Motorists are muttering over price at Md. pumps

Aghast over the price of gas

The Cost Of Energy

August 17, 2005|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

As the gasoline flowed at the Honeygo Boulevard Exxon in White Marsh yesterday, Michael Hartman groaned.

A new milestone: a $52.17 tank of gas.

"The first time ever," Hartman, a 46-year-old high school teacher, said of the $50 plateau. "Can you believe it?"

Gasoline is so expensive that he, his wife and their three children cut short their trip this week. The plan was to go sightseeing in Georgia, but they never got farther than Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va. Yesterday, they crammed into their station wagon and headed home to New Jersey, thwarted in part by fuel prices.

"Ridiculous" and "sickening" were only two of the words muttered yesterday at this busy station off Interstate 95, where the most recent high prices - $2.759 for regular unleaded, about 24 cents above the national average - were posted on the marquee and reflected in the scowls of motorists from near and far who stopped to refuel.

Stephanie Gantt had just enjoyed lunch with a friend at Red Lobster when she pulled into the station in a Chevrolet Blazer. These days she doesn't even glance at the sign that lists the prices.

"I'm helpless," said Gantt, a Baltimore resident who works at St. Joseph Medical Center. "There's nothing I can do about it. I'm certainly not going to walk. I don't know how to bike."

For some customers, the station across the street from Ikea was simply a place to buy a few bucks' worth of gasoline before finding a station with cheaper prices.

Vivian Vaughn, 60, pumped a little less than three gallons and stopped. She planned to get the rest at Sam's Club in Golden Ring, where she said gasoline is typically 15 cents to 20 cents cheaper than at most stations.

"I used to go to Annapolis for lunch," said Vaughn, a nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Now, she usually eats lunch close to home or work to save gas.

Winston McGill pulled up in a Toyota Camry, a lamp shade sitting on top of boxes in the back seat. The 45-year-old firefighter pumped gasoline as his mother sat in the passenger seat.

Back home in Portland, Maine, he used to drive a Toyota pickup. Now, he drives a used Volkswagen that takes the less-expensive diesel fuel.

"I bought that specifically because of this," he said, referring to the $2.759-a-gallon gasoline he was pumping into his mother's car.

Phyllis Marino of suburban Cleveland certainly felt the pinch. After touring Ivy League schools in the Northeast, she and her son were on their way to the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, on the final leg of a 2,000-mile road trip. She offered up a rarely spoken perspective on gas prices.

"Prices have been high in other parts of the world" for years, she said. "Americans have just been really lucky" that gasoline is only now increasing drastically.

But in Europe, she added, where gasoline in some cities costs more than twice what it does in the United States, "they all got such great public transportation," while Americans must rely more on cars.

Stan Keithley handles the unenviable task of filling customers' gas tanks at the station's full-service pumps, a task he calls "rough." He often encounters nasty attitudes, and he sympathizes.

"The only way to bring the prices down is for the consumers to put their foot down and not drive," Keithley said.

"It's sickening," he added as he placed a red plastic bag over one of the station's diesel pumps. It was 3 p.m. and the station was out of diesel.

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