Tuesday, September 23, 2008


From spotty shortages preceding Hurricane Ike to region-wide outages, Middle Tennessee where I live has become a gasless desert. I visited the Soviet Union in the mid-’80s, and lived through the Arab oil embargo of the ’70s, and the scene here reminds me of those two experiences.

The lines at gas stations are not as long as they were in California’s Bay area when I lived there in the ’70s, but they’re persistent and the waits are tedious. At least two people in my office of 25 spoke of waiting for gas only to see the station run dry when they were almost to the pump.

People are using the radio, telephone, Internet, Twitter and, for all I know, scattering chicken bones to find gasoline. A news report at 6 a.m. about gas at a place on the east edge of Nashville – showing no cars there – led to a packed station and a line there 30 minutes later.

I remember Russians in the old USSR of the ’80s lining up at stores because there was a rumor there’d be shoes, bread or coffee. It didn’t matter if you needed it, or whether or not they had your size – you might be able to swap with someone who had something you did need. So you “queued up” and hoped for the best.

People are filling up jugs and jerry cans – I saw one guy on TV with two plain big plastic bottles like those that hold pretzels – anything they think will hold gasoline.

I admit to topping off my tank, for the same reason most folks have – it takes a car to get to work, get groceries, get kids to school. The price varies wildly, from close to $4.50 to as low as $3.70, but for once none of us is in much of a mood to argue. You spot an oasis, you hope it’s not a mirage, and you go for it.

Supposedly, things will return to normal in a week or so. Normality was expected last week, too, and that didn’t happen. I’ve wondered idly – sorry, bad choice of words – if the kids who love to cruise after school and on weekends around the malls and Nashville’s Second Avenue are staying home. And what about the bass anglers with their monster outboards, or the ski crowd? It is still warm enough to swim and ski here – are they high and dry?

I’d go look, but I’m not sure if I could find a place to top off afterward.