My hybrid car proves I’m an anal nutcase
My spousal unit thinks I’m nuts.Actually, if asked, she’d likely say she doesn’t think I’m nuts, she knows I’m nuts, particularly with regard to the topic at hand: our Toyota Hybrid Prius, and its gas mileage.Or, more specifically, regarding what we can, indeed must do, to maximize our gas mileage given the fact that pretty soon we’re going to have to submit profit-and-loss statements and perhaps take out mini-liens on home mortgages every time we stop at the gas pump.OK, I admit I can get a bit “anal,” as she calls me, about the subject, notably with my insistent harangues that she ease up on her lead-footed driving habits to keep the mileage up.But the fact is, we’re getting 60 miles to the gallon, far better than the mileage estimates inscribed on the sticker when we bought the thing. This, despite another, slightly more embarrassing fact: Having the Prius has put me in the odd position of owning a car that gets better gas mileage than my motorcycle, about 30 percent better.What brought all this up was a news story recently about the fact that certain hybrid-driven cars – chiefly the hybrid SUVs that are too big and heavy to get very good mileage – don’t pass muster with Aspen’s parking department. You see, the City Council a few years back passed a law permitting hybrid cars to park in the residential neighborhoods surrounding the commercial core indefinitely, rather than having to obey the two-hour limit on cars that don’t belong to a neighborhood resident. It was an incentive for commuters to drive more efficient cars.This parking benefit has been a heaven-sent boon to me. In the warmer months I generally ride my trusty old Moto Guzzi motorcycle, which also can be parked just about anywhere for free.But in the dead of winter I have to drive a car. I’d happily take the bus from my home in Carbondale, but my work requires that I be ready at any moment to buzz off down the road chasing a story.So, I’m a commuter, something I swore I would never be and managed to avoid for decades by living in whatever town I was working in.The pleasures of owning a Prius are multiple. In addition to the parking, you have a cool display on the dashboard that gives instant readout of your gas mileage at the moment, and over the previous 30 minutes. This means you can adjust your gas-pedal attitude from moment to moment to keep the mileage indicator at its highest point.There are some unfortunate side effects, not least the fact that while you’re staring at the mileage readout you’re not looking at the road in front of you. This can be disastrous, so it’s an exercise in discipline to train yourself to shift your glance back and forth from the readout to the road. I’m sure this training will have a benefit of some sort, some time, though I’ll be damned if I can think of what it might be.There’s also the fact that the thing has a tighter turning radius than a kid’s tricycle, and is almost as short, meaning parallel parking is miraculously quick and easy.There are, of course, drawbacks. One is that in order to keep the mileage up you’ve got to watch your speed. The Prius is most efficient, interestingly, at the posted speed limits or slightly lower speeds. This causes discomfort among some of my fellow commuters, who appear to believe that if they can drive 10 or 20 mph over the limit, their lives will be less dreary.I know from long experience that this isn’t so, and I could tell them if they’d only ask me. But the only communication I normally get from them is either of the hand-signal variety or the alarming sight of their huge bumper careening toward me in my rearview mirror, veering off only at the very last second and missing me by inches as they roar through in the next lane.The implied passive-aggressive assault sometimes is accompanied by a hand signal for added emphasis, though in most cases the driver is frowningly intent on his or her windshield. I smile and drive blithely on.For the entertainment value alone, owning a Prius is worth the cost of admission, even though my spousal unit knows I’m an anal nutcase.John Colson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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