Goodby to Fidelio, My Fiat 500e

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April 22 wasn’t a day I was looking forward to. After just over three months, it was time to turn in my test Fiat 500e, Fidelio. But, I did what I had to do, and handed over the keys.

I’ll publish the article that will appear in my newpaper venues and their websites in my next blog post. All of these blogs have been part of my day-to-day life with an all-electric car.

Fidelio performed just as he had to, and took care of all of my needs, except one. His range, at 84 official miles and a little more in reality, was perfect for commuting and errands, but just not enough to make him a car for all reasons. Would that be enough to keep me from running out and buying a twin of this sweet little car? Maybe. For now, I have lots of happy memories. He was completely charming and ran flawlessly.

Stevegoesgreen.com will continue to cover electric and hybrid (and alternative fuel) vehicles. Stay tuned!

His last photo.

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Hooray for Public Chargers!

As I ascended the hill on the way to Pleasanton yesterday, I looked down at my range indicator and saw that it might be a little risky making it home on the return trip. The number was in the 20’s, and with the climb back, I got a little nervous. The solution? Public charging!

Because I’ve been organized around charging at work and occasionally at home, I haven’t really used public chargers. But I was set up for it, and that’s what I did.

First, I consulted the Plugshare app on my phone. It showed me two options within a couple blocks of my brunch destination.

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I pulled in behind the old Library on Main Street, and there was a single Chargepoint station, ready for me.

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I backed in, and plugged in and that was that. With Plugshare, I was able to check in, and even post a photo of Fidelio getting his electricity.

We had a relaxed brunch at Nonni’s Bistro, a favorite destination, and walked around a bit in downtown Pleasanton, a place that deserves its name. I checked the progress of my charge using the ChargePoint app. Notice at the bottom, the progress–miles of charge–is displayed.

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By the time I got back to the car, it was 100% charged. Now that’s the way it’s supposed to work. And it cost me $1.00 an hour.

It was a happy story, but I wondered what would have happened if the charger was occupied? What if there wasn’t one nearby? We need to build out the infrastructure as more and more EVs hit the roads, just for this purpose. Charging at home and at work is great, but sometimes you need it on-the-go.

 

Fidelio the Fiat 500e — Coming Soon to Video

There’s one week left on my little blue Fiat 500e’s visit, and what better time than to record a video review!

It’s going to take some time while Chet Wehe, master videographer, edits the rough take down to a perfect final version, but you can count on seeing a link to it here soon. Here’s Chet setting up the shot.

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You can see some of my old video reviews on Youtube. The ones with me in them there are my work from 2013.

Standing in the back parking lot off the community golf course on a warm Spring morning, I got to say what I think–out loud–about this car. I love it, and am sad to know it’s going to be gone soon. Unlike a weekly press car, this one has made itself at home. My goal of living with an EV has been accomplished, and I know how great they are for me.

Electric cars are wonderful for short trips (up to 30 miles or so), because of their charging and recharging limitations, but life is good when you’re cruising down any road under electric power. No vibration, little sound, strong torque, and a sense of just moving forward, not of forcing an engine to do it. Motors are like that.

I gave Fidelio a bath for his movie debut, and enjoyed removing the accumulated dirt from his little blue body.IMG_4636

As I say in the video, this is certainly the cutest EV out there. Turns out it’s a really effective one, too. No problems, plenty of comfort, generous carrying capacity (despite its diminutive size), clear and full audio, fine brakes. The controls connect you directly to the tires, so you sense where you are. Who would have thought it would be so much fun?

I need to consider what to do next. I’d love to own a 500e, but should I hold out for a car with more range? Do I really need another car? Is it important that you love your car? (I certainly think so).

 

Enough Charge for that Extra Trip

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Part of the deal with using your EV for daily commuting is that you know you have enough charge to get home. But what if you need to take an extra side trip?

Yesterday, I got a chance to meet up with a favorite former boss–but it was 24 miles away–in the opposite direction from my house! I headed south on Interstate 101 from San Mateo to Santa Clara in precommute traffic with a full charge, and was pleased to see 85 miles on the range counter sit there for quite a while. Even with mostly free-flowing traffic, I got to my destination with a comfortable cushion.

