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On the road again

When I was a teenager and somebody said “road trip,” I was the first one to jump in the car.

Usually, that meant jumping into an old beater that had bald tires and only a gallon of gas in it. Because usually we took my car. If we went 30 miles without a flat tire, it was a good day.

Now, after a recent drive across the country, when someone says “road trip” I want to go hide in a closet.

I thought the GPS on my new car would be a big help, but it turns out that it will just let my family know exactly where to put the flower-festooned cross where I was crushed to death between two 18-wheelers as I tried to merge onto I-Need-Repair.

Not that I’m complaining; our roads and interstates are great — compared to say, North Korea, where only 3 percent of the roads are paved. And I know our roads are paved because little pieces of pavement keep flying up and cracking my windshield.

Apparently it’s not just me. I see more TV commercials for windshield replacement companies these days than I ever have before. I think everything on my teenage car got replaced at least once — except the windshield. What is going on? I’m starting to have a suspicion that every dollar we spend in Iraq and Afghanistan repairing their roads is a dollar we don’t spend here, repairing our own roads.

On my drive across the country, it seemed there were two big rigs for every car. Everywhere we went, except for the remotest deserts, traffic was unbelievably heavy. And not just on the roads. From the highway, often we’d see 100-car-long trains pulling freight containers. And FedEx and UPS trucks were everywhere, no doubt crammed with Amazon and QVC deliveries. Every rest stop was packed; we usually had to circle around a couple times to find a parking space within walking distance of a store.

Huge packs of Heck’s Angels on motorcycles would pass us all day long. Heck’s Angels are people who wanted to be in Hell’s Angels when they were 18, but couldn’t afford a Harley until their mid-60s. They are rebels without arthritis. For now, anyway. When they were 18, they might have been scary, but now they just talk about studded orthopedic boots.

Maybe there’s all this traffic because gas is cheaper than it’s been in years. But somebody’s still making money. I keep hearing the stock market’s down, and they say it’s because the price of oil is down. Excuse me? That’s like saying cakes are more expensive because flour and eggs have gotten cheaper. It doesn’t make any sense.

How much oil does Facebook use? How much oil do Apple and Google use? What about Amazon? Microsoft? Should FedEx and UPS be making more money because the price of oil is down? It must be cheaper for them to deliver the mail. Plastic is made out of oil, so shouldn’t it be less expensive to make?

And yet stocks are down, and the “experts” say they will go lower. Of course they’ll go lower, because the experts are telling you they will. Who are you going to believe, yourself or an expert? It’s a self-fulfilling prediction.

Of course, no expert predicted that the price of oil would fall from $100-plus a barrel to $33, and yet it did. It seems the only real difference between what happens in Las Vegas and what happens on Wall Street is that what happens on Wall Street doesn’t stay on Wall Street. It travels into your pension fund and your IRA and your kid’s college fund.

I did notice one other thing on my road trip: A lot of the cars and trucks looked brand-new. Stockbrokers can’t be buying them all.

Jim Mullen

Jim Mullen

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