Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Slimy Hippies On Parade?

Local BioClown Runs Over Child, Ruins Christmas

That was the headline going through my mind as we steered the motorhome through the crowd of people lining Mohawk Street for the Springfield Holiday Parade. No, let’s make a correction there, the crowd wasn’t so much lining the street as standing in it, and I felt like a “Wide Load” truck driver being asked to drive through a meadow without hitting any grass.

Without having a good feel for the dimensions of the RV yet, it seemed like the candy-minded children were just inches away from the tires, and sitting in the cockpit, there was no way to see anyone within ten feet of the front of the bus unless they were eight feet tall. Unfortunately, Eugene and Springfield have yet to produce any eight-foot children, so it was just a matter of using The Force to detect any scampering kids or pets.

I guess it was with us, because we managed to make it through the sea of people and safely onto the rest of the parade route without even maiming a poodle. Not to bad for a first-time float-driver. I’d cajoled the significant other and associates — Allison, Jamie, Marc and Caroline (and Jak) — into coming along as a waving and candy-hucking support team. But, it turns out that old-fashioned candy-hucking is prohibited for fear of eyeballs lost to a Roger Clemens’ Jolly Rancher fastball. You’re supposed to hand it out. Kids under eight feet tall dancing in the streets? Fine, just no flying Tootsie Rolls. So I turned the wheel over to Marc, and exited the coach Marine-style to pass out sweets. The rest of the team leaned out the windows and became discrete candy droppers, and we went through six bags roughly half way through the parade. That explains the huge crowds at the beginning: parade veterans.

In addition to the candy rule, I wasn’t aware that we were driving in a place of honor, directly before Santa Claus and directly after the Horsey Clean-Up Crew, or as they were affectionately called by several parade-watching screamers, “The Pooper Scoopers!” Armed with Santa hats, wheelbarrows, shovels and Christmas Cheer, they made navigation much easier and more pleasant, and we were grateful for it.

While everyone loves you when you’re packin’ chocolate, it was still amazing to see the reaction to the bioTrekker campaign. We got thumbs up from manicured older folks in sweater vests and peace signs from shaggier folk in tie-dye. A lot of people said, “Thank you for doing this,” which still hits me in the spot usually reserved for Old Yeller.

The kids’ comments were the best though. One of our favorites was, “It IS the hippies!” (Hard to escape that one.) Or, “Look, there’s slime on the side of it!” (No, those are “biodiesel flames,” kid, they just look a lot like the goo out of Ghostbusters.) This last one must have been a teenager, because he turned from watching the scoopers ahead of us, looked at the RV and said, “Biodiesel’s made from horse shit.” Don’t tell that to the Soy Farmer’s Lobby, my man, or the whole industry might lose its momentum.

When we finally turned off Main Street at the end of the route, everyone inside the motorhome could now stop smiling, but we didn’t. I thought it might feel sort of corny to drive in the parade, but it filled me with a holiday spirit that I honestly haven’t felt in a while. People smiling and waving to each other, it seems like a small thing, but it doesn’t happen as often as it could these days. The small things make a big impact. At least, they do for me. If a giant oak tree is uprooted in a storm and crashes into the motorhome tomorrow in Portland, I’ll be happy just knowing that, yesterday, I took the opportunity to smile and wave at the town of Springfield.

Still Not Famous, Still Won't Play The Doors

If everyone gets their 15 minutes of celebrity, I’ve still got 12 and a half left. I think a two and a half minute news story in Eugene, Oregon qualifies as celebrity, doesn’t it? It’s certainly the closest thing to it that I’ve experienced, other than my stint in a high school rock band called “Prophacy” (the misspelling was intentional, for copyright reasons), when playing in a biker bar at 16 was the pinnacle of celebrity — even if we did suck. “No sir, we don’t know any Doors songs, and please stop throwing bottles at the drum set.”

