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Life imitates "Road Warrior' during Ivan gas shortages

Now that Hurricane Ivan is off our radar screens, it's time to ask: What was with the lines at the gas stations?

For a couple of days there, the Tampa Bay area looked like a scene from Road Warrior. Frustrated drivers were trolling around from gas station to gas station, desperate for a quick petrol fix. Some of them undoubtedly had a half or three-quarters of a tank, but it wasn't enough. Not when everybody is in line for gas.

What happened? A couple of things.

First there was that rumor of shortages and rationing. Neither was true. But it quickly became a fascinating study where perception becomes reality. Okay, the supply is fine. No shortage.

Then on the strength of a rumor and a general panic vibe, the demand goes through the roof. Suddenly we do have a shortage.

It was interesting to see the governor and others stating emphatically that there was no rationing, absolutely no rationing, and no shortage. But who's going to listen to someone claiming there is no shortage when the gas stations are out of gas, when the pumps have those little plastic bags over them, and when a handful of stations were limiting customers to $5 worth of gas? Again, perception becomes reality.

"Nothing interrupted the supply," said Gregg Laskoski, spokesman for AAA. "What happened was consumers essentially reacted _ overreacted _ to a rumor."

The situation quickly sorted itself out. Ivan went elsewhere. The lines at Home Depot and the grocery stores disappeared. Gas stations got new shipments, and the lines at the gas stations disappeared.

"It was interesting because there was no rational reason for the lines," Laskoski said. "But if other people are getting in line, you think you better get in line, too. And the line gets longer and longer."

All we can say is good thing Ivan went elsewhere. If the threat of a storm caused us all to act like lemmings, what would happen if there really was a shortage and a bad storm?

We'll have to rent the Road Warrior DVD again. Mel Gibson and all those other warrior types kept racing around the postapocalyptic landscape looking for gas. How did that end? Oh, yeah, lots of violence and explosions.

From fill it up to fill it in

So far, compliments to Pasco County for at least getting a start filling in potholes.

Winds from the recent storms left plenty of debris in people's yards. The standing water left plenty of potholes. We're talking about the kind of deep potholes that our colleague refers to as "eyeball jigglers."

Well, if the subdivisions in Land O'Lakes are any indication, it looks like the county is trying to fill them pretty quick. It is, once again, safe to drive on Foggy Ridge Parkway and on Carpenters Run.

5-1-1

The new 511 traveler information service got off to a pretty good start, and the fact that the debut coincided with the threat of two major storms didn't hurt.

In the first 12 days of the new telephone service, there were some 64,000 calls to 511. They expect to average about 100,000 calls a month eventually. They don't expect to hit 100,000 calls right away, not until people know about it.

But people were desperate for information on roads.

The service includes a voice-activated telephone system (dial 511) that tells you about conditions on just about all the major roads in the Tampa Bay area. The Web site (www.511tampabay.com) shows you a map with little red icons warning about trouble spots.

For instance when Fowler Avenue in Tampa was flooded and impassable, 511 warned people about it.

Whenever there's a wreck or traffic jams, you get a similar warning either on the computer or on the phone.

Want to vent about traffic problems? Drivers' Side welcomes commuters' rants, comments and suggestions. Send e-mail to hegartysptimes.com, or leave a phone message at (813) 909-4610.

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