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Take a few deep breaths, everyone. It appears that the gasoline supply is headed back to normal levels in the days to come.
That means fewer empty stations and fewer lines at the pumps that are dispensing fuel. Some spotty outages may remain, but for the most part, we have our mobile lives back.
Now, be honest: Was that really so horrible?
The recent gasoline shortages across Georgia and neighboring states were caused by Hurricane Ike interrupting the flow from refineries along the Gulf Coast. The lack of fuel sparked a mild panic. More than a few motorists have admitted topping off their tanks repeatedly to keep from running out of gas. Some got into arguments while jockeying in line at the pumps.
One angry motorist e-mailed the mayor of Charlotte and angrily stated, "We have a gas crisis! Do you exist?"
First off, let's be clear: This is not a crisis. This is an inconvenience. We had to wait awhile for gas or look a little harder to find it. Those who waited too long had to push their cars. Some of us put off trips or planned our excursions a little better, what many already were doing to save gasoline when prices shot up over the summer.
But a crisis? Texas had a crisis; a massive hurricane ripped Galveston Island to pieces and slammed through a metro area of 6 million people.
We had an annoyance. A few weeks worth of short gas supplies. Well, boo hoo for us.
Are we so pampered that we can't endure the slightest hardship for a few days without freaking out? What happens when we face a real crisis, perhaps a shortage of food or water (which may not be far off if the drought doesn't end.) What then?
That's not to say some folks didn't suffer hardships, mostly owners of businesses hit by the gas drought. Convenience stores saw slower traffic, with fewer folks buying drinks and snacks while stopping for gas. And companies that depend on their vehicles for deliveries or daily commerce were indeed hamstrung.
Fortunately, the worst seems to be over. Yet sadly, as soon as the trouble passes, the fingers start pointing.
Blaming political leaders doesn't make much sense. Gas supplies were short for a perfectly logical reason: A consumer product provided by the free market was affected by a natural disaster. How were governments supposed to deal with this?
Some small steps have helped a bit. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue put state agencies on alert to crack down on true price-gougers. The EPA allowed stations in metro Atlanta, including Gainesville and Hall County, to sell gas that wasn't blended with anti-polluting agents to speed the rush of fuel to market.
Perdue also asked that gasoline supplies in the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve be released to alleviate the problem, which the Energy Department had already agreed to at the request of suppliers. But that stockpile is supposed to be for a national emergency; if we tap into it every time the price goes up or the supply drops a bit, it defeats its main purpose.
And let's be sure to add consumer panic as a cause for the shortages. Filling up when we run dry is fine, but the constant topping off of tanks was pure selfishness; those four gallons you don't need might be of use to the next person. Why not wait your turn?
And as we've said before, it makes sense to slow down a bit when gas is either too expensive or too scarce. A check of the highways shows the same folks barreling along at excessive speeds, burning precious fuel at a higher rate just to reach their destinations a few seconds faster.
We Americans have a great capacity for coming together in times of trouble when we need to, as we've seen during previous tragedies. But we need to keep some perspective and understand the difference between a major event and a little hiccup. This gasoline shortage was little more than a short-term blip that will be forgotten in no time.
Let's keep this in mind the next time we face a shortage of gasoline or any other product that we feel is our birthright.
We can unclench our fists from around the steering wheels now and relax. Maybe next time we'll deal with it a bit better.