Cars don’t get driven as much these days. Working from home does save quite a bit on the cost of filling up a couple times a week. Cars that sit, however, sometimes get leaky tires. So wearing a mask like a bandit, I found myself at a local gas station air pump, dumping quarters in for three minutes of air. As I knelt on the asphalt, I was thinking of when air used to be free. Gas stations made enough money on fuel that it was considered a courtesy to provide a public compressor. As gas prices grew from a quarter a gallon (that makes me sound old) to, at one point over three dollars for the same quantity, the petroleum industry became very lucrative. And they started charging for air.
The idea is what bothers me. Shouldn’t air be free? I didn’t grow up a very political kid (that had to come with maturing), but I used to hear adults complaining that soon you’d have to pay for air. They meant the kind you have to breathe, of course, but that idea stuck. Air should be free. All land animals have free access to it, and our biology demands it. The only difference with this black hose I’m holding is that it has a nozzle that forces said air into a tire valve. I remember trying to inflate a bicycle tire by trying to blow into it. No, for that you needed a hand pump, so air wasn’t really free even then. If there’s a way to charge for a necessity, we’ll find it. Of course cars pollute the actual air we breathe, so we’re paying double, really.
Gas prices tumbled just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. I’m afraid I just can’t raise any sympathy for big oil, even if we are on the cusp of the second Great Depression. I guess I still hope for a government that has some sympathy, and not profits in mind. Millions and millions are unemployed and all we see is mean spiritedness toward those in need. If their tires are flat they’ll have to pay for the very air they pump. And I’m paying four times as much to do that as a gallon of gas cost when I was a kid. Some things, it seems to me, should just be free. A capitalist system can’t have that, however, since money must be kept flowing. Perhaps they should dispense it through pumps.