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Covering All Bases: June 5, 2012

Gas Prices Dip: Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah

Once, I heard a story about a doctor who removed a splinter from the finger of a friend.  The doctor would normally have charged 50 dollars for the office visit, but his friend seemed to think that the services were performed free of charge. Perplexed, the doctor tried to determine how he could get paid for his services.

About a week later, a bill arrived in the patient’s mailbox. It requested payment for services rendered with an amount due of $4,000. Infuriated, the patient stormed to the doctor’s office and confronted the physician.

“This is the most outrageous thing I have ever seen,” he fumed. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself! This is flat-out thievery.”

“I’m so sorry,” replied the doctor. “Please forgive us. You see we have a new computer system and it has had quite a few bugs. It must have placed the decimal point in the wrong spot. Your bill is only $400. I would never charge $4,000 for an office visit. That would be extreme.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, the patient happily wrote the check.

“I knew there had to be a mistake,” he said, as he paid his bill and went merrily on his way.

Does this have anything to do with life on Long Island? Well, I filled up with gas last week. I try not to let my gas tank get too low, otherwise I have to apply for a loan, and that’s really a hassle.

So last week, as the fuel gauge needle positioned itself between the halfway and three-quarter marks, I followed my usual routine and pulled into a gas station. I exchanged pleasantries with the attendant, handed over $30, uttered a few expletives to myself and marched toward the pump to fill up the car.

However, something amazing happened. The tank clicked off before the meter reached $30. In fact, it stopped at $24.38—a magical number. I would have more than $5 of change left over. Excitedly, I looked up at the prices and saw the gas prices had fallen and the cost was now only $3.759 per gallon. Yes! Gas prices had fallen and I had five extra dollars in my pocket.

I almost leaped for joy as I headed back to the attendant to collect my change.

“You have a wonderful day,” I exclaimed as he handed me the precious $5.62.

It must have been a Memorial Day miracle, I thought, as I drove away. With the way gas prices have been rising, I was sure that the prices would approach $5 per gallon by the unofficial beginning of summer. Yet, somehow, they hadn’t and, in fact, they have dipped from the levels of a few weeks ago.

Never mind Ebenezer Scrooge and the visits from his former business partner and the three spirits and how he became kind instead of mean, and how Tiny Tim was saved and all that…blah, blah, blah. This was something to behold. This was tangible. This was a true holiday memory.

After I drove for exactly two blocks, it suddenly hit me. I had just paid more than $24 for less than half of a tank of gas. I had just paid $3.759 per gallon for gas. And even more so, I was happy about this!

A while ago, prices like this would have stirred outrage. Yet, because of the fear of high how prices might reach, and because they had indeed recently surged past $4 per gallon, I had no sense of angst about paying a measly $3.759 for a gallon of gas. Instead, I was thrilled.

Well played, oil companies. Well played.