Three-forty-three was my personal tipping point, the tick mark that shifted my thinking from wow, these high prices suck to Jesus Tapdancing Christ, how the fuck am I going to stay solvent? It had been a halcyon three or four months there. I had finally wrestled the personal debt to a manageable size and place*, finding myself at the end of the pay period with double and sometimes even triple digits--if barely--in the checking account. The ability to breathe easily rather than holding it and paddling furiously toward payday was in itself an extravangance I hadn't had since my first year out of college, when I had a tiny, cheap studio over a bakery and no expenses beyond my next beer.
So in the face of eternally mounting repairs and the continuing failure of the MPG fairy to both materialize and sprinkle magic more-than-20-miles-per-gallon dust on the engine, it was finally time to replace the beloved truck with something that sips at gasoline and only occasionally puts in a polite request for some new oil. To do that at all, I had to borrow a down payment. And to have any hope of keeping the new buggy, I will have to make major slashes in discretionary spending. Which I suppose is why it's called "discretionary" rather than "willy-nilly."
Gas in Tucson has plummeted to a dizzying $3.35 since I made the decision to buy, but it will certainly fly back up to and well past that price point in the next month or so. Meanwhile, everything else that requires gasoline to be delivered continues to climb in tandem with fuel prices. The paper last week carried the story of increasingly desperate people unloading their possessions on eBay and Craigslist so they can buy gas and groceries, including a woman who sold her grandmother's tea kettle for $6. Six dollars. Family heirlooms are being let go for less than two gallons of gas. For a jug of milk that will be gone a day later. And then what?
$3.43 pushed me over the line from hmmm to worried. The line for many, many more people was a hell of a lot lower than that. As more and more of us start making choices we couldn't have imagined ten years ago, or even a year ago--keep that doctor's appointment for a nagging injury, or save for a fillup? throw money you don't have at repairs on the beater or throw even more at something new that gets better mileage, playing the odds that the savings on gas will balance the monthly payment before the next unforeseen disaster wipes out the bank account?--we get the tiniest glimpse of how bad things can be, how bad they have been for so many for so long. And we think about how much worse they are likely to get, and it's fucking scary.
*not including the $800 I still owe the girlfriend for the faux-wood floor. Hi, honey!