Adding Fire to the Fuel

When I step up to the counter at Starbucks for my favorites (hot: Grande Flat White, cold: Grande Cold Brew w/ a splash of cream), I find it interesting how accepting I am of the high price of my purchase. By nature I’m a penny-pincher, monitoring the family budget with a fully-focused microscope. But the scan-and-go Starbucks app makes it easy to overlook the five dollars for a single cup of coffee. On the other hand, a gallon of gasoline for the same price is literally headline news.

I don’t wonder if you’re just like me at the gas station these days because you are. When you pull up to the pump you try to ignore the unbelievable digits on the station sign and on the pump itself.  The tank in your vehicle is probably closer to “E” than usual (though my wife still refuses to go below the quarter mark).  You may even shop around now before choosing your station.  Finally, the price of your favorite octane has you considering a cheaper option, even though none of them are really “cheap”.  Just like the Starbucks menu, purchasing gas is no longer the mindless decision it used to be.

$5.00/gallon. Ten days ago the U.S. hit that preposterous average for the first time in its history.  Just two months ago the average was $4.00; two years before that, less than $2.00.  Forecasters say we’ll see a nationwide average of $6.00 before the end of the summer.  No wonder our fiery conversations are all about fuel these days.

When my car’s “low fuel” light pops on (with an annoying “DING!”) I know it’s going to take eighteen gallons to get the needle pointing back to “F”.  That’s $90 in June 2022 math.  When a stop at the gas station sets you back almost $100, you start to think about what else you could buy with the money.  Four or five dinners out.  Ten months of Netflix.  Twenty Starbucks Flat Whites.

If it’s any consolation, at least we’re talking about self-service gasoline here.  Some of you are too young to remember when a “gas station” was a “service station”.  Prior to 1980, it was all about full service.  I can still hear the ding-ding as the wheels of my parents’ car passed over black hoses, triggering the bell to let the attendant know they needed a fill-‘er-up.  Then he (yes “he” because I never remember a “she” working at service stations back then) would run over to the pump, ask what octane and how many gallons, and start the filling.  He’d also ask you to “pop the hood” so he could have a quick look at the oil, washer fluid, and engine.  Finally, he’d give your front windshield a wash, take payment (in cash, of course), and off you’d go.  For all that service, you simply rolled down the driver’s-side window and paid the man.

Full-service is still a thing of course but it’s a lot harder to find these days.  Unless you live in Oregon or New Jersey.  In those states, self-service is rarely an option.  Attendants are still the norm.  It sounds like an alternate reality for 2022 (or the scene from Back to the Future below) but two out of the fifty states stubbornly refuse to allow self-service.  They stand by the well-worn concerns: fire hazards, difficulties for the elderly or disabled, and loss of station attendant jobs.  They also charge a few pennies more per gallon because they can’t make a profit the way they used to – by offering services beyond the gas itself.  For the most part, those under-the-hood services moved to car dealerships a long time ago.

Just this week our politicians proposed a three-month “holiday” on gas taxes (and taxes on gasoline should be the subject of its own blog post).  The holiday won’t happen, though.  Our politicians won’t allow the sacrifices made by not collecting those taxes.  Or activists will wonder if gas companies will maintain the high prices and generate additional profit.  And if gas is on its way to $6/gallon anyway, it’s kind of like adding a new lane to the highway, where by the time it’s finished the traffic has increased too much to notice any difference.

Not speaking for other countries but Americans won’t be driving less in the next several months.  The travel forecast calls for more vehicle miles than even in the summers before COVID.  Our lack of efficient mass transit and our woes at the airport (can you say, “canceled flight”?) will, uh, drive us to drive.  In other words, we’ll pay $5, $6, maybe even $7 before we’ll pull back on our stubborn habits.  Just like I will, admittedly, at Starbucks.

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Why New Jersey and Oregon still don’t let you pump your own gas”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

