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Originally published Monday, March 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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At what gas price will you carpool?

I paid $3.13 a gallon for gasoline the other night to fill up my old Buick. At a total of $49 plus change, that's the closest I've come...

The Press-Register of Mobile, Ala

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I paid $3.13 a gallon for gasoline the other night to fill up my old Buick.

At a total of $49 plus change, that's the closest I've come to using up a $50 bill for a tank of gasoline.

Which leads me to ponder this question: With fuel costs moving steadily upward, at what point will we commuters change the way we get to work?

When gas hits $3.25 a gallon? $3.50? Four dollars? Surely, if the price climbs to $5 a gallon, which some economists predict will happen in a few years, we will balk at shelling out $75 per tank of gas to drive to the office all by ourselves.

With telecommuting not yet practical for most workers, and without widespread public transportation in some areas, that leaves us with the specter of carpooling to work.

The problem is, most of us will say we respect people who conserve fuel by carpooling, yet we don't mean it.

I remember my mother riding to college in a carpool every weekday so Daddy could have one of our cars to get to work and we teenagers could have the other, older car to get to school.

But that was the old days. Now we all expect to have our own cars, plus cars for each of our driving-age children. (Heck, for a year or so after I inherited my mother's old Chrysler, we had more cars than people in our family.)

What keeps us in our individual vehicles, even at $3-plus a gallon?

We are spoiled: We like to leave the house when we want to, without having to worry about picking up somebody at a certain time. If we want to leave work a little early or stay a little late, we don't want to have somebody depending on a ride home.

Even though most days our cars sit in parking lots for eight or nine hours, we want them there just in case we decide to go out to lunch or run an errand.

We are set in our ways: Some days I want my satellite radio on CNN; other days, I'm in the mood for sports radio or the local news-and-talk show.

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I do not want anybody telling me what station to listen to, much less at what volume, or telling me what temperature to set the thermostat on.

If I want to apply a little mascara or walk on the wild side and send a text message, ditto: It's my car and I'll do what I want to behind the wheel.

We think we're the best and brightest drivers on the road, which makes us hesitant to entrust our safety to others.

I would rather die at my own hand than be killed in your car because you failed to stop at a traffic light (or were putting on makeup or sending a text message while driving).

Doing the math is painful, so we don't do it: I am not sure of my fuel tank's capacity (I think it's around 16 gallons) or the mileage from my house to the office (my recollection is about 28 miles). Thus, I have never calculated what it costs me — in gasoline alone — to drive 50 to 60 miles a day, five days a week.

This is not because I'm dumb. It is because I don't want to know the truth about the cost of commuting, and most of you don't, either. It would be too painful.

They say, however, that the truth will set you free. Maybe as we look ahead to shockingly expensive gasoline, we will come to know the truth, and the truth will force us to change our self-centered ways.

When the price hits $4, I think I'll be willing to at least give carpooling a try — as long as nobody tries to change the radio station.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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