Imagine sailing past the long gas lines in a 1980s Mercedes wagon without a trace of stress about the price of fuel, the availability of fuel, or the valuable time that could be lost waiting at the pump.
That pretty much sums up the gas crunch for Asheville resident Greg Melville, the author of Greasy Rider: Two dudes, one fry-oil-powered car, and a cross-country search for a greener future. Melville’s car runs on fryer oil salvaged from restaurant trash bins, which costs him nothing. And the emissions from his vintage vehicle’s tailpipe contain some 75 percent less carbon dioxide than the exhaust from conventional cars.
“As concerned as I am to see everyone out there, it completely doesn’t affect me,” he says about the fuel shortage that’s jarred Western North Carolina. “I guess there’s something reassuring in that. As crazy as people think I am for driving a grease-powered car, as long as people are kind enough to supply me with [vegetable] oil, I’m kind of on a different track.”
In 2006, Melville drove from Burlington, Vt., to Berkeley, Calif., with the goal of making zero stops en route to purchase diesel. He and his “wingman,” Iggy, succeeded in making it the whole way on salvaged fryer oil, and Melville documented the journey in a witty narrative peppered with anecdotes of green-lifestyle solutions gleaned from across the country.
Among the illuminating moments along the way is a visit to Al Gore’s 10,000-square-foot, 70-year-old mansion in Belle Meade, Tenn. (“It was lit up like the freaking Taj Mahal!”). And the book’s informal tone makes it enjoyable read that’s accessible to anyone, green-minded or no. “This has taught me that if two goobers like us can actually get into a car and drive across the country without fossil fuels or putting a lot of carbon into the air, the answers for sustainability are easier than people think,” Melville tells Iggy as they approach the West Coast.
“To make a difference, you start with yourself—and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Melville told Xpress. “The point I’m trying to make in the book is that there are all of these easy little things that we can do to lead a more sustainable life—and in a lot of instances, it’s a lot more economical for us, too.”
Melville says his family hasn’t used their clothes dryer since June, letting free solar energy dry the clothes on a clothesline instead. He bikes his son to preschool, and his daughter takes the bus. He and his wife strive to buy local food and compost food waste.
And while Melville says he typically limits his use of the car, he’s been stockpiling veggie oil in anticipation of another road trip: a book tour up the East Coast to promote Greasy Rider. As part of the tour, he’ll appear at Malaprop’s on Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m.
@gssubhead:Laurels for WNC’s environmental leaders
Two local nonprofits have formally recognized area environmental leaders for their work. The Western North Carolina Alliance turned the spotlight on the chair of its Steering Committee, Dee Eggers, pronouncing her the winner of the 23rd annual Esther Cunningham Award. Named for the founder of the long-running nonprofit, the award honors residents who’ve shown an outstanding commitment to preserving natural resources. Eggers, an associate professor of environmental studies at UNCA, received the award at the Alliance’s annual meeting, held Sept. 20 in Waynesville.
Meanwhile, Wild South, whose Asheville office was previously known as the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, announced the first winners of its new Roosevelt-Ashe Society Conservation Awards on Sept. 26. Mike Leonard of Winston-Salem and Bill Thomas Jr. of Cedar Mountain tied for the Outstanding Leader in Conservation Award; John Ager and family of Fairview were recognized with the Outstanding Business in Conservation Award; Warren Wilson College student Courtney Cochran and UNC-Chapel Hill student Chase Pickering shared the Outstanding Youth in Conservation Award; Fred Stanback won for Outstanding Philanthropist in Conservation, and Linda Blue was recognized with the Committee’s Choice Award. Wild South’s Award of Distinction went to Charlotte Lunsford Berry, a former Asheville resident who was national chair of volunteers for the American Red Cross and now serves as chair of planned giving for United Way of America.