Sunday, March 19, 2000

Freedom of the road still cheap at $1.60/gallon




BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pulling into a gas station now is like opening your wallet and letting Amoco live there. I turn off the car and wave the white flag. It's getting so bad I'm afraid to leave the house.

        I am old enough to remember having my oil checked and my windshield cleaned. When I filled up at Sinclair (remember Sinclair?) they gave me a stuffed-toy green dinosaur. Now, when I fill up, they ask for collateral.

        It's not entirely tragic. There are perverse pleasures down all avenues of life. This latest explosion in petrol prices is great if you drive a little car. Think of it as Revenge of the Corollas.

        The last time I filled up, a woman in a Lincoln Navigator pulled up next to me. You've seen a Lincoln Navigator. It's what you get when you genetically cross an Escort with the World Trade Center.

        The woman couldn't have been more than 5-foot-2. She needed a Navigator the way a hamster needs a townhouse. When a 5-foot-2 woman wants to get out of a Lincoln Navigator, she calls the fire department.

        Anyway, I filled up. The woman was still pumping.

        I went inside and paid. I came back out. She was still pumping.

        I went to the driving range, shanked a jumbo bucket, hit the YMCA for 30 minutes on the cross-torturer, stopped at the Dubliner in Pleasant Ridge for a pint and wrote a letter. I came back. She was still pumping.

        Maybe next time she'll take a book.

        Heh-heh.

        What do you say now, all you Eddie Bauer Ford Expedition-driving Yuppies? Laugh at me, but my little guy doesn't wheeze every time he passes a SuperAmerica. You with me?

        We figured this day would come. We just didn't know when. Gas prices in America are incredibly low, compared with everywhere else. The wonder isn't that prices are so high; the wonder is why it took so long.

        Among other essentials, a gallon of Ben and Jerry's Bovinity Divinity ice cream (chocolate, with white and dark chocolate fudge cows) costs $13.50. A gallon of Guinness at the Dubliner costs $36.

        A gallon of Starbuck's coffee for the morning after the gallon of Guinness costs roughly $24.

        A gallon of liquid Similac baby food for ballplayers complaining about the money they make is $17.68. A gallon of Maalox after watching them play is $36.40.

        I could go on. Almost nothing costs less per gallon than gas. Yet we're screaming about gas prices. Republicans blame Al Gore, who two years ago cast the tie-breaking vote in Congress to approve a 4-cent increase in the gas tax. Truckers are assaulting Washington for the second time in a month, protesting the hikes.

        We don't want to use less gas; we want OPEC to produce more. The Gulf War was not about protecting vital national interests, unless you consider buck-a-gallon gas to be a vital national interest.

        There's nothing like a big bump in gas prices to reveal Americans for the spoiled, bloated people we are.

        That said, I love driving. Alone, wherever I want. I drove to Nashville Wednesday. It was a top-down day. Sunny and 70 degrees. The countryside was budding and green, just waking up from winter. The air smelled like morning.

        I popped J.J. Cale into the tape machine: “They call me the breeze. I keep blowin' down the road.”

        There are days, more than I'd like to admit, when it takes all I've got to resist the urge to keep going. Somewhere, anywhere. “Might go out to California,” J.J. sang. “Might do down to Georgia, I don't know.”

        For that kind of freedom, $1.60 a gallon isn't much.

        Paul Daugherty, an Enquirer sports columnist, writes a lifestyle column on Sunday. He welcomes your comments at (513) 768-8454.