Summertime, when the gasoline goes crazy...

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Surely you noticed. Gas was a usual price on Monday, but the very next day, it had jumped 20¢. It's not your imagination. AAA says the national average for a gallon of gas is now $2.23, up 18¢ from two weeks ago.

Hybrids in the News

    Pope Benedict XVI (L) receives an ear of a new hybrid strain of wheat named "Benedictus XVI" in honour of his trip from Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem, on May 11, 2009. Peres welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Israel in Latin, Hebrew, and English and said he was certain the visit marked “a continuation of dialogue� between Christians and Jews. AFP PHOTO/POOL/AHIKAM SERI (Photo credit should read AHIKAM SERI/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    JERUSALEM - MAY 11: Pope Benedict XVI (L) eats a date while holding an ear of a new hybrid strain of wheat named "Benedictus XVI" in honour of his trip as Israeli President Shimon Peres holds a plate as they arrive for the official welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Residence May 11, 2009 in in Jerusalem, Israel. Peres welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Israel in Latin, Hebrew, and English and said he was certain the visit marked "a continuation of dialogue" between Christians and Jews.The pontiff is on the fourth day of his eight-day Holy Land pilgrimage. (Photo by Gali Tibbon-Pool/Getty Images)

    Getty Images

    JERUSALEM - MAY 11: Pope Benedict XVI (L) receives a wreath of a new hybrid strain of wheat named "Benedictus XVI" in honour of his trip from Israeli President Shimon Peres as they arrive for the official welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Residence May 11, 2009 in in Jerusalem, Israel. Peres welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Israel in Latin, Hebrew, and English and said he was certain the visit marked "a continuation of dialogue" between Christians and Jews.The pontiff is on the fourth day of his eight-day Holy Land pilgrimage. (Photo by Ahikam Seri-Pool/Getty Images)

    Getty Images

    A couple walks by a Toyota Motor Corp.'s Crown hybrid vehicle, left, on display at showroom "Toyota Mega Web" in Tokyo, Japan, Friday, May 8, 2009. Toyota said it sank into a 765.8 billion yen ($7.74 billion) net loss for the January-March quarter, bringing its loss for the full fiscal year to a bigger-than-expected 436.94 billion yen _ its worst annual loss ever. (AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara)

    AP

    Students from Dartmouth College rollout thier Formula One style Hybrid powered car at New Hampshire Motor speedway in Loudon, N.H., Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Thirty teams from around the country and Canada were competing on the design and fabrication of hybrid-powered cars. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    AP

    Students from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Co., borrow the tires from a rented minivan to compete in a Formula One style hybrid powered race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Tuesday, May 5, 2009. The seven mechanical engineers drove more than 36 hours to compete when rain forced officials to require rain tires. Lacking the needed tires the students used the vans tires to comply. Thirty teams from across the U.S. and Canada are competing on the design and fabrication of hybrid-powered cars at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    AP

    A modified Hummer H3, an advanced hybrid design by Raser Technologies Inc. of Provo, Utah, is parked outside the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, May 1, 2009, in New York.(AP Photo/Jin Lee)

    AP

    A modified Hummer H3, an advanced hybrid design by Raser Technologies Inc. of Provo, Utah, is parked outside the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, May 1, 2009, in New York. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

    AP

    Customers check newly released hybrid vehicle "Insight" of Japan's auto giant Honda Motor at the company's showroom in Tokyo on April 28, 2009. Honda, Japan's second-largest automaker, said that it had sunk into loss in the fiscal fourth quarter due to weak sales and a stronger yen. Honda posted a net loss of 186.1 billion yen (1.9 billion USD) for the three months to March, against a year-earlier profit of 25.4 billion yen. (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    A visitor inspects Honda Motor Co.'s fast-selling hybrid Insight at Honda's showroom in Tokyo, Tuesday, April 28, 2009. Honda said Tuesday it overcame a large quarterly loss to book a fiscal year profit that was well above forecasts, and vowed to stay in the black for the current fiscal year. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

    AP

Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer travel season, is on the horizon, and prices are already ascending. Up 13¢ in Rhode Island. Up 14¢ in Florida, up 19¢ in Colorado, up 9¢ in Texas and up 15¢ in Massachusetts. Sounds like the harbinger of a hard slog through the dog days, right?

Not necessarily. Economists don't predict an upcoming spike. (Then again, how many of them were correctly warning about the mortgage crisis? But I digress.) One professor of economics at the University of Southern Indiana, Sudesh Mujumdar, points out that the price of a barrel has, in fact, dropped $1 in recent days, which bodes well for summer travel.

Indeed, the Department of Energy says that demand for oil is at is lowest level since 1995 and the supply of crude hasn't been higher since 1990. Refineries are working at 85% capacity, not the near-capacity level that had the industry crying for more refineries recently.

By July, prices aren't likely to be under $2, as they were in December, but they shouldn't be as staggering as they were last summer. The gas price almost always scales up around this time of year, but the bean counters insist that doesn't mean they're going to follow the burdensome trend of last year.

"People made some changes to the way they think and the way they drive and I think those changes seem to be somewhat permanent," Mujumdar said. I hope he's right. Another brutal hit in our fuel budgets is the last thing we need right now.

Another energy analyst, this one at Rice University in Texas, says that $2 a gallon is the tipping point at which people start paying attention to their driving habits. That's where prices are now. Last week, before the escalation of prices, the Los Angeles Times (a paper that knows from cars and traffic) wrote a feature about people who had learned their lessons from the last gas crunch and changed their ways. Among other newly efficiency-savvy civilians, it quoted one sheet metal worker who traded his Dodge Ram Quad pickup truck for a 1970 Volkswagen. "Gasoline prices... will go up again and probably higher than they did last time," he told the Times. "No way I'm going back."

It sounds good, but is he in the minority? I have been hoping that Americans had learned the hard lessons of last summer and curtailed their brazen burning habits. We have a long record of having short memories for fuel economy. If you listen to the economists, the width of our pocketbooks depends on our ability to hang onto what we learned. The only thing standing between us and $4-a-gallon gas is our ability to keep our old habits down.
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