Laughing gas eases pain

By Jeffrey Fazio
DriveTime Columnist

Humor can often be found when things are grossly exaggerated, like an extremely large nose on a particularly small face or, for instance, the recent gas prices. Yes, there is humor to be found in the plethora of pumped-up pump prices. Of course, the current gas costs initiate the kind of laughter that ends in sobs, but letís look at the situation from some other perspectives in hopes of attaining a few smiles at the expense of our wallets.

Paying a lot for petrol seems to have become a source for bragging rights. We run around comparing who paid more to see who wins the sympathy fuel award. Itís almost been a contest to see who could get charged the most for gasoline.

ďCan you believe prices in my neighborhood went up 40 cents since last night!Ē

ďYeah? Prices down the street went up another 60 percent since you said that.Ē

We gasp in awe at the sheer magnitude of the soaring prices as they transform into another obstacle that, seemingly, only Superman could traverse. Heís faster than inflating gas prices and able to leap gouged gas pumps in a single bound.

So are gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon really that high? Letís compare it to other things we buy. Tropicana orange juice can be bought at a local grocery chain for just under $6 a gallon. Down the hall in the vending machine, Icy Tea bottles would cost $7.60 a gallon. People seem to get excited by the thought of 99-cent drafts at their local pub, which comes out to about $7.92 a gallon (assuming you do not spill any). I donít even dare ask what a gallon of soda at a movie theater would cost. So whatís the fuss?

Gas is actually so cheap I think I might start drinking it to save a few bucks. Iíve been buying a can of soda over lunch every day for 60 cents ($6.40/gallon), so I could easily cut my costs in half by tossing back a cool can of 87 unleaded. Who knows, I might even see some health benefits from cutting down on all that sugar and caffeine.

For some more gas humor (no bathroom puns please), just stop by Waits River General Store in central Vermont and talk to Bill MacDonald, the owner. Poor old MacDonaldís (had a farm?) pumps are 25 years old and could not be adjusted above $2.99. Misery apparently loves company because about 200 other rural Vermont gas stations faced the same dilemma and had to stop selling fuel. What does it mean when the prices inflate so high that even the pumps moan about it?

Letís investigate some things we, as automobile owner/operators, can do to reduce our fuel costs:

1. Reduce the weight of your vehicle. Take out anything that has weight that is not needed. Why pay the gas bill to tote around a lot of junk youíre not going to use? Get rid of all the useless stuff you carry in your car, like the spare tire, the back seat and your spouse. On that note, put yourself on a diet, that way you can save money on gas and food.

2. Lower your car for less aerodynamic drag. All of those people cruising around Reading in their lowered import cars are not really street racer wannabes. They are actually ecological conservatives trying to reduce the amount of turbulence under and around their cars to save fuel. You can follow their lead buy purchasing a proper set of lowering springs for your car.

3. Check tire pressures. Itís amazing how much driving around on underinflated tires can affect your fuel mileage. Believe it or not, tires are actually suppose to be round. As the temperatures get cooler going into the fall, it will be necessary to add pressure to your tires.

4. Purchase skinnier tires. Tires with a narrower width offer less wind resistance which can improve your fuel economy. Granted, a thinner tire will also offer less dry traction, but who cares about gripping the road as long as you are saving fuel?

5. Purchase a different vehicle. Trade in the Hummer for a Civic. Trade in the Civic for a Prius. Trade in the Prius in for a Scooter. If all else fails, trade in the Scooter for a BARTA bus pass.

6. Watch NASCAR and learn how to draft. With the sheer number of people in Berks County that ride my rear bumper, I suspect that most of you are already aware of the enormous fuel savings that can be found by sneaking under the air stream of the car in front of you. You will know that you have this technique down when you can no longer read the license plate of the car impeding your advance.

7. Drive slower. If everyone could just slow down to 75 mph on the by-pass, not only would they save a lot of coin at the pumps, but the stranded drivers on the Penn Street bridge might finally be able to merge.

Iím not sure about you, but I am anxiously awaiting my first home heating-oil bill of 2005. I think I have a good shot at paying more than any of my friends and I sure could use the sympathy that Iíd win.