Depending on traffic, weather, and traveling partner (boyfriend? buddy? sex pal?), the drive between Los Angeles and Palm Springs can vary from a perfect road trip to a long day’s journey into hellish night. Attempting the trip recently in a battery-powered Nissan Leaf loaner fell somewhere in the middle, though my ignorance of plug-in vehicles, along with my boyfriend’s, helped sink our chances of a stress-free journey.
Splitting our time between L.A. and Cathedral City — a modest city abutting Palm Springs — Robbie and I are well acclimated with the approximately 100 mile ride between the downtowns of L.A. and P.S. With the Leaf’s engine promising an uninterrupted 107 mile ride, we thought this would be a fun adventure. We packed up a couple bags, threw our Chiweenie in the back, and climbed into the comfy, modern Leaf, feeling sanctimonious for our exhaust and gas-free commute.
The car drove like honey, but as we raced east through L.A., the mileage began precipitously dropping. Hmm, that’s curious, we thought, quietly worried. The one thing we did right was download the PlugShare app, which alerted us to a charging station in Rancho Cucamonga, where our mileage read about 40 miles, not nearly enough to get to the desert. Unfortunately, it was in the middle of a barren office park, with nothing nearby. We plugged in and walked the half-mile to civilization.
After fighting over which fast-food joint to patronize (there was nothing else!), we headed back to the car. An hour after plugging in, we were only up to 60 miles. We’d exhausted our recreational opportunities in this stretch of suburbia, so we hit the road again, encouraged at least by the amount of charging stations on the way.
Moving at 75 mph (ok, maybe 82), our mileage sunk like a stone. We puttered into a car dealership in Moreno Valley, plugged in, and retired to a gazebo in the middle of a hot parking lot. After two hours, and approximately 18 scrolls through our Facebook feeds, we checked the battery — 20 miles. At this point, with nothing waiting for us except a dinner reservation at 8:30 p.m., we tried to laugh at how our supposed two hour journey morphed into five; with lots more miles to go. Well, it’s an adventure… with no gas money!
We hoped to make it all the way to the outlets in Cabazon, which were about exactly 20 miles from us. Nope. With our battery depleted we pulled into a pharmacy and charged in, stopping in to buy coffee and candy. There was hope, though! The plug-ins at the outlets were super-chargers, meaning the Leaf would be fully juiced in less than an hour (and about 10 or 15 bucks).
We found our way to the outlets, but the only chargers we saw were for Teslas. Panic was setting in a little; this was starting to feel like Sandra Bullock’s ordeal in Gravity. After some heavy breathing and sleuthing, we found the non-Tesla super-charger. We plugged in, bought some heavily-discounted polo shirts, and walked back to the car 45 minutes later; we had about a half hour to get to our romantic dinner reservation in uptown Palm Springs.
Sweating, we started the car and checked the battery: 102 miles! We hauled ass to downtown P.S., walking in two minutes late to our reservation, while Mimi chiweenie snoozed in the Leaf. We toasted our adventure, one not soon to be forgotten, and ate like pigs.
Heading back to L.A. two days later, we anticipated a similar eight-hour odyssey. In fact, we left fully charged and didn’t have to stop once. Encountering some stop-and-go traffic and downhill moments, the battery stayed juiced to the nines. Apparently, that’s the secret, hitting the gas regenerates the battery. Cruising, as opposed to pounding the gas, also keeps the battery lit.
Would we take the Leaf again to P.S.? No, but with a charging station a few blocks from our apartment, we both agreed it would make a perfect city car for short distances. We’ll leave the sanctimonious living for Los Angeles.