Editor's note: Bob Wooten is out of the office. This column originally ran May 31, 2008.
I topped off the tank the other day, and it only cost me $20.
Not bad, you say? Well, there was one catch: The five-gallon tank was on my lawn tractor. You know, big red thing, makes a lot of racket. Primary use is mowing the grass.
I burned up the whole tank that afternoon and still wasn't done mowing my little spread.
At $20 a cut, I'm thinking about parking the tractor and just getting a bunch of goats.
Go anywhere -- the grocery store, a restaurant, a doctor's office -- and just listen to the murmur of conversation. The spiraling price of gasoline will surely come up. Much like the weather, it's safe ground when you aren't quite sure how to strike up a conversation.
At this writing, the cost of a gallon of regular was poised to shoot past the $4 mark in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. And there's no reason to think we'll see $3 a gallon again before we see $5 a gallon.
Just let that roll off your tongue one time: One gallon of gas may soon cost $5.
In fact, pull a fiver out of your wallet right now and take a look at Abe Lincoln's somber portrait. He looks like he just gassed up a Hummer.
It makes you wonder just what the tipping point will be for the American driver. It certainly wasn't three bucks. Most people shrugged it off and pushed the pedal a little harder.
But with the $4 barrier dead ahead, the howls of protest are getting louder. Everyone is feeling the pain, from commuters to long-haul truckers to little old ladies who only drive to church on Sunday.
What will $5 a gallon mean to you?
Let's do a little math exercise (pretend you're back in eighth grade). Assume you drive a vehicle that gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway. In terms of fuel efficiency, that's not great, not horrible -- just typical for the American road.
Now let's say you live in Strasburg and have a job in Fairfax. That's about a 130-mile round trip each day. Every week, you'll rack up 650 miles, burning 23 gallons of fuel. At $5 a gallon, that's $116 a week just to get back and forth to work. If that price holds for a year, you will pump more than $6,000 into your gas tank to commute.
Remember, this is gas money you'll spend before you motor to the supermarket, the mall, the piano recital or soccer practice. Then you'll need to add in the cost of driving Aunt Lucy to her weekly bingo game.
We're talking about a situation where forgetting to pick up bread and milk won't be a nuisance -- it'll be an unanticipated gasoline expense.
And let's don't forget about vacation.
Thinking about Myrtle Beach this summer? Here's some more grim math: Your round trip will be 948 miles, or almost 34 gallons, or $169. That's before you've bought a boogie board, a postcard or a seafood platter.
Or maybe you were hoping to finally take the family on that trip out to the Grand Canyon. Round trip: 4,400 miles. Cost: Just shy of $800.
On second thought, you might end up like a lot of people this summer -- vacationing in the backyard. Leave the car keys on the kitchen counter, fire up the grill, crank up the music and teach the kids how to play croquet.
Just don't step on the goats.
• Bob Wooten is the managing editor of the Daily. Contact him at 800 296-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org