Heading north along Interstate 880 later, I completed my 33-mile homeward trip and pulled into the driveway with 22 miles left on the clock. Whew.

What this meant was twofold: First, I had enough to get where I needed to go, and second, I had to make sure to put my Fiat 500e on the home charger ASAP to be sure there’d be plenty of charge for tomorrow. And that’s what I did.

While the major downside to most EVs is limited range, it doesn’t have to be a big deal–if you charge when you can, and for the longer trips–take your other car. It didn’t limit me yesterday, for which I’m grateful.

 

 

EVs and their Sociable Drivers

Call it a cult, but EV drivers, I’ve found, are a sociable bunch. We love to talk about our cars, look at each other’s rides, and learn more about the EVs we don’t have yet, such as the Tesla Model 3, which has received more than 325,000 $1,000 deposits in just a few days.

I like to group my little Fiat, Fidelio, with other cars, too. Then, I talk with the owners. Sometimes, I just park him near the other EVs and snap away. Here are a few recent shots.

This one just happened – One Fiat, two Nissan Leafs, in repose.

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And for good measure, here’s Fidelio with one  of his Tesla friends–also at the office.

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And, tonight, three members of the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra brought their cars together for a photo after a two-hour rehearsal. From left to right, Esteban’s 2016 Tesla, Bev’s 2016 Chevy Volt, and Fidelio, my 2016 Fiat 500e.

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They’re lucky. Although we all just started driving these shiny new cars, they get to keep theirs. But Fidelio has to go  back to the fleet in 10 days. I’m sad. When you live with an EV for months, it grows on you. The smooth, quiet ride, the silent cabin where the radio plays so clearly. The never stopping at the gas station. The torque.

The Tesla and Fiat 500e are pure electrics, while the Volt–in the center above–is a plug-in hybrid. But the Volt will go up to 53 miles on a charge, so if you don’t travel too far, you can use it as an electric car virtually all the time. In fact, Bev tells me that the new Volt will burn off the gas automatically if it gets too old!

We Drove in the Sunshine

In 1964, a song by Gale Garnett filled the AM radio airwaves, called We Sang in the Sunshine. Seems Gale would spend a year with the guy, but then “be on her way.” Why a year? I never understood that arbitary limit. If things were good, why not stick around?

In about two weeks, the sweet little Fiat 500e that I’ve enjoyed every day since January 19th is going away. It’s staying here for three months, which is only a quarter of a year, but it’s way longer than the one  week that has been the standard visitation period for the last 1,150 plus cars I’ve sampled over the last nearly quarter century.

What  hurts is that I’ve really fallen for this little car. Over a couple thousand miles, to work and back, off for an errand or a meal or a band practice, orchestra rehearsal, or trip to the post office, little Fidelio, as I call him, has not failed me. When I walk up to him in the parking lot, I still enjoy his retro styling, based on the original, popular 500 of the 1950’s through mid 70’s–Italy’s “Beetle.”Funny, in a way, that Britain’s popular little postwar car, the Mini, is with us in 2016 too, re-imagined for modern times. Like a European 50th high school reunion.

I love Fidelio’s light blue paint, an intentionally retro shade. His silver plastic hubcaps look like alloy wheels but are hubcaps just the same, and appropriately so. Small, round headlamps and the proportions of the face give Fidelio a Boston Terrier kind of expression. He’s not grinning like a latter day Mazda or a 1950’s chrome mouthed Buick, but he seems happy and content.

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Fidelio’s interior is perfect for me, a slim 5-8 man. For being a little car, a Fiat 500e is a tall one, too, so headroom is generous for me–and would be for taller folks, too. The seats sit up high and firm, in a vinyl and sport cloth with jaunty red stripes.

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The dash features numerous chrome rings around pretty much everything from the instruments to the climate and radio controls to the gleaming door handles that lock when you push them towards the door.

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In an age of dull gray, plain tan, and somber black interior shades, my little Fiat enjoys a broad stroke of white. The dash panels mimic the painted ones of the original cars, and bring back a nostalgic pang for cars of my youth, with their expanses of painted metal and projecting light switches and radio knobs. All dangerous, but we’re talking about feelings here.

