Politrix: Pain in the Gas

So, living in The City (that’s New York, to you), I don’t get behind the wheel very often. But last weekend, we rented a car and drove down to Baltimore for my stepdaughter’s birthday. Talk about a rude awakening: Reading that gas is expensive is quite different from shelling out $59 to fill up the tank. And that’s with waiting until we hit South Jersey to refuel our “intermediate” model, where, at $4.39 a gallon, gas was much cheaper than closer to home. Times sure have changed; I remember when putting $4 in my daddy’s tank before I parked the car in the driveway was big shit.

And this is only the beginning. Remember a few weeks ago when I told you that oil had topped a record-breaking $127 a barrel, and put y’all on about how Bush is trying to drive you to use your stimulus to check to pay for gas? Well, the saga continues: This past Friday, oil shot up to $135.09, the result of the emaciated dollar, increased demand in developing nations and sluggish production worldwide. Analysts are now predicting that oil will climb to $150 a barrel by the Fourth of July, prompting $7 a gallon gas (my condolences to the London Parlour maids who are shelling out the equivalent of $8 a gallon). So I hope we’re all ready to walk to the family barbecues this year.

But will we be? Are we all prepared to take a few steps away from the pump to drive down demand, and therefore prices? Of course I can ask this question with a smug smile on my face because my aching feet and the filthy subway are my main modes of transport, but as a whole, will we find ways to get around that don’t put money in the pockets of George Bush Big Oil? (Close your mouth. The Nation broke news of the Bush Administration’s ties to the oil industry back in 2002; it’s not just fodder for conspiracy theorists. Think about it, why put real time and money into developing alternative fuels if the continued use of petroleum pads your bank account? And then there’s this war…)

Anyway, I’m skeptical that we will wake from our slumber, but there is some evidence that folks are doing right by their wallets/the planet. Mass transit ridership is up country-wide (which, in turn, is driving up fuel costs for many towns, so be on the lookout for fare increases). And in May, sales of the biggest gas guzzlers were way down over the same time last year, including Hummer H3 (down 60.6%), Yukon (-50.2%) and Durango (-68.8%), while smaller, more fuel-efficient models are selling fast, such as the Focus (up 53.2%), Aveo (+44.3%) and Civic (+28.3%). GM is even considering selling the Hummer brand, and it will close four SUV and truck plants in North America. On the upside, GM also announced that the long-awaited all-electric Chevrolet Volt will finally go into production for release in 2010.

As much as I hate to be wrong, this is once instance where I’m asking you make a fool of me. I’m not suggesting that you have to sell your car and ride your bike to work everyday (what would your hair look like?!). But it would be hot if you traded in your SUV for a more efficient joint, or consolidated your weekend errands into a single trip, or telecommute one day a week, or bought a little motorbike (my husband’s enthusiastic suggestion). It’s about manageable lifestyle tweaks, not a complete retooling of your life.

What will you do?


If you like Kenrya’s opinion, check out the rest of her posts here.

Ed. Note: Steely D wants a Vespa…a black one. ;0)

Last 5 posts by Hillary Crosley

  • Nay

    OK so I can’t quite trade in the Escape just yet – one because it isn’t worth much and two because I absolutely need it to manage the property. However, I did buy a bike (and child carrier) over Memorial Day weekend, and I now use it to take Ethan to our neighborhood park and as soon as it stops storming every day, I’ll be using it for the mile-long trip to daycare every morning (which normally eats a half-tank a week). As far as my hair…it’s washable…

  • Van

    I wish I could say that I will get a motor bike, etc., but for me that is unrealistic.

    My only saving grace is my wonderful Camry, which now cost me about $52.00 to fill up as opposed to last year it costs almost $40. Living in Maryland and working in Washington, DC kinda makes you dependent upon gas at whatever costs it is. I will say that I do take the commuter train, which really really sucks!!

    I will combine errands on the weekends, I will get up earlier on days that I have class and park my car at school, then catch the train instead of taking the easy way (more sleep) and still have to drive to school after I get off the train. That is my contribution to saving gas and keeping a few pennies out of the Bush family pockets . . .

  • Diane

    Hey K,
    Even OPEC cannot determine the sanity in the speculation on oil. That’s why they’re meeting. There isn’t a reason why oil is as high in price as it is. But that’s part of the good/bad with speculation, global ability to tap into markets from abroad, and the like.

    As far as Europeans go: sorry, but they do not have it as bad as in the U.S. For one, they are all SMALLER than the US of A. They simply do not need to DRIVE as far. They can use smaller vehicles simply because they don’t drive 6-lane freeways beside 18-wheelers and HUMMERs. Europeans have MASS TRANSIT throughout their small countries – and then tie in to other EU groups. the US of A does not. Amtrak was/is a feeble attempt – and being government run – is bankrupt, cannot fix tracks (remember I used to live beside the tracks they shared with Metro North and it was Metro North that maintained said tracks).

    The US is atypical. We are a vast land. If we ever get to mass transit that makes sense, it will take years. Down here, they’re still talking about the TRIAD system, but haven’t even broken ground. And this isn’t statewide, but region.

    Why aren’t we truly talking the truth: that is, the American public wanted bigger and better, demanded this, bought into this whole notion we are the ‘big guys, we are #1’ (and we were at one time) – and we FED THE AUTO INDUSTRY who then listened an concentrated on BIG VEHICLES.

    Then we can talk about the auto industry. They blindly dismissed the Japanese back in the 80s – got caught with subpar vehicles – and then played catchup with reliability and safety. We’re playing catchup now with better fuel-efficient models. But the US consumer was buying the BIG cars up until recently.

