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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Pumped Up, Tapped Out

I learned a little something about myself today. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I apparently do have a limit to the amount I’m willing to spend for wildly overpriced goods. Maybe that means there’s a faint glimmer of fiscal responsibility deep within me, after all. More likely, I’m just getting pennypinchy in my crotchety old age.

(And you young whippersnappers better git offa my lawn!)

At any rate, I’ve never spent much time worrying about cash. For much of my adult life, I was too poor to consider buying anything extravagant. Or anything non-extravagant, for that matter. Fretting about making more money would have been like worrying about growing a set of boobs on my back — it wasn’t going to happen, I wouldn’t know how to react if it did happen, and I’d be clueless about how to make the situation work for me.

(Hint: Two sets of mirrors and a velvet-covered back scratcher.

I’ve given this ‘boobs on the back’ thing way too much thought.)

Happily, my time spent huddling over bowls of Ramen noodles in a studio apartment has endowed me with plain, simple tastes. Some might even say ‘cheap’. So long as the mortgage is paid, the television works, and there’s beer in the fridge, I’m good. Sure, these days it has to be good beer — I’m not still in my Ramen noodle phase, after all — but I don’t generally go in for the extravagant things in life.

“Fretting about making more money would have been like worrying about growing a set of boobs on my back — it wasn’t going to happen, I wouldn’t know how to react if it did happen, and I’d be clueless about how to make the situation work for me.”

On the other hand, when I need something — or can convince my wife that I’ll be mopey and pouty-faced without it — then I’m not afraid to put some money down. The system has worked well for me over the years — spend a few months living on the cheap, then splurge on a cell phone or underwear or dog food or something, and go back to ‘save mode’ for a while. That’s plenty enough shopping for me; I don’t much enjoy the buying process in the first place. If I leave a 7-11 with a pack of gum and a Slushee, I consider that a ‘spree’.

So, generally speaking, I don’t pay too much attention to prices, because I’m not actually buying things. One of my few regular purchases, though, is gasoline. I need the car to get to work, so I can make the money to pay the car and insurance payments, so I can have the car to get to work, so I can make the money to… meh. Looks like my rat race is being run on a very circular sort of track. I hope I’m due for a pit stop soon.

But back to the gas station.

Today, I pulled my thirsty Nissan up to the pump, swiped my card, and began fueling. I go to this station a lot; it’s on my way to work, and while the prices aren’t the absolute best in town, they don’t seem to be gouging particularly hard, either. Today, a hit of regular unleaded could be had for $3.03. I nozzled up and let ‘er rip.

A few gallons in, I came out of my daydream and noticed the numbers rolling over. Twenty-five bucks and counting. Hrm. Boy, I remember the day when a whole tank was less than twe- I thought I told you whippersnappers to git offa my lawn!

Soon after, the pump pinged thirty dollars. The car kept on chugging.

At forty clams, I frowned. I’ve paid forty bucks for a tank of gas before — but I haven’t liked it. I’m no pricewatcher, but somehow shelling over two Jacksons just to tootle back and forth to the office for a few days feels wrong. Dead wrong. And still the pump kept pumping.

Forty-two dollars. Still going.

Forty-five dollars. How much gas does this car fricking hold, anyway? I glanced down to see whether I was accidentally filling the back seat with octane. I wasn’t.

Forty-six dollars. Surely that’s enough. Nope.

Forty-seven dollars. Can you hear me now?

Forty-eight dollars. Forty-eight fifty. Forty-nine dollars. And no sign of stopping. I don’t like where this is headed.

I watched the cents place swoosh past — ten, twenty, thirty, and more. There was no hint of a cutoff, no indication my poor car was near sated. At forty-nine dollars and eighty-something cents, I let off the trigger and cut the juice. The tally stood at forty-nine ninety-nine. Teetering, tantalizingly close, to my very first fifty-dollar tank of gas.

To me, the fifty-dollar tank of gas has become a symbol. A message that things have finally gone too far, that somehow this whole ‘industrial revolution’ and supersized consumerized economy might not be working out the way we’d planned. Fifty dollars for a car’s worth of fuel is tough to swallow. Unless that vehicle of yours is packing extra gallons away in a hollow axle or a second tank, dropping half a hundred at your local Shell shouldn’t even be a concern.

Yet there I stood, one thin penny away from the magical five-oh. Oh, what troubling times are these when high-octane fossil fuels cost more per ounce than street-quality crank. Is no method of mass pollution sacred any more?

I stopped to ponder why the fifty-dollar tank of gas matters to me so much, when I’ve blithely ignored other potential economic doomsday signs. The two-dollar vending machine soda, which incenses several of my friends, doesn’t much bother me. Likewise, the sixty-dollar baseball ticket — if I can afford it once or twice a year, great. If not… there’s always TV to watch it on. And the twelve-dollar burrito — which still causes a single angry tear to run down my friend’s cheek, any time we mention it — is just bueno in my book, assuming I’m extra-hungry and have just cashed my paycheck.

So why the gas thing? I have no idea. All I know is that I couldn’t physically bring myself to nuedge the trigger any further on the gas pump today. Ignoring the sexy allure of that nice round five-oh-dot-oh-oh on the display, I left the tab at $49.99, replaced the cap, and drove away. I found my limit. Fifty dollars to gas up is simply not going to fly.

Of course, now I dread what’ll happen in a few years, when prices have skyrocketed and we’re all jacking rocket fuel from the pumps into our hoverbikes. We may hit the ‘fifty-dollar tank of gas’ in the first half-gallon. And those hoverbikes have horrible city MPG, so you just know it’s going to cost a fortune.

Me, I long for the good old days of a few years ago, in that happy place between the oil embargoes of the ’80s and the out-of-kilter supply and demand wonkiness of today. Boy, in the mid-nineties, you could take fifty bucks to the pump and gas up three cars, with change left over to fill the lawnmower tank. Those sure were the days.

Now for the last time, get that goldurned hoverbike the hell offa my lawn! You’ll crease the astroturf with that thing, ya whippersnapper. Sheesh.

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “Pumped Up, Tapped Out”

  1. kerry says:

    i hate going to the pump. i hate paying so much for gas. i used to be able to fill my tank up for less than $10 total. god, i miss those days.

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