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Feeling pique at the pump

"Rising gas prices can be daunting at the local Arco, especially if you happen to be the employee charged with updating the station's outdoor sign.We want to wear our bullet-proof jacket when we go out there, said Arco manager Michelle Reynolds, who has seen prices at the pump rise over 60 percent since the station on High School Road opened a little more than a year ago.There were times when we didn't change (prices) for a month, Reynolds said, but over the past few weeks, she's received a call almost every other day from her supervisor, announcing another hike of between two and four cents.The island's Arco station is not alone. Friday morning, a survey of gas prices at the three island stations showed:* AM/PM Arco (High School Road): unleaded - $1.61.9; unleaded plus - $1.71.9; premium - $1.81.9;* Village Chevron (High School Road): $1.65.9; unleaded plus - $1.75.9; premium - $1.83.9;* Ko's Texaco (Miller Road): $1.65.9; unleaded plus - $1.79.9; premium - $1.89.9.Nationwide, gasoline prices continue to rise to record highs daily, largely due to oil production limits established by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Mideast oil cartel, early last year. But Federal Trade Commission officials say West Coast prices have also been aggravated because BP Amoco has shipped Alaskan oil to Asia, driving up prices in states like Washington that traditionally rely on oil from Alaska's North Slope fields.Whatever the cause of the gasoline price hikes, the frustration of motorists is reflected in the comments of one island consumer:Somebody's making money off this, he said, but it sure ain't me.Those who commute long distances to their jobs have been hardest hit by the price hikes, especially lower-wage workers with tight budgets, said Village Chevron manager James Cocker, who now spends about $34 a week on gas to travel back and forth from his home in Silverdale.Cocker said his customers haven't complained about the higher prices - What can you do? You've got to drive, he mused.But being chained to their cars doesn't stop some from dreaming, Reynolds observed.There's been comments like, 'I wish I could park my car and ride a bike,' Reynolds said, or, 'I wish my moped was legal for the streets.'There's even been a couple who said, 'I wish our kids would teach us how to skateboard.'That was certainly not an option for one older resident who asked not to be identified, filling up her Toyota Corolla at the Chevron station Thursday. It's very difficult when you are a senior citizen, she said. Gas prices just keep going up. It's hard to get along as it is with a limited income, and then you still have to go out. The rising prices couldn't come at a worse time for Kitsap residents, islander Jay Wiggs said as he gassed up his Dodge Pickup. What I find ironic is right when they are getting rid of the transit with I-695, the fuel prices going up, he said.But if Americans think gas prices are bad, they should try filling up overseas, said an Australian immigrant who pulled in to refuel at the Chevron station Wednesday.There's no question that the United States has the cheapest gas in the world, he said, as he filled the tank of his Jeep Cherokee. Big sport utility vehicle V-8's are absurd anywhere else but in the United States.Higher gas prices might cause Americans to reevaluate their priorities, agreed Seattle University professor Mark West, who stopped at the Chevron on his way to the Vincent Road recycling center.The gas prices should represent what the gas costs, he said, and that's the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (in the Gulf War), and global warming and, in a larger sense, our alienation from the environment and each other. We move around in steel coffins.So far, however, gas station workers say the higher prices haven't caused people to fill up less. Business has actually increased recently, say the managers at Arco and Chevron, although the owner of the Island Center Texaco, Shawn Ko, says higher fuel prices have caused him to lose customers to his competitors.Ko's Texaco is locally owned, while the Chevron and Arco stations are corporate outlets and get better prices from their suppliers, he said. If the gas prices go high, everybody is looking for the low price, Ko said. Obviously, we can't compete with the corporations - they're the big guys.Despite grumbling from station owners and motorists, gas prices actually aren't so steep when adjusted for inflation.In today's dollars, gas was the most expensive in 1981, when it sold for the equivalent of $2.47 a gallon, according to wire service reports.And before the latest price hikes, America enjoyed the cheapest gasoline on record, after taking inflation into account, reports said."

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