A spooky Halloween in Fargo
by, 2013-11-05 at 09:49 PM (11896 Views)
Shortly after my family and I completed our trip to Wildcat Mountain State Park, which was just past the rated range of our 60kWh Model S, I decided that seeing my close friend in Fargo was a realistic 227 mile drive from Plymouth, MN. For those of you who live a safe distance from Fargo, it is a cold and windy place, which makes range a lot harder to judge. After a few false starts for planning recreational activities that did not involve driving, I called my close friend and asked for a weekend that worked for a visit. We ended up choosing the last weekend in October. The last time I drove to see him was many years back, so I was due.
My friend lives in apartment, and I knew I'd be challenged for an outlet. I reached out to the two folks on this forum I knew were in Fargo. Raven (an owner) and Dragonfly were very helpful and even made a couple calls for me. Raven offered his high power outlet, and Dragonfly offered his outdoor 110v. With their help, I felt I could make this trip. Without it, I would not have tried. The only "public" charging stations in Fargo are at the Chevy/Nissan dealership compound; the city is a dystopian wasteland when it comes to public EV charging. More on that later.
Friday rolled around, and as usual on a beautiful weekend, the office was down to a skeleton crew. By the afternoon, even the janitor looked like he wanted us to leave early. I knew I had a long drive, so I drove back to my house. I did not do a range charge in the morning, so I plugged in at home and left once I was packed. Starting with approximately 180 miles of range (at standard charge for a 60kwh), I felt like it would be a bit on the adventurous side. About 20 miles out from Alexandria, I received an alert message on the console. I was keen to read it, since this hadn't happened before. There was a warning about my tire pressure system. I called into the Tesla service number and asked. I told them the message went away, and they said the sensor might need recalibrating, but I was fine. The technician took the time to volunteer all the different messages that show up relating to the tires and a bit on how they work, and I thought to myself "wow, if this had been a Chrysler dealer, they wouldn't have had anyone available over the phone, and I know it would be difficult to get a better understanding of the tire pressure system." Still, it was spooky to get the alert. I had not driven over any road debris, or even a bump in the road.
Although most of the road was 70mph, I heeded Raven's advice to watch my speed in trade for range, and drove 60 mph to Alexandria. I stopped at America's Best Inns and Suites (and RV park), across the street from the bustling small craft airport, and a couple blocks along the highway from a mall. Having spoken to the owner earlier, they knew that I'd be coming, and I paid $10, then found a tidy spot to plug in, which had plenty of options and its own circuit breaker. I suspect the owner was technically inclined to have put this much effort into a couple dozen RV sites:
I took in the ambiance of the place, nodding to the "Beware of Alligators" sign by the pond, observing the gutting shack for fish (the ones not eaten by said alligators, of course), and the almost life-like collection of plastic does and fawns which likely came from a hunter's store. I shared the park with a pop-up camper and a truly gargantuan RV which was also for sale. The owner knew a lot about cars and RVs and campers. In fact, he knew more about Tesla Motors than you might expect, but then, a park full of NEMA 14-50 outlets attracts a lot of EV drivers. When I had spoken to him, I learned that an RV gets about 8 miles to the gallon and usually has a 50 gallon tank. Livewire didn't seem to mind sharing the grid with misfit neighbors at all. Once plugged in, I trotted off to the mall to pass some time looking for socks and then find some dinner. At the restaurant, I thought, being in a rural community, the steak would be good. I was wrong, despite the accolade of my neighbor, who was himself a cattle rancher. They soaked it in an dextrose/salt solution and I could tell right away. Next time, I'm getting the chicken. I was too early for the MMA fight that night, but thanks to my Tesla application, I could tell I was near the goal of recharging to 130 miles (actually 129).
I got back to my Model S, made a couple calls and headed the remaining 106 miles to Fargo/Moorhead, to Dragonfly's place. On the drive to Alexandria, I had averaged 270 Wh per mile, with temperatures in the low 50's and high 40's. With the sun down, I was into the low 40's and facing a notable headwind. When I reached Dragonfly's place, which was alive with the din of a Nerf gun battle in the basement, I had 21 miles of range left, getting 305 Wh mile. My friend picked me up in his snazzy VW GTI, and after cajoling another friend of mine who had left a wedding party which ended before 10:00pm, the three of us went out to enjoy Fargo's nightlife, although part of me wanted to stay and pop off a few foamy rounds in the Nerf melee. I left my car in Dragonfly's driveway overnight, and returned in the morning, thanking them again for the electricity. At 110v, it added about 40 miles for the night.
