Thursday, June 19, 2008

"I remember when gasoline cost only..."

My gosh, I'm suddenly feeling prehistoric. Which is a propos, because I'm thinking about something that started before the earth cooled. Oil. More specifically, its derivative, gasoline, the kind that now comes out of the pump to shocked groans.

My last fill-up cost $75.

And the reason I'm feeling quite ancient is because I vividly recall, hold on to your yarmulkes--paying $3. Not per gallon, but to fill up the tank. OK, I was a kid with no car of my own, but my older boyfriend had a cheapo stick-shift, and I recall comparing prices in Los Angeles, stopping on Vermont Avenue where gas was 18.9 cents a gallon rather than 21 or 22 cents in West LA.

I played this game with my daughters, ages 19 and 21. One of them said, "I remember when gas was $1.50 a gallon!" The other one said, "I remember when it was $1.76!" They also remember the days before cell phones. They, too, are already dinosaurs.

And now, people just live with increases within a single week of 25 cents; between my last fill-up and this one, I spent an additional twelve dollars for the same amount of gas for my Honda Odyssey minivan. No, it's not a guzzler--it even has a nifty feature where it uses only three cylinders when there's no need for more; when that happens a little green light shows on the dash, with the reassuring message: "eco" for either "economical" or "ecological," either of which makes owners feel virtuous.

We've become resigned to this new inflation. I used to get spaghetti for about a buck for a pound; now it's fifty percent more (and still a great deal). When we recently spent, um, $5 in gas to go out to dinner, the menu was dotted with pen markings escalating prices by a dollar or two or three. I'm seriously worried about our local Dollar Store--one I used to frequent, called "Mighty Dollar" now has nothing for that sum, each being raised to $1.29 or $2.00. And from where I sit, it's all related to the price of gasoline to ship everything to our back doors.

Truth is, we've been spoiled. Inflation was so minimal for so very long that we began to believe prices should just stay that way. Gasoline isn't something controlled by some evil conspiracy; its price is determined by world-wide supply and demand. The problem is that salaries aren't climbing as fast as the prices at the pumps and at the grocery stores and the restaurants and all the other ripples high gas prices affect.

Am I complaining? Well, yes and no. I don't like that I have to figure whether visiting a particular friend is worth the gasoline cost to drive the hour each way to see her. I hesitate before volunteering to take my other friend to the airport, because now the ten dollars in gas I spend to do it figures in. I feel inconvenienced when the airline wants to charge $15 to check a bag, especially since a college daughter has to shlep a lot of her stuff cross-country for the summer and visits home.

Oh yes, remember those good old days when airlines used to provide hot meals? Pillows? Leg-room? Then again, I also remember, in the vast reaches of my childhood, when flying at all was considered a beyond-affordable luxury. When I had to type out my term papers on a manual typewriter and use erasers with brushes to correct errors (if I wanted a copy, there was carbon paper). Come to think of it, as technology has burgeoned, life's gotten amazingly easier, and better. I can snap photos unlimitedly on my digital camera and see them immediaely. I can store thousands of songs--well, my son can--on an iPod the size of a credit card. I can compare prices for anything--lawn furniture, batteries, kosher wine--and buy it from anywhere in the world while sitting right here in my pajamas. And I can research any topic--and even read original antique books-- on my wide-screen LCD monitor. For free. No less miraculous is that I can tell you this, all over the world, within a split-second of my thinking, in something as strange and wonderful as a blog.

When you balance the increases in the price of oil with the astounding advances that allow us not to need it, I think the weight falls to the side of our enormous benefit. Those who angrily blame profit-hungry oil companies, selfish politicians or evil car-makers pushing petroleum for victimizing them probably won't be happy even if the price at the pump did slump back to those of hazy halcyon days gone by.


  1. You probably wouldn't know this because you don't watch TV, but there was a whole episode of South Park where the self-righteous Prius drivers were polluting the air with smug. Are you sure the dashboard light isn't "ego"?

    But you're right. On balance, it's so much better now than then.

  2. Wow. Such a good post. I am more shocked at how people are responding to this "gas crisis" than at the actual prices themselves. Love your blog by the way...I can't remember how I found it, but I'm glad I did.

  3. Thank you, Ruth Anne and Jenny; I love getting (very kind!) comments. No, I didn't catch South Park, tho if I had a TV, I'd love it. We're thinking of leasing a car for our kids to use...right now the Honda Fit (40 mpg) is in the lead. That's pronounced "LEED" not the ingredient in gas that led to catalytic converters... This gas crisis DOES have me bummed, however--whenever I'm in the car, all I think about is how much it's costing.