Every day since the beginning of May, Don Kaylon has been shutting down his Bethesda Amoco service station as soon as he sells 3,200 gallons of gas. One day this past week, he closed at 6 p.m. another day at 4 p.m. and Friday at 2 p.m.
Yesterday, he shut down at noon.
The rapid drain on Kaylon's gas was typical of the panic-tinged demand hitting Washington-area services stations yesterday. Thousands of motorists, frightened by stories of shortages and closings today lined up for blocks and waited in some cases for more than an hour to fill up - or top - their tanks for Mother's Day
"People are going crazy - they are coming in here like maniacs," said M.C. Ceightel of the Embassy Gulf station at 22nd and P streets NW.
"They come rushing in here saying they have to have this or that right now," he said.
Not all of them get their wish. American Automoblie Association figures showed that 14 percent of Washington area stations were closed all day yesterday and that 86 percent were closed by 6 pm.
Today, AAA and local gas supply experts estimated, 90 percent of the stations in the area will be closed. For those who need to buy gas, it was expected that lines would be shortest in Virginia and longest in the District of Columbia, and that unleaded gas would be the hardest to find.
What made yesterday's gas rush worse, station managers and experts said, was that it didn't have to happen. "We're bringing it on ourselves,"said Glenn T. Lashley, a spokeman for the AAA. "Everyone is going and topping their tanks and waiting in line because they are afraid that all the gas is going to be shut off like during the 1973 Arab Oil embargo.
"But this is not the situation. There would not be a problem if drivers weren't panicking."
Although the May allocations of most area service stations have been cut by 10 to 20 percent compared to the same month last year, experts agree that there should be no serious supply shortages in the coming summer months.
However, service station managers said yesterday that serious shortages could occur in the Washington area by the end of the month if motorists exhaust the reduced allocations by boarding and panic-buying.
"The pipeline are not big enough to replenish the stations at a time like this." said Lashley.
"If we took care of all the people who wanted it," said Darell Wood of the Van Ness Gulf station in Northwest Washington, "we would dry up [our monthly supply] in three days."
Gasoline fever was easy to find at area stations yesterday. One Bethesda station manager said that at least 20 motorists stopped at his station yesterday to fill up their tanks with less than $1.50 worth of gas, using the excuse that their gas gauges were broken.
A man in a Mercedes Benz pulled into an Amoco station on River Road in Bethesda and demanded a fill-up, then, after the attendant topped his tank with less than two gallons of gas, grabbed the pump hose and spilled gas over the pavement in an attempt to add a few ounces more.
In another case, customers at a Rockville Exxon station, irritated by a [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] his sports car to the front of the gas line, picked the car up and carried it back to the street, according to the service station owner.
At the same station, P.G. Young said, as he waited in line to fill his gas tank in preparation for a Mother's Day trip, "I didn't think I was going to have to do it today, and then I chickened out. I was afraid I couldn't get back."
Police said they were flooded with calls from drivers, many of them from out of state, looking for open gas stations. Station owners said police were called to help close some stations where frustrated customers insisted on their gas.
Wood, owner of the Van Ness Gulf station, said some of his customers were so desperate that they attempted to fill their unleaded-only tanks with regular gas, despite the potential for damage to their cars.
Station owners interviewed yesterday said there was little they could do to stop the gas rush. Some stations forced customers to but at least $5 of gas, while others limited purchases to $5 or less.
Most said that they had no choice but to close their stations early on weekdays and Sunday. "I don't want to run out," said Henry Parker, owner of the Quality Service Station at South Capitol and M streets SE. "If people see me closed, they don't come in for the other services. I'll lose customers."
"It's almost impossible to open on Sundays or whenever ther aren't other stations open in the area," said Forest Pomeroy of Pomeroy's Amoco in Bethesda. "We try to be open at the same time as other stations. Otherwise, we'd be so flooded that, the police would have to help us close ."