Budding Writer, 1979: Gas pains

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

Wildfires continue to burn in western Quebec, resulting in smoky clouds over Lake Champlain on June 12, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

In the last few years, we’ve come to understand the law of supply and demand, the “supply train,” and how shortages affect our daily lives. But it wasn’t the first time, and may not be the last.

The Second Oil Crisis was already underway by the time the summer of 1979 rolled around and travel demands put pressure on the gasoline supply. Many states, including New Jersey, enacted de facto rationing based on license plate numbers. My little yellow Vega wagon had even-numbered New Hampshire plates.

My mother and I, vacationing on the Jersey shore with New Jersey plate BPG-317, weren’t sure about getting back to Northern New Jersey, let alone my rental house in New Hampshire and my job in Vermont:

… Mom and I bought enough gasoline to get home on, (this odd-even rationing plan is really going to f— up my plans for returning to N.H.) …

Journal, Volume II
19 June 1979

… Major worries and concerns about gas availability, product availability as a result of truckers trucks strikes (it’s too late), and about possible universal financial disaster — and my possible need therefrom to return home. Least of my worries in a depression, I would think. …

21 June 1979

A good day for leaving the shore — cloudy with a strong “sea mist.” We made it back to Wayne with no problem …

We observed long lines at all highway gas stations and when we got here, all area stations in Wayne, Pompton, and Oakland were closed. I, myself, began to feel the panic mentality — needed a stiff drink to relax. The problem: with an even plate, I may not be able to get gas before Tuesday. Called the JO and Roger to report in.

22 June 1979

… Actually, despite the joking, being in NJ is not really that bad. But I am worried …

Let’s put it this way: I enjoy being home; it feels like home. I keep seeing ways I can use the house and yard; I enjoy being around old friends, church, family and neighbors … It’s like old times, and I’m sure I could fit in here, particularly by partaking in church and lake activities, if I were to come back.

And it seems likely that either I’ll be here for a while, or may be forced by economic circumstances to return. Mom saw no gas stations open today (although we later heard of two); apparently only the Hess stations were open Sunday; I probably won’t be able to get anything until Tuesday at the earliest. This makes me wonder whether I’ll have a job when I get back north — and whether I’ll be able to afford to live unless it becomes full time.

Even so, it wouldn’t be horrible to return here if necessary. Not in the least.

23 June 1979

It wouldn’t be horrible for me, that’s true. But meanwhile, a tankful of gasoline to the north, the editor of a small weekly newspaper who had lost two of his three staffers was seeing things differently.

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