Drivers along parts of the East Coast piled into gas stations on Tuesday, resulting in long lines and shortages as motorists reacted to what could be a weeklong shutdown of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline because of a cyberattack.
Colonial Pipeline Co., operator of a 5,500-mile conduit for gasoline, diesel and refined products, said Monday it hoped to substantially restore service by the end of the week. It shut the pipeline late last week after a ransomware attack that U.S. officials have linked to a criminal gang known as DarkSide.
We haven’t seen gas lines too often in recent years. I remember those gas lines in the 70s. OPEC was at the height of its powers and while the cartel didn’t conduct ransomware attacks per se, the effect was about the same. It happened the first time in late ’73 and into ’74, right as Watergate was starting to gain traction, and then again in 1979, when many of my friends were getting their driver’s licenses. We were eager to start cruising the main drag, but gas was hard to find at times, limiting our early forays into car culture and adulthood.
In the middle of that summer (July 15, to be precise) Jimmy Carter gave his infamous “malaise” speech. While the chattering classes were supportive, Carter’s hangdog expression and mien sent an unmistakable message of weakness, which other players noticed. Weak politicians don’t prosper, so Carter blew up his career that evening.
A few days earlier, a Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl had blown up a large box of disco records at Comiskey Park, starting a melee that tore up the field and causing the White Sox to forfeit the second game of a scheduled doubleheader. About a month later, members of the provisional IRA assassinated Lord Mountbatten, detonating a bomb on his boat while he was out sailing with members of his family. One way or another, it seemed like things were about to blow in that summer of ’79.
We’re more than forty years on. Tensions have been high lately, but it’s been calm since the jury came back against Derek Chauvin. It’s likely our current gas shortage will be temporary and may not directly affect the Upper Midwest at all. History does not necessarily repeat, but it’s easy to sense weakness in our leaders at all levels of government. Some have already noticed. Joe Biden was on the scene in 1979, so I’d like to believe he was paying attention. Summer’s coming. I hope it doesn’t blow.