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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

June Trip 2014 - Part 3: A Capitol Idea

Whew.  We'd made it through The Longest Day.  Whooshing and warping around Philadelphia and New Jersey had taken their toll.  The wedding and rehearsal were exhausting.  The traffic and immediate rerouting and recalculating our charges were taxing... but we had made it.  We woke up with a renewed sense of relaxation and ready to continue our journey.
Unfortunately, that journey meant going BACK through the Newark, DE Supercharger... but we'd be doing in on a Sunday morning.  Surely the city of Brotherly Love would have all its citizens clustered in houses of worship and thereby clearing the highways for us, right?  Right??

After all the drama and stress of the previous day, when I woke up I couldn't help but lay there in bed and reflect on it all.  Sure we'd had some issues of anxiety but they were all related to the timing of things and that being messed up by traffic.  When you really boiled it all down, it had nothing to with an electric car.   We'd driven through four states without ever being even remotely close to running out of battery power.  We had spent-- from home on up through the wedding festivities-- a total of about 45 minutes charging (each charge about 15 minutes, except for Hagerstown-- but that was because WE weren't done with lunch, not because the car wasn't).   Pretty darn impressive.
And yet, as I looked out the guest room window in admiration of the technological achievement that Tesla had built for us, I couldn't help but feel a little guilty.  Yep.  There she sat.  Parked in the mulch pile.  I'm sorry Elon, it was the only parking spot available!

Okay.  There was one more charging stop that I haven't mentioned yet.  Maybe it would make the difference for some prospective buyer-- maybe not-- but this is a blog about truth.   And you may recall that when I left the Hamilton Supercharger Friday evening I mentioned that I had acquired enough range for all the wedding festivities... but NOT for the return trip to the Newark Supercharger.  The big limitation of electric cars-- even amazing ones-- is that you WILL need to charge them.  Not being able to charge them while YOU are recharging (aka overnight) means you'll be doing it while you are awake or-- in the case-- when we WISHED we were sleeping.  Destination charging, my friends, is what makes the EV world better.
If you DON'T get a charge when it is convenient, it means you WILL get a charge when it is inconvenient.  Since I'd had to bail on the Hamilton Supercharger to make it to the rehearsal dinner on time it meant that sometime prior to leaving for Newark we'd have to make up for that shortened charge.  The only other time we were near the Hamilton Supercharger was for the wedding day events and the only unclaimed chunk of time in that part of New Jersey was AFTER the wedding reception.  So at midnight, with a car full of overdressed and sleepy people, we pulled into Hamilton and found ourselves sitting behind a closed Barnes & Noble.  Charging.  

From Trenton to Newark it is about 80 miles, plus a few we'd lose overnight (not being plugged in) and whatever buffer we needed.  Also, since Newark was no where near as fast a Supercharger as Hamilton (especially since we had the whole site all to ourselves versus the high occupancy/sharing potential at Newark) we decided to take on as much power as could stand and/or until the rate started to taper.  In a weird coincidence I plugged into the Supercharger with the same starting point I'd had the day before-- exactly!-- 85 miles.   Ideally we'd want something around 150+... which we got quickly, so not a big deal but not ideal.   Destination charging.  Can not overstate how much easier it makes everything!!
Back to the morning after, we leisurely woke up and had a light breakfast (still very full from the huge eats at the wedding reception).  Started packing up the car and I just wanted to take a couple pictures (again) or how much stuff can be stowed in a Model S.  It really is quite ridiculous!  Camping gear and some other stuff in the frunk (LOVE THE FRUNK!)...
...And everything else gets swallowed up by the rear hatch-- we even had the parcel shelf flat and room to spare under it.  When it comes to luggage and gear, Serena has the appetite of frat boy at a Chinese buffet. 

 Loaded up and ready to go we headed to Newark and were absolutely delighted to find the roads light with traffic and the Supercharger with only 2 other cars there... and they were on the same Supercharger!  Ha!  We plugged up and started gobbling juice.  The goal was to get enough to reach my relatives on the far side of Washington (skipping the Bethesda, MD Supercharger) AND enough to get to the parking garage downtown the next day.  That meant 150 miles range plus buffer.   

The Bethesda Supercharger has only 2 slots (sharing a temporary pallet mounted Supercharger cabinet) and is located in a mall parking garage that I had read on weekends was very busy.  Many people had reported it being frequently occupied by shoppers and not travelers because of its close parking location.  We'd be passing right by it on a Sunday afternoon and I didn't want to count on it being available...  so if we could get range enough to skip it, all the better!
While charging at Newark and double checking mileage to Bethesda (versus our destination, relatives we were staying with near Chantilly, VA), my son casually asked how far was it to the FARTHEST Supercharger from Newark.  Well gee, son, I don't know!   We started scrolling through all the pages to find out and finally bottomed out on the screen you see above.   If you're ever curious, just pull up this blog post. DO NOT try to do this in your own car.  You see, the only way to get BACK to the closest Superchargers is to scroll all... the... way...  back... to the top.   This is neither a pleasant nor a diminutive task.  We are NEVER doing that again.  Dear Tesla, please make this page default back to the top of the list each time it is opened, thank you.

