FLINT - How starved are we for good economic news? This starved: "Screeee!"
That was me jamming on the brakes to make the turn into the gas station when I noticed that the price had dropped 20 cents per gallon overnight from $3.59 to $3.39.
"Whoohoo!" I said aloud. Yeah. I really did that. I also wished that I had a spare gas tank or some gas cans with me. Man, what a deal! Better jump on that quick!
Then reality hit me. In buying 11 gallons I had just saved $2.20, or enough to buy a newspaper and a coffee. If I gassed up once a week for a year, I'd save a whopping $104.
Now, it's true, a buck's a buck but saving two of them shouldn't thrill me like it did. But it seems like so long since we've caught a break on anything in this economy that my joy was literally reflexive.
When I posted my little triumph on Facebook, I found out I'm not alone.
"Heller, you must have been in the wrong part of town. It's below $3.10 in many places!" said one reader.
"I just got it for $2.86 at a Kroger station!" said another.
"What the hell? It's $3.49 up here!" said another.
The giddiness and debate went on for, at last count, 24 messages. Mind you, these are mostly middle class folks. Minor fluctuations in the price of gas shouldn't be a big deal, certainly nothing that should warrant such enthusiasm.
After all, it wasn't so long ago that gas was so cheap no one cared if it rose or fell 20 cents, much less get all giddy about it.
But then, like I say, we've gotten so used to bad news that any sign of progress - no matter how fleeting - is cause for celebration.
It's a reminder of how suddenly and seemingly permanently things have changed. We seem to have hit some kind of disturbing tipping point, where prices always rise but wages seldom do, where stocks rise a little only to fall a lot, where corporations rake in record profits and sit on Scrooge McDuck-sized piles of money and yet the number of jobs never increases and the price of goods never falls.
The economists tell us that it's all explainable, that it's all just supply and demand, the ebb and flow of worldwide economics, and that there's nothing hinky or different going on.
And maybe that's so. But I get the feeling many people don't believe it.
A certain low level paranoia or suspicion seems to have crept in. People wonder if the game is rigged these days in some indefinable way by the Lords of Wall Street, who are not only having their way with us but laughing at us, to boot, when we get excited about the scraps they throw us, like a temporary break on gas.
As one reader put it, "Nothing like saving a few cents at the pump while the 401k lost $7,000 during the same week."
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org