Pass the gas

With gasoline prices at record highs, a trip to the pumps can feel like a particularly efficient mugging. You stop at a gas station with an empty tank and leave with empty pockets.

Oil companies attribute higher prices to the war in Iraq and other overseas scares, but we consumers aren't so easily fooled. With Texas oilmen running the federal government, it's a pretty safe bet that domestic price-gouging will continue to be "overlooked."

Oilmen hope higher fuel prices will make military action in the Middle East and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge seem like good ideas to Americans who hear their life savings ding-ding into their gas tanks. We'll bomb our way out of high prices, or we'll plunder the Earth in search of more fuel. And caribou don't get to vote, except in Florida.

All the protest marches and angry e-mails in the world probably can't stop our nation's drive to slake its oil-thirst, or the ever-rising prices. So what's a consumer to do? Use less gasoline.

There's never been a better time, for instance, to work at home. Cut the daily commute out of your life, and you consume less gas. The money you save can be used for purchases for your home office, such as snack food.

Not everyone can work at home, of course. And, even people who don't commute to a job find they must drive sometimes. Children need rides. Face-to-face appointments must be kept. It's easier to ferry groceries home in a car, particularly if you're transporting large amounts of snack food.

But there are ways to cut our fuel consumption. Here are some to consider:

--Try human power. Walking, for example. Bicycles, skates, scooters, skateboards. Not only will you save on gas, but you'll get some exercise. Better to burn those snack-food calories than to burn gasoline.

--Public transportation can be more relaxing than a grueling commute. If you don't have to pay attention to the road, you can spend time reading or napping or exchanging ideas with your fellow passengers. These discussions can be lively. On a bus, you often hear passengers communicating about topics such as personal hygiene, DUI histories, psychotropic medications or each other's parentage.

--Try hitchhiking. If you think the people on the bus are scary, wait until you see who picks you up.

--Carpooling saves gasoline, and you can save even more if you make excuses for not driving whenever it's your turn. You can skip several turns by having your car "in the shop" before your fellow carpoolers catch on and dump you on the shoulder of the road.

--If you have children, much of your gasoline consumption undoubtedly goes to transporting them to after-school activities. Tell your kids such events have been canceled. Once they figure out you're lying, tell them it's their "patriotic duty" to stay home and save gas. If that still doesn't work, try this phrase: "We'll go as soon as you pony up your allowance for Premium Unleaded."

--Park your car and turn off the engine when communicating on your mobile phone. If you insist on using your car for a phone booth, you can at least sit still while you're doing it. Not only will you save fuel, but it'll be safer for the rest of us.

--Drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Much has been written about giant SUVs and how much gas they consume. Most people who drive SUVs don't need all that four-wheel-drive power and cargo room because they never take them outside the city limits. They drive SUVs because they think such vehicles are "cool." (Note: SUV is not pronounced "suave.")

Smaller vehicles not only get more miles per gallon, they're easier to push when you run out of gas altogether.

Or, follow my example and drive an aged minivan. It may not be fuel-efficient, but you'll be less tempted to cruise around aimlessly because someone might see you. Plus, if it runs out of gas, you can just abandon it.

And walk away.

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