THEN THERE WAS the one about the fellow at the Gulf station: having waited his way to the head of the line, he discovered there was a $5 limit on the amount of gasoline a customer could buy. So he produced a sawed-off shotgun, waved it around, got $10 worth - and sped away. Minus the weapon, there were other equally hot confrontations, scuffles, cut-in-ahead-ofs, obscene gestures and the rest, as motorists clutched, in the most unautomotive sense of that word, and stormed gas stations at first word of a prospective dip in available gas over the weekend. But the awful part has yet to be stated. It is that this wasn't California . It was here.
Yes, Washington, D.C. and environs - home of the Energy Department and the American Petroleum Institute and the Senate Finance Committee and an unending supply, if not of unleaded gas, at least of unsolicited advice about how other Americans should behave in the face of the coming shortages: Pull up your socks! Quit topping your tank! For Godssakes, do something about your awful, profligate life style ! And so forth. You probably won't believe this, but even we ourselves have from time to time, dropped one on Califfornia, suggesting that those golden surfers of the national imagination face up to reality and accept their rightful, unhoggish place in the great national gas line - no more, no less. And now this.
It is too humiliating, and, frankly, there is no way out of accepting the moral burden Saturday and Sunday's events imply. True, the gentleman with the shotgun at least was, by police accounts, driving a Florida car. But to dwell on that is only to seek refuge in a technicality. Far too many people in this region behaved brutishly in those gas lines (and some by the mere act of unnecessarily joining and elongating them) over the weekend. This is at least worth mulling over as you consider whether to charge out to the next open filling station you can find, wielding an ax for the purpose of gaining a top-off cup and a half of gas to ensure your peace of mind as you drive a few dozen extra miles for no particular purpose. What you should consider is this: Don't do it.
Nevertheless, however much this and other regions may yet reform, what's done is done. So the terrible new truth is that California now stands absolved of certain distinctive breaches of petroleum etiquette that a grateful nation never tried of charging her with. We are all Californians now. Or, in the profound and prophetic thinking of one of her best-known native sons: everybody does it.