The Illustrious Origin Story of Eddy Niels von Yectinbach The Electric Car

In 1998 I acquired a Honda Civic called Sophie. She was a wonderful car, taking me many places: Watsonville, CA; Paducah, KY; Murfreesboro, TN; Hammonton, NJ; Gainesville, FL. We repaired her many times and never thought we would ever need another car. “Man,” I said one time. “I hope we can just keep repairing this car forever.”

Then a deer tried to kill me and we had to give Sophie up to the nice people at the insurance company. Suddenly in need of motorized transportation, I began to explore my options.

“Dear husband,” my wife said during the process, “behold this promotional information from our local electrical company.” She forwarded me an electronic-mail communiqué about a subsidy offer on the cost of an all-new 2016 Nissan LEAF electronic motor carriage.

“I do not think that will suit our many needs, dear wife,” I said. “Thank you for the information, but I would hate to be constrained by the myriad limitations such a transport package requires.” I began looking into used hybrid vehicles.

Then I reconsidered, as my hyperactive brain is wont to do. I realized that 90% of our automotive needs revolve around my daily 20-mile commute to and from the nearby town where I teach. How ever would we take road trips? I wondered. We were under some pressure — the electric company offer was set to expire in less than a week, and the insurance company was eager to snatch up Sophie’s remains. We made lists of pros and cons.

As I pondered, I was invited to join a Facebook group of LEAF owners. I was told I didn’t need to be an actual owner to join, so I did. I inquired about some details, perused the several-years-old Consumer Reports Buying Guides we had lying about, and finally decided to do the environmentally-proper thing.

Imagine never having to buy gas again. Imagine never needing another oil change. Then I realized we didn’t need to buy — in fact, I learned that 75% of those who drive electric vehicles (or EVs, as they are known) lease instead, due to rapidly improving technology. So I arranged for a test drive (it felt exactly like every other car I’ve ever driven), and then said “Okay, let’s do it.” So we did it.

One Story Ends, Another Begins

On my way to swap Sophie for the new car, I realized this was my last chance to play music through Sophie’s system. I put on a mix of very loud hip-hop (Public Enemy, Jedi Mind Tricks, Wu-Tang Clan) and turned the volume all the way to its maximum setting. I expected the speakers to explode or distort horribly, but nothing happened. And by “nothing”, I mean “the awesome music came out real loud”.

At school on the day of the lease signing, I realized I needed to play some appropriate music. Panicked, I checked my iPod Touch to see what I had. I was delighted to find “Electric Avenue” by dub-rock superstar Eddy Grant. “That’s it,” I said to my next-door-teaching neighbor. “His name shall be Eddy.”

I spent two hours at the dealership waiting around and signing paperwork, and then I drove out of the lot blasting “Electric Avenue”. It was a sonically perfect moment. When I got it home, I told my wife about the vehicle’s name. “Niels,” she said. “His name is Niels, like Niels Bohr.”

“No,” I said. “It’s Eddy, like Eddy Grant.” We settled on Niels for a middle name, and then I added “von Yectinbach” because of an awesome name I used once in a short story.

The car came with a standard-looking extension cord for what’s called “trickle charging”: slow electricity from a standard outlet. It can take the car from empty to full in 20 hours. Most days I came home from school, plugged the car in, and it was 85% filled in the morning.

Things got a little tricky when I had to do errands, or we went out in the evening — these things not only consumed more juice, but they cut down on the time allowed for trickle charging. I read stories about people who lost power on the road, and found themselves crawling toward a charger in “Turtle Mode”, a maximum of 5 MPH.

MAX POWER!!

Fortunately, we located and acquired an alternative, in the form of a Clipper Creek HCS-40 EVSE  240V Level 2 EV Charging Station. Similar to the public chargers found in cities across the country, this baby allows us to go from empty to full in a mere four hours. (By the way, anyone looking to have electrical work done in the Madison area should contact Scott Kiel. He is friendly, quick, and professional.)

Even better, there are Level 3 chargers in some spots (including one in Madison and another in Sun Prairie, where I teach) that can fill an EV 80% full in just 30 minutes. (They’re expensive, tho.)

In the future, removable batteries will make life even easier for EV drivers like me. As it is, road trips aren’t really on the horizon. Our car has a range of 115 miles, so I don’t ever plan to take it more than 50 miles from home.

Heat and AC also affect range; as soon as I press the climate control button, the “Distance Remaining” gauge drops 10 miles or so. This isn’t a big deal for me, since I own a good coat and nice gloves. (I never really put Sophie’s heat on more than one notch anyway, except for a few times in the worst bits of February.)

Not Really Mine

The lease aspect has actually given me more pause than the electric part. I’m not used to driving a car that is technically owned by someone else. (This is a profound reflection of my middle-class privilege, I suppose.) I was nervous about applying bumper stickers, because they are sure to have an impact on the residual value. (This is estimated at the start of the lease period, and I pay the difference between the sticker price and the value of the car at the end of three years. Less the electric company subsidy, of course.)

Eventually I threw caution into the wind and bought three cool stickers from Northern Sun, my long-time go-to shop for leftist propaganda. I also found a wicked Public Enemy decal online, and popped it on the rear window. (The cool side effect is the awesome shadow it casts on the back seat.)

Eddy is perfect for us. The back area is a little too small to put Diane’s bike in (as I had hoped to do), but attaching the rack is easy, so it’s no different from Sophie in that respect. With the Level 2 charger I have no more range anxiety whatsoever. Even if I were to drain the battery, I can plug it in at night and it’ll be full in the morning, every time.

