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Nissan Xterra Fuel Cell SUV Team
Kazuo Nagashima and Brian Johnston arrive with Nissan Xterra fuel cell SUV.

California Cruising By Civic Hybrid - Part 2

Life can sometimes manifest some strange coincidences.

By Bill Moore

Editor's Note: This article was written on a Psion PDA over the North Pole while enroute to Beijing, China.

I don't know if you believe in synchronicity. I am not sure I even fully understand the concept, but I find it difficult to explain what happened to us when we arrived in Monterey any other way, but I'll save that until later.

We were driving the new Honda Civic Hybrid on our first visit to Monterey, California. The city is one of the oldest in the state, serving as the provincial capital of Spanish California until forcibly appropriated by the United States in 1847 in one of those characteristically brazen political moves that was the hallmark of a youthful nation propelled by its "manifest destiny ".

It would be within just a few hundred feet of the start of the California Coast 2002 Road Rally that Rear Admiral Sloat's sailors and marines hauled down the flag of Mexico and raised the Stars and Stripes. America's westward expansion had reached its natural limit a mere 71 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The broad bay that bears the name of the town still offers protective shelter from Pacific storms and eventually attracted a thriving fishing industry. For a period of time in the last century, Monterey was the sardine canning capital of the West Coast, made famous by John Steinbeck. Today its Cannery Row is lined with shops, restaurants and hotels.

Knowing only vaguely that the Rally would start on Monterey's plaza the following day, I decided to get my bearings first. I pulled off Highway One at the town center exit and following the signs to the visitor's center near the harbor. With a famished wife urging me to find a place to eat before embarking on more sightseeing, I asked the center's hostess where to find lunch. Gratefully, Fisherman's Wharf was just three blocks away and here we'd have our choice of at least ten different restaurants. My wife gets a bit "irritable" when she's hungry.

We parked the Civic Hybrid in the expansive lot adjacent to the harbor where we overlooked scores of very expensive sailing yachts and barnacled fishing boats in need of a good hull scraping and fresh coat of paint. It would turn out that in this very lot is where the car makers participating in the rally would park their fuel cell and support vehicles overnight. By pure coincidence, we found exactly the right place to be.

While we ate lunch, we watched a trio of gulls harass a sea otter in the harbor who playfully kept just out of their reach with his own lunch. A pair of sea lions cavorted among the moored vessels, seemingly playing hide and seek. One could easily fall in love with such a place and I can now better appreciate why the Spanish picked this wondrous location for their provincial capital.

The lady from the visitor's center had given us a map and small pamphlet of sights to see in Monterey, so after lunch we set out to explore a few on foot and work off our meal.

Ever befuddled by the vagaries of local weather, we returned to the Honda to make sure it was okay -- I tend to be just a little paranoid when the car belongs to someone else -- and get our jackets. It was then I discovered the "ding" in the left rear fender, one which an earlier photo would show was already there when we received the car. At this time, however, I just hoped Honda would understand that we hadn't caused it. So, with our wind breakers tied around our waists, we set off to explore Old Monterey on foot.

Our first stop was Custom House, the oldest government building in California. It was here ship captains in the late 18th and early 19th century were required to declare their cargoes and pay an import duty prior to trading with the Spanish settlements along the coast. Of coarse, many a wily captain would off-load a portion of his cargo down the coast on the Channel Islands opposite the mission at Santa Barbara to avoid paying duty on them. The fuel cell vehicle rally we would be following would retrace their course back down the rugged coast.

Alvarado Street runs up into town from Custom House. Today it is lined with art galleries, coffee houses, jewelry stores and a handful of expatriate British pubs. And every Tuesday night two blocks are closed off at 4 PM for Farmer's Market, a moveable feast of fresh fruits, vegetables and brightly colored flowers. For my wife and I it was an sensory banquet as we sampled plump grapes, dried apricots and pesticide-free apples, straight from the orchards and vineyards surrounding Monterey. And everywhere I turned there were incredibly beautiful photographs begging to be taken.

Having eaten our fill and eager to check into our motel, we headed back to the car, passing Ford's fuel cell Focus on the way. The team from Sacramento had parked it strategically in the Farmer's Market, a smart public relations move clearly not anticipated by the other manufacturers.

As we crossed the plaza and entered the parking lot we met a couple who were admiring Honda's FCX-V4. We struck up a conversation as I explained how fuels cells work.

It was at this point that things started to get just a bit weird. The man not only went to the same high school I did but graduated just two years behind me. He and his wife now managed a camp ground near Pinnacles State Park south of Salinas. As we talked, the Nissan team arrived with their fuel cell Xterra SUV on a trailer. We said our good-byes to the couple and I walked over to the Nissan team to take their photos.

Kazuo Nagashima and Brian Johnston had pulled the Xterra down from Sacramento. I introduced myself and asked if I could take their pictures. They agreed and Brian mentioned that he read EV World regularly. Then he asked where I lived in Papillion.

Now, I've met few people who even know that EV World is published in Papillion, Nebraska let alone where it is. But Brian not only knew of Papillion, he had once lived there between the sixth and tenth grades. While he couldn't remember the name of the street his family had lived on, it was near the high school and not far from where we live. Even more surprising, Brian said that he and our son had been in the same class. They would have graduated together had not Brian's father taken another job in California and moved the family back to the Golden State.

Brian would eventually go to UC Davis and work on hybrid electric cars, taking a job with Nissan in their advance vehicle program. That program would eventually bring the three of us together in a parking lot half a continent away from our hometown on what would have been our son's 31st birthday.

It truly is a small world and one occasionally graced with wonderful and strange synchronicities.

To Be Continued...

Times Article Viewed: 3643
Published: 22-Sep-2002

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