* Drivers hopeful, and somewhat thankful
* Some question Obama's political motives
* Ditching the BMW for a Dodge Caliber
By Tom Brown and Peter Henderson
MIAMI/SAN FRANCISCO, June 24 Going lightly on
the gas pedal, getting a few dollars of gas rather than filling
up, cutting out the cruising, and swapping the BMW for a Dodge
Caliber -- those are ways Americans are coping with gasoline
prices well above $3 a gallon.
But people pumping gas on Friday from Miami to San
Francisco saw prospects for lower prices thanks to President
Barack Obama's decision on Thursday to tap the country's
emergency petroleum stockpile as part of a global effort to
bolster tight oil supplies.
The release of 30 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic
Petroleum Reserve may not make people reschedule long summer
road trips but could spell welcome relief for household budgets
crimped by an anemic economic recovery.
While it might be a political move by Obama to help his
re-election bid for 2012, as some speculate, most drivers
seemed happy to get a break, even a small one.
Jonathan Sifuentes, a 26-year-old power company employee,
called the decision "the right thing to do" as he fueled up a
Toyota Camry sedan on Miami's outskirts.
"Everyone is hurting, with the economy, and unfortunately
we do need gas to maintain our lifestyle, to go to work, to get
groceries, to pick up our kids," he said.
Gasoline prices have fallen about 30 cents since the
beginning of May to an average of $3.65 a gallon, but the U.S.
Department of Energy said it expected gasoline to average $3.75
a gallon this summer, up 99 cents from last year.
While U.S. gas prices may look like a steal to a European,
Americans rely more on the stuff. The American lifestyle built
around the car and cheap gas prices, for all the work on mass
transit and renewable energy, is not going away.
Some drivers hoped the reserve release would help bring
down gas prices as much as 50 to 75 cents per gallon. But Dales
Feild, a 55-year-old retired General Motors Co (GM.N) assembly
worker in Detroit who likes to go shopping and cruising around
town for the fun of it, said she did not expect to see a gallon
below $3 again, ever.
"I was surprised when it did it once, I don't think it'll
happen again," Feild said as she filled the tank of her navy
blue GMC Sonoma pickup truck.
'NOT AN EMERGENCY'
Chicagoan Jackson Donnie, a 29-year-old landlord, had
stopped filling his gas tank, putting in $20 each time, and was
often perilously close to empty. He was walking more or riding
his scooter. Obama, he said, felt America's pain at the pumps.
"I think what he did is just to give the economy a break
because we were so uptight," said Donnie. "He feels for us.
He's a human being just like we are."
Diana Crane, 59, was buying $15 worth of gas at a Houston
Valero station for her Ford Focus. She said Obama's motives
might have been political, but she did not really care.
"He's trying to make people feel good." said Crane. "If
they feel good, maybe they'll vote for him. That's what
politicians do. Isn't the government supposed to be for the
Not everyone was willing to give Obama credit for doing the
right thing, like Los Angeles nurse Igor Piligramm, 45.
"That's a bad idea because emergency supplies exist for
emergencies," he said as he filled up his sedan in Hollywood.
"This is not an emergency."
While there might not be many options for short-term
relief, the high gas prices and the release of vast reserves,
only the third in history, inevitably led drivers to talk about
the need for long-term solutions, from America pumping more of
its own gas to investing in renewable energy.
The latter is particularly popular in a green energy hotbed
like San Francisco, where Praneal Narayan, a software company
employee, was pumping gas in his Lexus.
"It feels like there is always some excuse for the price of
fuel going up," he said. "Alternative energy is what we should
really be focused on instead of what is the price of fuel
Until the long-term fixes come through, drivers just need
to find the way to make it through the month, like 48-year-old
San Francisco yacht captain Yohy Bitton.
Bitton was filling up for a drive down the California coast
for the weekend, but he was not taking his own gas-
guzzling BMW. He rented a compact Dodge Caliber.
"I'm driving to LA. I'd rather drive this," he said. "The
mileage is better, it seems. Much better."
(Additional reporting by Bruce Nichols in Houston, Euanju Lie
in Chicago, Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit and Mary Slosson in
Los Angeles; Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Peter