    We had a wakeup call in the 70s – oil does not grow on trees and the US did not have enough of its own to keep America’s dependency at bay. What did we do? Nothing. Sure we drilled a bit more in the Gulf of Mexico, but we did nothing to curb the appetite, or save on consumption.

    This is the US, this is how we (baby boomers and down) were brought up. We are the generations that were born and raised by those who lived through true World Wars and then some. We were taught to do better than our parents, to achieve more, to live ‘better.’ This included bigger – cars, homes, salaries, jobs… bigger credit card debt. We became greedy.

    We expanded in decades – and we are now seeing what I hope is a CONTRACTION of this mindset.

    There is enough blame to go around. Capitalism is an unchecked system mostly, and so scoundrels have wreaked havoc on our economy by making a quick buck and putting people in cars and homes they could not afford. Credit card companies need to stay afloat and the easiest way to do this is to up percentage rate on your card. Deregulation of the airline industry was a horrible experiment.

    When a large nation is so totally dependent – and totally of their own doing – on foreign markets for energy resources/needs, well you should be smarter in other areas. Japan has succeeded quite well and they freakin lost WWII.

    But the US didn’t take a look around. We are too proud, we are #1. Just as sports teams have their dynasty, we all know it is not sustainable.

    History repeats, and repeats. We are today what England was at the turn of the 20th century. We are on the decline.

    It doesn’t spell the end of everything. It is a time to reinvent who we are. To embrace the fact we are not #1, to change our mindsets and to use our vast resources, wealth, and collective brain power to make the U.S. a new nation – new ideas, new ways of living, of perhaps being less destructive of the environment and learning to live with it. To use the sun and wind as alternative energy sources, to feed our own population with our own food – rather than let countless US citizens go to bed hungry whilst we ship food overseas. To take care of ourselves FIRST.

    It will be hard to change. It always is. But it doesn’t have to be a negative.

  • Diane

    OH yeah, but you asked ‘what would you do?’ So, ok, this is what I have done. I bought a home I could afford (and calculated could afford in tough times). I did not ask ‘what I could afford’ I figured out what I felt comfortable affording and looked/bought based on that figure. I bought a car with fairly good fuel economy. I bought the home smack between work and family: and still try to cut down on visiting as it’s a gallon back/forth.

    I’ve decided to suffer with the local market (it’s adequate) 2 miles down the road, and go every 5th week to the super center with cheaper prices (that’s 20 miles one way). Stock up and then do small shopping in between.

    I don’t eat out. I make my own lunch ($8-10 a wk). I haven’t been to a movie in a year. In winter, I set the thermostat at 65 and use appropriate clothing. Now, a/c is at 77. Crummy when you clean in this heat, but then you take a cool shower (not using electricity to heat up the water!!!).

    I look for sale items for everything. When I do go out on weekends – where everything is 20 miles one way, I make sure I do it all in that one trip – mall, groceries, presents, and the like. If I forget something, it waits weeks – unless it’s something I can obtain by work (which is in a small city).

    I have basic cable. I’m about to ditch the phone company and live with the cell. Or, switch to the 3-for-$100 deals where you get phone/internet/tv (cable or dish) for one price.

    I put into my 403b plan and make sure I get the match. I save monthly based on all the above and squirrel it away. As soon as I cannot save the same amount monthly, I’ll be looking for that side job.

    I’d love to telecommute but that’s not allowed, not that I couldn’t.

    So count me in as someone trying. It actually feels good. If we could just get others to feel this way about saving, paying down debt, doing their part, I think that’s the turnaround I spoke of in the previous post.

  • Jody

    OK, so who else is having a scary 70s flashback? I totally remember when my parents sold the station wagon and jammed our family of five into a Chevette. But I can’t say I see that kind of “sacrifice” really catching on in a big way. Think about it: Kids today have never had to yell, “He’s TOUCHING me!” about a pesky, sweaty brother smushed up against them in the back seat. The little brats are ensconced in their own individual “armchairs” in the back of the luxury living room on wheels their parents drive. (And who thinks watching TV in the SUV is OK? Kids are supposed to be playing the license plate game and fighting with their siblings and looking out the window and maybe, just maybe, letting their imaginations take them someplace that watching “High School Musical” for the zillionth time never could).

    I know I sound like a grumpy old person—which I assure you I am not. But when did we all get so lazy and complacent and decide we have to be so damned comfortable all the time? A little discomfort is a good thing. It keeps us striving, keeps us curious (who is that sweaty, smelly stranger next to me on the subway, anyway?)…

    But there’s one big problem for those of us who don’t live or work in cities. There’s no way to get to work (or the store, or bars, for that matter) besides DRIVE. So it’s going to take some major SUBurban planning to make the country truly friendly for would-be walkers, bikers and mass transiters.

  • Diane

    Hear Hear Jody (and this is ‘the’ Jody right?)

    We had sides of the station wagon back seat – the imaginary center line and the crossing of said line by pinky or thumb to irritate a sibling.

    Suburban, rural planning. If you read my posts it’s like I live in the sticks (compared to Westchester Cty. I do). But I’m on ‘city’ sewer and water but I am still that 20 miles each way to Home Depot, BBBeyond, a movie. I’m actually awaiting the groundbreaking for the Super Walmart which I found was gonna be 10 miles north (I thought closer). And I thought Sym’s was bargain shopping a couple of years ago…

    Jody, to my history comparison. We are what the Brits were the dawning of the last century. They too had similar attitudes and complacency. When did the US get this way? Some time after WWII during the Levittown-type booms, retirement packages, and good ole SSecurity.

    What about ISpy? Do kids not play this either? So taking a road trip doesn’t include taking in the scenery? Oy…