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(Planet Experts is in Dallas for Earth Day Texas! We’ll be publishing pieces from the event all weekend, and this is number one.)

You want to know the truth? I’m exhausted. I’m sitting in a dimly-lit hotel room, sunburned, sore and, since yesterday afternoon, I’ve been on Central Time. I know, that last one doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, a Californian always knows when he’s been parted from the Pacific. He feels it in his salty bones.

A very large globe at Earth Day Texas 2016. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

A very large globe at EDTx 2016. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

But I’m also exhausted somewhere deeper inside these salty bones. There’s a spiritual exhaustion that comes with this job, a rolling enervation that afflicts the soul. You can’t spend two years reporting on the bad things dumb people do, and the smart things dumb people won’t do, and the endless parade of plastic pollution, and why there are only three Northern White Rhinos left on Earth, and how many oil and gas disasters happen in a single month, before you start to get a little twitchy. I have assaulted friends who disparaged climate change at polite dinner parties. I’m not proud of it; I’m just a journalist.

But then of course there’s a different kind of exhaustion, an exhaustion that comes from a hard day’s work, an exhaustion that is satisfying in itself. I’m exhausted today because I’ve traveled 1,400 miles from Los Angeles, California, to Dallas, Texas, and I’ve spent all damn day talking to folks who actually give a damn about the planet. A lot of folks.

This year, Earth Day Texas is expected to draw about 75,000 people to the million square feet of real estate that is Dallas Fair Park. Today was big. Tomorrow’s going to be huge.

Planet Experts CEO David Gardner with at the Planet Experts booth at EDTx. Ya'll come say hi. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Planet Experts CEO David Gardner with volunteers Aja and Shannon at the Planet Experts booth at EDTx. Ya’ll come say hi. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Day 1 of EDTx: From Tiny Homes…

According to CEO Jerry Hess, Earth Day Texas 2016 boasts about 1,600 exhibit spaces spread out over the park. The mission of the event is to bring businesses and enviros together to show off the interesting progress they’ve made in cleaning up the planet. Vendors from all corners of the country (including your friendly neighborhood Planet Experts) set up booths to meet and greet visitors and fellow exhibitees. Between the booths are various showpieces, such as the Tiny House Village and solar cars made from scratch.

A Tiny House in the Tiny House Village. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

A Tiny House in the Tiny House Village. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Thankfully, Planet Experts got to tour the Tiny Houses when we first arrived to set up our booth. For the rest of the day, the lines at the eight or so front doorsteps grew longer and longer until they reached beyond the Esplanade.

“It’s so stupid,” a teenager behind me said as I crossed the Court of Honor, “they’re just little houses.”

The teenager was not wrong to point out the houses’ stunted stature. Most of the houses on display averaged about 30 feet long by seven feet wide. As to the stupidity of it all, I can tell you this: I’ve lived in more than a handful of states and at least two handfuls of apartments, and none of them was anywhere near as chic as these “stupid” houses. Every Tiny House in the village boasted custom design and ingenious uses of space, as well as friendly inhabitants committed to the architectural/social movement to live smaller, simpler and more sustainable lives.

Lookee-loo in a Tiny House. (Photo Credit: Pierce Nahigyan)

Lookee-loo in a Tiny House. (Photo Credit: Pierce Nahigyan)

Of course, I can appreciate the thought that goes into something like this. I pay rent.

One house still in the process of being built actually had a full-sized shower/bath installed. Another had a much simpler shower setup (the bathtub was literally just a tub) and a composting toilet.

“We’ve poured about $20,000 into this one,” said one homeowner standing in his den. The house was a cute periwinkle number with a shingled roof and a set of double doors that opened onto a petite porch. The man had built a cozy cottage for the price of a Honda sedan.

Another couple took us on a tour (well, ushered us from front to back) of their home, with the man pointing to the second loft he’d built at the front for his partner’s nine-year-old son.

“Does he like it?” I asked, gesturing around the tiny home.

The man grinned. “He loves it.”

…to Solar Speedsters

Parked outside the Tiny House Village was a half-ton, three-wheeled, solar car, and two of the four high schoolers that built it.

I spoke to Robert Lopez of the Harmony Science Academy in El Paso, a high school that is apparently teaching the next generation of Tony Starks. Robert is part of HSA’s Solar Technology and Research (STAR) club, a student-founded endeavor that promotes applications of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) – specifically by building a complete solar car from scratch.

“How long do you think it took us to build this?” Robert asked me.

Robert Lopez with solar car. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Robert Lopez with HSA’s solar car. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

The kid was half the age of my little sister and the car was a steel-bodied chop job, iridescent beneath the sun and perched on at least one wheel salvaged from a motorcycle. Four fifty-pound solar panels lay across the chassis. It had what looked like a Sparco racing car seat (with five point seat belt) bolted to the frame. “A year?” I guessed.

“No,” said Robert.

“Eight months?”

“No,” said Robert.

“Half a year?”

“No,” said Robert, his stoic young face trying hard not to crack.

“Jesus, Bob, I don’t know. Three months?”

“No,” said Robert.

I looked again at the solar car. According to Robert, the thing could reach 35 mph on a six-hour charge, but could cruise at 20 mph for as long as the sun was shining. Not drag racing speeds, I know, but faster than anything I had ever built or will ever build. It took me three months just to build a model plane.

“Two months?” I finally asked.

“Close enough,” said Robert. “Thirty-nine days.”

Robert and his STAR team are currently building their second solar car, which I’m sure will be finished before this article is published.

Young girls crossing the narrow bridge that spans the Esplanade fountain in Dallas Fair Park. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Young girls crossing the narrow bridge that spans the Esplanade fountain in Dallas Fair Park. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Earth Day Texas 2016 Series

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