Monday, June 27, 2005
The Mobil Melee
One night last week, we took a field trip to downtown St. Paul. The reason? The Mobil station on Grand Avenue a couple blocks before West 7th was selling gas for "just" $1.89 per gallon. (It was still at that price as of Saturday night, in case you're interested.) Since this price dramatically undercut the $2.15 at our nearest gas station, we figured it would be a sure bet to save a few bucks.
Now, I didn't live through the energy crisis of the 1970s; I've only read about it and seen pictures of impossibly long lines at gas stations. On that night downtown, though, there may as well have been a war going on (oh wait...there is).
At one random point I counted 14 cars waiting for a chance to fill up. Maybe this doesn't sound like a lot; there were eight pumps (one of which was out of order). This was not rush hour, but 9:30 on a weekday night. Additionally, cars continued to pull in, hoping, praying for a spot at one of the blessed pumps.
People were driving askew. They were cutting others off, blocking traffic, stepping out of their cars and sharing foul words with those who offended them. Certain appendages were flicked by and at several participants in what I've dubbed the Mobil Melee. I'm not sure what held the scene back from anarchy, but I know it was held back by a very thin and frayed string.
The whole thing would be ludicrous if it weren't so sad. I mean, it's just gasoline after all. What's the point of kicking and screaming over it, acting like short-tempered children who want more ice cream.
But gasoline is not simply a treat. It's lifeblood. It's what keeps many people employed; it's what keeps our economy from crumbling; it's what we rely on for a plethora of our earthly needs.
That's where it becomes sad, and scary. Without even discussing the national security and foreign policy implications of oil, it's plainly evident we are a nation addicted to gasoline. We've invested in a dramatic and gigantic infrastructure that relies solely on the power of a single non-renewable resource; one that cannot be replaced in nature without the allowance of a few million years. Yet, like addicts who continue going to their pushers despite rising and unhealthy costs, we can't shed this notion of gasoline as the fuel source rather than as a fuel source. We need something to wean ourselves off this addiction, because trust me, there's nothing worse than going cold turkey.
I realize I sound like Thomas Friedman, with his dependence on foreign oil spiel and "geo-green" strategy, but when you take a second to think about the ridiculousness of it all, you realize we need to find some other ways.
Hybrid? Sure. Fuel cell? Maybe. Hydrogen? I don't know. Barring hybrid cars (which still rely on gasoline as a fuel source), these have been and still are long shots with little to go on but high falutin inspirational language and no show of practicality. What's worse, we have no major investment in developing these or other technologies. They are paid lip service, but no action is ever taken.
Americans love their country because we proclaim we have freedom. Much of that freedom is in our freedom of choice. But how much freedom do we really have, when so much of what we have is dependent on a single substance, the vast majority of which exists outside our borders?