The father-son baseball tour remains a time-honored summer diversion. Hop in a car and head to a series of distant ballparks with nothing on the agenda but companionship, tasty snacks and America’s national pastime. What could be finer?
Some would argue that, as national pastimes go, baseball’s time is past. But inside the ballpark’s friendly confines and among its still numerous devotees, time stopped early in the last century, when this slowest of games commanded an entire nation’s relaxed attention. Designated hitters, blaring Jumbotron scoreboards and fusion nachos aside, baseball recalls a simpler, happier era, even if its pastoral rhythms struggle for mindshare in an increasingly impatient, fast-paced and violent world.
For more than a century, fans have set out for distant diamonds in gasoline-powered conveyances. But increasingly, it occurred to us, people will rely on battery power. So when we put the call into Volvo asking to borrow its new XC40 Recharge BEV, we explained the concept behind this trip – might we prove that the newfangled electric machines were compatible with traveling substantial distances and the summer baseball holiday generally? Or would we wind up treating the Recharge, no matter how fast, comfortable or appealing, like a Pittsburgh Pirates reliever who’s blown yet another commanding lead in a tragi-comedic 6th inning, and give it the trapdoor treatment before our 1,200 mile outing was complete? The Recharge arrived at our doorstep days later and, spoiler alert, we’re happy to say it closed out the game successfully.
Setting out from a suburb along the banks of the mineral- and chemical-rich Hudson River just north of New York City, we headed first for the nation’s capital, home of Nationals Park. A few weeks earlier, three people were shot outside of Washington, D.C.’s major league stadium, but as I explained to my son’s mother, their beef probably didn’t have to do with the soon-to-become universal designated hitter rule, which is the only thing we committed National League (Pirates) fans wanted to argue about.
A more serious problem occurred to us, however, when I realized during our first charge stop, a perfectly pleasant 20-minute top up at an Electrify America station adjacent to a Wawa market and gas station in New Castle, Delaware, that the game wasn’t starting at 7:05 pm as I’d supposed, but at an unconventional for a weekday 4:05 pm.
The XC40 Recharge is unexpectedly brisk in fast highway duty, with 60 mph coming up in just over 4 seconds and a governed top speed of 112 miles per hour certainly capable of getting you to the game on time. We’d have made the opening pitch, too, if either my Waze app or the car’s installed Google Maps facility – super useful in locating charging stations along the route, which it suggests automatically – was able to accurately direct us to the poorly-marked, set back from the road Hilton hotel in the District’s L’Enfant Plaza. But, alas, both guidance systems sent us in competing endless circles near the hotel, but never to it, before chucking us twice back into horrible inner city highway traffic at rush hour, which comes early to D.C., even in summer, and took us another hour to escape. “That’s because you’re supposed to set your sat-nav for the Spy Museum,” the exasperated telephone receptionist explained when we called frantically, telling us visitors from a strange land something we had no way of knowing.
Wherein intruded our first truly awful charging experience. The Hilton purports to offer electric car charging for its guests. And sure enough, three flights down in an adjacent parking garage, there were a pair of Blink low-speed charging units. On the highway, a low-speed charger would have spelled slow death (26 hours from empty to full charge,) but as we were going to spending the night, it seemed a viable option. However, leaving my 13-year-old lad, Milo, and our frequent baseball traveling companion, Richard Hart, to check in, I drove underground into the garage only to discover I needed to download the Blink app. This was a problem three flights under, down where no phone signal exists. Compounding matters, we were locked out of the garage’s wi-fi because we didn’t know the password and no one in the garage office did, either. Twenty minutes later, a kindly manager ambled by with it, allowing us to download the app, pay and make it to the baseball game for the fifth inning, just in time for a mighty 3-run blast on behalf of the Nationals by former Pirate star Josh Bell, in what nevertheless turned out to be, in very Pirates-like fashion, a losing effort for the Nats.
A good time was had by all, nevertheless, although in the morning the losing streak continued when we discovered that the Blink charger had completely failed to charge the XC40’s batteries, taking us from 20% to 19% juice overnight. Mercifully this was more than enough to get us the following morning to a high-speed charger a mile and a half away. But it was a reminder of how things can go wrong, how slow and lame some charging offerings are, and how painful their failures might potentially be. In the road trip bummers we have known department, this wasn’t quite as upsetting as a tank of bad gas, but close. Once we finally plugged in to a quick charger a mile away the outlook improved, but genuine horror unfolded when a lady parking lot attendant nearby was hit by a car. She was not fatally injured and we didn’t see the incident, but her anguished screaming, amplified underground, haunted our dreams for days.
