Stealing Gas

After her tank was mysteriously depleted, the author arrived at the only solution: ditching her car. (Sort of.)

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

Recommendations of how to thwart gas thieves range from the obvious and impractical (avoid parking for long periods of time) to the obvious and expensive (park in a locked garage). Since neither option was available to me, I looked into purchasing a locking gas cap which, while not completely tamper-proof, is said to deter thieves. These handy devices range from $10 to $100, so at least somebody is benefiting from the rise is the cost of gasoline—locking cap companies have seen record sales recently.

The price was reasonable, but I just couldn’t bring myself to make the purchase. It didn’t seem fair that I should have to spend more money so people can’t steal from me. I’d rather take that $10 and donate it to a group lobbying for alternative energy, or give it to some entrepreneur who’s about to make the next giant step in lithium-ion batteries so that we can actually get out of this gas crisis, rather than make it easier to live with. Or maybe I’m just cheap.

I was out of options, and I knew it.  I decided to do something that felt unnatural, yet intellectually I understood made the most sense—and I probably should have done long ago. I decided to ditch my car.

No, I didn’t abandon it in a bad neighborhood with the doors unlocked and I didn’t donate it to charity. Instead, when the next long weekend came I booked a one-way flight to New York from Chicago and pointed my prized Chevy Cavalier west. Two days later, I left my first major purchase at my dad’s house in rural Illinois. There it will spend its days, its fluids drained and its battery disconnected, weathering the elements and waiting for the day when I will come back and get behind its wheel.

Hardcore enviros may see my temporary separation as weak: if I were really all about the environment I would give my car up completely. Like hell. I paid good money for that car, and I know that unless I move to Portland, OR I won’t always be living in a city with unlimited public transportation.

I’m not alone in my feeble need to hang on to the familiar in case something better never comes along. A major shift is underway in how we power our world, so people are clinging to the familiar for the same reason they go back to old exes that don’t really make them happy — because it’s comfortable and reassuring nonetheless. This grasp onto accustomed ideals, eerily chanting “Drill, baby, drill” as if oil were a pagan god, feels necessary because right now everything else — from the stock market to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — seems out of our hands.

However, just because change seems scary, inconvenient, and even costly, that’s no excuse to stop innovation dead in its tracks. Despite the recent dip in the cost of a fill-up, it’s possible I won’t even be able to afford to drive my car the next time I see it. That could be a good thing, though; it would motivate me to seek out other transportation options. In this way, rising gas prices serve as just another reason to trash the weathered trail map we’ve used for so many decades and forge a new path toward a clean energy future. If we don’t, our addiction to oil will no doubt lead us to a dead end.

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