One thing about an electric car–especially, perhaps this one. It’s very very quiet in there when you’re rolling down the road–even at freeway velocities. Someone said recently something about double-insulated glass, but I can say that the nicer-than-I-expected audio system delivers crisp, clear, balanced sound on my favorite FM station–KCSM Jazz 91, as well as my favorite Sirius XM Satellite Radio selections.

Electric motors spin contentedly, and don’t vibrate like gas engines do. When you press the right-side pedal, Fidelio just moves out, quickly. The torque in the single-speed transmission is surprising and delightful, and the extra weight of hundreds of pounds of lithium-ion battery beneath you guarantees a low center of gravity. While most errands are in town and back and forth to work, I got out on to a few curving back roads now and again, and was once again amazed by the handling and just plain fun of this little beast.

Numbers come up in regular car stories for things like engine horsepower, cargo capacity, and fuel economy, along with Government efficiency ratings. In an electric car like Fidelio, it’s all about range. Sure, there’s a speedometer, but you really want to know how far you can go, all based on battery charge. Fidelio’s ingeniously simple center dial displays battery percentage off fullness both graphically with a green left parenthesis and with a number (85%, for example). At the bottom of the dial is the range display, big and bold.

What’s funny is, sometimes the range number grows while you’re using power. It means your average is improving based on your recent driving. Downhill, or stop-and-go? That means you’re generating new electricity and using little stored energy. Flying along at 65 on  the freeway, especially uphill, takes it away more quickly. There’s a little arrow that goes up or down (or is invisible) to indicate the trend.

To keep the range numbers good, I charged my car at work on a Level 2 charger in front of my building. Level 2 means 240 volts. I can fill up the battery from around half full, which it usually is by the time I’ve commuted home and back to work, before lunchtime. Then, with my EV driver courtesy, I move Fidelio aside for another company employee.

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Charging becomes a routine. You wave your little card in front of the ChargePoint bollard, it beeps, then you plug in the large handle which feels a bit like a gas filler, and then verify the machine is charging. Then, walk away. ChargePoint notifies me with a text message when it notices that Fidelio isn’t absorbing any more charge.

Sometimes, I’ll charge overnight at home at lowly 120–Level 1. It can take 12 hours to do what 4 hours does on 240. But it means I have a full battery to use on the weekends.

Over my two and a half months of driving, I’ve had to use our family gas burner a few times for trips to visit the grandchildren, or a bass lesson 50 miles away. But nearly always, Fidelio is available and steps up to the job.

My upright bass, which I play and also use to measure automotive cargo capacity, fits in the back when I flip down the second row seats. It just barely makes it, and only at a particular angle. But it works. I can also carry a bass guitar and a practice amplifier. If I need my big amplifier–it won’t fit. If it’s an electric only gig, everything slides right in. This is a small car, but a practical one.

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It’s hard to think of anything annoying about Fidelio, but there are a couple of nits. First of all, the flip-out “switchblade” key often opens in my pocket. Also, the sunvisors are pathetically slim and short, so you’re of luck if the sun is low in the sky as you drive north or west. The Bluetooth-connect, voice-activated telephone dialer works fine for calling numbers in your phone, but if you need to dictate the numbers, it suddenly becomes deaf. And that’s the end of my complaints.

Regarding efficiency, while gas and hybrid cars get fuel economy ratings in MPG (miles per gallon), the electrics get MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). I’ll state my final numbers when my test is over, but at this point, I’m averaging around 135 MPGe–even better than the government ratings. I’ve seen as high as 178 MPGe, depending on the trip. I’d say that’s EXCELLENT.

I’d really like to just keep driving in the sunshine with Fidelio for years, but he has to go back to the press fleet and please some other folks. I got him with 79 miles on the clock–just break in time. It’s like he’s mine. I could go lease my own 500e, but I think I’ll wait to see if the new Chevrolet Bolt EV will deliver at least some of the zip and an honest 200 mile range. Then it would be perfect. But despite the Chevy’s attractive, up-to-date look and game-changing range number, the Bolt and the other EVs can’t touch Fidelio for driving experience and cuteness.

