It was, to all outward appearances, a flashback to...a simpler time?
Hardly. I recently felt like I'd hopped into the “Wayback Machine” to the 1973 “Arab Oil Embargo,” when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced a decision to raise the posted price of oil by 70 percent, to $5.11 a barrel, and long lines at gas stations were de rigueur.
What I experienced was pretty much fuel rationing in reverse. Thanks to that handy little smartphone app “GasBuddy,” I noticed gas had plummeted to $3.03 a gallon at a nearby station after months of gas prices topping off north of $3.75 or so a gallon. This seemed too good to be true.
Well, it wasn't. But that's where the “fun” began. Yep, a real “carnival of the animals,” with apologies to Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns.
As I neared the bargain-priced station at a busy intersection, I could see the cars and trucks snaking around the pump islands and spilling out into the cross streets. Spying an upcoming opening at a pump, I pulled in, cut the engine and waited my turn.
One lane over two women were cursing at each other, while one laid on the horn for some half minute. (OK lady, you made your point). “You cut me off, you - - - - - ,” (insert word that rhymes with “witch”), one yelled, while the other muttered something about “don't talk to me that way—we're all just trying to get gas and get out of here.”
It was a Rodney King “can't we all just get along” kinda moment—fueled by the volatility of tempers shortened by having to wait in long lines as motorists cut in and out, jockeying for positions within inches of each other. Sort of a mini “Black Friday” when shoppers try to trample each other to get to bargains.
I restarted my jalopy's engine when the person in front of me finished fueling her vehicle, but she couldn't get out because someone had cut several people off and pulled into the pump in front of her, blocking her exit. As she tried to leave by threading the needle between two other cars, I could feel my anger rising.
Eventually I got to the bargain gas, while in the lane to my right two motorists were screaming at the driver of a delivery truck who had pulled onto the sidewalk next to them to wheel supplies into the gas station/convenience store.
“Get that damned thing outta the way—how the hell do you expect us to get out of here?” two guys yelled almost in unison. The sheepish truck driver tried to apologize, saying he had to make a delivery and there was no other place to park, but the two fuelish bullies were having none of it.
They were still verbally assaulting the trucker as I finished filling my tank and scanned for an escape route before fisticuffs broke out.
Alas, a guy in a huge pickup truck cut off my exit as he tried to angle towards a pump one lane over. He left me about an inch and a half between his truck bed and the pump on the right to get out, then stuck his head out of the cab window and snickered, “You got it, keep going” as he backed his big, fat dualie truck into my path.
Don't know if I can handle sustained low gas prices. They're just too stressful—and tend to bring out the worst in people.
Tire Business Managing Editor Sig Mikolajczyk is renewing his enthusiasm for bicycling.