Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Watching the gas station signs

Is there anything more watched than the price of gasoline? With each bump in the price for a gallon of the stuff, whining and wailing starts to reach deafening levels. With each drop in cost, cars start to burn rubber to get to the pumps to fill up before the cycle begins again. Of course it helps that stations light up signs with giant numerals to tell us how much we can expect to pay. If other businesses had to advertise in this way, we'd all be complaining about the price of milk or lawn mowers or teeth cleaning.

Within the past two weeks, we've watched unleaded clear the $3 a gallon barrier here in Van Wert County. It's the first time since 2008 we've seen that price. Back then, though, we were relieved at $3 a gallon since we had narrowly avoided $4 a gallon weeks earlier. I've been amused at the reports in the media of people reconsidering their travel plans because the price of gas has gone up. Somehow, the increase of gas prices from $2.99 to $3.19 doesn't seem to alarm me.

Thinking about this, my car gets around 20 mpg. So a 20 cent per gallon rise in the cost of gas equals about a penny a mile more. That makes a trip to Columbus and back of approximately 200 miles now cost around two dollars more. Now, who in their right mind would cancel a fun trip (or a trip to visit family who may or may not be fun) because it costs an extra two bucks? Yet I've read and listened to people say that now with $3 a gallon gas, they'll change their driving habits and not take long trips! If you are indeed strapped for cash (and probably wouldn't be making a fun trip to Columbus in the first place), that's one thing. But it costs $2 for a soft drink at most restaurants these days! Do you think I'm changing for two dollars? I don't think so.

I've often said that the more times a person tells a story about how little something used to cost, the older they truly are. But I'm going to risk that maxim to tell you this story of my childhood:

At that time in the late 1960s, gasoline was selling at every service station (that's automotive service, not just selling doughnuts and potato chips) for 29.9 cents per gallon. I'm pausing here so everyone can collective say, “Wow, he really IS old!”

Anyway, I was riding in the backseat with my chin resting on the front seat one day when my dad pulled into a service station. He looked at the pumps and shouted, “34.9? I'll NEVER pay that for gas!”

Ironically, he was probably right since the price of gas started rising soon afterward, and he never did get to pay just 34.9 again.

Now I realize that was a different era. Hey, my first car didn't get miles per gallon. It was more like gallons per mile. But we all knew where we needed to drive, and if there was going to be any scrimping and saving, it wasn't going to be on driving.

I've also heard so-called “experts” say that gas will be $3.75 by spring and over $5 by 2012. Those people may be right, or they may not. Inflation alone means we'll probably hit that benchmark someday. But the truth is, I'm not sure I even know how to drive less anymore. I can't take the bus. I can't take the train. I can't really car pool since much of my work time has me going to one destination or another -- alone. But if those giant lighted numerals clear $5.00, I'll have to find a solution, won't I?

I just hope I won't go driving out of a station, declaring that I'll never pay that price for gas. I'm afraid I may be right.

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