"I'm walking more, it only took me five minutes to walk up here," said Belle Scott as she ate at a crowded Bob's Big Boy in Wheaton yesterday. "Usually I drive-it's stupid. People out here do not have to have all these cars . . ."
With ingenuity, determination, and a lingering skepticism about what may be going on in the boardrooms and executive suites of the big oil companies, people in Washington are finding ways to live with the gasoline shortage.
In Wheaton and elsewhere in the Washington area there were some gasoline lines yesterday, but the lines this weekend appear to be fewer and shorter than last weekend. It was estimated that 85 percent of the area's roughly 1,500 stations were open yesterday and about 10 percent will be open today.
The Bob's Big Boy at 11190 Viers Mill Rd. is near the sprawling Wheaton Plaza parking lot and lies at the heart of a crowded commercial and residential suburban landscape about 10 miles from downtown Washington. It is an area where middle-class people live in small $70,000 brick homes and go almost everywhere by car.
People in this suburban universe say they are walking more, consolidating trips to the store, taking the bus to work more or changing their commuting patterns in other ways to save gasoline. Sandy Dacey, a waitress at Bob's and a Wheaton High School student, said her parents forbade her to drive her Mustang except to work when gasoline hit 80 cents a gallon a few weeks ago.
People don't seem to be angry. They are coping. It takes a little searching for a station with gas, they say, but you can always get it.
And some even seem to think there's a good side to it all. Belle Scott is one of those. "It's no wonder the doctors are becoming multi-millionaires," she said. "We're not getting any physical exercise. Everybody's hopping in their cars." Now, she said, people are walking more.
This area of Wheaton seems truly designed for people hopping in their cars. Hundreds of cars race in terrifying surges along three major highways-Viers Mill Road, University Boulevard, and Georgia Avenue-that make a triangle near the sprawling parking lot of Wheatlon Plaza.
There isn't even a crosswalk at Viers Mill and University. Pedestrians scurry illegally and desperately across four or six lanes of traffic in mid-blocks.
The commercial strips along these highways date back to the 1950s, and they are arranged with strips of parking between the stores and the highways-ancestors of the great shopping centers that came later.
While shopkeepers and store managers in the area said yesterday that business hasn't fallen off, they also said that traffic was light for a Saturday and had been light all week.
Mobil dealer Marc Aguirre, whose station is located at Viers Mill Road and University Boulevard and who watches traffic closely, said it might have been as little as half normal yesterday.
Belle Scott said that commuter traffic on Georgia Avenue has been light all week and that parking in the area has been unusually heavy because people apparently were leaving their cars and taking the bus down Georgia Avenue into town.
She said that car pooling has increased.
Andy Moran, who was sitting next to Scott at Bob's, said the gas crunch has forced him to change his commuting habits. Moran used to drive several miles to Silver Spring, park and catch a Metro subway to his downtown job.
Now he leaves the car home and takes a nearby bus. "I'm saving $1.35 a day parking-and that's not including gas and wear and tear on the car and mental hassle," he said.
Across the street, Crown bookstore manager Mike Sloan said that he and his wife, who used to drive to work in their separate cars from Germantown, now share one car.
At Hugh T. Peck Properties Inc. at 11300 Georgia Ave. real estate agent Joy Bloomfield said the office manager has instructed agents to make sure that potential customers are financially qualified to buy a house before burning gasoline to drive a long distance to show it.
"We're more reluctant to run out to Gaithersburg to show a house," Bloomfield said.
Hazel White, who was shopping in the Safeway across the street from the Peck office, said her house islocated far from the bus line and she and her husband are too old to walk to the bus. So he has continued to commute by car to his downtown job, she said, and she takes a cab to work.
Robert Gavin, a salesman at the big Woodward/Lothrop store in Wheaton Plaza, said he has noticed that business has been unusually good during the evening this week and advanced a theory to explain it: the bus from the Silver Spring Metro subway station stops at Woodies, and Gain thinks people who park in the Woodies lot and then take the bus to the Metro station may be stopping in to do some shopping on their way home.
On a tree-lined street in a nearby residential area, Red Fanning was changing the shocks of a '75 Impala.
"Cost me $19.35 last night for a tank of unleaded," he complained. "If I could afford it I'd get a smaller car but a new small car costs $4,000 to $7,000 and my Impala wouldn't bring much."
Fanning said his wife has cut down on shopping trips and other driving but this is difficult because she must ferry four children to three different schools and also tend to their other needs.
Fanning himself has to drive to work in Bethesda because he has to be there early. To get there by bus would require several transfers and he would have to leave home at 5:30 a.m. to do it, he said.
Across the street, Pauline Greco looked up from her gardening and said, "I think it's a big hoax. When the price goes up enough, [there won't be a shortage] . . .I don't blame Carter, either. It's the oil companies.