Ihaven't said anything about the soaring price of gas for one good reason -- I don't drive. Whenever I'm in a car, the person giving me the lift is paying for the gas. This doesn't mean I'm selfish. It means that because I don't have to pay attention to the road, I can devote all my time to thinking about the price of petroleum and how much it costs to get from here to there.

The other day, I was on the Beltway. I didn't say we were moving -- we were bumper-to-bumper and dead still.

My driver -- I'll call him Joel -- was trying to keep down his road rage. "It is costing me $2.27 a gallon to stand still," he said.

I was sympathetic. "That's the big problem. It's not how much you pay for gas, it's how much you burn up waiting for the traffic to move. I was out in California not long ago and they guy I was driving with used up a full tank of gas while we were stuck on the Santa Monica Freeway."

Joel asked, "Was it rush hour?"

"No, it was noon. It is always that way on the freeways. Californians accept it because they're so laid back."

Joel said, "Maybe there's an accident up ahead."

"I doubt it. If there were an accident, the electric signs along the way would be blinking 'DRIVE SLOWLY.' "

Joel said, "That's a joke. How can I drive slowly if I can't move?"

I said, "Well, you can't blame Bush for the traffic jam. If you want to blame anybody, you can start blaming Saudi Arabia. Their people don't care how much gas you burn."

"Can I blame the oil companies who market it in the United States?"

"No, because they sponsor some of the best programs on television."

We moved 20 feet.

I said, "This is a national security problem. I'll bet many of the people in these cars work for the CIA, the FBI or Homeland Security, or are going to Neiman Marcus at Tysons Corner."

Joel said, "You see the guy in the next lane? He looks like a terrorist."

I said, "You can't believe everyone who has a beard is a terrorist."

Joel said, "Let's take down his license plate number just in case."

I said, "Why don't we listen to the traffic report?"

We turned on the radio. "This is your helicopter traffic reporter. I am now flying over the Beltway. Oh dear. It looks like a white SUV tried to pass a red Jeep and the Jeep gave the SUV a bent fender. Traffic is backed up all the way to Richmond."

"Now we know what's going on," I said. "Look, there's a state policeman trying to get through."

Joel said, "Since no one is hurt, why can't they just move the cars over to the shoulder of the highway?"

"Because the insurance companies won't let them," I replied. "It looks like you're running out of gas."

"It is no big deal. I'm a member of the AAA and they'll send a tow truck if we hit empty." Then Joel said, "A traffic jam is a great way to get to know somebody. There is nothing like being stuck on the Beltway with a friend."

I agreed, "Especially if it's someone who doesn't drive."

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services