Pumping Thoughts during a Turn-Around Trip to San Diego

Sunday, October 16

I’ve been working on a memoir about my years as a “small press” editor and publisher, and much of that involves sifting boxes of old papers to find appointment schedules and lists of things to do that I made a half-century ago. The emotional chronology occasionally catches me off-guard; at other times, the sheets aren’t marked with the month or year, but I know from notes mades in the quickly drawn rectangles of a handmade calendar what year it was. Fortunately, this search for details to firm up the accuracy of my narrative also serves as a chance to extract superfluous material from the boxes of “literary papers” that I am in the process of delivering to the Archive for New Poetry at the University of California, San Diego (an institution that is not to be confused with San Diego State College). So far I have filled a half-dozen boxes with irrelevant material and am thereby sparing some poor student in the sorting chambers of UCSD’s Special Collections the tediousness of that task.

On Thursday morning, I drove down to UCSD to deliver a second installment of a dozen or so boxes. As was the case when I drove the first set of boxes down several weeks ago, traffic flowed at an unusually steady fluctuation between 60 to 70 miles per hour. Only once, for about a half-mile, did my speed drop under 50 miles an hour. What’s going on here? I thought. During the height of the pandemic, the one silver lining was that a commute suddenly became far less of a challenge in Southern California. I couldn’t remember traffic being this congenial in Southern California since the 1984 Olympics.

Among the mutually reinforcing side-effects of the pandemic, the work-at-home transition is playing out on all kinds of economic levels, including the price of gasoline. As I drove down, I realized that lighter traffic means less gasoline is being purchased. Since the oil companies expect a certain amount of profit and won’t accept anything less, the only way to keep that level of income in a region of the U.S. that they have grown used to as a major source of revenue is to keep the price as high as possible. The price for regular gas at the Mobil station on La Jolla Village Drive near UCSD was $6.60 a gallon, for regular. This is almost three dollars a gallon more than the national average.

For every self-interested action, there is are at least a gross of oblique and disproportionate reactions. If community colleges are now offering an extraordinary number of classes online, that means all the adjuncts who were hustling from one campus to another (which is to say, one gasoline station to another) have hit the snooze buttons on their odometers.

Then I thought about the billiards table of the planet’s nations: Russia, Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. And Nigeria and Venezuela. And Haiti and Cuba. And Vietnam and India. And China and North Korea. South Korea. Who has the stick, and where’s the 8-ball? The transmissions of my GPS satellite got quickly interrupted, however, by a man about forty years old in the Mobil gas station store saying to another man, “This should be illegal.”

I agree with the man. It should be illegal to buy gasoline at any price unless you can point to a map with only border lines drawn on it, and no names whatsoever, and identify where these countries are, in addition to providing some pertinent information about their history or current political situation. I don’t want a poll tax on voting or any kind of literacy test imposed as a way of restricting the franchise. When it comes to the “vote” we cast when we purchase fuel, however, it would help increase the urgency of action on climate change if we all shared our mutual knowledge of some basic facts about the global economy. That includes, of course, how public pension plans depend on the return on their investment in these fuels to make monthly payments to workers who have retired. The adjunct who works at home now is still very much at the center of the equation for providing the money needed to keep the extravaganza in fine fettle.

Comments are closed.