Spreading the gospel of Ethanol Dude

I took the wrong street, found myself lost, and that’s when I noticed … no fuel.

by John Hoff

My encounter with Ethanol Dude must have been destiny. In retrospect, there was no other reason except fate to find myself at that unfamiliar gas station, my fuel gauge redlining into emptiness, and run into Ethanol Dude that very moment.

My word, to think I can run an unmodified vehicle on a 50-50 ratio of ethanol 85 and regular gasoline. Why didn’t somebody tell me years ago so I could have spent all that time sticking it to Osama bin Laden?

That fateful night, I had just finished an unexpected, tangential errand. A young woman was working late at the Daily, and it made sense to offer a ride home.

Clearly our campus is not safe – students getting robbed left and right, now even smacked in the head with a rock. It’s time to organize the fraternities, ROTC and some of the more burly sports teams into safety patrols to take back the streets around our campus.

So it made sense to offer my co-worker a ride so she wouldn’t have to run a gauntlet of flashers, purse snatchers and bike thieves looking for an opportunity to diversify their portfolio into rape and mugging.

I had a vague plan to get something to eat on the West Bank, probably at the anarchist cooperative Hard Times Café, just so I could avoid supporting evil corporate drones that (for example) uproot our traditional gathering spots like the Purple Onion. But I took the wrong street, found myself lost, and that’s when I noticed Ö no fuel. I’d never run my gas gauge down so far. How far down could it go, I wondered.

Actually coasting to conserve gas, I managed to find a service station called Bobby & Steve’s Auto World at 1221 Washington Ave. S. I breathed a sigh of relief over the steering wheel. No more unsafe, darkened streets. No more empty tank. Here were the bright fluorescent lights, refreshing soft drinks and plentiful salty snacks of the American Dream. And fuel, the glorious guilty pleasure of fossil fuel.

Ethanol Dude was sitting next to a van by the service station. A television screen peeked out the open side door of his vehicle, proclaiming the virtues of ethanol. He had white hair and a trucker cap and was relaxing on a lawn chair. Ethanol Dude didn’t walk up and bother people, but waited for somebody to approach him and ask, Hey, what’s the deal, you and your van with the television?

Such a sales pitch this guy had, though he wasn’t selling anything but an idea. He was a retired truck driver, not to mention an organizer of anti-litter campaigns and community gardens, proud of his advanced age. I won’t say exactly how old he was, but let’s just say he probably participated in efforts to recycle scrap metal during World War II in order to help the troops at the front lines. Now his mission was to tell anybody who would listen how he runs his van on a mixture of ethanol and gasoline.

The state of Minnesota already mandates a 10 percent ethanol blend. But Ethanol Dude (whose real name is Donald O. Brown) claims you can put a mixture of 50 percent gas and 50 percent ethanol 85 in a “nonflexible fuel vehicle” (basically, any regular car) and it will run just fine. He urged me to try it, right there and then. I hedged a little, saying it might be fun to try it later, this summer maybe, when I had time to monkey around. Privately, I wondered what would happen if the experiment didn’t work.

But his calm, grandfatherly manner persuaded me. I couldn’t believe what I was doing as I stuck the E-85 nozzle in my gas tank and threw in 5 gallons on top of 5 gallons of regular gasoline. Ethanol Dude told me if my van sputtered, I could just throw another gallon of gas on top of the mixture, and that would break it down just fine.

As my engine roared to life without complaint or problem, I realized I had just saved $3 on a purchase of 10 gallons. More importantly, I was supporting local farmers instead of dubious sheiks in the Middle East. If I’m willing to put food in my body from an anarchist café, why wouldn’t I put fuel in my vehicle from a local corn patch? I’ve since discovered it’s not actually that easy to find ethanol 85 for sale, but the money saved is worth the extra effort.

I gave Ethanol Dude a couple of friendly toots of my horn as I pulled back into traffic. His little wave was a bit like a salute. His personal sacrifices, I vowed, would not be in vain. I decided to spread the gospel of Ethanol Dude the very week when students load up their vehicles for a mass exodus.

That would be right now.

And then, of course, I would urge everybody – take care, and be safe, and look out for one another during this massive campus exodus.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected].