Thirty percent in thirty minutes

Published 6:47 am Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Have you ever heard someone say, “That irks me?”

Probably, you have.

To be irked is to be annoyed or aggravated. I don’t spend much of my life being irked, but there are times when I am. Like the other day.

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I was on my way to the hospital to visit someone. I knew that I needed to buy some gasoline and passed the place where I buy most of mine and thought that I would get it on the way home. The price was $2.99.9. Why don’t they just say $3?

If someone asked me, “What’s the price of gasoline?” I would say $2.99. Yet it’s much, much closer to $3 than $2.99. That’s not what irks me, though. Just thought I would throw that in.

I visited my member in the hospital and was on my way home and saw from a distance that the price of the gasoline had risen, during the 30 minutes that I had been visiting, to $3.08.9 or $3.09. That’s a 30 percent increase in 30 minutes! To say I was irked doesn’t begin to do my psyche justice.

I bought 14 gallons and the increase was $1.26 and that won’t send me to the poorhouse, but it was just the idea that I had passed up the cheaper price. Plus, it was the principle. Gasoline is indispensable; we have to buy it, yet we have no control over the price.

It does no good to fuss or be angry at the person behind the counter who collects the money. They don’t raise the price. We could get mad at the store, but every store on Shotwell Street was selling it at the same or higher price. It was just an irksome situation.

Gasoline prices have not always been so aggravating. Many of us remember the stability of the middle decades of the 20th century. I checked a few Web sites out and saw that gasoline prices from 1949 to 1969, 20 years, rose slowly. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline (it was leaded at the time) in 1949 was 27 cents.

Twenty years later, in 1969, the price had risen to an average of only 35 cents. That’s about a 30 percent increase in 20 years. I began this article with the irksome situation of the price of a gallon of gasoline being raised 30 percent in only 30 minutes. I don’t know about the fairness of the comparison, but it is what it is.

I was born at the beginning of that 20-year period I have just mentioned and, by the end of it, I had learned to drive and was able to ride around town, which is all we would do for entertainment. That entertainment cost about a dollar or two a night. Nowadays, a dollar’s worth of gasoline might cause a sparkplug to fire, except I’m not sure we still have sparkplugs.

We also spoke a different language in those days. It was English, of course, but the phrases we used would be foreign today. For instance, we might pull into the “fillin’ station and get a dollar’s worth.” We also might have asked the service station attendant to “check the oil.” I wonder what kind of looks we might get from our children or grandchildren if we used those phrases today.

When did things change and why? Those might be questions that we can remember pretty easily. I know I can.

I was in Athens and had already finished school. I was biding my time in that city, learning to play a guitar and getting ready to head for Nashville. It seemed like overnight that gasoline prices went from those stable 30 cents numbers per gallon to the high 40 cents. The days of full-service stations had passed and we had gotten used to pumping our own.

The price may have been 48.9 cents and it was the talk of the town. The year was 1973, and an organization by the name of OPEC was beginning to flex its muscles. Gone were the phrases “fillin’ stations” and “a dollar’s worth.” They were replaced by “oil embargo,” and we were in the early years of learning what it meant to be “over a barrel.”

A few years later (1979), the stability of the oil-rich Middle East was turned upside down by the overthrow of the United States buddy, the Shah of Iran. That country has never been the same and neither have gasoline prices. For the first time in the history of gasoline prices, in 1980 a gallon of gasoline passed the dollar mark.

Prices stayed below $2 a gallon until 2005 and passed $3 in 2007. So far, the highest average per gallon price we have had came in the summer of 2008 (July 7) right before the economic crash in the fall. That price was over $4 and averaged $4.12 nationally. Are we headed back into the fours?

If we do, I won’t be the only one irked, but, the fact is that we are not in control of the situation. Many factors are in play, not the least of which is the turmoil in the Middle East. What began in Cairo a month ago seems to be spreading to many of the oil-rich countries of that region. Disruption of those vital oil fields could wreak havoc with the world economy.

In addition, the United States is not the only gasoline hog anymore. Burgeoning economic machines like China and India are demanding more and more of that “bubblin’ crude—oil that is—black gold, Texas tea,” of Jed Clampett’s estate.

Finally, we seem to be willing to import just about all we use and have quit working our own fields. I’m not sure just how much oil we have underneath our own bought and paid-for land, but we need to be trying to find out. What are we waiting for? For me to get irked? Well, if that’s the case, I’m there!