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The Electric Car Club

When I started testing my little blue Fiat 500e a couple of months ago, I thought, that as part of my EV awareness, I’d attend meetings of some electric car enthusiast organization.I pictured meeting in a place like an old Hof Brau, and standing in the parking lot before going inside for beers and roast beef, looking over each others’ cars in the fading sun.

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What I was picturing was the car club of the past. I met the Corvair owners club years ago that way.

Today, the action is in three places, for me. The first is at work, where I’ve created the Electriccars channel on Slack–our company instant messenger application. We have 12 members–most of the electric car drivers in the company. We post photos, talk about range and what we want to buy someday, and we’re pretty well represented. We have drivers of Teslas, Leafs, Volts, A Ford Focus Electric and a Fusion Hybrid, BMW i3s, and a couple of us with Fiats. Here’s our charging array. Fidelio, my blue Fiat 500e, is at the top of the picture, because my battery is full, and I’ve moved aside to let another driver charge up. With 15 EVs and 6 spots, it’s the only way to make it work.

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I’ve had numerous conversations in the hallway and in our “Cantina” food and party area. One guy proudly showed me his Volt app, where he could get lots of stats on his mileage and driving efficiency. Another wanted to talk about the differences between the different EVs on the market–or the difference between living with a plug-in hybrid versus a pure electric. Another is eagerly awaiting his opportunity to put money down on a Tesla Model 3–that he’ll receive in two years. That’s patience.

The second way I meet EV drivers is at charging stations. While most of my charging happens at home or at my six-slot office charger, I had a fine conversation with two Leaf drivers in front of the Whole Foods recently. A fellow auto journalist drove to meet me for lunch in his EV test car, and showed me where he went to plug it in while we were eating.

There’s lots of EV action online. I belong to the Fiat 500e group on Facebook. For now, I have a car to show photos of, and stories to relate. So do they. There are proud new car photos, oddball charging shots, and interesting customizations. One guy installed new, more powerful, but less energy-consuming, headlamps. Another posted a shot of his little Fiat next to a giant Chevy Suburban. I had recently taken a very similar shot of my colleague’s orange 500e next to the same kind of behemoth, and posted it in reply. We have fun.

Of course there are numerous websites to visit, too. And on Twitter, I post links to this blog, and have picked up a bunch of folks to follow–and who follow me–by going there.

I was expecting more camaraderie between EV drivers on the road, but so far, no-one has waved to me from their car. I, of course notice all of them. Maybe they just like not buying or burning gas and aren’t the social type. More (electric) power to them.

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I did look around for an actual car club, and found the Electric Auto Association. They have various chapters, but from what I can tell, they are the old-fashioned kind of organization. These are the techie guys who used to install dozens of regular car batteries in an old Honda Civic years ago. They are hands-on, and less of a purely consumer group–although I bet that’s changing.

If it were September, I could participate in National Drive Electric Week, but who knows what I’ll be driving by then? I may own my own EV by the time any local events start on September 10.

I love the social part of  being an EV driver. Perhaps it’s the excitement about doing something special that brings some folks together like this. When you drive an electric car, you fit right into the flow of traffic, and especially if you own a model that also has a gas version, you may be invisible to the other drivers. But YOU know you’re battery powered, and that it all makes a difference. Someday, it’ll be the norm.

Make the Right Choice – Drive Electric

Choices. It’s what everyone is thinking about now, as we plunge headlong into the 2016 Election season. No matter which side you’re on, you have to agree that the people who support each candidate are often vehement about it. People are deciding, and it’s early, but you could say that they are choosing with their hearts and not their heads. He or she is MY CANDIDATE, which means the other candidates are stupid or totally misguided.

At least it looks a lot like that to me.

Regardless, when people go out car shopping, they are bringing all their old habits of living and thinking along with them. They may have practical concerns, but car buying is still an emotional process. And that’s why most  people don’t go out shopping for electric cars.

The best reason to buy and drive electric is to protect the planet from the worst effects of climate change. Not burning as much carbon is better. There may be some arguments against this, but they are not coming from anyone who is informed about the situation we’re in.

