The Saturday love triangle between the suburbanite, his car and the shopping center held fast yesterday in the Washington area despite the intrusion of long lines at gasoline stations, station closings and admonitions to conserve energy.
John and Lynn Crivello after a discussion of the gasoline shortage got in their car and drove one mile to the Landmark Shopping Center in Alexandria to buy a cake pan. "We should have walked," he said in the parking lot.
Bob and Debbie Peck of Arlington telephoned the J.C. Penney store at Springfield Mall to find out if an order of clothing had arrived. When they were put on hold, they decided to drive 10 miles to the store to find out for certain what the problem was.
And a middle-age couple from Georgetown drove to Tysons Corner yesterday - a distance of about 15 miles - to buy a loaf of bread. "Isn't that asinine?" said the woman with the bread, who refused to give her name out of what she said was embarrassment. Her husband said he thought over the gasoline situation yesterday morning and decided to make an unnecessary trip anyhow."
Participants in the Saturday suburban rite of searching for a parking space and strolling through a shopping mall typically paid lip service to the gas crunch, but said things hadn't gotten so bad that they couldn't do their shopping.
Malls across the metropolitan area yesterday reported normal to heavy business for a Saturday. And Saturday business, according to police and traffic experts, is always a source of traffic headaches.
In Virginia, there are more fatal crashes on Saturday than any other day, according to the state highway department. Police say the traffic then has no peaks - it gets heavy about noon and stays bad until 6 pm.
"The gas shortage hasn't made any difference in the number of the Saturday drivers," said Fairfax County police officer David A Stopper, who's patroled the Tysons Corner area for eight years. And on Saturdays they still drive a little weird."
Stopper has seen a 5-foot, 3-inch woman hit a 6-foot, 2-inch man in the face with a tire iron in a Saturday morning dispute over a parking place at Tysons Corner. He has seen several people on Saturdays drive their car dirextly into each other rather than give up a parking place in a shopping center.
"People do dumb things on Saturday." said Stopper. "They don't always know where they are going in the shopping center parking lots." Stopper has been people on Saturdays make U-turns on freeway on-ramps to get back to a shopping center exit that they missed!
"On Saturdays,there seems to be a little bit of a different aura," said Stopper.
Exactly what that aura is is not well understood by traffic experts.
"This is one of those things that transportation planners hate to say, but we don't know much about Saturday traffic." said Ron Sarros, assistant director of transportation for the Washington Council of Governments.
Sarros said that local jurisdictions in the Washington area and across the country tolerate traffic congestion on Saturdays "as a way of life. It is not cost effective to make changes on the highway for Saturday shoppers. The journey to work is more important than the trip to the store," Sarros said.
Beacuse it is not deemed important, local jurisdiction don't keep counts of Saturday traffic. In Virginia in 1978, one statewide survey of traffic showed that only on Thursday and Friday did as many cars clog highways as on Saturdays.
The gasoline shortage - which is expected to close about 90 percent of the gas stations in the Washington area today and which has raised prices for a gallon of regular gas from 10 to 15 cents in the past four months - encouraged many drivers to hit the roads yesterday. Some motorists said they had hoped other drivers would be scared off and traffic would be light.
Ron Hastings, who works for the post office in Washington and lives in Alexandria, rented a Cougar with a full tank of gas "because I figured those rent-a-car places would always have gas." Then he went on a shopping and sightseeing tour of Washington.
"I've got friends to visit in Rockville and I want to see what Mount Vernon looks like," Hastings said. He said that when he ran out of gas he would drop the car at the rental agency.
Many shoppers interviewed yesterday said that, although they decided to drive their car, they were trying to plan their trips so they could get as much shopping possible out of each gallon of gas.
Roy Page, president of the Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Gasoline Dealers Association, said the big change he's noticed in consumer habits related to gasoline shortages is growing surliness.
"We are finding that the consumer will complain loudly and go ahead and buy gasoline. They have had no change in their driving habits," Page said.
As cars looking for empty parking spaces circled like buzzards yesterday in the Tysons Corner Shopping Center parking lot, Jim Herrmann of Alexandria, stood by his yellow Mercedes 280-C and said he knew what the oil companies were trying to do.
"The oil companies are saying to us, We are going to fool you, Mr. Consumer. We are going to gradually increase the price of gasoline until it hits a dollar and as we do it we are going to pretend there is a shortage."
Herrmann said the oil companies might as well raise the price to a dollar and "be done with it." Then, he said, there won't be the lines on Saturdays at the gas station.