But the news story experience didn’t suck. It was actually a lot of fun. I’m sure that I was cheating since I didn’t actually send out any press releases for the story, and the reporter was a friend of mine, but I’m still counting it as official bioTrekker tour coverage. Al Peterson is the morning show anchor at KEZI 9 News and he owed me a favor after coercing me to flail down Class III rapids on the McKenzie River in nothing but a wetsuit and a snorkel this summer. Nothing like being one frog kick or mis-timed breath away from a watery grave to rekindle your zest for life. But that’s a different story.

The story that Al couldn’t have been as riveting as a near death experience, but it was very solid. As a former newspaper reporter, it was interesting to be on the other side of the interview. I can see that there are quite a few angles you could take with this story. You could focus mostly on the travel angle or the biofuels angle, or you could get specific and focus on something like the rideshare angle — using me as an example of how RVing could really go hand-in-hand with the rideshare websites popping up, seeing as how “Ma and Pa” are driving mostly empty rigs all around the country.

Or, if you’re a leathery, skeptical enviro-reporter looking at it from a sustainability point of view, you could pull a Helen Thomas on me and hammer me with questions about whether the RV industry is even sustainable at all, or whether it’s hypocrisy to advocate conservation while getting 10 to 15 miles per gallon. Perhaps the biofuels industry is enabling people to have an excuse not to conserve by giving them biofuels to hold on to.

These would all be interesting angles to take, but by his questions, I could see Al was probably going with the “hitting the road” angle. I wondered if the biodiesel angle would get underplayed. I mean, this motorcoach I’m traveling around in is an impressive thing and all the technology is amazing, and I know it’s unusual for someone in their 20s to give up the office job and hit the road full-time, but the real reason I’m going for the news coverage is to spread awareness of renewable resources and sustainability and to advocate more biodiesel use among RVers while stirring up support for greater investment in biofuels research. This was the message I was hoping to convey through the story, and I could see that it wasn’t going to come out that way.

When the story aired, though, it changed my mind. I realized that Al knows his audience and his format better than I do. “Have you ever thought about chucking it all, kissing the boss goodbye and hitting the road? Well, a local Eugene man is doing just that, and it’s a way of life that he might maintain for 50 years or more.” That was the tease (more or less) that the anchor read leading up to Al’s story. It was catchy, I had to admit. Who hasn’t thought about chucking it all and hitting the road? I guess I’ve done some chucking, but I’m not sure if I’ve chucked it all. And I guess I did say that I hoped I’d never have to go back to an office that didn’t move, but to be honest, I’ll be a little surprised if the bioTrekker campaign lasts more than five years, not to mention 50! I can just see it, a 78-year old man rattling around the country in a faded bioTrekker bus with a million miles on it, all duct taped together. Now that’s a story.

But Al did get to the biodiesel angle after he hooked them with the “chuck it all” pitch, and I have to say, it made for a better TV news piece. Trying to explain all the intricacies of biofuels and sustainability in under three minutes would be damn near impossible. So let people have a fun story about a 28 year-old boss chucker and maybe they’ll be interested enough to check out the website and think about biodiesel for a few minutes out of a busy day.

So, as I think back on my scrappy newspaper days, for all those folks who called to tell me that I reported MY story instead of the story YOU wanted me to report, I know exactly how you feel. But just like I learned from Al, my version of the story was probably better than yours.

I think that, for the most part, the only agenda of a good journalist is to put together the most interesting story. A bad journalist probably just wants to get by with the least amount of work. The rest is all up to personality, and whether or not they feel like pulling a Helen Thomas on you that day. As for my remaining 12.5 minutes, we’ll just have to see if everyone is as kind as Al.

—Ty Adams

For the shortened, web version of Al’s story, go to

¿Cómo Se Díce Biodiesel?

“My name is Ty,” I said, standing in front of about 15 students at Hamlin Middle School in Springfield, Oregon for my first classroom talk.


