I'm not fueling, or am I?

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The big nonevent of the summer may turn out to be the much-media-touted GGGPC, otherwise known as The Great Gouging Gas Prices Crisis. So far this upward bump in the cost of fuel has caused little more than a collective sigh in the collective consciousness of the United States of Vacationers. A far cry from road rage, it's more like avenue agit.

But we will not be kept garage-bound. The roads are out there and, by golly, we Americans are gonna travel 'em. Hang the cost. After all, we are the people of the SUVs, the living room on wheels, and we like Arby's and RVs and 10-lane highways. There's even a CD this summer dedicated to an Interstate. Called "The I-10 Chronicles" it's full of poetic love songs directed at, yes, a road.

With this sort of feeling bubbling up like hot asphalt, you can bet yer bottom dollar folks aren't gonna let a $2-a-gallon price tag keep them home alone. No sir. Especially since we still are the No. 1 cut-rate consumers of fossil fuel in the free world. Why, in England they pay almost $5 a gallon. Of course, that's for petrol, which is probably the same as gas only more polite, and they have much more fuel-efficient cars. Plus the whole country fits inside of Montana with plenty of room for Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to boot.

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I had already figured the real enemy of the family vacation was going to be lack of time. Who can take off two weeks anymore and just ramble from Chattanooga to Cucamonga? Well, apparently lots of folks. I conducted an informal survey of maybe 17 people in my town and found that all of them were driving somewhere. From the same point of departure (Bronxville, N.Y.) they were traveling north to the Adirondacks, west to Michigan, farther west to Wisconsin, south to North Carolina, and east to Rhode Island. Also northeast to Vermont and to Maine. The rest were going to Cape Cod, which only seems like a short drive if you've never been stuck on the Sagamore Bridge.

Now granted, none of my friends are taking road trips, as in a vacation built around driving from place to place to place to place to place. They are going from point "a" to point "b" and back again two to four weeks later.

But whatever they're doing still involves overstuffing a car to the roof rack with kids, dogs, suitcases, and other sundry stuff. It involves someone in the back seat whining, "When are we going to be there?," at least one sibling-shoving match to the tune of "did not, did too, did not, did too." There will be books on tape and sing-alongs and idiotic counting games and anything and everything to pass the time away.

And it will all be remembered by one and all with great sentimental fondness 40 years hence. And it's doubtful anyone will make more than a passing reference to the price of unleaded gas, regular or supreme.

My family - I mean the one I had as a kid, not the one I'm part of now - took a car trip back when gas was 50 cents a gallon, from California to Colorado. We left at night so we could drive through the desert when it was cooler than 100 degrees. We stopped at a diner in Needles, Calif., at 2 a.m. and ate pie. I was nine years old. I thought this must be what heaven is like.

We spent a day and a night in Kingman, Ariz., then pushed on toward the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest and all the best motels we could find in the AAA directory. On the way back home, from Buena Vista, Colo. to Provo, Utah, our car hit a rock on the road. We ended up flying home from Salt Lake City. Which made it the perfect car trip to my way of thinking. Because by then I had to share the back seat with my older brother, whom we'd picked up at camp in Colorado. And he didn't like playing "Mad Libs" with me. Still doesn't.

But just as the Gulf War, as bad as that was, pales in comparison with the Vietnam War, so the "gas crisis" of Y2K falls way short of the drama and pageantry and sheer stomach churning frustration of the gas shortages of 1974 and 1979. That was at least a democratic gas crisis. It didn't matter how much money you had. There simply wasn't any gas at the pumps. This is the "Gas Crisis of the New Economy" - the pumps are full, but it'll cost ya.

There's a lot of finger-pointing about who's profiting.

So far, I suspect the only one really profiting from the high prices is Priceline.com, where you can set your own price for filling your tank, though something tells me it's not going to be for 35 cents a gallon.

Especially since the day the story broke about higher prices being good for this William Shatner-crooning Internet company, the stock price fell by 50 cents.

Hey, a 50-cent drop in gasoline prices would just about solve everyone's problems, except for OPEC, and what exactly is their problem anyway?

As for me, I just drove 110 miles to a ferry dock in Connecticut and am spending the month with my family (the one where I'm one of the grown-ups), on an island that's only seven miles long. If we're careful and we walk a lot, we shouldn't have to refill our gas tank until August. And then maybe we'll just move to London.

The last time I looked, it was somewhere in Montana.

*Madora McKenzie Kibbe, a former

Californian, never drives more than two hours in any direction.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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