July 21, 2006

Drivers’ love of the road grows costly

By Andrea Hopkins

ST. LEON, Indiana (Reuters) - Indiana bills itself as "The
Crossroads of America" but with gasoline topping $3 a gallon,
few here are celebrating their relationship with the road.

"High prices affect people out here more than in the city,"
Jeff Finck, 53, said as he fueled his Chevrolet Suburban at an
Exxon station near the border of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

"It's 25 miles to our church," he said. "If I need gas it's
6 miles away -- that's a 12-mile round trip. The nearest
grocery story is 6 or 7 miles away.

"We're being gouged ... but what can you do?" he said.

America's love of the road has entered a difficult phase.
While U.S. gasoline is still cheaper than in Europe or Asia,
wars in the Middle East helped push the average price to $2.99
a gallon on Friday, up 30 percent from a year ago, according to
the AAA automobile club.

Gas prices hit a record $3.06 a gallon last September in
the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina but what consumers had hoped
was a temporary spike has persisted. Heartland drivers are
starting to look for ways to cut back on travel.

AAA Cincinnati spokeswoman Sandra Guile said many
vacationers in middle America have stayed closer to home this

"A lot of people in the Midwest have not ventured further
than the Mississippi River," Guile said. "If you're towing a
boat or a motor home, you're definitely feeling the pinch."

Although America is less than four months from mid-term
elections, drivers seem resigned to high prices -- and more
inclined to blame oil companies for the price spike than
politicians in Washington.


"People will say (President George W.) Bush ought to do
something but I don't know what he can do," Finck said. "It's
bigger than the president, it's a worldwide thing. Who can you

Inside the Exxon station in St. Leon, clerk Stacey Fowler,
31, says customers aren't complaining as much as last year,
when gasoline was closer to $2 a gallon.

"People have gotten used to it," he said.

Fowler drives a Dodge pickup with a big V-8 engine that he
bought three years ago when gas was $1.19 a gallon. He's cut
down on unnecessary trips to save gas but he's not ready to
switch to a smaller vehicle.

"If it gets up to $4.50 a gallon, I might think about it,"
he said.

Some 1,500 miles away, at a rest stop in Park City,
Montana, Richard Sherrill has been paying about $275 a day to
fuel his 41-foot motor home, which is towing a 7,000-pound SUV.
He's about halfway through a trip from North Carolina with his
family to visit Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.

Diesel fuel, which also costs about $3 a gallon, for the
trip will cost about $3,000. That's more than he expected, but
Sherrill said he has no regrets. His blame for high prices also
goes well past Washington.

"It's all this trouble in the Middle East," he said as he
and his family snacked on hot dogs.

In the middle of the country, Kansas mother-of-three Joan
Russo said the high prices are painful but not enough to alter
a routine that regularly has her driving about 80 miles (128
km) a day to ferry her kids to soccer, drama, swimming and
other summer activities.

"I do find that if I have to do short trips around town, we
take the car and not the van to get better gas mileage," said
Russo. "But it hasn't changed much for us."

(With additional reporting by Ros Krasny in Montana and
Carey Gillam in Kansas City)