A Christmas Car - Part 2

An updated version of Dickens' Christmas classic

By Lee Hart

Again, he was awakened as the clock chimed thirteen times. Scrooge looked about for any hint of a spectral presence, but saw nothing. He checked carefully in each room, without success. His search might have been more thorough if not for the noisome distractions of screeching tires and a loud thumping stereo coming from the street outside. At last he could stand it no longer. He opened his front door and stepped out, only to be nearly run down by an electric blue Datsun as it skidded to a stop.

"Lunatic! I'll have the law on you," Scrooge shouted. "What do you think you're doing here at this hour?"

The driver opened the passenger's door and shouted, "I'm here for you, Oily! Did you forget our appointment?" And with that, he grabbed Scrooge and jerked him into the car so quickly that any chance for further protest was prevented. The door slammed, and without an instant's warning the car shot away with another tire torturing squeal.

Scrooge desperately scrambled for the seat belt as the car careened up the winding road at breakneck speed. Then he covered his ears in a vain attempt to block the pulsating Christmas music wayland from the car's stereo. Only with great difficulty was he then able to tear his eyes off the road to get a look at the driver.

He was thin, and appeared to be middle aged. He had a full beard and mustache, cut rather short and with but a touch of gray. Dark hair protruded out from under a red baseball cap, which was emblazoned with the cryptic word "Optima". He wore jeans and a T-shirt that said "Electrifying Times" across the front. He was a veritable bundle of energy, bouncing about and laughing like a kid on a roller coaster. Noticing Scrooges' gaze, he shot out his hand and said, "Welcome to the spirit of EV's present, old man."

"No, no; just drive if you please," Scrooge shouted back, still shuddering as they weaved past every car on the road at apparently double their speed.

"Oh, this is nothing," was the reply. "I coulda brought the Zombie, but this one's batteries were full and it's got a heater. Twin ceramics, high output blower 'cause I'm running 15v on the DC/DC so it really kicks..."

"You mean this is an electric car?" asked Scrooge.

"Of course! You didn't hear any engine, did you? It's got a 9" ADC motor, Auburn controller, and 156v worth of Optimas. Just look at that E-meter; 600 amps and only a 12v sag. Why, flooded batteries could never..."

"Where are we going?" queried Scrooge.

"Why, to the races, of course!" the drive replied. "You think EVs are only good for grannies and golf carts. I think it's time for a little attitude adjustment. And here we are!"

He turned into a parking lot, and slid into a spot with a screech. Scrooge got out, and looked around. It was a mad scene. Half the cars seemed to be electrics. Many were conversions, sporting license plates like LECTRIC and ZAP IT and NO GAS. Others were clearly custom built, everything from sleek sports cars to boxy plastic bodies like a cheese wedge. People were milling about, chatting enthusiastically. A couple guys were chasing each other around the lot on what appeared to be motorized bar stools. A garden tractor went by with its annoying roar replaced by stereo music.

They walked toward the sounds of cheering, to find a race in progress. Sleek bullet-shaped cars were racing around a tight course. "These are Electrathons," the ghost advised. "The trick is to see how far you can go on a single 12v battery. Good ones will go 40-50 mph, and 30 miles on a charge."

"Amazing," Scrooge replied. "My car couldn't make it to the end of the driveway on so little power."

They watched the race progress. Scrooge was delighted by the absence of noise; he never could stand the racket of conventional auto racing. He could even hear the friendly banter of the drivers as they out-maneuvered each other on the twisty course.

The sound of madly squealing tires caught their attention. "Come on," the spirit said. "Let's see if EVs are really a 'drag'."

They walked over to the grandstands just in time to see a race-prepped Dodge Viper warming up its tires in the right lane, and a wilde red Mazda RX7 lining up in the left lane.

"That's no EV," Scrooge shouted above the noise. That Viper is one of the fastest street legal cars on the road."

"And that's one of the fastest street legal EVs in the left lane. Now you'll see just how fast today's EVs can be!"

The christmas tree flashed green, and the Viper shot away. But the RX7 was even quicker. When the times came up, the RX7 was the winner at 12 seconds and over 114 mph.

"Time's a-wastin," said the spirit. "Gotta get you back before *my* race."

Scrooge was pulled along toward the parking lot. They dodged past various small EVs; electric bikes, Zappy scooters, even some madman on a motorized sofa. As they went through the vendor display area, Scrooge noticed someone familiar admiring a Geo Metro EV conversion.

"Why, that's Bob Cratchit!" he exclaimed. "And that's his wife and Tiny Tim with him. How dare he look at EVs -- why, that's treason!"

