Posted by: nickgerlich | June 4, 2008

Mass Hysteria

Back when gas was a quarter a gallon, Cokes were $1 for six, and beer was $4 a case, no one seemed to care what they did with fluids. Pour it in, pour it on, whatever. Life was good, and fluids were cheap.

Of course, I’m talking about the 1960s, so I need to rejoin the 21C reality. Sodas are now $6 or more per case, and beer has more than quintupled. But gas has shot up 1600%. People are still drinking their sodas and beers, but suddenly they are becoming a little more cognizant of what they put in their other tank.

CookiesIn fact, we are doing what many would never consider doing in better times: riding the bus or train to work. In the first quarter this year, according to MSNBC, mass transit ridership shot up 85 million to 2.6 billion trips.

Of course, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that one must actually live in an area served by mass transit to be able to use it. Only 20% of American households have easy access to mass transit. And in a small metro area like Amarillo (240,000 people), taking the bus is a challenge, because there are few of them, their routes are limited, and there is a social stigma attached to the practice.

After all, only drunks and poor people have to ride the bus.

Still, I am glad to see Americans finally reaching their boiling point and starting to draw the line on gas expenses. The only way for us to have some control over pricing is actually fairly simple: Use less (not useless!).

Across the nation, mass transit buses and trains are filled to capacity, with some municipalities struggling to provide enough service. City fuel expenses have quadrupled in recent years, and providing what was once merely an optional mode of travel is rapidly becoming a civic burden demanded by a growing populous of cash-strapped citizens.

It was inevitable, I suppose. Given fairly stagnant incomes at a time of rapid price escalation on an important commodity, there had to be some give-and-take in household budgets. In other words, it has to come out of somewhere. For a while, people either cut back on dining or clothing to subsidize their gas habit, but now even that is not enough. It’s time for some radical lifestyle changes, even if it means riding the bus with folks from the other side of town.

And that’s the kind of behavior consumers need to be more willing to embrace.

Dr “Fluid Dynamics” Gerlich

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