Once I’d trained myself to recognize a Tesla — the Model S sedan isn’t that distinctive — I started seeing them everywhere: tooling around the Beltway, gliding up Rockville Pike, stuck with me in traffic on 16th Street. They seemed a rich person’s plaything, an indulgence, not something that I’d ever want.
Then I drove one.
Apparently, Washington is one of the leading markets for Elon Musk’s electric car. We’re an affluent market, and we like nice things. Not long ago, Tesla invited journalists to visit its new Tysons Corner showroom, on Tyco Road off of Route 7. They were smart. They didn’t stick us in the entry-level Model S — though I guess something that costs $70,000 can’t really be called “entry-level.” They handed us the keys to the top-of-the-line, $106,000 Model S P85D.
Actually, I never touched a key. As my PR handler, Jamee, sat next to me, she had on her person the small, shiny, black Tesla-shaped bauble that is the key. It looks like a wind-tunnel model hewn from a chunk of obsidian. Just having it in proximity of the car alerts the vehicle to your presence and readies the Tesla to do your bidding.
I guess a lot of cars have that these days. And some of the Tesla’s other features aren’t that unique. But some are. We got to an empty stretch of road, and Jamee suggested that I apply the brakes and bring the car to a complete stop. When we’d stopped she said, “Now, just punch it. Punch it!”
After you’ve had sex for the first time, you realize you can divide your life in two parts: before and after. So it was with driving the Tesla Model S P85D. The car exploded forward, though “exploded” is the wrong verb, since there were no tiny detonations inside combustion chambers. It was just the instant, seamless application of speed.
I felt a tingle run through my body as my internal organs rearranged themselves on either side of my spine. Then I started laughing. The P85D goes from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. It does this while in what Tesla calls “insane mode.” YouTube is full of videos of unsuspecting passengers experiencing it.
I only drove the Tesla for about 20 minutes. Barring an unexpected inheritance or a winning lottery ticket, it’s unlikely I’ll ever drive one again. I’ve never been sadder climbing into my Kia than I was that afternoon.
Musk named his car company after pioneering Serbian American scientist Nikola Tesla, which was probably smarter than naming it after himself. (Unless your name is Jovan, “Check out my new Musk!” is not something you want to tell your co-workers.)
Scribner’s magazine once called Nikola Tesla “a more original genius than Edison, veritably a wizard,” adding, “His aim is to hook man’s machinery directly to nature’s, pressing the ether waves directly into our service.”
The Washington Post quoted that in 1896. Tesla apparently didn’t make many trips to D.C., although I did find one reference from March 29, 1898 (which used an alternate spelling for Tesla’s first name). Francis J. Sprague of New York’s Sprague Electrical Co. was staying at the Hotel Raleigh, “and it is stated that both Thomas A. Edison and Nicola Tesla were with him, although this cannot be verified.”
The Post surmised that the trio was working on electrical submarine mines. If the three men were together, the reporter wrote somewhat presumptively, “it is likely that they have between them some great plan for destruction by electricity, or some invention to be used in case of war.”
As impressive a technological achievement as the Tesla Model S P85D may be, it pales in comparison to the human body, a complex assemblage of systems that science has been unable to replicate.
Like you, I’m constantly monitoring my body. I mean, you don’t monitor my body, but we all monitor our own bodies.
Which brings me in a roundabout way to one of my peeves: the overeager waiter.
I accept that it’s hard to be a waiter, to strike the right balance between friendliness and obsequiousness, to be attentive without shading into overfamiliarity. But for the love of all that is holy, can you please not take my beer away until I’ve told you I’m finished with it? This happens more than it should, which is never.
Perhaps I have some obsessive-compulsive trait, but as I approach the bottom of my beer glass my brain is making automatic, subconscious calculations. Four sips left. Three sips left. Two sips left. One sip. . . .
Whoa! What just happened? Some waiter stole my beer.
Even if I was going to order another beer, I mourn that lost, final sip. It’s even worse if I wasn’t going to order another. It throws my whole evening out of whack, an itch I cannot scratch.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.