29 thoughts on “Adding Fire to the Fuel

  1. I agree that Americans won’t be driving less this summer because of high gas prices. Instead they’ll just be complaining more… and isn’t that something to look forward to, not. Shaking my head, wandering off to Star$ to get a basic old latte…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Completely agree, Neil. I had what I thought was a well-paying job in my earner years, yet it still felt like we were scraping by to raise our three kids. No wonder you see white-collar earners taking minimum-wage jobs these days.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yesterday I filled my tank – I had to wait because all 12 pumps where in use. Yes, 12 cars pumping gas. When I went through the Starbucks drive through there was only one car in front of me, so yeah, people might be buying less Starbucks, but they seem to be buying more gas … go figure.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I meant to address the supply concern in my post, Andrew. The other day when I went to fill up my almost-empty tank, my only choice of the octanes was the highest/most expensive. I usually go for the lowest so it was a little unnerving. Decided to run on fumes until I could find a station with all of the choices instead.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Dave I paid $2 a litre here today for gas, we’re litres in Canada with almost 4 L to the gallon, so almost $8. Bizarre when we produce plenty of gas here in Canada. I also go to one of the two service stations in town, Shell and Esso as even if it’s a few cents more, as they still clean your windshield for you just like in the 60’s and I don’t have to deal with the gas. I’m glad I’m retired and don’t have to drive as much. I remember when I was a kid and the Esso station used to hand out those Tiger tails you could hang on your mirror – they had a slogan – Put a Tiger in your tank? And sometimes they gave out mugs or glasses too to stand out from the competition.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, I forgot about the giveaways, Joni! One of ours was from Union 76 where their symbol was a big orange ball with a “76” on it. They’d hand out these little styrofoam replicas – ping-pong-ball sized – to pop onto the top of the straight antenna coming out of your hood. Imagine today’s kids reading that and asking, “What’s an antenna?” 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I notice you didn’t bring up us e-car drivers, the price of gas isn’t bothering me 🙂 Though there is all that fuel that Tandy’s truck takes – between us we’re average fuel users. Also, re: the full service, both Tandy and her sister (and their mom) worked as full service attendants at their parents gas station in Arizona, so there were some women in the workforce as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. New family trivia on me, Ric! Like the full-service norm in Oregon and New Jersey, it’s interesting to learn more about the landscape of gas stations and know it is/was not the same everywhere as it was in West L.A. And yes, the thought of e-cars didn’t enter my mind at all as I wrote this one. Guess I was as fully focused on my topic as I am on the household budget 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. People who drive electric cars might want to remember that in general, the United States derives about 61% of its electricity from fossil fuels – natural gas, coal and fuel oil. Consequently, the cost for electricity is going up too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No question there, Margy. Even before the recent increase in the cost of groceries and gasoline, our utilities have been on the rise (electricity in particular). With that in mind, I just turned off the air conditioner.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ah… the gas prices. We are close to $6 at some stations. I haven’t been to Starbucks in a while, but I know prices rising there too. By the way, what is a Grande Flat White? I’m always amused when I go with daughters and they order… how do the Baristas keep up! LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to look this up, Monica. The Flat White is a blend of “ristretto” (restricted) espresso shots combined with steamed milk. The ristretto shot takes less hot water, which makes for a richer extract of the beans The Flat White is described as “not-too-strong, not-too-creamy” and it’s been my go-to ever since I tried one years ago. Any perceived sweetness comes from the coffee itself (which is my preference). And IMHO the Grande (vs. the Tall or the Venti) is the perfect size.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. So, is it like a latte or less than a latte, just a splash of milk? I normally get a grande non-fat wet cappuccino. Now though with prices so high, I get normal drip with a splash of soy or oat milk.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. We are driving to Newport for the Fourth of July, it will be our first look at the prices. Luckily the subway hasn’t been affected by inflation, although poor Jon had his flight cancelled home from Montreal recently and him and his coworkers had quite the adventure getting home. I just went with him for the weekend and when I flew home three days earlier I got upgraded to first class 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Newport should be an awesome celebration locale on the 4th (speaking of Elin Hilderbrand). We’ve been once and the tour of The Breakers alone was worth the visit. The airlines are making travel an unpredictable adventure these days. We’re headed to a wedding in Maryland in August, via Southwest stopping somewhere between Denver to Baltimore. Expecting the unexpected with that trip.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The Breakers is at the top of my list! I love being nosy and looking in mansions 🙂 I hope that flight is full of no surprises, but best to keep your expectations low. We are a bit lucky and can usually find nonstop flights flights easily from NYC. We also don’t book any trips without nonstop flights, although not much you can do to change the location of someone else’s wedding.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. The Breakers will generate a “Lyssy” post with great photos – I’m sure of it. As for our August trip, the itinerary was a desperate attempt to keep the tickets below $500/per. Like you, we always avoid connections, but cross-country non-stops are crazy-expensive right now. Southwest has been very reliable out of Denver but recent headlines suggest otherwise. The trip will generate a “Life” post – I’m sure of it 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Oh yes there will be no shortage of content in Newport! It is crazy how expensive domestic flights are this summer, you’d think it was Thanksgiving or Christmas. We have to go to Atlanta/Michigan this summer, hopefully it goes smoothly. Jon likes to say flights to NYC are too important to cancel, but I’m not so sure ..

