Friday is the day when drivers all across the country are supposed to boycott gasoline stations, according to a petition circulating on the Internet. Supposedly, by not buying gas, the American consumer public will send a clear message to oil companies -- and the oil-producing countries in the Middle East -- that the recent hikes in the price of gas are unacceptable.
Yeah. That'll work.
I heard about this undertaking through an e-mail a friend sent me. The message has been circulating nearly two months now and, given the nature of the Internet, probably will circulate in one form or another as long as there are people with e-mail.
The text runs something like this:
It's time we did something about the price of gasoline in America! We are all sick and tired of high prices when there are literally millions of gallons in storage.
Know what I found out? If there was just one day when no one purchased any gasoline, prices would drop drastically. ...
I have decided to see how many Americans we can get to not buy any gasoline on one particular day!
Let's have a gas out! Do not buy any gasoline on April 30, 1999! Buy on Thursday before, or Saturday after. Do not buy any gasoline on Friday, April 30, 1999.
After outlining this strategy, the author of the note asks for gullible readers like my friend to pass the letter on to as many people as possible, with the assurance that only a few million participants will be enough. After all, we can make a difference.
I rank this particular exploit right up there with tilting at windmills as a suitable pastime for Don Quixote. Much as I love the idea of the common person "sending a message" to the corporate world, I'm unconvinced that a boycott of this nature is going to have any real effect; moreover, it strikes me as incredibly immature.
It's quite possible the nameless author of this petition doesn't remember the mid-1970s. I was less than 10, but I remember some parts quite clearly. As I recall, the world supposedly was running out of oil then, and by the end of the century, so popular belief had it, all the fossil fuels would be gone.
We had strict rationing of gasoline based on the last number on our license plates. If your plate ended in an even number and you had an empty tank on an odd day of the month, you were out of luck. A few years earlier, when I was too young to remember, there were limits on how many gallons motorists could buy at one time.
Nowadays gas costs about $1 a gallon in Central Jersey, a little less in some places and a little more in others. I usually can fill my Cavalier for less than $15. I'll assume the author is from California, where a gallon of unleaded costs about $1.80, according to the Gas Out Web site. He still doesn't know how good he has it.
When I was in Haiti during the 1994 embargo, gasoline cost upward of $40 U.S. a gallon and had to be bought on the black market because it was being smuggled in from the Dominican Republic. Even in countries not currently under economic sanctions, gasoline can cost about $4 or $5 a gallon everyday.
So while I admire the idealism, however misplaced it has to be, I feel kind of sorry for people who are up in arms over a measly 20-cent gas hike. If they really want to send a message to the oil industry, they should buy a bicycle and ride that to work all summer instead.
It might even improve their health and the air quality.