Electric slide

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SHOCKING! | Of course the Volt is fuel-efficient; the fact it’s attractive and fun to drive is a bonus.

The Chevy Volt hybrid boasts green technology, but it’s also a blast to drive

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

After running errands one night, I drove my Chevrolet Volt electric car into my garage, plugged its charger into a standard outlet, connected the other end to a receptor on the side of the car and went inside for the night. According to the dash read-out, it would be fully charged before my first cup of coffee. Then, my mother texted me and invited me to lunch at their house — 50 miles away.

“If I go lightly on the throttle,” I think, “the Volt just might make it.”

I rarely go lightly on throttles and didn’t this morning, either. I rode gently through the Starbucks drive-through, but after that, I made myself giddy accelerating with whooshing abandon and

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HYBRIDIZED | The display makes it clear when you’re driving on electric power and when you transition to gas.

 

cruising along at 70 mph.

Exactly 41 miles into my amusement, the battery pooped out. And I didn’t care. The car changed its display screen priority from battery range to a gas gauge, woke the 1.4 liter, four-cylinder engine, and kept whirring along. When other electric cars, including The Holy Tesla, run out of power, you walk or call for a flat bed. I click to Elvis Radio and enjoy a sunny drive. Welcome to the future.

Anybody of my generation who drives the Volt will instantly transport themselves to the ‘80s and the movie Back to the Future. In case you’ve lost track of time, the DeLorean is now as old as the ‘50s cars were then; we’re only four years from the future depicted in Part II. Wall-sized televisions have come, we can video chat anywhere and libraries are obsolete. If you could have told Marty McFly about the Internet, iPads, or this car, his head would have spun off. Volt looks the part of a sci-fi star.

No other General Motors product spent more time in a wind tunnel than the Volt, which explains its perfectly honed, streamlined shape. It may not be as sexy as the original 2007 concept car, but it is much roomier, persuades wind with Chevy’s trademark crossbar grille, looks sharp in its creases, rolls on 17-in. polished alloy wheels, and pays homage to the original concept with a black strip under the windows.

A front splitter, spoiler on the hatch, and motorized grille shutters divert air with a minimum of drag — all important when attempting to inch up electric range. Some call it ugly, but I think it is handsome.

On a continuum from pure electric vehicles like the ‘90s GM EV1 and Nissan Leaf to full gasoline models like the Corvette is a wide middle band. A Toyota Prius is towards the ‘Vette side since it is a gas vehicle, assisted by batteries. The Volt is on the other half of the middle: An electric car, backed by gasoline.

Charging the Volt’s lithium ion batteries is easy. Connect the included charger to a standard outlet, open the little portal near the driver’s door by key fob or door release, plug in, and wait about 10 hours. Or install a 240v charger and cut it to four hours. (The cost per charge is about $1.50.) Regenerative per-charge brakes put some juice back into the batteries during deceleration. Chevrolet claims an all-electric range of 35 to 50 miles, but total range including gas is about 380 miles — very sizeable.

In 100-degree Texas heat with and the A/C running at full blast constantly, expect less battery range. The EPA rates the Volt 93-MPGe on electricity and 37-MPG on gasoline. Expect 60-MPG on average and low-40s, burning fossils on the highway.

That’s all cool and stuff, but I’d buy a Volt just for the driving experience. Step on the forward motion activation pedal and the car accelerates eerily smoothly, with ample torque and no gear shifts, up to 100 mph. A Sport mode makes the throttle more responsive, but eats power. Outside of tire noise and faint motor whine, the car is silent. Even with the gas engine running, there is only a distant rumble from under the hood. Since the engine powers the electric system and virtually never drives the car directly, Volt remains an electric car. Steering feel is near perfect, the chassis likes to play, and the car feels tomb solid with its 3,781 lbs. of weight. It makes some big name hybrids feel like science projects by comparison.

I couldn’t resist blasting “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News through the Bose audio system. Beyond sweet sounds, Volts come with options like heated leather seats, USB input for iPods, Bluetooth phone connectivity, automatic climate control, and front knee airbags. Navigation, audio, and climate are adjusted through a touch-sensitive center control panel. LCD screens display audio/NAV, MPH and a summary of energy usage during trips. It sounds complicated, but is as easy to use as an iPad.

Fold down rear seats and a big hatch makes it more practical than the Chevy Cruze with which it shares a basic architecture. A rear center console was necessitated by the battery pack, limiting passengers to four.

About 75 percent of us travel less than 40 miles per day, and in the Volt, we would never burn gasoline. However, if you want to drive to California, or just your parents’, fill up and go! Perhaps best of all, the Volt drives not like some cobbled-together prototype, but a fully-developed, completely-realized version of the future. This car is real, and it is a delight. To my dreadful sadness, the Volt has gone home and I am back from the future. But I know driving has forever changed.

