The inconvenient circle of hell

A specter is haunting the U.S. The specter of gas prices.

Topics: Globalization, How the World Works, Alternative Energy,

Fifteen reporters on a single byline?! What could possibly have happened? Did China bomb Pearl Harbor? Or is President Bush having an affair with an intern?

Worse than that, actually. High gas prices.

According to Wednesday’s USA Today, high gas prices are a “nightmare” imperiling “the autonomy, convenience and privacy” of Americans. So the paper dispatched a score of reporters around the nation for some grass-roots coverage of what “the great gasoline price spike of 2006″ really means.

Readers of How the World Works know that, while we readily acknowledge that gas prices hit the pocketbook hard, they also pack a delightful double whammy: simultaneously making the White House look stupid and alternative energy technologies seem smart. But we forgot that they also send American drivers straight to the hitherto overlooked tenth circle of Dante’s Inferno — the inconvenient circle. Clearly, hell hath no fury like the commuter forced to carpool. The USA Today article is a litany of complaint and despair that makes one fear for the sanity of SUV drivers from Key West, Fla., to Nome, Alaska. We may have to change our profligate ways: Heads, no doubt, are soon to roll.

The funny thing is, if you read past the over-the-top ominous beginning, the story is actually a pretty good summary for anyone interested in learning how the entire economy is bound, eventually, to take a severe hit if gas prices continue to rise. Landscaping services that depend on electric mowers are hurting — as are restaurants that use gas jets to cook their food. It’s enough to make one reread James Kunstler’s portents of impending doom with a newly approving eye. If people are this upset and frazzled when gas prices hit $3 a gallon, how are they going to handle it when the price goes to $5? Or $10? Truly, the SUV driver who lives in the suburbs will go straight to the endangered species list (and boy, won’t we see some nimble congressional action to save the poor critters then!).

You Might Also Like

And there are a couple of choice sound bites that tell you that the average American has a pretty good idea of whom to blame:

Chris Frantz, suburban computer: “Oil companies. Billions of dollars in profits for Mobil Oil? Come on. It’s them.”

Steve Rose, co-owner of M&M Lawn Maintenance: “The people who have the power to do something about it are the people who are making money from it today.”

And then, finally, the happy ending. Because it turns out that the four people forced to carpool at the beginning of the story find out that, hey, it’s not so bad. Linda Burnett, the mom, used to worry about sleeping when her daughter was driving. But not anymore —

“Now, with two others to keep the driver company, Burnett can get her rest. And when neither mother nor daughter are driving, Jennifer can join her. Gas prices may be a nightmare, but for the Burnetts, carpooling works like a dream.”

You see, that’s the great thing about Americans. For us, inconvenience might be the Great Satan, but we’re also adaptable. We’ll get used to it. Even as we lop off a few of the nearest heads.

Andrew Leonard
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>