There are times when the human race makes me shake my head in wonder. There are multiple ways that we can make the world a better place, yet as soon as something ‘unusual’ happens (for lack of a better word), many people pull the universe into one small unit: themselves. If one considers all the ways humans display their less noble side (I will let you construct your own list here), the one that gets my goat every time is simply what I call ‘the world spins around me syndrome’. When the going gets tough, the not so tough grab everything they can to make sure they won’t be left without. Let us think about how practical this course of action really is.
The latest example arrived on May 7, 2021 when hackers shut down a major oil pipeline that services much of the southern and eastern coasts of the United States. Please note this was NOT a shortage of oil related products, just an interruption in the flow of this product from the Gulf region to these population centers. How did some people respond? Many gathered as many gas cans as possible to make sure THEY would have enough gas for . . . how long? For what? I saw a video of a couple in Alabama filling so many five gallon gas containers they had to lay them on their sides to fit them into the back of their SUV. Is this even a good idea? A few days later, the news feeds were showing the burned out hulk of an SUV that caught fire with (luckily?) only two five gallon gas containers on board. People were so consumed with hoarding gas, there were warnings issued that one should not store gas in plastic bags! Think about it!
Analysts pointed out ‘normal consumption’ of fuel would have not have caused a shortage if some people had not gotten into panic (buy now!) mode. Once people panic, fear of being left out of the ‘buy now’ chain spreads faster than the CORONA virus. The headlines blared things like, “65 percent of the gas stations in Atlanta ran out of gas!” This type of ‘Breaking News’ reporting surely added gas to the fire (yes, pun very much intended). In light of how little people travelled in the last year (well, some people travelled regardless, but that is another story), where were all of these panicky people planning on going with their hoarded gas? Think about it!
As the COVID 19 numbers began to soar and the ‘P’ word (pandemic) was just beginning to be used to describe where we were headed, a different form of panic buying struck. Hand gel, rubbing alcohol, toilet paper, paper towel, facial tissue, and a host of other cleaning products disappeared from store shelves at an alarming rate. Knowing that some form of disinfecting spray would be needed around WOAS-FM if we were to remain on the air, I went in search of one can of Lysol. As I scanned the shelf at a local discount store, a woman with a cart piled higher than her head with all of the above mentioned products gleefully informed me, “They don’t have any more hand gel left.” Eyeing the literal PILE of hand gel containers in her cart, I held up my one can of Lysol and told her, “That is okay, I am not looking for hand gel. This is all I need.” What I wanted to say was, “Lady, are you planning on bathing in that stuff and then mummifying yourself in TP?” It is not my style to confront clueless people. The clueless ones are the people so tuned into their own orbit they wouldn’t understand what I was saying anyway. Think about it! When the manufacturing and supply chains caught up and filled the void created by the hoarders, there was certainly enough of these products for EVERYBODY.
One of the saddest examples of this type of ‘me-ism’ came out of the tragic 9-11 terrorist attack. I couldn’t think of a way to contribute anything helpful on WOAS-FM that day, so I put some soothing music on and headed home. To help clear my head, I took the long way home down River Street and along Lakeshore Road. As I turned off Parker Avenue, I was amazed to see two lines of cars stretching out of the Holiday Gas station for a couple of blocks in both directions. The same scene was being repeated at the Citco station on the other end of the main street. I said to myself, “Okay, if this is the start of an actual national emergency, how long will one tank of gas last? How much fuel are people burning as their cars idle in line for twenty or thirty minutes?” Mentally, I waved it off as people acting strangely because, like me, they could not process what had just happened. The next day I got a clearer picture of why cars were lining up for gas.
During a discussion about what I had witnessed the night before, the person I was talking with nodded as I expressed my confusion about what I described but then added, ”Yeah, it was even worse in Baraga.” They explained further: they h ad taken all their empty gas cans and driven to the cheapest gas available in the U.P. (the station on US 41 just outside of Baraga). “You drove all the way to Baraga to buy a bunch of gas because it was cheaper there?” I asked. “How much did it cost you to drive there and back and what will you do once you have emptied all your gas cans? If this does become a national emergency, how long would twenty or forty gallons of gas last anyway?” Think about it! I can understand truckers, emergency vehicles, ambulances, and other people who could not function without gas stocking up. The rest of us, not so much.
The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 was a little different. First of all, we had a pretty good idea it was coming. Secondly, Americans had been ignoring predictions for years. Our artificially low fuel prices (when compared to the rest of the world) were going to come to a screeching halt sooner or later. It turned out to be sooner. I was attending Northern Michigan University in Marquette when the price of gas jumped from $.25 to over $.70 per gallon. There was some general grumbling but I do not recall exactly what started the run on gas stations. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before people were lined up at gas stations just like after 9-11 and May 7, 2021. The end result was predictable: panic buying resulted in gas stations running out of gas causing consumers to lose their patience. Call me a stubborn Finlander, but I waited until things settled down and avoided lining up to gas up.
