Tanks for the Memories

By Jason Menard

While filling up my tank in Montreal, I came to the realization that gas companies have us, both literally and figuratively, over a barrel.

I realized how bad the situation has gotten during a recent fill-up. Oh, how naïve I was when, leaving Ontario just last week, I grumbled about filling up with prices in the mid-80s. Little did I know what was awaiting me in la belle province.

Like a mountain climber that sets up a camp to acclimatize to the higher elevations, my family made a stop in the Ottawa-Gatineau region before continuing on our merry way. While the prices were in the low-90s, they served as a buffer for what I was to experience hitting Montreal.

104.9.

Unfortunately, that’s not the frequency of the radio station I was listening to. That was the price of gas staring at me from every Petro-Canada, Ultramar, and Esso on and off the island. I mean, I was ready to get out and push the car the rest of the way when I saw that. I didn’t even know those signs could hold three numbers before the period, but apparently they do.

But it wasn’t the price itself that discouraged me. It was how I reacted to it. The fact that when, mid-week, well past midnight, I found an out-of-the-way station that was selling gas for 94.9, I essentially broke out into a little petroleum-fuelled happy dance and — for a moment — I felt like I had found a portal to an on-ramp to Nirvana. I was actually able to look at a mid-90s price and say to myself, “Hey, that’s pretty cheap!”

I hit rock bottom when, the very next day, I took pleasure in watching others filling up at 104.9. I was engaging in a sort of sweet crude schadenfreude. It was at that time I realized how far gone we are. And that no matter how high the gas prices go, we’ll always find a way to happily pay the petroleum premium, as long as someone else, somewhere is paying more.

I’ve heard the arguments about how lucky we are in North America to essentially pay half of what our compatriots in Europe shell out for gas. But to me – and the majority of other vehicle owners in North America, that luxury is taken for granted. We’re used to paying well under a buck for a litre of gas and, judging by the grumbling at the pump, we’re not willing to give up that right.

However, the human mind has a great way to rationalize each and every purchase. We’ve seen our gas prices rise steadily each and every day. We’ve gone from grumbling about paying in the 70s to grumbling about paying in the 80s. Ontarians have grumbled about the rising costs of fuelling up, but happily do so with the idea that “at least we’re not paying Quebec or East Coast prices!”

But our costs are rising. And I think the gas companies have figured it out! Sure, they may send the prices skyrocketing by five or more cents one day, and we’ll all be up in a lather about it. But as prices ease up a bit – not back to their original threshold, but down a few pennies here and there – we grow accustomed to the inflated price and justify the cost by saying, “well, it’s cheaper than it was last week”

Yet today’s sticker shock-inducing price is tomorrow’s wistful memory. Fuelling up in the 60s and 70s used to be a travesty – now those prices are nothing more than fond sepia-tinged remembrances.

As drivers we all get into a huff about the rising cost of gas. We grouse and grumble about gas taxes, rising costs, and make off-hand comments about how the government needs to step in and do something about it. But we never really get mad enough to prompt any sort of action. At the same time as we fret and fume about the rising cost of gas, we’re digging in deeper into our pockets to find the cash to pay for our on-the-go lifestyle.

No matter how much we may try to conserve, drive smaller cars, or find alternative sources of transportation, we seem to have come to the same conclusion as a society: there’s really nothing we can do about the price of gas, so it’s time to put up and shut up.

So maybe I shouldn’t look upon the times that I fill up in Quebec as an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence. Perhaps I shouldn’t be shaking my head in disbelief, but rather nod my head in sage appreciation for the look into the future that I’ve been granted. After all, day-by-day, month-by-month, and price jump by price jump, we’re probably all going to be seeing four digits on our fuel pumps in the not-too-distance future.

After all, we may be over the same barrel, but as long as someone else is in a more uncomfortable position, we’ll be OK with our lot in life.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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