Motorists accustomed to today's prices for gasoline are jolted when they're reminded "regular" used to sell for 16 cents a gallon.
Three weeks ago, I discussed a proposal that the government close gas stations on weekends. Readers who sent me their views on that proposal may now be jolted, too, and wonder how so much could have changed so quickly.
The column on weekend closings discussed the argument that if gas stations were closed on weekends, motorists wouldn't take long pleasure trips.
Quite a few letters arrived from readers who thought it would be a big mistake for the government to order the closings. But we can stop arguing now. Weekend closings became a fact of life while the government was still scatching its head and wondering what to do. So perhaps you might like to see what District Liners said about the idea when it was first broached:
Mrs David A. Hall wrote: "The last bus for our Oxon Hill area leaves downtown at 5:10 p.m., but I work until 5:30 I have had a three-bypass heart operation and cannot walk far, especially in bad weather. I am not one of those $50,000 a year people who can afford to pay $60 a month to park, and I have to use my Saturdays and Sundays to shop etc. Our car is used for most everthing. The president and his staff have not given enough attention to the fact that public transportation is not adequate."
Ruth C. Anderson of Woodstock wondered whether many students who now drive private cars to high schools could ride school buses and save gas. An anonymous postcard said: "All you have to do is raise the driving age to 18 or higher and you won't have to close any gas stations on weekends. The kids cruise around all weekend and burn up more gas than the Air Force."
Another card asked, "How much gas did those anti-nuke freaks use up to come here from hundreds of miles away to protest against our having an alternate source of energy when the oil runs out?"
(A more recently arrived letter from Donald P. Roger of Kensington wondered about how much gasoline was used in Loudoun County's recent auto rally as "133 cars transported 266 people 100.72 miles each, essentially to nowhere.") About a half-dozen letters raised questions about automobile races. One reader questioned the wisdom of permitting "pleasure flying" in private planes to continue during a time of shortage.
Frank L. Holloway of Silver Spring thought more effective enforcement of the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit would help. But Changing Times noted sadly, "The only way to get folks to drive 55 is to change the limit to 45."
Judith Greenwood is trying to build her business and must , she says, visit her clients at their convenience, not hers. That means driving at night and on weekends. R.R. Betcher Jr. of Respton says he's willing to accept restrictins on gasoline sales, but only after fuel is cut off to recreational vehicles, trail bikes, snowmobiles, power boats, and other vehicles used solely for sports or pleasure. He says if we'd stop using energy for pleasure there would be plenty for essentials.
J.N. Horrocks Jr., director of our Public Citizen Visitor's Center, wrote: "Your column indicated that, to quote you, 'My inclination is for weekend closings. I must say that this snap judgment/opinion is not typical of the study you customarily give to perplexing consumer problems. For example, you have failed to take into consideration the multi-billion dollar tourism and travel industry which is directly affected by such a mandate. Hotels, motels, restaurants and amusement parks do almost half their business on weekends, especially in the summer."
For the record, what I actually wrote was: "My own inclination is for weekend closings, although as one who works on Saturdays and Sundays I might be adversely affected. However, it seems obvious that there is much to be said on both sides of this argument, and that it is therefore unseemly for any person to assume that he alone is the possessor of ultimate wisdom on the matter."
In retrospect, I would add that the travel industry is unquestionably important to our economy and to the people who make their living from that industry. But it is not one whit more important to the economy than are dozens of other industries that provide productive employment for millions of our citizens.
What we need is a plan that will deal fairly with everybody during a time when we do not have enough gasoline to deal generously with everybody.