When Exxon driver John Hinton wheels his tractor-trailer rig with 3,100 gallons of gasoline onto the highway, he becomes a sort of modern-day pied piper.
Motorists trail behind him and stop him at red lights to ask where he is bound, each one hoping to find an oasis of gasoline and short lines in the midst of the fuel shortage.
"People flock around me like flies," says Hinton, 36, his hair slicked back and his eyes hidden by a pair of plastic sunglasses. "Still, it doesn't bother me none. If it did, i wouldn't do it."
Hinton picks up gasoline at the Newington, Va., storage tanks and transports it with his gleaming white "Road Boss" to gas stations in Maryland, the District, Northern Virginia and West Virginia.
When he pulls off the road to unload his cargo at a station, there is usually a tril of motorists right behind him. Even at his home in Clinton, Md., the neighbours hover around him, asking where they can go to fill up their tanks.
"I tell them," says Hinton, "to talk to the dealers i've been dealing with." If he had any inside knowledge about where to get gasoline, he noted, he would use it himself. Instead, like everyone else, he waits in line at a Clinton station, sometimes for as long as 45 minutes, when he wants to fill up his '72 pickup truck.
Hinton says his line of work has not provided him with any insights into the cause of the nattions gasoline problems. "Everytime i pick up the paper or turn the station i get a different story," he says. No one at work has offered any explanations, so he just listens to the radio reports.
If some people are profiting from the gasoline shortage Hinton knows he is not among them. He no longer collects overtime because there is no gasoline to haul on weekends or holidays.