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Remember when nirvana at the pump was Blue Chip Stamps & not gas under $5 a gallon?
Dennis Wyatt new mug 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Did seeing a Turlock Chevron on Friday selling a gallon of unleaded gasoline for $5.49 make you pine for the good old days such as circa 1973?

Even though gasoline in California at the dawn of 1973 was 12 cents a gallon higher than the rest of the country — what’s new — due to the state’s move a few years prior to reformulated gasoline, it was still “only” 59 cents a gallon.

But then war broke out in a major oil producing region. By year’s end oil exporting countries either on the losing end of the Israeli-Arab War or their allies imposed an oil embargo against countries supplying Israel with military equipment.

Not only were people fearing $1 a gallon gasoline that didn’t materialize but came awful close with average prices in parts of California flirting with 90 cents a gallon, but buying gas became a chore.

You could only buy gasoline on even or odd says that corresponded with the last number in your license place. Given relatively few today had personalized plates that were called vanity plates back then, they were lumped into one or the other days. Which one it actually was is trivia I don’t possess.

Gas lines became the norm. Instances of some gas lines stretching in excess of a mile were documented but most never got longer than a block or two or three.

To put it in perspective, the backed-up traffic mess that In-N-Out Burger has brought to the Safeway parking lot area off Monte Vista Avenue most evenings is literally nothing to sweat about.

The even-odd system was designed to avoid stations from rationing gas in a bid to stretch supplies among their customer base. It also was aimed avoiding what was happening in many areas before going to even-odd day sales where gas stations would open in the morning or after they got a load of fuel and close down within hours after selling out.

The fact that happened caused more people than not and especially those who commuted sizable distances in the days of 18- to 20-gallon tanks on cars that got between 8 and 13 miles per gallon to sit in line for gas on days they could buy gas even if they have more than half a tank left.

There was a real fear that was more than justified that if they skipped a day that it was legal for them to buy gas the next time a legal day rolled around, they could end up getting none.

People actually ran out of gas while waiting in line to fuel up.

Almost everyone could tell of a day when they spent more time waiting in line to buy gas than driving to and from work.

Even so, all the trial and tribulations of 1973 where miniscule at worst compared to gas rationing during World War II. Not only did America have to direct every ounce it could to the war effort, but the government issued rationing cards were a stark reminder the inconvenience you may be suffering was nothing compared to the fact you had family, friends, neighbors, and people you once worked with or kids down the street that used to play baseball in a vacant lot whose lives were in the crossfire of Axis tyrants and their supporters.

There were no gas lines per se on Friday, although people pulling up to fill their tanks at $5.39 a gallon were few and far in between. People were gravitating in greater numbers toward places like ARCO where gas was $4.39.

Most people, however, still visited the vast number of gas stations that were between $4.49 and $4.65 a gallon. After all, we had seen those prices just three or four months ago.

I had filled up Wednesday where I dropped $41.47 for 9.493 gallons of regular unleaded at $4.379 per gallon. It wasn’t the most I’ve ever paid to fill up a vehicle I was driving.

And as prices go, it was a full $2.50 less per gallon than what it was being sold for at the Furnace Creek station when I was hiking in Death Valley for a week at the end of November. That is one gas station I can say without reservation that prices gas in California in a blatantly obvious case of fuel and demand. The closest gas station is more than 40 miles away and the price there wasn’t all that much less expensive.

After taking my receipt from the pump I walked around the back of my 2017 Ford Focus to get to the driver’s side. On my way there, I said out loud to the gentleman pumping up his full-size pickup truck behind me “that I can hardly wait for $5 a gallon gasoline.”

His reply: “Don’t worry, it’ll get there.”

I agreed. But to be honest I thought some gas station in the Valley would reach that mark in the next week or so and not later that day.

At $5.39 a gallon, I would be paying almost 55 percent of what it cost me to fill up the 1967 Mercury Cougar I was driving back at the start of 1973.

It had a 16-gallon tank and I could buy gas at 60 cents a gallon if I used the self-service pumps at the higher end Chevron station I patronized back in 1973.  It would have been enough to drive 180 plus miles or so based on mileage averaging 11.9 miles per gallon.

Today I drive a Focus that — based on the car’s computer system — is getting 33 miles per gallon averaged based on the accumulative driving I’ve been doing since November.
That little tidbit takes some of the sting out of the reality that the day is rapidly coming I will not be able to buy gas anywhere in the Valley under $5 a gallon for a period of time that I hope will be short not as much for my pocketbook as is for what it may mean for the welfare and freedom of the people of Ukraine.

To be honest, it is a good sign for our collectively putting everything in perspective when no one seemed irked Wednesday the station had neither paper towels, squeegee, or even dirty water to try and clean bug smattered windshields.

That would have been unacceptable when we were paying $1 a gallon for gasoline assuming, of course, someone else wasn’t pumping the gas for us, cleaning the windshield, checking the oil, giving us Blue Chip Stamps and handing us a free 16-ounce drinking glass.