Pandemonium at The Pumps

Posted on May 14, 2014 under Storytelling with no comments yet

Cars in a lineup at the pumps

Looks like a fleet of Lemmings



In my late teens, I worked for $1.00 an hour pumping gas at a Shell station on the outskirts of town.  I knew enough to top up someone’s oil and even learned how to fix a flat tire.  There was no such thing as self-service.  And the price of gas was around 35 cents a gallon.  When I bought my first car, a Volkswagen Beetle, you had to squeeze the nozzle to get $5.00 worth into it.

Oh my, how the times have changed.  It’s hard to get personalized service anywhere, including gas stations.  You have to pump your own fuel and top off your oil and windshield wiper fluid.  Gas has, by and large, turned into a loss leader (lost litre?) of sorts, as many service stations have become giant convenience stores with gas as an afterthought.

The price of gas has become a national obsession, along with the weather.  There was a time when weather just happened.  It wasn’t dissected and analyzed by 24 hour weather channels.   And every time there is a whiff of an increase in gas prices, it sets in motion a sequence of events that can only be called bizarre.

There are only three certainties in life: death, taxes and an increase in gas prices on a holiday weekend.  Gas prices in this province recently reached an all-time high.  There is so much attention being paid to this that some young entrepreneur should get a license for a new cable channel devoted entirely to “stories from the pumps”.

The announcement of an anticipated price hike in gasoline triggers a Pavlovian response.  You can predict with certainty that the morning paper will show lineups at the pumps the day before the scheduled increase.

So it was with some bemusement that I picked up the paper, saw the stock picture that we are all familiar with of long lineups of vehicles, and started to do some calculating.  I’m going metric here but the same principles apply with the price per gallon.  Maybe next week I’ll go postal.

The pundits had predicted a price hike of 3 cents a litre, which in and of itself was not a big deal.   But this was hard on the heels of a 12 cent jump the previous week.   With visions of angry sheiks and troubles in the Ukraine dancing in their heads, drivers raced to their driveways.  And the lineups started to build.

I will admit that we own a small, fuel efficient car that we don’t drive much so these gyrations in price rarely cause heart palpitations. Back in the days of the minivan it was a different story.  I feel sorry for people on fixed income who get hurt every time the price of anything rises.  And long haul truckers.

The tank in our car holds forty litres of fuel.  Assuming that the tank was nearly bone dry, I would have saved about $1.20 by driving up the road and taking my place in line.  Hoping all the while that I would beat the midnight changeover time.

But there is a pretty good chance that I would burn that much in fuel while having the car idling in the long lineup. Or by turning it on and off as I moved along in the queue.  Surely this would add to environmental degradation and impact my carbon credits.  At best, I may have broken even on the deal.

The guy next to you is complaining all the while about being a pawn of the government and the oil companies.  This same guy then drives his rig to Timmy’s for his double-double and idles for another ten minutes while he lines up with a bunch of other environmentalists. Yup.  He sure saved a lot on gas by going the day before.

This just in.  The price of gas is expected to drop 5 cents tomorrow.

Stay tuned for the next installment of “Pandemonium at the Pumps”.


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