• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


‘I Might Not Be Able to Come Home Because I Can’t Get Gas’

A genuinely new reason not to come home.

May 13, 2021

The Boy has been planning to come home late this week, now that his semester has ended. He’ll only be here for a couple of weeks before returning to Charlottesville to work his summer jobs, but it will be nice to have him back for a bit. I think he’s looking forward to seeing his high school friends and having someone else cook for him, in addition to seeing us.

So I was a little surprised to hear from him that he might not be able to make it because he can’t get gas.

A few months ago, he inherited TW’s old car (a 2009 Honda) when we got TW something new (to her). It was mostly because we knew he’d need transportation for a summer job, but we hoped that it would also make trips back and forth easier. We had every reason to believe that.

And then the gas went away.

More accurately, it was apparently collateral damage in some sort of ransomware scheme. All of a sudden, many states in the Southeast, such as Virginia, got hit hard with shortages.

I’ve been in the higher ed industry a long time, but this one was new to me.

It’s a running joke in the family that I have a taste for deeply boring cars. That’s not quite it; I’m actually obsessed with gas mileage. Between childhood memories of the late ’70s gas crisis and current concerns about climate change, I usually choose based more on efficiency than on aesthetics. TW still rolls her eyes at the powder-blue Toyota Tercel I drove when we first met. It was a hatchback with dead AC and a muffler that sounded like a helicopter. She asked once how I could let myself be seen in it. I replied that I didn’t have to compensate for anything. She responded with an eye roll for the ages.

(Instead, I indulge in the occasional classic car show when I happen upon an outdoor one. A few weeks ago I saw a mid-1960s Cadillac Calais at one. It was probably the longest non-limo I’ve ever seen. The trunk was larger than my Tercel. It would be a pain in the neck to own, but it’s great fun to see.)

I mention this by way of saying that I felt just a little bit vindicated this week. The hybrid would easily make the trip on a single tank of gas, with room to spare. I’m just sayin’.

UVA, to its credit, is letting students who live in the dorms stay a little bit longer if their travel plans were defeated by the abrupt gas shortage.

Ironically enough, this week Brookdale is doing two days of drive-up graduation. It’s a way of maintaining social distancing while also allowing each student a moment on stage. It also allows each family to get great photos, since there’s nobody competing with them to get the best angle for a shot.

In this case, I have to concede the usefulness of SUVs. The rule is that each family can bring as many people as it can fit in one vehicle. You’d be surprised how many people can fit in a RAV4. I just hope the local gas supply holds long enough to get every student through.

Obviously, if the gas shortage lingers, the effect on commuter colleges could be severe. At least now we have practice with going online.

TB eventually found gas, so he’s making the trip after all. Here’s hoping he carries this memory forward when he eventually buys a car of his own. The hybrid driver in me suspects that this won’t be the last gas supply shock.


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