Monday, December 24, 2007

Best Holiday Wishes

There is something different about this Christmas for me. And it's more than just a different year in a different place -- or maybe it's less. I made an effort to simplify things this year, and it seems that a lot of people in my life did the same. I remember something my mother said to me last year after participating in the traditional holiday rush to the mall. She said, "It just leaves you feeling empty."

I'm not sure if everyone has felt that way, but in the past, I have. There's something about rushing through the process of giving that somehow cheapens it. So this year, quite a few people that they didn't really "need" me to get them anything for the holidays. "Donate to charity," some said. Or, "getting to spend time with family is enough."

I sense a trend, at least in my own sphere of relationships, toward a simplified, more intimate and slower way of carrying out our traditions. I realized, as I was making an oil painting for my niece instead of buying her a plastic toy, that it takes more time to do it this way, and maybe that's why it doesn't seem to be the norm. But it was also more relaxing and left me feeling full instead of empty.

We're not abandoning our traditions, just tweaking them. We still brought a Christmas tree inside, but this year, we decided to buy a live tree. We could have headed out to a local nursery to pick one up, but I found a very cool service here in Portland called The Original Living Christmas Tree Company ( and they deliver live Christmas trees two weeks before Christmas and then pick them up on New Year's Day, to be delivered to a local company or regional park at a discount.

We didn't have any Christmas ornaments, so we made our own out of three or four scratched CDs and DVDs that would have otherwise gone to the garbage can. (I'm especially proud of the star.) We didn't have lights for the tree, so we purchased some LEDs from a hardware store just down the block. It's great to see LEDs coming into the mainstream. It's true that they're more expensive than incandescents, but the string we purchased will last for 20 years or more, the bulbs are unbreakable and the energy savings will pay for the string over time. They are 98 percent more efficient than traditional lights. What would cost $100 in electricity at average rates with traditional incandescents, will cost $1.83 with LEDs. I'm really looking forward to the day when the residential lighting aisle's have just as many LED options.

So yes, the tree is smaller than most and there aren't as many gifts underneath it, but the simplicity feels damn good. There aren't any lights on the outside of the house to spread holiday cheer, but I've had enough time to smile at people on the street, and that seems to be working just as well.

May the season find you happy and healthy and in the best of company, surrounded by warmth and light.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The New Ship

Okay, so the new ship is really an old ship, but you're not even going to recognize her when we're finished. I just purchased this 1994 Safari Trek diesel from a gentleman in Spokane, Washington, who also happens to be investing his wealth into creating a sustainable, earth-bermed home. In February, we will bring her to Portland to begin the green make-over.

Anyhow, this rig only has 7,500 miles on her (I know, that's the beauty of buying from seasonal RVers), and at 27-feet, she is seven feet shorter than the first biotrekker, about 10,000 pounds lighter and also about two feet shorter in vertical height. She gets between 12 and 17 mpg, although her top speed is only about 70mph. She's boxy, but cute.

For us, it's a more sustainable move that makes sense. It feels good to buy used and breathe new life into an RV that has tons of potential. We will be gutting most of the interior and either painting the exterior or wrapping it in graphics similar to bioTrekker1. The big changes will come when we add things like a large solar PV system, LED lighting, rainwater harvesting, solar thermal heating, better insulation, etc. Of course, the progress will be posted.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Revolution Green

Just caught the Oregon screening of the latest biodiesel documentary, Revolution Green. It's definitely worth a viewing and would be especially good for those who are new to the scene. The website is:

There is a movement within the biodiesel industry to focus on sustainable production (or at the very least to move in that direction) and the documentary focuses on that movement and the people who were very important in its creation. Defining 'sustainable' can get a bit tricky, but it primarily has to do with localized production and distribution of a fuel, rather than one giant, centralized production area, which is pretty much the model we have now.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

How to get 100 mpg ... now

This article blew my mind. I usually don't include other content than my own here, but this a must read. Here's the link:

The article is below.


Fast Company

Motorhead Messiah

Johnathan Goodwin can get 100 mpg out of a Lincoln Continental, cut emissions by 80%, and double the horsepower. Does the car business have the guts to follow him?

From: Issue 120 | November 2007 | Page 74 | By: Clive Thompson

“Check it out. It's actually a jet engine," says Johnathan Goodwin, with a low whistle. "This thing is gonna be even cooler than I thought." We're hunched on the floor of Goodwin's gleaming workshop in Wichita, Kansas, surrounded by the shards of a wooden packing crate. Inside the wreckage sits his latest toy--a 1985-issue turbine engine originally designed for the military. It can spin at a blistering 60,000 rpm and burn almost any fuel. And Goodwin has some startling plans for this esoteric piece of hardware: He's going to use it to create the most fuel-efficient Hummer in history.

Goodwin, a 37-year-old who looks like Kevin Costner with better hair, is a professional car hacker. The spic-and-span shop is filled with eight monstrous trucks and cars--Hummers, Yukon XLs, Jeeps--in various states of undress. His four tattooed, twentysomething grease monkeys crawl all over them with wrenches and welding torches.

Goodwin leads me over to a red 2005 H3 Hummer that's up on jacks, its mechanicals removed. He aims to use the turbine to turn the Hummer into a tricked-out electric hybrid. Like most hybrids, it'll have two engines, including an electric motor. But in this case, the second will be the turbine, Goodwin's secret ingredient. Whenever the truck's juice runs low, the turbine will roar into action for a few seconds, powering a generator with such gusto that it'll recharge a set of "supercapacitor" batteries in seconds. This means the H3's electric motor will be able to perform awesome feats of acceleration and power over and over again, like a Prius on steroids. What's more, the turbine will burn biodiesel, a renewable fuel with much lower emissions than normal diesel; a hydrogen-injection system will then cut those low emissions in half. And when it's time to fill the tank, he'll be able to just pull up to the back of a diner and dump in its excess french-fry grease--as he does with his many other Hummers. Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double--from 300 to 600.

"Conservatively," Goodwin muses, scratching his chin, "it'll get 60 miles to the gallon. With 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. You'll be able to smoke the tires. And it's going to be superefficient."

He laughs. "Think about it: a 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and does zero to 60 in five seconds!"

This is the sort of work that's making Goodwin famous in the world of underground car modders. He is a virtuoso of fuel economy. He takes the hugest American cars on the road and rejiggers them to get up to quadruple their normal mileage and burn low-emission renewable fuels grown on U.S. soil--all while doubling their horsepower. The result thrills eco-evangelists and red-meat Americans alike: a vehicle that's simultaneously green and mean. And word's getting out. In the corner of his office sits Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1987 Jeep Wagoneer, which Goodwin is converting to biodiesel; soon, Neil Young will be shipping him a 1960 Lincoln Continental to transform into a biodiesel--electric hybrid.

His target for Young's car? One hundred miles per gallon.

This is more than a mere American Chopper--style makeover. Goodwin's experiments point to a radically cleaner and cheaper future for the American car. The numbers are simple: With a $5,000 bolt-on kit he co-engineered--the poor man's version of a Goodwin conversion--he can immediately transform any diesel vehicle to burn 50% less fuel and produce 80% fewer emissions. On a full-size gas-guzzler, he figures the kit earns its money back in about a year--or, on a regular car, two--while hitting an emissions target from the outset that's more stringent than any regulation we're likely to see in our lifetime. "Johnathan's in a league of his own," says Martin Tobias, CEO of Imperium Renewables, the nation's largest producer of biodiesel. "Nobody out there is doing experiments like he is."

