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Lynn Hummel column: Grumping about gasoline prices

There's lots of places to meet interesting people: At church, in bars, in the check-out line at the grocery store, on the Internet or at the gas pump.

I met this lady we'll call Myrt at the gas pump last week. As I drove up, there she was, roughly the size and shape of a barrel of oil and was standing there, hands on her hips and glaring at the pump gauge.

I got out of my car, walked over to the pump and said, as cheerfully as I could, "Good morning." She whirled around, hands still on her hips, elbows out, gave me the scowl of an angry umpire who had just been thumped on the collarbone by a fowl ball, and said, "I think this is a rotten morning. Just look at what this gauge says."

I looked at the gauge. Gas was $3.79 a gallon (it had been 3.69 just one day earlier). She had just pumped 13.2 gallons and her total was $50.50. "I've never paid over $50 for a tank of gas," she growled. "And I can't believe it."

I couldn't believe it either. "Do you suppose it will keep climbing and go over $4 a gallon?"

"Oh it will keep climbing," she said, "and it will go over $4 a gallon. The deck is stacked against us. When British Petroleum (they want us to call them BP) lost their drilling platform and spilled millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico last April we knew we would eventually pay at the pump. Add to that, the speculators are messing around with the market, adding 20 percent or so to our price, and now there's practically a civil war in Libya, and turmoil all over the Middle East is rocketing the price of crude over $110 a barrel. What chance do we have?"

"What are we going to do?" I asked.

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do," the oil barrel-umpire declared, "This is my last tank of gas until the price goes back under $3. I'm going to stop driving. For any trip under two miles I'm going to walk -- hot, cold, rain, sleet, snow -- I'm going to walk. Any trip from two to five miles, I'm riding my old bike -- I just fixed it up and it's ready to roll. Anything from five to 10 miles, I'm buying a used electric golf cart and I'm driving that -- nothing that burns gas. That cart will pay for itself in two months."

"You are a determined crusader, aren't you? How will you handle any trip over 10 miles?"

"Won't go. I'll stay home. If I have to go more than 10 miles for something, I don't need it."

"How are we going to work our way out of this mess?"

Myrt still had her hands on her hips, her elbows out and she was still scowling like a wounded umpire.

"I'll tell you how," she snarled. "That Bakken Oil Formation in North Dakota is one of the richest in the world. The trouble is they have very little refinement capacity out there. When some good American company starts refining close to the derricks in Dakota, we can burn our own gas and oil without paying a ransom to some sheik for the cost of maintaining a palace on the desert, entertaining a harem and conducting a civil war. Until then, I'll be walking, pedaling and putt-putting right here around home base. This whole rip-off makes me furious." Then she glowered again and added her parting shot: "Have a nice day."

The moral of the story is this: The best way to beat highway robbery at the gas pump is to walk away from it.