If you were to travel back in time 100 years, and describe smartphones and computers to the first person you saw, that person would probably assume we were living in a utopia. Yet, as any modern tech user can tell you, it’s certainly not the case. On the contrary, our technology has created a vacuum of sorts, which both creates and feeds upon a constant sense of restlessness and desire. And while society has indeed progressed significantly, with each new innovation there comes a peripheral range of psychological and physiological conundrums. We’re at once connected, but disconnected, engaged, but addicted, mobile, but sedentary.
Like everyone else, I’m more or less hooked on modern tech. And like at least a few other people, I often wish something would come along and unplug me for a while. It was then with great relish that I leaped at an opportunity from Chevrolet. Not only would they loan me a Chevy Bolt EV to drive around Portland, Oregon for the day, but furthermore provide me with a gift card to use at my leisure. Both the electric car and the gift card came joined by a simple request: that I enjoy myself, and use my personal devices as sparingly as possible, if not at all. Challenge, happily accepted.
Before describing my experience, allow me to heap praises upon the wondrous Chevy Bolt EV. Put simply, this all-electric car is a nimble, silent stunner of exceptional performance and streamlined functionality. Imagine if an iPad and a Fiat 500x had a baby and you’re heading in the right direction. To that end, the Bolt EV is compact in design, but nevertheless roomy, and equipped with two epic displays, both of which greet you with a streaming graphic every time you enter the vehicle. On the left display is helpful information like how much remaining power you have before needing to recharge. On the right display are infotainment features such as satellite radio, along with safety visuals (from the rear camera and 360 surround camera, respectively) for when you’re parking.
For those who’ve never driven an electric car, it’s also worth noting that the Chevy Bolt EV plugs in like a computer, meaning you can literally charge it using the power socket in your apartment wall (presuming you can get the car into your apartment, naturally). That said, powering up the car at one of the numerous charging stations located throughout the city is far more preferable, and much faster.
Meanwhile, the Bolt EV’s gear stick–which takes some getting used to–handles almost like a joystick, complete with side buttons. Along similar lines, the car comes to life at the touch of a button next to the steering wheel, while yet another button next to the gear stick releases the parking brake. That’s all joined by resoundingly comfortable seating, modern accents, and an electric motor so quiet you barely realise the car is on until you’ve started moving. Put it all together and you’re looking at the future of driving, period. Or at least that’s what it felt like for me. Accordingly, I couldn’t wait to take this sweet ride across town.
To be clear, I didn’t exactly leave my smartphone at home when driving around. Instead, I connected it to the Bolt EV’s display for GPS purposes, since I preferred that to the car’s OnStar Navigation, which wasn’t as effortless to use. Furthermore, the irony of using a car like the Bolt EV while theoretically “unplugging” from life hadn’t escaped me. After all, not only does the car literally “plug in”, but it comes equipped with bevy of computer-like features. In my opinion, however, that brought the whole experience together, in that I was curbing my addiction, not my access to modern resources.
Hence, for the entire Sunday, I didn’t text, scroll, comment, like, play Words with Friends, check email, read various Twitter feeds, or any other stuff I would normally do on my smartphone or computer. Armed with a car, a gift card, and a camera (for documentation purposes), I remained committed to the activities lying in wait, and nothing outside of those activities. My excitement was palpable, to say the least. But would I eventually cave to my perennial urges? Time would tell.
Upon waking up, I tended to the first order of business: coffee. Hopping into the Bolt EV, I cruised over to Ristretto Roasters on the outskirts of Portland’s NW industrial district. While Ristretto is locally known for its delicious small batch blends, this particular location is one of the most distinct coffee shops in town. Specifically, it’s positioned between the factory and storefront inside Schoolhouse Electric & Supply, a massive brick building emanating with all sorts of old-school vibes.
Dunking morsels of a chocolate banana muffin into my piping hot medium roast, I took in the adjacent storefront and its endless expanse of lighting products. The factory floor, meanwhile, remained concealed from view behind a closed door, though one must imagine it looks pretty incredible. And while some might think these surroundings sound overly stimulating or even distracting (or ironic, yet again), on this particular Sunday morning, the quiet atmosphere was pure Zen.
Once properly caffeinated, I hopped back in the Bolt EV, and drove it about a half mile to Thurman Street, parking next to a bridge. I had thus begun the next activity: a hike through Forest Park. Portland’s own epic nature retreat, Forest Park is a seemingly endless network of trails, trees, and landmarks, covering over 51,000 acres in its entirety. Today, I embarked down Lower Macleay Trail, which slithers alongside Balch Creek.
Surrounded by wet rocks, flowing water, chirping birds, crawling insects, and tall, mossy trees, I journeyed to Stone House, aka Witch’s Castle, an iconic landmark with a reportedly grim past. From there, I ducked a right up Wildwood Trail, took that to Thurman Street, and traversed the neighbourhoods until arriving back at the car. I was feeling refreshed and energised as I consciously avoided checking my phone, staving off the urge with quiet satisfaction.
With Beatles satellite radio playing at low volume, I drove to my apartment, where my wife was waiting for me. We ate a small lunch and then hopped in the car, heading back to the NW side. At long last, it was time for genuine relaxation in the most purposeful sense of the concept, as we arrived at Dragontree Spa for our early afternoon appointment.
In the men’s room, I threw my possessions into a locker, wrapped myself in a towel, and hit the sauna. Ensconced in a heat so intense you could practically touch it, I stared emptily into space, as beads of sweat emerged from every pore of my body. Eventually, a borderline sedative effect began to take hold, which eased me into a meditative state. After fifteen minutes, I exited, took a quick shower, and headed to my appointment.
Soon enough, I was undergoing a “Muscle Melt” massage at the expert hands of a young professional. For a full hour, she kneaded my flesh like dough, and rubbed various muscles into willing submission. All the while, my mind drifted, as if floating over the room, then the city, then the world itself.
In retrospect, I realise that missed emails, news headlines, and the general clutter of modern life simply didn’t exist during the massage. In their place was a mental and physical journey of striking depth, and considerable pleasure. This profound sense of liberation was ultimately fleeting, but nevertheless quite real, and thoroughly euphoric while it lasted.
For the last leg of our stay-cation, we picked up two friends–a husband and wife–and took them out to dinner. Almost immediately, the wife noted how quiet the car was as it cruised through her neighbourhood. Indeed, in the wake of my massage, it was as though the Bolt EV’s silence had taken on near symbolic dimension.
Dinner was at a restaurant called Navarre, a local favourite where French-inspired small plates are served within a cosy, rustic setting. Splitting a bottle of Italian wine between the four of us, we drank, tasted, talked, and laughed, and never once checked our mobile devices. The ambiance was at once subdued and vivacious, the food terrific. It was the perfect meal, to say the least, and the perfect closing activity to a legendary day.
Later that night, my wife and I pulled up in front of our building, and I disconnected my iPhone from the Chevy Bolt EV for the last time. It was at this moment that the urge manifested itself like some sort of frantic beast. Should I check my emails? Reply to texts? Indulge the reflex that seems to haunt us all at every single hour of the day?
No, I told myself, tucking the phone in my pocket. It could wait. Instead, I would go home and watch a movie with the wife, then crawl into bed. There was always tomorrow, after all.