I took out a small short-term bank loan the other day, broke open my piggy bank, and took in our empty pop bottles to the bottle depot. I had to — my car’s gas gauge was pointing straight to R-E (Really Empty), and that meant a reluctant stop at the local money-siphon known as the gas station.
I dutifully self-served myself, since for the past few years most gas stations wouldn’t think of actually pumping gas for you like they used to back when they were called “service stations.”
Standing there watching the gas pump cha-ching the dollars higher and higher. Thinking about the good old days a couple of years ago when the price of gas might change, oh, once or twice in a blue moon. Back when we all thought it was an outright crime when gas prices went over 50 cents a litre.
And then just as the nozzle clicks off and I stand there stunned at the five-digit total, equal to the national debt of a small foreign country, something catches the corner of my eye.
True story: A teenaged employee is at the gas station sign nearby climbing a ladder. He has an armload of plastic numbers and he’s changing the gas price on the neon sign. It had been changed two days earlier.
“Gas going up again?” I call to him as I replace the nozzle and my gas cap.
“Nope. Down.” he says. “Two cents.”
“You could have told me that five minutes ago. Before I filled up!” I call back. Trying to sound amused instead of miffed.
And he just laughs an “I don’t think so, Buddy” laugh, immediately miffing me even more.
That’s why they can’t serve you gas at a gas stations anymore. They only have two employees and one is busy filling the till, and the other is busy changing the sign.
So after I emptied my pockets inside at the gas station money-sucking till, and drove away to use up more fuel, I was struck with a burning question.
Just who tells the teenagers at the gas stations when to change the sign, and how do they arrive at the depressing numbers they tell them to put up there?
Does an ominous conference call come in the middle of the night from somewhere in the Middle East, the self-appointed centre of the gas and oil universe, from somebody named Mr. Opec?
Or do mysterious people called “Traders” who live at a mysterious place called “Wall Street” throw a bunch of random economic-type numbers into a lottery style ping pong ball machine and come up with new gas prices for the rest of us poor gas-guzzling consumers?
I personally think that the CEOs (chief executive officers) and BWs (big wigs) of the half-dozen or so MOCs (major oil companies) secretly meet every couple of days over hearty beverages and perhaps a hearty game of Texas hold’em, where they smoke cigars and discuss the sorry fate of the Toronto Maple Leafs while their secretaries (sorry, “administrative assistants”) sit nearby counting up company profits on computers.
When the AAs are finished tallying the profits so that the CEOs can determine how large their daily bonus is so they can know what to bet in their poker game, the AAs break out the ouija boards and go to work setting the price of a litre of gasoline for the next day.
Whereupon they send out secret encoded mass emails to the rich owners (ROs) of the gas stations around the country, who, in turn, phone the teenagers actually running the places and tell them to jack up the price of gas.
Unless the ouija board says the price should go down, in which case the message somehow takes a lot longer to get to the teenager on the ladder. Meantime, the CEOs are calling another emergency Texas hold’em meeting to make sure the price of gas doesn’t stay low for long.
Unless of course it’s a long weekend. Then, as we all know, through a regularly scheduled set of amazing coincidences and twists of fate, the gas prices somehow miraculously soar significantly upward. Go figure.
No wonder we drivers are frustrated and angry. As for me, I have two words for the entire greedy overblown industry, and only two words: electric cars.
Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance writer.