Are we having fun yet? Playing the “What's the price of gas now?” game has become an almost universal exercise these days, as people share horror stories of the latest outrage at the pump.

At a restaurant two nights ago, I eavesdropped on the tale being told by a guy at the next table. “I went to the doctor's office at 9 o'clock, and gas was $2.36 per gallon,” he said, a touch of incredulity in his voice. “When I came out at 11:00, it was $2.46. Yesterday, it was $2.26.”

While I would normally question the credibility of anyone claiming to have been in and out of a doctor's office in only two hours, his lament about gas prices was all too true. As I write, they've risen another 10 cents a gallon, at $2.56.

By the time you read this, who knows?

You can bet your Hummer it ain't likely we'll be seeing sub-$2 gas again anytime soon, if ever. The oil companies and OPEC have found that we have a high tolerance for pain, so hey, why not exploit it?

Besides, we're told, when inflation's factored in, $2.50 gas is still cheaper than what we were buying for a buck back during the '70s Arab embargo. Now, doesn't that make you feel better?

When I bought my car three years ago, I could fill it for $16. Yesterday, it cost $36. That's pretty stiff inflation.

Still, I mutter thanks I'm not on the west coast, where folks with big SUVs can shell out 100 smackeroos or more to fill up with $3-plus gasoline.

Or in Merrye Olde England, where a friend e-mails that petrol is now something over $6 per gallon. Ouch!

U.S. new and used car lots are awash in gargantuan SUVs and big pickup trucks that are gathering dust because nobody wants the responsibility for their care and feeding. An exec for a Web site where people sell used vehicles says there are now postings for more than a million SUVs that owners are trying to unload.

Pity the CEO of Delta Airlines, watching jet fuel costs moving faster than his airplanes, and seeing his company's stock dropping from $4 at mid-July to a sickly $1.49 at this writing. Other airlines, trucking companies, and manufacturing operations are being hammered with escalating costs for anything touched by petroleum — costs that are working their way into every product and every service we buy, as the most recent report on the U.S. economy pointed out.

Nor is it going to be a pretty sight this winter, when heating bills start coming in.

As natural gas, propane, and heating oil costs rise in concert with petroleum, their company execs are joining those of Big Oil in agonizing over what to do with their mountains of excess cash.

Ah, you say, we have a new energy bill that's going to help ease our problems. Hardy, har. All it did was demonstrate anew to the oil cartels that the U.S. has no real resolve for alleviating this three-decades-old problem.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com