05 May 2008

Slow and steady wins the race

I’ve been driving so slow lately that even old people pass me and shake their heads.
I’m not kidding. This actually happened today while I was driving on Interstate 35 through Burnsville. I was puttering along at 55 in a 65 zone and a gold Buick pulled up behind my bumper. I knew the driver was older because he was wearing those huge blocky black sunglasses that senior citizens often seem to sport behind the wheel. They are like welding goggles without any welding to justify them. The Buick sat behind me for about 10 seconds, then flipped on its blinker and took 15 seconds to change lanes. Then, it passed me at a snail’s pace. I caught the driver’s head shaking, and could almost read his mind.
Slower than me? Jesus!
I’m not driving slow to tick people off – I’m driving slowly because I’m trying to conserve the precious gas that makes my job possible. I got the idea while reading a news story last week about an airline saving $13 million a week in fuel costs by slowing down its jets. The five-hour flight was eight minutes longer as a result, but the savings seem to justify that. I’m don’t fly a jet, but my car uses a full tank of gas (14 gallons) a week, and I drive to and from Lakeville a few times a week. Sometimes, it’s twice on the same day (as it will be later today, when I head down there for a City Council meeting). With gas at well over $3 a gallon, my pitiful journalist’s wage doesn’t last very long when I have to put nearly $50 worth of gas in the car a week. So, in the interests of making that fuel last a little while longer, I’ve decided to slow down.
The results have so far been remarkable. My vehicle topped out at 375 miles to the tank this week compared to it’s usual 330. This averages out to 26.7 miles per gallon compared to 23.5 miles per gallon. That will add up over time. Most people don’t seem to take much notice of my stingy rebellion; most are too busy blowing by me going 15 miles faster than I. I content myself by thinking that they are burning up their precious fuel to no end. I’m reminded of one of Robert Shaw’s lines in the movie The Battle of the Bulge: “Petrol is blood!”
He’s right. American life as we know it thrives off of the ability to jump in the car and travel however far or fast one wishes. Our underdeveloped (in comparison to Europe) mass transit system is a testament to this. We’ve known since the early 1970s how unreliable the international fuel market can be; yet we continued on a petrol-based system anyway. I wonder how much farther ahead we’d be if research on alternative energy has begun back then. Now, we’re between a rock and a hard place. Personally, my company pays $0.22 a mile in work-related trips. For a 50-mile trip, that ends up being $11. It sounds like a lot, but factor in the wear and tear on the car along with that, and it’s not going very far. I’ll put it this way: the IRS guideline is for a $0.475 reimbursement rate. With prices going up the way they are, it won’t be long before people like me might be paying more into their tank then they end up getting out of it on payday.
I wonder how much farther it can do. How long will it be before industries (like trucking) start to shudder to a halt due to prohibitive costs? Until then, I’ll keep going as best I can – and as slow as I can. After all, petrol is blood.

No comments: