If I learned one thing from The Great Gas Panic of 2021, it’s that fear and greed can push product demand over the top, as well as cloud good judgment and common sense.
To be honest, I also learned not to let the gas gauge get below a quarter of a tank.
On Black Monday, I woke up early, worked ahead and climbed into the truck for a trip to Charlotte, N.C., to see the kid and take her to lunch for her 25th birthday. For those who have followed along over the years and wonder how she’s doing, she’s doing great, working at an aquarium, diving in tanks with sharks and failing to keep her car registration up to date.
I changed out the wiper blades that were slapping loose rubber all over the windshield and headed toward the interstate. I pulled into a truck stop to top off and grab a cup a-Joe, as the old truck-driving songs go.
An announcement inside said some lucky long-hauler’s shower was ready. Having had mine before leaving the house, I paid up and took off.
Business at the pumps was normal as I drove away.
I dialed up Texas musician/online DJ Jesse Dayton’s station on the Gimme Country app (Jesse often reminds listeners to tell their friends it’s free, so it’s free, friends) and pointed the dashboard hula girl toward the Queen City.
The kid and I had a fine time. We ate a couple of overpriced burgers in a fancy “village square” ringed by restaurants and shops frequented by people with more money than I have. We hit a couple of Goodwill stores and hunted for treasures before we headed back to her house, hugged each other’s necks, and I pointed the dashboard hula girl toward home.
During my visit, I continued to perform small-town newspaper editor’s duties remotely, reading local copy and pushing pages down the line.
I paid no attention to state or national news. Jesse Dayton isn’t exactly NPR, so I got no updates from Lakshmi Singh on the way back.
Finally, a little road weary, I pulled off the home exit. A little ways down the road, I encountered a massive traffic jam on a two-lane stretch of road not known for massive traffic jams.
“What in the …?”
The gas station was full of cars, and the line extended down the road past the entrances to the dental office, the funeral home and the barbecue joint. Those may sound like odd neighbors, but they all do quality work.
In the gas-station parking lot, people were filling tanks, jugs and cans.
Close to the house, I encountered another store. The line of cars was even longer, snaking past the produce store and disappearing around the curve at the cemetery, where I figured the dead had risen from their graves to launch the zombie apocalypse and the end of civilization as we knew it.
What else could explain this sudden panic?
It turns out, news reports and social media could. I learned upon arriving home that hackers had shut down a pipeline, which would cut off some of the gas supply for a few days, so everyone decided to buy all the gas they could at one time and create a shortage.
People bought a lot of gas. More than they needed. Fear and greed sold a lot of petrol, which got me to thinking …
ATTENTION, CITIZENS: Newspaper shortages are imminent. Buy as many as you can. You do not want to be without newspapers. Buy 10 copies of this one. You may be able to sell them on the black market for a whopping profit. Repeat, buy more newspapers. Better yet, go to our website and sign up for a digital subscription. That way, you will know when the next gas shortage or zombie apocalypse will occur.
Don’t be caught off guard like me. Stay informed, panic and BUY NEWSPAPERS.
A humor columnist, Scott Hollifield is editor and general manager of The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.