The True Price of Gasoline
It could be said that America lives or dies at the pump; there would be quite a bit of truth to that. We are a mobile nation, a nation of drivers and distances. We are a nation of both nostalgia and wanderlust. It is at that most American of locations that those two seemingly contradictory views converge.
It was only last night, as I filled my trusty cars' tank at my favorite low-priced throwback-of-a-gas station on the south end of Main St., that I got the chance to witness a functional microcosm of where we currently are as Americans. As I finished up my purchase of fuel, a middle-aged lady pulled into the pump directly on the opposite side of the one I was using. Before she exited her vehicle she rolled down her window and asked me, "Do you think this is cheap?" She was, of course, referring to the price per gallon. I replied that I thought it was and that she wouldn't find a better price in town. "Boy, it went up quick," she then said. I agreed that it had and thought to myself that this woman had probably filled her tank a few days prior and had been blissfully unaware of the near $0.15 jump that happened almost overnight.
"Sticker shock" is a well-known term -- and equally well-known sensation. Buying gas has its own analogous sensation. Rather than a quick race of the heart and perhaps a small burst of cold sweat upon one's forehead there is the slow lift of the neck towards those plastic numbers, written as if in some sort of torturous stone polymer, and then the low, full sinking of the stomach. How can we be expected to turn the other financial cheek, again and again, while suffering the abuse of our fossil-fuel masters?
Americans want to be able to drive as they once did, without counting pennies as they stare nervously at their odometers. We don't want to have to give up both elements to our unique contradiction. And we don't want to play helpless victims to the impractical disregard of self-loathing hippies, urban liberals, and green-eyed Democrats. Nor do we want to play puppet to the Anti-American strings of those at OPEC. You see, there is a way of life in America, a way of motion, a way of struggle and success. We gave the world the automobile, we gave the world modern oil drilling (at Drake's Well), and we won't apologize for those things -- nor shall we be wrung dry by an endless series of gas taxes, environmental hysteria, and rejected crude pipelines. It is not quaint and antiquated to desire that America feel more like the America of yore. To point out that we are becoming Europe at the pump (and beyond) is not a view set aside for your reactionary grandfather. The desire to avoid highway robbery before you even get on the highway is something all Americans should have. For those of us lucky enough (and honorable enough) to still work for a living, the insult of being punished for commuting is often the first and/or last part of a grueling day. Now, in the very belly of winter, people leave in the dark only to return home in the dark; homes kept warm by oil and gas and whose own fuel bills stress their very foundations.
Going for a drive was once a cliché respite for work-weary and stress-laden Americans of the past. There was an escape. There was a place for active rest. Fill her up and hit the road. But no more. We need elected officials who grasp the importance of protecting the American people, now more than ever, when purchasing what is so often a requirement for work and school. This cannot go on forever.
We, as Americans, are exhausted and we, as human beings, have our limits.
J.W. Buckley is a writer who lives in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts.