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Panic caused the "gas shortage" - not the other way around.

Updated: May 25, 2021

Gassing up one’s whip shouldn’t feel like a Mission: Impossible assignment, but that’s precisely what it turned into recently when your humble servant deigned to gas up.

First, let’s acknowledge that what we’re calling a shortage of gas is actually a shortage of common sense. A gas shortage didn’t create the panic gripping our nation: the panic caused the gas shortage.

If I were King of the Forest, I’d dictate that anyone filling up an automobile’s gas tank that was already more than half full would suffer dire consequences – like being forced to stay home and binge-watch every movie Jim Belushi and Whoopi Goldberg ever made.

Trouble was obviously afoot for “we the people” when, on my bi-weekly run to Costco to get ingredients for my award-winning armadillo casserole, it took 20 minutes just to get into the parking lot. Cars making the panicked petrol pump pilgrimage were jammed bumper to bumper, evoking a desperation reminiscent of people trying to catch the last flight out of Saigon or, more recently, trying to purchase the last 50-roll package of toilet paper.

Rolling with my customary quarter-tankful, I laughed at them. Lemmings.

Around 11 the next night, tooling along on a low but still comfortable one-eighth of a tank, I passed the Fast Fare BP on Latta Road in Durham just as a fuel truck finished supplying it.

Since there were only about 20 cars at the 10 pumps, gassing up would be a gas, right?

The manager came out and informed us that, yes, they had gas, but since the tank had been bone dry it would take about 20 minutes for the pressure to build sufficiently for us to pump it.

Twenty minutes? I could do that standing on my head. I laughed aloud while considering those silly lemmings sitting for hours in unmoving lines. Quoting my favorite hero of literature, Wile E. Coyote, I thought “I, on the other hand, am a genius.”

I thought that 20 minutes later, even 40, when the pressure still had not increased enough to pump gas. An engrossing audiobook kept me occupied, so I was surprised to see that I’d been there 60, then 80 minutes and that most of the other drivers had given up the ghost along with the hope of gas.

With no pressure on the pumps but plenty inside me, I crept home, facing an unsettling fact: If I’m so smart, how come I just spent two hours sitting at a gas station with no gas?

With spirits as low as the gas needle, I drove on, knowing that even if I made it home, getting back to a gas station would be dicey. So home I stayed for three days and three nights.

Lying in bed at 3:30 a.m. on the fourth day of house arrest, I hatched a plan, leapt up and got dressed. As I eased the hoopty ever so slowly out of the driveway, the Mission: Impossible opening played in my head:

Your mission, Mr. S, should you agree to accept it, is to drive – on fumes - to the nearest gas station that actually has gas. As always, should you run out of gas on the side of the road, we will disavow any knowledge of your activities and laugh uproariously at you.

Passing at least five gas-depleted stations, I reached Costco at 4 a.m. and waited. I was third in line when the attendant removed the orange cones at 6:15 to let us in, but by the time I got gas, there were scores of automobiles lined up behind me.

Relieved though I was, there remains residual scorn for the selfish motorists who’d created this catastrophe in the first place.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that he who laughs last gets gas - if he's willing to get up at 3:30.

Also, if you have half-a-brain, half-a-tank is sufficient, especially during a “crisis."

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Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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