We Get Letters Too - Today Show's Hybrid Driver is in the House

great-american-gas-01.jpgA week ago I wrote about the Today Show's "Great American Gas Challenge"; the idea was to see the real-world impact of driving a hybrid instead of a regular gas-powered car for a family during a vacation. Well, the man who was behind the wheel of that Civic hybrid was nice enough to write us about his experience and provide details that were not available from the Today Show. I now leave you with Brian "not a tree hugger - but a tree lover" Pletcher:Hi,
This is Brian, one of the family members that drove the Hybrid Civic across the country. If the readers here don't mind indulging me, I would like to tell you a little about the trip and the decisions we made.

The grand canyon tour (and lodging) was the only event that was arranged by NBC. Since we left Santa Monica at 3PM on a FRIDAY AFTERNOON we were delighted that it was prearranged - even if it wasn't the most ecologically 'green' thing to do. For those not familiar with the traffic we faced on our 464 mile first leg of the 6 day trip, it took us 4 hours to travel the first 53 miles (Ontario, CA) where we stopped for a quick break and some subway sandwiches.

We didn't get into Grand Canyon until 2AM and had originally been scheduled for a 8AM flight (which meant we had to get up at 5). I say this not to complain - we had a great time on the trip, but to put things into perspective. As much as we wanted to be the "green family", we found the real challenge not to be what we spent at the pumps, nor the obvious benefits of the hybrid Civic, but merely to stay awake and make our daily destinations safely and on time for the morning segment on the Today Show. The producers of the show generally did a great job of planning the trip, however all of them are in their 20s and are not familiar with, nor have ever traveled with children. So they likely figured something along the lines of: "mapquest says 464 miles should take 7 hours, 8 minutes so if they stop for gas and a bite to eat they will be in Grand Canyon by 11PM". With young children in a small cars, frequent stops to get out and run and play are a MUST.

Our family did several things to focus OUR attention on the "Green" aspects of our adventure. We attempted to recycle, however found facilities for this few and far between in our travels across the country. Most places we asked looked at us as if we were crazy when we asked where the recycling bins were.

The most stunning example of a wasted opportunity for recycling was on our return flight home. We flew Delta Song airlines and we and the other passengers were served (several times) the small bottles of water our family tries to stay away from (we prefer refillable sport bottles). Although this likely represented the majority of the waste generated on this flight, we were stunned to find that they didn't bother to separate and recycle the bottles. We asked about it and were met with the same blank stare we got across the country when searching for a recycle bin.

We were sensitive to the 'non-green' aspects of a helicopter tour, and when we woke up at 5AM (and wisely rescheduled the tour to a later time) we found that we could upgrade to state of the art, quieter, more efficient helicopter - which we did. See wwwDOTpapillonDOTcom/index.php?cPath=34_41 (link omitted as this is not an ad) for details.

If NBC had the time to examine the other stops we made they would have found us: walking in the woods of Michigan (we couldn't get out of Chicago soon enough), stopping at a small diner in Amish country in Pennsylvania, spending our extra money in small family run shops when possible, visiting the "old town museum" and "Kit Carson County carousel" in Burlington, CO. and shopping in markets and eating whole food, instead of wastefully packaged fast foods.

Although impressed with the performance and relative comfort of the Civic Hybrid, as I mentioned on the show, I was more interested in the simplicity and low emissions of the natural gas version of the Civic. We went and test drove one today, and I am still not convinced it is the right vehicle for us. If I commuted more than 8 miles, or had a need to be a single rider in the carpool lane, it would be a no-brainer. However, since this isn't the case, it is hard to swallow the nearly $6000 premium and complete lack of choices of accessories this car offers. For 22,000, it is a pretty bare bones car. For the amount of emissions I would save with my 16 mile commute, I think my 'green' could make more of a green difference in other ways, like insulating our house by putting in double-pane glass. I could do that and still buy a fairly loaded gas version of the Civic, which is still much cleaner than my older model Toyota wagon. I really wish that NGV's were more available and reasonably priced.

Although in general I believe that the sort of anti-punitive "act right, or it will cost you" aspects of the Today show gas challenge needn't have been the focus (and aren't a good way to get people to "see the light") I was delighted to participate in anything that underscores what's wrong with this country's need to guzzle gas for no real reason.

Sure, the world would be a better place with more people living like the Amish we visited, but think the everyone has to do what they can - within reason - to prolong the life of our planet. I am proud to have convinced the organizers of our city's Earth Day several years ago to have recycle bins more readily available. But I don't want you to get me wrong, we do take airplanes when it makes sense, and sometimes take vacations in a motorhome, and did enjoy the helicopter tour, but also try to make a difference whenever possible and are mindful of our consumption.

OK, maybe not a tree hugger - but a tree lover,
Brian Pletcher

[by MGR]


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