Alternative Lifestyle

Commentary: Alphabet Soup

by Kristina Campbell
Published on August 24, 2006, 12:00am | Comments

One of my earliest lessons about homeownership in Takoma Park -- a certified Hippie Town -- was that gas-powered lawn mowers are, like, so uncool.

I had never before owned a lawn mower and so had never thought about the different options. I knew that a human-powered reel mower was the height of environmental panache, but I also knew that my energy conservation efforts are more likely to lean toward conserving my own energy.

When we bought our house, the sellers asked if we wanted to come over and look at some stuff they didn't want to take with them. They were moving to Puerto Rico and I suppose shipping all of their lawn implements and furniture was impractical.

So Norman took me out to the shed and pointed out various things. I'd seen most of them before, but would have no idea what to call them or, more importantly, what to do with them. The one item that was unmistakably familiar -- the piece de resistance of the shed, if you will -- was the lawn mower.

Norman casually mentioned that it was an electric mower, and added, ''Gotta have electric in Takoma Park, you know.'' I was silent as I wondered what exactly an electric mower entailed. I knew nothing about lawn care and Norman was offering a great deal on all of shed's contents, and his lawn was spectacular. I knew that buying these items from him would ensure that we'd have a lovely lawn for years -- nay, decades -- to come.

Meanwhile, he was saying something about being careful not to run over the cord, which struck terror in my heart. Cord? It was just occurring to me what ''electric'' really meant. Granted, if he had been talking to me about a gas mower, my heart would have been racing over mention of the gas can. I'm an equal-opportunity hysteric.

But I quickly mastered the art of the electric mower. I am the de facto lawn-mower operator in my house, due to some alleged allergies on the part of my partner. I am the one who wrestles with the 100-foot extension cord. I am proud to say that in eight years, I have never run over a cord. A friend once did, when I was paying her to mow the lawn -- a gesture that was half sympathy for her financial woes, half utter laziness on my part.

When Norman's lawn mower died a few years ago, we headed off to Home Depot for its replacement. I didn't even glance at the gas mowers; my dilemma was whether I should pay big bucks to go cordless. The gas issue was out of the question, not just because of the social pressure, but because ''gas can'' still causes my heart to race.

An incident from my youth explains my anxiety about gas-powered mowers. I was quite small -- younger than 6 -- and as I remember it, my father had carried a leaky gas can across our front lawn before he mowed it. Then there was something involving the grill, which required fire. And then there was a terrifying line of fire snaking across the grass of our front lawn.

I probably cried, which was my standby response to any unpleasant or uncomfortable situation. My older brother, meanwhile, ran around the house yelling, ''FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE!'' The fire department responded quickly (not to my brother's yells; someone had phoned them) and the blaze was immediately extinguished.

My more recent experience with electric lawn mowers may have triggered my interest in getting a hybrid car. It was a pursuit I began half-heartedly last summer and then abandoned when faced with a giant veterinary bill that caused me to rethink my financial fitness.

One of my challenges was that I require a manual transmission -- it's non-negotiable. For some reason, there aren't many manual hybrids out there, but I found one last summer, offered by a private seller -- low miles, decent price, exactly what I was looking for. But the timing was all wrong.

When I renewed my search this spring, I was delighted to see that the same car was once again listed -- same low miles, garage-kept, excellent condition, etc., etc. The price, however, had come down significantly, making it an incredible deal. It turned out to be a woman who was selling the car on behalf of her parents, who had moved to England, and she hadn't been terribly aggressive about the process, choosing to let the car sit in the garage most of the time, driving it maybe once or twice a week to the store.

For various reasons, buying this car was a frustrating and involved process that lasted about four months and involved no fewer than three separate trips to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. A fourth trip during that time was required for me to renew my driver's license, which expired as I grew old waiting to take possession of the hybrid.

The seller was great -- and her parents, whom I met when they visited from England late in the process -- were also fantastic. None of them could believe I'd stuck with the transaction so long, through so many twists and turns, but it was the car I wanted, it was spectacularly cheap, and I wasn't willing to give up on it.

A few weeks ago, the process was finalized at last and the car became legally titled and registered as my own. With my hybrid car and my electric mower, I can fly my Takoma Park flag with pride.

And I can breathe easily: There's no cord to run over with the car.

Kristina Campbell can be spotted around Takoma Park doing her part to save Mother Earth. Don't look for her at area gas stations -- she doesn't have reason to go there often. She can be reached at kcampbell@metroweekly.com.


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