The Washington Post

Gas prices and pumpable plastic

Spring is just exploding around here at the Ides of March. The tulips across the street are standing at attention. The birds are in May mode. I’m worried a hurricane may blow in. Baseball season hasn’t even started yet but I have a sudden hankering to go on summer vacation. Do NOT share this information but I’ve already switched to white pants and bow ties. Talk about March Madness!

The other day I drove around the Shenandoah Valley talking to people about gas prices. Story should run any day now. I like the old-school journalism in which you go around and talk to people and jot down their quotes in the trusty Reporter’s Notebook. I’m not sure there’s really a business model for this kind of reporting anymore. But it’s always nice to talk to people who aren’t part of a public relations operation and haven’t had media training. And I learned something. I pulled over and talked to a guy who was pumping something out of a rail car into a tanker truck. I assumed he was pumping some kind of fluid, but no: He was pumping tiny plastic pellets. Each pellet was roughly the size of a grain of kosher salt. The plastic pellets came from Texas by rail, to Winchester, and he was transferring the stuff in the tanker truck to a factory where they make plastic bins. Eventually those bins will wind up at Wal-Mart or the Container Store or wherever plastic bins are sold. And I guess I didn’t know plastic could be shipped like that, or pumped.

I need to learn more about how civilization works.

About gas prices, I don’t worry about them, personally, because I have my ingenious system in which I spend precisely $20 when I go to the gas station. This way I never have to pay more for gas. I don’t know why more people don’t try this.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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