Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Mostest 2005--Prices

Gas, gas, gas


t seems that gas has played a central role in my life this year. The faux heart attack was actually a build up of gas in my intestines. Fortunately, this was only a temporary--albeit embarrassing--setback. It's the other gas that has hit me where it hurts most: my wallet.

Once upon a time, my Dad would fill up the tank of our Rambler and he'd give the attendant a $5 bill--there was a time when the only option was full service--and he'd get change. I distinctly remember riding in the back seat of the car as he drove by his place of work in uptown Los Angeles--the Wilshire District--and being shocked at how much more expensive Gas was compared to East L.A. It was an astronomical 40 cents a gallon. My dad put in Shell regular that cost 23 cents, and we even got Blue Chip Stamps to boot! For those of you too young to know, there was once a company that made a deal with retailers to distribute trading stamps that could be redeemed for merchandise. If I recall correctly, the consumer would receive from the retailer one stamp for every penny he spent. These stamps were pasted into books, 50 stamps per page, 24 pages per book. Retailers would buy these stamps from Blue Chip (or S & H Green Stamps), and handing them out as bonuses, a way to lure customers into their stores. Promotions would sometimes include double stamps or triple stamps, meaning that you could double or triple the number of stamps you can collect to ultimately trade in for merchandise. Well, my Dad was a pro.

He would scope out stores or gas stations with the best deals and would come home with stamps, stamps and more stamps. I gleefully lick them and pasted them into the books, knowing that we would soon go to the Blue Chip Redemption Center and trade in the books for stuff. I would pour over the catalog, imagining that my Dad would get me a bicycle or a baseball glove, but they were too expensive. In general, the stamps were worth one tenth of the value they were distributed for. A full book would have 1200 stamps licked into it, meaning it would take $12.00 to fill it up. But it's redemption values was about $1.20. so you would have to have ten books to get the original $12 worth. Of course, you had just spent $120 to get back that $12. In any case, as you can imagine, a bicycle back them would have cost at least 30 full books, and my parents would rather spend those stamps on less worthy items, like a toaster or TV trays or towels. Go figure. And after I had sacrificed my tongue and saliva in this family endeavor. There was no justice.

In any event, my Dad would never go to the gas stations that sold gas at such exorbitant prices, even if they promised to give us triple stamps. No way, he'd say. Getting $2 change from a $5 dollar bill is better than no change and a thousand stamps--which would have been worth a dollar at the redemption center. I was oblivious to the logic back then, but now... NOW!

People from Japan marvel at how cheap gas is over here, but they fail to realize that the cost of living is high, given our average income. Gas may cost upward to 400 yen in Japan, but the kid who works at McDonald's starts at 900 yen an hour, which works out to something like $7.75 an hour. In the US, minimum wage can vary between $5 and $6 dollars an hour, but in either case, gasoline is now easily more than half of an hour's wage. This is ridiculous. When gas around our house reached $3.50 a gallon, we began to drive more judiciously.

Fortunately, we don't drive too much. I take pubic transportation to work every day--the Metro, from Vienna to DC, a comfortable 25 minute commute, short and sweet by Japanese standards. Chip takes the bus when he goes to do his volunteer work everyday. We only use the car locally to do shopping and whatnot. Our Maxima doesn't boast the best mileage of all the Japanese imports, but a full tank will last us a month, so when I pump 36 smackers into the tank, I can rest assured that it will last me while. Still, no more visits to Blockbusters on a whim. If we forget to buy eggs, well, I'm sure we could do without the cholesterol for a week. And beer runs? Well, we didn't want to draw the line too strictly.

So what prices have hit you the hardest this year?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just dropping by to wish you and your family Happy Holidays!