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ORANGE COUNTY

Fuel gripe rally may be a gas

July 01, 2008|DANA PARSONS

Some people just sit around and complain about a problem (Note to self: Look in the mirror), and other people actually try to make things happen.

Once upon a time in America, people would march in the streets to draw attention to major issues -- civil rights, abortion, nuclear power, war. You know, little things like that.

I remember a delightful day in Laguna Beach 19 years ago when several thousand people marched up Laguna Canyon Road to protest a housing development. Several thousand people actually banded together in a common cause. And guess what, it worked.

Where have all the marchers gone, long time passing?

I'm afraid the answer is: gone to minivans, every one.

How else to explain the relative silence over gas prices that are now pushing $5 a gallon but which seem to have numbed our ability to do anything about it?

Don't look at me, I'm no organizer.

Small-business owner Mitch Goldstone is, however, and he's organizing a shindig Thursday at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m. that he hopes will get people steamed over gas prices. He thinks it'll be the protest that gets the country up in arms, but I have my doubts: The occasional talk of "no-drive" days around the country doesn't seem to go anywhere.

We're spinning our wheels, people.

Even the Goldstone "protest" is taking a slight turn. Its main pitch is that credit card companies are taking advantage of the high gas prices through additional fees they're getting from merchants who handle charge-card transactions.

I politely suggest to Goldstone that merchants' problems won't galvanize a nation, but high gas prices could. "Gas prices are the biggest issue in the country," Goldstone says. "But there's such extraordinary apathy."

He's referring to apathy about the increased fees that merchants pay as gas prices go up, but he's also sensitive to the pump price problem.

"I'm from New York," he says, "and back East we always had things to talk about, whether it was the weather or something. This is the first time I've ever experienced strangers talking to you about gas prices."

That's what he has in mind for Thursday, where he hopes people will congregate outside Goldstone and co-owner Carl Berman's photo shop in the Corporate Park Plaza on the southeast corner of Barranca Parkway and Jamboree Road.

There's no official program planned, although Goldstone said he and maybe an Irvine council member or two might speak. But there'll be free food and 250 placards for those who come by.

It's a start.

The Europeans already get it. Fishermen in Spain and Portugal went on strike in late May. French fisherman and farmers, hurt by rises in fuel costs, blocked oil terminals around France and the English Channel. Truckers in Britain and Bulgaria also have protested.

Meanwhile, back in Irvine . . . a seeming conundrum arises.

The city's interest in environmental issues goes back a generation -- think of Irvine as Our Own Private Oregon -- yet don't you get the sense that if anyplace in Orange County is minivan-happy, it's Irvine?

I do. Can't prove it, and my apologies if anyone can debunk it, but Goldstone notes that he recently had lunch with a friend who apologized to him for driving an oversized vehicle. He needed it to transport the family on long-distance trips, the friend said. That's the problem: We all know nice people who feel they can't get along without the roomier gas-guzzlers.

For the record, Goldstone drives a four-door sedan.

So what'll happen at the Irvine protest? Will it be a few laughs and then everyone climbs into their trucks and vans for two-mile trips to the grocery store?

Could be. And that likely explains why we don't do anything about gas prices. What can we do? We're hooked and helpless.

Are we supposed to protest to Nigeria and tell it to keep its oil production up? Yeah, give me that e-mail address for the Nigerian government.

Are we supposed to rail at China and tell it to go back to the bicycle as its main form of transportation? Get me the Chinese prime minister's cellphone number.

"I think it'll be a start," Goldstone says of his planned rally, and I hope he's talking about gas prices and not credit-card fee reduction. "I think when your readers see how large this rally is, it will draw the same type of attention that the truckers' rally in the U.K. did."

He sees political leaders snapping to attention. He sees other rallies sprouting up around the country. "I see it as a catalyst to reinvigorate the spirits of standing up for important issues," he says. "There hasn't been anything like this in so long that I think it's part of the reason why Washington is not listening."

Good for Goldstone. He sees the gas tank half-full.

I see it half-empty.

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Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

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