Saturday, May 24, 2008

A good 5-cent cigar

This past Thursday while I was seated in the Control Room with my fellow Operators, the normally rambling and desultory conversation became animated and yes - ugly. It regularly turns ugly, as Operators by natural selection tend to be rather assertive. This does not mean our words were hostile, just highly opinionated and…righteous, as we all like to believe we have a good eye on whatever it is we are discussing, especially if it is about sports and politics.

As a side note, I don't do sports or offer an opinion on sports figures, so I usually stay out of anything resembling inside info when sports are discussed and I guess this appears a bit odd, but that's just the way it is. I appreciate sports and realize they are an important form of entertainment for many, but to me there are other things more significant than memorizing statistics and obsessing over the particular physical talents of a jock (literally or figuratively – you decide what I mean).

This particular day the conversation turned to the current exorbitant cost of gasoline/diesel, groceries and animal feed. Our entire government was viciously blamed for failing us and many valid points were cussed and discussed. So much cussing was interjected in fact, that if those words would have been deleted, it would have looked like this: "Our #$%^& government is #$%^& us in the #$%^& and if something isn't #$%^& done immediately, then #$%^& and #$%^& I'm going to #$%^&.

I pretty much abstain from that form of conversation, but the points brought out in this fashion were valid and reflected the deep resentment and bitterness felt by those expressing them. One fellow claimed that if our government would simply force the price of fuel back down to a reasonable level, Americans would regulate their consumption until a cheaper fuel or alternative method of locomotion became available.

From personal experience based on the late 70's early 80's, I knew this to be untrue. Americans will only conserve fuel and change their driving habits when fuel becomes scarce – not because it is expensive. Until then folks will simply pay whatever it costs and then, as if they had a full belly, forget they had been hungry. Americans are users and we use like there is no tomorrow. We are also great and regular rewarders of ourselves. We want it and we get it. We deserve it.

Tom Davenport, a good friend of mine from Dayton, reluctantly admits he has reached the limit on the cost of diesel fuel and the high cost of animal feed. He doesn't feel it is profitable at these prices to keep feeding his cows and livestock, which he enjoys. Once the livestock is gone, there is no reason to keep his big Ford 9N tractor and related equipment. He won't need his 3/4 ton 4X4 diesel pick-up, trailers and even his bigger sized boat will then need to be down-sized and so the list is growing daily of items in his personal inventory that he feels have become a liability. He grudgingly admits he will have to rethink his lifestyle and he is only one of many who are taking steps to adjust. Even the 43 mile commute from Liberty county to work has become an issue and many of my coworkers live in Winnie and that is 12 miles further down the road.

I offered (what I feel are valid) counter-points and some of them went like this: We have enjoyed a fairly long run of prosperity in this country and we have accumulated a lot of oversized and in some cases extravagant toys, trucks/cars, homes, boats, RV's, ATV's, vacations, tons of electronic gadgets and currently subscribe to all kinds of services and no one appears to remember that just a few short years ago, it wasn't like this at all. We all used to drive older work trucks and had one family car instead of, well, look in your driveway and many folks planted a yearly garden.

These days a work truck is about $35,000 and one year old.

In times of fiscal prosperity, all of these extra goodies and over-sized and over-priced items are perfectly normal expenditures, but when lean times come, no one should attempt to keep them to the point that they fall by the wayside. Cut these services and sell off all the extra stuff in your life before it overwhelms you and you will survive just fine. Downsize in times of leanness, because you can always repurchase when everything is affordable.

U.S. Vice President Thomas R. Marshall said to a U.S. Senate clerk, "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar." At the time, he was speaking about current economic woes, but his words are apropos of today's market. We demand a fix and we need it now if we are going to continue the lifestyle most of us are addicted to. We will have our cake and by all that's American, eat it too.

We either need cheap fuel of some kind, or a device that bolts onto our current vehicle, which will boost our mpg numbers significantly. We need to stop converting food grains into biofuels if that is going to drive up the price of grain making farming and husbandry impossibly expensive…or (gasp!) we need to change our habits, tighten our belts, adapt and overcome.

Americans historically have adjusted in times of trouble, but sadly we have always been whacked right in the schnozzle before we did so. We have stubbornly believed in our own superiority when all indicators point to the opposite and ignoring China and India's guaranteed developing appetite for fossil fuels, we blindly assume gas prices will return to their former low dollar per gallon price.

Take a look around as you drive our streets and you will see brand new paper plates on large pick-ups and SUV's, as people continue to buy, buy and buy as if the gas crunch is a passing cloud. There is even an Excel spreadsheet floating around in cyberspace, which shows you how you can "save" by parking your big rig and buying a 38-mile per gallon economy car with the "savings". How in the world can you save by buying? You save by selling that parked rig and THEN buying. Parking the big rig is a major assumption that gas/diesel prices are going to drop back down below $2.50 per gallon and they are not.

It could be said it is a sad day when folks like my friend will no longer be able to roll on as before, but in my opinion it's time for we Americans to adapt to a different lifestyle before we are slapped silly and moved into a second world position. Ever so often we have to change course in this American dream of ours to stay in the lead and that time is now.


Anonymous said...

That was a good article Bert, but I have a question.

Remember back in the mid-seventies when we had our first gas crunch? Everybody was buying smaller cars to conserve gas and auto manufacturers even developed the new Chevy Luv trucks and Ford Ranger trucks Dodge Ram trucks etc etc..and did away with the gas hogs for years and years. Small vehicles were all that could be had and like you said, we Americans adjusted and did just fine.

My question is . . . Who's bright idea was it to reintroduce big trucks and even bigger SUV's back onto the market? We all know that people are going to buy what is made available and if a 1-ton Cadillac SUV is available, somebody is going to buy it, but if it didn't exist, it wouldn't be for sale.

Americans aren't any different in this respect from the rest of the world. A china-man with enough rice will gladly fork over the yen for an Escalade if it's made available to him in China, but it ain't, so he drives a Toyota and he's happy with it.

My opinion is that our wonderful watchdogs in Washington dropped their plates back about 15 years ago by letting the auto builders start building big vehicles again. We had gotten used to the little ones and were doing fine with them, but greed took over and here we are . . . stuck with a 5 mile per gallon trucks that seemed to be OK two years ago, but are now costing us a war pension to drive to work to make enough money to make the payment . . . plus the gas!

So my question again is . . . how did we come full circle from big gas guzzlers, to small fuel efficient cars, back to gas guzzlers again? People will order whats on the menu, but somebody ought to have been watching our calorie intake.


Editors note: Sam, see the Blog addition above this one. BB

Natalie said...

Good one, Bert!

Coming of age in the late 80's I remember listening to my grandparents, who were children during the Great Depression, astonished at the excesses. Looking back, glad I knew them, and that they loved me enough to teach me that wasn't going to be was a true gift.

Wish I could thank them personally...I know I sat and rolled my eyes 20 yrs ago, but I was listening, and I did take it to heart. --Natalie

Baytown Bert said...

When I returned to the USA in the mid-70's after living in a Third World country for 2 years, I was shocked by how prosperous of a country we actually were.

I've never forgotten and I try to live each day in appreciation.

What is all the fuss about?

I am seriously scratching my head over the state of our country and the political warfare between not only the 2 parties, but amon...