RECHARGING IN MONTRÉAL
July 14, 2019. Bastille Day, Montréal, Breakfast at Wimbledon. Yesterday morning I woke with the opposite of a hangover. It was the emotional afterglow of achievement, like the day after a great run, although I had anything but exercised.
It had been one small road trip for humankind, but one giant schlep for me. After scarcely driving for 15 years, I spent a tragicomic twelve hours delivering my nine-year-old son William to his first overnight camp, the all-French, few-frills Camp Claret, two-and-a-half hours outside of Montréal. A round trip that should have taken five hours became a six-stop nail-biter because I had unwittingly rented an electronic car, the kind you have to plug in every hour, like an old MacBook, or the car stops dead, anywhere, with little to no warning. No fumes for the environment, but none to coast on either. Exhaustingly, this rental-gone-wrong came on the heels of an overnight bus from New York.
By the time I discovered the error, there were no other cars with car seats available. I do blame Turo, the Airbnb of cars, for not filtering the car’s electric—ergo short-distance-only—status, but I also hold myself accountable for rushing to reserve after belatedly discovering there were no cars left for rent in Montréal. I even had one Enterprise tell me, in a fine sarcastic French, “You Americans, you show up last minute with your bags and your kids and think we can save you...”
It would have been one thing if charging stations were commonplace, but there are still only handfuls, and I had to go out of my way to reach each. To conserve the battery, I was “advised” to stay under 80km/50mph, agony even by my road wimp standards, and to not use air conditioning in the humid 85 degrees. We ran later and later while the kids and I roasted and sweated and I braved weekend traffic between far-flung charging stops, all to get William to the French and nature-immersion camp that I had decided was vital to his development this summer. Believe me, I doubted myself more than once yesterday as I questioned our safety and sanity between doors.
Two hours late for drop-off, having fended off dying cellphones, watched my only hardcopy map get sucked out the window, and temporarily lost data service—our lifeline to GPS and the car-charging app—William made it to camp. He got nervous just as we pulled in and he faced the magnitude of six nights on his own, but the counselors’ warmth and the beauty of camp prevented any tears. For a kid who thinks the Central Park Reservoir is a lake, the extraordinary sight of Lake Elgin, bobbing with kid-filled kayaks and canoes, the chicken coops and bunny warrens, and the horses to which William was brought for his first activity, captured him such that when Cordelia and I pulled away, he didn’t even look back.
I nearly made it back without dying, but 300 meters from my second-to-last charging station, the car, which said I had ten kilometers to spare, slowed itself to a haunting stop. The car’s owner called for help and an interminable hour later we were rescued and carted to the nearby outlet. The levels of rage and helplessness, then patience and perspective, that I cycled through on Saturday were painful but possibly vital to my own development. As a grown-up New Yorker, I may mistakenly believe I generally have more control than is true or wise to think.
We did make it to our address, god bless GPS (technology, the ultimate mixed blessing!), and final destination du jour, a well-appointed Airbnb studio in the arrondissement of Plateau-Mont-Royal. I am better at renting apartments than cars. When I go get William on Friday, it will be with a full tank of gas, but a sharper driving toolbox and appreciation for the future of electric cars—no noise, no smell, no smoke—when they can go the distance. In the meantime, while William’s discovering himself in nature, Cordelia and I are going to découvrir Montréal!