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If you watch any of the old television shows from the 1950s, one of the attractions is the "new cars" driven by the characters. Those '57 Chevys, '56 Caddies, '58 Fords, and '59 Vettes that are considered ultra-classics these days were the cars you bought right from the dealer's showrooms in those days.
Today, they cost many times what they did then.
As beautiful and classic as they may be, it is unlikely that any of them could consistently manage to get 15 or 16 miles per gallon of gasoline. Of course, gasoline in those days could be had for 18 or 20 cents a gallon. It was the fuel for America's love affair with the big car ... and big they were. Sometimes, those front seats were wide enough to accommodate four adults.
Was that the era of conspicuous consumption? Perhaps. Fast forward to our decade. Take a look around. Those beautiful old cars have been replaced - with big SUVs, big trucks and big motor homes. Now, as then, some of the vehicles are lucky to consistently average 16 miles per gallon of gas. There's only one little difference: gasoline prices may be headed for $4 a gallon before the summer is out, and perhaps even higher. Gas in some European countries is approaching the $9 level.
Think about it this way. In one of these 16-mile-per gallon vehicles, a round trip from Perry County to Evansville and back could easily consume 8 gallons of gasoline. At $4 a gallon, that's a cost of $32 in gasoline. That makes the trip to Evansville for shopping and lunch an expensive proposition, and it certainly illustrates the value of doing business at home.
It also illustrates something else: short-sightedness. It is difficult to imagine that no one in the senior ranks of government and economics could anticipate the escalation in oil prices that has occurred in the past several years, and which now shows no sign of abating. Somehow, the love affair with big vehicles has continued during this period. Until now, that is.
Compare the same trip to Evansville with that in a small car that delivers 60 miles per gallon (such cars do exist and with good old American know-how, that number can probably top 75 miles per gallon if the engineers rolled up their sleeves and got to work). The same trip would cost $8, leaving $24 in your pocket.
The time has come when we must face reality and $4 gasoline will certainly crimp the budgets of most Perry County families. We've loved our big vehicles for a long time now, but their time may be running out. It's probably time we learn to think small, or else we'd better have plenty of cash on hand to keep the affair alive.
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