Last week, I was excited to have purchased a crossover SUV, a new Chevy Equinox. I had just traded in my 1 year old Chevy Cavalier, and since I only had it for one year, I had to finance more than the new vehicle was worth. No big deal, I thought…I’m just glad to have a new car that is actually safe! Going from 40 MPG to 25 MPG didn’t phase me at all. I keep an eye on the news, and even read about peak oil online weekly, but kept thinking “this is so far off there’s no need to worry yet…it’ll be years.”
I packed a bag on Friday, and headed up to my family’s house to show off my new SUV, 150 miles away. Over the weekend, I put on over 400 miles…as they live about 20 miles from the nearest town. Even with gas at $3.00 per gallon, that didn’t bother me at all.
This morning, I got up early to come back home, to Milwaukee. While gas is always .05 higher in Door County, I was in a state of shock when I got to the corner gas station…$4.18…I quickly did the math in my head “15.5 gallons, $4 per gallon, $60 to fill up….25 MPG on this sticker is bogus, more like 20 MPG…It’s going to cost me 30 cents just in gas to drive a mile..it’s going to cost me $45 just to get home!”
There were quite a few pickup trucks in the parking lot in this small farming community…but there was not a single car at the pumps…there were 8 or 9 people inside, which qualified as a full blown party in this town of 300 people. I pulled up, and thought “something must have happened. I put in my debit card, and the reader said “pay inside.” GREAT I thought. That’s the last place I wanted to go. I pumped my gas, not watching the numbers on the pump. Cleaned out a few odds and ends from my car, cleaned the windshield…and then I heard the “beep.” I turned to hang up the pump, and was greeted with a $63.54 fill up. It bothered me a bit, but I make a good salary…I NEED to drive…$250-$300 a month to drive vs. 160-225…not the worst.
I went inside to pay, deciding to forgo the usual Starbucks drink from the refrigerator section in favor of a large cup of mud from the dirty coffee pots. People were talking, shouting, swearing…fists shaking, things like “those damn oil companies,” “they are raping us,” “I can’t afford to drive,” “I can’t go to work today, I can’t afford the gas!” I really hate this town, and as soon as I was able I got myself a job in the city and left this hick town in my rearview mirror…every time I come back, I feel uncomfortable as it is.
When I approached the cash register to pay, the woman behind the counter said, “You’re going to pay over $4 a gallon for gas? That’s crazy.” She headed off into some banter that I blocked out…While she was talking, I glanced at the local news paper on the counter. “Oil Shock to send shockwave through Economy.” I just thought “Boy I need to get back to the city…I have to get out of here.” I handed the clerk my credit card and said “What choice do I have? I don’t have wings.”
The card transaction had to be the longest wait I’ve ever experienced. The phone line kept going down. The voices around me got quieter, and I could feel people staring THROUGH me. I turned around and saw looks of hatred, “Is this just because I can buy gas?” I thought. I gave a nervous smile and continued to wait…I was so uncomfortable, I started sweating right through my clothes. Finally the receipt started printing…I quickly signed and started bolting right for the door. Before I made it out, I heard a gruff voice “That asshole can afford go-juice?” I turned around, saw some jerk I went to school with, and just walked out. I looked over my shoulder and he followed. In one fluid motion, I started the car, shut the door, and put it into drive. I tore out of the gas station to the relative safety of the open road.
All along the way, the radio was blaring on about the price increase. I notice the signs at gas stations…all well over $4. As I get into urban areas, life looks “normal.” I started wondering…Are people really that over extended that having to spend an extra $100 a month on gas is going to cause a big problem? It’s not like the cost doubled…it went up ONE WHOLE DOLLAR. Maybe these schmucks can give up drowning their small town sorrows in their beer every day!
So, prices on everything are about to go up...it won’t be the most unpleasant thing I’ve had to deal with. I can buy food…I can drive to work…I can take a bus if I have to…I can work from home as well to cut my usage. I only NEED my car to get to work…30 miles per day, I can go on two tanks of gas per month if absolutely necessary. I suppose I could grow produce on my balcony…Living right downtown, I can take a bus or walk to the market…it’s expensive now, but at least everything is produced locally…I won’t have to worry about a huge price spike like at the big chain stores…but I don’t’ even know HOW to take a bus! I’d better figure that out when I get home. But, will it be safe to take the bus? Will it be safe to walk through town? This is going to hit some very very hard…and it may be safer to make it LOOK like it is hitting me too, maybe? What happens when prices hit $5 or $6 a gallon? $10 a gallon? I can’t be spending $700 a month on gasoline!
As I continue to drive and listen to the radio, I realize this is not going away…that there was no new war, no refinery fire…no terrorist attack…it’s finally here…it’s just the beginning…and it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I call my family to discuss planning…time to get a big garden going…time to stock up on things….time for the things we should have been doing months and years ago.
Worst case scenario for me is an eventual triple of all expenses outside of rent and loan payments. I wish now I hadn’t bought my new SUV…but at least I have a car big enough to carpool with…this entire time I have a notebook on my passenger seat, itemizing my bills and current budget, and then multiplying the non-loan and rent items to account for everything up to $10 a gallon for gas…and it is not pretty.
Instead of going straight home, I stop off at the store to stock up while prices are still low…$1800 in groceries at Sams’ Club later….$400 in planting supplies, grow lights and seeds….$300 on a chest freezer…and another $700 on odds and ends…food dehydrator, extra propane tanks for the grill…, two full 10 gallon gas cans and a full tank of gas, and lots of soap and OTC medicines…I have enough stuff to keep myself clean, fed and content for 12 months. I have enough stabilized gasoline to get me 30 days…that’s it…and living in an apartment, I guess it has to be stored in the second bathroom with the fan on? I better Google it… What happens when friends and family need help? Am I going to have to make tough choices? I wonder how much my electric bill will go up? Will my other bills go up?
The more I think, the more nervous I get…When I get to my apartment building, I rent an underground parking space so I don’t have to park on the street. Suddenly my salary and my ability to pay for things is not my main concern. Keeping my current salary is my main concern. I own my own business…doing computer work…time to branch out into websites and programming maybe? Network Engineering shouldn’t be hit really hard…at least not for me…I service clients that don’t have internal IT departments… I AM the IT department for 10 companies…
As soon as I unpack everything that can spoil, I start calling my clients. I push 2 year contracts down the throats of half of them, and new one year contracts on the rest….I lose one in the process…I change my agreements so that it is OK for me to work outside of normal business hours…what if I need to get a full time day job again? I call my previous employer, and push for a job…”We’ll get back to you soon…that should be fine.” OK…Everyone has actually faxed and signed the new contracts…so that’s something...
So, over the course of a 3 hour drive, 4 hour shopping trip and 5 hours of phone calls, I’m exhausted. My entire life was turned around in one day…what will tomorrow bring? What if the prices keep going up every week? My little bit of savings was wiped out by the shopping trip…and a meager down-payment on the SUV that looks like it can gobble up a lot of money…Last week I owned a one man booming business that has brought a lot of prosperity and success. Today I am looking for another full time job so I can start putting money in savings…or gold…before things really go crazy. How long can I work 90 hour weeks? Should I look for more clients instead of an employer? Should I beat down doors in Chicago? I need to find clients in the insurance industry…insurance always makes it through hard times….