Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Greasy Rider: A Review

I recently signed as on as an Early Reviewer at LibraryThing. My first review appears below.

Greg Melville’s Greasy Rider describes the author’s effort at converting a 1985 Mercedes wagon to run on used fry grease from restaurants and driving it from Vermont to California. Encouraged by the prospect of locating free energy, Melville opts to operate his car exclusively on fry grease instead of biodiesel, which still contains a percentage of petroleum. As a test of the feasibility of this alternative fuel, Melville decides to emulate the cross-country trip of H. Nelson Jackson, who, as Melville says, was the first person to cross the country in a car running on petroleum. Relatively challenged by auto mechanics, however, Melville enlists the help of Iggy, his former college roommate, to help maintain the engine and to help fill the container in the trunk with waste restaurant grease.

Prompted by Iggy, who gives Melville various challenges or errands to discover more about green energy, the narrative is broken up by six of these errands, most of which occur after the initial trip and are included as addendums or side-trips, so to speak. These errands include research into Al Gore’s own 10,000 foot mansion to determine whether his house is heated and cooled with green energy; how a few Minnesota farmers are in the midst of making wind power profitable; how cellulosic ethanol, the conversion of plants into energy without using corn and without using the expensive distillation process currently employed to create ethanol, could, according to Lee Lynd, a professor at Dartmouth, significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels; a visit to Google’s headquarters where solar energy is generated and could, conceivably, power a portion of the buildings on the Google campus if the energy weren’t sold to the energy grid in that area; the creation of geothermal energy at Fort Knox; and a visit to a green Wal-Mart in Texas. These explorations reveal not only the hypocrisy of Al Gore but also the individual and corporate efforts at adopting green alternatives.

Often humorous because of Melville’s initial attempts at locating restaurant grease at fast food restaurants, the narrative describes the system that Melville and Iggy adopt to fill their fuel container. By the time that these two guys reach California, it is possible as a reader to smell the grease stored and emitted by this Mercedes, a smell which is so strong, Melville says, that every article of clothing he brought along for the trip became permeated with the smell. Coupled with this problem, the narrator finds it difficult to remain in such close quarters with his former college roommate, eventually exploding at what he considers as his friend’s irritating mannerisms.

While this narrative proves that it is possible to make a cross country trip on the grease gathered from restaurants, it also calls into question the viability of such an alternative to gasoline because of the potential run on restaurant grease if enough people converted their own cars to operate on the same alternative fuel. It may be possible to subsist on this fuel when driving locally if the car owner reserves a constant supply of this fuel supply. Should the restaurant close down, or once enough other people start clamoring for the same fuel, the possibility of relying exclusively on this free fuel becomes remote.

Ultimately, I would have liked seeing more exploration into alternative fuels and green energy. If the narrative were widened to include what’s being done elsewhere in the world and how the oil corporations have resisted pumping their billions into green energy, the book would have been more than a trip across the country, one containing the adventure of pumping restaurant grease, the difficulty of maintaining a lengthy car trip with another male, and side trips to consult other mavericks and other sites of green energy.