RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And now, here's our daily look at the bottom line, which in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, can be found on those long and exhausting gas lines in New Jersey. Today's date has new meaning for drivers in New Jersey, where gas is being rationed. This being an odd-numbered day, November 5th, those allowed to buy gas must have an odd number at the end of their license plate.
As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the odd-even rationing system doesn't seem to be shortening the lines.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It started right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Oh, give me two seconds. We got...
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: In Bayonne, New Jersey, home of the biggest oil terminal in New York harbor, there was only one gas station open yesterday. It was a Quick Chek, which had a generator to power its pumps.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLICKING OF PUMP)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hey, fill it up?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Forty dollars maximum, sir.
KASTE: By noon, the line of cars was a mile and a half long. It took Frank Spoto six hours to get his turn. Like a lot of people here, he's stocking up.
FRANK SPOTO: Whatever you can take. There's a storm on Tuesday, and a snowstorm on the weekend. I'm just going to be safer than sorry.
KASTE: In fact, the odd-even rationing system prompted a lot of people who already had some gas to line up for more, because it was their day. Most waited patiently, but there were some line-cutters. Spoto was especially peeved by one woman claiming hardship.
SPOTO: No, that lady, they were going to murder her. It was like, you better leave. They're calling the cops. I'm going to explain.
KASTE: Spoto says he got rid of her by taking a cell phone picture of her license plate.
Here's your plate. She left. Generally, though, the lines were relatively peaceful, thanks in part to a heavy police presence.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KASTE: And the mood was actually pretty festive on the sidewalk, where people lined up with those red plastic gas cans. Some were on foot because their cars had the wrong kind of license plate, others, like Carey Jackson, had no choice.
CAREY JACKSON: My car is sitting on E right now. So now I can get a little, you know, a gallon, put it in my car, then I can get to work.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)
KASTE: Jackson's work, as it happens, is driving buses for New Jersey Transit. But even though officials are begging people to take mass transit, he doesn't get priority in the gas line. Doesn't matter if you're a bus driver, a doctor or a nurse, says Jackson's friend, Rob Hurley.
ROB HURLEY: I think the only priority is if you're law enforcement and you show your ID, then they let you right through.
KASTE: At the Quick Chek, the crowd watched passively as a special pump served a much shorter line of off-duty police, Red Cross vans and at least one civilian identified by the attendant as, quote, "a member of the Quick Chek team."
The federal government is sending in millions of gallons of fuel, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he thinks this isn't really a gas shortage anymore - it's more of a distribution problem, because so many stations still don't have power.
The Department of Energy set up a phone number for gas station owners to call and ask for help getting their pumps working again. One of those who may call soon is the manager of the shuttered BP station, right next door to the Quick Chek.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I have gas already in my ground, but I can't push gas because I didn't have power.
KASTE: The manager, who wouldn't give his name, has a small generator, but it's only enough to run the lights. He does have a lead on a bigger one. The only problem? That generator requires diesel - and right now, he says, diesel is just too hard to come by.
Martin Kaste, NPR news.
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