Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Remembering Gas Lines Old and New

You readers who have been around the block a few times in life can remember the gas lines that came with the Arab Oil Embargo in the early 1970s. Thankfully I was much too young to drive at the time, so I didn't have the dubious pleasure of lining up on the designated day, depending on my license plate. But many did, much to the chagrin of drivers and our government. I can only imagine that some crazy sheik was laughing hard that he caused our folks all that grief. Someday, maybe we'll no longer have to depend on the Saudis and others to meet our energy needs and we can laugh at those jerks when they realize that they depended on us as much as we did them.

Anyhow...what reminded me of those lines of long-ago was the circus side-show that we witnessed in South Philly this past Friday when Marino's Sunoco station at 19th & Oregon Avenue made their last stand, selling regular unleaded at $1.50 per gallon as a way of telling Sun Oil Co. what they can do with their gasoline. It seems Sun has charged service stations here in South Philly too much for their product. The local owners are paying more than those upstate, yet they're a stones throw from the Passyunk Avenue refinery and transportation costs are practically nothing for them by comparison to those in NE Pennsylvania.

Anyhow...you don't want to know all the details about what gas costs and why the owners pay more. What you want to know about is the human condition, and what causes folks to do the dumb things they do. Living just off of Oregon Ave, I was able to take a 30 second stroll to the corner and watch human behavior at it's best - okay, I'm being sarcastic. What I got to see was not folks lining up because of shortages caused by governments, but instead, lining up because they wanted a good buy. But then again, staying in line for hours on end to save a few dollars isn't a good buy to me. For the sane person, time is money. For the insane, or for someone who hasn't found out what a work ethic or the value of time is, I guess time is just something to waste. For their efforts, at least they could get a burger or hot dog with their purchase. Hopefully the guy flipping the burger wasn't the same one pumping your gas.

There were some humorous moments on that day. Some of the most humorous was watching frustrated motorists griping about a condition they exposed themselves to. Even more funny was watching their faces while they listened to local residents poke fun at the nonsense and the participants, and having to sit there and take it. But the best part of it all was finding out that a few folks ran out of gas. No, that shouldn't be funny, but it is when you realize that they ran out because they intentionally got in line with just vapors in the tank, trying to save a few dollars. I watched one cop on a bike come up yelling at a motorist, asking why she was bucking the line. She had to manuever around one of those who didn't realize that "E" on the gas gage means "empty".

Thankfully it lasted no more than a half-day at worst. And thankfully, there was no natural disaster or one caused by mankind, accidentally or intentionally. Had fire department and police had to make their way to a real emergency, the gridlock caused by that mayhem could have caused a catastrophe. We survived it, the motorists survived it, Marino's sold it 's gas, and life goes on. Until the next vendor convinces the economically-challenged (those who don't realize that time is money and sitting idling burns as much as you'll save) that it's a good idea to sit in lines for a few hours to save almost nothing. If you line up, please understand the guy standing on the corner laughing has a valid reason. That reason will be found once you gaze in your mirror.