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PHOTO CAPTION: Nissan LEAF being charged from 120V outlet, a process that could take 18-20 hours.

Cruising California in a Nissan Leaf

Andrea Sachs puts 400+ miles on electric car in drive around Los Angeles region.

Published: 31-Jan-2011

I probably looked suspicious as I cased the dark, empty building on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, the day barely awake. Locating my target near the front door, I opened the trunk of my car and removed an extension cord with a gas-pump-style handle on one end and a three-pronged plug on the other. I stretched the 25-foot line from the hood to the socket I'd discovered and made the connection. A blue light on the dashboard flickered on as the power trickled into the car's veins. Meanwhile, I disappeared into the shadows until it was time. Time to move on - to the next destination, the next outlet, the next charging fix.

Road-tripping by electric car is an adventure into the unknown, calling for ingenuity, resourcefulness and pluck, the opposite of the gas-fueled car vacation, with its pumps at every exit. In my battery-powered car, I moved like a migratory animal from charging station to charging station, in constant search of sustenance.

Electric vehicles, or EVs, and the infrastructure needed to mobilize them, are still in their infancy. Baby is just learning to walk, or, in this case, drive. But I was eager to experience the emissions-free conveyance that could revolutionize the classic road adventure. So a couple of weeks ago, I settled into a Nissan Leaf (so roomy, so quiet, so smooth) and drove around Southern California - more than 420 miles in total, from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach, to Santa Monica and to Santa Barbara. I set out with two goals, both a bit dreamy: never to run out of battery life, and to bump into the Prius-driving Leonardo DiCaprio, so that I could impress him with the future.

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