A couple of weekends ago, I gathered with several friends from high school for a weekend of kayaking on the Hiwassee River like we did last year before we all turned 40. While riding back with my friend Jim Bob (who’s my most car-knowledgeable friend…I tell people he’s “pooped while reading Car & Driver since puberty,” which is the absolute truth), we discussed the fact that our family vehicle is 10 years old, has no a/c, and was recently rear-ended on Roswell Road. I said maybe I should look for a new SUV or another minivan, but that I’d prefer the former (if it weighs > 6,000 lbs and can be a Section 179 deduction this year and be company-owned before becoming a family vehicle), and he said, “Have you looked at the Tesla Model X?” to which I said, “I didn’t know such a creature existed.”
A few days later, I test drove one, expressed some interest, mentioned being an Alabama fan to the sales guy who’s also an Alabama fan, mentioned that Jim Bob had an extra ticket to the ‘Bama-USC game in Dallas and that he wanted to drive there, and wouldn’t it be cool to borrow a Tesla for the road trip? Friday morning of Labor Day weekend, I was pulling out of the showroom in a Tesla Model S 90d (because they didn’t have enough Model X’s for a multiple-day loan). The car was so glorious in its quickness, handling and futuristic displays and features that I was certain I’d end up in 1955 if I just hit 88 miles per hour, so I hit it multiple times just to be sure I was not, in fact, in a time machine.
We’d mapped our course, and as long as the car had a CHAdeMO adapter so that we could charge up at the Nissan dealer in Birmingham, we’d be fine. I’d asked the sales guy twice and was assured there was such an adapter in the trunk, so I was quite disappointed to pull up to the charging station and find no workable adapter.
Luckily, there was a BBQ restaurant across 4 lanes of traffic from the dealer, so a few minutes of live Frogger later, we were comforted by brisket, ribs, and a friend of a friend’s assurance that Alabama Power had a fast charger we could use. A man neither of us had ever met came down to the sidewalk from “just doing some paperwork” to get us into the parking garage and hooked up to the Tesla charger. Having a few hours to kill for enough charge to be delivered, we explored a nearby science museum and an IMAX film narrated by Robert Redford that featured a bunch of national parks out west. We checked the car again, and it said we could go 230 miles. Jackson was 220 miles away (where the nearest Tesla supercharger was), so we figured we were good to go and drove off.
We were not good to go.
We’d hardly left the city limits when the trip computer told us we would not make it to the Jackson supercharger. I suggested we turn around and resume charging at Alabama Power. Jim Bob thought we should keep driving. We continued.
Somewhere around Tuscaloosa, when we still had a long way to Jackson, we realized that if we were to actually make this trip without spending the night on the side of I-20 in rural Mississippi, we’d have to drive much more efficiently than going 80mph+ with 2 grown men and 2 suitcases would afford us. So, I found an 18-wheeler, set the cruise control for 5pmh above the semi’s speed, set the autopilot, and did my best NASCAR drafting impression on its back bumper. We stayed in this position for the next several hours, until it had to pull into a weigh station, and it worked! We now were in positive territory (by about 2 miles) on the miles-to-go/miles-left-on-the-battery ratio.
With the truck gone and another 30 or so miles go go, we had to drop our speed to about 60mph, turn off the a/c, and pray a lot, but we made it to the supercharger with just under 5 miles of wiggle room. I felt like this:
It was just before 9pm, so we were able to get some Chinese at a Mississippi outlet mall food court. Given the circumstances, it was delicious.
Once we were charged, we still had miles to go before we slept, as the hotel reservation was just east of the next supercharger in Shreveport, Louisiana. It was 1am when we tried to pull onto Barksdale Air Force Base, saw that the gate was closed, called the lodging office, drove around to another gate, and then entered the base with about 20 miles of charge left. We’d driven a few minutes when flashing lights ahead signaled a police roadblock. I tried to go around the car in front of me that’d been pulled over (knowing I wasn’t drunk and was completely void of any patience at this point in the evening), but the military policeman signaled that I was to stay put and wait. I decided to wait.
The cop walked up and asked for my license, proof of insurance, and registration. I handed him my Lieutenant Colonel ID and my drivers license as I said, “Yeah–I don’t have any of that stuff. This car was borrowed from a dealer with a handshake. No paperwork.” He walked off as Jim Bob asked me if I wanted to spend the night in the brig. The Airman returned, handed me my IDs, and said, “Have a good evening, Colonel.”
The next morning, we drove straight to the Shreveport charger. In fact, I was so focused on getting the next charge that I forgot to check out, so my phone rang about an hour later, and the base lodging office was asking if I’d left the room yet.
There was a pizza joint in the mall next to the charger, and we had some of the best meat lover’s pizza I’d ever had for breakfast as the car charged. Then, it was off to Lindale, TX where the next supercharger was, and after that, AT&T stadium in Dallas to watch the Crimson Tide beat the Trojans 52-6.
We parked the car a ways from the stadium and used uber to get there and back to avoid possible traffic jams on low voltage. After the game, we headed back to the last supercharger, arriving at 1am. There was a gas station not far away, and pork rinds with hot sauce became our celebratory meal.
The next morning, we returned to the pizza joint by the Shreveport supercharger, but for some reason, the car didn’t charge at all during the 1.5hrs we allowed for such, so we had to use a different charger and sit there for another hour (this would have been avoided if I’d paired the car with the Tesla iphone app that monitors charging progress remotely, but I couldn’t pair the app with a loaner car–I tried). This wouldn’t have been that big a deal, but I really wanted to tour the Vicksburg Civil War battlefield, and by the time we finally got there, it’d been closed about 20 minutes.
We pressed on to Jackson to charge, and then got to Birmingham about midnight, where we left the car in front of a Greek restaurant near Jim Bob’s office that had a charger in its parking lot; I slept in his basement.
The next morning, the car was still in front of the Greek restaurant and had enough charge on it to get me back to Atlanta, where I turned it back into the dealership.
So…was it worth it? Well, charging can be a pain in the ass, but I hear more superchargers are being built in the coming months (including ones along I-20 in Meridian MS, Monroe LA, and Birmingham AL). But what about the driving itself?
It was amazing. It’s the fastest, quickest, and most technologically advanced vehicle I’ve ever driven, ridden in, or seen. It’s also quite comfortable. I loved it.
Afraid of being next to 18-wheelers, because most of your friends are injury lawyers? Not a problem. Tap the gas and go from 80 to 100 in a couple seconds, leaving said 18-wheeler as a dot in your rear view mirror.
But, it’s really expensive.
In late Spring 1998, my friend Todd invited me over to his parents’ house for dinner. His dad had helped me get an interview with IBM, my employer at the time. I’d visited their house 3-4 times over the past few years and enjoyed a good relationship with Todd’s family. As I pulled into the driveway, I noticed something different: a brand new Porsche Boxster in the garage.
Me: “Nice ride! What’s a guy your age doing with a new Porsche?”
Him: “Linda McCartney died at 56.”
And so, I ordered the Model X. I even sprang for the premium stereo package.