The other nice thing is the on-board computer, which recognizes my phone and starts playing music automatically. No more fiddling with aux cables. Hooray! (When I used an aux cord with Sophie, I had to constantly adjust the volume once I returned to headphones.)

Unfortunately, the dealership people didn’t activate something called the TCU, which allows me to connect Eddy to the Nissan App on my phone. As a result I spent several hours trying to sync it up, only to hear from the Nissan Tech Support guy that I needed to make an appointment with the dealer to get it sorted. Apparently it’s a process that takes five minutes, but the guy I spoke to said they wouldn’t have any openings after 4:00 until the end of December.

It doesn’t really matter, because the only reason I want app functionality in the first place is to start the car up in the morning while I’m still inside, and let it warm up while it’s plugged in. On the other hand, I heard recently that the Nissan App is woefully vulnerable to hacking, so maybe I should just leave the TCU unconnected. (Some of the news reports I’ve seen about people hacking into internet-linked cars are distressing. Cars just stop in the middle of the road and stuff.)

All in all, I could not be happier with Eddy. He’s a great lil’ guy, and he even has silly luxuries like seat warmers and a heated steering wheel. He’s kinda bulky, and I can’t wonder how much more efficient he would be if he were smaller. But he’s got really good pickup, and the keyless entry is more enjoyable than I ever expected. (I keep thinking about how nice it would be to abandon ancient mechanistic devices for other locks.)

Plus, we’re going to install solar panels on our roof someday soon. Then — as my lovely wife says — when I drive, I will be “farting out rainbows”. What a time to be alive!

The Didactic Interview: Sofia Ali-Khan

To confront the existential horror of President Trump, I’m joined by my longtime activist friend Sofia Ali-Khan. We discuss our lives as progressive rabble-rousers, educators, and Americans. We sort through the problems we face and some concrete steps for action. Let’s get to work, everybody!

Links to things we discussed:

Here’s the song at the end, “Simply Are” by Arto Lindsay:

10 Things Every American Should Do When a New President is Elected

1. Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Know what it says about the rights of every human being on the planet. Be prepared to stand up for your own rights, and be prepared to defend the rights of other humans.

2. Read the United States Constitution. Know what it says about the rights of every American citizen. Be prepared to stand up for your own rights, and be prepared to defend the rights of other Americans.

3. Build community. Wherever governments or other forces try to violate the rights of people, they have less success when people know each other. Meet your neighbors if you don’t already know them. Reach out to friends and family and reinforce networks of support.

4. Pick a specific movement for good and work with other people. I have been a member of Amnesty International for over 20 years, because I believe in its mission to protect the UDHR. Perhaps you’d like to work specifically to help children, or protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals, or stand up for religious freedom, or defend freedom of the press, or preserve the environment. Whatever issue is most important to you, be active and involved.

5. Stay focused on what people say and do. Avoid demonization and oversimplification. JaySmooth from the website IllDoctrine.com once made a very important video called How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist. If you’ve never seen it, please take three minutes and watch it right now.

6. Learn how to be angry for a long time. As I wrote in my book MindWipe:

It’s absolutely essential for people (especially young people) who fight the power to learn how to be angry for a long time. Otherwise the rage and fury will clot your blood and clog your pores. No one will protect you from the exhaustion and emotional toll these struggles will take; you must protect yourself. And in my experience, bitterness and bile are supreme enemies against which you must be vigilant. Nothing will make you burn out more quickly than succumbing to the belief that there’s no point.

The chapter “How to Be Angry for a Long Time” is on the Medium website. Please have a look.

7. Take care of yourself. Eat well, drink water, breathe deeply, and exercise. Watch funny movies and play fun games. Garden, take walks, or do whatever makes you feel good. Resist the temptation to escape into clouds of oblivion or bottles of despair.

8. Made good art. As Neil Gaiman said: “Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art.” Read the comic from Zen Pencils.

9. Find a book about history and read it. I recommend Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States or perhaps East Timor: Genocide in Paradise by Matthew Jardine. Learn about those people and organizations who have resisted violence and oppression in other places and times.

10. Educate others. If you are unhappy with the result of an election, you must know and/or believe things that other people do know know or understand. Use this opportunity to share important facts and perspectives with which others may be unaware. Stay focused on specific things that people can investigate for themselves. Find common ground where possible and challenge everyone to be their best selves.

On the Prospect of a President Trump

It’s 9:46 PM Central Time and the New York Times just called Ohio for Trump. Things do not look good.

If you voted for Trump because you’re angry about how the economy isn’t helping millions of Americans, I’m with you. We can work together.

If you voted for Trump because you hate the corrupt political machine, I’m with you. We can work together.

If you voted for Trump because you’re fed up with people not recognizing the anger and rage in your community, I’m with you. We can work together.

Let’s find some common ground and fight for a better world.

If you voted for Trump because you hate people whose skin is different, or who speak a different language, or worship a different god, then you can go to hell. I want nothing to do with you. You are everything that is wrong with our country. Please pay close attention to how that hatred causes pain and suffering in the years to come, and change your ways.

Your hatred is never going to make your life better. It will only feed the egos of demagogues and monsters who seek to keep you separated from those with whom you have so much in common.

Everyone makes mistakes. We must learn from them. If you voted for Trump for the right reasons, please pay attention to how little your life actually improves under a Trump presidency.

And for everyone who did not vote Trump — keep your heads up. The people on East Timor never gave up. Harriet Tubman never gave up. Harvey Milk never gave up. They all faced much more terrible conditions than we face. A luta continua, fight the power, keep on keeping on.

Resistance is fertile.