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I miss Starbucks coffee – before my boss and I left the Firm and moved out on our own away from Downtown Detroit, it was my morning go-to spot for a Grande of whatever was brewing that morning – Colombian was always my favorite, not Sumatra – too earthy as I always drank it black. I’d be humming along for hours afterward from that coffee jolt!

    I am old enough to remember the full-service gas stations. I always patronized the same station, but I took the bus to work for decades and didn’t drive all that much, so didn’t fill up that much. My first car, a VW Beetle in 1973, was $3.00 to fill the tank.

    So my mom and I took a little trip to Northern Michigan to see the colors and I pulled up to the pump and no full serve. No attendant inside either. The honor system with a lockbox for the cash. Now I’ve seen that in the country for a produce stand at the end of the farmer’s driveway, but for gas?? Well, there we sat until the next would-be customer came along to show me, who had been driving for about 17 years at that time, how to pump gasoline. 🙂 I only buy gas once a month, if that – even less in Winter. I have worked from home for 11 years and my 11-year-old car just passed 9,500 miles. I still bemoan the price of gas though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Starbuck was similarly convenient for me before I started working from home, Linda. The drive-thru added just a couple of minutes to my commute, a constant temptation. I’d find myself stopping way too often, to where my purchases became a significant line item in the household budget. Then Nespresso came to my rescue, thankfully; great coffee at home for about 20% of the cost. Interesting to see your comments about the Starbucks coffee options: Columbian, Sumatra. I always went with the generic Flat White or other coffee/milk blend and never thought to experiment with the coffee itself.

      The Northern Michigan honor-system gas station story is priceless. I’ve seen the same with eggs from a farm or goods from a bakery, but never gas. I guess we still have a little innocence left in this country after all 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The only time I strayed from the strong brews was an occasional Caramel Macchiota or one of their Christmas whipped cream drinks. They were expensive even in those days, circa late 1990s.

        Yes, it was refreshing to see that honor system gasoline. A fellow blogger has a roadside stand with a refrigerated area for eggs, plus she cuts wildflowers and makes bouquets, hand-made jewelry and when she’s not around, she relies on the honor system.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I am your Starbucks Opposite. I almost never go there. When I do, I freeze and have almost no idea what I want, beyond black coffee. Part of it is that I just can’t do a $5 coffee. McDonalds upped their coffee game a number of years ago and when I get coffee out, it is my go-to. Other than breakfast hours when they are making and selling a lot of it, I will order mine with 3 creams and 1 sugar for a large as insurance against a cup that has been on the burner a mite long.

    I get Starbucks gift cards and struggle to use them. I think I have 2 or 3 of them right now, with probably $30 or $40 to spend, and I still don’t go. There is one near me, but every morning when I pass it (the only time I really want coffee) the line is really long.

    I can remember the various times we hit fuel peaks. When it cracked $1 in 1979 or 1980 it was a scandal. I still remember getting rung for $1.56/gal around 1982 or so (fueling a Chrysler New Yorker, yet) and that was my record high for years. Then it hit $4 in the spring or summer of 2006, which was the death sentence for my aging full-sized van. Now we are at $5. My little car (that gets most of the miles) has a 10.9 gallon tank, and a typical fill is $40-45 when it used to be around $15.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I commented to Linda, at-home Nespresso coffee has come to our rescue from the higher prices at Starbucks. We used to have a Kuerig but the quality of Nespresso is noticeably higher. At $1.10 or $1,20 a pod, I have no problem passing up Starbucks later in the day. Every now and then I’ll hit the drive-thru but not often enough to be considered a habit. I will say this: Starbucks employees are, by and large, pleasant people. I usually get the “how’s your day going?” when I pull up to the window and enjoy the brief conversation.

      I think most Boomers remember the early-70s “energy crisis”, with the famous photos of long lines at the gas station (looking like an ordinary day at Costco gas). “Crisis” is an odd label in hindsight but perhaps our country never faced a similar situation before. Today it seems to be just another topic of conversation versus anything to realy panic about. Also, I’m not aware of anyone changing their driving habits. People seem to be taking the higher prices in stride (ditto food prices); maybe adjusting elsewhere in their budgets instead.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I grew up in New Jersey and had to learn to pump gas when I left the state. I’d have a pocket full of change and ask for 67 cents worth of gas, and they would do it. Thanks for the clip from one of my most favorite movies ever. I do worry about workers who need to drive to work, yet make a low hourly wage.

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