I sat on the turn-of-the-century couch, placed the carrying case with my gerbil in it down the ottoman, picked up a local news magazine, and began reading. Next to me, my older brother, David, eagerly read his phone, periodically quoting from the articles he was browsing. “‘Of note,’” he began, “‘during validation of Model S roof crush protection at an independent commercial facility, the testing machine failed at just above 4 g’s.’ That means…” and he skimmed to get to the good part, “is, quote ‘that at least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner’s car without the roof caving in.’ Dude, the Tesla broke the testing machine!”
My brother’s friend, Markus, paced back and forth across the oriental rug in the center of the large parlor room. “When do we get to drive it? Two people have already gotten to test drive one.” Markus was impatient. He wanted to test drive the Tesla now. We’d be on the waiting list for 10 whole minutes, and for Markus, that was about nine minutes too long.
“‘The Model S has a lower drag coefficient than any other car on the market when released,’” my brother continued. He was glued to his phone, reciting facts and statistics about the Tesla while Markus paced excitedly. Each time David mentioned something he’d just read about the Tesla, Markus would mention a fact he already knew. Because Markus knew this vehicle. Its cost, safety rating, fuel efficiency: Markus knew it all.
David, on the other hand, knew about Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla. He raved about the brilliance of the Musk family, especially the good Elon was doing by making the patents on the vehicles available for free use to those in good faith.
As I was being educated at this figurative Tesla pep rally, my gerbil, Drift, was fidgeting around. She’d pop her head up to peer out the heart-shaped windows of her case. After looking around for a few moments, she’d pop back down and burrow into the corner with all the toilet paper, causing her carrying case to twitch. Every now and then, Markus would stop pacing, stare at the gerbil’s carrying case for a moment, then return to pacing and reciting Tesla performance facts. “The Model S can go from 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds. I really hope we get to test that out!”
As the 15 minute mark approached for our wait, silence descended on the group. Markus was pacing even more wildly, eyeing people who came in to sign up for their test drives as if these people would impinge on his wait time. We had gotten there first! David was wrapped up in his phone, reading about the early life of Elon Musk, or possibly had moved on to reading about alternative economic models. I was reading the local newspaper, glancing every now and then at Drift to make sure she was ok. She’d been ill for a few days, lethargic, and there was a mass next to her eye. I was giving her drops in her eyes twice a day to reduce the mass. The vet and I were hoping it was an infection and not cancer. She seemed to be improving.
Her illness was the reason she was with me in the first place. With needing eye drops twice a day, it was easier to bring her with me on this visit to see my brother than leave her at home and ask someone else to do it. But during the drive to Aspen, the bedding in her cage had gotten wet–probably from the water leaking out of the water bottle as a result of the vibrations of the car. Instead of leaving her in the wet bedding, I’d put her in her carrying case and brought her to lunch, hoping her bedding would be dry by the time we returned to the car. It was on our way back to the car after lunch that we saw a sign for Tesla test drives.
Finally, the time came for us. We were escorted outside, the car doors were opened, and we climbed into the Tesla. I placed Drift in the middle of the backseat, between Markus and I. As the Tesla representative turned around from the passenger seat to ask us if we were ready, his eyes fell on the light pink-and-green-striped carrying case with the heart-shaped windows and green zippers. It clearly wasn’t a purse. At just that moment, Drift popped her head up, peered out the window, then went back to rearranging her shredded toilet paper.
“Um…what’s in there?” asked the Tesla representative.
“It’s a gerbil.”
“You brought a gerbil with you?”
“Yeah, why do you have a gerbil with you while we’re test driving a Tesla?” Markus asked, as if he’d only now realized how odd it was that I’d been walking around Aspen, sitting in the parlor of the Hotel Jerome, with a gerbil.
“Well,” I began to explain. But then my brother started the car.
It didn’t start with a loud rush of the engine. No. This was a Tesla. No gasoline-powered motor for this car. The engine started with a subtle hum, and the computer screen mounted on the dash lit up. On it was a display of the framework of the car, where electricity was being expended, and where it was being recovered. Of course, there were no stats at the moment as we were still parked, but the guys’ eyes lit up like it was Christmas. They both began asking questions at the same time, and it seemed the only ones who remembered the gerbil issue was the Tesla representative and myself.
“Is that how many miles to the nearest recharging station?” asked Markus, at the same time David asked “How many lithium batteries comprise the battery pack?”
They were still asking questions as we left Aspen and headed up Independence Pass.
Once on our way up the pass, it was time to test the veracity of the low center of gravity on the car. Instead of taking the tight turns at the recommended speed of 25 MPH–because, if missed, cars plummeted potentially 30 – 50 feet down into a ravine–we tested them at 55 MPH. As I sat in the back seat watching aspen trees whiz by, feeling the g-forces on my body as we hugged the tight curves, the safety report was fresh in my mind even as my life flashed before my eyes. I was only slightly comforted by the fact that I was speeding around these corners in the safest car ever made. If we crashed into trees, I told myself, we’d probably do more damage to the trees. Sound reasoning.
I glanced down at the gerbil to see if she’d noticed the g-forces on her body as well–and, if so, how she was reacting. She was sitting up in her corner, leaning to one side, then another. But this is what she did. As an albino gerbil, she’d inherited a hereditary problem with her inner ear that prevented her from balancing correctly. On a regular day, when she stood up, she’d lean slightly to one side, then to the other. It was why I named her Drift. Even when not in a car racing up a hill, turning at 60 MPH, her balance was off. She may have felt the g-forces as we hurtled around one curve, then another, but it may not have affected her balance much because she didn’t have much to begin with.
We hadn’t reached the top of the pass before the Tesla representative asked us to switch drivers. Markus was now in the driver’s seat, and as fast as David had been going, Markus was going even faster. It was like being on a rollercoaster, and in my nervousness and fear, I started giggling uncontrollably, as any sane person would. After a particularly tight turn, I glanced at David, mentally asking ‘Is he an ok driver? Will we survive?’ With a slight nod of the head, David assured me we would, and the car entered another turn.
Once again, the Tesla representative asked us to pull over. It was my turn. There’s no standard gearshift like in my car. Tesla doesn’t need one–the transmission in an electric car is completely different than that of a gasoline car. So I pressed on the “gas” and we went. Quietly, quickly the rest of the way down the road headed back into town. I did not push the limits of speed and turns the way David and Markus did, but was still at least 15 MPH above the recommended speed limit.
By the end of the ride, however, we’d answered the Tesla representative’s question about why I had a gerbil with me during the test drive: It was on her bucket list. Also, we were pretty sure she was the first gerbil ever to test drive* a Tesla.**
*She did not actually drive, as she lacks opposable thumbs.
**Not actually verified by Tesla.
Update: Markus put a down payment on an affordable Tesla and expects to have it in the spring of 2015. Drift passed away, but not before completing most of the things on her bucket list, with the exception of visiting Kansas’ largest prairie dog. I’ve heard it’s actually just a statue.