Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

DON'T BE FUELISH; Record Gas Prices -- $2-Plus a Gallon! -- Are Enough to Drive Anyone Crazy

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

DON'T BE FUELISH; Record Gas Prices -- $2-Plus a Gallon! -- Are Enough to Drive Anyone Crazy

Article excerpt

Byline: THOMAS LAKE

Michael Jeffers put back the pump and grabbed the receipt.

It came to $32 even.

For half a tank.

Of some of the cheapest gas in town.

Jeffers, 23, commutes from near Yulee to the Tax Collector's office on University Boulevard in a gas-thirsty Ford F-150. Fuel costs him nearly $90 a week.

But he's not about to ditch the truck.

"I've had to cut back on a whole lot of other stuff," Jeffers said recently at a Hess station on Atlantic Boulevard. "When I go home, I'm home. There ain't no going out to dinner or going out to friends' houses."

Welcome to the new American paradox, where the very vehicles that give us our freedom have some of us in a financial stranglehold. More than 40 percent of the 1,000 adults polled last month by AOL and the Associated Press said record-high gas prices have forced them to shorten their vacation road trips. More than half say they'll face monetary hardship if the price stays high for the next six months.

The record prices squeeze especially tight in Jacksonville, where public transportation use is less than half the national average, and nearly 80 percent of employees drive to work alone.

It's enough to make some people do crazy things.

The RaceWay station on Atlantic Boulevard was recently charging $2.13 a gallon for regular unleaded -- the lowest price in the city, according to Gaspricewatch.com. Station vice president Amita Patel said some people drove all the way from the beach to fill up.

Let's say those drivers saved 10 cents a gallon. That's a 30-mile round trip, and in a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon, they'd have to buy 32 gallons just to break even -- never mind the extra time and vehicle wear.

"We get in this 'the sky is falling mentality,' and pretty soon the sky is falling," said Mitch Fields, sales manager at the Nimnicht car dealership on Cassat Avenue, who admittedly has a dog in this fight. It's an 8,000-pound behemoth called the Hummer, and like other full-size SUVs, it's losing curb appeal as people scramble for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Then again, Nimnicht sold four Hummers this February, down from five in February 2004 -- hardly a significant drop.

"Anybody who can afford a Hummer at $131,000 isn't worried about gas at $2.25 a gallon," said Mark Baxter, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University.

Others are lining up for cars such as the Toyota Prius, which has touchscreen controls, decent acceleration and a hybrid gas-electric motor that gets 60 mpg in the city.

Don Leandro, a salesman at Ernie Palmer Toyota on Cassat Avenue, frequently gets the following question:

"Do you have a Prius?"

His reaction: "I just want to go bang my head on the wall."

That's because the answer is generally no. …

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