From The High Life to The Hybrid Life

Taking a Lexus LS600hL on the quest for "Hybrid Living."

I grew up in a home where the refrigerator was stocked with Miller beer and Velveeta cheese. For us kids, fried chicken was fine dining. Vacations found us in the cheapest roadside motels, and to obtain full value, we decamped in the morning with every sliver of soap and as many pillows as my mother could carry.

That sensibility still travels with me. So my attention naturally was commanded by the recent rollout of Lexus Hybrid Living Suites at the Fairmont Hotels in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. For $869 per night - which might have been the cost of a year's parochial school tuition, except that my mother just slipped $5 into the collection basket every Sunday - you get a large suite and complimentary use of an LS600hL sedan. My wife and I signed right up for this and arranged for the use of a beautiful LS600hL from the Detroit press fleet. Then we headed for the capital to experience eco-luxury and try defining "hybrid living" through a Miller High Life perspective.

Needless to say, as we glided up to the Fairmont, the anticipation was delicious. The bellman mistook the hybrid's pillowy silence for pure Lexus refinement, not realizing we were in "electric vehicle" mode. And he mistook the few bags in the hybrid's tiny trunk for all of our luggage; the rest was in the back seat. If I were to spend $115,677 tomorrow, I'd buy a couple dozen examples of the Plymouth Fury sedan that my dad rented for our cross-country trip in 1969, or I'd buy this king Lexus and gripe about how the battery array compromises the trunk. Where were we supposed to stash our haul of organic cotton bedding and original art from the suite?

Going up to the ninth floor and entering designer Kelly LaPlante's creation, we found it more tangibly noir than "eco." Gray walls and black furnishings contrasted with the chalky white bamboo floor, while in the grand salon, three birch trunks solemnly reached to the ceiling. Contrasting light and shadows evoked strange moods, and we quarreled over which attractions to see and where to dine. Lexus says hybrid living is a "luxury eco lifestyle." While that might not encompass marital harmony, it does offer bath towels of 75 percent bamboo fibers and furniture made with nontoxic glue, organic wool, and vegetable dye. And it means official partners like Agraria, the Georgetown restaurant whose menu indoctrinated us about "sustainability." When my mother occasionally went to nice restaurants, she splurged on prime rib. I sustained family tradition, ordering a porterhouse.

Any Fairmont customer can reserve the Lexus suite and drive the gratis LS600hL. Lexus believes in winning customers by exposing them to its cars. For some years, the company also has provided courtesy cars to patrons at other premium inns across the country. Leaving Washington, D.C., we set the navigation system for Blackberry Farm, in Tennessee. This 4200-acre Eden adjoins Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Any guest here chooses from a fleet of complimentary Lexus vehicles, while Lexus owners enjoy special privileges, particularly in the spa. We were assigned a gorgeous cottage, where our thoughts turned to foie gras and braised quail. The $1245 daily charge included three fabulous, high-calorie meals and scrupulously attentive service from an army of porters, waiters, and sommeliers. To sum up the experience, I wish I could reproduce one of my dad's powerful belches.

Home again after 1625 miles, I can't quite claim a LEED platinum certificate for sustainability. Besides the 26 mpg, though, we did achieve an irreversible transformation, and from now on, it doesn't matter if Motel 6 is leaving the light on for us. All this stuff about eco-luxury and hybrid living starts to make dangerous sense. And as a token of these exemplary concepts, I have a newfound taste for biodynamic wines and a wonderful new bar of lye soap in my shaving kit.