Don Descoteau: Summertime madness in the mix

Summer is a time when, with many media contacts on holidays, reporters often bide their time waiting for something odd or outstanding to happen.

Among the things catching my attention of late is the price of gas.

Summer is a time when, with many media contacts on holidays, reporters often bide their time waiting for something odd or outstanding to happen.

Among the things catching my attention of late is the price of gas.

As I drive to work each morning, I glance up at a large sign for the corner gas station, where the day’s price is posted. It’s a rather fatalistic exercise, kind of like watching the stock market to make sure my investments aren’t going into the toilet.

On more than a few occasions in the past month or so, I’ve sat at the light shaking my head. How can gas go up 10 cents per litre one day, go back down eight, then jump up another 10? (At the time of writing, regular gas sat at $1.29.9 per litre.)

So who sets local gas prices? For stations that are independently owned and operated, including those branded by an international company, the operator sets the price. For corporate-owned stations, the company sets it – but in both cases, the market dictates the maximum price.

The fact consumers are very sensitive to gas prices keeps most stations at the same level. Operators watch each other like hawks because of that sensitivity and no one wants to be left behind when someone drops their prices. Who wants to watch their competitor across the road do great business while you’re left dusting off the pumps and tidying up the chocolate bar aisle?

Checking out the past few month’s prices (www.bcgasprices.com) in Victoria and B.C., our line on the graph resembles a seismographic needle during a major earthquake. We dropped to around $1.12 per litre in mid-June after three months straight between $1.27 and $1.31, and the price has bounced up and down like a rubber ball since.

We have, however, had more of a respite from the high prices than the rest of B.C. The provincial average has slowly declined from a high of nearly $1.35 per litre in early May to the current $1.28 or so.

So what does that mean to those of us driving around the Capital Region? Are our retailers more likely to throw out a loss leader now and again, perhaps to boost sales of other products at their stations? Perhaps. But since the vast majority of money spent at most service stations is for gas, such a strategy can only be seen as trying to build customer loyalty for the time gas prices return to normal market levels.

While it’s great as a consumer to be caught in the middle of a mini gas war, it’s rather frustrating trying to guess what the real market price is and what is simply a price blip.

For people who do a lot of driving, either as part of their job or during their commute, major changes in the price of gas can make a significant difference. Filling up say, a regular cab pickup truck with a roughly 100-litre fuel tank from near empty would have cost $10 less on Sunday than Monday.

Even with my compact Mazda, the amount I save on a tankful in such situations is enough to cover the cost of two morning coffees. Is timing everything? Maybe not always, but it sure can save you money at times.

The current state of gas jockeying has turned many of us into market watchers. The big difference is while we can certainly buy low, we don’t have the option of selling high.

•     •     •

Maybe I’m just getting crankier as I near 50, but some things just bug me.

This week I read about a local artist who is one of 15 people up for a $25,000 national prize being offered in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition.

Great, more recognition for the local arts scene, right? But a white spray-bombed sheet of flat aluminum with 10 sides? Shut the front door. I’d rather have seen Jose over at Lima’s Autobody enter a repainted front left quarter-panel off a 1991 Chevy pickup truck.

I know that art often reflects the inner turmoil and the spirit of the artist, and that pieces are frequently designed to be controversial so as to evoke strong feelings in the observer.

This one sure did for me. It makes Mowry Baden’s much-maligned “Rock, Pavilion and Shell” in front of Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre look like creative genius.

I suppose this is yet another instance of contemporary art proving that it’s not intended for the average person – even someone who loves art – to either understand, or enjoy.

Don Descoteau is the editor of the Oak Bay News.

editor@oakbaynews.com

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