Something happened in June 1978 that radically changed my world. I got my driver’s license.
I still remember the uncertainty of the moment when I did my driving test. Though having practiced plenty enough, I was afraid I would make some huge mistake that would result in a failing grade and the humiliation of having to take the test over.
That’s a teenager’s mind for you—as though having to take the driving test twice would be the end of the world, a social embarrassment beyond comprehension.
I passed the test and made a quick and wonderful discovery: A driver’s license equals freedom.
I got home that day, called some friends and drove them out to get a bite of lunch. I remember being amazed at the notion that I no longer had to depend on a family member or a friend to give me a ride somewhere.
Of course, when I got home, my mom told me that I needed to drive back into town to pick up some dry cleaning for her. Thus, I learned the second lesson: A driver’s license came with the responsibility to help with household and family needs.
At that time, I was driving a green 1972 Ford Mustang Fastback with a 302 cubic-inch, Boss engine. My sister and I shared the car that summer and I inherited it from her when she went off to Chapel Hill in the fall for college. UNC didn’t allow freshmen to have cars.
The Mustang was way too much car for a 16-year-old, and I’m lucky that I lived to tell the tale. It also was a gas hog, though it really didn’t seem to be such a big deal at the time.
Showing poor judgment, I traded that car five years later for a Ford Fairmont. That same model of Mustang is now a collector’s item. To say the least, the Fairmont is not.
The average gas price that year was below 70 cents per-gallon. Taking into account the fact that this was over 40 years ago, the price of gas was still really low. A part-time job easily covered the gas expenditure.
By 1980, when I went off to college, the average price of gasoline had begun to take a toll. It was up to a shocking dollar per-gallon.
The sale of small economy cars took off and this could be seen on any street. This, as much as anything, brought about the powerful market share developed by companies such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
As the 1980s wore on, people eventually became comfortable again with fuel prices and began driving large sport/utility vehicles and, in general, vehicles with more powerful engines. I suppose the increase in the ability to make money kept pace with the ability to pay for such things, on the whole.
As of late, the price of gas nationwide has been way down. Adjusting for inflation, its value is nearly equivalent to the prices I saw as a teenager. The cause is two-fold: less travel during the pandemic shutdown and a Middle Eastern oil production war, the combined result being a glut of oil on the market.
Though consumers have enjoyed relief at the pump, the depressed oil market has furthered economic strain being borne by everyone at this time.
This will not last. As soon as the U.S. economy opens up and consumers begin consuming again, the price of oil will rise.
In recent decades, fuel prices have been greatly driven by the fact that other nations, like China and India, have developed to the point that they are some of the world’s largest oil consumers. With more demand, prices will do nothing but rise around the globe.
This won’t change because oil is a finite resource. Like the stock market, there may be occasional downward spikes, but the price tracks continually upward over time.
Predictions from some have been that China may well be the world’s next top economic power, replacing the U.S. That nation’s demand for oil will do anything but moderate.
I was watching a show on public television some time back and an expert in the petroleum field was arguing that the best hope for consistently lower energy prices as a whole lies in innovation. He said this would likely be something “out of the box,” an idea that makes the traditional internal combustion engine as obsolete as the horse and cart.
What a wonderful day that would be.