Opinion: If you want to see a grown man giggle, put him in a Tesla

photo Charles "Chip" Monk recharges his Tesla Model S at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

If you want to see a grown man giggle, put him behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S.

Charles "Chip" Monk is a good case in point.

When Monk stomps on the accelerator pedal in his sea-blue Model S sedan, he can't suppress a grin -- or maybe it's just the G-forces tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Monk, a retired Army guy and computer software trainer who turns 64 years old today, treated himself to his $103,000 Tesla after decades of frugal living.

After his previous wife's death, he says, he went through a period of soul-searching and realized that life is too short not to follow your bliss. His previous car was a $24,000 Honda.

"I lost my wife to pancreatic cancer six years ago," Monk says. "We had saved and scrimped so we could live comfortably in retirement. I recognized the same thing could happen to me. I thought to myself, 'I'm going to retire and enjoy my retirement.'"

So now Monk pampers his Tesla, which he has named "Ms. Blitz" -- German for lighting bolt. He waxes Ms. Blitz and takes her to car shows. He considers himself a Tesla ambassador and thinks he is personally responsible for convincing at least three people to purchase their own Teslas.

The Tesla, if you don't know, is a ground-breaking electric car developed by visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk, who has recently turned his attention to colonizing Mars.

I first drove a Tesla about a year ago and found it to be a life-changing experience. Not life-changing like watching one of your children being born, but life-changing in that it gives you a crystal-ball vision of the future of family transportation.

It's hard to drive a Tesla and not conclude that all those people who now scoff at electric automobiles will someday eat their words. If, as he promises, Musk can deliver a Tesla for the masses -- which the company defines as a sedan costing less than $40,000 -- it will be a truly compelling automobile. It's not a stretch to say Musk is the 21st-century equivalent of Henry Ford.

Consider that, compared to gasoline-powered cars, a $40,000 Tesla might triple fuel efficiency, dramatically reduce maintenance costs (it has only a handful of moving parts) and offer an exhilarating driving experience.

Marietta, Ga., is home to the nearest Tesla store, but the Chattanooga Airport has just become the site of a row of Tesla charging stations that can charge a Model S in just 20 minutes -- providing enough juice to power a car to Nashville and back.

Meanwhile, many Tesla early adopters such as Monk have become disciples for the brand.

Monk said his Tesla was almost an impulse purchase. One day, he and his current wife, Sandy, took a ride to Marietta, where Monk secretly planned to swing by the Tesla dealership. When they arrived Monk was told he needed an appointment, but snagged a 10-minute test drive when another customer was late arriving. So inspiring is the Tesla driving experience that Monk committed to the six-figure purchase before he left the showroom.

His most powerful testimony, though, is a description of how the company responded when his Model S malfunctioned on a cross-country road trip.

One call to the company was like alerting the Tesla cavalry, Monk says. In about an hour, he says, help arrived outside Phoenix in the the form of a company convoy. Arriving on the scene were a company representative, a rental car and driver and a tow truck. Tesla paid for Monk's overnight lodging and worked around the clock on his Model S before delivering it back to him the next morning.

Did I mention his breakdown came on a Sunday afternoon?

Monk says he warns people not to test-drive a Tesla on a whim.

"Don't do it," he says he tells people. "It's like, I'd imagine, getting a hit of heroin."

Despite spending four times more for his Tesla than his last car, Monk says he hasn't experienced a second of buyer's remorse.

"Every day when I go out and get in my car," he says, "it's a joy."

To suggest a human interest story, contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.