The gas station receipts in the glove compartment tell the tale of a costly road trip in this, the summer of every American driver's discontent.
Aug. 2, in Madison, Wis.: $2.11 a gallon. Aug. 8, in Mifflinburg, Pa.: $2.33 a gallon. Aug. 18, in Greenbelt, Md.: $2.75 a gallon -- "The highest price I ever paid for gas in my life," said Michael Bergstrom, a retired Xerox Corp. employee who traveled with his wife from St. Paul in a Ford F-250 hauling a 21-foot RV.
There may be little comfort in shared misery, but the sting from record-shattering gas prices is, if nothing else, indiscriminate -- breaching state lines and income brackets.
A suburban family feels the pinch and finds itself eating Mom's home cooking more often. A lawn-mowing business makes a little less money each time prices inch up another penny. An office supply delivery company makes a lot less. A pleasure boat owner tries to save fuel by carrying less drinking water on board.
To these stories of individual woe, add the hardship of entire industries. Airlines are boosting ticket prices to combat rising fuel costs. National delivery companies are scolding drivers who leave their trucks idling and tacking on surcharges for consumers. Retailers, worried about the price of air conditioning their stores, are adjusting profit predictions.
It wasn't so bad a year ago, when unleaded gas was $1.88 a gallon in the Washington region. Then five months ago it crossed the $2 mark, and by the end of last week a gallon of gas was within sight of $3, averaging $2.67.
That leaves drivers struggling to cope with the frustration and sacrifice that comes with a $50 tank of gas -- and wondering how long this will last.