"I suppose you were unaware that Tiny Tim suffers from severe asthma. It's particularly bad in the city; air pollution is killing him. Yet they are forced to live there due to your miserly salary and long working hours."

Scrooge said, "I had no idea. But... EVs aren't the answer. They just transfer pollution to power plant smokestacks."

"Save that fertilizer for your astroturf campaigns. You know full well that half our pollution comes from cars. And auto emissions get dumped right where it hurts the most -- in urban areas. Every objective study shows EVs are far more efficient, and reduce pollution substantially."

"But EVs don't have the range," Scrooge countered. "We need to wait for a superbattery."

"Hah! The average guy drives 15,000 miles a year. That's only 41 miles a day. EVs can easily do that with today's batteries."

"The auto companies say EVs aren't practical or affordable."

"What do you expect? They have a vested interest in the status quo. *Your* status quo," said the ghost. "But look around you. EVs are here today, right now. Even a guy in his garage can make 'em work. Major auto company executives are even beginning to admit that the ICE is a dinosaur. Look at Robert Stempel; he left GM to head an EV battery company. Look at William Clay Ford, or Lee Iacocca; they got the message."

By this time they had returned to the car. They climbed in, and Scrooge had another white-knuckled ride back to his home.

"What have you learned?" the ghost prompted as he dropped Scrooge off.

"EVs are better developed than I thought," admitted Scrooge. "I guess I was mislead by the auto companies' propaganda. It seems they left out some important details."

"Perhaps they take the lead from your oil industry propaganda. Would you say it is designed to educate, or misdirect? Think about it, Exonezer."

Scrooge opened his mouth, but made no reply. The car raced up the driveway, and disappeared. Thoughtfully, he returned to his bed. Sleep did not soon come, for there was much upon his mind.

He was awakened again by the chimes of the clock. Eleven... twelve... thirteen. The air seemed thick and oppressive. He rose, and opened the window to get some fresh air. But that only made matters worse; a choking brown fog drifted in, making him cough. He backed away from the window, into something that wasn't there a moment before. Something, or rather, someone.

It was a tall, gaunt figure, robed in black. Its face was invisible, for it wore a mask. It held out a similar mask for Scrooge in its gloved hand, and motioned for him to put it on.

Scrooge did as he was told. "Are you the third spirit that was to visit me? I take it you are the spirit of EV's future?"

The ghost said not a word, but slowly nodded in the affirmative. It reached out to take hold of his hand, but Scrooge held back.

"Spirit, I've been thinking," he said. "Once, I would have gladly looked upon my future. But after tonight I'm not so sure. Now upon seeing you, I fear the future more than anything I have yet witnessed. So please, leave me in my ignorance."

But the ghost grasped his hand, and stepped resolutely out the open window. As for us all, Scrooge had no choice but to be pulled gently but inexorably into the future.

They found themselves on a busy city thoroughfare. But it was not a cheerful scene. The roads were jammed with huge vehicles, crawling in the stop-and-go traffic. There was no sidewalk; Scrooge could see they had been paved over to add lanes. They were forced to walk on the shoulder, dangerously close to the ponderous vehicles. Through tinted windows rolled up tight, one could barely glimpse the lone driver or rarely, a passenger or two.

"The SUV craze has continued with a vengeance," observed Scrooge. "But why are they so big?"

The ghost pointed to a huge billboard along the highway. It displayed an elegant HummVee-sized van with a smiling family inside. It was crushing a rusty economy car, whose maniacal driver was firing at the van with a gun. The text read "Protect your family with 3 tons of armored safety. People get what they deserve."

"I'll bet that thing costs a pretty penny for fuel," Scrooge said appreciatively.

The spirit pointed to a gas station, advertising Regular (85 octane) at $0.99, Premium (87 octane) at $1.29, and EcoGas (whatever that was) at $1.49. It sounded good until he noticed they were priced per liter. "Egad; that's around $5 a gallon! How can it be so high?"

The spirit pointed to a moving-sign billboard displaying news headlines for drivers. It said, "Oil imports top 70%... Recession deepens as mideast war continues... Terrorists now targeting oil refineries... President sends in troops..."

"So it's war again," Scrooge replied sadly. He tried to read more, but his eyes were burning from the acrid air. The hazy yellow sun hung low as if it were winter in a northern latitude, though the air was hot and humid. The smell of car exhaust and smog still crept through his mask, and he could imagine how horrible it would be without it. "Where are the EVs?" he asked the spirit. "I thought they were supposed to reduce this pollution?"

