Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias I'm reaching way, way, way back into my memory bank right now. I'm hoping this is accurate.

I'm pulling up a scene, circa 1960 or 1961, on the computer monitor in my brain, from when I was only 4 or 5 years old.

The picture is really fuzzy. But there are a couple things I know for sure.

I am standing in the back seat of my folk's 1960 Ford. I remember the Ford had different colored seats from my Dad's first car � a 1954 green Plymouth.

And, I am watching the fuel pump at Truex's Standard Oil station in Humboldt. Terry Truex, the owner, is washing the windshield with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Nobody seems to care.

I am fascinated with the gas pump. It, naturally, is a bit more mechanical than the pumps of today. I prided myself with the fact that I could read most of the metal numbers as they clicked and clanked into place.

After what seemed like an eternity, I see Terry finally topping off the tank. I can make out the number 3 and two zeros after the dollar sign on the pump. Mom opens her purse and hands Terry three greenbacks.

"Wow. Three dollars is a lot of money."

At least that's what I remember thinking back then.

That's probably why this memory has stuck with me for most of my life.

When you're 4 or 5 years old, you don't think about money, mainly because you don't have any (the dimes the tooth fairy left were spent a long time ago) and all of the stuff you really needed in life was provided gratis by good old Mom and Dad.

This trip down memory lane is inspired by what's going on these days in real-time. It seems like every visit to a gas station includes another increase in the price per gallon for fuel.

The last time I checked, regular gasoline was selling for $1.89 a gallon here in Vermillion. It naturally has me pining for those "good ol' days" when I was kid, and gas was only about 25 or 30 cents a gallon.

Were those days really that "good?"

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost of "leaded" gasoline in 1959 was 31 cents a gallon. That means Mom probably was only topping off the tank in our Ford, which I'm assuming held at least 20 gallons.

In other words, a full tank of gas on the gas guzzlers everybody drove more than four decades ago cost roughly $6.20.

This conjures up images of parents of the late-1950s/early 1960s simply digging under the cushions of their couches for the paltry amounts they spent at the pump.

Before you start feeling too envious of people who lived in this era when fuel seemingly was in endless supply, you have to look at the bigger picture.

Thirty one cents in 1959 was, well, worth a great deal more than 31 cents today.

In fact, if you take inflation into account and adjust the prices of 1959 to 2004 dollars, my mom paid about the same for gas way back then as she is paying today.

A gallon of gas, vintage 1959, in 2004 dollars, cost $1.96.

Accounts of rising gasoline prices have been in the news constantly in recent weeks. In the scheme of things, however, we love our cars, we love to drive and we love to consume fuel, no matter the cost.

According to a recent national survey conducted by CNW Marketing Research, no American motorist said they would consider trading in their cars for a higher-mileage model, despite rising fuel prices.

Less than 5 percent said they would change their driving habits.

"It takes $2.75 to $3.25 before those numbers are really big," said CNW president Art Spinella. Even if gasoline prices were to hit $3.75 a gallon and stayed there for six months, the highest price included in the CNW survey, roughly two-thirds of those polled said they wouldn't drive less or trade in their cars for better mileage.

Only 25 percent said that, at $3.75 a gallon, they'd consider buying a hybrid vehicle.

Wow. $3.75 is a lot of money.

Plain Talk Editor David Lias is glad he drives a little station wagon that sips gas. You can reach him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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