Nobody--particularly not Detroit. Indeed, Goodwin is doing precisely what the big American automakers have always insisted is impossible. They have long argued that fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel cars are a hard sell because they're too cramped and meek for our market. They've lobbied aggressively against raising fuel-efficiency and emissions standards, insisting that either would doom the domestic industry. Yet the truth is that Detroit is now getting squeezed from all sides. This fall, labor unrest is brewing, and after decades of inertia on fuel-economy standards, Congress is jockeying to boost the target for cars to 35 mpg, a 10 mpg jump (which is either ridiculously large or ridiculously small, depending on whom you ask). More than a dozen states are enacting laws requiring steep reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Meanwhile, gas prices have hovered around $3 per gallon for more than a year. And European and Japanese carmakers are flooding the market with diesel and hybrid machines that get up to 40% better mileage than the best American cars; some, such as Mercedes's new BlueTec diesel sedans, deliver that kind of efficiency and more horsepower.

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, in short, have a choice: Cede still more ground--or mount a technological counterattack.

Goodwin's work proves that a counterattack is possible, and maybe easier than many of us imagined. If the dream is a big, badass ride that's also clean, well, he's there already. As he points out, his conversions consist almost entirely of taking stock GM parts and snapping them together in clever new ways. "They could do all this stuff if they wanted to," he tells me, slapping on a visor and hunching over an arc welder. "The technology has been there forever. They make 90% of the components I use." He doesn't have an engineering degree; he didn't even go to high school: "I've just been messing around and seeing what I can do."

All of which raises an interesting possibility. Has this guy in a far-off Kansas garage figured out the way to save Detroit?

America's most revolutionary innovations, it has long been said, sprang from the ramshackle dens of amateurs. Thomas Edison was a home-schooled dropout who got his start tinkering with battery parts; Chester Carlson invented the photocopier in his cramped Long Island kitchen. NASA, desperate for breakthroughs to help it return to the moon, has set up million-dollar prizes to encourage private citizens to come forward with any idea, no matter how crazy. As the theory goes, only those outside big industries can truly reinvent them.

Goodwin is certainly an outsider. He grew up in a dirt-poor Kansas family with six siblings and by age 13 began taking on piecework in local auto shops to help his mother pay the bills. He particularly enjoyed jamming oversized engines into places no one believed they'd fit. He put truck engines inside Camaros, Grand Nationals, and Super Bees; he even put a methanol-fueled turbocharger on a tiny Yamaha Banshee four-wheeler. "We took that thing from 35 horsepower to 208," he recalls. "It was crazy. We couldn't put enough fins on the back to keep it on the ground." After dropping out of school in the seventh grade, he made a living by buying up totaled cars and making them as good as new. "That," he says, "was my school."

Along the way, Goodwin also adopted two views common among Americans, but typically thought to be in conflict: a love of big cars and a concern about the environment. He is an avid, if somewhat nonideological, environmentalist. He believes global warming is a serious problem, that reliance on foreign oil is a mistake, and that butt-kicking fuel economy is just good for business. But Goodwin is also guiltlessly addicted to enormous, brawling rides, precisely the sort known to suck down Saudi gasoline. (I spied one lonely small sports car in the corner of his garage, but he confessed he has no plans to work on it right now.) When he picked me up from my hotel, he drove a four-door 2008 Cadillac Escalade XL that should have had its own tugboat. He parallel parked it in one try.

If Goodwin is an artist, though, his canvas has been the Hummer. His first impression of the thing was inauspicious. In 1990, he bought an H1 in Denver and began driving it back to Kansas. Within 50 miles, the bolts in the transmission shook loose, forcing him to stop to fix it. "By the time I made it home, after three roadside repairs, I pretty much knew that the Hummer was not all it should be," he told me. He didn't think much of the 200 horsepower engine, either, which did "zero to 60 in two days. It was a piece of junk."

So Goodwin decided to prove that environmentalism and power could go together--by making his new lemon into exhibit A. First, he pulled the gas engine so he could drop in a Duramax V8, GM's core diesel for large trucks. Diesel technology is crucial to all of Goodwin's innovations because it offers several advantages over traditional gasoline engines. Pound for pound, diesel offers more power and torque; it's also inherently more efficient, offering up to 40% better mileage and 20% lower emissions in engines of comparable size. What's more, many diesel engines can easily accept a wide range of biodiesel--from the high-quality stuff produced at refineries to the melted chicken grease siphoned off from the local KFC.

"Think about it," Goodwin laughs. "A 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and will do zero to 60 in five seconds!"

Putting a diesel engine in the Hummer, however, required Goodwin to crack GM's antitheft system, which makes it a pain to swap out the engine. In that system, the engine communicates electronically with the body, fuel supply, and ignition; if you don't have all the original components, the car won't start. Goodwin jerry-rigged a set of cables to trick the engine into believing the starter system had broken, sending it into "fail-safe mode"--a backdoor mechanism installed at the factory. (At one point in his story, Goodwin wanders over to a battered cardboard box in the corner of the garage and hauls out an octopuslike tangle of wires--"the MacGyver," his hacking device. "I could have sold this for a lot of money on eBay," he chuckles.)

Once he'd picked the car's lock, Goodwin installed the Duramax and a five-speed Allison--the required transmission for a Duramax, which also helps give it race-car-like control and a rapid take off. After five days' worth of work, the Hummer was getting about 18 mpg--double the factory 9 mpg--and twice the original horsepower. He drove it over to a local restaurant and mooched some discarded oil from its deep fryer, strained the oil through a pair of jeans, and poured it into the engine. It ran perfectly.

But Goodwin wanted more. While researching alternative fuels, he learned about the work of Uli Kruger, a German who has spent decades in Australia exploring techniques for blending fuels that normally don't mix. One of Kruger's systems induces hydrogen into the air intake of a diesel engine, producing a cascade of emissions-reducing and mileage-boosting effects. The hydrogen, ignited by the diesel combustion, burns extremely clean, producing only water as a by-product. It also displaces up to 50% of the diesel needed to fuel the car, effectively doubling the diesel's mileage and cutting emissions by at least half. Better yet, the water produced from the hydrogen combustion cools down the engine, so the diesel combustion generates fewer particulates--and thus fewer nitrogen-oxide emissions.

"You can feed it hydrogen, diesel, biodiesel, corn oil--pretty much anything but water."

"It's really a fantastic chain reaction, all these good things happening at once," Kruger tells me. He has also successfully introduced natural gas--a ubiquitous and generally cheap fuel--into a diesel-burning engine, which likewise doubles the mileage while slashing emissions. In another system, he uses heat from the diesel engine to vaporize ethanol to the point where it can be injected into the diesel combustion chambers as a booster, with similar emissions-cutting effects.