The spirit guided him to a bar, and they went inside. A newspaper was laying on the table. The headline read, "Court upholds lead ban on consumer products as dangerous toxin... Execs say will add $1000 to cost of new cars."

"But that can't be enough to stop it. Surely there are enough alternatives to lead-acid batteries by now."

The spirit pointed to the TV set in the corner. The business announcer was saying, "...filed for bankruptcy after nickel prices hit $10 a pound. In a related story, Mobul-Exon Corporation announced that it has purchased the remaining rights to lithium battery technology. A company spokesman said, "Lithium is promising, but it will take years more research to bring it successfully to market."

"Well, that might raise the cost of batteries, but with gasoline so expensive, EVs should still be more economical."

The ghost returned to the paper, and pointed to another story. The headline read, "EV owner fined $100,000 for illegal charging." The man had secretly charged his EV for years with an unlicensed charger, disguised as an electric dryer. The fine was the estimated costs for evading NEC, UL, DOE, SAE, FCC, HASMAT, and NHTSA regulations, and for unpaid city, county, state, and federal motor vehicle fuel taxes. The article went on to say, "Hart was also indicted as a co-conspirator in an underground internet list of EV activists; further arrests are expected."

"It appears that my machinations had a few unexpected side effects," Scrooge admitted.

The ghost led him from the bar, and to a graveyard. Two grave diggers were just finishing their work.

"He died pretty young, he did," one said.

"There's a lot of it these days," said the other. "Kids don't got the sense to stay indoors."

"Why do they do it?" asked the first. "Can't ride a bike no more. Ain't no sidewalks to walk. The playgrounds is even took down so they don't exert themselves in the bad air."

"Who cares," was the reply. "Let 'em be run down in the street and rid the world of its excess population." Scrooge cringed visibly upon hearing these words.

"Still, his dad sure went off his head over it."

"Oh yeah, how's that?"

"Don't ya know? It's him that dumped a bucket of gas on his boss's head, and torched him off. Said it was all his fault."

"Now there's a bunch that really helps our business," the other quipped. They both chuckled at their grisly humor.

Scrooge asked the spirit, "Why did you bring me here? Who are they talking about?" He edged closer to the grave to read the headstone. "Timothy Cratchit. My God, it's Tiny Tim! So they're talking about Bob Cratchit... and me!"

The spirit made no reply, but stood stiffly with arms crossed. Scrooge could almost imagine a malevolent glare behind that mask.

"Spirit, say it's not true! It's not my fault; or, maybe some of it was, but I've changed! Oh please, I beg of you -- tell me, are these the visions of what *must* be, or only visions of what *might* be?

The spirit made no reply, but its stance did appear to soften.

"Spirit," he cried, falling to his knees. "Hear me! I am not the man that I was. Why show me this if I am past all hope?"

The spirit seemed to consider. Then, it reached down and put a hand on Scrooge's shoulder.

"Oh, thank you spirit," Scrooge said tearfully. "I *will* change. Truly, I *have* learned that mankind is my business. I will use my resources for the good of others. And above all, I will keep the spirit of Christmas alive in my heart always." He grasped the spirit's hand tightly, yet it was as unresponsive as a block of wood. He tried in vain to look into its face, but could see nothing for his tears.

He wiped away the tears on his sleeve... and found himself back in his own bed, hands clasped around his own bedpost. It was daylight; Christmas day.

"What?" he exclaimed. "The spirits did it -- I have another chance! Hah-hah, I'm as giddy as a drunk; as happy as an angel; as merry as a child on Christmas! Oh, spirits, you'll not regret it!"

Scrooge was better than his word; he did all he promised, and more. He sold his SUV, and leased an EV1. He bought a Solectria EV for the Cratchits as a bonus (along with a healthy increase in pay). He even moved his office from the city to a delightful planned community with clean air and blissfully short commuting distances.

Publicly, he joined with other industrial visionaries in promoting alternative energy sources and conservation. He set up independent foundations to counteract the lies and half-truths of the entrenched special interests. He used his fortune to foster R&D to find new solutions to age-old problems.

In short, he worked tirelessly to build a future that worked for everyone, and not just the privileged few. He sought to learn from the past, in order to build a better tomorrow. Some scoffed, or laughed at him, but he cared not. For he was wise enough to know that change never comes without effort, and that pioneers are often derided. He knew in his heart that he was right, and so was happy.

It came to be said that if any man alive knew the true spirit of Christmas, it was Exonezer Scrooge. Peace on Earth, good will toward man. May we all learn from his example. For when that is done, then shall Tiny Tim's blessing be truly earned; "God bless us, every one!"

Times Article Viewed: 7536
Published: 28-Jan-2001

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