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Cybernaut

Gas is grass

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All through my high school years I was a part-time pump jockey, and if I may be so bold, the best in the neighbourhood. Nobody left a windshield more streak-free, or found the latches to open the hoods on foreign cars more quickly than I.

From my perch at the pumps, I noticed an interesting dichotomy among drivers – some always looked at the price per litre while others did not.

I always preferred the second type, the people who came for good service, good conversation and sometimes let you keep the change. They didn’t get worked up over a few pennies here and there.

The price-watchers were a strange group. When the price of gas was low – and we’re talking 49.9 cents, they would fill right up and get me to give the nozzle a few extra squeezes for good measure. When gas prices were high – and we’re talking 54.9 cents – they would ask for 25 litres exactly, the bare minimum to qualify for the free Olympic glasses, car wash coupons, windshield wiper fluid jugs, double air miles, or whatever promotion was being offered by head office.

Despite the fact that I would wash windows, headlights, check oil, transmission fluid, radiator fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid and tire pressure – for free I might add – some of these customers even complained that our prices were a rip-off, being about 1.5 cents higher than the self-serve station down the road.

On slow days I would do the math in my head. Choosing to go to the self-serve station driving a car with a 60-litre tank saved a person all of 90 cents. If said customer filled up every two weeks on average, that’s a measly $23.40 a year saved for what amounts to a massive inconvenience – getting out of your car, figuring out whatever automated pump system a station uses, lining up to pay, and most likely driving off without checking any of the fluids, something which no doubt costs some people more in the long run.

I wonder what those pump watchers are doing now that gas has actually broken the $1.30 mark, albeit temporarily, and fluctuates by large amounts on an almost daily basis. Do they continue to fill up a meagre 25 litres at a time, waiting for the prices to go lower, but at the same time not really knowing how low prices will actually go? Or have they finally decided to "screw it" and stop counting every fraction of a cent at the pumps?

Personally, I’m thrilled that gas prices are through the roof because nobody can afford to ignore their impact any more, and because nobody can fool themselves that they’re saving money by nickel and diming here and there. I do feel badly for people who drive for a living, or who have to drive large vehicles for any reason, but there are so many other benefits to these record prices.

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