Goodwin began building on Kruger's model. In 2005, he set to work adapting his own H1 Hummer to burn a combination of hydrogen and biodiesel. He installed a Duramax in the Hummer and plopped a carbon-fiber tank of supercompressed hydrogen into the bed. The results were impressive: A single tank of hydrogen lasted for 700 miles and cut the diesel consumption in half. It also doubled the horsepower. "It reduces your carbon footprint by a huge, huge amount, but you still get all the power of the Duramax," he says, slapping the H1 on the quarter panel. "And you can feed it hydrogen, diesel, biodiesel, corn oil--pretty much anything but water."

Two years ago, Goodwin got a rare chance to show off his tricks to some of the car industry's most prominent engineers. He tells me the story: He was driving a converted H2 to the SEMA show, the nation's biggest annual specialty automotive confab, and stopped en route at a Denver hotel. When he woke up in the morning, there were 20 people standing around his Hummer. Did I run over somebody? he wondered. As it turned out, they were engineers for GM, the Hummer's manufacturer. They noticed that Goodwin's H2 looked modified. "Does it have a diesel engine in it?"

"Yeah," he said.

"No way," they replied.

He opened the hood, "and they're just all in and out and around the valves and checking it out," he says. They asked to hear it run, sending a stab of fear through Goodwin. He'd filled it up with grease from a Chinese restaurant the day before and was worried that the cold morning might have solidified the fuel. But it started up on the first try and ran so quietly that at first they didn't believe it was really on. "When you start a diesel engine up on vegetable oil," Goodwin says, "you turn the key, and you hear nothing. Because of the lubricating power of the oil, it's just so smooth. Whisper quiet. And they're like, 'Is it running? Yeah, you can hear the fan going.'"

One engineer turned and said, "GM said this wouldn't work."

"Well," Goodwin replied, "here it is."

Goodwin's feats of engineering have become gradually more visible over the past year. Last summer, Imperium Renewables contacted MTV's show Pimp My Ride about creating an Earth Day special in which Goodwin would convert a muscle car to run on biodiesel. The show chose a '65 Chevy Impala, and when the conversion was done, he'd doubled its mileage to 25 mpg and increased its pull from 250 to 800 horsepower. As a stunt, MTV drag-raced the Impala against a Lamborghini on California's Pomona Raceway. "The Impala blew the Lamborghini away," says Kevin Kluemper, the lead calibration engineer for GM's Allison transmission unit, who'd flown down to help with the conversion. Schwarzenegger, who was on the set that day, asked Goodwin on the spot to convert his Wagoneer to biodiesel.

Observers of Goodwin's work say his skill lies in an uncanny ability to visualize a mechanical system in precise detail, long before he picks up a wrench. (Goodwin says he does much of his mental work during long drives.) "He has talent unknown to any mortal," says Mad Mike, Pimp My Ride's host. "He has this ability to see things so exactly, and I still don't know how he does it."

For his part, Goodwin argues he's merely "a problem solver. Most people try to make things more complicated than they are." He speaks of the major carmakers with a sort of mild disdain: If he can piece together cleaner vehicles out of existing GM parts and a bit of hot-rod elbow grease, why can't they bake that kind of ingenuity into their production lines? Prod him enough on the subject and his mellowness peels away, revealing a guy fired by an almost manic frustration. "Everybody should be driving a plug-in vehicle right now," he complains, in one of his laconic engineering lectures, as we wander through the blistering Kansas heat to a nearby Mexican restaurant. "I can go next door to Ace Hardware and buy a DC electric motor, go out to my four-wheel-drive truck, remove the transmission and engine, bolt the electric motor onto the back of the transfer case, put a series of lead-acid batteries up to 240 volts in the back of the bed, and we're good to go. I guarantee you I could drive all around town and do whatever I need, go home at night, and hook up a couple of battery chargers, plug one into an outlet, and be good to go the next day.

"Detroit could do all this stuff overnight if it wanted to," he adds.

In reality, Goodwin's work has begun to influence some of Detroit's top auto designers, but through curious and circuitous routes. In 2005, Tom Holm, the founder of EcoTrek, a nonprofit that promotes the use of alternative fuels, heard about Goodwin through the Hummer-junkie grapevine and hired him. When Holm showed GM the vehicles Goodwin converted, the company was duly impressed. Internally, Hummer executives had long been looking for a way to blunt criticism of the H2's gas-guzzling tendencies and saw Goodwin's vehicles as an object lesson in what was possible. So GM decided to flip the switch: It announced the same year that, beginning in 2008, it would convert its gasoline Hummers to run on ethanol; by 2010, it said, Hummers would be biodiesel-compatible.

"It was an influence," concedes Hummer general manager Martin Walsh, of the EcoTrek vehicles. "We wanted to be environmentally responsible by having engines in Hummers that run on renewable fuels." But until I contacted Hummer for this story, GM didn't know that the man behind those machines was none other than Goodwin.

GM's commitment is a start, however halting. Overall, though, Detroit still seems to be all but paralyzed by the challenges of fuel economy, emissions, and alternative fuels. And it's not just about greed or laziness: Talk to car-industry experts, and they'll point out a number of serious barriers to introducing radically new alternative-fuel vehicles on a scale that will make a difference. One of the highest is that low-emission fuels--biodiesel, ethanol, electricity, hydrogen, all of which account for less than 3% of the nation's fuel supply--just aren't widely available on American highways. This creates a chicken-and-egg problem. People won't buy alternative-fuel cars until it's easy to fill them up, but alternative fuel makers won't ramp up production until there's a viable market.

Goodwin admits all these things are true but believes the country could be weaned off gasoline in a three-step process. The first would be for Detroit to aggressively roll out diesel engines, much as Europe has already begun to do (some 50% of all European cars run diesel). In a single stroke, that would improve the nation's mileage by as much as 40%, and, because diesel fuel is already widely available, drivers could take that step with a minimum of disruption. What's more, given that many diesel engines can also run homegrown biodiesel, a mass conversion to diesel would help kick-start that market. (This could have geopolitical implications as well as environmental and economic ones: The Department of Transportation estimated in 2004 that if we converted merely one-third of America's passenger cars and light trucks to diesel, we'd reduce our oil consumption by up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day--precisely the amount we import from Saudi Arabia.)

The second step in Goodwin's scheme would be to produce diesel-electric hybrid cars. This would double the mileage on even the biggest diesel vehicles. The third phase would be to produce electric hybrids that run in "dual fuel" mode, burning biodiesel along with hydrogen, ethanol, natural gas, or propane. This is the concept Goodwin is proving out in his turbine-enhanced H3 Hummer and in Neil Young's Lincoln: "At that point, your mileage just goes really, really high, and your emissions are incredibly low," he says. Since those vehicles can run on regular diesel or biodiesel--and without any alternative fuel at all, if need be--drivers wouldn't have to worry about getting stranded on the interstate. At the same time, as more and more dual-fuel cars hit the road, they would goose demand for genuinely national ethanol, hydrogen, and biodiesel grids.

For Goodwin, navigating this process is all about imagination and adaptability. "The point is to design cars that are flexible," he says. "You'll see a change in how vehicles are fueled in the future. Which fuel source will be the exclusive one or the one that'll take over the petroleum base is, you know, anybody's guess, so it's like the wild, wild West of fuel technology right now. I think it'll be a combination between a few different fuels. I know hydrogen will definitely come around."

