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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Gasoline Alley, or A Trip Down Memory Lane

Thanks to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the lemming-like instincts of the human animal, I got to relive those halcyon days of the 1970s gas crisis yesterday, right here in good old Atlanta, G-A.

Among the lesser evils that Katrina brought ashore with her were power outages that shut down the pipelines that piped in the gas that went to the trucks that delivered to the stations that pumped into the SUV that Jack drove. Once this news got out, widespread panic became the order of the day, and dolts of every shape, size, and description started lining up to top off their tanks and to drive the price-per-gallon just another notch higher. (When my wife filled up her car the other day, she paid about $2.50 a gallon. By the time I got in line yesterday, it was $2.79 and 9/10 per gallon. A couple of hours later, I heard that it was up over $3.00. Apparently, there was a gas station in McDonough, GA that was charging as much as $5.87. Gov. Sonny Perdue, showing the perspicacity of the average politician, suspects price gouging.)

Many of the folks lining up were just topping off their tanks. I was there because the minivan I drive was down to about an eighth of a tank. If I wanted to continue to drop off and pick up my kid from school for the rest of the week, I had no choice.

So, I pulled into the QT near Sam's school where cars were in lines four deep at each of the ten or so pumps. It seem that this was one of the better situations in town. Sam wanted to go inside to get something--some beef jerky or a pack of smokes, I guess--but I declined. I was a tad sharp, but I shouldn't have been. This was the boy's first gas panic, and he didn't know any better.

I did though. I am a grizzled veteran of the Carter Administration and remember long lines, odd-even days, and limits on the number of gallons purchased. One time, when I took my VW bug to a station I had worked at a couple of years before, I drove down to the bottom of a hill and got in line. The line inched along and after a few minutes, I noticed a disheveled young man walking down the hill counting cars. In one hand, he had a cardboard sign. A drama was in progress, and I was a member of the cast.

The disheveled young man, who was also greasy and thin, counted cars until he got to mine. The sign had magnets attached to it, and he slapped the sign to back of my bug. Mine was the last car to get gas there that day. The people behind me were angry, but not with me. They were angry with the greasy, skinny, disheveled young gas jockey. He just walked back up the hill.

I felt guilt, but it was balanced by relief. I was riding on fumes.

Today, the pipelines are piping again, although at reduced capacity. I have no idea what the price is at the QT or the Shell, but I'm guessing too much. The remnants of Katrina are escaping to Nova Scotia. Perhaps by next week the levels of price gouging for gas will have returned to their normal, seasonal levels. Maybe the panic is over.

Life is difficult for the addicted. The lush times of glut are more than balanced by the hard days of shortage. An addict will shudder and shake and panic and pay anything for another fix. It's not a pretty sight.


arthist99 said...

And the people in the rest of the world who pay $7 a gallon on a normal day are wondering what we are bitching about...

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the price of all fluids posted out front of retailers on giant signs. Every grocery store should have the milk triad of nonfat, one percent and two percent on a big, changeable vertical tower so we can track the daily variances. And three beers too. Hollywood Market gets special dispensation and their sign can display the price of fame. A,B and C level celebrity. I've found that my career runs just fine on "C" still I like to get the "A" when I can because it comes with a cleaning agent. But I do go on.

Shecky Trail