Prices start under $35,000 after a $7,500 federal credit and include an 8-year/100,000-mile battery warranty. (Prius PLUS Performance Package, available on the Volt, is the first wave of PLUS-branded upgrades coming from Toyota in the coming months. Through relatively simple enhancements, drivers concerned about efficiency and ecology can also have a lot of fun driving their green rides. The PLUS package is priced at $3,699 for Prius Two, Three and Four models and $2,999 for Prius Five.)

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Diego all the way

San Diego’s Hillcrest gayborhood gives off major charm and hot charisma

Tenille Taggert and  Josh San Julian Contributing Travel Writers | gaytravel.com

Hilcrest
HARD TO MISS | Hillcrest is home to a bustling LGBT community in San Diego.

Homo is where the heart is, and for San Diego’s gay and lesbian community that means Hillcrest. Spanning less than a mile’s walking distance, this easygoing neighborhood makes a perfect triangle appropriately enough. Three points and one magical means of transportation will get visitors from point A to B, and then C. Genius? We say yes. This is dubbed San Diego’s Gay Triangle, and unlike the Bermuda Triangle, you will not get lost.

Urban Mo’s, a well-known gay restaurant and bar in San Diego, offers rides on their Mo’s-Mobile to their sister locations Baja Betty’s and Gossip Grill. This comes in handy for extra exploring of the neighborhood. The Mo’s-Mobile is an open-air golf cart capable of seating six and ideal for some major bar hopping. Travelers will be in luck to get Nino as a driver. He plays classic Madonna via his iPod as the cart cruises down the avenues.

Adventures should be started at Urban Mo’s mostly for the frozen black lemonade — basically a Slurpee with booze.  Happy hour can’t come soon enough, and Baja Betty’s has figured that out. They have created the “Papi Hour” where 2 p.m. is the new 4 p.m. Affordable drinks and nibbles this early in the afternoon and the kind of deal that will assure Hillcrest newbies and visitors they will never go hungry or sober again. Betty’s is famous for their margaritas, welcoming atmosphere and cheese queso dip that has earned the not-so-attractive nickname “cheese crack” because it’s just as addictive. Just don’t smoke it.

The newest addition to Hillcrest is the Gossip Grill. This lesbian hot spot is gender friendly, but the ladies have called it home. For the obligatory cup of coffee outside, Filter Coffee House is  a must. Aside from shooting up espresso beans, a cup of joe from Filter turns out to be just as invigorating and potent and the best part — it’s open 24 hours a day every day of the year. Geared with free WI-FI and European-style seating outdoors, any homework assignment or break-up coffee date can be vanquished here.

If the dance floor is beckoning, make your way to Rich’s, the gay dance club of Hillcrest. DJs make love to their turntables, which is a good thing. The spot has an outdoor dance floor, beer garden and VIP booths. Thursdays at Rich’s is Repent night which translates into ladies night. Bacchus House caters mostly to the Latino crowd with Bear Night every Saturday. For a simple speakeasy environment, cruise the gents at Pecs bar, which was named one of the top 50 gay bars in the U.S. by Logo. Bourbon Street offers many options for men and women with club nights, live music and even dining options.

Much more than cereal at the Lei Lounge is on tap for Sunday brunch where the menu  includes petit filet mignon and eggs, stuffed French toast, an omelet bar and smoked salmon quesadillas to name a few. Also on hand will be an assortment of recovering gays from heavy weekend activities.

………………………..

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

NIGHTLIFE
Rich’s San Diego, 1051 University Ave. RichsSanDiego.com. Bourbon Street, 4612 Park Blvd. BourbonStreetSD.com. Pecs Bar, 2046 University Ave. PecsBar.com. Bacchus House, 3054 University Ave. BacchusHouse.com.

DINING
Urban Mo’s Bar & Grill, 308 University Ave.
UrbanMos.com. Baja Betty’s, 1421 University Ave. BajaBettysD.com. The Gossip Grill, 1440 University Ave. TheGossipGrill.com. Filter Coffee House, pictured, 4096 30th St. MySpace.com/FilterCoffeeHouse. Lei Lounge, 4622 Park Blvd. LeiLounge.com.

