Thursday, March 14, 2013

fear and loathing of vegetable oil

i wasn't alone in my desire to withhold money from the oil companies.  most who had taken up the cause of the boycott, even those of us who converted to public transportation for commuting, would still drive occasionally.  by the middle of the decade following 9/11, people had re-discovered that the diesel engine was actually meant to run on peanut oil and modern diesels could do so again with only minor modifications.  soon, every fucker with a trust fund and a trucker hat who had heard the letters d i y and whose time wasn't already taken by some other conscience project was in the market for a converted diesel.  i got swept up in the vegetable oil revolution and got me one, sans trucker hat.

while the satisfaction from outsmugging every prius driver i saw with "still runs on gas, asshole" was great, free fuel was the real objective, that grand notion that you could go from l.a. to s.f. on what kfc threw out last night*.  securing this free oil required dealing with sleazy restaurant managers, assessing the quality of the received product, ensuring that rules skirted are not exposed and all manner of other activity similar to buying drugs in an unfamiliar city.  but even after finding and laying claim to an oil source, turf wars could ensue.

the vegetable oil revolution had taken such firm footing in silver lake, heart of hipsterville, that presumably precious land was housed a used car lot dealing in converted vehicles.  once acquired, these cars had to be fed; and owners competed for feed.  in these weird vegetable oil contests, attrition was usually the winning strategy.  as the weak and undetermined falter in their attempts at refining and otherwise have their spoiled temperaments bored, they eventually give up.  this was verified with glee in craigslistings reading "wvo system for free" accompanied with a location too close to the restaurant not to be the vanquished.  unfortunately, this was also the first sign that the diy vegetable oil revolution would be short-lived, as any movement counting on the attention span of combatants so easily thwarted can only be doomed.

even for the victors of such battles, things were not easy.  making the weekly pick-up rounds was invigorating at first, a sense of purpose satisfied.  as with any responsibility, it eventually became grating and tiresome, especially when your wife has a weekly date with lonely kitchen staff because the hours available for pick-up were during my day job's work hours.  even if i could take my mind off any potential misbehavior there, perfecting the refining process took many iterations, each one painfully accompanied by a call to aaa and a trip to the mechanic.  and if even that wasn't enough, a garage full of hoses, pumps and weird interconnected containers full of weird liquid was easily mistaken for a potentially explosive reaction from a distance.  the parallels with illicit drugs in unfamiliar places continued.

when gas reached $4.25/gal again, my suppliers were no longer content with the free oil-hauling service i was providing.  others were offering cash.  solar panels and electric cars were now cheap enough so i traded vegetables in for the sun.  others also abandoned the vegetable oil revolution.  trucker hats gave way to spandex jeans and energy independence got lost in talks of occupying something or other.  though diy vegetable oil may be dying because it's just too hard for its idealistic practitioners, biodiesel, especially in places like brazil, will carry their flag into the future.

so long, old friend.  and thanks for the memories.

* -- something i actually managed to do once, albeit not with stuff from kfc.  that shit'll fuck up your engine if you don't have serious chemicals to treat it with.