In which I drive a hybrid Ford for a weekend
Most of you know my family is fully car-free (we finally got rid of our three-years-lying-fallow car last month). And at least one of you expressed shock to hear I was test-driving a Ford Escape hybrid this past weekend. Was the world coming to an end? No, the people in Ford's social media group are working to create buzz about their hybrids by offering 'em to mama bloggers for test drives, and I was an eager participant. So was my husband, who, though he was weaned from his mother's chauffeur services on his 10-speed, and actually spent some time in the early '90s as a bike messenger, is a bit of a car addict.
One of the reasons I was eager to forgo our car was his nasty habit of driving to Trader Joe's... three blocks away. But when we found out he'd be going to Iraq this summer; changing our financial situation from just north of "desperate" to a few ticks shy of "flush," he began to sneak this phrase into conversation: "I've been thinking when I come back, we could use some of my money to get a hybrid..." Or this one: "If I get that job as a cop I could drive to work in a hybrid..."
"No!" I'd say, firmly. "No cars!" I love the money we save, $200-300 per month just in gas, insurance and tags; I love that we have to think carefully about all our bike trips, keeping us closer to home; I love my conscience, clean as the air around me as I bike. I've made a significant reduction in my workload so I can spend more time with the kids, in the garden, cooking food; we don't have room in that budget for even the barest car expense. I don't want that to change.
But. I'm all for a test drive. Just to see. Thursday morning, some nice people from Ford delivered us the sparkliest Escape Hybrid you've ever seen. I immediately hopped in with Truman and Monroe to pick up some film on the way to preschool (an impossible task on the bike; my fave film store is Citizen's Photo, about 4 miles from home). They leave us with a rundown on our car... $33,725 including "destination and delivery" for the model in our driveway. But "THIS VEHICLE NOT FOR SALE," said the page. At least there's that...
The kids, and let's be honest, the parents too, loved this car. On Friday afternoon, after the obligatory neighborhood joyriding, we set out on a three-day "camping" trip, sleeping in tents on my parents' and a friends' properties in rural Oregon. As we buckled up, boys freaking out with joy over spending hours upon hours in close physical contact with a car! with a motor! and windows! and lights! and oh, the navigation system!!!, my husband joked, "I'm going to leave you for this car!" While he was uttering that disloyal phrase, I had started to feel guilty for cheating on my bike, which we'd locked up in the basement.
The hybrid technology worked beautifully; the battery took over on the many downhills in the Pacific Coast range on the way to and from grandma's house, at stoplights, and whenever the car idled. We had one major snafu due to the children's love for turning on every light, pushing every button; I left my laptop plugged into the (awesome) power outlet to charge for a few hours (we lost track of time in the warm sun) and, it seems, the brights had also been left on. While we played in the stream on whose banks we were camping, the battery went blooey, and had to be given a jump by our nice hosts. Thankfully, no outside assistance or embarrassing calls to Ford were required.
It was a bargain; we'd been told to deliver the car back with at least a quarter tank, and we never had to stop at a gas station despite over 200 miles of driving. Our grand total expenses, other than groceries we would have bought anyway: $3 for marshmallows and $1.75 for coffee at a Dutch Bros. drive through (oh drive through coffee, how I've missed you). And it's fun driving such a lovely, shiny, leather-clad car; I could hearken back to the days when my departed SUV was new. Our culture gives big points for one's ability to spend lots of money on a shiny, well-made car, and today we can even get cred for the low-emissions technology.
And that's when I remembered the admiring glances I get as serious bikers, clad in spandex and bright-colored jerseys, pass me on my mamabikeorama with two or three boys and panniers full of produce. Though this is partly due to my pretty bike, it's also more admiration for what I'm doing, not what I'm spending, and this is where I'd rather score societal cool points.
Todd asked if the hybrid would pencil out as more economical than bikes for a big family. I wrinkled my nose and thought for a while and came up with no, unless: your children are all older than six but younger than 18 and you ride Tri-Met enough to be paying for monthly passes. We only ride a few trips a month, less in the summer; until July we don't have to pay fares for any of the children. (Also, you'd have to ignore the car payment in that calculation, which is, at $600 or $700 a month, more than I can ever imagine spending on bikes -- our most spendy year ever was last year, and we spent less than $2,000, or about three months' car payments.)
If you don't think you can go car-free, and you can't bear the thought of a tiny Fusion or another mini hybrid? The Escape Hybrid is a nice choice. And if we rent a car for a weekend excursion again, I'll be sure to ask for an Escape Hybrid, and I'll be sure and bring gifts home to my mamabikeorama to assuage my guilt.