From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
LA PORTE, IN -- Leaving a Bill Clinton town hall Saturday evening, I stopped at Family Express (a local Indiana chain) to fill up my tank to the tune of $3.69 a gallon. I patted myself on the back for finding a bargain. It costs about sixty dollars give or take to fill up the little Mazda rental car I've used to zip across this state, logging anywhere between 100 to 400 miles a day. The least amount I've paid for gas is about $3.63. The most? $3.77 on I-65 heading south into Louisville.
While the meter on the pump was whizzing upward, I went inside to buy a cup of coffee. And as I headed to the counter to pay, a man slipped in front of me. He was older than me, maybe in his late forties, and he wore faded loose blue jeans, a black and white windbreaker, and sneakers. He had the only other car at the station, a little red sedan. He came forward to the clerk, and said, "I'm sorry to have to do this to you."
And he plunged his hands into the pockets of his jeans and pulled out fistfuls of change, which he unceremoniously dumped on the counter. Pennies, nickels, quarters -- you name it -- was there. The clerk was mad and grumbled something like, "Come on." The man just looked out the window at his car and asked to pre-pay for $5 of gasoline. Five bucks at this station gets you less than a gallon and a half of fuel.
Now obviously, I know nothing about this man. As a reporter, I didn't chase after him asking if he was hard up and was this the only way he could pay to fill his tank. But the image of him pouring change onto the counter struck a chord. Maybe it's because my parents used to drive eight to ten miles out of the way just to save five cents on a gallon of gas. Or maybe because I haven't had one conversation with my mom in recent months, where she doesn't mention how expensive it is to drive somewhere. A few years ago she decided to splurge on an SUV and deeply regrets the decision. I have a feeling she's not alone.
To bring this back to politics, watching this man in the gas station, thinking about my own parents, I finally understood why a gas tax holiday could be so appealing: If all you've got is change to pay with, then 18 cents might make a difference.
As Bill Clinton said at a town fall, only 20 minutes away. "There are lots of your fellow Americans who are making choices everyday to about paying the price to fill up their gas tank to get to work and being able to buy food for your families or medicine. That's happening in this country and in this state," he said. "This is an emergency for American families."
He added, "She's been criticized for doing this by her opponent and by a lot of people… They're saying oh you can't bring down the price of oil. They all say oh this is pandering, you know you can't bring down the price of oil. She never promised she could bring the price of oil down. She said we can't fix your problems over night, and people need help to pay [sic] your bills. And I promise you, anybody who's out their criticizing this is somebody who doesn't have any trouble paying for a tank of gasoline. Anybody who's out there driving a lot, knows that every little bit helps."
The audience cheered. To them this wasn't political pandering, it was a way to help fill up the tanks of the pick-ups, and SUVS, and four door sedans crowding the parking lot and piled onto the grass outside La Porte High School. It made all the policy statements put out by the Obama campaign or written about in the nation's papers or discussed on cable news appear meaningless. The long-term good doesn't mean much if you can only put a gallon and a half of gas in your tank.
As for me, fuel efficiency was the last thing on my mind, as I raced the 180 miles to get to Bill Clinton's last event in Indianapolis. By the time I pulled into downtown Indy, my little Mazda had guzzled its way through half a tank of fuel or $29 worth of gas.