Early Monday morning I stopped for gas outside the city — not out of any sense of panic, though panic, indeed, had begun to set in on many of those close to me.
And not because I feared any sort of Carter era rationing, which I actually lived through. It takes a lot more than a busted pipeline to wipe out the gas supply of the 46th largest media market in the country.
No, I filled up because I was running out of gas, and I feared that the rest of these morons out there would buy it all up before I had to deliver papers on Wednesday.
The story broke just as the weekend hit — late, and almost exclusively on the TV news — that the ruptured segment of pipeline in Alabama would affect our supply in the Triad. And over the course of a weekend this hiccup in the supply of our national vice got spun by the infotainment industry into a full-blown scare, because the only device television journalism has left in its toolbox, apparently, is the danger button.
Here on the ground, as of Monday only a single gas station in my neighborhood ran out of gas after the hoarders wiped out the weekend’s supply. I heard about — and saw on teevee! — plenty of closed pumps and grumbling motorists, but my own eyes told me different.
It looks to me like a pinch in the supply, followed by a run on the merchandise — the same thing happens to an ATM when a street vendor sets up next to it on a Saturday night selling delicious brownies for cash.
And the whole thing got exacerbated by a breathless, mindless media — which became obligated to cover this thing as a genuine crisis after people responded exactly the way they were supposed to. Because, manufactured or not, this very real increase in demand cuts deep into the inventory.
Media scholars call this type of thing a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” like when Voldemort tried to kill Harry Potter and subsequently gave the boy enough power to take on the Death Eaters and whatnot.
The same thing happens to an ATM when a street vendor sets up next to it on a Saturday night selling delicious brownies.
It’s a boon to the TV networks, which have stayed relentlessly on top of the story they helped create, and to the petroleum industry, which gets a chance to remind gasoline junkies where their juice comes from just as pipelines are being protested in other parts of the country. It doesn’t hurt the governor’s office, which got to issue a state of emergency and can thus take credit when everything goes back to normal by the end of the week, either.
But it’s particularly biting to those of us who saw through the hype but have to live with the consequences anyway.