Range Anxiety

1970 Chevy Impala, like the author’s first car. (Photographer unknown).

Like most men well into, or past middle age, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my first…car, a green, 1970 Chevrolet Impala purchased in 1977 from my brother-in-law for $550. It had a big, chrome grill, twin headlights, black vinyl roof, green vinyl interior, and a powerful, 350 cubic inch engine that generated 250 hp. It had 118,000 New York City miles on it and got about 12 miles to the gallon. There was rust almost everywhere, including beneath the floorboard, where there was a hole big enough to see the road. The vinyl on the roof was blistered and peeling, and the driver’s seat sagged so badly, I had to sit on a telephone book (remember those?) wrapped in a towel to adequately view the road. For almost three years, I drove the car back and forth over the mountain pass between Williamstown, Mass. and Albany, N.Y., through rain and snow and never got stuck. To me, it was the sex-express, carrying me on weekends from graduate school to my girlfriend.

Forty-seven years and many cars later, I’ve finally attained “the Ultimate Driving Machine”: A new, BMW I4 electric – “the Bavarian with a conscience,” I call it. It’s white, like nearly all cars belonging to retired, Florida drivers, with a faux-leather red interior, moon roof, an audiophile’s stereo and a computer that greets me when I enter. It automatically adjusts the temperature, chooses my music, maps my destination, and when it’s time to turn around and head for base, cheerfully announces, “Ok, let’s go home.”

It didn’t cost as much as you might think – after the federal EV rebate, about 100 times the cost of my first car. I charge it at home with electricity generated by rooftop panels, so I can legitimately boast it’s solar powered. But there is one problem with it – getting it re-charged on long trips. And that’s what led me to seek counseling. The following is the transcription of a recent tele-therapy session.

Dr. Michael Murphy, Clinical Psychologist: “I’m glad to meet you, Stephen! You said it was an emergency. So, first, are you in danger of self-harm?

Stephen: “I’m sorry, doc, no, it’s nothing like that. I thought I could handle this on my own, but it’s getting really bad.”

Dr. Murphy: “Go on…”

Stephen: “Well, you see, I just can’t, I mean, I’m afraid to, I get so nervous during…. Doc, I can hardly even talk about it.”

Dr. Murphy: “Stephen, please call me Mike. Do I have to tell you, I am professionally trained to hear the most intimate statements and keep them confidential. It sounds to me you are having one of those issues that all men have from time to time. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and can often be resolved with a few sessions or with a simple prescription…”

Stephen: “No, it’s not that! It has to do with my new, electric car. Every time I drive more than about 200 miles away from my home charger, I develop…you know…um…”

Mike: “Range anxiety?”

Stephen: “Yes.”

Mike: “Oh, that is serious.”

Stephen: “Do you think you can help me? On long trips, I’m constantly concerned about PED, premature electrical discharge.

Mike: “You’re afraid you won’t be able to last long enough to make it to the next charging station?”

Stephen: “Exactly. My wife is very understanding, but I’m afraid it’s pushing us apart. Just as we approach the recommended charger on route, I start sweating and tensing up. I get headaches. Sometimes I get so shaky and self-conscious, I can’t get the CCS nozzle into the fast-charging port, and even when I do, the charger often doesn’t work, and we have to get in the car and drive to another location and start all over again.”

Mike: “PED can be very challenging to treat. So, Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law hasn’t helped?”

Stephen: “Nope. He promised to build tens of thousands of new chargers, and just last week, announced plans for another 4,500, as part of a broader, $5 billion project administered by the Federal Highway Administration. But chargers are still hard to find and often broken.

Mike: “You seem to know a lot about the issue.”

Stephen: “Yes, I’m constantly reading about it, thinking about it, worrying about it.

Mike: “Clinicians call it ‘PED Scrolling’ and was listed last year in the DSM. Here, let me pull it down and read the description to you: ‘This reaction represents a type of gross personality disorganization, the basis of which is a neurotic concern that the individual’s EV will completely discharge, or discharge prematurely, resulting in the stalling of socio-affective engagement.”

Stephen: “That’s it exactly! Is there any hope for me?”

Mike: “They are reporting good success with home, electroconvulsive therapy kits. I can lend you one, but you need a special charger for it. I’m afraid we are about out of time now. Next week, same time?”


Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor Emeritus of Art History at Northwestern University and the author of Gauguin’s Skirt (Thames and Hudson, 1997), The Abu Ghraib Effect (Reaktion, 2007), The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights (Reaktion, 2015) and other books. He is also co-founder of the environmental justice non-profit,  Anthropocene Alliance. He and the artist Sue Coe have just published American Fascism, Still for Rotland Press. His next book with the artist Sue Coe The Young Person’s Illustrated Guide to American Fascism‘will be published late this summer by OR Books. He can be reached at: s-eisenman@northwestern.edu