Regardless, the resistance from McCarthy and other Republicans (and many Democrats) to a penalty for using gasoline underscores why the U.S. is likely to remain tied to the unpredictable global oil market for decades to come. In the short term, McCarthy’s vision is likely to prevail, and the private sector will be charged with leading the United States out of its predicament. Yet absent radical steps, any solution is unlikely to be a transformative one.
THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING
So for now, families and businesses are still strapped to the roller coaster—afraid that the next oil price run-up could destroy their livelihood. Mark Lutrel’s father, Roy, founded the trucking company, and Mark has worked hard his whole life to ensure that this business will be his son’s legacy. But as he gets closer to handing it over, he worries.
“I’ve been at this business for 37 years. Our family has been at it for almost 50 years. And this is absolutely the hardest time to make a profit,” Mark says.
He adds, “If it wasn’t for Keith, I would walk away, because of the volatility.”
Kristi Lutrel agrees. “Keith is inheriting something very volatile,” she says. “And I have mixed feelings about that. This is a business Keith’s dad started a long time ago, and that means a lot. You hate not to have it. But what’s the future going to bring? Is there a good enough living for him? Or is he better off working for someone else?”
Kristi pauses. “He doesn’t think so. So we’ll keep on trucking. And, hopefully, he can do it.”
Behind the wheel of his Dodge Ram pickup, driving through the dusty flats of east Bakersfield, Keith Lutrel looks out on the expanses of corn, cotton, and hay. He ponders his parents’ words and whether it makes sense to take over a business that could be leveled in an eyeblink by a spike in oil prices.
Meanwhile, he has put off buying a house. He lives in a trailer, instead. He thinks about starting a family, but he’s not sure if that’s a good idea, since he’s about to inherit a business with a crazy-quilt bottom line. The stereo in his truck plays “Shoulda Been a Cowboy”—but that’s not an option. Besides, he has something more current on his mind.
“I think about the first or second episode of The Sopranos,” Keith says, “when Tony is talking to his shrink. He says, ‘You worry—am I getting into this thing on the downside?’ That’s how I feel.”
This story is part of a yearlong series that examines America’s crumbling foundations and how to rebuild them. Find more on the Web at nationaljournal.com/restoration-calls.