RESOURCES
San Diego Gay and Lesbian Travel Guide, SanDiego.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

I ride to do my part against HIV

Valerie Holloway Skinner  |  HOLLOWAY FAMILY FOUNDATION

Valerie Holloway Skinner

Do you recall where you were in the spring of 2000? Perhaps not. Don’t feel badly; I have to confess that ordinarily I couldn’t tell you where I was last Friday, much less 10 years ago.
But I had a conversation in April of the beginning of this decade that changed my life and the lives of so many others so drastically that I’m sure I will recall it distinctly 10 years from today.
The then-executive director of AIDS Outreach Center, Mike McKay, called me to meet him for a cup of coffee and to discuss an idea he had been tossing around in his head about a fundraising event — an event we now know as the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS.  Since I was the V.P. of the Holloway Family Foundation, he asked me to ask our board to consider being the presenting sponsor of the event, which would raise money and awareness for the AIDS Outreach Center, AIDS Services of Dallas and Resource Center Dallas.
As our foundation was already committed to supporting these agencies individually, even a dull blade like me could figure out pretty quickly that having a $40,000 contribution potentially return $100,000 to these agencies was a sharp idea.
And so, here I am, 10 years later, enthusiastically anticipating the thrill of pedaling my way across what seems like a thousand miles of searing Texas wasteland — straight uphill!
A rational person might ask, “Why not just write a check and, pardon the pun, move on down the road?”  Let me see if I can explain. In 2001 I was that sensible person, and so I never even considered riding a bike in the scorching Texas sun for 175 miles into the middle of Nowheresville.
The thought literally never occurred to me.
In fact, the last time I had ridden a bicycle, I was fairly certain my mother was walking alongside of me making sure I didn’t fall over.
And so with a fair amount of detachment and nonchalance, I showed up at the closing ceremonies that first year to congratulate the riders and crewmembers for their dedication and determination. But standing on that platform, staring into those exhausted, exhilarated faces and hearing that enthusiastic, endearing crowd — well, I knew in an instant that I didn’t want to be in the audience, I wanted to be in the show.
And it’s been showtime ever since.
Is it hot? Yes. Does it sometimes rain? Yes. Are there potholes the size of Kansas and hills that would bring tears to Lance Armstrong’s eyes? Yes and, well, no.
But there are also themed pit stops to refresh and rehydrate you; motorcycle riders to guide and protect you; crew members to pamper and encourage you; and an old friend or a potential new one just around every corner — or “on your left” as it were.
Those are a handful of the somewhat superficial reasons that I have participated in some form or fashion in this ride for the past 10 years (well, maybe not in ’05 when Hurricane Rita hit, but hey, nobody could expect the Queen of Damn Near Everything to cycle in a typhoon!)
But the primary reason, the reason that keeps me coming back year after year after year after — well, you get the point — is that if I don’t ask, somebody won’t give, and if I don’t do, somebody won’t have, and if I don’t tell, somebody won’t know.
And when my kids and my grandkids look back at this decade and the crisis that is AIDS, and ask me what I did to help, I want to be able to look into their faces and tell them I did my part.
And so, as is my way, let me close with a few lines of corny prose:

If you’ve never been a part,
Ask yourself, “Why?”
You don’t know if you can do it
Until you give it a try.

You’ve nothing to lose
But a few pounds of sweat,
There’s so much to gain
And so I just bet

That 2010
Will be the year that we see
Over 200 riders
And YOU are the key

To the success of the Ride,
To the future of those
Who are counting on you.
And so I propose

That you join the Ride Family,
Even if now you don’t “get it.”
Trust me, I know,
You will NEVER forget it!
God bless and godspeed and I’ll see you in September.
To donate to Valerie Holloway Skinner, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Partner denied sick leave by AT&T

Bryan Dickenson, left, and Bill Sugg hold hands in Sugg’s room at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson on Wednesday, Jan. 27. (Source:John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Despite 100% rating from HRC, company won’t allow gay man time off to care for ailing spouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg have been together for 30 years.

For the last 12 of those years, Dickenson has worked as a communications technician for Dallas-based AT&T.

After Sugg suffered a debilitating stroke in September, Dickinson requested time off under the federal Family Medical Leave Act to care for his partner.

But AT&T is refusing to grant Dickenson the 12 weeks of leave that would be afforded to a heterosexual spouse under the act.

As a result, Dickenson is using vacation time so he can spend one afternoon a week at Sugg’s bedside at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson. But Dickenson fears that when his vacation runs out, he’ll end up being fired for requesting additional time off to care for Sugg. Dickenson’s attorney, Rob Wiley of Dallas, said he initially thought AT&T’s refusal to grant his client leave under FMLA was just a mistake on the part of the company. Wiley said he expected AT&T to quickly rectify the situation after he sent the company a friendly letter.

After all, AT&T maintains the highest score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies according to their treatment of LGBT employees. And just this week, HRC listed AT&T as one of its “Best Places to Work.”

But AT&T has stood its ground, confirming in a statement to Dallas Voice this week that the company isn’t granting Dickenson leave under FMLA because neither federal nor state law recognizes Sugg as his domestic partner.

“I really couldn’t be more disappointed with AT&T’s response,” Wiley said. “When you scratch the surface, they clearly don’t value diversity. I just think it’s an outright lie for AT&T to claim they’re a good place for gays and lesbians to work.”

