LEWISTON — It all seems so familiar. The fear, the rage, the uncertainty.
By the middle of the day Thursday, gas prices were reasonable across Maine — below $3.70 per gallon just about everywhere. But people were talking. Fears of dramatic price increases were circulating, fanned somewhat by popular website GasBuddy.com, which predicted the cost of a gallon of gas could rise by as much as 20 cents by the end of the weekend.
It’s a sad day, most agreed, when $3.70 per gallon seems like the good old days.
“As a single mother, I can barely afford it now,” said Jennifer Verreault of Auburn. “Raising two kids, that’s going to make it even harder, not just for me but a lot of other people.”
From a parental view, high gas prices are a nightmare. Verreault said her kids are in high school. They have to be carted to and from school events and doctor appointments, not the kinds of things that can be curtailed.
For others, out-of-control gas prices will mean cutting back on the things they like to do.
“I’ll be staying home a lot more,” said Beth Pelky of South Harpswell. “Maybe walking a little more.”
Prices were already on the way up this week in other parts of the country. GasBuddy.com, which monitors prices everywhere in the U.S. and Canada, issued an alert warning that a refinery fire in the state of Washington had caused gas to jump between 30 and 45 cents per gallon on the West Coast and in the Great Lakes region.
Few in Maine doubted that similar price spikes would take place here, as well. Once again, they questioned why the increases happen so regularly and why nobody can put a stop to it.
“If only our leaders would realize that the whole economy is based on fuel prices,” said Bruce Dow of Sabattus. “Low fuel prices and we spend more on other items of comfort; higher prices, and our wallets and purses open less, only to spend on products of need.”
In other words, Dow said: “Here we go again.”
For parents like Verreault, high gas prices mean further struggles to keep the family happy and healthy. For business owners, it means paying for expensive fuel by raising product prices, which in turn aggravates customers.
“I spent approximately $7,700 on gas last year,” said Roger Castonguay, a Lewiston-area landscaper. “If this crap keeps up and goes over $4 again, it will be another $9,000 year. This (price hike) really cuts into the profits.”
At gas stations around the Twin Cities, business seemed to be normal, although there were lines at BJ’s in Auburn where gas was listed at $3.64.
Most people had heard the rumors. As they do each time the matter is revisited, most talked about the things they would have to do without. All at once, things like home heating and transportation begin to feel like extravagances.
“I will spend less on luxury items, as will so many others, to budget more for fuel expenses,” Dow said. “This includes for the heat and the vehicles.”
On the social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, the potential for steep gas prices was a popular topic. Several people posted the GasBuddy.com report for others to view and comment on.
On Facebook, one woman said she would park her SUV in exchange for the more economical Volkswagen. Others took it a step further, saying they planned to dig bicycles out of basements and garages.
One young woman said she fears she’ll be unable to finish college if gas gets too expensive. Others acknowledged that while high gas prices are an inconvenience to many, the situation was more dire for others.
“Already cut back satellite TV package, cell phone minutes, ended gym membership and planned better on trips to grocery store,” one woman said on Facebook. “Those changes don’t bother me, it’s the fact some people can’t heat their house and more will suffer just driving to work.”
Some blamed tensions in Iran. Some suggested it was simple greed on the part of the oil companies. Just about everyone worried that hefty gas prices would slow an already long climb out of an economic recession.
“The Middle East crisis is an opportunity for oil companies to raise the prices on speculation on what might happen,” Dow said. “What might happen is that the economy will take a U-turn and the middle class will once again have to struggle.”