Road Trips, R.I.P. - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Road Trips, R.I.P.

First, they came for our lightbulbs. Then, our plastic straws. Then, they came for our polystyrene cups and plates and our packing peanuts, and, during COVID, they made us strap masks on our faces and poked needles in our arms and made Purell dispensers part of our daily regimen and kept us out of church and school and stadiums and arenas, and even golf courses in some places (like Michigan), all because, well, because they could. They’re the government. They only want to, as Big Jim Wright used to say, “help you.”

And in a few years, they’ll be coming after our gas-fueled internal-combustion-engine (ICE) cars.

California, which is where ideas are born — good and bad, from the hula hoop and the drive-thru to pet rocks and Valleyspeak — has passed a law mandating that all new cars sold in the state, starting in 2035, be electric. It has also set a goal of five million zero-emission vehicles on the roads by 2030. And, as things go in this country, other states will scratch each other’s eyes out to get in line behind the Golden State. Virginia and 16 other states have already signed on to some or all of California’s tailpipe emission standards, which are stricter than federal rules.

And what the death of gas-fueled internal-combustion-engine cars means is the death of the road trip as we know it.

Shed a tear for this. Shed a tear as government rolls up the blacktop that beckons with its siren call of the open road. As the opprobrious blue noses mapping our daily lives eliminate one of the great enticements of the American way of life, the joy of the long drive.

What the death of gas-fueled internal-combustion-engine cars means is the death of the road trip as we know it.

And don’t believe the stories plumping the glories of the electric vehicle (EV) road trip. The road trip is not dead, say the many EVangelists of environmentalism blurbing about the virtues of an EV utopia. Road trips are possible in an EV, indeed, enjoyable and oh so virtuous, the many published pieces preach (here, here, here, here, and here). Chargers beckon, the pertinent apps locate myriads of them; there’s fun and excitement to be had cruising the country, sitting atop a thousand-pound battery, and basking in the self-righteous glow of unsullied green virtue. Why, if you have a Tesla, an onboard navigation system can map out your route and designate each charging station you’ll need to stop at during your trip and how long you’ll be detained at each. The car will even pump in fake engine noise for verisimilitude. Who says you can’t road-trip in an EV?

But first, you’ll want to pop $100,000 on a Tesla, and if Brother Musk’s pride and joy is outside your price range, pony up untold tens of thousands more for that EV than you’d pay for an ICE vehicle.

In that vehicle, you will have, on average, a 250-mile range on your fully charged battery, so you’ll want to minimize battery use. This is easier said than done. If you happen to be fighting a wind, the battery drains faster; driving in cold temperatures also drains the battery faster, as does driving in heat. Punching it when the stoplight turns green drains the battery faster; driving with the air-conditioning or heat turned on drains the battery faster. Also, going steady speeds, like 75 mph across Nebraska, will drain the battery more than driving the slow-and-go freeways of Los Angeles. Luckily for EV road-trippers, there are lots of Direct Current (DC) fast chargers in … um … Nebraska.

Unlikely. The only charger that makes any sense for a road trip is a level-3 DC fast-charging outlet. These are concentrated along freeways on the coasts or in hotspot lefty enclaves — Austin, Denver, etc. — or big cities like Chicago, and some, it must be admitted, are accessible and convenient, right off freeway exits, kind of like, you know, gas stations. They’ll recharge in less than an hour. But often you’re hiking a couple of miles off the freeway to a shopping center to find one, or a Target or a Walmart, where way in the back stands a row of chargers. Some work, some don’t; some are down for maintenance; some are occupied. If you’re in a city, with a little effort, you can probably find a DC fast charger. If you’re out in the country, where road trips happen, or on a two-lane highway anywhere, you’re out in the land of level-2 chargers — and you’re looking at a four-to-10-hour wait to return your EV to full charge. Level 1 means plugging into an electrical outlet and waiting 50 hours. (READ MORE: Electric Vehicles Are Ruining Everything We Love About Cars)

I don’t have to tell you that the constant concern on an EV road trip is the battery. Said one EV road-tripper, “What surprised me most about my EV road trip was how much time I ended up spending thinking about my next charge.” It’s called range anxiety — it’s a thing, an actual term — and this EV road-tripper is talking about the high-grade variety. The low-grade version consists of watching the battery level on your dashboard recede little by little with every mile you drive. Range anxiety kicks in the moment you leave one charger and abates the moment you find another, only to kick in again when you leave that one. It is the EV road-tripper’s constant companion; it’s riding shotgun and nagging at you the whole way.

Range anxiety, driving restrictions, unreliable “fuel” availability — that is no way to do a road trip.

The road trip is a great American rite of passage. It’s spontaneous; it’s getting in your car and going; it’s driving on whatever two-laner you want to, when you want to, unconfined by energy considerations to the interstate. It’s driving all night to get to … well, somewhere probably, but not necessarily anywhere in particular. It’s undistilled freedom.

Range anxiety, driving restrictions, unreliable “fuel” availability — that is no way to do a road trip.

It’s ingrained in American culture, a romantic notion, to be sure, but it’s part of who we are as Americans. Maybe we did our first one in a hand-me-down beater, the kind we had when we were kids or still have because we’re poor. My first car was a ’64 Buick Special my dad bought for me for $75, whose trunk opened only with a screwdriver — it offered me the thrill of mobility and took me cross-country at least a half-dozen times. Then it was a ’63 Oldsmobile with push-button transmission and no radio, which carried me from Milwaukee to Seattle, and then to San Diego.

I could go on, as I’m sure you could as well. Those early cars of one’s life offered mobility, freedom; the vehicles that signaled adulthood, that you were on your own. That you could go where you wanted to go.

Road trips were the apex of that independence, the quiddity. They offered continual excitement, enjoyment. We all have fond memories of these. For me, it’s the 4 a.m. starts. The cold can of whatever between the legs. The rolled-down windows and the singalong with Bruce Springsteen. The middle-of-the-night nap under the overhead lights of a Denny’s parking lot. The Slim Jims and Ho Hos and Circle K slushies. The AM radio stations that boomed out of the dashboard on the long, languid stretches — the 50,000-watt blowtorches, the KOAs, the WLWs, the KSLs and WLSs and WJRs and KMOXs — and the all-night talk hosts who kept you awake with tales of ghosts and UFOs and all things creepy and weird — George Noory, and before him, Art Bell. There was an excitement to those trips, an allure, a hardly-sleeping-the-night-before anticipation.

The great, epic road trip is, clearly, one of the best things about being alive in the United States of America.

And now, by pulling us out of ICE cars and planting us in EVs — this will happen, if not right away, then eventually — the government will confine us to city driving and meticulously planned interstate travel, to destinations accessible only by routes replete with charging stations. The true road trip will become another element of America’s late, great, freedom-loving past.

And that, if it happens, is worth a tear.

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