That was the whispered response of a girl to my left, asking her classmate how to spell my name. I was planning to have an informal chat with them about what energy is (the ability to do work by creating movement, heat, power, etc.) the source of all energy here on earth (the sun), and the difference between renewable (biofuels) and non-renewable (petroleum) containers of that energy. Then I was going to talk about the importance of doing what you love, even though that bit of wisdom is sometimes viewed as cliché or naïve. You know, the old, “follow your dreams speech.”

I was going to do all of this without using the blackboard, because — man — I didn’t want to be one of those dry speakers who use the blackboard. I was going to be a “cooooool” speaker. But in my plans to be cool, I didn’t give much thought to the fact that this was an ESL class. You know, English as a second language, as in, I should probably come prepared to use some of the Spanish that I was so proud to speak fluently six years ago, and I should probably prepare to simplify some of the vocabulary.

Did I prepare to do those things?


So instead of being cool, I grabbed for that dry erase marker like a drowning man going for a log. And while I knew how to say, “el sol es la fuente de toda la energía en la tierra,” among other Spanish phrases, I mostly just butchered that beautiful language while trying to say things like “exhaust” or “engine” or “used cooking oil.”

“It’s the same that your mother uses in the kitchen,” I said in Spanish, with a very gringo-like accent.

Hector laughed, elbowed his classmate and said, “Tu madre.” Should have known that yo’ mama jokes cross all language barriers. At least I was funny, even if by accident. When I tried to be funny on purpose, “I’m a freelance writer … which means I’m poor,” only the teachers laughed.

The motorcoach and the biodiesel samples saved me, along with a young gentleman named Jesus, who took pity on me and asked a lot of questions in either English or very slow Spanish. Thank God for Jesus.

They were really digging on the idea of going outside to see the decorated bus, much more so than watching me scrawl out mundane information on the board, so we went out in the misting rain to have a look.

Lesson one: If you’d like to hold the attention of a 12-year old, it helps to have 34 feet of bright yellow house on wheels. I think they had a good time watching me dance around like a clown in the back-up camera, and opening the slideout without telling anyone was a good trick. Of course, they went right for the television, too. One of those daytime court shows popped on. Several of the kids laughed, “My mom is watching this right now, I bet.”

Back inside, I broke out the biodiesel samples, letting them have a look and a sniff, getting a sensory experience of the difference between biodiesel made from pure Oregon-grown canola, and biodiesel made from used cooking oil. One of them had a very descriptive phrase for the smell of used cooking oil. “Huele de caca de paloma” … smells like pigeon poop. That brought more laughs. Lesson two: If you ever go speak to a middle school class, make sure you can pass around vials of liquid that they can smell and compare to the poop of various animals.

Kidding aside, I think the kids understood two of my biggest reasons for doing this, maybe more than some adults. I wrote down reason one on the board. “Because it’s fun.” Mrs. Torres asked one group of boys huddled around the vials if they knew why I chose to use biodiesel and one of them nailed reason two.

“Because it’s good,” he replied.

When you break it down to the basics, he’s exactly right.

The Wet Launch

You’ve heard of a dry fire? Well, this was a wet launch. Very different from a hot lunch, the wet launch. It felt like being fired from a water cannon. So the wheels of “BioCoach One” hit the ground with a satisfying ‘shhhhplat!”

It’s only fitting that the Oregon portion of the bioTrekker campaign should start off in the rain, and some true Oregonians came out and stood in it for a few hours on Sunday to take a peek at the veggie-powered love macheen — a 34-foot yellow and orange submarine that will be home for the next year (or two or three or five, just depending on just how much fun this is.)

After a B20 fill up at the SeQuential station off I-5 just south of Eugene, it was off to Armitage Park. The gold, yellow and orange leaves carpeting the parking lot even matched the “paint job,” although, at first, I was the only idiot in the park at 11 am on a rainy Sunday to admire the beauty.

Setting this bus down is like landing a spaceship. Slides pop out … leveling jacks down … awning out … generator on … all systems go. “This is Major Ty to Ground Control, I’m stepping through the door.”

