Glug-glug-glug was the sound of $2.01-a-gallon gasoline being pumped into the belly of Phyllis and Paul Martin's giant Chevrolet Suburban yesterday.

"Last week, it was $1.89. It's ridiculous," said Paul Martin of Sterling. "What really gets me is that it is $2.06 over there and $2.01 here and they are both Shell. Ridiculous."

When Chevy Suburban drivers start noticing the price differences between gas stations, you know the stuff is getting expensive. After all, the Suburban gets an average of 14 mpg in the city.


But even though the price of gas is at a 23-year high, there were few angry words or riled-up customers to be found yesterday during a quick survey of area gas stations. At best, there was some resigned muttering at the pump.

"Milk prices go up. What are you going to do, stop drinking milk?" asked Phyllis Martin.

Martin said she needs her Suburban. "I need the third seat for my two teenage girls and a grandson. I also like the power of the truck. I would never go to a smaller car."

Glug-glug-click. The pump shuts off. The Martins' total: $51.48.

The price of a gallon of regular gasoline Friday hit an average of $1.95 nationally and $1.92 in the Washington area, according to AAA. In dollar terms, those prices are the highest levels ever, but adjusted for inflation, they are still well below the $3-a-gallon reached in March 1981. But now the inflation-adjusted prices have exceeded the levels that had been the second-highest, October 1990, when Saddam Hussein's army had rolled into Kuwait.

With demand running high despite the price increases, average national pump prices are likely to hit $2.10 a gallon within weeks, and they'll stay there, analysts say.

"The indignation should be there," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "We've got distractions other than gas prices now. If people did focus on gas prices, they would be angry. There are no good reasons for the prices we have."

Anderson said the price of crude oil may have hit a peak, but that expensive oil is still six weeks away from gasoline tanks.

At a Shell station at Route 7 and Dranesville Road in Fairfax County, one driver asked how their price could have risen a nickel between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. yesterday, even though there were no new fuel deliveries.

"I got a call from the main office to change the price, and I did," said station manager Norm Brown. "And I might get another call this afternoon to raise the price. I don't know." Brown said he spent time in Europe, where drivers pay the equivalent of $2 a quart for gasoline. "They pay it. It's nothing new to me."

"People aren't going to stop coming here unless the price is exorbitant," he said.

He meant when compared with other stations.

But some station owners do notice that there are slightly fewer customers buying a little less than usual.

"People who used to fill up, now they put $5 or $10 in," said Surjit Dhillon, a manager at a station in Loudoun County. "Maybe they stay home and ride the bike."

Dhillon said he tries to explain to his customers that he doesn't set the price. He said the gas station makes 5 cents to 7 cents profit on each gallon whether the price of a gallon is $1 or $2.

"Everybody's crying, everybody is fed up. But that is the price," he said.

That doesn't make it easier to pay, though.

District taxi driver Roberto Mendoza is one of those resigned mutterers. After all, what can he do about international crude prices?

A few weeks ago a full tank cost him $15. Any increase comes out of his side of the equation, he said.

"The gas is $25 a day, and you try to make $100 profit," he explained.

He shrugged and turned back toward the gas pump.