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Dallas SunsetI love my car. I know I have said this before but let me say it again: I love my car.

I wish I could say that I always wanted a hybrid car since I was a child, but that would be lying. As a child, what I really wanted was a car that could fly. I designed one with Lego. It was basically a helicopter car and mobile home all in one. I would have preferred jet propulsion but my logo set didn’t allow for jets.

In my dream world, I had my flying car parked outside my own little corner store that had a secret elevator leading to my subterranean home which doubled as a self-sufficient bomb shelter. I planned on living off yoghurt, protected from the world by complicated layers of water and lead shielding. I never imagined wanting a wife but I always assumed I would need one for the purposes of having kids or something.

Anyway, those dreams aside, my next best choice for a car would have to be an electric or hybrid car. My father worked on the dream of an electric car using similar technology some years ago. Almost 12 years ago I would say. He explained to me the concept of regenerative braking way before I was old enough to drive a car. I guess ever since then the idea of an electric car has appealed to my geeky sensibilities.

This is my very first car too and so I have found myself lovingly washing it more than I expected I would. The stupid Texas bugs keep splatting on the nice white paint job. I drive a good 60 miles per day and that’s a lot of bugs. To keep the bugs off the windscreen I set off to my faithful Wal-Mart to go get some additive for my windscreen wiper reservoir.

P1010761I spent 15 minutes walking up and down the “car cleaning products” aisle, vainly looking for something to use as windscreen wiper fluid. There was every other car cleaning product under the sun but nothing pertaining to windscreens. I eventually grabbed some window cleaner, a little crestfallen at the thought that mighty Wal-Mart had failed me. I walked over to the next aisle and lo and behold. There was a whole aisle (no, I am not kidding, a whole aisle) dedicated to windscreen wiper additive products. I love Wal-Mart.

Another problem I have found is that the big 16 wheelers kick up a lot of stones which fly up and chip the paint. In response to that, I bought a bit of touch-up paint so that I can fastidiously protect the finish against the ravages of the interstate. One could say I have become a little car-proud. I really am proud of my car.

For example, one of the frequent criticisms leveled at the Prius is poor handling. I haven’t had any difficulty with it. The ABS braking and the steering are all top-notch. Here’s an extreme case: I was on my way to work, driving at about 65mph when I came across two eagles feasting on road kill in the other lane (yes, eagles can be carrion birds). I started to slow down. One of these magnificent birds took off. A sensible bird would have flown away from the car, staying in the opposite lane. This was obviously something of a daft bird because it veered into my lane, wings spread wide. I was heading straight for it! I jerked the steering wheel to one side. I swerved my little Prius around an eagle in full flight and missed it by a very small margin. Now that’s what I call handling!

That said, though, the Prius does have very small wheels (for the sake of fuel efficiency). This has an interesting side-effect I didn’t expect: it wheel-spins, even in dry weather.

You see, the small tires combined with a light frame and high torque from the hybrid engine means that if I put my foot down at the lights, I get a little unintentional wheel-spin. It also means that I tend to “take off” at the lights a little faster than your average Texas car (diesel powered 2 ton SUV).

This can cause some people a little consternation. One afternoon I was driving home from church and ended up stopping next to the usual SUV at the lights. When we got the green light, I put my foot down, pulling off smoothly with the usual small (unintentional) wheel-spin. The guy in the large SUV next to me must have seen this little white car with the gay bumper sticker whiz past him and got fed up. He sped up to catch me!

Now, I am not into street racing but there was such a great deal of temptation for me to open the throttle and burn him to the next lights. Instead, I stopped accelerating at the speed limit (35 mph) and let him zoom past me once he had gained enough momentum. He quickly cut in front of me so that at the next lights I would not be able to be so cheeky as to beat him at the lights again.

It’s not that the Prius is slow mind you, not by any stretch of the imagination. Since driving down to Austin I have started driving like a Texan rather than a New Zealander. This means 72 in the 65mph zone and 76 in the 70mph zone. I have found myself slipping into 80mph quite comfortably in certain circumstances. Due to this more aggressive driving, my fuel economy has dropped from 48mpg to 44mpg. Still, with the price of petrol at $2 / gallon, it’s not all that bad.

One always has to be careful of the cops when driving at Texas speeds. The general rule of thumb is “never be the fastest car on the road”. The trick is to ensure you’re never in the lead. If a Texan wants to pass you, they will tailgate you mercilessly at 75mph until you pull out into the right-hand-lane and let them pass. I have become expert at darting into the right-hand-lane to let people whiz past, then back into the left hand lane to get around the large truck.

Since arriving here I have done more driving in a month than I did in my entire lifetime (not too hard really). When I return to New Zealand I will be hard pressed to stay still for long.