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For this driver, it’s not easy going green

My perspective began to shift just a tiny little bit the last time I was driving to Seattle. Scaling the pass – in the far left lane, mind you – was one of those Mercedes SmartCars. I was sitting in the passenger seat of my girlfriend’s midsize SUV, and the feeling I had was that of being passed by someone driving a little boy’s pretend car made out of the cardboard box the new fridge had arrived in.

Darn, I thought to myself, can those little cars really do that?

Apparently, yeah, they can.

Then I read about the Zenn – Zero Emissions No Noise – electric car that’s soon to be up for sale at Go Green Electric Cars in Post Falls. The Zenn is a neighborhood electric car made for short and not-so-fast commutes, so I won’t see it on the freeway, but it looks like something a person without an engineering degree wouldn’t be ashamed to drive.

A recent car conversation with a colleague considering buying a hybrid comes to mind. It made me groan – and not in a good way.

“A hybrid? No, you can’t be serious, don’t get a battery car – get a small car maybe, but get a real car.”

The thing is, I love cars, and I’m having the hardest time embracing the hybrid trend for no rational reason whatsoever.

For someone who grew up in a semi-socialist country where the tax on new cars is more than 180 percent (yes, that’s correct) and where gas was four bucks a gallon by the early ‘90s, my car fascination doesn’t make any sense.

Except, perhaps, I was deprived?

Most of the cars I desired were way beyond my financial reach, but somehow my social circle always included a couple of mechanics.

By the time I was 25 I had driven – not owned, mind you – a handful of different Porsches, several Jaguars, a wildly tuned Toyota Celica and the occasional MG the bottom had yet to rust out of.

So when I moved over here in ‘91 and purchased a brand new Ford Escort (not too hot, but hey, it was a GT in that metallic green Mustang color) to fill up with gas that was 99 cents a gallon – I was in heaven.

Was there guilt? Well, I felt a hint of environmental guilt here and there, especially over the years as European environmental laws got stricter and the associated taxation got tougher, all in an attempt to change peoples’ driving behavior.

But hey, I was in America – the land of free-flowing gas and no consequences; I’d paid my dues, I was allowed a little excess and they weren’t changing the laws here.

I did retain some of my European tax-enforced driving habits of always combining errands and refusing to drive across town to visit just one store.

My friends make fun of me because of this, but hey, old habits die hard.

This brings me back to my battery car aversion. I mean, it’s just a difficult concept for a gas sniffer like me to embrace.

So I called my brother looking for a little support.

He owns a BMW repair shop outside of Santa Barbara – he’s my half-brother so biologically speaking we can conclude it’s our dad who passes on the gas gene. I love being in my brother’s shop and I treasure every chance I get to slide into cream-colored leather seats and run my sweaty little hands over the cool, smooth hoods.

I tell my brother about my battery anxiety and how it came on, because I may soon need a new car.

My ‘92 Lexus sedan – named Lydia – is losing her pizazz after more than a quarter-million miles. I love her, but her gas mileage is like that of a long-haul truck and she’s just getting worn.

Visions of Mini Coopers dance in my head – small car, big engine – hot little thing.

And that’s when my brother tells me he’s getting ready to import a special BMW that runs on vegetable oil.

That way, he says, he can start rebuilding California BMWs to do the same thing.

This would be my El Camino-driving, Baja Desert-racing brother, who makes a living fixing some of the sexiest gasoline-consuming cars known to woman.

We’re going to turn the shop green, he says, using some of the recycling techniques he learned back in the old country more than a decade a go.

Oh, that sounds nice, I say, not at all meaning it.

Change is hard, it really is. In my case, I’ll just procrastinate my car decision for another year or so. Maybe by then I’ll come to at least embrace the hybrid option.