Imagination and vision, of course, are often rewarded. As global pressure increases on the United States to reduce our carbon emissions, those rewards are likely to get juicier. Under some versions of legislation being considered in Congress, for example, companies voluntarily deploying superefficient vehicles in large fleets could be awarded substantial offsets. Take DHL, the FedEx rival: Goodwin says his company, SAE Energy, is negotiating with the shipper to convert 800 of its vehicles to dual fuel. "We could get them an offset of something like 70 cents a gallon," Goodwin says, "and reduce their cost of fuel by 50%."

Industry insiders and observers agree with many of Goodwin's prescriptions, particularly his concept of fuel flexibility. "We have to have alternatives," says Beau Boeckmann, vice president of California's Galpin Motors, the largest Ford dealership in the country, who recently partnered with Goodwin to convert a 2008 F450 truck to hydrogen and biodiesel. "Only with a combination of things can we get alternative fuels off the ground." Boeckmann believes hydrogen is the true "silver bullet" for ending greenhouse gases but thinks it'll take more than a decade to figure out how to create and distribute it cheaply. Mary Beth Stanek, GM's director of environment, energy, and safety policy, also agrees with the multifuel approach--and points out that this is precisely how Brazil weaned itself from regular gasoline. "They pull up to the pump, and they've got a whole bunch of different choices," she notes. She, too, predicts diesel will make a comeback because of its inherent fuel efficiency: "You will see more vehicles going back to diesel over a lot of different lines."

Yet in reality, American carmakers seem conspicuously slow on the uptake. Stanek is about as ardent a fan of alternative fuels as you're likely to find inside GM, but even she admits no one there is seriously thinking of abandoning the gasoline engine anytime soon. The 300-million-gallon U.S. biodiesel business is a fraction of the 12-billion-gallon ethanol one. And Detroit is extremely cautious about what the market can bear.

A Detroit carmaker does, of course, have to worry about selling millions of cars at reasonable prices. But we've been hearing this refrain for a long, long time. And with European and Japanese carmakers driving ever harder into our market--and with Chrysler having become just another meal for Cerberus Capital--this hardly seems like the time to be overly cautious. (Those ultralow-emission Mercedes BlueTec diesels, for example, include a four-wheel-drive sedan that gets 37 mpg and goes from zero to 60 in 6.6 seconds.) Moreover, after decades of consumer apathy, improving fuel economy and reducing carbon output are becoming urgent national priorities. The green groundswell has arrived, and, given the stakes, anyone who ignores it does so at his peril. If Detroit can't sell diesel now--especially a clean, high-performance, money-saving diesel--it never will.

With U.S. carmakers being stripped for parts, now is hardly the time for them to play it safe.

Goodwin, perhaps, can afford to be a visionary. He has the luxury of converting cars for fancy clients who'll pay handsomely to drive on higher moral ground. (He charges $28,000 for a "basic H2 conversion to diesel--custom concept cars cost far more.") The future of the American car will likely be won by an automaker that can split the difference--one that may innovate more slowly than Goodwin would like, but a hell of a lot faster than the Big Three.

Goodwin himself seems more oracle than implementer, slightly unsure of how his ideas could be brought to the masses. He's working on patenting aspects of his and Kruger's dual-fuel work and would love to license it to the big carmakers. But the truth is, he's a mechanic's mechanic--happiest when he's solving some technical puzzle. He loves getting his hands dirty, "throwing wrenches around" in his shop, pioneering some weird new way to fuel a car. Today, he's thinking about taking his wife's Infiniti, outfitting it with a tank of ether, and powering the engine via blasts of compressed air in the cylinders. "Zero emissions!" he crows. It's the visionary inventor's curse: constantly distracted by shiny objects.

Goodwin eyes the turbine, which he has dragged out to the center of the floor. Just for kicks, he says, he's thinking of mounting it on a wheelie board and firing it up. "I'd love to see how fast that goes," he says. "I'm just not sure how I'm going to steer it."


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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Scolded Blogger

I've been informed by a couple readers that I am not a very prolific blogger on this site. I have to agree. Because most of my blogging has been reserved for the "Recent Articles" at the homepage of, I only use this site for content that might not be quite suitable for kids or content that isn't as professionally written. I do a lot of talking to younger audiences, and didn't want to feature anything off color on the main page, so I opened this blogger account just in case I felt like saying something off color. Also, as someone who gets paid to write and tends to be extremely anal as far as editing goes, sometimes it's nice to completely forget about that internal editor and let the free thought rambling go on without worries. The truth is, though, it's really difficult to write something without taking the time to go back through and edit it, so the free thought blog idea has become a casualty of that fact.

Excuse number two: As sad as this is, because I don't get paid for any of the writing or design work on this website, and in fact, because I'm spending money to do it, it sometimes becomes a lower priority than the things that do pay the bills. For those who would like to change that, you can email me to arrange an address to send checks. : ) Or ... send in your own articles about biodiesel and renewable energy, even if they're articles you haven't written. I'll post them here if they're good!

I admit that I'm getting a bit defensive here, but it tends to happen when you throw all of yourself into a project with a big scope while already working a full-time job, and then catch a little heat because you aren't providing daily updates. (Maybe I'm stretching it here, it has been four months.)

I am honored that people are reading the site and would like more content, and I'll be doing my best to continually improve on what I've got. The experiences have been coming at me faster than I can write them down, so there is definitely a delay, but this fall and winter I'd like to take the time to slow down and catch up.

In the meantime, my immediate future plans are to set the wheels down in my homebase of Portland, Oregon while I work to get more partners involved with the Eco-RV project, especially an RV manufacturer. I'd like to organize a team of local Northwest folks to work with me on this project to amplify the volume, and I'll be posting the specific needs I have in the near future.

Once a manufacturer is on board, I will probably sell the existing bioTrekker motorhome, because ideally, I'd like to see an Eco-RV built from the chassis up. If we need to do a retrofit, that's definitely possible, but I would rather start with a slightly smaller, more fuel efficient model. My current mileage in a 34-foot diesel is 10 to 13 mpg, but I'd prefer to have something between 20 and 25 feet that gets better than 15 mpg.

After a year on the road in the bioTrekker, I have a much better idea for my own RVing preferences, as well as my limits. Turning this Eco-RV project into a team project is something that is a necessity in order to see it finished correctly, so that's what I'll be setting out to do. With Nash Evans from Rocky Mountain Institute on board, I have a great start, but the more help we get, the more impressive the Eco-RV prototype will be once it's finished.

So, to those who wrote and asked, "what's up with the blog?" thank you for lighting a fire under my ass. To be honest, in the age of YouTube, I wasn't sure if people still read these things. Now that I know you are, I'll make sure to bring on the updates.

Friday, June 8, 2007

There's No Place Like The Road

We are in Kansas, Toto. It's the Wakarusa music and camping festival set in beautiful Lawrence, Kansas. We've got a crack team of biodiesel advocates: Allison, Nash, and three new friends, Theresa, Suzy and Kenny. The weather is fine and the festival folk are friendly, although we've had a couple stumblers walk up. One girl looked at the biodiesel samples and thought we were selling apple juice. Another late-nighter walked up to Allison and said, "Will it make me go 'vroom?'” Wobble, wobble, wobble. “Will you go 'vroom' with me?"

