Two Great American Pastimes obsess us: comparing gas prices and despairing over gas prices.
When I want to gripe, bashing gas prices works every time, whether fluctuating up or down.
Say what? Don’t we want prices to drop?
Not necessarily. If you and I have just filled our tanks, we want prices to leap higher than a jumping bean on steroids.
Too often, however, we find the convenience store clerk upped the price 30 cents while we were using onsite facilities.
Economists obsess about demographics, political climates and laws of supply and demand. They’re right about that last one. Those who supply gas can demand whatever they want.
Despite recent falling prices, we continue to exchange hot tips as if stations were speakeasies. Lately, as I prowled, looking for the best deal, childhood memories of gas stations overtook me.
“Ding-ding!” In the 1960s, a bell always greeted our car’s arrival at friendly stations. I liked the heady fragrance as our station wagon sucked in fuel like cherry Coke through a straw.
Strong men with greasy hands not only pumped gas, they washed windshields and checked oil. When something broke, they fixed it with manly, clanky tools.
Attendants carried cool metal coin dispensers and wads of dollars in heavy leather wallets. They were rich, since Dad paid them 25.9 cents a gallon. They gave away free road maps and Christmas drinking glasses.
Now, as I drove past stations, I winced. They probably didn’t give away free toilet paper, let alone glasses. I checked another station where I had posted earlier successes.
Cheap gas at last! I filled up and left quickly so the next customer could use the pump. No friendly “ding-ding” good-bye. Too bad gas stations weren’t the way they used to be.
Passing higher prices on the way home, I celebrated. However, my smugness ended when I walked in the door.
“Did you pay for your gas?” My husband nailed me.
“Of course, I … uh. …”
Of course, I hadn’t.
“The police called.” My beloved didn’t look inclined to post bail. “Go back and pay.”
I flew out the door. Did they put gas thieves in solitary confinement? What if my pastor saw me taken away in shackles?
“There you are!” The manager, who knew me, burst into giggles. “When the cops called, I told them you forgot.”
I poured out thanks and signed my guilty name on the credit card slip. Still looking for helicopters overhead, I sneaked away.
Again, no friendly dings. But I vowed to return soon. This kind station manager didn’t need a ding-ding to take good care of this ding-dong.
Plus, her gasoline was a real steal.
Have you ever driven away or walked out without paying?