Perhaps I’m giving away my youth and inexperience, but I don’t remember the long gas lines that accompanied the oil shortages of the late 1970s. Not to say that now is in any way comparable to those days, but I witnessed a renewed clarity of consumer consciousness at the gas station on my way home tonight.
Knowing the Buick’s tank was lagging in the fuel department, I’ve been putting off the necessity for the past few days, burying my head as the cost of gasoline skyrockets. Nevertheless, the car was nearing empty, so I planned a stop this evening at a Wheat Ridge gas station noted for its relatively low prices.
Of course, if the numbers posted on their sign tonight had been there even two weeks ago, the scene would have been much different: $2.37 for a gallon of the lowest grade, with $2.47 for the mid-grade. (I’m a cheap, low-grade kind of guy, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably already figured that out.) Those prices would have seemed outrageous not too long ago – today, they were the best deal in town.
The station I stopped at is a low-maintenance, no-frills kind of place. They can get away with undercutting the competition. But never before have I seen so many cars fighting the narrow, rugged terrain to secure a spot at the pump… at least 10 cars at a time waiting for 6 stations. Like the others, I waited my turn. And I didn’t see anyone who pulled up while I was there drive away out of the typical impatient frustration that accompanies any American having to wait for any consumer good or service. (Hey, I resemble that remark!)
Quite fascinating, really, but the point wasn’t driven home until I passed another station six short blocks away along the same major thoroughfare, and it was completely vacant! Why? The station was charging $2.49 for the low grade and $2.59 for the mid grade. A little ways further down in Lakewood, along the intersection with the area’s main highway (US-6), another station offering $2.44 and $2.54 a gallon, respectively, had one truck on the premises filling up its tank.
Behold, market forces at work! Consumers have made a bold statement with their dollars: we’re willing to wait a few extra minutes, maybe even drive several blocks out of our way, to save a couple bucks on a tank of gas!
I’m sure the professional economists out there can give a more precise theorem for what I witnessed tonight. But it’s obvious that the pressure accompanying a rapid rise in oil prices has made middle-class American consumers much more cost-conscious, at least for the time being.
While it seems there’s no end to the dizzying increases at the fuel pump, and the family budget gets squeezed just a bit more, at least I can humor myself with an interesting observation or two.