Some people just have to go to work, pandemic or expensive gas aside.



Lately I’ve seen some commentary about how people should just hush up about gasoline prices. The main points seem to be ‘it’s a complicated problem so you can’t blame the administration, there’s Putin, we need to use renewables and stop using nasty gas, subsidies made it artificially low anyway, Europeans pay a lot more and just ‘quit yer dang driving you whiners!’

While I’m certainly no economist, or expert in petroleum supply chains, I can say a few things with certainty. America is a very large country and many people live outside of urban areas. We tend to travel long distances for work and pleasure by car and always have since cars became widespread. Likewise, we don’t have the same mass transit infrastructure that many other countries have. It might be nice, but we don’t and we certainly can’t build it right now. We also have larger families than folks in European and Asian countries so driving tiny cars is more difficult for families.

Those who have few children or no children, those who live in large urban areas where a short walk, Uber, Lyft, taxi or subway/bus are options can indeed ‘drive less.’ I think there’s a great appeal there. I have spent time in cities and I love the convenience of walking.

However, as I live and work in rural America, I just have to drive. And so do a lot of people. They simply don’t have an option to ‘work from home,’ or just chill around the house and relax. That’s because they have to go to jobs. Absolutely have to do it. It isn’t a question. It isn’t as if they can call the boss and say, ‘yeah, Mike, about work; gas is really high so unless you give me a big raise I’m just going to stay home for a couple months until things shake out. I’ll come back then, mkay?’

The whole thing reminds me a lot of COVID, when an influential swath of the population was able to work from home and just couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t do the same. ‘I mean, just order Grubhub, watch some Netflix and wait it out!’ That sort of thinking neglected the fact that Grubhub food was grown by someone, prepared by someone, delivered by someone, in a car repaired by someone, fueled with gas which was pumped out of the ground, refined and shipped and sold by lots of someones. And those many ‘someones’ had to leave their homes and go into the great COVID wasteland and take their chances.

However, a funny thing happened while what has been called ‘the laptop class,’ inveighed against people daring to go outside. The people who went outside had the temerity to go to work, to pay their bills, and then die. The nerve! The gall! Here’s a story my wife saw and shared with me.

It suggests that people who were poorer with lower educational attainment, who had to go out to work during the pandemic, were more likely than others to die of COVID.

I’m not at all surprised by this, since nurses, physicians, respiratory techs, paramedics and others also died. That’s the thing about infectious diseases. You get infected by being around them. It’s in the name.

One of the ways that happens is that you leave your house to go to work. Now, I worked during the pandemic, face to face with COVID. I’m not complaining. I’m proud of what I did. I have no regrets and would do it again in a heartbeat. Heck, odds are I will. (Although honestly, I’m kind of holding out for Monkeypox just to shake things up.)

I suspect that many who died while doing work that couldn’t be done from home knew the dangers and pressed on in order to care for their families. Some people assume they simply were ignorant hicks who didn’t know science. It’s just as likely, more likely, that they had no other options and so they minimized the risk. They applied the same bravdo people have always done when they have no options. ‘I’ll be fine.’ Many of them already engaged in dangerous jobs anyway; construction, logging, line work, truck driving, even night clerks in convenience stores. They understood risk. Humans have always done this. And it’s just life.

But what bothers me is the way we have this apparent class divide and the way that those in the upper tiers don’t seem to be able to make connections.

Saying to people, who need to work to support their families, ‘just stay home like I do and don’t drive,’ is as inane as saying ‘why are you complaining Ms. Poor Person? Just go buy a Tesla!’ Or ‘you might catch a disease so don’t worry about food, water, rent or educating your children. Stay home and watch television. Oh, you don’t have a home, or television, or computer or Internet? Well at least you don’t have COVID!’

It occurs to me, in a kind of ironic twist, that if people can’t afford gasoline then they’re simple back in another kind of lock-down, not by law but by economic reality. And we’re only just learning about the devastation the first one caused. Do we really want to try it again?

I’m fine with attempts to improve our energy networks. I’m fine with developing alternate fuel sources and moving to electric vehicles. If we’re realistic about making that reliable and also affordable for the poor and middle class.

But we have to remember the lessons, the cruel lessons of the pandemic and not repeat them. And ignoring $5 to $10 dollar per gallon gasoline, or treating it as a win for America for any reason, is just elitist and disdainful.

No, it’s just plain mean.


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