SKY HIGH? WHAT IF SKY’S THE LIMIT?

It has been a few weeks since gas prices were the BIG story. This doesn’t mean gas prices have plummeted. It just means, for the moment, our blood pressure isn’t boiling over.

Why not? You still can pay more than $3 a gallon anywhere you look. A year ago, the national average was $2.28. The year before that, it was $1.79. Two years before that it was $1.31.

The profits for Big Oil still are embarrassing. The OPEC nations that get filthy rich from our spending – some of which might like to see us wiped out, if we weren’t such good customers – still are raking in the money.

But, for the moment, we seem to have sighed and accepted it. We always do. I laugh when people say, “Pretty soon, Americans are just going to say, ‘That’s it! I’m not taking it anymore!’ “

Come on. We’re going to take it. You don’t think so? I’ll give you two words:

Bottled water. How much for a quart?

Think about it. Do you remember, not long ago, when the idea of charging for water was obscene? Water? Come on. You get it free at restaurants. You can guzzle it at a public fountain. Water? Who would pay for water?

But look around now. People shell out $2 or $3 for a bottle of water. At a health club or an outdoor fair, they have to have it. At the airport, they buy it with a magazine. Even at home, where they could fill a glass from the sink, they open the refrigerator and unscrew a plastic bottle top.

Now, if we’ll pay this much for water, what makes you think there’s a cap on what we’ll spend for gas?

After all, you need gas to get anywhere. You can’t drive to work without it. You can’t drive to the movies without it. You can’t go anywhere without it – unless you take public transportation. But, oops! There isn’t much of that around here.

So what do we do? We complain. We grouse. We swear. We shake our heads.

And we pump. We’ll keep on pumping.

And you know what?

The oil companies know it. Where’s the commuter train?

Why do you think we get the same lame explanations every time gas prices jump 20 cents in a week? Why is there always some talking head from an oil or gas company who sadly blames this pipeline or that refinery? Why do we accept it when Exxon-Mobil and BP announce record-shattering profits while acting as if they’re just as concerned as we are? How can they be so brazen?

Because they know we’ll come back. They know we’ll keep paying for gas. People thought $2 a gallon would be some breaking point. Then they said $3. I hear people say now, “If it reaches $4, that’s going to be it!”

That’s going to be what? We’ll pay $5 a gallon. We’ll pay $10 a gallon. We’ll cut back on all kinds of other things before we stop driving. It’s because we are too dependent on our wheels, too used to our comforts and lifestyle, and too beaten down by corporations and multinationals to feel we can make any difference.

All we can do is complain. And after a while, as you can tell by the relative quiet the last few weeks, we even get tired doing that.

Meanwhile, we keep shelling out for gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. We keep accepting our politicians’ foot-dragging on alterative energies. We keep complaining about imminent danger from certain foreign countries, while continuing to send those countries billions for their oil. Fine. That’s our choice.

Just don’t tell me the tipping point is coming. We’ve shown no evidence of having one. And because of that, the only thing you can truly say about gas prices is this: They are not going down.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays and “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR-AM (760). To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

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