Local Vocal: America: Cheated, but still somehow fortunate

by Rick Farmer

While channel surfing on Sept. 10 I stop for a minute on C-Span. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is speaking. Something makes me stop surfing and listen. He’s saying that for 30 years our nation has had the wrong energy policies. Thirty years. That’s a long time in the life of any of us, I think. Let’s see, 30 years puts me back to the age of 15. 1978. I don’t know what energy policy our nation settles on. I am only 15 years old. I am playing baseball, delivering newspapers, going to Sunday school and daydreaming about girls and buying a car. All is as it should be in my world. Flashback: Five years earlier. It is dead winter, 1973. I am 10 years old and it’s late in the night for a fourth grader. The phone rings. A relative is calling. The gas station he manages is opening in about an hour to sell gasoline. We have been tipped off. I slip into my brand-new white Levi Strauss jean jacket and slide into the front seat beside my dad, inside his Plymouth Fury III. Yet despite the tip, by the time we get to the gas station there is already a line. Still, my dad feels lucky we are only about 50 cars out from the gas pumps. I settle in for the slow creep forward. I feel mature being beside my dad at this late hour. I somehow vaguely understand even at this tender age that we are being tested — we are in some kind of American everyman challenge; we are rising to the occasion with gas rationing and wood burning and Kero- Sun space heaters. But that night the big picture is far from me. The biggest problem for me is not gas rationing but that I am a bit cold in my newly acquired all-the-rage jean jacket. That is partially because my dad isn’t running the car heater in order to preserve fuel, and partly because this jacket wasn’t made to keep people warm. Instead, that jean jacket in 1973 was all about being cool and “in,” but at 10 I don’t understand. I am just sitting there in the gas line wondering why my must-have jacket has me shivering. I feel cheated but still, somehow, fortunate. Fast forward. It’s now 2008 and both the Republicans and Democrats in Washington are paying lip service to advancing domestic oil drilling and investment in alternative energy solutions. I am angry and think “too little too late” for most of us trying to figure out how to pay for inflated home heating and auto fuel, as well as food. For the least affluent of us those are the basic necessities. But for most of us we are more affluent than in 1973. We can tighten our belts and adjust to paying through the nose for the gas to get to work, for the fuel to take our kids to school, for the petrol needed to get to Scout meetings and gymnastics. And the gas stations continue to have the petroleum to sell us. But it is another wake-up call. It is no longer 1973. It is 2008. Thirty-five years have transpired. Our dependency on foreign oil has only increased while, to hear Bishop tell it, we haven’t learned a thing. That makes me mad, but mostly at myself. I am now 45 years old. But yet, somehow I still want to be only 10, safely sitting beside my dad in his Plymouth Fury feeling cheated but fortunate in my trendy jean jacket. But that’s just wishful thinking. It is still dark outside and we remain way down the energy line. But now at 45 I look to my left at my dad and wonder what he was thinking. What fears and stresses and uncertain futures was he silently deflecting?

Rick Farmer lives in Winston-Salem.