Day 11 of our cross-country tour finds us clear back on the other side of the country. Surprise.
We were supposed to be in San Francisco today talking about hybrid cars. Hurricane Katrina changed those plans. Our mission was to drive from New York to San Francisco in search of the nation's highest priced gas. But by the time we got to the West Coast, Katrina had interrupted the flow from the Colonial Gulf pipeline, causing prices to spike in the Atlanta area.
So we drove to the end of I-80 in San Francisco (just to be able to say "mission accomplished"), got on a red-eye (after an emotional parting with our Dodge Caravan — the official Price Patrol vehicle) and found ourselves in Atlanta this morning hunting gas gougers.
On average, the price of gas in Atlanta has gone up 40 cents a gallon in a matter of days. Concerns about supply were fueling the hikes. Long lines snaked from the pump down the street Wednesday night, although by Thursday morning people's panic seemed to calm somewhat — at least for now.
We've talked to three men who own or operate gas stations. Two are Exxon stations. A gallon of unleaded regular at one was $2.99. At the other, $3.19. Both say they are at the mercy of their wholesalers, although Michael Cleary, the guy who's got it at $2.99, says staying under $3.00 is very important to him. The other gentleman operates a BP station. At one point yesterday he had super unleaded over $6 a gallon!
I went to ask him why. He had an interesting explanation. Basically — and follow me with the logic on this one — he said he raised the prices because he was worried he'd run out of gas and didn't want his customers to buy gas. I asked him why he didn't just shut off the pump. The conversation ended quickly. We'll show it to you tonight on the CBS Evening News.
As for our cross-country trip, we ended up driving 3,753 miles, spending $495.83. Last year this time, the same trip would have cost roughly $351.14. That's $144.69 more this year than last. Given the hurricane, suddenly $144.69 doesn't seem like so much more for a drive cross-country. But there it is. The Price Patrol's work is done.