Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Sparrow Down!

It was the belt drive that went. I heard the thunk and the man in the pick-up truck next to me was looking at the rear of the Sparrow and then at me. I was in the far left lane of El Camino, the main road through town.

"I'm down," I said and he slowed to half my speed so I could pass in front of him. So thoughtful. The right lane was empty and I was able to cross it and swoop into a side street on what remaining momentum I had. It was raining and my window was down a few inches for air, but rain was coming in. There was no power to the windows. No power at all. Uh oh. A broken belt was not a serious thing, but no power was more ominous.

"I need a flatbed truck," I told the dispatcher at AAA. A Sparrow cannot be towed. No bumper. A burly, tattooed, tow-truck guy showed up with a flatbed that could fit a Cadillac. He had seen a Sparrow before, but not towed one. "It looks like a banana," he said. It didn't take him long to figure it out and soon he was winching the bird onto the flatbed. It sat right in the middle like a cartoon celebrity on a parade float.

"So where do we go?" he asked, "who works on these?"

"He makes house calls," I said, as I tried to think where to go. Our driveway has a 30° incline. My tow man and I agreed that it would be hard to push 1500lbs of car up an inclined driveway from a road that was also on a hill. I decided to go to my Dad's house, (my stepmother's house now). It wasn't far and it was flat with lots of space. My stepmother wasn't home and her large Volvo was parked smack in the middle of the two-car garage. I couldn't reach her. Turns out she was in Italy on holiday. I measured the space on either side. There was just room to squeeze the Sparrow in with barely inches to spare.

Ed my Sparrow doctor had already come to my house to bleed the brakes and fix the rear brake light. He promised to come that weekend. (He has another job - not much call for Sparrow doctoring). As I suspected, it was more than just the belt. There still was no power to the motor. And it wasn't just a fuse, it was the controller, a major component. Luckily, Ed had one in stock so we wouldn't be waiting on parts. It would be expensive though and take a while as Ed worked on it at home in his spare time. I let him take the Sparrow away on his little flatbed trailer.

Without the Sparrow coming home to roost, it was as though the sun had gone behind a cloud. Both Catherine and I had come to think of the little car as a pet living in the house with us - a mascot to our eco-sensibilities. We had been local ambassadors to an alternative paradigm garnering attention everywhere we went. Without it, our lives were dull, lackluster and ordinary. We were polluters again.

This was exactly how the members of my electric vehicle association (San Francisco chapter) felt after they had leased the electric Th!nk City car from Ford only to have it pried out of their lives when the lease was up. So mad were they that this perfectly viable car was going to be crushed that they organized and started civic actions that led them all the way to Norway where the Th!nk car was made. The only car made in Norway in fact. It was something of a national treasure. Even the king drove one. Norwegians got involved; a banner was dropped from the factory by Greenpeace. Ford relented, sending the cars back to Norway rather than alienate their European customers.

But the Th!nk City drivers turned activists had to start all over again looking for cars. Two bought used Toyota all electric Rav 4s at nearly the same price as new which was already $40,000. They couldn't afford it really, but this was about more than money. This was a lifestyle, an eco-orientation. I, too, felt this way and it was a familiar feeling. It was just like being Gay and here was a whole world trying to tell you it was wrong to want this "alternative lifestyle".

The San Francisco chapter of the EVers met monthly, holding passionate meetings about the latest car sit ins and Prius modifications. I volunteered to staff an electric vehicle booth at the upcoming eco-cities fair (6/3-6/5 at Fort Mason) as part of the UN World Environment Day. San Francisco will be the first U.S. city to host this event since its inception in 1972.


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