Besides removing the combustion under the hood, electric cars are smooth and quiet. And, they deliver surprising torque from the get-go. The cars need next to no service, too. Forget oil changes or radiator flushes or hose or belt repairs. They cost less to run. Nice.

So, where’s the rub? Well, you can’t get some of the electrics everywhere. I live in California, and there are plenty here. And, the prices can look expensive. But with great leasing deals, that’s a non-issue.

Driving range can be seen as a concern, but if you have one internal combustion car in the family, it doesn’t have to be. My life of 36-mile-round-trip commuting and local errands perfectly suits Fidelio, my blue Fiat 500e.

What about charging? Do you need to look for chargers and doesn’t it take a long time.? Well, yes, it does take a long time, but if you use Level 2 (240-volt) chargers, it’s much less. But, as a long-time expert in EVs told me, you charge the car while it’s just sitting, doing nothing. It’s no big deal. I normally charge Fidelio at work, and he’s done by lunchtime. Then, I go park him elsewhere, freeing up the charger for the next person. The time to do that is the time I’d spend in a gas station. Granted, it may be more often, but it’s completely manageable.

So, what’s the deal? Maybe it’s just that many people don’t know how great it is to drive an electric car. So… If you have one, take out your friends and family! Give them a chance to see your EV in action. Joel Levin, of Plug-in America, says exactly that. Make it a viral experience. You show your neighbor, who then buys one. Then, the neighbor’s cousin visits and buys one. It takes knowledge and experience to recognize the benefits and pleasures of EVs. And if a pure EV is simply too much, say for a young couple in an apartment who need one all-purpose car, then look at the vast number of hybrid options.

It’s up to us to do something. Choose wisely.

Charging Where You Find It

This weekend, I had an unusual schedule. I played short musical sets for two different events–one each day–in the same building at a local college! In fact, I stood not more than 10 feet away from my Saturday show when I did Sunday’s. I played different basses, too,for different kinds of music.

But this isn’t about music. It’s about a charging opportunity. Normally, I charge the car at work, or occasionally, at home. Home is slow, at Level 1 household current, but it helps top off the tank, so to speak.

However, when I pulled into my musical destination this Saturday, I was looking for a parking spot close to the door. I saw one, and when I got close, realized it was for electric charging! I could plug in to ChargePoint while I was playing. Hooray! As it turned out, I filled the battery to 100% while I was playing my 12 minutes with my band, Tablues, and listening to the other bands in the 53rd Annual Hayward Battle of the Bands.

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Today, Sunday, I performed with the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra in a classical show featuring Bizet and Strauss. This time, I knew where to park, and snagged a spot. I even had a 500e companion! That’s 2 for 2. It’s lucky when you can use your car’s down time to charge up.

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Interesting side note. Today, as I drove to the college where the music was happening, a woman in a Lexus waved to me as we were stopped at a light. I rolled down the window. She asked me how I had driven my little electric Fiat 500e all the way from Michigan! You see, Fidelio, my test car, comes from there and wears a Michigan rear license plate. He was trucked here before being turned over to me. Of course, driving an electric car that’s not a Tesla across the country would be nearly impossible–or certainly very challenging. Funny.

Fidelio the Fiat 500e – The Bonding Begins

Part of the reason for borrowing an all-electric car for three months instead of a week was to not only evaluate the practicality of living with it, but also to see how my feelings would develop. And, as I kind of expected, with my daily driving of a little light-blue Fiat 500e named Fidelio, I am getting attached.

And why not? For driving to work, the car’s superb. Errands–excellent. I’ve traveled 15 miles to the vet, 20 to the hair stylist, 11 miles to the shopping center. My trip to work is 36 miles round trip. So, other than an occasional need to go further, I’m happy.

Here’s how the day works. Because I charged Fidelio at work the day before, when I start him up at 7 a.m., he’s got 45-55 miles of range on the clock, without on the home charger overnight. That means he’s normally facing in toward the garage. If he’d been on the home charger, I’d have backed him in to get the charging socket closer. It’s on the right rear fender, where the gas filler is if you have an engine instead of a motor.

I walk out my gate and there he is. What a cute little car. I’m glad I ordered the retro blue paint and white trim. I push the bottom button on the key fob and open the little hatchback. I place my briefcase back there on its side and close the lid. I pull out 5 dollars for the bridge toll, open the door, and slide in. He’s facing out below–must have been on the charger!

