Stay High

Every time I fill in on this blog (well, both times) the price of gas has risen to a new peak and I, as well as hundreds of other journalists, have tried to make something interesting of the fact. Will America finally get serious about conserving? Will Detroit go full-tilt producing hybrids? Will commuters stay home and work over the Web? It's pretty boring and tiring, actually -- almost as much so as the speculation about whether the high prices are manipulated by the oil companies, dictated by speculators, or reflective of actual dwindling reserves. The debate seems easy to settle but it never is, nor is the question of whether the big run-up will prove transitory or semi-permanent.

And just when these articles have all been written, in all their variations, the price slides down again and people go back to doing as they did and driving whatever they drove before as far and as often as they ever drove it, while listening to pretty music .

Perhaps that's why this time I wouldn't be disappointed if fate just split the difference in the whole cycle and gas prices stayed where they are now. Then I might be able to adapt to them. Then I might finally relinquish my fantasy of buying a 300 hp sports coupe that only uses premium. My best trick so far is to set a dollar limit every time I open my gas cap. The concept is to always spend the same amount -- say fifty bucks-- and drive as far as I can on what it buys me but not a mile more. It works for a week or two but then it doesn't work due to the same sort of sloppy, self-serving accounting that causes me about once or twice a year to ditch my HBO while, with the other hand, I buy more cell-phone minutes.

Recommended Reading

A soon as prices drop, I stop playing my mental gas games and do as alcoholics do when they pick up the bottle again after a period of sobriety: guzzle to beat hell. It might be my last opportunity, I reason, before gas goes to fifteen bucks a liter. Boy, do I make hay. It's the opposite of conservation. It's the opposite of learning one's lesson. It's desperate and slightly euphoric and, I'm convinced now, it makes not a dimple in the vast reserves that economists always point out are still around no matter what the prices on the pump read.

And as yo-yo dieters know, binging and starving corrupts one's whole metabolism. That's where I am now with gasoline. Nothing anyone tells me seems believable, no disciplined program of consumption seems rational and nothing I read on the subject seems relevant. For all I know, when oil truly runs short the price of gas will plunge and plunge until there are only twenty gallons left which no one will want, so they'll pour them on the ground.

Tomorrow I have a trip planned. Eight hundred miles of interstate. It might be cheaper to fly but I might never get this chance again.