A steep | Dave Molter

Here’s a joke for you: four writers get into a van. They are on their way to visit a Ford F-150 pickup truck assembly plant in Norfolk, Virginia. They’ve never met before, so they break the ice by complaining about gas prices.

“It’s awful!” says the first writer. “I can’t afford to drive anymore!”

“Tell me about that!” writer number two responds. “I have three kids that I have to drive into town to football games!”

“I wish I hadn’t bought that SUV by now!” said the third.

After a brief pause, the fourth writer, from the Netherlands, said softly, “You know…I’ve been paying $4 a gallon for years.”

“Yes, but it’s America!” says writer number two.

I was one of those writers. It was 1999, and the average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in the United States had just hit $1.17.

This trip came to mind last week after paying $4.15 a gallon for gas on my way home from a meeting. Typically, I forgot to buy gas before leaving. When I got home, the red needle on my fuel gauge was just below “E”.

So I stopped at the first station I found. I don’t drive much and the previous time I bought gas I paid $3.65 a gallon. I was not happy. I remember when gas was 28 cents a gallon. I could fill up my Volkswagen Beetle for less than $3 and drive all week. When gas soared to the then unthinkable price of 45 cents a gallon during the OPEC oil embargo in 1974, I stood in line every other day to buy the number of gallons allowed that day. Traveling musician at the time, I had no choice.

The day I wrote this column, I paid $4.29 a gallon for gas. I still wasn’t happy, but in the face of adversity I try to keep what the Brits call a “stiff upper lip”. The saying comes from the observation that when you are ready to cry, your upper lip quivers. “Stiff upper lip, old man! To continue!”

Stiff upper lips helped the British overcome the German Blitz in World War II. Contemporary America, I think, lacks a collective stiff upper lip.

Unable to cope with the prospect of Major League Baseball being canceled or being asked to wear face masks for a while, our upper lips quiver. In the face of high but still falling gas prices, on average, $3 a gallon below those of most “Western” countries, we cry, “But this is America!”

Contemporary Americans would never have survived the nearly six years of rationing of food, gasoline, and other commodities that our ancestors endured during World War II.

Stiff upper lip, America! It might help keep our mouths shut.

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