Remember when you used to just jump in the car and go places?

Published 3:56 pm Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I had an urge a few moments ago to just jump in my truck and drive a bit more than 20 miles to get something I wanted for tying flies, not something I need, but something I want.

Before I even got out of my chair, I told myself no, that we would be down that way on some other business soon and I would get it then. My mind had automatically calculated how much it would cost to drive that far, in addition to the cost of the tool I wanted. I would just make do with what I already have for the time being.

I have had a strong urge in recent weeks to run to New Orleans to my favorite fly shop to purchase some materials I want. Again, my mind said no, we would be going down that way soon enough and I could get what I wanted then.

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Funny how the rise in gasoline prices and the instability of the financial markets affect a person. Once upon a time not too long ago, I would have just jumped in the truck and gone to get that tool and those materials. Not today.

Remember when we complained about “Sunday drivers,” those folks that would load the family in the car and go tooling — slowly — down the road just looking at the countryside and backing up traffic for miles behind them? I don’t recall having heard that term used very much since the first oil crisis when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC as we generally call it, formed back in the 1970s and began limiting the amount of oil those countries allow to be pumped from their wells.

Habits change and one of the forces that causes habits to change is economic, as we are learning on a massive scale right now.

People are driving less and buying smaller cars and, as a result of this change in habits, are using less gasoline. That has been documented.

I haven’t seen any documentation on this subject, but I believe that we are beginning to use less electricity as well. I see people in the stores all the time buying the curly-cue fluorescents that replace incandescent bulbs and even electric companies are promoting their use.

There are now ads on television promoting tankless hot water heaters. Those ads wouldn’t be there unless people were beginning to buy them in an effort to save on the cost of heating water, which means using less energy, 30 to 50 percent less.

We have a long way to go to cause major reductions in the prices of fuel through reduced demand, but gasoline prices have fallen a small amount. Still, I’m not about to hop in my truck and go off down the road on a whim to purchase a new tool that isn’t absolutely necessary.

Yes, economics, what goes into and comes out of our pocketbooks, is driving many of our decisions these days. Actually, economics generally drives most of even our minor decisions, but we don’t notice that force very much unless it is causing us to make changes in the way we do things.

We are in the throes of two crises now that may cause major changes in our habits, and the two crises are related.

The energy crisis arrived first. That’s the one causing the changes in our driving habits and the switch to more energy efficient light bulbs and other devices. It probably also contributed to the economic crisis apparently brought on by a drop in real estate values, and it may have contributed to that crisis in two ways.

First, people don’t want to live too far from their jobs or where they shop because of the cost of gasoline to drive to those places, so they aren’t buying homes in the new ex-urbs that are being built further and further out from the economic centers where jobs and shops are located. Secondly, the cost of energy means they don’t have as much money to spend as before fuel costs began rising, which reduces the number, and types, of things that they buy.

Of course, that is the simple explanation and is far from the major cause of what is taking place in the financial markets. Those markets are being roiled primarily by the greed of those who were in charge of them and the lack of oversight to keep that greed in check. The financial markets would have been affected by the changes in habits brought on by the increasing cost of energy, but we probably wouldn’t be noticing those effects as much as we are now if it weren’t for the rampant greed.

The upheaval in the markets brought on by that greed also is going to change our habits because of the economic impact and generally when something causes a conscious change in our habits, it means that change probably will be that we are doing less and thinking more about what we do.

I expect state and federal parks and other public — relatively inexpensive — destinations will see more vacationers and toney resorts will see fewer. I expect that the portion of the airline crisis related to the number of flights trying to get into and out of crowded airports will shrink simply because fewer people will be flying. From what I hear, Amtrak already is seeing increased ridership as people move from their cars and airplanes to trains. I also expect to see a resurgence in inter-city bus travel, if that isn’t already happening.

It’s hard to imagine all the changes that the cost of energy and the turmoil in the financial markets is going to cause, but I expect our changes in habits brought on by these two crises will mean that tomorrow is a lot different from today, and especially a lot different from yesterday, whenever that was.