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Cape Town, South Africa
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  • Ellen Bassett


As I may have written sometime in the past, I grew up in metro Detroit, as did my husband. Car culture is a real thing in Detroit and I remember two main events associated it. The first, the North American International Auto Show held in Cobo Hall every year. My father who sold things to the auto companies (mainly Ford and we thus always drove Fords) would go there to represent his company (name Bosch was always involved, American or Robert Bosch Corporation). The coverage was intense in the newspapers—new models of cars, scantily clad women posing next to them (which scandalized my proto-feminist self), and general lauding of anything automotive. The other major event was the collective bargaining between the United Auto Workers and the Big Three with the critical question of whether the labor union would go on strike. It made people nervous but also excited to stick it to the corporate overlords. Labor unions, we like to say in Michigan, brought you the middle class.

Leaving Michigan, my rejection of car culture has been pretty complete. We went for a blissful two-year period in Portland, Oregon not even owning a car as transit is so good and we had access to Zipcar. But the move to Charlottesville induced car ownership and we bought a Prius. It has been a workhorse—you can put an amazing amount of lumber in one of those cars. It has been sent back to Oregon for retirement. (And a higher resale than obtainable in VA, where at one time the legislature voted to make low emissions vehicles pay an annual excise tax as they weren’t consuming enough petrol and paying enough gas taxes!)

One can’t live carless here—what did we do? We bought a Tesla! A Model 3. (Public employee, after all.) I’ve decided to name her Tallulah, the Tesla. Zipcar uses alliterations with all their cars: Pokie the Prius, Simon the Subaru, and Moriah the Mercedes. (Made the last one up, pretty sure there are no Mercedes in that fleet.)

I can’t believe how enamored I am with Tallulah. My inner Detroiter has reemerged. Take city streets? No! I want the by-pass so I can accelerate and get the private and silent thrill of speed. Inside the car doesn’t look much like a normal car—essentially the interior is a steering wheel and a large IPad.

But you can tell it is Silicon Valley bros in charge. We took it to a faculty party and the eight-year old son of one of my colleagues told us to look at something cool called “emissions testing.” What can that be about? It’s an electric car.

But—he found it hilarious as I’m afraid did my husband—emissions testing is a joke setting that you can make the car fart when you use your turn signal (yep, there’s a menu of different types). The noises, moreover, can move around from seat to seat and surprise riders in your vehicle. Apparently, these are called “Easter Eggs” – little gifts from Tesla that make driving more fun like giving you a rainbow road and making the car’s icon on the screen the Mars Curiosity Rover. There’s something about Monty Python (hope it is the Philosopher’s Drinking Song) that I’ve not yet tried.

For us though the biggest thrill is our (longstanding) license plate now really saying something. It reads: “TAX CO2”.

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