Handling The Gas Cap | News, Sports, Jobs

Gerrit, an old friend who lives in Boston, doesn’t have a car. Don’t feel sorry for him, he doesn’t need one. The city’s subways, trolleys, and trains get him wherever he needs to be. Lately, on the days that I fill up at the pump, I envy him.

Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t live without my wheels. In fact. Living on the edge of the boonies, as we do, I can’t imagine not driving. But some days I think about what Gerritt doesn’t have to pay for. I couldn’t ignore the amount when I started thinking about how much having wheels actually costs.

First, there’s the cost of the automobile itself. Today’s car costs the same as our first house, back in the day. Over the weekend, I saw a Grand Wagoneer advertised for $88,000. Granted, it has Superman-type powers, but it’s still a Jeep! No wonder the used car lot is popular.

I’ve been guilty of automotive magical thinking about car costs – as merely purchase price plus filling the tank. But add on the auto’s insurance, registration, inspection, car washes, oil changes, tires, maintenance and extras- like Weatherall mats – and the total is pretty staggering. And that’s all before I do pull up to the pump.

Dear Richard and I are mostly retired, although we each have small jobs to keep us out of trouble. Our days of commuting while piling up the annual mileage are behind us. Richard thinks he fills his tank once a month. I do so even less frequently, and as often as possible at the Seneca tribal stations. I can’t even imagine commuting 20, 30, or more miles a day with each fill-up being more than $50.

As I write this, gas is $4.40 a gallon. That price got me curious about the total cost of operating our vehicles. Richard leases his SUV, mine is paid for. The total expenses for his ride are $6600 a year. With no monthly payment and fewer monthly miles, mine is about $2500. And we both need new tires this spring. We did have one discussion, a very short one, about cutting down to one car.

We decided we wanted to stay married, so we’re keeping them both.

One of the problems with living a long time is remembering prices. Younger people roll their eyes when we talk about prices “in the old days.” But for us dinosaurs, the cost of running a car today is hard to fathom. Richard remembers earning wages of 50% less per year than it costs to run his car now. In my twenties, gas leapt from 25 cents to 50 cents per gallon almost overnight. We were all gob-smacked at the pump. Imagine how you’d feel if gas leaped to $8.80 this weekend.

I’ve begun rethinking our travels to big-box discount shopping. We drive to BJ’s in Olean every other month or so. It’s 68 miles, a little over two gallons. Round trip, with a little running around in Olean, about 5 gallons. So logically, we have to add at least $22 to the total at the cash register. If we’re not saving more than $22, what are we doing there? Hmmmm. We’re combining this week’s trip with a visit to the watchmaker and lunch with Richard’s brother and his wife. Adding pleasure to the trek makes the gas price more palatable.

I think we’re all hoping the price will slide back down. At least this is better than last month’s $5/gallon. But before long, we’ll be shrugging our shoulders as we accept the new norm.

I guess there’s no easy solution. We have evolved to be people who like to travel. Easily. Comfortably. We consider our day-to-day movements a necessity. I can’t walk the 22 miles to Wegmans, the 60 miles to Hamot Hospital or even the 3 miles to our local Aldi. Unless you’re a hermit, transportation costs are a basic budget item.

My auto-less friend Gerrit either pays $2.40 for a ride on Boston’s metro, or he walks. His usual personal fuel before hoofing it to work, is his morning oatmeal. I don’t know how many miles he gets per bowl of Quaker Oats, but it’s clean, high-octane fuel. And it’s nowhere near $4.40 a gallon.

Marcy O’Brien writes from her home in Warren, Pa. She is a member of the National Society of Newpaper Columnists and can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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