All Americans

Today’s headlines are, as I feared yesterday, horrific. I wish I could offer some words of consolation to my American friends who are now in tears. I would hate to be a US citizen right now. Like eminent economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote yesterday evening: ‘I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to feel quite a lot of despair.’

My despair mostly pertains to the environment. We can break down any of Trump’s planned walls overnight. I suppose there will be a semi-sensible Chief of Staff around when Trump is fiddling with the nuclear launch codes. We could even try to un-deport everyone he plans to deport. But four years of Trump will only exacerbate the United States’ already dismal contribution to climate change. The environmental damage of Trump’s policies will be devastating and it will be irreversible.

Predictably, Donald Trump has promised to be a president for all Americans. In his case, such a promise can only count as a threat. Trump and only Trump will decide what or who is ‘American’. It’s the type of American that lives in ‘the unknown country’ and that has been betrayed for decades by Republicans and Democrats alike. I’m not an expert on American politics, but many of his voters seem to have voted for Trump predominantly to raise their big fat impotent middle finger to ‘the establishment’.

‘All Americans’ only make up half of the US electorate. I can only hope that the other half will do everything in its power to make Trump’s term as short as possible. Some Americans certainly made short shrift of their despair: the first protest marches and movements have already reared their pretty faces. I hope that President Trump won’t stand a chance.

To America

“No!” was the word that awakened us, “No!” being shouted in a man’s loud voice from every house on the block. It can’t be. No. Not for president of the United States.

– Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (2004)

I’m usually quite hooked to world news, and news websites are definitely on my Self-Control blacklist. But in today’s final hours of the ugliest show on Earth, I can’t bring myself to watch its results. Instead, I’ll be reading some Thomas Paine, playing some Joan As Police Woman, fondling the pictures of my visits stateside, and hoping tomorrow morning’s headlines will be less than horrifying.

The luxury of driving an electric car you don’t own

One of my biggest contributions to a wannabe-minimalist lifestyle, I suppose, is not owning a car. I really love not owning a car, but I do realize that not owning one is a bit of a luxury; one that I can afford because:

  • I live in a country where public transport is relatively decent, and I live in a regional transit hub with good connections to and fro.
  • I live in biker’s country, in a city with excellent facilities for bikers (visiting bikers from Portland, OR seem to agree). We own a Bakfiets.nl cargo bike to haul around kids, groceries, and other stuff.
  • I don’t have to travel much for work, since I found a nice job close to home some years ago. Also, for leisure, my family are usually content to find some within biking distance – although that may change if my sons get into some time-consuming team sport that requires taking turns driving a bunch of kids to a soggy field somewhere in the sticks.
  • I like car sharing, and there are four competing car sharing services at my disposal: Greenwheels (least fuss, most expensive), MyWheels and SnappCar (bit less expensive, bit more fuss), and recent addition: Paleiskwartier Elektrisch. In total, there are dozens of cars within a 10 minutes bike ride.

Electric car sharing
We’ve been driving shared cars for almost 10 years now, predominantly Greenwheels, but driving an electric one has been a new and significantly different experience. Paleiskwartier Elektrisch (henceforth: PE) is an electric car sharing coop fueled by my employer Avans and a bunch of other companies and educational institutions. On weekdays, employees of the coop can use its (100% electric) fleet for work purposes only, for instance to visit our students doing internships at design agencies in the region.

Recently, PE has started a pilot that allows employees of the coop’s participants to use the fleet’s Nissan Leafs and Renault Zoes outside of business hours. Obviously, this is a smart way to increase the vehicles’ ‘uptime’, as it prevents marooning the fleet inside inaccessible parking garages every night and every weekend. The mileage kilometrage rate of €0,33/km is higher than Greenwheels’, but PE doesn’t (currently) charge a subscription fee or an hourly rate. For last weekend’s 180km trip, I’m expecting to pay €60 as opposed to the €80 (excl. subscription fee) I would have paid using Greenwheels.

My family and I really enjoyed driving & riding the Renault Zoe, and I believe it’s not just the novelty aspect (it’s carefully designed hum driving under 30 kph, for instance). The trade-off for the electric Fahrvergnügen and PE’s competitive rates, is the increased amount of, well, fuss.

  • Distance from my house. If I choose to drive Greenwheels, the nearest car is 850m from my house, whereas PE’s fleet is a 3km bike ride away. This means I spend more time picking up the car and returning it, but also more money: just under €0,50 to shuttle the nearest Greenwheels, a little over €2,– for a PE car.
  • Availability. Greenwheels’ fleet is available 24/7, but since our actual car use is usually limited to weekends, it matches PE’s limited availability quite nicely. However, there’s a big but regarding weekend use of PE cars: they can’t be collected until 5:30PM on Fridays, and must be returned before 7:30AM on Mondays. I don’t mind the extra bike ride, but this does mean that bringing the kids to school or going for a pre-work swim on Mondays is not really an option. Tough!
  • Action range & The Thing with Charging Stations. Anyone considering driving an electric car is probably more than aware of its limited range. In case of the Renault Zoe I drove, that’s about 50km one way, unless you like to watch your efficiency gauge like a hawk (and forget about turning on the A/C all the time!).
    But that’s OK, and I actually like the planning involved; it almost adds an element of ‘gamification’ to driving. The Netherlands are sprinkled with charging stations so finding one is quite easy. Charging a semi-depleted battery usually takes about two hours, which happily compelled us to slow down and enjoy more time with friends and family.
    Less enjoyable was the fact that two out of four charging stations I tried this weekend were malfunctioning. And yes, I did attach the charging cable the right way, thank you very much, and I was tapping the right type of RFID card to the station. One of the stations did seem to work properly after I had attached it at 8PM, only to find out the next morning that it had not charged the car one iota. This a more than a nuisance; it might mean you have to postpone or even cancel your day trip.

All in all, I’m happy to add PE’s electric cars to the ever-expanding network of cars we love to drive but prefer not to own.