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Volume 16, Issue 2 - January 10 - January 16, 2008

Think Small

Thinking big has been our undoing

What goes up must come down.

Conceded. Within the realm of gravity, what goes up does have to come down. But those laws don’t necessarily apply elsewhere; certainly not in the price of fuel. For more than three decades now, the cost of a tank full of gasoline and diesel has gone up, up, up.

Temporary dips have raised hopes, but lower prices never last long. Service station owners seem to be as busy putting bigger numbers on their signs and pumps as they are pumping gas. Sorry, that’s misleading. They don’t pump gas any more: You and I do. We also wipe the windshield, check and pour the oil into the crankcase and put the air in the tires.

Back when all this was beginning, Dick Nixon was president, the average jalopy got around 20miles per gallon, and at Ritchie Highway in North County I could fill a near-empty tank on my big gas-guzzling Pontiac for about $5. A full tank for that car today would cost me $50 or more. Gasoline averages a tad more than three bucks a gallon today.

Back in the 1970s, as lines built up at gas pumps reminiscent of World War II, I recall noting prices at 29.9 cents at the pumps of off-brand stations — and even then the driver stayed in the car while the attendant pumped. We paid 10 times less and got 10 times more in services.

Just about every service station offered some repairs; their garages were bursting at the seams with long rows of tires, windshield wipers, fan belts and other parts so that motorists in trouble could at least make temporary accommodations on the road. Every service station had a restroom, often a clean one with plenty of TP.

Our cars were older, but traveling was pleasant. Service stations lived up to their name: Service. We looked forward to our annual vacations.

I thought of that the other day when temperatures warmed enough to give fishing a try at the Bay Bridge. On the way home, I stopped at Anglers Sporting Goods on Route 50. A customer came in, plopped a bike helmet on the counter and asked to see a top-of-the-line fly rod, saying, it must be able to be broken down because I travel by motorcycle.

A fellow I was talking to said, He can afford a Sage rod; he’s driving a motorcycle, cheap transportation.

Turns out the motorcyclist was not buying the rod primarily for fishing hereabouts; he was planning a trip to Utah’s famed Green River for its trout. Nor will he travel by his BMW bike; he has to drive his four-wheeled vehicle because he will tow his small boat those thousands of miles.

Said the fellow I was talking to: He could save a stack of moola if he left his boat home, rode his bike to Utah and bought another boat there — even if he had to give it away before coming back.

Farewell McMansion Motorhomes

That, my outdoor friends, is the situation as we prepare for the winter circuit of outdoor shows featuring new camping gear as well as fishing, hunting and boating gear. I heard an economist on the radio the other day suggesting that fuel costs could double what they are today by year’s end.

Methinks Think Big is bound to change some day not too distant to Think Small. Think energy and its cost. Think vacation by the mile.

Gas-guzzling motorhomes and those who build, promote and sell them weren’t hindered by mileage costs. A family could spend more for fuel yet save in the long run because they were riding in their home. No longer can it be said that bottom line savings by going on a long trip via RVs — with everything packed inside but the kitchen sink — outweighs the costs of fuel. Today, a family could almost sleep and eat on the road at the Ritz for less then the cost of fuel.

At a recent Navy football game, a wife dishing out chow from a motorhome told me tailgating at Ravens and Navy games was about the only use the family gets of their rig these days. They can’t afford long trips. That was before the latest round of fuel price increases.

Meanwhile game ticket prices are rising — though not on the scale as prices at the pump. And the fancy food dished out while tailgating costs more due to energy costs in making and delivering it.

The only winners are Exxon, OPEC and the rest of the gang who refine crude oil, drill or pump it from beneath the earth and always sell it on their terms. They’re making record profits. I find their don’t-blame-us pleas nauseating.

Only One Way Out

What can we do about it other than think small?

Pop-up trailers can sufficiently serve the camper who wants a wilderness experience. They increase fuel consumption only moderately; fishermen and boaters can get by with smaller craft and skip their Inland Waterway cruises to and from Florida and the Islands each year.

Think smaller about cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and those lumbering oversized station wagons. But GM, Ford and Chrysler won’t listen. Neither will the White House and Congress. Talk about ostriches with their heads in the sand. Can’t they see this can’t last? We’re nowhere near energy independent, the economy is already severely impacted — and it’s only the beginning.

If prices and consumption continue as they are, how many citizens will have to bike or walk to work? If they have work.

We’ll live in houses without functioning air conditioners, maybe even large appliances. Will we even be able to keep our homes comfortably warm in winter? The nation’s security could be at risk.

Thinking big is our undoing.

I got a chuckle the other day when the richest man in the world drove into Las Vegas to the big electronics convention in a small, fuel efficient Ford Escort. It matters not that he’s trying to work out a few deals with Ford for even more advanced electronics in vehicles. He sure saved some fuel, which is the bottom line.

Enough said.

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