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An America to be proud of

A team of U-C-S-D engineers plans to drive an electric car from San Diego to South Carolina in two days. The car uses new technology that breaks the electric battery into small module units.

At the end of a week-long heat wave last month, I left Ellicott City to pick up a Baltimore City Community College student, Malika, to go to Center Valley, Pa., for Energy Path 2019 summer camp. On the drive up, we ran out of kWh in my electric car, and in the process, found an America we can be proud of.

The scene: me, a 55-year old Asian-American, driving with Malika, a 22-year old African-American, in a 100% electric car. My Nissan Leaf gets a 120-mile range under ideal driving conditions — not in a heat wave with the air conditioner on.

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The only fast charger near our route was broken, which really set us behind; we had to use two Level 2 chargers, taking eight times as long to charge. Long story short: I got impatient at the amount of time needed to charge our car along the way, and completely ran out of kilowatt-hours half a mile away from our destination.

Luckily, when we ran out of kWh, it was on a country road where cars only drove 40 mph. With Malika’s instructions, we put the car in neutral, me steering and pushing from the driver side and Malika pushing from behind. We waved upcoming cars to go ahead, hoping no one would slam into us.

Four cars passed by, and then one car stopped. A middle-aged man got out and ran toward us. We stopped pushing and waved at him. As he approached, he said: “I swear I’m not a rapist.”

I gave him a “you-got-to-be-kidding me look” and said: “What are you talking about? You are our angel!” We shook hands and in the 100-degree heat, I forgot his name two seconds after he said it. Let’s call him Eric.

Malika, Eric and I pushed the car into DeSales University, where Energy Path 2019 was being held and toward the first outdoor outlet we could see. We plugged it into the 110 V outlet. Nothing. We hit the reset button on the outdoor outlet. Still no signal. No one around on a Sunday at 6 p.m. to ask for help.

Eric decided he and his wife should drive Malika and me to energy camp registration so that we can get help from there. We loaded his car up with our luggage and followed the “Energy Path” signs.

A few minutes later, Eric told his wife to stop.

She said, “I can’t. There’s a cop behind us.”

He said “Exactly.”

She stopped.

Eric got out, and I tried to make small talk with introductions to his wife. A long minute passed, and Malika and I simultaneously unbuckled our seat belts, and said: “Let’s see what’s happening.”

I think our subconscious mind took in the vision of what was occurring behind us — an African-American man (Eric) talking to a white cop. The officer looked at us as we headed toward him. I explained how Eric helped us push our dead electric car to an outdoor plug, which unfortunately is dead. Could he help us find a live outlet?

We got the help we needed from this officer, and Eric and his wife resumed their trip to a community picnic they had been heading to before encountering us.

As I looked back on the day, I wondered what people would think had they overheard the conversation between this middle-aged Asian American and my African-American young adult friend, about our families, our dreams and our work.

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What would people think about a white woman driving her African-American husband and two non-white hitchhikers through Center Valley, Pa.? Would Eric have said: “I swear I’m not a rapist” if he were not aware of our societal bias against black men?

What I see from a hundred-feet-above view of this trip is ordinary people going about their everyday lives with open hearts to help and hear each other, despite all the background biases that have been ingrained into us. What I see is an America to be proud of.

Sabrina S. Fu (rousfu@verizon.net) is a professor at the University of Maryland University College.

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