ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By
Joseph Walker

REDUCING GAS PAINS

I just want to express my profound apologies to everyone in America for the sudden dramatic increase in gasoline prices.Itís my fault.And Iím sorry.

At the very least, I should have warned you that this was coming.I should have known that as soon as I drove 2,000 miles away from home OPEC would decide that the time was right to increase the cost of a barrel of crude oil so . . . well, you know . . . crudely.

Think of it as the Walker Index of Key Economic Indicators: the price of gas will unavoidably increase in direct proportion to my familyís distance from home.

So we drove one-way across America paying an average of about $2.39 per gallon of gasoline.Five days later we will drive home for an average of about $2.65 per gallon, Congressional investigation notwithstanding.If Iím doing my math correctly, that means it will cost us 16 cents more per gallon to look at corn.

Which isnít a knock on corn.I love corn.Itís my favorite vegetable Ė especially popped.And Iím grateful to see it growing in such overwhelming abundance across Americaís heartland.But Iím not sure I want to pay 16 cents more per gallon to see it for the second time in a week.

You know?

And yet Iíll pay it.†† I donít have any choice at this point unless I want to homestead here.But it will cost me more than 16 cents per gallon to move our stuff and set up housekeeping Ė not to mention the job thing Ė so weíll grit our teeth, tighten our belts and pay.

My son, Joe, points out that $2.65 for a gallon of gasoline is, comparatively speaking, a bargain.Not only does gasoline cost more in other countries, but other liquids cost more per gallon in this country.For example, Joe suggests that many of those who will be complaining about gasoline prices at gas stations all over the country this week will be doing so while holding a 32-ounce soda for which they just paid 99 cents at the convenience store Ė or a rate of just under $4 per gallon.Or maybe theyíll be holding a 20-ounce bottle of water for which they just paid $1.09, or a rate of more than $6 per gallon.

And we wonít even talk about the comparative price per gallon for laundry detergent, dish soap, orange juice, Gatorade or beer. Iím not a beer-drinker, but I understand people will pay three bucks for a 20-ounce cup of beer at a ball game, which works out to about $18 per gallon.Why isnít Congress investigating THAT?

None of which will make anyone feel any better about the sudden dramatic increase in the cost of gasoline during the past week.Itís a hard hit Ė thereís no denying that.It isnít fair.But what are you going to do about it?

Whenever I would whine and complain about one of the inequities of life that inevitably came my way while I was growing up, Mom would just as inevitably counter with a shrug and very little sympathy.ďNobody ever said life was going to be fair,Ē she would say.ďEither do something about it or get out of the way.Ē

I donít like that idea any more now than I liked it then Ė especially the ďget out of the wayĒ part.But what can I do about the cost of gas?I havenít been invited to any negotiation sessions with OPEC, and when I try to dicker with 20-something gas station attendants they look at me like Iím from another planet Ė or worse, like Iím old.About the only thing I can do, it seems to me, is to look at my fuel consumption choices and make whatever changes I can make Ė like carpooling, taking mass transit or telecommuting Ė to reduce gas pains.

Of course, before I can do that we have about 2,000 miles to ďget out of the way.Ē

Not to mention a whole lot of corn.