When some stations began limiting the number of gallons people could buy (to stretch the supply), the grumbling turned to outrage. It soon became apparent the problem was going to be with us for a while so the government stepped in (gasp!) to ration fuel supplies. In Michigan, license plate numbers ending in an odd number could buy gas on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while those ending in an even number could buy gas on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It was a shock to those of us too young to remember rationing during World War II, but to me, it also made infinite sense. What did not make sense was the statement released by the U.S. Oil companies which said (more or less), “This is a temporary situation and we guarantee that the price of gas will not stay at $.70 per gallon.” They were absolutely right: it went even higher.
The first time we paid $1.00 a gallon for gas in Ontonagon County was July 14, 1979. This is etched into my brain because some of our friends who attended our wedding in Mass City commented on this fact. In the past 42 years, the price has fluctuated and everytime someone in the industry hiccups, the price climbs. There has only been one occasion when the price dropped below $1.00 a gallon in Ontonagon County, but it only lasted a few days. Once the panic buying set off by the OPEC oil embargo was done, the supplies rebounded and eventually the gas buying public got used to the higher prices. Some went so far to say they were fine with paying more as long as the rationing went away. While we groused about gas costing $2.00 a gallon, countries in Europe who had been paying two or three times that amount for years were saying, “It is about time.” Think about it! Did any of those people lining up (and thereby causing the shortages) stop driving or at least try to limit the number of miles they put on in a week?
As a youngster, getting a shot was not my idea of fun. One of my pre-Kindergarten visits for a check up and my final ‘school shots’ ended with me hiding behind my mother’s chair in the exam room. Perhaps I thought I could bargain my way out of getting it. The doctor chuckled when mom finally talked me out of the corner, and after poking me, he did say, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Getting our yearly TB tests for school became a macho thing. We would line up in the hall outside the Whitman School nurses office waiting for our turn while putting on a brave face. We actually rejoiced in sixth grade when we were marched to the high school to get our last polio vaccination. The giddy mood was spurred by the knowledge that we would be getting an oral vaccine. When the doses were administered via a sugar cube, we even kidded each other about what else might be in those pink hued cubes. Someone suggested LSD, but not because we seriously thought we were being drugged. LSD was just something new and a big news story at the time. Did we understand exactly what Polio was even all about? It was years later that I learned how common it was. My older brother had a mild case of it but it was never mentioned around home. Think about it! Polio was bad but it wasn’t the killer that COVID 19 became. No one blinked at taking the vaccine designed to keep us safe. There were probably a few anti-vaxers back then, but not in the numbers we hear about today. Opinions vary and one can choose to take or not take the shot, but choosing to not be vaccinated is too much of a crap shoot for me. Do I believe that Bill Gates is implanting microchips in people’s arms so he can track our every move? No, I do not. Your cell phone and social media accounts have already taken care of that job. Do I feel being vaccinated is helping to protect my family, friends, and neighbors? Yes, I do. Think about it!
A buddy of mine who likes both baseball and fishing sent me the link to an article about a major league baseball player who had died boating on a small lake located in the front yard of his Florida home. The article said he was traveling at a high rate of speed and in the twilight, he did not see the dock his bass boat hit. The article mentioned the boat was powered by a 150 horse engine. Of course, no one would make light of such a tragic death but the only thing I could think in response was, “Why would anyone need a 150 horsepower motor on a bass boat, especially on a small inland lake?” Not to open a can of worms here, but I am getting to feel the same way about the need for people to own certain types of weapons for ‘hunting’. I grew up in a family of hunters and am not anti-hunting, but think about it; how much firepower does one need to drop a deer or bear? When my students would tell me stories about their successful deer hunts, I would tease them by asking, “Was it a fair fight? Now, if you had strapped on a set of antlers and taken that deer mano a mano, then I would say you are a mighty hunter.” No, it isn’t the hunters who are pushing back on limits for purchasing assault rifles and megaclips for hunting purposes.
Save the cards and letters because I do not need to know if you disagree with my thoughts here. It is my opinion and there is no need for anyone to write me an angry retort. I have watched the debate for a long time and I know there is a middle ground here. What is important is the ability for people to respect other ideas and disagree in a civil manner. Think about it! Have we not seen enough chest thumping vitriol to last us a lifetime and then some? Just as there are dozens of ways to say ‘What the Sam Hill?’ when startled, there are dozens of ways to disagree with someone without getting hysterical about it. When disagreements evolve into inflated (or fake) facts to try and make one’s opinion sound more plausible, I am reminded of a quote columnist Gene Lyons attributed to Voltaire: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” I believe our history books already contain enough examples of this statement in action. Think about it! Can we now write some chapters that will make future generations view us as humans who used their intelligence to learn from the past in order to improve the future? Think about the history lessons we are leaving behind right now!
Government functions best when our elected officials work together. We are hearing a lot of calls for the government to return to the bipartisan ethics that seem to have been lost in the last couple of decades. Rival parties got more done via honest debate and negotiations before the practice of demonizing ‘the other party’ became the norm. Any senator who states that their job is to keep the president from doing their job is not fit to serve. Any leader who says, “It is my way or the highway” is equally unfit to hold office. We need to get over this sense of ‘ultra-me-ism’ and truly work together for the good of all. Think about it! Democracy has always been built on the concept of working together and if we have learned nothing else in the early years of this new century, it should be how dysfunctional things get when nobody gives an inch.
Top Piece Video: The Queen of Soul and I are in complete agreement here!