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Converting to biodiesel a bit like making music

Dannye Romine Powell

I woke this morning with a revelation in neon: I lack the turn of mind to do what Bob Teixeira has done – convert a 1981 diesel Mercedes to run on vegetable oil.

Before I dig into personality quirks, I'll remind you that Bob is the guy who, despite his good, green intentions, got nabbed last year when a cop spotted his “Powered by 100% Vegetable Oil” sticker.

His fine: $1,000 for not paying motor fuel taxes.

I know, I know. He wasn't even using gas.

This was simply a case of red-faced bureaucracy lagging behind the state's clear advocacy of cleaner air.

Thanks to Bob, and others who've been slapped for going to the trouble and expense of converting to vegetable oil, Gov. Mike Easley has since signed a bill exempting biodiesel for personal car use from the motor fuel tax.

Now about those turns of mind.

Have you ever wondered what separates those of us who dutifully fill the recycle bin with paper, plastic and glass from the growing number eager to ditch petroleum for peanut oil?

Bob's a classical guitarist who teaches music at CPCC, Queens and Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs.

I wondered if the conversion process itself might be a cozy fit with his turn of mind.

I was right. He compares it to the process of musical composition.

“It's about having a vision and following through with it,” he says. “You don't know where it's going to end up, and it has bumps along the way just like a car (running on vegetable oil) that won't start when it's 20 degrees outside.”

Pleasure is an added kick

Bob didn't stop with vegetable oil. He has also invested in two stoves that run on corn kernels or recycled wood pellets.

Yet he's the first to say he's no hero. Lots of people have done what he's done, he insists, and lots are doing more.

For instance, Bob says he and his wife and 5-year-old son live in a 1912 two-story Craftsman house in Elizabeth that's not yet airtight. And, oops, he admits to also driving a 2004 Land Rover Discovery.

Hero or not, pure or not, Bob has all the right environmental instincts. The pleasure he derives from the process is an added kick.

Bob's given us a key here.

Pleasure is a great motivator. Our challenge is to figure out how to hitch it to the green wagon.

A cleaner, safer world is a lovely slogan.

But it's often pleasure that fuels more of us into action.

Dannye: 704-358-5230; dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

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