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News and quick-hit commentary from around mid-Michigan ... from the Morning Sun.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

1972 revisited

I bought gas last night for $1.62 a gallon.
It’s been a long time since the price was that low. There are some gaps in my price records, but it looks as if it’s been since before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that the price has been down that far.
That’s in absolute terms. But let’s not forget that the value of the dollars we’ve been paying for gasoline has been falling as inflation has crept – or leaped - up.
The first full year I had my driver license was 1972. Dad’s Plymouth had a 318-cubic-inch V-8, and he considered himself lucky if he got 14 mpg with it. It was the time of muscle cars, horsepower generated by pure cubic inches, and the only people who cared about gas mileage were the weirdos who drove Volkswagens, with their ridiculous four-cylinder engines.
I remember cruising State Road in Saginaw in my dad’s Plymouth, and having the gas jockey put in “a dollar’s worth” of regular. Gas was about 35 cents a gallon, so you got almost three gallons of gas.
That was enough to take you maybe 40 miles, good for a short night’s cruise.
The first Arab oil embargo, the very first oil shock, was year away. Life was good with gas at 35 cents a gallon. A minimum-wage hamburger flipper, like I would become, would have to work a whole 13 minutes to pay for a gallon of gas.
Now apply 35 years of inflation to that price of 35 cents. It works out to $1.72, which is what we were paying for gas last week – and people were screaming when Alma-area stations put the price there after it had been lower.
To earn $1.72, by the way, a minimum-wage worker in 2008 has to work about, um, 13 minutes. Less, at this week’s slightly lower prices.
So is it the same? Not quite. The elderly Ford Escort I’m driving now, and my wife’s newer Chevy Malibu, each get about 30 mpg on the highway, so we can cruise twice as far as we could … back in ’72.
And the CD player sounds so much better than that wobbly eight-track.


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