Gas Prices Stir Plenty of Talk at the Pumps

As gas prices hit $4 a gallon in many cities across America, they're the chief topic of conversation at most gas stations. A popular question: "How much did it cost YOU to fill 'er up?"

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And even if you don't fly this summer, it's hard to avoid driving, and that means paying for gasoline. Today, regular unleaded hit another record high: an average of $3.95 a gallon.

And that means more scenes like what NPR's Tovia Smith found at a gas station near Boston.

TOVIA SMITH: Forget about what gas prices were six months or a year ago; drivers are over that. Now there are prices you see at the pump that shoot up before you can even make a U-turn.

Mr. RAFAEL MARTINEZ(ph): This morning this one was $3.89, and now it's $3.95.

SMITH: They went up six cents...

Mr. MARTINEZ: Yup, this morning

SMITH: ...in the last - since lunch?

Mr. MARTINEZ: Yup. It's absolutely ridiculous.

SMITH: You can't blame Rafael Martinez for trying to shop around. He drives the mother of all gas-guzzlers - a Chevy Suburban.

Mr. MARTINEZ: I don't have the money to pay more $150 to fill this one up. I just made $140 working today.

SMITH: You made 140.

Mr. MARTINEZ: Yeah, and I have to pay 150 to fill it up.

SMITH: So you just stop at...

Mr. MARTINEZ: Yeah, just $45, just to put some...

SMITH: For those drivers who do go for the full tank...

Mr. CRAIG BRUSKY(ph): It's a horror show. I'm afraid to look every time I fill up.

SMITH: Craig Brusky used to pay about 30 bucks to fill his 2003 Mitsubishi Galant.

I'm watching it now. It's a 22...

Mr. BRUSKY: ...23, 24...

SMITH: By the time the numbers stopped whizzing around...

Mr. BRUSKY: It's $48. It's horrible. It's horrible.

Ms. JO McKEE(ph): My name is Jo McKee and I work for the United States Postal Service.

SMITH: So we're watching it fill up - 40, $41.

Ms. McKEE: I - this is the most I've even seen it, this little tiny truck.

SMITH: Well, it's not stopped yet.

Ms. McKEE: No. It's very scary.

SMITH: But it's not out of your pocket.

Ms. McKEE: No. Absolutely not.

SMITH: Actually, I'm paying for this, right?

Ms. McKEE: Well, if you buy stamps, you are.

SMITH: By the time the tank is full...

Ms. McKEE: 62.50. I've never seen it this expensive.

Mr. BORIS BERDACHESKY(ph): Can I ask you a question?

SMITH: Yes.

Mr. BERDACHESKY: What are you doing?

SMITH: That's the gas station clerk, Boris Berdachesky, coming to chase me away from grousing customers? No, coming to grouse himself.

Mr. BERDACHESKY: You can talk to me about it too, because, you know, I have to pay just as much as these people.

SMITH: Okay.

Mr. BERDACHESKY: But don't treat me like I'm the manager.

SMITH: Okay.

Mr. BERDACHESKY: You know, I have to put up with everyone's (bleep) because they're angry at it, and I get paid the same. You know, people are asking me, it's like, no, I'm like the lowest-waged worker, like, you know, I just sit here and sniff fumes, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: A gas tanker pulls in to refill the gas station. Driver Doug Pinsley(ph) says he gets accosted by customers too.

Mr. DOUG PINSLEY: All the time. You know, it's not my fault. I'm going to drop 3400 gallons right here.

SMITH: Like everyone else, Pinsley also pays more at the pump, and it's a lot for his tri-axel tanker.

Mr. PINSLEY: We throw about 40 to 50 gallons in a night.

SMITH: So it cost you about 200 bucks to fill up the tank?

Mr. PINSLEY: Costs the company. That's crazy. But it's not my money. You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Off hours, Pinsley downsizes big time. He used to drive a pickup, but now he takes his motorcycle. That fills up for just about 13 bucks.

Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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