Friday, July 11, 2008

The virtues of staying put when fuel skyrockets

Felling trapped by gas prices? Maybe there are other ways to move on...

By S. Derrickson Moore

LAS CRUCES — Movin’ on.
It’s the All-American answer to everything, from heartbreak, depression or general malaise to weathering or recovering from the pain of a bad breakup, an unhappy marriage, a sudden death, an unfulfilling job, an unfriendly neighborhood or an uncomfortable situation of almost any kind.
It’s in our heritage, our blood, perhaps our very DNA. And that’s why we’re taking the whole gas thing so hard.
It’s harder to move on if we think the most popular means for moving on — getting in our cars and trucks and heading on down the road — is getting too expensive.
I’ve been around, while moving on, and I know it can be harder to look for — let alone accept and adapt — solutions, when times are tough and people are feeling desperate.
And we are desperate … mentally, physically and spiritually.
Maybe even medically. Blood banks are now advertising for plasma donors with big billboards that ask, “Need extra money for gas?”
It gives new meaning to the protesters’ chant: “No blood for oil!”
I heard a radio ad offering parishioners free gas cards if they show up for Sunday services at a local church. I’m wrestling with concepts of bribery and sacrifice here, and wondering if the pastor’s sermon will take the opportunity to raise the issue of ransoming our very souls for oil, too.
I’ve been pondering all this since I was 17 and a foreign exchange student in the Northern European lands where many of our ancestors lived before they decided it was time to move on to new frontiers.
It was a unique opportunity to study and compare the lifestyles of those who moved on and those who stayed put.
I seem to remember that gas was already over $5 a gallon in Europe then, or the late 1960s equivalent, when gas was still pennies per gallon back home in America and for $1, we teens could chow down on 15-cent burgers and still get enough gas to cruise all night.
But whether it was the gas prices or the lifestyle or both, in Europe, we walked almost everywhere, to markets and school and bars and fiestas, or we rode bicycles or took a train. Cars were way down the list of transportation choices, almost the last option or an afterthought.
And I noticed, even in my wild youth, that living life that way was better, somehow.
We planned trips and errands, lingered and took our time, walked and talked with friends. It was that way in college, too, lots of walking, lots of relating with friends. Pondering the other times in my life I’ve been without cars, during an artist-in-residency in Jamaica, and a lovely time in Iowa City living with a friend (his car had a stick shift, which I never learned to master), I realized I got along quite well, got lots of exercise, felt great and even managed to write books in a couple of months, with no driving distractions.
I sympathize with those who face long commutes to work in an area with limited mass transit and carpooling programs, and those such as independent truckers, whose livelihood makes fuel consumption cutbacks difficult or impossible. I hope we will find ways to offer relief through subsidies, tax credits or other programs.
But most of us can devise some fuel diet strategies on our own.
Lately, I’ve been realizing many places I routinely drive are within walking distance, so I walk. I go through the car wash a little less frequently. Instead of cash, I pay with a credit card that offers cashback rewards and I find that overall, I’m breaking even on my gas station expenses these days or maybe even spending a little less, despite the escalating prices.
And I find I’m thinking globally in terms of all transportation costs, and doing my best to act locally, looking for produce, products and services that are produced closer to home. When I have a choice, I always go for the home-grown stuff.
When we are facing environmental and economic crises, it’s no time for wistful escapes or desperate cop outs. Movin’ on can be a state of mind, a change of attitude.
And maybe it won’t be so bad if we change our way of life, a little or a lot. Maybe if movin’ on is more of a challenge, we’ll learn to have a better time staying put for a while, contemplating where we’ve come from, where we are and where we’re going.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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