Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Small Thing.

The world, or at least my infinitesimal fragment of it, is going mad this Friday; panic is in the air, competing with nitrogen as the dominant gas. Another kind of gas is fueling the hysteria, the kind whose price has rocketed well past $3.00 per gallon for the first time in most of my patrons’ lifetimes. My station is out of standard and mid-grade, with only the exorbitantly expensive premium, and diesel, which is of little use to most private citizens, left in our subterranean tanks.

I’m not in the mood to play savior today. I want, desperately, to tell all of the people who are yelling at me about the asking price of our station’s remaining fuel to crawl into holes and die; I want to lecture them about buying inefficient vehicles that they never needed, all to serve their warped ideas about social status, while they operated under the ridiculously flawed paradigm that a product that had artificially maintained a nearly constant price for twenty years would do so forever. These people need a harsh dose of reality. Really, they do. They need to be told that cheap gasoline is not an inherent right, but rather a convenient luxury offered them by a very successful capitalist strategy, a bubble that has lasted longer than most, and yet was destined to burst, like all bubbles, eventually. I want to tell them that venting hostility toward me regarding the price of a flexible economic commodity like oil, as if I were a Saudi sheik or seated on the board of directors at British Petroleum and did my night job for fun, makes approximately as much sense as blaming me for hurricane Katrina, Sudanese genocide or the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that took down Pompeii. In short, people are being nasty to me, and I want to be nasty in recompense.

But I can’t, and I know that I can’t. This understanding has nothing to do with my fear of losing my job for being salty, as I’m well beyond the point of needing this gig any longer; it has everything to do with the needs of the hurt, frightened, desperate people that I’m dealing with. They do not need correction, at least not at this juncture; they need reassurance and stability and comfort. I’m not in the mood to provide it, and really wish that someone else was, but that deafening silence from the wilderness is telling me that I have to provide it, because, logically, if I don’t, then I can’t expect anyone else to furbish it either.

“When will you have more regular grade in,” asks a fortyish professional woman, in a panic.

“Honestly,” I honestly answer, “we know about as much as you do. Don’t worry, though. The sudden demand has overwhelmed our supply. This is a temporary condition, and we’ll have more gas as soon as we can.” I pause, and see that the stump-speech words have had no affect whatsoever, before serenely adding, “The world isn’t ending; gas prices just went up a bit.”

She interrupts her panic for a moment to look at me. I look back, calm as a man who uses infinite-miles-to-the-gallon sandals to get around. My engine runs, like hers, on calories, but mine uses a different kind of fuel, one unmodified by hurricanes and wars: I eat solid food, and I walk places. Sure, it’s a primitive means of fuel and transport, but one that got us around perfectly well before pack animals, steam, and internal combustion. On days when I’m feeling extra fancy, I ride a bicycle. Granted, the former method is Paleolithic and the latter preindustrial, but in case of dire emergency I can always get on the bus or call a cab. Some people think that my lack of motorized transportation is pretty weird, but then again, I think the two people who got in a wreck in my lot on Thursday while racing for an available pump are a whole lot weirder.

But I just deal with this day, and the throng of people and their wild, roving eyes with the whites exposed. The office is awash in fear; the cave is under siege from hyenas. They’ve been on the phone and the internet all day long, absorbing and internalizing the all-encompassing terror in the voices and words of everyone they communicate with. The sky is falling; the End is near. What’s really happening, on a deeper level, is that they’re exerting frightened pack-animal behavior not appreciably different from when a herd of gazelles on an African savannah spot a look in the eyes of the other gazelles that says “lion,” and take off running like hell. The sad thing is that they don’t even know that that’s what they’re doing and why they’re doing it

But I do. So as much as I want to be a mirror that reflects the light of their anger, I have to be a pool that drowns the heat of their fire. I have to suck it up and take one for the team. These folks may have to revert to the less advanced means of transport that I rely on; they may have to do without a second vehicle, they may have to trade in the junky, thirsty eighties V-6 Buick and buy a scooter; they may have to deal with high gas prices and the temporary economic recession it may well usher in. None of this is going to kill them. It may inconvenience them, it may traumatize them, but it is not going to deprive them of life or liberty, it is not going to bereave them of their children and siblings and spouses and so they all need to, if you will pardon my French, chill the f-ck out. There is an American city lying underwater, many of its residents having, some by necessity, gambled and lost against the wild caprices of nature. Bands of marauding thugs have taken root and flowered there, reverting to our precivilized instincts to plunder and rape and kill, patrolling the waterways of what was called New Orleans like jackals and dingoes, while others cower, beholden to their mercy. And people here are losing there shit over temporary price spikes and shortages in gasoline. I really wish I believed in any formal construct of god on days like this, so that He might smiteth the earth and remove this odious little race of vermin before we do it ourselves, which we inevitably will.

The latter sentiment is the one that I am inclined to share with people right now. So I swallow hard, and take deep breaths, and force it down into the pit of my stomach, storing it away to be freed later on a stack of metal plates at the gym and the water in my apartment complex’s swimming pool.

