Back home in Finland, I commute by car, largely because the Kumpula campus where I work, is very poorly reachable by public transport from places north of it. Also for the past years The Daughter’s daycare was not within walking distance from our home, so public transport really was not even an option. Of course on some days, I’d leave the car home, but that was a rare occurrence. In fact, the last time I’ve commuted regularly with public transport was back in 1998 when I was in France and right before I bought a car. This was in the south, near Antibes where public transport towards inland where my office was is pretty much non-existent. Thereafter I lived in Germany, but my office was within walking distance, so no need for any kind of transport.
When we came to Berkeley, I had figured that I’d walk to the nearest BART station (Ashby), take the BART for one stop, get off in downtown Berkeley, and walk to the office (ICSI). This would avoid the need to have a car, which would have been a bit complicated for only a 5 month stay. We figured we could always rent a car on the weekends, which is what we’ve done on a regular basis to see the region. Then, one weekend we happened to drive to downtown Berkeley and after a grand total of about 5 minutes of driving, we arrived. This prompted the Better Half to suggest that I walk to work. It’s about 2 miles and the bonus was that The Daugher’s school was on the way, so I’ve been getting a fair amount of good exercise during the stay here. The car renting, on the other hand, has given me the chance to sample a wide variety of different cars, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Two things stand out from the mass of automobiles that I have had the pleasure of driving.
First one are the Fords. I’ve had a couple of Ford Focuses here, one Ford Escape (an SUV) and I’ve rented a couple of Ford Focuses in Europe as well in the past. All the Fords so far have had one thing in common, namely that they come with an anorexic engine, even the SUV. Sure, you can’t expect rental cars on the cheap end of the price range to have all the goodies loaded, but how come the Chryslers, Chevrolets, Nissans, Toyotas, etc., all have a decent engine? You can easily tell this by pressing the gas pedal. If the car reacts, there is a sufficient power in the engine, if it doesn’t react, it’s probably a Ford, at least in my experience (or the Chevrolet Cruze that we have this weekend…).
I’ve tried everything. I’ve insulted the car. I’ve yelled obscenities at it (not when the Kids are around, though). I’ve invited the fleas of a thousand camels to infest the nether regions of the car’s designers, but all to no avail. Press gas pedal, no reaction from engine. Press gas pedal harder, still no reaction from engine. Yes, I’m fully aware of the difference between the brake and the gas pedal, but I’m slowly getting the impression that Ford’s designers are not quite so aware of that little crucial difference between those two pedals. Although I’m quite certain that if you paid enough money, you could buy a Ford with a decent engine, a lingering doubt will prevent me from becoming a Ford owner in the future (not that I’ve ever owned one either).
An interesting new friend was Nissan Leaf, an electric car. Renting it was a semi-accident, since I was given the choice between the Leaf and a large van. The person at the rental agency said the Leaf could run 80-85 miles on a full charge and since we weren’t planning on driving much that weekend, I figured might as well give it a try. I wouldn’t have had a good place to recharge it either, so it was good we didn’t drive much. I also didn’t feel like getting a van. This car brought to light some of my internal anxieties. The range anxiety, in case you were wondering. In case you didn’t click on that Wikipedia link, this means worrying about the car running out of power. Sure, normal cars can run out of gas, but that doesn’t happen every 80 miles or so.
However, the Leaf was nice to drive and actually has been one of the best cars I’ve rented during this stay, from a driving experience point of view. When you press the gas pedal, that baby jumps. 🙂 In fact, it would make for a nice second car back in Finland for driving to work and back, except for one little thing. The price. 35 000 EUR or more for that little thing is just way out of my price range, even if electricity would be cheaper than gas. The short range and long charging times could be a bit of an issue, though.
In two weeks we’ll be back in Finland and it’s back to the old commuting routines. The Kids are in daycare again out of public transport range, so it’s back to the car (not that I mind driving). The new airport railroad in Helsinki will pass near our home, but that won’t help getting the Kids to daycare nor help me get to my office. It will be an option for going to downtown Helsinki, but based on past history, that won’t be a frequent occurrence. Still, will be very nice to have that option (in two years from now when it’s supposed to be completed…)