We headed up to see Raven and his Tesla Model S, named "Saint" because also in his garage is "Sinner," a large SUV with enough cargo space to hold pads and gear for an entire hockey team. Happily drawing about 30 miles/hour of charge, my had friend tailed me in his VW GTI and we went off to do some grocery shopping for the night's sushi party. I was quite distracted by charge times and hours remaining, and realized that although I was picking up a lot of charge at Raven's place, it was charge rate multiplied by time, so the hours really matter. After about 90 minutes, which was about all our schedules could afford, I had accumulated a little more charge at Raven's as I did at Dragonfly's, but there was driving in between, which had some impact. Lunch was when I revealed to my friend my charge anxiety. He thoughtfully called the Nissan dealer and arranged for me to plug in over there. I thanked him, and we worked on our schedules.
The Nissan dealer immediately told me to go to the Chevrolet dealer next door, saying they were "having problems" with their charger. I should note that pulling in with a Tesla caused quite a stir. One fine fellow couldn't get enough of the car and I asked him to ride with me over to the other lot. He was thrilled and made sure to get his picture with the Model S. When I arrived at the Chevrolet dealer, I was told to pull into the garage. The first thing I noticed was that the entire building, including the show floor, reeked of exhaust and grease. Look, I don't smell like roses myself, but I'm not a bio-hazard, and exhaust fumes can kill you. When I was in the service area, I created quite a crowd. Probably 15-20 people stopped their work and came over to admire the Model S. Perhaps it was the sickly lighting, but I would swear that Livewire turned slightly pink, blushing from all the attention. I was directed to pull into a service bay of some sort. It was dingy, covered in grime, and there was a hoist I had to navigate over. We gave up on that, as someone pointed out that the corners of the hoist might blow out my tires. I plugged in next to a van from the 80's on the other side of a wall, and a pile of bald tires. I noted 8 miles per hour and thought what an odd charge rate. It was 15 amps at 220v. I left for the "show floor" and gave some free advice to the guy in charge of selling Volts. He was attentive and appreciative and probably 19 years old.
After that, I strode over to the Nissan dealer. Their power had just gone out, so maybe they did have some issues with their charger after all. I talked with the guy "specially trained" to sell the Nissan Leaf (he claimed there is no special training, Nissan could care less, they apparently only explain the delivery process). He was, plainly, a jackass. He asked me where I was from, why I drove to Fargo, and when I was leaving, all with a bit of a sneer on his face, atypical for someone in sales. Undeterred, I gave him the input I could in regards to what an EV buyer might be looking for and how charging infrastructure was something he should be pushing for. I explained the technological benefits of an electric vehicle, and suggested target markets and events at NDSU where he might show the vehicle. I offered comments I had received from manning the EV Eco Experience for a couple hours at the Minnesota State Fair. At this point, the guy said he sold 2-3 Leafs a year, and why would he bother trying to sell them when he could sell the Juke. He said his family would starve if he tried to sell the Nissan Leaf. I made a courtesy smile, shook his hand and walked off. I caught up with the excited staffer who had his picture taken with my car. He showed me what a Juke looked like. It was all wrong, like a super-model who managed to put her shirt on upside-down. It was truly a chimera of a car, borrowing the worst looks from the entire Nissan line-up and stuffing it into one design. After a couple minutes, the "Leaf specialist" emerged with a buried grin, telling me the power had gone out at the Chevrolet dealer and they unplugged my car because they "couldn't work on it if they broke it." I smirked at the stupidity, thinking "only Chevrolet might make a car which couldn't handle a power outage," and wondered if he hadn't called over and asked them to unplug it "for me" or any other number of scenarios. All told, I had a net of less than 4 miles with a lot of heartache. I turned to the excited fellow and said "I think the only reason I came here was for you. It took me several miles to drive here, and it was a net of zero miles for the short span of time I was plugged in." I quietly postulated the reason the power was out was the dealership management threw the main power to kick me out. Given the staff response to my car, I can see it as a morale issue, long-term. I also thought perhaps they wanted to circulate the rumor that my car, drawing about enough power to run two vacuum cleaners, was an overload on their circuits. Good riddance!
