i stay at wayne's home, part of a modern suburban development between Chicago and Milwaukee on Lake Michigan's western shore. It's not the kind of place where people drive compact cars, much less hybrids. "There's a Hummer over there," Wayne says after we step inside, pointing to a neighbor's house beyond his microwave. "And there's a Hummer over there," he says, pointing past his TV, the largest flat-screen I've ever seen outside of a sports bar. In the kitchen with us is Hobbit—he prefers that to his real name—another visitor who is staying at Wayne's house while attending Hybridfest. Hobbit has a patchy beard and a braided ponytail and travels in bare feet. He looks and thinks like the ecoradical you might expect a hypermiler to be and confesses he's surprised by Wayne's home and lifestyle. "I thought you'd be living like a college student," he says.
Unlike most hypermilers, the most fuel-efficient driver on the planet doesn't own a hybrid. He sold his Honda Insight two years ago and bought a 2005 Accord for the luxury of power mirrors, heated leather seats, and a state-of-the-art navigation system. He uses the Accord for a hellacious two-hour commute to the Braidwood Nuclear Power Station, where he works as an operator. His wife drives a 2003 Acura mdx, a seven-seater with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that advertises itself as "the suv benchmark." Wayne also owns a 2003 Ford Ranger, which he used to haul 5,000 pounds of lawn care equipment when he had a landscaping business on the side. He's also proud of his Exmark Laser Z sit-down mower. "I can mow an acre a gallon," he says.
The morning after I arrive, Hobbit and I squeeze into the front seat of the Ranger to join Wayne on a milk run. He starts the truck—well, gets it rolling—by releasing the emergency brake and putting the gearshift in neutral before jumping out and pushing the 3,330-pound vehicle down his sloping driveway with the engine off. He jumps in and, without braking, turns right, swerves around a dead skunk in the road, and then takes a left turn—again without braking—to a stop sign. Ahead, the light is red. "This is a long light," he says. "I'm screwed. We have to throw it away." "Throw it away" is the phrase Wayne uses to describe what most of us do with gasoline. We throw gas away when we accelerate fast, when we turn on the air conditioning, when we leave heavy stuff in the trunk, when we drive with a roof rack, when we don't change the oil, when we underinflate our tires, when we roll down the windows, when we speed, when we brake, or when we idle. Wayne might seem a radical at times, but he's really a conservative: He doesn't want to throw anything away.
Even parking is not a routine matter with Wayne, as I learn when he chooses an isolated spot in the strip mall lot. "This is potential parking with a face-out," he says. Potential parking, Wayne explains, is when you park at the highest spot in a parking lot. That way, you rely on gravity to get going rather than on the ice—the acronym Wayne uses for the internal combustion engine. A face-out is like it sounds: facing out into the open lot, allowing a driver to avoid backing up, braking, and then moving forward. "Nobody uses it," he says, "but they darn well should. It's a nearly empty parking lot, and you see people jammed in nose to nose. It's screwed up."
As we're driving out of the parking lot, Wayne comes to the top of a small hill and tells me he's doing a fas. "What?" I ask. "That's a forced auto stop," he says, which is putting the car in neutral, turning off the engine, and gliding. It's illegal in some states—with the engine off, you can lose your power brakes after a few pumps, and with older cars, you can lose your power steering—but it's a favorite driving tool of many hypermilers.
Wayne loves acronyms almost as much as he loves FE (that's fuel economy). d-fas is a "draft-assisted fas," which means fasing while you're tailgating an 18-wheeler to reduce air resistance. dwb means "driving without brakes," which is not really driving without brakes—even Wayne doesn't do that—but driving as if you don't have brakes. P&G is a pulse and glide, which I still don't understand, but Wayne defines it in his notes for his Hybridfest presentation this way: "In a nutshell, it includes a fas in many hybrid and non-hybrid automobiles to a lower target speed (some hybrids can be influenced into this mode of operation with the right application of multiple accelerator pedal inputs), reigniting the ice, re-engagement of the tranny with the rev match, and re-acceleration to a higher target speed, repeat." Got it?
On the way home, a woman in a generic gray sedan zips around Wayne trying to catch a green light, but she's too late. The light turns red and she slams on the brakes. "That made no sense," Wayne says. "Now she's all pissed off too," Hobbit says. "She's sitting there with the car running and she's going to tear out of here," adds Wayne, who is sitting up the hill a bit from the light, with the engine off. Of course, that's just what she does. (One study found that jackrabbit starts and hard brake stops reduce travel time by only about 4 percent—that's 75 seconds on a 30-minute trip.) As we approach the right turn back into his subdivision, Wayne, in a fas, coasts down to 30 mph, then to 25 mph, letting inertia do the job of his brakes. Three cars are bunched behind him, and a guy in a Ford Explorer honks. "They can honk all day," Wayne says. "My turn signal's been on for the last eighth of a mile." The guy in the Explorer passes, shooting Wayne an exasperated look.
Although Hobbit has great respect for Wayne, he attempts to distance himself from what Wayne is now doing. "I don't consider myself a hypermiler in this sense, because, um… " Hobbit struggles to express himself delicately. "I try to conform to the traffic much more than he does. There's a big difference there. I'm sure it will show in the mileage numbers." As Wayne pisses another driver off, Hobbit gives up on diplomacy. "At some point, the survival instinct and trying to be courteous on the road comes into play, too."
Wayne finally makes the turn. It's not the death turn of the previous night; it's a mini-death turn. "Because you guys are in the cab, and I've got milk in the back," Wayne explains, "I can't take the corner very fast."