Out came the keg and the portable fire pit, the propane grill, the steaming stew, the warm cider, and a table full of other goodness. Thanks to all my amazing friends who helped with set up. That’s a true friend right there, somebody who gets out of bed early on a blustery Sunday to brave the rain and help you out. There is no way I could have done it without them.

For the rest of the afternoon, I was honored to give tours of the house on wheels and hang around in the company of some extremely cool individuals. We shared interesting discussion about biofuels and sustainability, ate good food from biodegradable plates and bowls made from sugar cane and were entertained by “the gingerbread boy.”

The kids in attendance enjoyed some puddle stomping, plus, every thirty or forty minutes the awning provided a Disney-like feature: whenever it filled with enough water and reached critical mass, it poured down on the pavement or whoever happened to be standing in the wrong spot. Okay, that’s only Disney-like if you’re two years old, but I enjoyed it.

Ian Hill and Alan Twigg (and their loved ones) came out to “co-chill” (literally) and represent SQ Biofuels. I can’t say enough good things about this home-grown Oregon-based organization. They ARE biofuels in Oregon, and I’m fortunate to have a connection to them. If the biofuels distributors I find in other regions are like these folks, then the future of fuel in this country is in good hands. The fueling station they just built here in Eugene is exceptional. It’s seriously the coolest fueling station I’ve ever seen, and I’d say that even if they weren’t a co-sponsor. I'll be starting off with a B20 blend, tracking fuel mileage and performance, and down the road, I'll research blends of 30 percent, 50 percent, 70 percent, and 100 percent (which is really 99.9 percent).

So the campaign is now officially underway, and after I wring myself out over the holiday, I’ll be taking part in a bit of local press coverage. Plus — and I’m really excited about this — I’ll be giving tours and talking biodiesel basics with some classes at Hamlin Middle School. The website is a work in progress, and soon we’ll be adding photo galleries, a map with destinations, a daily blog, a discussion forum and other mind-blowing content. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

bioTrekker Beginnings

The mid-life crisis cliché is pretty well defined. A man approaching his retirement years suddenly finds himself fighting the clock. Maybe he starts dating women young enough to be his daughters. Maybe he dyes his hair and starts wearing clothes that look like they belong on the mannequins at Abercrombie and Fitch. Almost always, as the cliché goes, he buys himself a hot sports car—a Corvette or a Mustang, a Porsche or a convertible of some sort.

Well, I guess I’ve got it all backwards. I’m 28 years old and I’m buying an RV. Break out the white shorts, black socks and Hawaiian t-shirts.

Some people might call it a quarter-life crisis (yes, I plan to live to 112). Some people might call it a strange financial decision or a half-baked scheme or a desperate attempt to get out of having a “real job.” I call it a dream.

For the last five years I’ve worked as a writer and editor in the marketing department at Monaco Coach Corporation, the leading manufacturer of diesel motorhomes. Not just any diesel motorhomes — luxury diesel motorhomes. The Taj Mahals. The glossy painted, leather upholstered, ceramic tiled, plush carpeted, rope lighted, technologically tricked out coaches that made my modest suburban house look like a tar paper shack.

The truth is, before my job at Monaco, I never imagined myself as the RV type. I always considered myself a backpack sort of guy—an aficionado of camping old-school style with tent and sleeping bag. You know, nothing but the soft howl of a kerosene lantern, the crackle of a campfire and the sinus clearing odor of a small nylon compartment packed full of un-showered companions who have been eating nothing but granola for the last three days? Who doesn’t love waking up to the rhythmic pitter-patter of cool water on the forehead from an overnight thunderstorm and a leaking rain fly? Isn’t that how Kerouac would have us do it?

