By Berit Ollestad
Among the many things for which the tri-state area should be grateful over this long holiday weekend, there is this: We are no longer prisoners at the pump, and the days of gas rationing are slowly fading into memory.
Although New Jersey ended its gas rationing on Nov. 13, New York was a little more cautious, only lifting its ban on Saturday.
Prior to Hurricane Sandy, gas rationing was looked upon as some fabled tale of yesteryear, recounted by parents and grandparents.
Most Americans first saw it back in 1973, when members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, more commonly known as OPEC, declared an oil embargo against the United States.
Earlier that year Egypt and Syria attacked Israel during its holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. The U.S. supported Israel, and was punished with the embargo, which continued through March of 1974.
Gas rationing reared its ugly head again in 1979, as tensions escalated with Iran.
Surveys in the 1970s suggested people believed the oil companies artificially created shortages to drive up prices. Similar grumblings were heard recently, too. Now that things are back to normal, and we no longer have to worry about simple trips to the grocery store, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what we all experienced.
Just a few weeks ago, bars weren’t the only places in Morristown hopping at 2 am. Morristown’s Finest weren’t just keeping the peace at your favorite watering hole; now they were at your local gas station. If you were looking for your spouse or significant other, you no longer had to prowl the Grasshopper, Dark Horse or Iron Bar. You only had to go to the Exxon station on Morris Avenue.
A mere “tanker spotting” in town one evening earlier this month, just before rationing was imposed, created an atmosphere of giddy excitement. The madness began earlier that day when word spread that gas stations were drying up faster than Hennessey’s Washington Bar, which is closing soon to await new owners.
The Getty station on Speedwell Avene had reported it had pumped its last tank of gas around 1 pm on that fateful afternoon. The Dean station on Abbett Avenue dried up about an hour later.
According to the Gas God of Morris Street, Edwin the Exxon attendant, the fuel tanker arrived around 10 pm with 9,000 gallons of fuel. By midnight that was down to approximately 4,000 gallons. Eight police officers arrived to keep the peace and move motorists away from the tanker, which had been surrounded as if it were prey.
The re-directed line snaked up Pine Street and wrapped onto South Street past the Vail mansion; one motorist calculated the waiting time to be two hours.
Vinnie from East Hanover had raced over at 3:30 in the morning when his brother, who delivers newspapers in Morristown, phoned and exclaimed, “Hurry up and get over here, Morristown has gas!!”
In the blink of an eye, it was gone. “He just called me 5 minutes ago!!!!” Vinnie said despondently. Every station he encountered between Lake Hoptacong either was out of gas, out of power, or both.
The Exxon guys took a sleep break in the wee hours, but reopened at 5:30 am and resumed pumping.
“The owner of this station should be commended for being so accommodating to the community,” a police officer on the scene said.
Some “Real Housewives of New Jersey” also made an appearance, and they were desperate, too. For fuel, that is.
When Robin Gould’s husband drove by the Exxon station on his way to work from Harding that morning, he immediately called Robin and told her “to get over there in line with her gas can.”
Instead of going it alone, Robin commissioned her friends Nancy Priscu, also from Harding, and Lauren Sarrett, from Madison, to join her. “We were off hunting and gathering,” as Lauren put it.
While no restrictions had been placed on fuel at that point, the ladies noted that Village Hardware in Chatham was limiting customers to one gas can apiece.
Mendham resident Tony Sarno, co-owner of Dante’s restaurant, was content standing in line in Morristown for close to an hour to fill his five-gallon gas can.
“This will feed my generator for approximately four hours. But I make it last by using my generator sparingly and turning it off in intervals. I recognize a number of people that are in line that are from Mendham. I see business owners, a bank V.P and other corporate executives that this is foreign to, they aren’t used to this type of inconvenience,” Sarno said with an impish grin.
There are always a few people who find ways to circumvent the system. People found waiting times considerably shorter–averaging 30- to 45- minutes–to fill gas cans. Some folks were making two and three trips, filling gas cans and then feeding their cars with their bounty.
A “gas diet” in this day and age hardly seems plausible. Yet Hurricane Sandy served a valuable reminder that it’s the simple things in life–heat, food, family, friendship and yes, even fuel– that we too often take for granted. Over this Thanksgiving weekend it’s worth remembering that things could have been so much worse than our temporary inconvenience at the pumps, “back in the day.”