Pump prices jump, but who worries how high?

April 13, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,SUN COLUMNIST

This is how bad gas prices are now: I just saw a guy with a polo shirt, khaki pants and penny loafers at an intersection holding a sign that said: "Will work for regular unleaded."

OK, fine, that's not true. But it could happen.

And the way things are going, I'll probably be the guy holding the sign.

You'll recognize me because I'll also be waving a stack of college tuition bills in one hand.

And if the windbags in Annapolis don't come through, and we get hit with a 72 percent rate increase from BGE, you might see me waving that bill, too.

I know, I know ... you have your own problems.

Still, it's disturbing to pull up to the pumps and pay $2.77 a gallon to fill up with regular unleaded, when it seems like only yesterday we were paying $2.30.

Actually, it probablywas only yesterday, since gas prices have shot up 40 cents in the last month alone.

As usual, the petroleum industry is blaming it on factors outside its control: surging demands for gas, a diminished supply, global unrest.

You gotta love that last one.

Tell me something: Has there ever been a time in history when there was global rest? When everything was just peachy and all mankind lived in peace and harmony?

I don't think so.

And why is it only gas prices that seem to go up during global unrest? How come everything else doesn't go up, too?

After all, you never pull into, say, a Denny's and see a sign announcing: "Due to the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, we are forced to raise the price of our Grand Slam breakfast to $14.95."

Or, if you take your car to Pep Boys, they don't say: "As we continue to monitor events in Nigeria, Pep Boys must reluctantly begin charging $89.99 for its Standard Brake Service, normally priced at $49.99."

Before we get into the main point of this rant - which is that few motorists seem to be freaking out over these gas prices - I'd like to go off on a sub-rant for a moment, if I may.

It's a little thing, sure. But when are gas stations going to do something about how long it takes to pump the last few drops on a cash purchase?

You know what I mean here.

You pay the cashier 25 bucks and go back outside and start pumping. And it pumps nice and fast until you get to, oh, $24.80. Then all of a sudden, it starts pumping really, really slow. And the last 20 cents' worth takes, like, two hours to pump.

What's the deal with this?

Here we live in a time of orbiting space stations, laser microsurgery, super-computers the size of your thumb, GPS systems that talk to you as you drive.

And we can't make a gas pump that goes any faster?

What has happened to this country?

OK, back to the main rant: Prices at the pumps keep going up and up, sure.

And yet the reaction from the vast majority of Americans so far seems to be: (Yawn). Oh, well, what're you gonna do?

And their second reaction seems to be: How come Simon keeps dissing those country singers on American Idol?

One thing's for sure: We don't seem too eager to change our driving habits.

Sure, sales of those energy-efficient hybrid cars are up. But we're not exactly pushing our old gas-guzzlers - big SUVs, Queen Mary-sized sedans, monster pickups, whatever - off a cliff, either.

Nor do we seem to be car-pooling in far greater numbers, as this could involve small talk with others and possibly even going without a personal cup-holder for a half-hour.

We don't even seem willing to make small changes, like driving at 60 mph instead of Lethal Weapon 3 speeds on the highway, and avoiding jack-rabbit starts and stops at red lights, to conserve fuel.

So, at least for now, most Americans seem to be taking these ridiculous gas prices in stride.

Oh, we'll shake our heads and mutter some nasty words as we pull up to the pumps.

And maybe we'll even say something to the sullen kid with the eyebrow ring behind the counter taking the money - like it's his fault Shell is charging $2.97 for premium.

But the experts say we probably won't start freaking out - or changing our driving habits significantly - until prices top 4 or 5 bucks a gallon or more.

Me, I'll be walking an intersection with that "Will work for regular unleaded" sign way before then.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To listen to podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/Cowherd

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