Why Run on Empty?
As a college student, really just a teenager with some facial hair and debt, I had a good summer job with a couple other guys in the neighborhood. Decent pay, low pressure, no exertion. The only issue was logistical: it was over 20 miles away without a mass transit option, so a car was essential. All of us worked revolving three shift schedules and we relied on any family’s car on a loose rotation. It was the summer of ’77, about a year before gas lines. Yeah, the good old days.
One day it was Barry Lincone’s turn to drive, and on this occasion for the first shift it was just Barry and me. The Lincone family vehicle was new, I recall, a four-door sedan, and Barry had only driven it once.
Now Barry was one of those types who needed to see how far he could run a tank on empty, pressing his luck. Barry was a smart guy but a class A knucklehead.
I must mention that we came from a community of frugality: thou shalt not do anything stupid that would cost thy family money it didn’t have. We were more afraid of our parents than the police, generally.
On this day Barry’s family car started right on E on the ride to work, which required a seven-mile stretch on the New Jersey Turnpike between Exits 9 & 11. By the Grace of God, we made it that morning, me begging Barry to get gas at every opportunity. Barry all the while grinned like the villain in a silent movie – all eyes and teeth.
At 300pm our shift ended. Of course, we ran out of gas on the way home, halfway through the Turnpike segment, with about three miles to get to Exit 9 and a service station.
No cell phones, people, over 45 years ago. New Jersey is not commonly known for Samaritans of any stripe on the speeding Turnpike unless it looked like you had bags of money and cases of beer. Or wore bikinis, and Barry and I were the wrong gender. We were screwed by our own (well, Barry’s) making.
Barry was concerned about his father’s wrath, so we opted to push the car the 3 miles to Exit 9. If you are from Jersey and have driven on the Turnpike you know this is insane.
Barry was slight in stature and someone had to steer, so pushing a car three miles in neutral on flat terrain was a challenge I accepted.
Barry sat in the car, shouting encouragement out the window into the rushing whoosh of traffic while I huffed and puffed and got us the 3 miles to the exit.
The ramp uphill to get to the toll was formidable, so I started to push and run to develop inertia. My legs were on fire, my back was screaming, and Barry was bellowing out the window like an Olympic coxswain. He was scared to death of his dad.
Horns honked as cars streamed by us, more in fury and derision than bonhomie, and I was about to crest the top of the ramp when the blip-blip of a state trooper and accompanying colored lights stopped us.
The trooper asked us, impolitely, what the heck we thought we were doing, but he didn’t listen to the answer. He had a hot call, I guess, so he told us to stay in place and that he’d call a tow truck.
I told the trooper that it was “cruel” to stop me now, having already humped the car for miles.
He stated flatly that if the car moved one inch before the wrecker came he would have us arrested. At the time it seemed believable, but looking back on it now it would have been nearly impossible to enforce.
So we waited for the tow truck. I didn’t speak directly to Barry for the rest of the summer. He avoided me. My father blistered me when I told him the story, which was the usual penance for my frequent stupidity.
Daring to run out of fuel is extremely irresponsible.
The US is running out of munitions, missiles, tanks, guns large and small, jeeps, planes, ships, and other crucial and time-consuming to replace weapons of war.
US policy in support of Ukraine and Israel and our annual tithing to lesser allies and players requires a robust replenishment of resources. Politics aside, we give our stockpiles away and don’t backfill our own strategic needs.
For the record, I am for helping both the Ukraine and Israeli causes and initiatives, full stop, no half steps. There is plenty of room for reasonable debate. And the US has the capacity and resources.
But if this support makes the US vulnerable, we need to fill the gas tank. We cannot run on fumes and assume we can muscle the buildup of weapons of war like the US did after Pearl Harbor.
This will take resolve, political courage, and bags of money.
First the resolve: give the Ukraine and Israel every tool necessary to prevail and reinforce our other allies (think Taiwan). These conflicts are proxy wars for the US. We have little to no boots on the ground, but a sure-fire way to ruin the morale of US combat arms troops when things do go kinetic is to run out of bullets and spare parts and the means to protect our interests, our lives, our allies, and to bring hell on our enemies.
The political courage is to stand tall, define that resolve, shape a domestic fuel production policy, and fill the near empty tank. Today.
This will take money, lots of it, money that we don’t have budgeted and should not borrow.
I risk conservative and Republican heresy here, but tax policy can’t keep up with expenditures and it would be too disruptive to not pay for the necessary weapons of war in our own defense.
We all need skin in the game.
I propose a one per cent tax on everything consumable at either origin or destination. Let congress figure it out. No exemptions, no exceptions. I have no clue how it will score, but we will find out who is serious about foreign policy, including the border, and who is whistling past the graveyard.
The world is on a precipice with enemies within and without shooting arrows at us which are, for the most part, near misses. The time will come, sooner rather than later, that the US will have to jump off the cliff… but to where? Into a diatomaceous earth filtered infinity pool? Or to perdition through a heavy fog of “hoping” that everything will work out?
Are we willing to fill the tank, or are we waiting to see how empty “empty” really is?
And when we run out of gas, and we will, where will the world be? Who’s gonna push the car?
You, the taxpayer, will push that car on flat terrain, and our military will push it up the steep hill. The persons steering this gas-less useless car ain’t pushing – they are sitting and steering without a plan, reacting only, shouting rhetoric in a situation they created – and soon enough it will be their oratory sending US troops into harm’s way. With no bullets, and no fuel.
Tax policy must support reality. I predict that tax increases will come, but only after evil visits our shores, again, and we have been found flat-footed, again.
Why do we keep electing people who run the car dry, waiting for it to stop in the wrong place, at the worst time?
To this day I top off my tank when it’s half-full. I don’t take those risks.
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