bill watanabeBy BILL WATANABE

A little over a year ago, my wife and I bought a brand-new hybrid Camry. After I retired from work, we decided to be a one-car family and I conceded that my wife should have priority for the car since she is still working full-time. (As I’ve written before, I’ve become a veteran bus and train rider since giving up my car.)

My wife and I love the Camry — it’s roomy and smooth, and gets great gas mileage. We are averaging about 40 miles per gallon, which is twice the mileage we got from our previous car (which happened to be an older non-hybrid Camry). We both feel good about reducing our carbon footprint and doing a small part to help the environment.

Whenever I drive the Camry, I am always watching the extra dials and dash displays that tell drivers how well they are maximizing the hybrid technology. There is a display with color coding that shows whether the engine is operating or the battery is engaged (or both). Another display with dials and bar graphs can show instantaneously the mpg being achieved at that moment of driving.

To top it all off — after you’ve done your best to get the most mpg from the car — if you did a good job, there is a congratulatory message on the dash screen saying things like “Excellent! You got 44.5 mpg on this trip!” Strangely enough, even though it is my car (which is only a machine) giving me accolades, I get a feeling of great satisfaction over my accomplishment. For a while now, I have been able to keep our mpg average at exactly 40.0 and am working hard to get it up to 40.1 or 40.2 mpg.

However, my wife is the primary driver of the car. The other day, I noticed the mpg counter had fallen to 39.9 and I was a little irritated. Whenever she is driving and I am the passenger, I find myself writhing in my seat as I keep an eye on the dashboard, working hard to hold back any comments or criticisms about her near-total disregard of the mpg dials and displays.

Whenever she accelerates too fast (eating up gas more quickly), I cringe. My mind makes mental notes that she brakes too late and too hard (and doesn’t take advantage of the battery-charging and brake liner-saving features). She never feathers the gas pedal to allow the battery to kick in and power the engine in order to reduce gasoline consumption. In my silent exasperation, I tell myself, “No wonder the mpg fell below 40.0!” I can sense a building tension in our relationship.

Prior to getting the hybrid, we had our usual share of criticizing each other’s driving habits. We would actually laugh sometimes because the comments made by my wife while I was driving would often be the same comments I would make while she was driving! You know — statements like “You’re driving too fast” or “You’re following too close.” But after 40 years of marriage, we have gotten used to each other’s jibes and comments. Now, with the hybrid, I find myself with a whole extra layer of concerns and criticisms and I begin to wonder if this could lead to a divorce!

I tell myself to give my wife some slack. After all, she is still working and when she is driving to work (she is a teacher) her mind is focused on the job or she is in a hurry to get to her class on time. Mpg is definitely not on her priority list.

I told my thirty-something daughter about my hybrid dilemma. My daughter is a good driver but she always seems to have to get somewhere quickly. Anyways, she told me she has a pet peeve about mileage-conscious hybrid drivers who drive slow but don’t stay in the slow lanes. She says she can always tell when she is behind such a driver and they are trying to max out the mileage and slowing her down. Of course, it’s ironic because people my age don’t have many years left, so we should be the ones in a hurry to get somewhere!

At any rate, I am trying to convince myself to be happy with our overall car performance. 39.9 is still pretty good, and we have cut our gas consumption in half, and we have done our bit for the environment. I guess I could be satisfied with that and all in all, life is good!


Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near downtown Los Angeles and can be contacted at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


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