I was talking the other night to a friend about the gas shortage here in Atlanta, and admitted that I was embarrassed how it had unnerved me.
Hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut down the refineries on the gulf coast which produce the gasoline that is pumped through pipelines to the southeast. It has taken the refineries a long time to get back up and running, and the gasoline reaching our area is well below normal.
The result has been shortages, long lines and the barely muted panic of a population habituated, and unable to get, it’s substance of choice.
The first line I saw was a week ago when I went to get my car washed at a gas station. (Due to a drought, we’re also restricted from engaging in another American birthright: the domestic joy of washing the car in the driveway.)
There was a line half a block long at the station. The attendant said it was because they were selling lowest octane gas at $3.87 a gallon.
I got the car washed without waiting, but the experience was disturbing.
The same thing happened when Katrina shut down the refineries. I sat one afternoon in a line for 30 minutes waiting to fill up. I had a job the next day, and I needed the money. My mind ran wild, beginning with “What happens if they run out? Where do I go next? What happens if I can’t find any gas?”
So here I was again, running through a well-stocked inventory of fear-driven scenarios, all of them built around scarcity and lack. And every time I’ve seen a station since with long lines, those fears are refreshed as if I’d hit the reload button on my Firefox browser.
And I ask everyone I speak with if they’ve bought gas, where, and what were the lines like.
“I’m glad you told me that,” my friend said the other night. “I was thinking it was just me who was so freaked out.”
Finally I decided to take a look at the obsession head-on. What I came up with was that the high level of uncertainty I’ve experienced over the past few years has made me unusually sensitive.
I’ve managed reasonably well, but a gas shortage threatens one of the freedoms I treasure most: mobility. If I can’t get around, I’m in deep trouble. And I live in a sprawling city with nearly 5.5 million inhabitants, most of whom are habituated to plentiful gasoline and long commutes.
Those lines teem with people whose unchecked anxieties are probably similar to mine, and their emotions are more combustible than fuel. I heard a story last week about a guy who cut in front of a woman. She went into the station, bought a cup of coffee and dumped it on him.
Authorities say part of the problem is that people are panicking and topping off their tanks rather than waiting until they’re low to re-fuel. If I’d seen a short line, I’d have done it myself.
And I’ve given plenty of thought to options, too. The AT&T store is looking for help. Or maybe the library at the end of the street, or Borders, which is just a mile away. Those are places I could walk to. Lowe’s is a few miles the other way, and the MARTA station a few hundred yards from here puts other possibilities within reach.
Reclaiming the Day
But for all the nightmares I’ve conjured, none has come to pass. And as a passage in a book called “Courage to Change” points out, “My best hope is every bit as likely to occur as my worst fear….” It adds, “All I can do is make the most of this day.”
Come to think of it, this day isn’t half-bad. Temperature about 80, low humidity and I’ve got the double front doors open and am sitting in the doorway with a commanding view of a riot of greenery — trees, lawn, shrubs — the street, and the ravine across the street. A young mother passes pushing a stroller and leading a dog on a leash. She sees me and we exchange waves.
What’s not to like? With this splendid working environment, I have wrapped up two jobs, written a blog, figured out how to put ads on my website and been offered an interesting assignment that will pay a lot of bills for the next few months. And all of this without turning on the ignition.
The abundance of the moment reminds me that giving in to the panderings of the unchecked mind is stupid, weak and a failure of faith. Faith in the Creator, and faith in my ability not just to cope, but to make the best of a situation.
Online reports say gas supplies ought to be normal by mid-October. I trust that my reservoir of sanity will be topped off and flowing freely well before that.
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