Invest in the gas tank

Thursday, April 18, 2002

You can forget the stock market, sell the farm, cash in the lousy 401K.

Buy gas. Good gravy, if corn prices were to go up at the rate gasoline did when spring hit, farmers would be rolling in the dough. If your stock portfolio shot up about 30 percent in a couple hours, you would be a financial genius.

Buy gas. Sell it for whatever the heck you want. Doesn't seem to matter.

Don't ask me why gas prices go up and down more than Microsoft from day to day.

Don't ask me why gas at a Storm Lake station can be five cents higher than the same station seven miles down the road in Alta, or 11 cents more than it is a short drive away in Pomeroy. It's like Stonehenge, it's just meant to be beyond the understanding of we normal people, and you'll just hurt your brain trying to figure it out.

It is enough to know this: No matter where you fill up, you will find gas cheaper at the next station you pass.

And people will buy it, come hell or high octane.

Personally, I haven't forgiven the last gas crisis yet.

Before I was old enough for a driver's permit, along comes the crisis. Those grand musclecars disappeared overnight, and along came used Vegas, Pintos and the like with little pine tree air fresheners.

Just look at what it did to the car names. The tough, aggressive beasts of my older brother's days - like Charger, Cobra, 'Cuda, Stingray, Roadrunner, Javelin, 'Judge' and so on - were gone.

Today, we have Sonatas, Contour, Focus, Breeze, Vibe, Matrix, Insight. Smooth, soothing, introspective cars.

What will this gas "spike" take away from us?

Not the monster SUVs that are bigger than our houses... say it isn't so. We never imagined it would be a problem to choose a car vehicle that measures economy in gallons per mile instead of miles per gallon. So what if our soccer mom trucks get slightly less mileage than the space shuttle?

Every time the gas prices pop up, of course, the talk rises of electric and solar cars. The technology has been around for over a generation, but it isn't really happening.

There's just something too satisfying about the old internal combustion engine, the ability to tromp the pedal and leave pedestrians in a cloud of fossil fuel emissions.

The politicians wax philosophic about energy, no doubt from the back seat of a prestige limo going through more gas than our publisher after a bean burrito.

It doesn't take an economist to figure it out. This country sucks oil at the rate of almost 20 million barrels of it every day, and our current maximum capacity for domestic oil production is 8 million barrels.

We depend on foreign oil for going on 60 percent of

our supply, and at the bottom end of the boom-and-bust cycle, we get shafted at the pump.

Every Washington politician is repeating the mantra "national energy policy," but that chatter has gone on for over 30 years now. Pretty tough sledding to dictate policy when you live by someone else's juice.

Gas prices will eventually back off a little, we'll forget about it for a while, and then complain some more at the next price spike - unless the stuff hits $10 bucks, nobody's going to carpool and endure someone else's Aqua Velva.

In the meantime, presidential and congressional type people will come to Iowa every once in a while to get everyone excited about ethanol, soy diesel, biomass and wind power. Big oil still pays a lot of re-election bills, hoss.

Environmental type people make all kinds of noise about conserving and energy efficiency, but nobody's really willing to turn down the AC.

There's power aplenty in Iowa's corn fields, soybean fields, renewable biomass and the persisting plains winds. It's "green" energy, and the Iowa farm belt is a lot more stable than the Persian Gulf.

So maybe, when we are reduced to driving cars called "the 2005 Hyundi Wuss," and the price of a gallon of gas passes the price of a gallon of milk, our country will realize it.

The answer's been right here all along.