Sunday, April 23, 2006

Three dollar gas? not quite yet

Well here we go again with shocking gas price hikes, just in time for the summer driving crush. Funny how it's always something unusual in the world that they use for an excuse to tickle those numbers up a dime a day or more. Last fall it was the hurricanes destroying gulf production capacity, then a major pipeline down, then couldn't get the right grades and blendsto the right places (thanks a lot, EPA, for creating such a smorgasbord of varied state requirements no oil company can accomodate them all) because of shipping problems, etc. This year it's China's accelerated industrialization and demand for oil, the usual Mideast uncertainties, Iran's nuclear ambitions (while Brazil practically has the deed in hand unnoticed), and the shock value of a crude now over $75/barrel for the first time.

It's the big oil companies' greed, my wife insists. Look at their obscene profits! And they're coddled and favored by the Republicans, especially the "ohl bidness" White House in cahoots with them. They haven't the capacity to produce enough even if they could get it cheap, CNN says. They haven't built a new refinery in decades. I asked my eldest son why. "Nimby," he said. "Not In My Back Yard. Nobody wants one where they live."

As I checked our tiny price cards on pumps in our prissy town which doesn't allow signs big enough to see from the street, I watched the prices climb closer and closer through the week to the magic $3.00 figure. That, according to history, seems to be the psychological turn off the trips number for many of us--especially those of us who well remember the $2.29 we were paying just a few weeks ago, even if we've pretty much forgotten the $2.95 we paid after Wilma last October. The Sun Sentinel, our local Ft. Lauderdale paper, suggested we go online and Google "Cheapest gas by zip code" to find the sites listing best prices in our area.

When I checked the tire pressure for the minivan tires at 7/11 this evening, I noted they were selling gas for 2.99 , still unwilling to make the big three dollar declaration till the other stations all do, probably tomorrow. So I went online and used Google. It came up pretty easily with a number of sites, some of which were pretty outdated. But the best site I found was I plugged in my zip and found a nearby Citgo selling for 2.89 and a Shell selling for 2.93, so I went to the Citgo first and filled up our nearly-empty tank for 2.89/gallon.

But I wasn't the only one there. The lines reminded me of last fall after Wilma: very high stress, very angry drivers jockeying and honking for position, and lots of them. Last fall the cops had to maintain order at the pumps in our town, and I wouldn't be surprised to see those times return, even though there's presumably no shortage of fuel or stations selling it. It's the general panic buying we always get in our cities when we feel our lifestyle may be threatened or that we're losing control over events in our lives. Suddenly our friends and neighbors become the competition and we go into our Survivor mode, making sure that whatever happens, we get ours.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spell Ickey with an M

Wow, three parks in two days (four if we include the sock hop/Easter festivities at the grans): Sea World Thursday, then park hopping from Epcot to MGM then back to Epcot. What a weekend!

There are many ways to react to the Orlando theme parks, probably as many as there are people who flock to them. And everyone comes away with different impressions-- good and bad--even if they have similar experiences. For me this time, though there are so many things they do so well and make complexity and sophistication of design and engineering look effortless and natural, there were a couple of things that kind of put me off: food service (an oxymoron) and the ubiquitous Mickeyprint on everything but spit. I elaborate:

When I tried to get some coffee at a refreshment stand in MGM, though there were five employees--oops, cast--serving only two customers, I waited behind one, at the only counter in the shade. After that customer left, I stepped forward, but the server told me to move around to the front counter instead. So I did, and stood behind the only other customer being served. Again I waited till it was my turn, but then was told to step back and let two or three other customers who were leaning across the front counter form a line ahead of me. The five "cast", only one of which was serving, insisted we all cue up in one straight line in the sun and wait. I left and went to a restaurant.

As to Mickey, I should mention that as a compulsive writer and sometime sketch artist, I often like to take notes and sketch, and usually carry some index cards in my pocket for that purpose. Yesterday, however, I forgot the cards and tried to buy some when I got to MGM. I couldn't find any blank cards at the souvenir stands, so I went to the info booth at the front of the park and asked if there was anywhere I could get them.

They sent me to a five and ten cent store nearby, which had only Mickey imprinted pads for $6.00 or so, but those people sent me to the back of the park to another stand, which also had only Mickey imprints, and they in turn sent me back to the entrance stores, this time to Mickey of Hollywood. You guessed it: Mickey again. But the manager was very helpful, and eager to assist me. She suggested the gift shop at the Tower of Terror, other end again, for some plain sheets. You guessed it, not so. Mickey in pink, Mickey in blue, Mickey in everything they had. There was nowhere I could go to get a plain memo pad or index cards in the whole park, just as there is no grocery, no drug store, no sundries facility in all of MGM Disney. There is only Mickey, Mickey, Mickey! Mickey makes me Sickey!

We went back to Epcot for the fireworks. I raced around the World trying to spot memo pads and finally found several varieties at the Japan stores. By then it was too dark and late to use them, but I bought four pocket pads of plain paper for $2.55 each just on principle.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Kin only keystrokes away

Last night the computer phone rang. Our eldest son Dr. Steve was about to blow out his birthday candles and open his presents, and thanks to the advances in videophone technology, we got to see and hear him do it and join in just like being in his living room. Scott, his younger brother, got Barb a nifty webcam for her birthday that let them see and hear us as well, and we had fun. Though they live about five hours north of us, it was very clear, full duplex communication--something that the media had said was coming for many years but never seemed to be good enough to be practical and enjoyable till this past year or so, with the advent of programs like Google chat and Skype. For Grandma K. and Grandpa K. it was sheer pleasure to watch the grandkids cavort and honor their dad. CJ ran their video camera and Mackenzie took digital camera shots...imagine that. Our grandchildren following the media tradition our whole family seems to have picked up since birth.

Thanks to the technology Barb and I enjoy today, as our children moved away to pursue lives of their own, our empty nest syndrome seemed much more mild than it was for our parents, who were just old enough to miss the whole computer thing completely. We, unlike they, have been able to chat and video and exchange images and clips, mpgs and other files with ease to our sons in Kissimmee, Beverly Hills (Florida) and Manhattan anytime, year-round, free, and easily; and since we all have cellphones with long distance standard, we can always get in touch with the whole fam no matter how far-flung they scatter. Granted, it's not as good as actually being there with them, but it's close.