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Suburban motorists being driven to extremes

After the gasoline shortages of the past three weeks, one thing is abundantly clear: We're all going to have to change our driving habits sooner or later - and probably sooner.

I mean, I don't see the price of fuel coming down significantly any time soon, unless somebody invents a car that runs on milk.

Whoops. Never mind. I just paid $3.99 for a gallon of 2 percent.

I've already noticed a major shift in the way I view travel. I used to think of my daily commute as a 60-mile round trip, about 45 minutes each way. Now I recognize it for what it really is: an $8.00-a-day habit.

That realization came to me last week as I was snuffling around like a heroin addict on an old episode of "Starsky and Hutch," rubbing my arm while searching for a gas station with open pumps.

Unless we begin treating our addiction now, we may all wind up going cold turkey. So I propose that we finally, after putting it off so long, begin to consider the unthinkable: not driving hundreds of miles each week alone in our obscenely large, gas-guzzling SUV's. (Note to my own obscenely large gas-guzzling SUV: please don't take that personally.)

In other words, it's high time we brought mass transit to the masses.

We all know the powers that be in certain large, affluent suburban counties have long resisted the idea of allowing Atlanta's rail system to reach their shores, for reasons that have to do mostly with color - by which I mean of course the dubious aesthetic properties of MARTA's orange, yellow and blue logo.

We can no longer afford that kind of thinking, if indeed we ever could. Nor can we sustain indefinitely the kind of one-person, one-car, one-hand-gesture freeway lifestyle with which we've become comfortable.

Consider the panic and paralysis that accompanied a mere anomaly in the gas-flow continuum. What would happen if we had an actual, long-term shortage - which is clearly not an unrealistic scenario?

I mean, good grief, from the mood around town the past three weeks you would have thought Bobby Bowden had just retired and that Mark Richt had announced he was leaving for Florida State (speaking of realistic scenarios).

Of course, eschewing one's personal vehicle in favor of mass transit is not the sort of lifestyle change that can be mandated by government, as I've tried explaining to my socialist friends. Supply and demand is a natural law, just like gravity or the Jagger Principle, which states that elderly rock stars must date women young enough to be their granddaughters.

But as the price of gas continues to rise relative to income, many of us will eventually begin to demand other options. I trust our county and local governments are already considering ways to supply them.

And I'm not talking about a sale on 2 percent milk.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.