The trip to Baltimore the following afternoon was uneventful, with another gratifyingly fast and easy top-up charge on the way to the city’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards. As we’d been finding out, other EV users are delighted to chat and compare notes while charging and appear to be an educated and amiable bunch, which presumably will change when everyone goes electric and people can get back to the business of being ignorant, grumpy and unsociable. We’d get good advice throughout our trip and were pleased to see XC40 Recharges at several of our stops, along with more than a few Bolts and Volkswagen ID4s. Teslas of course have their own charging network, which despite promises to the contrary, as yet remain unusable by non-members of the Musk fraternity.
The first of the “retro” ballparks that came to rescue the sport in the early 1990s from the huge yet diabolically claustrophobic and bland concrete fortresses that started to plague the game in the 1970s, Camden Yard is no longer the nation’s most alluring new park, but still quite nice. The Orioles’ season, on the other hand, has been one of abject misery. Still, perched right behind the losing team’s All-Star center fielder Cedric Mullins we were able to watch at least one Oriole who does it right. And owing to several sets of nearby butterfingers, Milo wound up with a souvenir baseball that was tossed into the crowd, a key marker of vacation success in his view.
Next stop was Philadelphia, a 106-mile jaunt which required no additional charging with the Recharge’s EPA estimated 208-mile range. Sadly, our hotel had no electric car charging capability and Philly itself seemed light on convenient high-speed facilities, so we took the subway out to Citizens Bank Park, another new park that has incorporated the lessons of Camden Yards to make for another swell couple of days at the ballpark as we watched a remarkably lackluster NY Mets squad fall conclusively out of first place by dumping three in a row to the hometown heroes, whose rowdy fans managed to drown out a huge number of visiting New York supporters, aided no doubt by the soul-crushingly glum news from the field for the Metropolitans.
From there we were off for a 311-mile jaunt to Pittsburgh. It was summertime — 2021-style, close to 100 degrees — but the charging was easy. And the electric car’s air conditioning was fully and mercifully up to snuff. Two twenty-minute stops at Electrify America charging stations adjacent to shopping malls and convenience marts were adequate to the task and passed quickly, presenting an ideal opportunity for hydration, rest room visits, catching up on email and caloric overload. We met more EV owners and fielded a truly astonishing number of compliments from drivers of all kinds of cars for the XC40’s sage green finish, a new color that reminded us of the enduring excellence of pastel shades. For reasons unknown, carmakers have spent decades running away from them in favor of metallics and a color spectrum that increasingly resembles in its limited selection the range of the Home Depot appliance section, with a little metal flake thrown in. The recent adoption by many makers of pastel grays and now Volvo with sage green hopefully point a path out of the tedium pool.
The Pirates’ PNC Park is the best in the nation – and I say this not on account of partisanship but because of its design and spectacular location, hard by the Allegheny River with scenic vistas of downtown Pittsburgh and the city’s yellow, iron bridges framing the verdant real-grass diamond. Don’t take our word. No less an authority than the renowned architecture critic Paul Goldberger has adjudged it the nation’s finest. So intimate, so charming, it tops even the venerable classics, Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Too bad the Pirates quickly fell behind their arch-nemesis St. Louis Cardinals in a game that featured the Bucs’ signature attack of late, combining minimal hitting with weak pitching to predictable effect.
Charging in Pittsburgh, like Philadelphia, was a bit disastrous, too, not least because there were no high-speed charging stations near our downtown hotel. We settled for a nearby slow-charging station in the PPG building garage, but were startled to wake up the following morning and open the following email from our new friends at ChargePoint:
So by the following afternoon we’d have racked up an additional $48 in fees, but, then again, we had parked overnight. So much to figure out, so much to annoy, mystify and surprise in a bad way. But much had become clear. In short, we learned a lot in our baseball tour.
- Charging can be pleasant, even for non-Tesla owners (there is no serious argument that theirs’ stands anywhere but the head of the class for now) and with continued investment it should become more so. Faster, too. Electrify America good, Blink bad.
- Personally, we think that it is only a matter of time before the oil companies get the government to pay them to install charging facilities at their gas stations and mega-mini-marts, which is where they make so much of their money anyway. What are they waiting for?
- The Pirates have heart. But management really ought to spend more on acquiring and retaining better players.
- Any hardships or extra time spent charging electric cars are broadly worth the effort and we expect associated negatives to diminish in fairly short order. There’s too many industrial plans and too much big money riding on it for them not to.
- The people we met loved their current (no pun intended) electric cars, even those who’d come out of often brilliant Teslas, some of whom related alarming stories of operational failures, exorbitant repair bills, sketchy recalls and warranty exclusions.
- Early adopters are there, right or wrong, to do the beta testing, identify and help weed out the bugs and most seem happy to put up with a little inconvenience now and again. Who hasn’t been inconvenienced by an ICE car? But the cars are good and getting better and they’re delighting consumers who’ve taken the plunge. The XC40 Recharge is a very good and practical car, even for long road trips.
- EVs? Electric Volvos? Game on. Batter up.