The ride into work Monday was filled with sad irony, automotive in nature as it was.

“Global Whining” said the bumper sticker directly ahead. And at the intersection of Routes 9 and 112 in Saco where I sat on my road bike it reminded me what I’d lost the day before.

For a year and a half I drove a Volkswagen veggie car, that German classic with the diesel engine that ran on pure used, filtered vegetable oil.

Grease cars they’re called, or gel cars, bio buses, alternative fuel vehicles.

Mine was simply the Veg.

Even when it sold last weekend to a diesel enthusiast from upstate New York, he kept calling it a Passat, but it was not. In my mind this 1996 TDI model was not that German wonder known to some as the “poor-man’s Audi.” The Veg was never about image.

It was about the shamrocks stenciled across the back. It was different. It was fun. And it was clean … at least combustion-wise.

Never a car person, I was proud of the Veg, enough to advertise its special powers. “This Car Loves Veg” ran in green with shamrocks across the bumper.

The Veg smelled like a carnival and looked like a clunker, but that freakish french fry odor taught me in a meaningful way how it feels to be mindful, to tread gently if you will.

For six months I collected my own grease after three months of trying to find a supplier. After so many gasoline drivers told me this would be easy I learned that veggie drivers are everywhere.

The bartender at a popular pub in Portland even said their used vegetable oil goes to a New Jersey company owned by the mob.
So, I did not try to collect there.

Instead I went underground shaking out every source and neighbor or friend. Finally the Veg’s five-gallons a week came from a small corporate cafeteria that was run by a chef who thought my effort was cool.

It cost me nothing, covered the 300 miles I drive to work each week, and made that ferocious 55-mpg engine hum.

But eventually the hassle of this out-of-the-way effort got in the way of life. Then I bartered for oil at the veg mechanic’s house, with beer most of the time, and at least one time Irish whiskey.

However, when the Veg started having old-car problems, expensive German-car repairs with the timing belt, breaks, coolant system, and shocks, I had to think hard about giving it up, about going back to gasoline. Truth be told, it wasn’t exactly the perfect ride for a mountain-going fan of winter.

Its front-wheel drive was worthless getting up the Sugarloaf access road in a snow storm and simply impractical driving the slippery frost heaves on the way to Mount Washington. In the end, the Veg had problems I couldn’t live with or afford.

It was a romantic notion from the start, but as it changed veggie oil into a magical way of transport, it converted my way of thinking.
Mostly I learned that it feels good to live clean.

So even after last week’s exciting purchase of one of those new low-emission Subarus with that spankin’ Japanese all-wheel-drive, I’m still wondering, how do you go back?

What if after years of recycling newspapers, milk jugs and tin cans you had to throw all of it in the trash, if the state you lived in did not recycle. How would you feel? What would you do?

It’s a little like that.

The hope is to do the 64-mile daily round-trip commute at least partially by road bike.  It’s not about fitness or looks. It’s about caring and acting. Doing one thing with the hope it will snowball.

That was the realization leaving Portland Monday, the same day as that bumper sticker mocked my environmental heart.

Late that afternoon I found another solution. Waiting for the turnpike express that would cut the bike ride home from 32 miles to a more manageable nine, I was met by a coworker who had recently purchased his first road bike.

Press Herald reporter Trevor Maxwell stopped to talk about his new form of transport. And as he shared his excitement, he left me with something to think about.

“I got on it, and started going fast,” Maxwell said as he admired my carbon-lite  bike.  “And I thought, ‘Why have I never done this before?’”

 Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:
[email protected]

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