Upon leaving what was truly a miserable and depressing place, with bad smells, filth, an abrasive sales personality, naivete, and darkness, I slipped silently out of that horror and drove to my friend's parents' place to plug in at their outside outlet. I did the math sitting in the driveway, and again, it was truly a waste of time to have stopped at the dealership. I knew I would have plenty of charge to get to Alexandria if I left after 1:00pm on Sunday, which had been my plan. My friend consoled me, I promised his Mom a joy ride after church the next morning, and I briefly called the Tesla service center to let them know that the dealership was not a valid recharge option and ask what to do about the tire pressure sensor. The service center manager quipped that I'd probably sold more Tesla Model S vehicles than the guy at the Nissan dealer had sold Leafs this year, and I suddenly felt better. He also had some advice/options for plugging in and it was quite clear in reflection that I was merely a glutton for punishment by stopping at the dealer. I wanted the dealer experience, whatever it was. I needed a good scare. It felt a little like I was a time traveler, misunderstood by people living in a backwards era, some marveling at the new technology, others seeking ways of making the change it represented from altering their structure of control.
After a very full night of fun with my friend, and a relaxed and rejuvenating Sunday morning, we arrived at his parents' place. The requisite joy ride was issued, complete with a silent and smooth rapid acceleration to 90, I enjoyed the grin I had bestowed upon my passenger. I said goodbyes and was off to my drive home, with a daring 151 miles of range.
In the early part of this year, my wife driving our Model S from Plymouth to a dozen yarn shops across the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metro drew plenty of excitement from other drivers, complete with photos and honking. Today, that has largely subsided but you can still catch some pointing now and again, reading lips that say "OMG, that's a Tesla." If you are a new owner and you want to experience that, I strongly suggest driving somewhere like Fargo. On my first leg from Fargo to Alexandria, I was passed (again, driving 60 and not posted 70mph) by several enthusiastic individuals who lost all sense of the word "cool" in their reactions. Strangely, two such reactions came from sedans with hand cart dollies attached to their bumpers. I do not understand this phenomenon, but my guess is that it has something to do with beer because of the proximity to Fargo.
My first leg to Alexandria was averaging 270 Wh/mile, and that was likely due to the tail wind. It is a bit hilly coming out of the Red River valley, but not by much. I returned to the same RV park as before, paid my $10 fee, and walked off in search of a different dining experience. I found a newly opened Chinese restaurant, and was delighted to have a decent pot of Jasmine tea with my late lunch. I remarked that it wasn't spicy enough for Hunan cuisine, and the owner immediately asked if I was from the area. I said no, and he explained that nobody in Alexandria seems to want it appropriately spicy. I said I'd come again and request culturally-appropriate spice levels. Since the owner was a recent immigrant, I was pleased to let him know that Minnesota isn't universally spice-averse. I returned to my Model S, observing 129 miles of range were back in the battery, after about a two hour stop.
On my second leg home, I started doing a bit more thinking, and decided I could run at 64 miles an hour instead of 60. This worked, and I arrived home with 6 miles of range left, averaging 279 Wh/mile. Knowing how far you are from home makes a big difference when it comes to range anxiety. You simply can't pull a range stunt like this in a Nissan Leaf; Tesla has made a vehicle that tells you, precisely, how far you are from your destination, and gives you an instant read-out of how much electricity you are using to get there. A little arithmetic is enough to make the estimates.
I know that the Supercharger routes will someday get us between Fargo and Minneapolis with posted limits and a scant bathroom break in Alexandria. In the meantime, this is a doable route in a 60kwh Model S without even a range charge. Thank goodness that RV park owners in small towns, perhaps due to the Roadster drivers that preceded me, know a lot more about electric cars than you would expect. My last adventure in my first calendar year of owning a Tesla Model S will be in less than a month, to Chicago. This pales in comparison to news from another local who plans on driving his 60kwh Model S to Toronto this Christmas.