A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


My friend, Tom, has a theory about the high cost of gasoline these days.

Actually, he has several theories. Interestingly, they are all associated with an acronym.

Think of it as Fear of Spelling.

First is his OPEC Theory, which holds that the oil-producing nations of the Middle East are intentionally driving prices up in an attempt to bring the United States and the rest of the world to its oil-guzzling knees. World domination is always an intriguing idea, but I can't help but wonder: if the United States is incapacitated, who will protect the OPEC nations from each other?

Next is Tom's EPA Theory. According to this one, the U.S. has enough oil-producing capacity to handle its own consumption needs well into the next millennium, but 50 percent (or 75 percent or 90 percent -- Tom can't remember which) of our oil wells have been capped due to environmental

regulation. There was also an evil conspiracy associated with this theory, but Tom's explanation lost me somewhere between the Trilateral Commission and the grassy knoll.

Finally, Tom blames it on the IRS. Now, I can't for the life of me figure out what the Internal Revenue Service has to do with the high cost of gasoline, but this time of year I'm willing to believe just about anything about them.

Tom's theories are interesting, and there may even be an element or two of truth scattered here and there among them. Frankly, I'm not smart enough to be able to figure out who to blame. I just know that in planning for our summer vacation to Disneyland, the cost of being there is suddenly less frightening than the cost of getting there -- $10 hamburgers notwithstanding.

But when I ask Tom what we can do about it, he just sort of gives me a blank stare.

"Do about it?" he asks.

"Yeah," I say. "If what you say is true -- any of it -- what can we do to fix things?"

"I don't know," he grumbles. "But people are working on it. You better believe it."

"Who is working on it?" I ask. "And what are they doing?"

"Well, I don't know, exactly," he says. "But they'll get it fixed. Count on it."

Well, that's good to know, I guess. I'm glad there are people out there who are "working on it" and will "get if fixed" -- whatever that means. Meanwhile, I'm still paying more for a gallon of gasoline than I used to pay for half a tank-full (yeah, I know -- that goes back a while, to when

you could put in a dollar's worth and actually move the needle on the gas gauge). How do I cope with an unpleasant reality while the rhetorical battle over blame and solutions rages?

Thankfully, there is something I can do about it. I can car-pool. Take mass transit. Tele- commute. Reduce trips. Ride my bike. Even -- shudder! -- walk. These short-term answers may not be as convenient as hopping into my car and taking off at the least little whim. They may not even be practical, in many cases. But it's good to know that I have options until the finger- pointers can affix blame -- and find solutions.

Unfortunately, contemporary living confronts us with numerous vicissitudes that have to be faced this way. There are unpleasant realities that we just have to deal with until solutions can be found. Overcrowded schools. Undercrowded voting booths. Drugs. Disease. Road rage. Gang violence. While I'm impressed with those who are seriously looking for final answers to very real problems, I'm sometimes more impressed with those who find creative ways to cope.

Theoretically, and otherwise.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and