Battle for Heartland Starts at Gas Pump
"It is high," Stich says.
"It's the global economy coming together," Poquette says. It's OPEC. It's "supply and demand." It's millions of new cars in China, domestic disturbances in Venezuela, uncertainty in the Middle East. "It's a whole bunch of different factors," he says, and to blame someone in particular, especially if that person is Bush, strikes him as wrong. "You really have only so much power," he says. "He is the president, but he doesn't control the whole world."
"It's high," Stich repeats, and adds, "We can't really afford it."
They have known each other since the day a few years ago when Poquette was driving a Chevy Beretta that overheated and Stich stopped by to see who was under a raised hood. Then came a used Oldsmobile Bravada that back in the days of $1.50-a-gallon gas was costing $30 to fill. Then came the surprise of Dakotah, even though Stich says she was faithful about birth control. Then, to save money, came the Neon, 94,000 miles, $1,600, 28 miles per gallon. Then came the surprise of Haydyn. And now Stich wishes, among many things, that they had gotten a car with four doors.
Because "it's hard," she says, meaning not just getting the babies into and out of the back seat, but all of what life has come to be.
"We fight. A lot," she says.
"We do fight a lot," Poquette says. "But not so much in the car."
In the apartment, they say, they yell, the babies fuss, the clutter overwhelms, the ceiling can feel as low as a coffin lid. But in the car, they say, the babies are content, and so for the most part are they.
"It's easier to talk to him in the car," she says. "He's screaming. I'm screaming. I say, 'Let's go.' We get in the car. The kids don't cry. We get to talk."
"Just whatever," he says.
"Some of the stuff Dakotah did during the day," she says.
"Jokes I've heard," he says.
"Everything comes out in the car," she says.
"We just head west, and maybe north," he says. "We'll just drive through Kenosha, drive through Racine, no destination, turn here or there. Just go."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Dena Stich, with daughter Dakotah, and Shawn Poquette rely on his salary to cover necessities for their family of four.
(Photos David Finkel -- The Washington Post)