Confessions of a Prius Owner


April 26, 2006 — -- I bought a Prius last October. I had done a story on the car about a year earlier and was surprised at how well it drove and thought all the techie gadgets were pretty darned cool. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I was still driving my 1995 VW GTI. It was peppy and fun to drive but was breaking down constantly.

In my line of work, I need a decent car and the lure of being able to use HOV lanes at all times was too irresistable (I drive lots).

It's not enough to be practical. In L.A., you are what you drive. And the Prius, I quickly learned, bestowed a special status. I suppose that's what made them so ubiquitous. I've pulled up to traffic lights where it was all Priuses waiting.

For some reason I felt slightly embarassed, like I was supposed to acknowledge my fellow Prius-ers (?). Not only are they popular, but there is definitely something odd about some Prius owners and people who want them.

I was stalked by a woman driving an ancient hatchback one day. She swerved through a parking lot and ran a stop sign to catch up to me and shouted through an open window, "Do you love your Prius? Should I get one?" I told her "sure" as the electric half of my hybrid engine quietly whisked me away.

People were always waving at me and I didn't wave back. I wondered why they were waving, then a friend told me about the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode where Larry David informs his friend that hybrid owners always wave to each other because "we're in a special club." I missed that episode, but Larry David speaks truth.

When I bought the Prius, I jokingly said it was the most status I could buy for the least amount of money. Now I'm not so sure what sort of "status" I've purchased.

The hilarious "South Park" episode about hybrid owners really seemed to put it in context. Prius owners can seem smug. After all, we get great gas mileage, our cars aren't polluting the air, we can park without paying at meters with no time limits, and then there's that HOV thing. (I also boast to my friends that Prius owners can do several other illegal things that I won't mention here.)

So I guess I can see why some people view Prius owners as pampered and whiny tree-huggers. It's interesting that other hybrid cars don't have the same cache. Experts will tell you that it's the distinctive styling of the Prius that gives drivers a "halo" effect.

Because I drive a Prius, I feel slightly pressured to adhere to some generic and murky set of beliefs that others have ascribed to Prius owners. All I know is that my old VW had a 12-gallon gas tank and I filled it up once a week. My Prius has a 10-gallon tank and I can drive for three, four, sometimes five weeks before I need to stop into a gas station. That feeling outweighs all others.

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