Did you know that Charlotte has no gas? Yeah, not many other people do either. Because of all the really, really big news stories the last couple of weeks, the southeast gas shortage has been pretty much a non-story. It’s going on 2 ½ weeks, though. It started when they shut down the refineries for Hurricane Ike, and it’s still difficult if not down-right impossible to find a station with gas.
Remembering our gas shortage after Hurricane Katrina, I filled up the Friday morning before Ike hit Texas. By lunch time that day, things had gone full-on nuts. In anticipation of the shortage and possible price hike, many gas stations actually bagged their pumps to save the gas they had until the prices went up so they could sell it at a higher price. Some just immediately hiked their price. One of the stations around the corner from my office went up 50 cents/gallon from the time I got to work until I went to lunch. “No price gouging!” said the state government. Well, that’ll stop ‘em!
A week later, most gas stations were out of gas and had taken down the prices from their signs. That was nice because it kept us from driving into a station only to find they were out. If there was no price on the sign, you could just keep driving and looking.
There had been remarkably little information coming from any government organization until last Thursday when the Governor and Mayor finally said that Charlotte was supposed to be getting a huge shipment of fuel Friday afternoon. They asked that people not top off their tanks, and that they be patient and not rush the gas stations. Meanwhile people who had been patient for the two previous weeks were driving on empty tanks. In anticipation of the “huge shipments”, many of those people camped out at stations because they were afraid they’d run out completely if they tried to drive home. The lines sometimes lasted hours.
I was only a little girl when gas rationing happened in the 1970’s, but I remember sitting in lines with my great-grandfather and my mom waiting for gas. The lines have looked like that here for the last few weeks. There are police guarding the entrances to some stations and any that have gas have people directing people to pumps to try to keep order. There have been some fights, but really not that many. The fact that the officials asked us to have patience is laughable. Considering how bad it is, I think we’ve been the very models of patience!
In the words of my friend Diane, “You mean government officials are lying to the general public? No! Say it ain't so!” They lied, or at best told half-truths, because that huge shipment of gas didn’t go very far. Obviously we didn’t expect everything to be up and running at full speed right away. I had waited, had followed their instructions not to fill up if I had more than a quarter of a tank of gas, because they said that we’d have that first shipment and then another coming in over the weekend. I pass about 15 gas stations coming to work. On Monday morning, exactly one had gas, and it had about a half-mile long line wait with police having cordoned off two of the three entrances. Monday we were told that it would be Wednesday before any substantial amount of gas made it to Charlotte. What happened to those large shipments? Citizen panic fed by the media was the answer. As it so often is.
Fortunately, I happened to run across a station yesterday that had just gotten a small shipment and I was one of the first ones in the parking lot. I didn’t even have much of a wait. I was second in line behind a man filling up his pickup truck. And his SkiDoo.