Some people can get up at day break and spend an hour in a gasoline line with only minimal inconvenience. Others, who must live according to different working and sleeping schedules, are greatly inconvenienced.
Richard O. Pellerin of Falls Church has an idea that would keep stations open for twice as many hours: Stations whose addresses end in an odd number would be open only on odd days, those with even numbers would be open only on even days. Being closed on alternate days would give each station twice as much gas to sell on its "open" days, so its hours of availability to the public would be doubled.
I have received many other suggestions for alleviating the gasoline shortage, but so far no magic solution has surfaced Consider this letter:
"Whether the shortage was artificially induced by the oil companies or came about as the natural consequence of governmental interference and ineptness, the fact remains that gas is hard to get. The entire economy is going to come to a grinding halt if we don't take prompt action.
"All nonessential businesses and activities must therefore be curtailed, or stopped entirely in some cases, so that a sufficient amount of energy will be available for essential driving, heating and the operation of machinery. We must act now."
If that sounds profound and persuasive, take a second look at it.
Who will decide what is essential and what isn't? Who will decide what to curtail and what to stop entirely? If an inept government caused the problem, how will the same inept government cure it?
"Pleasure driving" is an easy target. Write a legal definition of it if you can. If you visit grandma at a nursing home, is that a pleasure trip? How about Sunday dinner at your mother's house? Dinner at a restaurant? A trip to the movies? A trip to the beach? To RFK Stadium? To the Kennedy Center? To the racetrack?
One man's pleasure is another man's livelihood.
How many millions of people would we throw out of work or drive into bankruptcy if we declared all these activities unessential? And who among us will be the first to step forward and say, "What I do is not essential. Cut me off first."
The hard truth is that world population has been rising at a phenomenal rate. Natural resources that seemed infinite just 50 years ago are now seen to be terrifyingly finite.
Obviously, we must become more frugal in our use of irreplaceable energy sources, and more enterprising in our search for alternatives. But how will we do this?
It has been said that bungling by the Department of Energy has made the gasoline problem worse than it needed to be. If the charge is true, DOE's bungling may be a blessing in disguise. It forced us to recognize our problem while there was still time to make orderly adjustments.
The gas shortage has made people aware that our natural resources are dwindling and that we must assign a top priority to developing alternative sources of energy.
The problem is that the government is too big to react quickly or effectively. Let me give you an example.
Readers reported to me that Chris Core and Bill Trumbull of WMAL had interviewed a Kansas teacher who had modified automobile engines in such a way they would run 240 miles on a gallon of gasoline. Subsequently, some 300 listeners had phoned to comment on the program and ask why the government hadn't put money into the idea to get it into production.
The Kansan turned out to be Don Novak, an instructor at Wichita State University. I talked to him and he repeated to me the gist of what he had told WMAL's listeners. He said that he, too, had received hundreds of inquiries.
"Were any of them from the government?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, "there were a couple from the Department of Energy, but nothing came of it."
I phoned DOE and tried to find out who had called. It was suggested that Paul Brown might know. He is in charge of such matters. Brown is assistant director of the Office of Transportation and head of the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle System Programs in the Conservation and Solar Applications Division of the Department of Energy. The length of that title alone tells you a great deal about DOE.
Had Brown heard about the WMAL interview? No. Now that it had been brought to his attention and he had been supplied with the Kansan's phone number, would he call? No. It's up to Novak to call Brown. "If he calls, we'll certainly listen to him. We get hundreds of calls and letters, you know, but if he calls, we'll talk to him."
Don Novak, 316 - 685-9627, call Paul Brown on 202 - 376-4681. He's not going to call you. That's just not the way governments operate.