Tomorrow, we'll do some hands-on demonstrations and make some biodiesel batches with the leftover grease from the vendor tents selling curly fries and coney dogs and funnel cakes. Mmmmm. There will definitely be photos to follow.

Lovin' Lovins

One of my newest heroes plays with Orangutans. In addition to being an advocate for 'higher primates,' Amory Lovins is one of the foremost energy experts and renewable energy advocates in the country -- he's written several visionary books and founded the Rocky Mountain Institute, which I recommend everyone have a look at online. There are some amazing things happening at this place.

Lovins house near Carbondale, Colorado is also an amazing example of the possible. I just parked the 'trekker there for a few days to visit my latest business partner and 'brother in bio' Nash Evans, who is the in-house contractor at RMI. The house is 4,000 square feet and has an average utility bill of $5 a month. It's an earth bermed building with an indoor greenhouse that acts as a passive solar heater. It also has several enormous solar PV arrays, and solar thermal hot water heating. There's an indoor stream and koi pond (with turtle!) a hot tub, an enormous energy efficient fridge, etc. Basically, it's the kind of house I've been building in my mind for several years now. It's also got a 500-year life span. I did get some photos, which I'll be posting soon, but the house is being remodeled, so it doesn't look quite as beautiful as it will in a year.

Lovins' residence also serves as an office for RMI employees, and will soon re-open to the public for tours. It's a huge inspiration, and I'd recommend it (and all of Lovins' work) to anyone who is looking for an example of uplifiting human progress.

Friday, May 25, 2007

If We Have to Hear About Hilton

I don’t seek celebrity news and gossip, and I avoid most traditional news outlets, but I can’t avoid knowing about the latest saga of Paris Hilton. It could be infuriating if it weren’t so amazing. Maybe she’s really got the heart of Mother Theresa, or maybe she’s the antichrist in Gucci. I don’t know, and — until the day that Paris Hilton rescues my grandmother from drowning or is elected head-of-state, forms an army and organizes mass genocide — I don’t care.

Still, this celebrity stuff has a way of finding us all. Even if you politely ask the clowns to leave, the mainstream circus sets up the big top right outside your door and parades the screaming chimps along your porch rails until you pay attention. Somewhere, on an island off the coast of Indonesia, there’s a man in a loincloth eating roasted insects who knows that Britney Spears shaved her head.

Like Arnold the Governator, I also feel that I have “more important things to do,” than to closely follow the misdemeanors of the rich and famous. Some people think they deserve it, but I feel like it’s bad karma to revel in the low points of someone else’s life. I definitely wouldn’t have wanted press coverage during my early twenties.

But if we have to know about it, here is a very serious suggestion for the entourage of Paris Hilton or those in charge of her legal fate. If the point of her jail sentence is to make her feel like someone who doesn’t have millions of dollars in a bank account, it won’t be effective. Until the day that Paris Hilton is magically transformed into a poverty-stricken racial minority or someone born to a homeless mother or someone sexually abused by foster parents, she’ll never know how it feels to live like “the other half.”

Instead of trying to erase her fame and fortune with a 45-day jail sentence, why not put it to good use for a cause that serves her community and the world? Here is a recommendation for alternative sentencing that would do just that: Require Ms. Hilton to become a spokesperson for environmental building practices, greenhouse gas reduction and clean, renewable energy for one year. Just imagine the world stage you could create for spreading awareness of these serious issues.

First, Ms. Hilton could do this by spending her money to build a zero-energy hotel and conference center, featuring green building materials and the latest solar technology for heating and cooling. You could require that she organize renewable energy rallies to help pay for the project and mandate that a percentage of the profits return to the community. Second, she could be required to use only biofueled transportation. In fact, once she does return to driving, I know someone who can set her up a Porsche to run on 100 percent ethanol. But then she’d probably have to fund an ethanol station in Hollywood to fuel it.

There are some celebrities out there, like Darryl Hannah, who have chosen to focus their limelight in a way that also serves others. Rather than spanking those who don’t by trying to make them feel poor, doesn’t it make more sense to help them direct their considerable resources and popularity in positive ways? Rather than wishing the mainstream media outlets would give more attention to critical world issues and less to celebrity hairstyles, why not commandeer one of their favorite targets and do it for them?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

April Absence

I know. I missed April entirely on the blog. No quotes from street walkers. No men in panties and cowboy boots. No close calls with semis. I'll do better in the future, I promise. In fact, soon I'll regale you with the dumbest maneuver a man has ever pulled in a motorhome. If you like narrowly averted disasters, you'll love this.

For the next month, I'll be catching up in my home base of Portland, Oregon. Doing some writing, waterfall hiking and overall maintenance before leaving on a summer concert tour in June. Anyone going from Portland to the Sasquatch Festival, the Wakarusa Festival near Kansas City or the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee, let me know. Rides are available.

Check out the updated Links section on the website, or if you're in the mood to advertise, check out the latest ebay auction by clicking here. Biodiesel doesn't pay for itself you know.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Midwest Madness

Wisconsin has been great for the last week -- full of cold, sunny weather and a lot of new friends. It's a beautiful, bucholic country up this way. Red barns, big silos and rolling pastures around every bend. It makes me want to eat cheese. The kids at Webster Elementary were amazing and we had fun singing the new "Biodiesel, It's My Fuel" song I've been working on. Look for it on MTV very soon.

Allison toured me around the area and I got to meet some of the family, including Mugga, who is not a fan of French Onion Dip. I also witnessed the untimely end of an opossum at the paws of Major, talked about the A-team with Dell, leafed through old photos with Dave and Diane, talked fishun' with Flip the Jazz Man and walked the lake with an Original Princess (it sounds much better than the Big Princess). My thanks to everyone for the hospitality.

On Monday, March 26 I'm stoked to attend the groundbreaking of Wisconsin's largest biodiesel plant in Evansville. It's a cooperative project coordinated by the crew of North Prarie Productions LLC. Talk about empowered and enterprising individuals.

The next day, I'll begin heading west, moving at a little faster pace. I'm looking forward to seeing my Montana clan and then moving on to do some solar thermal advocacy in California before setting the wheels down in Portland for a while. Early summer in Oregon is not to be missed.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Brain Still One Month Behind Body

It's true, the adventures are happening faster than I can write them down. I'm okay with that now. I've made my peace. Hopefully, you will too. Real-time is overrated anyway. I mean, how can you possibly fault me when I'm in the company of folks like Leslie, the Mayor of Mardi Gras? Have a look at other fun and well-shot photographs by my new friend and fellow freelancer Benjamin Arseguel, at

I had to forego Florida because it felt like too much of a rush. So I'm still in Austin for another week. That's when I'll head north where spring will have fully arrived, melted all snow and banished cold temperatures. I'll have your weekend forecasts later on tonight.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Asking For Adventure

After the month I’ve had, I’m seriously considering a name change. I asked for adventures and I’m getting adventures, but maybe I should have been more specific. Maybe I should have gone with, “Tranquil Adventures in Biodiesel,” or “Occasionally Eventful Adventures in Biodiesel,” or “Zen Adventures in Biodiesel.”

And while I’m at it, it might be a good idea to cut out that part on the homepage about sprinkling in a “little insanity.” It think I left the lid loose on the jar, and the sprinkle turned into a full-on pour, because after leaving Northern California and the calm of the redwoods, the stew of my life has been heavily spiced with my own insanity.