I also had a little trouble with the idea of using so much fuel just to bring along the TV and the kitchen sink. It seemed a little excessive to me. Isn’t the point of camping to leave it all behind? I’m not going to make the Greenpeace Hall of Fame any time soon, but I always wished there was some way to make RVing more environmentally friendly. In the final analysis, it might not be any less friendly than traveling by plane and staying in big hotel chains, but I think it’s a good idea to do what you can to take care of your Big Blue Mother. Or at least have good intentions for her. So I recycle. I compost. I even do my best to reuse plastic bags, unless it’s the one at the very bottom of the crisper that’s filled with a jellified cucumber or a fuzzy tomato.

I was 98 percent in love with my job at Monaco. One percent had to do with the environmental wish, and one percent had to do with the fact that it was a desk job. I like desks, they’re very useful, but let’s face it, they’d be much better if they came with changing scenery.

I was working at my very useful desk on a spring day when it hit me: I am an RV guy. After five years in the industry, I know all about them, I love the people who own them and I can see myself in one. I’ve discovered that these things are endlessly flexible. You might not take the fridge and the kitchen sink up on a pack trip, but wouldn’t it be nice to have them nearby when you get back? If used in the right way, can’t they actually help conserve energy when traveling? You can live out of an RV full-time or part time. You can save good money on hotels and restaurants. You can outfit them with solar power for more energy efficient living. You can even eliminate your commute by turning an RV into a mobile office and using it for work.

Wait a minute.

You CAN use them for work. That’s what I was sitting there at my desk thinking. It’s a dangerous thing when you start believing your own marketing. But it’s true. Couldn’t I take my job on the road? Wouldn’t that bump me up to 99 percent?

At that same time, I was researching a story on biodiesel. It had me excited. There is tremendous promise in biodiesel and biofuels in general. Here we have a way to take the crops of American farmers, or used fryer grease from American restaurants, and turn those things into fuel for our vehicles and houses. Not only that, but the fuel is less toxic and it requires no change in fuel distribution infrastructure. In fact, biodiesel or a biodiesel blend will run in almost any diesel engine without modifications.

Wait a minute.

Monaco is a DIESEL motorcoach manufacturer. You probably see where I’m going with this. That’s right, I’m headed to 100 percent. As a kid, I thought my dream job was to play professional football or maybe to become a professional tree fort builder, but now I know what it really is: write from a mobile RV office fueled with a renewable resource—travel the country in search of adventure and great stories, all the while advocating the things I believe in, like the joy of travel and the benefits of biofuels research.

So that’s the personal reason behind all this—it’s a dream, plain and simple—but there is also one underlying message I intend to make with this campaign: Anyone can do this. And by that, I mean a few things.

• If your dream is to travel the country now, you can do it. An RV is a worthy craft to accomplish this goal, especially for families. It’s true, the RVs built for the American market could be designed in a more fuel-efficient way, and hopefully I can convince a few people that there’s a market for that. I’ll also track all my expenses and share the results to prove that it can be done by spending less than other forms of travel. I’m certainly not rich, and this is a huge investment for me, but the experience is worth much more. Yes, gas prices aren’t what they used to be, but there are solutions.

• If you dream of working at a desk that comes with changing scenery, you can do it.
I hope to show that RVing is not only useful in recreation, but for many businesses as well. This is perfect for any sales profession that requires travel with a lot of equipment (think golf, skiing, etc.).

• If you are 10 percent or 40 percent or 80 percent or 90 percent satisfied with your life, and you dream of 100 percent, it’s possible.

• If we all dream of powering our vehicles (and much of our society) with a more stable, renewable fuel that will empower farmers and free us from dependence on foreign oil, we can do it.

Whatever the dream is, we can do it. All it takes is a little belief.

When it first occurred to me, quite a few people seemed to think that my little dream didn’t have much of a chance. What about losing the safety net that comes with a desk job? What about the money? What about all the things that could go wrong? All I can say is this: I believed, and it’s happening. If you dream about anything at all, I hope I’m taking some of the excuses out of not following it.

So, yes, I’m peddling biodiesel here, especially biodiesel research. I’m peddling energy awareness and I’m peddling the traveling lifestyle, but more than that, I’m peddling the power of dreams believed. Thank you for joining me in the ride.