Wiley added that he’s disappointed in HRC for giving AT&T its highest score. Eric Bloem, deputy director of HRC’s workplace project, said Thursday, Jan. 28 that he was looking into the matter. Bloem said a survey for the Corporate Equality Index asks companies whether they grant FMLA leave to same-sex couples, and AT&T replied affirmatively.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, so I don’t really want to make an official comment on it,” Bloem said.

Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company has “a long history of inclusiveness in the workplace.”

“There are circumstances under which our administration of our benefits plans must conform with state law, and this is one of those circumstances,” Sharp said in a written statement. “In this case, neither federal nor state law recognizes Mr. Dickenson’s domestic partner with legal status as a qualifying family member for a federal benefit program. There is no basis for this lawsuit or the allegations contained in it and we will seek its dismissal.”

Sharp didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Wiley said Sharp’s statement doesn’t make sense. No law prohibits the company from granting Dickenson an unpaid leave of absence, which is what he’s requesting. Wiley also noted that no lawsuit has been filed, because there isn’t grounds for one.

The federal FMLA applies only to heterosexual married couples, Wiley said. Some states have enacted their own versions of the FMLA, requiring companies to grant leave to gay and lesbian couples, but Texas isn’t one of them.

Wiley said the couple’s only hope is to somehow convince the company to do the right thing, which is why he contacted the media.

“At some point in time this just becomes really hateful that they wouldn’t have any compassion,” Wiley said of the company. “I think the recourse is to tell their story and let people know how AT&T really treats their employees.”

Through thick and thin

This isn’t the first time Dickenson and Sugg have endured a medical crisis.

Sugg, who’s 69 and suffers from congenital heart problems, nearly died from cardiac arrest shortly after the couple met in 1980.

At the time, Dickenson was a full-time student and didn’t have car. So he rode his bicycle from Garland to Parkland Hospital in Dallas every day to visit Sugg in the intensive care unit.

In an interview this week at the rehab facility, Sugg’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled what a Parkland nurse said at the time – “If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what the hell love is.”

“And sure enough, it was,” Sugg said over the whirr of his oxygen machine, turning to Dickenson. “As long as I have you, I can get through anything.”

Dickenson said in addition to visiting Sugg each Wednesday afternoon, he wakes up at 7:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings so he can spend the day with Sugg at the rehab facility.

This past Christmas, Dickenson spent the night on the floor of Sugg’s room.
“That would have been our first Christmas separated, and I just couldn’t bear that, him being alone on Christmas,” Dickenson said.

The worst part of the whole ordeal was when he had to return to work after taking 13 days off following Sugg’s stroke, Dickenson said. Sugg didn’t understand and thought his partner had abandoned him for good.

“He called me over and over every night, begging me to please come see him,” Dickenson said. “And I said, ’Honey, you don’t understand, I had to go back to work to save my job.’

“That’s what really hurts about what they’ve put me through, not my pain and anguish, but his,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson said it was 3 a.m. on Sept. 22 when he rushed Sugg to the hospital. Doctors initially said it was “the worst sinus infection they’d ever seen,” but within 48 hours Sugg had suffered a stroke affecting his cerebellum.

Sugg lost the ability to swallow and his sense of balance. He’s still unable to walk and suffers from double vision.

Because he wasn’t out as gay at work, Dickenson initially told supervisors that his father was sick.

When he returned to work after 13 days at the hospital, Dickenson explained that his domestic partner was ill and he needed more time off. His supervisor managed to get him an additional 30 days of unpaid leave.

In the meantime, Dickenson phoned the company’s human resources department and asked whether he’d be eligible for leave under FMLA, which allows 12 weeks (or about 90 days) per year. Dickenson said he was told that since he lives in Texas, he wouldn’t be eligible.

Dickenson filled out the FMLA forms anyway and sent them to the company, but he never got any response.

When Dickenson returned to work, he asked to be reclassified as part-time employee, so he could spend more time with Sugg. His supervisor refused and told him his best bet was FMLA leave, even though he’d already been denied.

That’s when Dickenson contacted Wiley.

Sugg is scheduled return to the couple’s Garland home from rehab in about a week, but he’s still on a feeding tube and will require nursing care. With any luck, he’ll someday be able to walk again.

Sugg bragged that he was able to drink his first cup of coffee last week, and he’s looking forward to getting back to his hobby of raising African violets.

Dickenson said he knows of at least seven medical appointments he’ll have to arrange for Sugg once he returns home. He said his vacation time likely will run out by April, and he fears that if he loses his job, the medical expenses will eventually cause him to go broke.

But Dickenson, who’s 51, said he’s committed to taking care of Sugg, even if it means living on the street someday.

“When it runs out, I’ll be fired, and it really hurts to be in a situation like that, because I’ve worked very hard for AT&T,” Dickenson said. “We suffer now, but maybe other people in our shoes in the future, if they work for AT&T, they won’t suffer like we do.”

—  John Wright