The sky was clear when I left Crescent City and headed for Highway 199 on Tuesday morning, January 16. I’d spent the night in a vacant gravel parking lot next to a ranger station near Tolowa Dunes State Park. I didn’t realize I was doing anything I could be busted for, but it’s hard to be familiar with all the bustable offenses in every new area, so you just do your thing, secure in the knowledge that if you are doing something bustable, a buster will show up and inform you that you’ve been busted. That’s what happened in the morning, when a ranger knocked on my door and told me that he’d caught me spending the night in the lot. It was keen detective work, and I wanted to ask him how he knew that this big orange and yellow bus with green liquid flames was the same one he’d seen the night before, but busters can be sensitive. So I smiled, knowing he was just doing his job, and told him the truth: I wasn’t aware of the law he was now telling me about, that RVs are required to park in private lots.

“If we let people park wherever they wanted, there would be motorhomes filling up every spot in the summer,” the buster said.

I looked out over the huge vacant lot and he followed my gaze. “Well, even in the winter there can be a lot of visitors,” he said. “I’ll let you go with a warning this morning, but your plates are in the system. Just make sure that you park in a campground from now on.”

Now a registered offender, I made my way to Jedediah State Redwoods Park. It began to rain, a drizzle first, which became fat, high-speed drops. Shaking the moisture off after a bike ride, I climbed in the RV and set out for the Oregon border. For about ten miles, it was a peaceful drive, set in the stunning scenery of the Smith River Canyon, with impossibly-colored turquoise water gliding flat in the channels and churning white in the rocky spots.

White turned out to be the theme for the day. It started with the water. But then white began coming from the sky, made its way to my knuckles and eventually reached my face. The snow hit hard after just a few miles, and by the time I was climbing the steepest grades in a 34-foot bus, the trees, the road and the shoulder were all covered in about five inches of fresh stuff. The snowplows weren’t out yet, so the best thing to do was stay in the tracks. Turning around wasn’t an option in a big rig; none of the side roads or turnouts even had tracks. And pulling off to the side to wait it out was sketchy. What if the freak blizzard lasted for a week?

Drawing on experience from years of driving in Montana winters, I cut the speed to about 10 mph and loped up the hills and around the sharp turns. The way up was tense, but solid. It wasn’t until the descent into Oregon that the rear wheels started slipping. I’d never experienced fishtails in a 30,000-pound vehicle and I hope I never have a repeat. It felt like trying to steer a taboggan. Finally, after an inch-at-a-time downward zig-zag next to sheer canyon walls and riverside cliffs, we reached the valley floor and the snow started to thin out. It was slushy and asphalt was showing, and I decided it was okay to pry my fingernails out of the steering wheel. Things were bound to be much easier at this lower elevation.

Things were easier for about thirty miles. And then, just outside of Cave Junction, Oregon, the patches of asphalt disappeared and the slush turned to ice. A line of cars formed behind me and stretched out in front and our entire procession slowed to walking speed. We slowly passed several vehicles sitting in the ditch at various angles on both sides of the road. My fingernails found their way back to the dents still in the steering wheel, and my heart resumed it’s double-time polka pace.

I was lucky enough to find myself directly behind a loaded semi with balding tires. I was doing my best to keep off the brakes, using the engine to slow down, but that became impossible when the semi driver lost control of his trailer. The box began to slide sideways, and the front of the rig slid toward the ditch. My heart slid into my stomach, and I put on the brakes. Now the back of my coach began to slide toward the ditch. It was a slow glide to the shoulder, and I thought something like, “Well, it’s been a fun few months, but it’s all about to come to an end when I roll into this ditch.”

But the snow on the shoulder was thick and sticky enough to hold, and I came to a stop behind the semi. I never imagined it would be so nice to have a change of pants on hand. The dry britches helped, though, and I stepped out on the ice to see if I could help the truck driver with his chains. About an hour later, we were ready to start the slow roll again. Eventually, the snow thinned again, and I reached Grants Pass and I-5 just in time to line up behind hundreds of cars waiting for the truck drivers to take off their chains now that the snow was slush again.

The going was slow for most of the trip, but I reached Eugene at around seven that night, with the entire state of Oregon still in deep freeze. It’s funny how a leisurely four-hour drive can turn into an icy, eight-hour tango with near catastrophe. It’s also funny how you sometimes get exactly what you ask for. I was hoping that this bioTrekker journey would bring adventures, but I’d also been feeling the desire to slow down a bit. The trip back from California was definitely adventurous, and I was forced to slow down. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was a pattern that would be playing out for a few more weeks.

Lots of Living, Little Writing

I obviously have some catching up to do. When you’re doing lots of living that doesn’t leave too much room for doing lots of writing, so the next few blog entries will cover all the adventures of the last month. I’m in Austin now, and I’ll be in the area for the next week, but the craziness of California and the trip down was too rich to skip over. So bear with me as I play catch up.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Redwood Reverie

If you’re ever feeling uninspired or busy-brained, go sit in solitude in an old growth redwood grove. That's kinda tough to do if you’re anywhere but Northern California/Southern Oregon, but it would probably be worth the money to make the trip out, even if you’re from Miami and it’s just for a day.

I set out for the Newton B Drury scenic drive on the ol’ Mongoose this morning, and after some serious quad burn along the patchy paved/graveled coastal road where I was passed by one car and passed one person, I found that the six-mile scenic drive was closed to cars. I couldn’t have scripted it any better to enter my first experience with these enormous trees by flying down an empty two-laner. It’s a good thing there weren’t any cars on the road because I kept wobbling over the center line, preoccupied with tilting my head back as far as it would go, my eyes chasing the enormous trunks into the blue sky. I’ve ridden better with a stomach full of moonshine, but I didn’t care. At the bottom of the grade, I pulled over and read a plaque with a Steinbeck quote. It was about how the redwoods make the most irreverent men humble with awe. I had to laugh, because I think these trees might also have the opposite effect on humble folk, turning the most reverent person into a child. Just minutes earlier, I was pedaling with my arms raised, flying past 10, 12, 14-foot trunks, cheering for these beautiful ancients like they were some of the last ones on Earth. Oh … yeah …

I made it to the extravagantly-named Big Tree. You have to give it to the pioneers, they didn’t mess around with any fancy stuff. Putting dimensions on this tree doesn’t do the experience justice, but at 21-feet wide, the trunk takes longer to walk around than some apartments I've called home. And it’s as tall as a football field turned on end. I tried to take Big Tree's photograph from base to tip, but didn’t have a lens with a wide enough angle. And it’s around 1,500 years old, born when King Arthur was fighting the Saxons, the Chinese were constructing the Great Wall, and the tribes of this area were living in the shade of the giants, catching salmon, hunting game and generally doing a better job of managing their environment over thousands of years than the civilizations that replaced them would do in 200.

I heard laughing as a couple came down the trail, and I realized the Ever Living Trees were having the same effect on them. They were both smiles when they stepped into the clearing. “Is this the bi— . Holy … I guess this is the big tree!” That was from the guy, who must have been in his thirties. Big Tree subtracted twenty years from him too. “THAT is a big tree. No, that’s a biiig tree.”

