Running on Empty
The wallets of many Americans are strained to the max and many drivers are having real troubles meeting the need. Running out of gas while going to work or staying off the road entirely have once again become mainstays for many Americans as the price of gas continues to gain ground.
While national statistics on out-of-gas motorists don’t exist, there’s plenty of visual evidence that drivers are unwilling or unable to fill up. Many drivers choose to gamble by keeping their tanks extremely low on fuel.
In an economy like Nashville, Tennessee, a writer gets a keen preview of reality before that reality hits the larger part of the nation. James Ru drives a “late-model” Crown Victoria, but on his fixed income, he can rarely afford a trip to the Kroger Grocery, just 3/4 of a mile away. “I own my car free and clear, but when it comes to the cost of gas, I can’t get out like I used to.” Stalled cars on the side of the road and citizens walking with gas cans is becoming more and more common as gas prices crescendo.
Some drivers take the opposite approach. “I keep my gas tank full religiously, but can’t bear to drive more than a few miles from where I live. I feel insecure with no one to help, so I stay close to home and keep my Taurus topped off.”
Others have resorted to walking, a common occurrence in the Nashville area, while others are forced to use a limited public bus system. Bus ridership is up exponentially in Nashville, but even government-sponsored bus systems are having troubles dealing with the cost of fuel. In Nashville, MTA is looking at cutting bus routes and trimming schedules to balance the operating budget. Many Nashville citizens are destined to suffer and lose their jobs as they lose their only cost-effective means to work.
More Nashville residents are becoming homeless. One young man I interviewed as he walked from the bus recited the fact that he recently was able to secure a government-subsidized apartment so that he doesn’t have to live on the streets like he did only three months ago. He cited that more than 5,000 citizens in Nashville are homeless and that the Mission Shelter is overflowing. He fondly recalled how homeless Nashville citizens work together to meet their most basic needs, learn where they can go to get a free meal and learn how to become part of often-hidden tent communities since work isn’t available. The bus is his only means to get around and he claims that he is one of the more fortunate.
Working-class Americans often have little choice if they want to keep their jobs. Like senior-citizens that must often trade food for medicine, working-class citizens are trading personal funds for fuel instead of buying food, air-conditioning and other basic purchases to keep petrol in their vehicles. In a place like Tennessee, where many jobs are low-paying and costs are high, the pressure is highlighted before much of the rest of the national economy.
Playing Russian Roulette with the gas tank is becoming a common occurrence as Americans across economic strata are limiting purchases based on dollar amount. Public transportation is strained to the limit, but doesn’t seem to be very creative in running their diesel fleet. Overseas, public transportation is running on waste cooking oil fuel blends. The federal government, flush with gasoline and petroleum supplies on the open market “for the profit of the taxpayer”, doesn’t offer fuel assistance for public transportation and city bus fleets like Nashville MTA. As a result, these public institutions struggle to meet the need of poorer Nashville citizens.
The sole consolation this time of year is that the weather is better and a walk to the gas station or to the closest store isn’t quite so cold.