Whether contained in a motion graphic or uttered by an anchor, the appearance of the phrase “pain at the pump” on television offers an unmistakable clue to what’s coming next. The networks and local affiliates use those four words to introduce stories featuring at least one (and probably all three) of the following components:
1. A profile of a motorist shocked by the current cost of using a large, truck-based vehicle as a passenger car in an environment designed and built on the mistaken assumption that cheap gasoline would be eternally available.
2. Advancement of the notion that we are entitled to an exemption from the law of supply and demand, that it’s reasonable to expect price relief even as our demand for a finite resource increases infinitely.
3. A subtle suggestion that practical steps taken to reduce personal fuel consumption must always be sacrifices or worse, are somehow unpatriotic.
I was mildly surprised, then, to see a package called, “Five reasons why the price of gas isn’t that bad” on the Big Red Eleven.
Of the reasons, my favorites were five, three and one. Speaking to No. 5, Savannah resident Lisa Reinhardt claimed limiting her car trips gave her more time to work in her garden. Al Stillings of Tybee Island took care of the third reason. He bought a bicycle and is now making trips to the post office under his own power. WTOC reporter Christy Hutchings set up the No. 1 reason, claiming many tourists, “come to town with family and friends,” yet travel in separate vehicles. “But not anymore,” Hutchings said. As proof, she produced a tourist from Arkansas, who testified that her party arrived “all in the same car together.” She also claimed they, “had a great trip,” despite having to share a conveyance.
The common thread between all three interviewees is their descriptions, not of unreasonable sacrifices or deviant behavior, but of practices common to daily life in America — before we became completely addicted to automobiles.
I’m almost certain gardening has been around for awhile now. Some folks apparently enjoy it. I’m told you can even grow food items, previously thought to be available only in supermarkets. Riding bicycles to take care of errands? That’s been with us for a couple years, too.
Cars filled with passengers? I’ve heard family stories about this kind of thing. There’s my mother’s tale of the missing mittens on a trip from South Georgia to Knoxville and the infamous “Incident at Pecan Creek” (don’t ask) from my father’s side. The cars were cramped, but the journeys were memorable.
Instead of producing a boilerplate story reinforcing the idea that we are victims of oil companies or speculators or anti-drilling environags or recalcitrant nations that won’t respect our right to their oil, WTOC offered a different viewpoint, reminding us we can adapt to the situation and, what’s more, enjoy doing it. After all, we’ve done it before.