Dec 5, 2015

Chat with Solar ELF Bike Guy on Capitol Hill

Location: S New Jersey Ave SE, Washington, DC 20515, USA
James McGinley with his solar ELF just south of the Capitol
On the morning of December 3, I was walking around the Capitol. Members of Congress were coming from a vote and as always, there were a few demonstrators out trying to catch the legislators' attention. I spotted and approached one of the stalwart demonstrators that I've been looking to speak with for a long time, the owner of a solar-powered ELF bike.

I was so excited to finally see him in person so I raced up to the bike and barraged him with questions. His initial recoil and consternation were reactions I'm all too familiar with when I come on strong. I slowed down, took a few breaths, introduced myself, and then restated the questions. We spoke for about 5 minutes.

His name is James McGinley. The first thing I noticed was the tattoos. Those on his cheeks read "Wage Love" and those in the crosses on his head read "Start Loving". I didn't asked about them but my eyes kept wandering back throughout the conversation. As you can see from the photo, he's got an impressive beard and is well-dressed for the warmth. I imagine he spends a lot of his time braving DC's elements. He has a small frame and his eyes were constantly scanning my face looking for answers--his brow furrowed. James was a fountain of information and I only wish I had recorded the conversation.

Our conversation started on solar. I told him that I run a blog about solar in DC, which was met with indifference. He told me that he has been interested in renewable energy for some time. His plan was to bike across the U.S. in the solar ELF. There are two 100-watt solar panels on the bike, one on the roof and one on the trailer. The trailer also stores the batteries, which can keep his bike going for a long time.

When I asked him what the range was, he responded "How long can a sail boat sail?" This sort of educating counter-questions wasn't exactly what I was looking for.

Then the conversation shifted from energy to his advocacy, something I was trying to avoid.

James then told me that he spends a lot of time going to strategic locations around DC. He goes to K Street among the lobbyists, the Capitol with the politicians, and Union Station to catch commuting Senate staffers. He's trying to inform them about his views on Israel and Palestine.

I know the Middle East is an incredibly touchy subject so I began disengaging and he started to monologue. I like conversations but I get frustrated when people begin speaking past each other. Again, James is a wealth of knowledge and I think he is good to be sharing his beliefs. However, I would encourage him to let the conversation flow naturally and ask more questions.

For more information about James and his cause, here is his blog. If you'd like to speak to him, he frequents South New Jersey Ave SE and Independence Ave SE.