The view from my house

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    I was shocked to discover that regular gasoline now costs $2.02 and nine-tenths of a cent a gallon at my local station. My husband was also shocked, but his astonishment came from the fact that I was actually putting gas in my car. Normally, I use the following method to replenish my tank: First, I make sure we have to go somewhere together. Then I suggest we take my car. Then I act surprised the tank is empty. Then he gets disgusted. (I've been relying on this tired old method for years, but it still works and I don't have to pump the gas.) I've heard rumors that just over the border in New Jersey, drivers aren't required to pump their own gas and that the prices are lower. Go figure. But back to the $2.02 and nine-tenths of a cent a gallon. What's the deal with the nine-tenths? Pennies are bad enough. Why do they price gasoline in even smaller denominations? It seems they have to round up, right? So, if you buy nine gallons of gas, do you get a penny off? Or has the machine rounded up each time and you've paid a penny more? These are serious questions that need to be answered, because if you get the one cent back, should you keep it or put it in that penny thing on the counter? A woman from New Zealand told me that her country had done away with the penny. "The darn things were always clogging up your change purse and they weren't worth a dime," she said. Of course not, I thought, they're pennies. But I didn't say it. Then she said that shopkeepers (I guess in New Zealand they have shopkeepers instead of grouchy store owners) are always advertising things for $4.99 or $19.99, but since pennies are no longer legal tender you're forced to overpay. That just seems wrong. Not as wrong, however, as a gallon of gas going for $2.02 and nine-tenths of a cent. It seems pretty silly to be adding up tenths of cents when you have to get a second mortgage to buy a couple of tanks of gas. My first car was a Volkswagen Beetle. It wasn't unusual for me to put a dollar's worth of gas into it. (I think it cost about $4 to fill it to the brim, but that was extravagant behavior.) Can you imagine buying a dollar's worth of gas today? If you drive one of those giant SUVs, you could cruise in comfort to the end of your driveway. I have a regular car, so a dollar's worth would no doubt take me all the way to the end of my road. Regardless, the point is this. Back in the late 70's, gasoline prices skyrocketed (I think they got all the way up to about $1.80), and everyone said we were going to have to power our cars with something other than a non-renewable source. And what did we do? We built hundreds of thousands of oversized, overpowered vehicles capable of maneuvering a moonscape and sold them to people who drive on the highway to work. Hmm. Hooray for American ingenuity.