Fast cars don’t impress me. Yeah, I like driving them and I certainly wasn’t complaining while zooming around the track at 100mph at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, but you won’t find me ogling a Lamborghini or a Ferrari as they drive by. Give me an old Crown Vic that I can slide around in the rain, or, better yet, a Honda XR250 dirtbike, and I’m a happy gal. If I’m honest, modern automobiles, in general, just don’t do it for me.
“They all look the same now,” I said to Prez, as we walked down the ever-so-fashionable El Paseo Drive recently. The rows of cars on this upscale piece of retail real estate are luxurious but homogeneous.
They really do look alike to me. Car aficionados will cringe when I tell them that nowadays I can’t tell the difference between a Mercedes and a Hyundai. Aerodynamics and engineering have brought automotive manufacturing to a place where the only noticeable differences are between sports car vs truck vs SUV, not between models of the same class.
With one exception.
If you, like me, start feeling the yawns coming on when “car talk” begins, stick with me here. I’m not going to talk about a car; I’m going to talk about the future.
I can’t remember when I first heard about Elon Musk’s baby, the Tesla, but I do remember there being some hype around it. I also recall that the first model, the Tesla Roadster, was exorbitantly expensive, which kept it off my radar because starving writer.
I could list a bunch of boring facts and figures about the car but you can visit the Tesla website for that stuff. Instead, how about all the cool, fun stuff?
How would I know about the cool, fun stuff in a Tesla?
Enter, Tesla Steve.
During our stay at Casa Curmudgeon, at the Deep Canyon Tennis Club in Palm Desert, Prez and I mentioned to our housemates that we had stumbled into a Tesla showroom and how dazzled we were by the model on display.
“Oh, you should meet Tesla Steve. He’d be happy to take you for a ride!” Meg said.
Tesla Steve, aka Steve Varon, is a fellow resident of this little tennis enclave and, as the nickname suggests, a happy Tesla owner. Long story short-ish, Prez tracked him down and made introductions. Tesla Steve, who could also be called Really Friendly Generous and Fun Steve, offered me a chance to ride in and drive his Tesla and I was all over that like a grizzly on Leonardo DiCaprio.
We met at his outside garage where he showed me the first of many Super Cool Tesla Things: the “summon” feature.
“Summon” is a recent upgrade. (Yes, Tesla automatically and wirelessly upgrades your car with the latest features, how cool is that?) Essentially, this feature acts as a driverless valet. As I watched, Steve pressed a button on his fob and seconds later—with us standing outside the car—the Tesla rolled slowly out of its parking stall. Steve pushed the button again. The Tesla rolled back in.
As the owner of a big truck, who is constantly forced to play the “how skinny can I make myself” game in parking lots to avoid smacking other vehicles with her door, I am in deep envy of the “summon” feature.
We jumped in the car and Steve took the wheel. Next Super Cool Tesla Thing? The huge, I mean GIANT, screen in the center of the dash. This touch screen can do anything except pilot a Space X rocket ship, though that will probably be included with one of the wireless upgrades soon. Want to check your email? On the screen. Want a map of every Tesla super charge station in the world? On the screen. Want to use that map to plot a road trip from Seattle to Palm Springs, using your average energy consumption as a guide to plan charging stops? Yep, on the screen.
“OH MY GOSH IT’S QUIET!” This is the next Super Cool Tesla Thing. You can have a whispered conversation while driving on the freeway at 80 mph, that is just how darn quiet the Tesla is. Old fashioned, gas burning vehicles have come a long way in noise reduction but the Tesla beats them all by a laughably wide margin.
I wish I had counted the number of times I giggled, laughed and snorted during my brief Tesla experience. So many features of this car took me by surprise, that I couldn’t help myself. But the biggest laugh of all was reserved for the…
I remember watching some of the Insane Mode reaction videos and thinking, “Yeah, whatever. It can’t be that fast.”
Zero to sixty in 3.1 seconds. I was pushed back in my seat. There were actual g-forces happening. It was insane! I laughed just as hard and loud as all the people in those videos. Fun? Fun doesn’t begin to describe the rush. Even just hammering the accelerator produces a similar effect. This car doesn’t start, it launches! If I owned a Tesla, I would push that button every chance I got. (Steve confessed that he uses it a lot).
Oh, and for an extra $3000 or so, you can get an add-on to the Tesla that will launch you even faster. That’s the Ludicrous Mode.
When it was my turn to drive, Steve told me to try the auto-drive feature. Now, this one is still in beta, so Elon Musk cautions drivers to keep their hands near the wheel and to be ready to take over, but even with the one small glitch we encountered this still qualifies as a Super Cool Tesla Thing. There I was, driving down Hwy 111, three lanes of fast moving traffic, and the Tesla was doing all the work. It changed lanes for me, it slowed down when a vehicle cut in front of me, it kept within the posted speed limit, all while I had my hands off the wheel and my foot off the gas or the brake.
Honestly, auto-drive was a little bizarre. I’m not sure my inner control freak is ready for autonomous cars even if they are the future.
Steve had one stipulation for me to drive his Tesla. I had to “punch it” at least once. I did. I am still smiling.
There were so many Super Cool Tesla Things I can barely remember them all. What I do remember is that for the first time in my life I drove a vehicle with absolutely zero emissions. None. I drove a car that required only two fluids: windshield wiper fluid and brake fluid. I drove a car that was stylish, sporty, powerful, and fast without requiring an ounce of fossil fuel.
I’m not suggesting that all is perfect in Tesla Land. As long as the power used to charge electric cars comes from coal-fired generators or other unclean sources, then we still have a problem. But the Tesla shows us in the best way possible—hands on—what the future can and should be. We don’t have to sacrifice the joy of driving a high performance vehicle to be kind to the environment (and, thus, to ourselves). In fact, it is exactly Tesla’s traditional appeal that makes it such a good idea.
Steve is so enamored with his Tesla (he says it’s the only car he will own from here on out), that I had to know the story behind his purchase. When I asked if he had always intended to buy an electric car, his answer was a firm “No”. A self-described Gear Head, his first love was sports cars and the first sports car he owned was a Porsche. Not exactly the kind of person you associate with an electric car. (I have a difficult time picturing Ed Begley Jr. in a Porsche).
Word of mouth about the Tesla reached Steve and he was curious. He spent a long time considering his purchase but since that first model (this is Steve’s second Tesla), he has never looked back. This is how real environmental change happens in the automobile industry. Not by guilt-tripping or regulating people into slow, ugly, inefficient cars but by making cars that are so much better than any of the fossil fuel alternatives that they become “must haves”.
As I understand it, Elon Musk’s plan was to start with a high end sports model that would excite early adopters and then gradually get to the point where high quality electric cars would become affordable and desirable. From what I’ve seen, he’s on the right path. A year ago, Steve said, there were only four other Teslas in this area. This year I’ve seen several on the road, including during our test ride yesterday.
If Steve is any indication, the best advertising Tesla has is its extremely satisfied owners. He joked that he once owned a T-shirt that read: They lied to us. This was supposed to be the future. Where is my jet-pack?
“This makes me feel better. This is my jet-pack,” Steve said, with a Tesla smile.
There is one aspect of the Tesla that I believe has been overlooked. Watch or read the news any day of the week and you will be bombarded depressing stories, stories that will make you despair for humanity and our future. After five minutes in a Tesla, all that negativity burns away. You see that the future can be fun and hopeful and even a little Insane.
Thanks for letting me share your jet-pack, Steve. Here’s to the future!