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Being Gas-Worthy:...

Being Gas-Worthy: Diary of a Cheapskate

Saying good-bye to a friend is never easy. 

But at $3.41 a gallon, it’s absolutely excruciating.

It’s been a rough few days. I’m currently nursing a hangover (at least it was cheap wine, my favorite kind) and a slightly bruised spirit. A coworker whose skills and sense of humor I greatly admire unexpectedly quit when a fabulous job offer in another state landed in his lap.

Because he’s so deserving, nobody begrudged him his sudden good fortune (well, the office softball team did consider kidnapping him, but only through playoff season). Indeed, we were determined to throw him a good-bye bash that would make My Super Sweet 16 look like a nuns’ tea party by comparison.

On the day of the festivities, I arose at dawn to make French bread from scratch. Next stop was the gourmet market I’d previously only visited vicariously through a dinner party hostess who’d served us its “free-range, naturally aged and organically nurtured premium poultry.” In other words, chicken. Yet now here I was, plucking brie and pate from the cases with abandon, and without ever looking at a price tag.

For once in my life, it seemed, money was no object.

Then I finally read the email telling me how to get to the party.

Twenty-seven miles. Each way. That’s how far I’d have to drive to bid adieu to this fellow who, come to think of it, was the one turning his back on us.

Just how gas-worthy was he, anyway?

Remember that classic Seinfeld episode where Elaine was horrified to learn that her favorite contraceptive sponge was being taken off the market? She bought up as many as she could, but after that, anyone she was considering canoodling with first had to pass her “sponge-worthy” test. The grading was necessarily brutal: men who might have hit home runs in the past were permanently stuck at first base because of this new law of (limited) supply-and-demand.

Now do you remember a time when friendship wasn’t measured almost exclusively at the gas pump? When it didn’t feel like opening a vein and having your life’s blood pour out because you’d expended an eighth of a tank of your precious petroleum while driving a Meals-on-Wheels shift? When filet mignon cost more than the gas it took to drive to the grocery store, not the other way around?

Life was so much more innocent and carefree in that Pre-Gas-Worthy Era—before I began accepting arduous outside-the-building work assignments not because they’ll help me develop intellectually or professionally, but because they’re near my dermatologist or tire rotating guy. Company mileage reimbursement plus free ride to all the farflung places pressing personal duties await is but one strategy I’ve devised for surviving the current gas crisis.

(And yes, it’s a “crisis.” Let the experts argue over whether the country’s in a recession, who’s to blame for the mortgage mess, etc. I just know I paid a dollar more for my favorite bottle of wine last week due to rising fuel costs for the distributor’s trucks. “Crisis” doesn’t begin to cover this tragic situation.)

I’m finding other, equally sensible ways to cope: Walking to the grocery store whenever possible (the aerobic benefits can’t be beat, especially with a ten-gallon jug of laundry detergent strapped to your back); cold calling dozens of gas stations each day to check on current prices of unleaded and entering the results on a spread sheet; catching a free ride to the mall by hiding under a pile of junk in the back seat of my neighbor’s car (I found free gum!).

Then there was the recent “Parade” article about UPS reducing its trucks’ gas consumption by three million gallons simply by cutting down on left-hand turns (something about there being less idling time when you turn right). I tried it once on the way to the multiplex and wound up too dizzy to find Drillbit Taylor without an usher’s help. Still, I think there’s something there.

Obviously, I’m luckier than many folks: I live in a big city, close to public transportation. I’m single, so I don’t drive a gas-guzzling minivan or have to make extra trips to the strip mall because my husband “forgot” to pick up the dry-cleaning. Again.

But you also make your own luck, something many people refuse to acknowledge. For instance, a mother I know keeps complaining of having to fill up three times a week because of her kids’ many activities. Instead of always driving to Little League practice, why doesn’t she occasionally have the team come to her house and work on their signals and hand-eye coordination while sneakily siphoning off the neighbors’ gas?

Do I sound incredibly coldhearted? I’m really not. Of course I went to my co-worker’s sendoff, where—it’s not bragging if it’s true—I was the life of the party. I’d gotten lost twice on the way there, adding eleven miles to my trip. Still, I never let dark thoughts about gas-worthiness or anything else fuel-related spoil the moment.

Until I was leaving. Knowing I’d had difficulty following the written directions, our host shorthanded my route back to the interstate:

“It’s two left-hand turns, a right and then another left,” he said cheerfully. “Easy, no?”

Wait, three left-hand turns?!

Easy, no? No! At $3.41 a gallon, that’s absolutely excruciating.