Remember the gas prices during the '79 embargo?
I was about ten years old at the time, so it wasn't a big issue for me, but it was a popular topic of conversation. My parents had just purchased a brand-new powder-blue 1979 model Mercury station wagon that got about nine miles to the gallon. That car didn't last long, once the 1979 embargo started up. They traded it in for a 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, also blue, which got far better mileage.
There were gas lines, of course. There was talk of reviving the old rationing stamps that were used during World War II. The film strips in my sixth grade class showed one of the old "A" ration stamps, which allowed you the lowest gas rations. Somewhere there was apparently a vast stash of these stamps left over from that war, all ready to be put back into use if the embargo didn't stop.
Siphoning became a problem, with people stealing gasoline with siphon tubes. Locks started appearing on gas tanks. I heard some stories about gasoline thieves accidentally ingesting gasoline while priming their siphon tubes.
There were "odd/even days" for sales of gasoline. Mom's license plate was Y48-632, so she could buy gasoline on even-numbered days; Dad's was Y48-633, so he could buy it on odd-numbered days. On the 31st of the month, everyone could buy gas, just to keep things fair. Prices were going through the roof, approaching $1.00 a gallon! I heard somewhere that, adjusted for inflation, those 1979 prices were higher even than the prices of the 1973 embargo. In 2005 prices, that works out to about $3.00 a gallon, I've been told. That's what prices are approaching right now across the country, though in some places, I understand it's higher than that, even. In Georgia, I heard gasoline was selling for about $5.69 a gallon in some places, and Governor Sonny Purdue has promised to investigate. (I don't know if Governor Purdue is quite up to the job; his primary qualification for the job that he touted during his 2002 election was his pro-Stars-'n-Bars stance on the Georgia flag.)
I don't know if this is going to get worse. I don't know if it's going to get better. Senator Schumer (D-NY) called for the opening of the Petroleum Reserves, and Bush is doing that. But our problem is our lack of refining capacity, which took a hit thanks to Hurricane Katrina. Though gas prices were already on their way up, that's what's really sending them skyward. Even if all the disabled oil rigs off the coast of Louisiana were magically repaired, and even if we somehow found a massive source of oil deep below the Mojave Desert, we'd still be in a pinch.
What's gasoline selling for here in New York City? I confess I haven't checked yet. I'm going to be in Queens later today, so I'll try to give a look. Thank God for mass transit: at $2.00 a ride, the Subway is a better deal than ever. More mass transit is a solution, and it's one that I advocate. However, the powers that be these days aren't interested in heading off problems before they happen; they'd rather fix what they've broken. We could really have done with a preëmptive strike on the energy crisis.
On the up side: if you're looking for a used Hummer, you could probably pick one up pretty cheap these days...