Life on Baltimore's electric vehicle frontier

When my husband urged us to replace our aging Honda Civic with a new vehicle that would require an electric charge, I said no. I refuse to walk the dog, I told him. By which I meant, this vehicle, like a pet, would require extra care and feeding. And I had no desire to fit that into my busy schedule.

So we bought the car. I barely had time to ask the dealer, "Does anybody buy this car? How come I've never seen it advertised?" Oh, well.


After just two weeks, it's fair to say my husband is walking the dog. But we'll see how long that lasts, before the "dog" is whining and scratching to go out and he's occupied elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a whole new world has opened up before us. Who knew there are maps and apps dedicated to showing you where all the public electric vehicle (aka EV) charging stations are lurking in your city, and beyond? It's like discovering a hidden treasure map. Or maybe more like chasing after weird phantom characters that show up on your phone while you pretend they're just around the corner.


And who knew you couldn't just drive up to any one of these chargers, plug in your power cord, and watch as invisible gallons of electricity provide the snack your hungry car craves?

I sure didn't.

Th EV market is still in its infancy, which means the auto manufacturers each think they're going to come out the big winner and dominate market share. (I'm talking to you, Elon Musk.) It's just like the early years of personal computing when every computer maker had its own operating system and software — IBM, Wang, Kaypro — and they couldn't talk to each other. Some of you actually know what I'm talking about.

Nobody wants to relive those days. Except, perhaps, my husband, who seems eager for us to join this new early-adopter crowd so we can stumble around trying to figure out how, where, when, and for how long we need to hook up our car to an EV station.

Despite being 3 inches longer, the second-generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt doesn’t look much different from the side except for the shark-fin antenna.

Oh, I forgot to mention the car needs gas too. It's got holes for nozzles on two sides. Double the pleasure, double the fun. It's a hybrid in the truest sense. Or maybe a clumsy environmental superhero — gas-powered by day, silently electric by night.

Here's what life is like as an early adopter. We take the new car for a long spin from Baltimore up to New York. We stop for snacks (no gas needed, as this is a super-fuel-efficient car, so there's that). Lo and behold, there's an EV charging station at the Joyce Kilmer rest stop! We're excited! We pull up to the charger. An older woman rushes over to us and asks, "Can I watch?" (I'm not making this up.) We're turning heads like a Kardashian at a Walmart!

My husband the dog-walker takes out the big, hefty charging cord and stretches it to the charger. No dice. The plug thingies are incompatible. Turns out this station caters to BMW and Nissan. What do we own? Hint: It's not a BMW or a Nissan. Or a Tesla, which has its own bright red and white charging poles all lined up at Joyce Kilmer.

On the bright side, after some false starts, we found two compatible charging stations near home. (And because we're early adopters, nobody else parks there!)


One day soon, we hope, we'll get around this by installing a dedicated heavy-duty outlet at our own reserved parking space in our apartment building garage. But there's another lesson learned: You need an electrician, possibly a dedicated electric meter, and the will to cut through a bunch of red tape to get this done. And this isn't free!

In the end, it's still a car. It gets us where we need to go. I'll probably get used to it, in time. After all, I really loved that Kaypro word processor, back in the day.

But I'm still not walking the dog.

Amy Bernstein is a writer in Baltimore. She can be reached at Just don't ask her to explain how a hybrid-electric vehicle works. She has no idea.