the places I thought. Evelynn Starr, 40-something super action heroine and Tesla driver. Nice.

But seriously though, I’m not sure how the esteemed German foundation will top this at next year’s alumni party.

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Cha Gheill, people!

9 05 2015

So this morning I woke up near Cleveland, Ohio. Good thing I know that at least because when we arrived at our hotel just before 4am, I am not sure I would have been capable of spelling my own name.

Yesterday’s leg was a day from hell. Murphy would be proud of the efficacy of his stupid little law.

We decided to change our planned direct westbound route from Utica to Niagara Falls to include a fun diversion of 170 miles / 220 kilometers. (It was a good idea at the time.) We thought we’d add a Canadian province to our itinerary (more on that later), and ended up driving into the back of a 3 1/2-hour traffic jam. The highway was closed and the (not-so-fun) detour led us on an 70-mile goose chase across rural southern Ontario. Don’t you love it when the big orange “Detour” signs that you are following just… end?

We got to Niagara Falls at 10pm, just in time to see the kitchy projected rainbow lightshow.

Oooooo....!

Oooooo….!

That was actually very pretty. A highlight of our trip so far.

But our adventures were not over just yet. We had three more hours to drive in order to make it to our pre-paid hotel room in Cleveland. (It was a good idea at the time.) At 12:20am, on the NY Thruway just south of Buffalo, our rental car stopped moving forward. It was something like…. putt putt putt…and….pffffffttt….

We had run out of gas in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Interstate, in the middle of nowhere, seven miles from the nearest gas station. It is moments like these that you thank your wise parents for giving you that AAA membership for your birthday when you started driving 29 years ago.

So an originally-planned six-hour journey turned into 10 hours which ended up turning into 18 hours on the road. Ugh.

But now: The reason for our trip into the great white north? My undergrad alma mater, Queen’s University (where basic gaelic language skills are a requirement for graduation: “Oil thigh na Banrighinn a’Banrighinn gu brath!“), sits right on the border to New York State, and we couldn’t just speed past without stopping by to say hello, buying some tricolour swag and chowing down on a barbecued burger care of the Queen’s Engineering Society.

24 years since I left that place with a degree in my hand, and 14 since I was last in Kingston. Gosh… what has happened to all that time?

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Cha Gheill!





A car named “Boinky”

18 07 2010

When I was telling a friend about starting this blog, and about all the stuff I wanted to write about, he blurted: “Sorry, Evelynn, a super action heroine does NOT drive ‘A car named Boinky’!”

Mais non! I beg to differ! Boinky is not just some car. It’s one of the coolest cars on the road.

This love story goes way back and it goes deep.

I first saw a Boinky long before George W. Bush stole his first presidential election. It was the autumn of 1997, in Hambach, France, when “smartville”, the factory that would produce the smart, as the vehicle is officially known, was opened to great fanfare. And I was there to write about it.

At the time, the new funny-looking 2-seater “city-coupé” came in four primary colors: red, yellow, blue and black. The majority of the hundred or so journalists in attendance (including this SAAB-driving pseudo-intellectual) scoffed at the piece of plastic, some of us already taking notes for the stories we planned to write when the car bombed.

Boinky I –  In early 2001, less than four years later, I was eating my words. One winter morning my beloved 13-year-old SAAB decided to leave this earth for the great junkyard in the sky. Life-sustaining measures would have cost me more than a month’s salary, with no guarantees. Suddenly and traumatically, I was wheel-less. Ok, admittedly, it’s easier to be wheel-less in Europe than in, say, Kansas, but still. A friend dragged me to my local smart dealer to take a look… I guess I was intrigued primarily because the car hadn’t bombed (yet), parking space in Berlin was at a premium and gas prices were going through the roof. The best thing about the little black number I found on the lot: it was cheap and they accepted debit cards. Within minutes, she was all mine and all paid for.

Boinky I.

After my big brother saw my new “car” for the first time, he said it needed a name.

“A name?” I asked.

“Yes, a name,” he said. “I think it looks like a Boinky. Why don’t you call it Boinky?”

And with a piccolo of cheap Italian sparkling wine, Bonky was christened. (And sent through the car wash shortly thereafter.)

Boinky, the first, accompanied me through a miserable relationship and a traumatic breakup, and earned its most impressive stripes on an epic journey from Berlin to London and back – about 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) each way.

Boinky II – December 2002. Okay, I admit, I wanted some color in my life. So I moved from black to “bay gray metallic”. Traded in number one and paid the difference on number two – again an amount so small that my debit card could handle it. The second generation had a slightly larger gas tank and cooler headlights. Boinky II’s seven-year reign in my life also saw a couple of significant life-changing events: I quit three jobs, moved to Switzerland, escaped a stalker and met the man who would become my husband, not necessarily in that order.

Boinky II.

Boinky III – April 2010. It was simply time. A bit larger, the redesigned car is now more “grown up”. (Just like me, hee hee.) She was 11 months (and 4,260 kilometers) old when I found her, very slightly used, a sleek, silver number, with a glass roof and 84 horses under the hood (or rather the trunk…a smart’s engine is under the trunk). I’ve taken a step up in luxury, finally indulging in an air conditioner. The requisite cupholder is under the dashboard, where it’s always been, and there’s even a jack for my Ipod (for whenever I figure out how to use it).

Boinky III.

So ladies and gentlemen, when you are sitting in traffic on your throne of an SUV, or in that loser-cruiser of a Minivan, don’t you even dare to snicker at that smart car you see below. We own the coolness factor if not the road. And as soon as BP’s oil hits a shore near you, you might think 40 miles per gallon might be a pretty innovative idea after all.