When last we left our daring adventurers, they had driven through Atlanta in possibly the city’s worst weekend of traffic. Ever. Their winding path led them to Union City, into the driver’s seat of a 2015 Nissan Leaf. But they were an impossible 90 miles from home, and their shiny electric car had just 70 miles of charge left. What would they do?
Seventy miles, give or take, Mr. Narrator. Take, as it turns out. That mileage estimate proves optimistic, seemingly based on an estimate of in-town driving. Once we hit the interstate, we will find the miles start dropping fast, and it’s clear we’ve got to find a waystation to juice up.
We’ve been eyeing electric cars for a couple years, so I’d already done some research. When we built our carport out back, about 5 years ago, we had it wired for a car charger. And as the idea to buy an electric car began heating up, I dug back into car forums. I discovered PlugShare, a crowdsourced map of places where you can charge up your car, with important notes about who offers free charges, how much commercial ones cost, how crowded they are, and tips for finding the plugs (“Left side of parking lot, by the water spigot”).
So I know there was a Nissan dealership in LaGrange, Georgia, about halfway home. We call to make sure they’re open and make sure we can use their quick-charger. No problem, they says.
I take the first shift, since I’m at least slightly less inclined to have chest pains in big-city traffic. Jenn follows in the truck. I steer us without incident to the Nissan dealer and find the charger, thanks to PlugShare (“Right side of lot, in the grass”). I plug in the quick-charge plug.
Nissan sans charger
We summon help from the showroom. Two men come out and reset the charger. He covers the LCD screen to read it through the late afternoon glare. “Yep, charger’s burned out,” he says with a shrug.
At this point we have 24 miles left in the “tank” and no idea where we might actually find a charge. The Nissan guy suggests we get back on the interstate, drive 18 miles to Alabama, get off, start back on the other way, cross into Georgia, and turn into the welcome station, where he knows there is a charger. I’m skeptical, because that will just about finish off the tank, leaving us with nothing in the event that that charger doesn’t work either.
That’s when I remember PlugShare said a Chick-fil-A that we’d passed just two miles up the road had a charger. It wasn’t free, but, hell, I just want to get home without having to tow my new car.
We found the ChargePoint quick charger there, no problem. I plugged up the car and turned to the machine, trying to figure out how to swipe my credit card and start the juice a-flowin’. I give up and call the 800 number listed, where I have the following conversation:
Me: Hi, I’ve got a brand new Nissan Leaf running on fumes, and I can’t figure out how to make your charger work. Where do I put the credit card?
Nice ChargePoint Support Guy: Happy to help you, sir. You actually have to download the app on your phone and set up an account to use the station.
Me: I have no data plan. And a Windows phone. I’m guessing you don’t have an app for me.
(He’s too polite to say the words, but he’s thinking: “You’re the one.”)
NCSG: Actually you can sign in via the Web when you’re home, but let me get some information from you and we’ll get the station turned on for you.
Me: How do I pay you for today’s charge?
NCSG: Oh, this one’s on us.
I don’t know if he can tell the kind of day I’ve had by my voice, but I wanted to kiss this guy on the mouth. He gets my name, email and phone and turns on the power for me. He can verify on his end that it’s charging and tells me I’ll be topped off in 30-45 minutes. By the time Jenn and I have a chicken sammich, we’ve got enough power to get home with about 40 miles to spare.
Jenn can tell I’m a little frustrated. I might say, between bites, something like, “We just bought a car that we can’t actually get home.”
“Get used to it,” she says. “We’re going to have to rethink how we drive.”
It’s just like us to get a fancy new car that actually makes our lives less convenient, one of us says (and at this point, I can’t even remember which of us). We clink our Styrofoam cups in a toast.
The funny thing is, when we bought that Corolla in 2008, we had a really tough time signing on that bottom line. It’s been a very good car. It got us to the Grand Canyon and back. It’s never needed a major service. But all that said, we never felt anything close to affection for it.
The new car? I caught Jenn actually hugging it the next day.