By Saturday the madness has largely subsided. I see the odd car here and there, circling from empty pump to empty pump like sharks, before swimming off into the hot night to search for another station. The crisis has passed its apex, and a general sense of normalcy is returning as people make the trip back from crazy animals to thinking animals, forming contingencies regarding the new fiscal reality of higher fuel prices, which mean higher freight costs, which translates to the consquent actuality that soon nearly every commercial product will cost more than it does now. There may be some choppy waters on the horizon, but the ship that is life is big and sturdy, and will sail through what it cannot sail around.

At six o’clock on Saturday, a massive industrial vehicle pulls up to pump seven, with two men seated in its cab. One gets out and begins to pump fuel, while the other heads into my shop and presents me with a corporate credit card. He appears generally at ease, which makes sense, considering that the money he’s spending isn’t his. He approaches my counter with a loaf of bread and a two liter of Pepsi.

“Hi there,” I say, “How are you doing tonight?”

“I’ll be better in a little bit,” he replies, reflecting the curious if pervasive assumption that the world transforms itself as soon as one clocks out from work. “Have people been giving you a hard time about the prices?”

“Yeah, a few have,” I continue, taking his cash for the groceries before charging $75 of diesel fuel onto the corporate card. “But I know that they’re not actually mad at me. They’re just angry, and I’m the next person they talk to, and so they take it out on me because that’s just how it goes. It does me no good at all to lose my composure in response to it, ya know?”

“That’s right, young man. Good for you for thinking about it like that,” agrees the driver, a man aged about sixty, and consequently a bit less silly than the younger demographic that I principally deal with. I am grateful for his words of reassurance, out of my secret fear that if I offer too many of my own and get none in return, that my supply will run out.

“Good night, friend,” I call, as he slips out the door, amazed as always by the profound impact that the words of total strangers have on one another. Perhaps, I think, reflecting on the small kindnesses that buoy us above murky flood waters of insult and ingratitude, the whole world isn’t going mad, after all.


At Sunday, September 04, 2005 3:29:00 PM, Blogger Hawaiianmark said...

POV? Makes a difference to be the one making a difference, no?

Changes, real changes, may never be made. I fear that pig-headed, status concious fools will go down, pedal to the metal.

It truly may be a small change of the norm for some to adjust, to compensate for the reality of now increased petrol.

Hopefully we can all take something from your words - and the words spoken to you; perhaps we all can have some small 'profound impact' on those we interact with.

Maybe better shit could happen to us all.

As always, well said.


At Sunday, September 04, 2005 5:11:00 PM, Blogger Nilliem said...

Thank someone who just doesn't panic about these things, its nice to hear that you can keep your cool. Truly, you have a tough job right now...and its going to be that way for a while..but being calm in the face of their panic might help in the long run.

At Sunday, September 04, 2005 8:52:00 PM, Anonymous Smoove D said...

I'm glad I happened to trade in my V8 for a four cylinder when fuel went over $2/gallon. The situation is ridiculous down here in Atlanta, as fear of a shortage caused a shortage. Once stations began running out of gas the only rational response was to find a station with fuel and top off. I considered holding off, but there is no incentive to not fill up, because the panic response of other people to fill up had reached critical mass. If I did not fill up, there was a good chance gas for sale at any price would not be available when I needed it to get to work. This is an interesting preview of what will happen when we start running out of oil. I'm surprised things did not get ugly.

At Monday, September 05, 2005 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Giant Bladder said...

The Wizard was better behind the curtain.

At Monday, September 05, 2005 1:33:00 PM, Anonymous Colleen said...

I was hoping that the spike in gas prices and the shortage would prompt people to do something other than complain, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. I'm a big believer in public transportation and I'm against the growing problem of urban sprawl. It's obvious to me that the problem we have is that we make public transportation too difficult and owning a car too easy (after all, now you can get the car of your dreams thanks to the employee discount sale etc)

I'm not saying people shouldn't have cars, but there should be an incentive in using public transportation, biking etc...I know that sounds lame, but most people refuse to use the above mentioned ways of travel. In a way, it's too dangerous to bike and walk with 4 lane intersections, lack of or poor sidewalks, no bike lanes, far distances to stores etc. You've got to watch the cell-phone chatting idiot in the SUV tailgating and exhibiting other signs of roadrage.

Where I live, there is only a few bus routes and the nearest metrolink is more than 5 miles away. Here, when the subject of building additional metrolink stations is brought up, it is met with opposition. People are afraid that the crime is going to go up if the metro station is built in their neiborhood. (don't get me started on this)

How are we to improve on methods of public transportation? Come on people, oil isn't going to last forever. It may last through your lifetime, but what of your children or grandchildren?

I don't mean to sound like I'm pointing fingers because I own a car and I don't live in the city. But I live in an older part of town, in a house over 20 years of age. I will not buy a house in a newer neighborhood nor will I buy a decorate it yourself type house just waiting to be buildt on land where a section of old trees were just torn down. I take metrolink when I can, condense my errands and carpool.

