Green and Cheap

By Lynn Hollenbeck

    Once upon a time I would skip out the front door of my house in San Francisco, jog to one of three destinations, and return feeling victorious because not only had I completed my run but also some other small errand, powered by my own two feet. I joined Le Video on Ninth near Lincoln, so if I ran to Golden Gate Park I would both drop off and pick up a DVD. On return from Stern Grove, I purchased cilantro and lemons at Taraval Produce. And at the top of Mount Davidson, I ran around the humongous Armenian cross and prayed drive-by.

    All this eco-friendly double-tasking left me feeling quite industrious and “mindful.”

    Then one day we bought an electric car. It can be plugged into our own home electric outlet. We reasoned, however, that because we no longer needed to pay for gas, we shouldn’t have to pay for electricity either. I’m not sure how we arrived at that conclusion. Something like, if we’re giving the environment a break, someone should give us a break.

    We pressed “Charging Stations” on the bright blue futuristic touch-screen dashboard and planned our lives around those locations. On Saturdays I parked at Park Merced Apartments, plugged in the car, and ran Lake Merced. On Sundays I parked at the new Whole Foods on Ocean Avenue, plugged in the car, bought a small bag of groceries for $178, ran to my gym, worked out, and ran back.

    To stretch it out I’d order a Balboa Blast juice, which fortunately took about 20 minutes due to mindfully paced staff wondering if the parsley was kale. Running while charging an electric car for free and in addition bringing home organic food made me feel even more green, thrifty, and superior.

    Because of this great smug and got-something-for-free feeling, we started looking for more reasons to visit charging stations. Noting a station at Civic Center Garage, I checked all of my family’s passports for a reason to visit City Hall. Luckily, two of our passports had expired. Unfortunately, we finished the process before the battery was fully charged. As we passed by the stairs to the rotunda where we had been married, I suggested we walk up there and renew our vows. But neither of us could remember what they were.

    But then one day I found a non-electric car in my usual parking space at Park Merced. I looked around for some kind of security guard to complain to. Until I remembered that I was not actually a resident of Park Merced Apartments.

    Another day I pulled into the garage at Whole Foods and found a blue Prius hogging my space. I finished a cappuccino at Whole Foods Cafe, then checked the garage. Still there. I ordered a Balboa Blast and drank it, then checked again. Still there. I shopped for the entire week. Still there. And the Prius has a gas tank backup!

    Hopping mad, I started up the stairs to complain to customer service. Until I realized that increased surveillance on the Prius might mean increased surveillance on a certain new black Nissan Leaf. Until I realized that the Prius owner had just as much right to complain about me for hogging the space while leaving the store.

    Then Park Merced Apartments starting charging for charging. And Whole Foods hired a security guard who informed me he had an eye on my Leaf.

    Then I got a credit card bill with charges from Whole Foods that could feed a small country. Along with two passport applications rejected because of errors. Which is really too bad because there is a charging station at SFO’s International Terminal.

    Now, even though I return from my run with a DVD, cilantro, lemons, and Greek olives and have put in a word for my family with the Armenian God, I don’t feel as triumphant as I used to. Because there in the driveway sits the Leaf, sucking energy from our outlet.

    But here comes my husband running excitedly out the door and down the porch steps.

    “What can you think of to buy at Walgreens? Their charging stations are still free!”


    Lynn Hollenbeck, an attorney and nonfiction writer, grew up in East Hampton.