Nope, he didn’t say “fantastically lofty tower of bark and branch” or “woody fortress of insane proportions.” I guess the simple name fits. After hiking the rhododendron trail and the Cathedral Trees trail, I noticed the second major effect this trees had on me: Calm.

Inner peace.

Outer peace, too. I felt no need to rush or head back to camp. They’d taken their time getting that big, maybe there’s a lesson in that.

So tomorrow, at my own leisurely pace, it’s on to Jedediah State Park to witness more of the glory.

Friday, January 12, 2007

If You’re Parking In San Francisco…

I really hope that San Francisco doesn’t float off into the Pacific, because it’s an amazing city that was kind to the bioTrekker. Well, other than finding parking. The streets were actually wider than most of Portland’s, but a free parking space is a mythical creature there, like trolls or Republicans. There was no way I was going to chance too much city driving in the hills or triangle-shaped intersections, so after a brief stay at a campground across from Candlestick Park (I’m calling it that forever, I don’t care how many companies plaster their logos on it), I headed back to the East Bay to enjoy a wide asphalt swath in front of a local “mom and pop” general goods store by the name of Target. The Targets weren’t around (it’s pronounced Tarshay, I think they’re French), but the store manager informed me that, yes, as long as it was only for a night or two, I was welcome to bask in the sunshine on their paved paradise. So after a few nights there, I scooted over to a space next to a vacant corner lot in Berkeley. Sure, the lot was fenced and topped with enough razor wire to ward off a legion of Trojan footsoldiers, but maybe the property owner had buried some gold ingots in there. My only concern was that the resident street artists who had done such a lovely job on the buildings would whip up a free “Biodizzle My Nizzle” mural on the outside of the coach. I like to be able to pay for that sort of thing.

There is a place to park oversized vehicles on the Embarcadero, but it’s $30 a day … for pavement. No hookups. No sewer station. No affable Chinese manager who tells you that the best restaurant nearby is called the Clam Shack. But for the last night, I splurged and parked my tourist attraction on Pier 30, right in the shadow of the Bay Bridge. It was almost worth it, just for the view. I never imagined I’d find parking in downtown San Francisco on a pier, three feet from the bay, although at one point, a tugboat was heading straight for me. I thought maybe I’d be torpedoed or asked to move, but instead, the tugboat docked next to a van. A guy got off the tugboat, gave a package to the guy in the van, got back on the tugboat and tugboated off. I would’ve taken a picture, but I was afraid that I might have just witnessed a Russian Mafia weapons exchange.

Algae Scientists Cage Match

Yesterday was my last day in San Francisco, and I spent it well. Hiked to the top of Buena Vista Park with some friends and got a little random mandolin serenade from a guy on a park bench. Then, for evening entertainment, I went to learn about algae at a very cool community media center on Valencia Street. Like a lot of biodiesel enthusiasts, I’ve heard about algae’s potential as a feedstock. If it lives up to its promise, algae could possibly do for biodiesel what seed crops can’t: lift it to a place where it could replace consumption of petroleum diesel. But that day is not today, and I’ve been jonesing to hear more about this from someone who has actually worked with the stuff. In other words, a real, live scienteest. Like manna from heaven, that scienteest was delivered in the form of Jonathan Meuser, a graduate student at the University of Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.

I’ll write a lot more about everything we learned from John in a more formal capacity on the biotrekker site, but for now, I’d just like to give some fun general impressions. When I first learned about the whole algae thing, I had to chuckle. I imagined thin, pale men and women with glasses, all dressed in white. I pictured them slaving away in the poorly lit basements of universities and colleges, sallow-eyed and scorned by their parents and peers for their choice of career paths.

“What’s it going to be, son? Doctor … lawyer … engineer?”

“No dad, I’m going to be a scientist.”

“Why, that’s great, Eugene! Chemical weapons and pharmaceuticals are biiiig business these days.”

“No dad, actually, I’m going to study algae.”

There would probably be a lot of silence at that point. It must be a little like telling people that you’re majoring in Byzantine Poetry.

And there would probably be a lot of taunting.

“How’s the snot-studying going, Eugene?”
“It’s algae. It’s not snot.”
“Ooooh, snot snot? Huh Huh Huh. Did you hear that Dirk? Snot snot?”

That’s not to mention the nicknames: Algae Boy, Spirogyra Freak … you know how teenagers can be.

But then…

One day, you figure out that it’s possible to turn algae into one of the fastest growing alternative fuels, and if you can crack the code and get the Dirks of the world to pass legislation funding your projects, you will not only make more money than your lawyer father, you will literally save humanity from itself. Who’s the snot studier now?

At least, that was my fantasy, so you’ll forgive me if I was a little disappointed that Jon turned out to be a casually cool California native with a healthy complexion who could play the charming resident role on one of the many prime time hospital shows. He is skinny, though.

Still, there were two points that evening where my dreams came true. The first happened when Jon put up an energy efficiency graph, comparing the efficiency of petroleum fuel and ethanol. The point of the chart was to show that a lot of energy goes into the extraction, production and transport of petroleum, and regardless of how inefficient it is, the companies doing it will simply charge the consumer as much as they need in order to cover those costs. I think that was the point anyway. To be honest, I never figured the chart out. I’ve tried to be a chart guy, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m pretty sure I was the only person there who still counts on fingers. But one of the gents near the front was a chart guy.

He said, “That’s a bullshit argument.”

Jon thought he was talking about the argument for petroleum.

The guy near the front said, “No, I mean your argument, that’s not true.”

In the science world, that’s like getting pimp-slapped by a raving methadone freak. The room was tense, but after a thirty-minute discussion of the chart, with talks of MIT studies and Bayezian analyses, they came to some form of agreement. It was the equivalent of a bare-knuckle cage match. Jon said that he encouraged people to have a critical look at all the information being discussed. That was the pile driver that allowed us to move on.

In the second round of mind-blowing discussion, Jon put up a slide of several multi-colored blobs, photos of algae under a microscope. He asked if anyone knew what types of algae were being displayed. I again felt like a two-bit hack when several folks in the audience rattled off names that ended in coccum or something similar. During the algae discussion, something like a Jeopardy lightning round happened. Jon and another fellow had a back and forth about lateral gene transfer that Alek Trebek couldn’t have explained to me with an entire deck of cue cards. Just before I began pondering whether Flash Gordon could beat Superman in a foot race, I heard, “The way they think chloroplasts evolved is that it was a bacteria that was able to photosynthesize and some type of eukaryote engulfed it and kept it.”

For future articles, I will do my best to have John explain details like this to me on my own level of science comprehension, which is somewhere around fourth grade. Then, I’ll translate for any fourth graders who might be reading. But to sum things up, and prepare you for future articles, I’d just like to say this: I joke about it, but by the end of the night, there was the prevailing sense that everyone there was on the same team. I came away feeling that it was a room full of people who are changing the world in a positive way. And if we can get the Dirks in government to help them out, we’ll all be a lot better off.

Blinding Generosity on the BART

A few nights ago, I was hitting the midnight Bay Area Rapid Transit train back to Berkeley. I had my bike and my backpack, fully loaded with my laptop and my camera. All told, about $2,500 worth of equipment, not to mention about two months worth of writing and photos that I haven’t backed up. I’d told myself repeatedly to be very careful with that bag.

