Morning finds us still on the Coast Starlight heading towards Portland, Oregon. We are currently crossing the Cascades, which are the hilly bits in northern California and Oregon. It's obvious that we're heading north and gaining some altitude because there's snow on the ground. Not a lot, but more than you'll find in an Australian ski season some years.
There's an announcement over the PA systems that whoever was smoking on the train better stop it and not do it again. It's good to see in the land that invented the Marlboro man that so much of it is now non-smoking. There is a second announcement that if they catch whoever is smoking this time, they've had their warning and they will be thrown from the train and that that hurts at 60 mph. It's rough out here in the wild West.
This style of travel is good. We get to lounge about and watch the scenery go by. This consists mostly of mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, snow and clouds. Occasionally we pass through tunnels and heavily built concrete verandah-like arrangements. We are told that these are to protect the train from avalanches and falling rocks. This is a good thing.
Things slow down after Eugene (The city in Oregon, not some guy). It had been rather damp in the preceding days and three days of continuous rain is apparently enough for the automatic signalling system to float away or something. This meant that the two hours from Eugene to Portland took four hours as we crawled along, stopping at every railway crossing to let manual signalling take place. Of course, the scenery is no longer the lovely mountains and stuff, but soggy farmland and small towns with backyards filled with wrecked pickups.
Eventually we step of the train in Portland, walk into the station and hope to meet up with John Wayland, our tour guide for Portland. We have seen pictures of him on the internet (the internet knows everything). If he is sitting in a small white electric Datsun doing burnouts, we'll recognize him. If he is standing with his hands above his head with a manic grin and a lightning bolt zapping between his hands, he'll probably also stand out from the crowd (or the crowd will stand away from him). If he is wearing a white T-shirt, sunglasses and a baseball car with his right hand raised in a friendly wave, we might pick him out from a police line-up. As it was, he was just standing there with his NEDRA(1) jacket on, but we spotted him anyway.
"Who is this John Wayland?" I pretend to hear you ask, and it is a pretence, I don't channel voices from the future, nor do the voices in my head ask things like this. But I digress.
One of the contents of the internet (2) is the Electric Vehicle Discussion List (EVDL), of which John and I are both members, along with around one thousand others. I mostly lurk, absorbing information and entertainment, while occasionally posting to blind people with my knowledge of electrical engineering and power electronics when someone else hasn't beaten me to the explanation. In contrast, John is a major contributor to the list in terms of information and entertainment. He has built heaps of electric cars and pushed the boundaries of the field much further than most people would think was sensible. And he shares this experience with the EVDL.
With years of building, owning and driving electric cars behind him, and a determination to make the world see electric cars as cool and sexy not as golf buggies, he gets up to unexpected, exciting and very entertaining antics. One of the highlights of the EVDL is a John Wayland story. This is how I knew of him. Just "knew of", we had never talked, never swapped emails, he'd never heard of me.
In the course of his Wayland tales, John had described some really beautiful bits of scenery around Portland. It was good enough to convince Linda and I that it might be worthwhile stopping for a few days in Portland to see the sights. So I sent an email to John along the lines of:
"Hi! You don't know me, I'm an EV list lurker. I'm coming to Portland for a few days, could you name a few sights to see? PS I'd love to see your cars if possible."
His reply was approximately:
"Well, I guess I know you now. I'd love to show you round Portland. I'll pick you up in the Red Beastie.(3)"
Really. That's how it went.
So here we were at Portland Station, meeting this guy for the first time and heading out the the parking lot to the Red Beastie.
1) National Electric Drag Racing Association - www.nedra.com (back)
2) I use the term "contents of the internet" to confuse the novice. The internet has a "contents" in much the same way as a feeding frenzy of seagulls has invitations and a seating plan. Chaotic is not the word since chaos is more highly organized than this internet phenomenon. (back)
3) This is one of his electric cars (back)