November 2008

Want fries with that grease?

By Greg Melville
Review by
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As Kermit the Frog taught us so many years ago, it's not easy being green. That's not going to deter journalist Greg Melville, who converts his 1985 Mercedes – Benz 300TD wagon to run on waste cooking oil and lives to tell about it in Greasy Rider. Yes, the fries that you order at your local McKing In The Box can ultimately power the car that propels you back to the drive – in window. Very symmetrical, that. If the idea of filling up at the fast – food joint rather than the gas station is perplexing, consider this: 108 years ago, when he premiered his creation at Paris' Exposition Universelle, Rudolf Diesel filled its tank with peanut oil, not petrodiesel.

After negotiating, pleading and arguing with his wife, Melville undertakes a semiheroic quest: to make it from coast to coast without ever stopping at a gas pump. (And no cheating by buying a couple gallons of Wesson at the supermarket, either.) Playing Sancho Panza to Melville's Don Quixote, college pal (and part – time diesel mechanic) Iggy enlists for the duration, and this truly odd couple chugga – chug off to – quite literally – tilt at windmills on their cross – country journey. Along the way, we meet Ryan and Mike Wolf, whose five wind turbines pump over six megawatts of electricity back into the grid near Rushmore, Minnesota. We visit Google's solar – powered HQ. We discover how Fort Knox is home not only to the treasure of Goldfinger's dreams, but also to the largest geothermal heating system in the world.

Like every great tale about every great quest, Greasy Rider isn't really the story it pretends to be. What our heroes learn along the journey is far more important than whether they get to California, entertaining though that may be (and, incidentally, it is). At a time when greenhouse gases, global warming, declining petroleum reserves, high gas prices and the size of our individual and collective carbon footprints are the subject of cocktail chatter and election – year rhetoric, Melville deftly taps into America's can – do zeitgeist … perhaps the greenest, most renewable energy source of all.

By the way, Melville wasn't the first to do the coast – to – coast grease – burning run. Filmmakers Joey Carey and JJ Beck did in 2006, and made a film about it called – Greasy Rider.

Thane Tierney lives in Los Angeles, where he contributes to a cleaner environment by telecommuting.

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Greasy Rider

Greasy Rider

By Greg Melville
ISBN 9781565125957

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