The train I was on didn’t go to my station at North Berkeley, so I prepared myself to transfer as we pulled into the first station. I rolled out of the car and used my bike to scoot across the platform to the other train, and then down a few cars to one that wasn’t so crowded. I got into position, when a Latino guy with a Fedora style hat (who is now my new personal Lord and Savior) came into the train, out of breath, to tell me I’d forgotten my bag on the other train. After losing control of my bladder, I scooted out of the car I was in and back across the platform. Instead of leaving my bike in the middle, I hauled it with me through every car, pulling open the ridiculously difficult doors between each one and barely noticing the curious onlookers. The hat-wearing gentleman was behind me, guiding me to the next car and encouraging me that I could make it. I made it. My bag was miraculously still there. I grabbed it and rolled off the train. I wish I could have kissed the feet of that generous man, but all I could do was catch his eye for a moment and mumble, “You saved me.”

I don’t know how he followed me on foot so quickly. I even made it back across to the other train in time. It seemed like the trains stayed there, perched at their respective platforms for much longer than they usually do. So one of three things happened: either time stood still, I moved at the speed of light, or that short, well-dressed fellow was actually the One Omnipotent Being (or OOB) in human form, able to manipulate both BART drivers at the same time. Whoever he was, I love him.

So after severely scolding myself with a, “don’t you ever do that to me again, do you understand?” I quickly made a promise to The OOB that I would go buy the fattest Christmas Turkey I could find and give it to the next Tiny Tim I saw.

So, I’d like to testify: There are good people still left in the world. Thank Jehova for that. Halelujah and Amen.

Street Talk, Installment One

Street Talk will be a regular feature on the blog. It’s basically just a feature where I’m going to report, word-for-word, a random sampling of the things I overhear on the street in each place. I think it gives a good idea of the local flavor.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: Things are going to get a little gritty and foul-mouthed in the Street Talk section, so if you’re sensitive to gritty and foul-mouthed people, don’t read it (but how can you resist the temptation?) If you’re a kid, don’t repeat anything you read here around your parents until they start cursing around you. If you’re a teacher whose class is following along, I’m sorry. I don’t make the street talk, I just report it. Maybe you can do the cyber version of earmuffs with this entry?

San Francisco Street Talk
Scruffy looking man, maybe sixty, wobbling around a bit, approaches a group standing outside a movie theater on Haight Street. Makes fart sounds with his mouth. Guy in the group makes fart sounds back to him.

Scruffy guy: Hey, don’t steal my lines.
Guy in group: (laughs)
Scruffy guy: I’m like George Carlin on coffee. (Wobbles and makes more fart sounds) Wanna hear a joke?
Guy in group: Okay.
Scruffy guy: Why don’t you wear a skirt in San Francisco?
Guy in group: I don’t know.
Scruffy guy: Because your balls will show.

Two girls in tight jeans and huge sunglasses walking through the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, past the crowd of drummers and park sitters. Someone in the crowd yells: Wow! Haaaappy New Year! Young kid, late teens or early twenties, passes them at the same time. Spins around and starts talking as he walks backward, and says: No, Happy New Year to ME. Where are you ladies rolling in from? The girls laugh and keep on walking.

Olive skinned bald guy holding a book, screaming at the top of his lungs in Chinatown to the crowds passing by, most of them crossing the street and ignoring him: Ain’t no Buddha! Ain’t no Mohammed! It’s the Holy Bible! The Holy Bible!

Fashionable tennis players in Golden Gate Park. Mid to late thirties. Late morning. New Year’s day. Tennis player one: Do you hear them playing drums over there on Hippy Hill?
Tennis player two: Yeah, are they there a lot?
Tennis player one: Yeah. All the time. I’ll have to take Judy over there some time, she’d get a kick out of it.
Tennis player two: It’s pretty cool.
Tennis player one: I feel like I’ve stepped into a time warp. It’s like the summer of love all over again.

Guy, maybe forty, laying on a dirty blanket on the sidewalk on Filmore street, yelling: Don’t you people know how much fucking pain I’m in?

Kid in a group of three, maybe early twenties, wearing a baseball hat and “cool” clothes. Says while talking to his friend: If I don’t get laid, I get angry.

A blond lady with a scarf and retro clothes, maybe late twenties, walking down the street with a to go box, one guy on either side of her. One guy carries a roll of wrapping paper.
Lady: I got it heeeere man, and it’s mine, and it’s beeeeautiful.
First guy: But where exactly did you get it?
Lady: I got it heeeere.
Second guy: Yeah, but where’d you get it, off the back of a truck?

A guy on the bus, wearing a long sleeved t-shirt under a short sleeved t-shirt, a wallet chain and a five o clock shadow. Talking on his cell phone: Do you know how to spell marijuana, okay? It’s T-Y-L-E-R, okay. That’s me.

First Steps

It’s been a month and a half, and this wee campaign is still in its infancy, but we managed to toddle our way to sunny California after some tentative crawling around the moss-padded safety of northern Oregon. So the first real step of this journey was one of 620 miles, from Portland to Vacaville, California, just north of San Francisco. That’s a pretty good stride for a newborn. Of course, there were some initial incidents involving trees and awnings and ladders, but it takes some scrapes to get a feel for your dimensions, and it’s only going to take a few stitches to patch up.

The rideshare experience was a good one, and it’s something I’d advocate to all RVers who are open to other people and aren’t in a huge rush. There were five of us, plus bags, and we had room for more, but it was good to stretch out. We were supposed to have eight, but a no-show and two last-minute bail outs turned out to be a blessing because we ended up crashing in a parking lot and there was just enough room for everyone to sleep without anyone on the floor.

So Colleen, Mike and Kris started out as strangers when we picked them up on Friday afternoon, but by the time we all piled out into the morning sunshine on Saturday, we had made some friends. You do a little bonding when it’s two in the morning and three cups of coffee and 500 miles have pulled down your emotional walls. Plus, splitting the fuel cost turned a $200 expense into a $50 expense. That’s $30 cheaper than a greyhound bus ticket, even though you miss out on the experience of sleeping in an upright fetal position while having your seat repeatedly kicked by a hyperactive ten-year-old. Mike said the bioTrekker ride reminded him of the Green Tortoise bus rides of the sixties, only without the Grateful Dead music, pillows on the floor and smoke billowing from the windows. Colleen said it took the “creepy” out of Craigslist. Kris was nice enough to stay up and help the driver stay awake and look for a truck stop or rest area during the last few miles.

We made the trip from Eugene to Vacaville on one tank of biodiesel, and even passed up the opportunity to fill up at biofuels stations in Medford. There are no biodiesel fueling stations right now on the I-5 corridor between Ashland and Sacramento, which isn’t an issue if you have a large enough fuel tank to cover the 330 miles.

Still, the biodiesel scene in Northern California is impressive at first glance, especially in the communities surrounding San Francisco and along the coastal corridor north to Eureka. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to really explore it in depth, and synchronicity brought a great host. Christopher Murphy, who is the president of the SOCOBIO biodiesel co-operative in Santa Clara, happened to see the bus on the freeway and gave us a call on New Year’s day to help out with some biodiesel-related information. I’ll be talking with Chris a lot more to get a better feel for all the latest NorCal happenings with biofuels and sustainability.