Lileks: The awful truth behind gas that suddenly costs $4.29 a gallon

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 16, 2013 - 8:19 PM

If you filled up your tank this week, you’ve noticed the price jumped from the new painful normal to HOLY MACKEREL WHAT THE BLEEP, and so you may have questions. Let’s take them one at a time.

Q What? Huh? I just don’t — what? Four bucks? Really?

A Sometimes the price goes up because refineries are shifting to the “summer blend,” which contains trace amounts of gin and tonic. Sometimes OPEC looks at the calendar and says “Been a while since we bled them pale, eh.”

But as you may have heard, two Midwestern refineries are closed for maintenance, and since we haven’t built a refinery in the country since the Grover Cleveland administration, this reduces supply.

Q Oh, come on. They’re gouging us for Memorial Day. Miserable greedy swine, right?

A No. Gas stations hate it when the price goes up, because you don’t buy as much. When gas prices are low, and the pump asks if you’d like a car wash, you think: Tell me more, I’m intrigued. You press YES for the basic Bronze Wash. The screen says: Would you like the Silver Wash?

This means the machine goes back and forth two additional times while a panel lights up and says you’re getting the carnauba wax, but actually it’s just Pine-Sol. Seriously, they ran out of the wax in ’87 but no one noticed. Would you like this?

Press YES to add $4 to the credit card bill you don’t study in great detail because it’s too depressing.

People are less inclined to push the button for that when gas is $4.25. Forget about the Platinum Wash, where a red light turns on because you’re getting an undercoat of whale oil. When gas is expensive, people won’t even pay for the Tin Wash, where a guy throws a pail of water on the car and walks around it twice with a blow drier.

This goes for the items inside the store as well. That’s where the money is. Milk. Smokes. Aspirin so expensive you want to say, “No, I didn’t ask for black-market OxyContin.” Angus Beef Steer-Divots with a square of premium vinyl cheese. The ever-popular Thanksgiving Panic Butter, $47 per pound. It’s not cheap, but it’s convenient.

Gas stations make mere pennies on the gas; the state makes much much more on taxes.

Q How can I save?

A Well, you could join one of those programs that gives you a discount for buying groceries. You get a card! Because you don’t have enough cards. The clerk swipes it when you check out, or would, if you hadn’t lost it, but that’s OK — she can look up your 37-digit number in the system, which makes everyone behind you in the line ladle on the hate they reserve for the person who gets out the checkbook when the last bag’s packed.

When you’ve spent enough money at the store you get a discount at the pump, which you get by inserting the card, but you lost it, remember? Was it in those pants you gave to the Salvation Army? Yes. So you claim the discount as a charitable contribution on your taxes. That’s how you save.

Sure, you’d be audited, but hey! Join the crowd.

Q If gas is more expensive than milk, for heaven’s sake, don’t market forces demand new sources of energy?

A Yes. Scientists are already working on powering internal combustion engines with milk. Advantages: the “Regular” pump becomes fat-free; premium becomes 2%; ultra becomes the milk with all the fat. Diesel will be replaced with buttermilk. Ethanol will be phased out, but in order to keep farmers happy, milkoline will have to contain at least 15% soy milk. Milkoline should be on the market in 2025, once all the laws of physics have been repealed. (Bills are currently pending.)

Q I suppose I should figure out how to cut my gas bill by driving at a regular pace and avoiding jackrabbit starts at intersections when the light turns green?

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