When I went to get gas the other day, I sucked in my breath, but when I went to pay, I didn't make a comment to the gas attendant. I figured she had heard more than enough already from other customers. Instead, I smiled and thanked her for taking my money and silently offered a prayer for her day.

At Monday, September 05, 2005 2:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering if this situation would be addressed here, as I was sure that you were dealing with it, GG.

We had to do it, too - fill up because the "herd" was making a run for the pumps.

We, too, live out of the city proper. It's the only place we could afford (Naples is #3 in the nation for inflated home prices - bastards) AND we didn't want to live like sardines packed in a can. And neighborhood associations made up of old buttinksy types - you get the picture.

Basically, I felt like a big sucker at the pumps late Thursday night, but I needed gasoline in the Jeep anyway.

At Monday, September 05, 2005 7:36:00 PM, Blogger Femi-mommy said...

When I read colleen's post with the complaint about lack of public transit and crime fears stopping the spread of the metro - I just knew it had to be my beloved city.... Come on up to the city Colleen... my bus stop is 7 houses away, my top rated park with a world famous garden is a block, as is a quick shop and several restaurants. I could walk to the grocery store if so inclined and my drive to work is 15 (in heavy traffic). Pretty much anything I could need is within 5 (at the most 10) blocks of my home. Not to say that your points aren't valid. I would really love a metro station here in the south/central area... but most suburban areas have more spread out bus stops and don't have metro stations - you gotta come to the city if you want it. Like I said, I agree with your points, they are totally valid – but it’s like listening to someone who didn’t vote bitch about the president. p.s. my house is 109 years old and the one before that is now 115 - 20 ain't nothin in an old city.

At Tuesday, September 06, 2005 9:00:00 AM, Blogger Revan said...

ahh gas... I really don't panic about the gas prices... I feel that hey it is going to go up but we are still buying it... We have to go and make a living don't we...

I don't envy your job Gas Man... You couldn't pay me enough to do your job...

At Tuesday, September 06, 2005 9:54:00 AM, Anonymous mamabear said...

I love you, gas guy!

At Tuesday, September 06, 2005 11:13:00 AM, Blogger badgerbob said...

Why DID you let Katrina happen?

At Tuesday, September 06, 2005 5:00:00 PM, Blogger fineartist said...

Thought provoking post, thank you, and yes, in comparison to the devastation of Katrina, the rising price of gas is a minor irritant.

I empathize with you, and want to apologize for the rudeness of panicked freaked out people. I know I can’t sooth you, but if I could, one human to another, I would.

Your Paleolithic means of travel is shared by my oldest son, who refers to his as “ his chevroLEGS”.

At Tuesday, September 06, 2005 5:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll have you know that my junky 80s V6 Buick gets 30 mpg on the highway, thank you.

At Tuesday, September 06, 2005 5:54:00 PM, Blogger zilla said...

Bravo, Gas Guy!

At Wednesday, September 07, 2005 1:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Gas Guy. As one Tennessean (now living across the country) to another, I dig your style. I am happier than words can express to see someone describe himself as "salty." No one says that on the Pacific. You make me long for home.

I hope for the best for you and our neighbors on the coast.

At Wednesday, September 07, 2005 1:14:00 AM, Anonymous vague said...

The word-recognition thingy and I don't get along. The above was not anonymous, but from me.


At Wednesday, September 07, 2005 4:37:00 PM, Blogger Bernard Brandt said...

Sigh. Thanks for the perspective. In this context, I remember, not too long ago, the latest iteration of WWJD: "What would Jesus drive." Anyone who actually read the sacred texts instead of listening to the silly commercials or some of the even sillier preachers would immediately know the answer: He wouldn't drive, but would either walk, or use the public transportation immediately available (I believe they called them boats or ships in those days), or would bum a ride from His friends. Even Kevin Smith (Dogma) got it right: as Rufus, the Thirteenth Apostle said, "We walked everywhere; have you ever seen a fat apostle?"

I'm telecommuting these days, and I'm walking the 20 or so minutes to the local stores or supermarkets in San Pedro. Otherwise, I'm driving my Honda Civic hatchback that gets 35 miles to the gallon to church, L.A. rancid transit being what it is.

Within less than thirty years (2035 A.D.) it is estimated that all known reserves of oil will have been consumed. Either we figure out what to do next, or then comes the real fun.

At Thursday, September 08, 2005 12:03:00 PM, Anonymous Beverly said...

I came to you via a link on pitcherlady's blog...surely am glad I did. Well written, well thought-out. I'll be back!

At Thursday, September 08, 2005 1:02:00 PM, Anonymous cristovao said...

Bravo Gas Guy. It's refreshing to hear someone of your intelligence place things in perspective, despite the job you hold and the customers that go with it.

I only wish humanity as a whole would wake up and realize that there is a bigger issue at hand, and no one seems to want to do anything about it.

Sweet baby Stewie, help us all when we run out of oil...

At Thursday, September 08, 2005 4:13:00 PM, Blogger Pee Wee said...

Damn well said. And well written.


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