Meanwhile, a white Tesla with a "Zero Emissions" plate still on it (brand new car) backed into the one remaining slot.  Three young college-aged men got out and were seeming to have a hard time plugging in their car... in fact, they were not having ANY success.   I was on the phone lining up a visit with some friends of ours in the area for lunch so I was only peripherally aware of what was going on-- but I noted my wife had been enlisted to help them with whatever the problem was.   I finished my phone call, exited the car, and joined them.

The driver said the new Tesla was his mother's and that they couldn't get the charge port door to open.  He'd called her but she didn't know either and they'd been trying to pry it open with their fingertips.  My wife had started the explanation about hitting versus holding the button on the Supercharger wand, but they just seemed even more bewildered.  Seems they were on their way to the Naval Academy in Annapolis to drop off gear and Mom had let them take off in her brand new P85 to save on gas money.   My 14 year old son immediately seized on this opportunity to start laying the groundwork for his own unsupervised excursions in Serena.  NOT.  HAPPENING.

Running them through the "click once above the quarter panel hip and don't hold the button down" routine was easy and with nods of new knowledge in the background I demonstrated how reliably the Supercharger would open the door.  I also showed him the control menu on the main screen where another release is located for using non-Tesla chargers.   Then came the small matter of plugging it in.  It was really awkward and the wand didn't seem to seat properly despite confirming that the locking pin was out of the way.  After several attempts I decided that using any more force would be the driver's responsibility, NOT MINE.  So he tried and was able to get a solid feeling connection but the charge ring on the car showed red.  We tried this a couple more times-- still red.  

The possibilities were two-fold and the cadets were getting very nervous, no doubt convinced they had marooned themselves and the Tesla.  Either there was a problem with the car (which is why I'd tested Serena on the Cranberry Supercharger immediately after delivery) or there was a problem with the Supercharger (though it was in working order 2 days earlier when we'd been there).  With the three remaining slots in use they had little option but to wait it out.   Meanwhile... another grey Model S rolled up.

After another 5 minutes passed-- which were agonizing for our young Navy friends-- one of the other Teslas pulled out giving them another Supercharger slot to play with.  They backed in and moments later excitedly announced they were getting lots of power now-- Yay!  The grey Tesla that had arrived after them started to reverse into the now-defunct slot until we explained that the Supercharger was apparently not working.  We were ready to leave at this point but suggested they call Tesla for a reset while they were waiting.  In the past Tesla has remotely reset Superchargers in just a few minutes to clear these kind of random charging errors.

We met up with our friends in Newark for lunch and enjoyed our visit as the kids played at a "Chuck E. Cheese" type local business.  Naturally there was some conversation about the car and a "frunk show" but mostly we were all focused on catching up.  Our quick lunch stop stretched into late afternoon until we finally pried the kids apart to get back on the road towards Chantilly.  I still owe those folks a thrill ride next time.

Using the web browser capabilities of the main screen we checked the website for what time the Bethesda mall was closing and calculated we'd be there about 15 minutes afterwards.  We didn't need the charge and likely wouldn't need it if the parking garage chargers were working over the next few days, but since we were passing by anyway it made sense to check it out.  Always better to know these things when you DON'T urgently need them than to be scrambling.   
The Supercharger is hidden away inside the Nordstrom's parking garage and we found it pretty easily thanks to bright Tesla red-painted columns.  The garage was mostly empty and neither Supercharger slot was taken-- it was great!  Two other Teslas were parked on HPWCs, both with California plates, so we assume those were cars from the store inside the mall.  There are also NEMA 50 plugs there but parking would be extremely tight for charging 6 cars!

I had low expectations of what kind of power we'd be pulling through this temporary pallet-style Supercharger.  It couldn't possibly be as good as the permanent installations, right?  Wrong.  Really strong.  I don't remember what kind of amperage we were getting but it was definitely faster than Newark.  
Now the downside of a deserted parking garage is that means a deserted mall.... which is a closed mall.   Indeed, it was staffed with just cleaning crews and store employees toiling away behind closed or lowered gates.  Fortunately for us, there are a number of good eateries around the mall periphery with entrances from both inside the mall and out.  We walked by the closed Tesla store and decided on a California Pizza Kitchen.  We had a leisurely dinner and were pleased to find the door to mall promenade was still open afterwards, so we didn't have to circumnavigate the outside of this unknown building to find Serena again.
The car was all charged up and we just had a short hop left to Chantilly, plus a fast demo drive to do for my relatives when we got there (so the extra juice would be put to good use!)  Shifting from wedding to tourist mode was pretty easy-- nothing like a little driving and a casually slow dinner to sort that out!  

From my relatives' house near Chantilly we began to make new plans.  I'd reserved a parking garage downtown using a somewhat fiddly website but-- nervous-- we had to get there first.  After all the traffic we'd ALREADY plowed through just a few days before, we weren't eager to do so again.  Plus there was the added unknown of <GASP> leaving Serena alone in a parking garage!   Would we return to find her all dimpled and pock-marked from door dings??  

Click HERE to read about the road trip from the beginning.
Click HERE for Part 4: Finding the Perfect Place.

Video clips from the first leg of our road trip-- if you haven't seen them already:
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