Lately the only thing you hear on the news, besides our politicians’ lack of morals, is the soaring price of gasoline. Recently while waiting on line at the pump to fill up my car my mind drove back to those heady days of being a new driver and facing the Fuel Embargo of 1973.
As a first-time driver, I didn’t have my own car, but I was given the honor of driving my dad’s very old car on occasion. We owned a 1960 Buick Electra convertible. My father would let me drive it whenever the gas tank started getting low. The rule was if you had it and it needed gas, you filled it up. So whenever the Buick was feeling a little hungry, my dad would wink and offer me the keys. Hungry as I was to drive anywhere, I would gladly take the car – and go to Uncle Phil’s station and fill it up. For the price of a full tank of gas I was able to cruise with my friends up and down 86th Street with the radio on and the rag top down.
We all had a great time that summer — Riis Park, Six Flags, Jones Beach — with lunch in the cooler and a loaded car of friends, enjoying the foot-loose, fancy free days of faraway adventures. Then the embargo hit — and the gas that up until that October had been plentiful, was now on a limited basis.
Not to worry. The politicians had a plan – motorists would get gas on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays if the last digit on their license plate was even and only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays if the number was odd. I really don’t remember now if Sunday was an odd or even day.
Anyway, as I said before, my Uncle Phil owned a station on the corner of Bay Parkway and McDonald Avenue. This station was where we (all my cousins and myself) learned to pump gas, change a tire and tune a car. We’d all done a stint with Uncle Phil.
The embargo was in full tilt and long lines surrounded every station that you went to. It was my turn to fill the old gas guzzler and off I went to Uncle Phil’s station. My cousin Bobby was manning the lines that day and as he was strolling up and down checking license plates for odd and even numbers he discovered me there, patiently waiting along with all the other drivers. In disbelief, he told me to get off the line, go around the corner once or twice and drive in the back way to the station. Not feeling very confident that the people in back of me wouldn’t find out and want to lynch me, I argued with him that I had all day and could wait with the rest. He told me that the tanks were nearly empty and that they were not expecting a shipment until the next morning -- if I didn’t get in the station the back way, I probably wouldn’t get any gas at all.
Now here was my dilemma – should I do the right thing and wait, possibly not filling the tank for my dad, who needed the car for work, or sneak into the station, beating out the other people in line and filling up?
As anyone who has ever been 17 knows, if you want to maintain driving privileges, you never bring back the car to your dad on E – because E doesn’t stand for enough – especially when he needs the car for work. So without a backward glance, I pulled off the line, drove around the block once or twice and snuck into the station. Once there I was able to fill up the tank, thereby securing future driving privileges. I was grateful that I had a car with a full tank, but my conscience suffered all the way home.
As I sit today waiting to gas up, I also remembered what the politicians promised that year. They were going to make sure that we would never again rely on foreign policy for our fuel supply. Not for nuthin’, but here we are, nearly 35 years later, and still relying on foreign politics to fill our tanks. Come on, Washington. Keep your promise.
E-mail “Not for Nuthin’” at JoannaD@co