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Yes, I could use Fastrak and ride in the carpool lane, but this little test car isn’t mine and I don’t have the California stickers. It’s OK.

The way to work is pretty much all downhill or level, so the range gauge–a digital display at the bottom of the large circle speedometer–barely changes for the first few miles. In fact, it’s sometimes higher at the bottom of the hill to my house than at the top.

As always, the motor barely emits a sound–just a slight whine as you accelerate. That means that Sirius XM Satellite radio or FM–or Bluetooth streaming from my phone–is crisp and clear. The audio system in the Fiat 500e is pretty good, with woofers in the door and tweeters on the front windshield pillars.

Fidelio flies along through traffic. It does start to get congested as we get closer to the approach to the San Mateo Bridge. But, unless I have an early appointment, I just relax. The white, black and chrome dash is very pleasant to the eye. I especially like the little blue crescent of door trim that’s at the corner where the door and the dash meet. Of course, you can’t see any of the outside of the car from inside, with the short, sloping hood and white, rather than blue, mirrors.

Today, I noticed a dark gray 500e ahead of me. I hoped to catch the driver’s eye and wave to a fellow EV driver, but to no avail. I did get a dark gray Tesla launch itself into traffic a few minutes later, in front of me. He waved–probably to “thank” me for letting him cut in front of me.

We finally get on to the bridge approach, and it slows to a crawl again. No problem. It means I’m charging the battery every time I touch the brake pedal, and I’m using nothing while I’m sitting immobile. Traffic opens up again near the tolls. I drive up to pay my money and always hope the toll taker will say, “Nice car,” or “Is that an electric car?” They never do.In fact, today’s guy literally let out a big yawn! I think that job must be one of the worst.

Even the other electric drivers usually don’t seem to want to display the sense of shared coolness that I feel. I feel less like a journalist and more like a pioneer. There is a sense of being part of a secret society when you drive an all-electric car.

So few of us are driving them now, but we’re right in the heart of traffic, with everyone else. Our cars look normal, especially if there’s a standard gas version available, like with the Fiat 500. But under the hood, they’re really different, and drive with a smooth, quick, silence that’s enjoyable and environmentally cleaner. Some day, we’ll be the norm.

I feel a special sense of camaraderie with Fiat 500e drivers, and belong to a Fiat 500e Facebook group, but we really are more united by the kind of car we drive–and the decision that informed the acquisition–than by the brand. That doesn’t stop me from proudly wearing my FIAT cap, of course.

My exit is approaching and I slow down to take the curve. I can see my office building now ahead, with our company’s name at the top. The six chargers stand at attention along the side as I approach, and I smile when I notice that most of the spaces are free. I back into one, wave my little card in front of the ChargePoint charger, plug in, and I’m off to work. So pleasant, despite the traffic.

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The fueling pattern is different with an electric car. I plug in every morning at work, five days a week, to top off the battery. It normally takes a little over two hours to charge. I usually receive a text message from ChargePoint in late morning telling me Fidelio appears to be full, so I run down and move him out so another EV driver can use the charger. It’s EV etiquette–we have more than a dozen EV and plug-in drivers at my company sharing six spots.

The thing is, with a gas Fiat 500, I’d probably drive through the gas station once a week and spend five minutes filling up. So, the amount of time I need to do something with my EV is minimal, but it’s spread out over the week, and takes advantage of times the car is just sitting there. It’s the same with home charging, except that for me as an EV borrower, not owner, I still don’t have Level 2 240-volt charging at home. So, it takes more like 11 hours to do what 2-1/2 hours will do at work. But the car is just sitting in the driveway, so who cares?

I really like my blue baby. I may even love it. It’s cute, it’s comfortable, it’s nearly silent, and I feel good about cutting my emissions so much, so easily. I have carried my basses and my amplifier to gigs and rehearsals. The only issue that could come up is if I decide to play both kinds of bass at the same gig–or if the gig is 40 miles away. But I’ll work that one out. The other band members all have gas cars I can share. Meanwhile, it’s a pleasure to drive electric now.