Delbert Freeley cannot help but laugh when he hears economists struggling to explain the complex forces that determine US gas prices. Mr. Freeley says the process that drives what Americans pay at the pump isn't really all that complicated. He should know, because he sets the nationwide price of gas every day from a tiny filling station in Eastport, Maine.
Freeley, 29, is an early riser and he sets the price per gallon at the Valu-Rite convenience store promptly at 4:30AM every morning. Across the street, friendly competitor SooperGas watches Freeley post the price, and then they set their price accordingly. The chain reaction quickly continues through Eastport until all gas stations have pegged their price to Delbert's initial one. The process then rapidly mushrooms beyond tiny Eastport, and soon all of America's gas pumps are set to prices based on how Delbert happened to be feeling that day.
Lately, Delbert's been feeling like having some fun. "I get a big kick out of raising the price a few cents and watching the whole country go ballistic," he said. "When I see people on the news complain about gas prices, I feel like they're talking about me. That's a lot of power for a guy who makes $6.50 an hour."
But Delbert pays a price for his amusement, a price his girlfriend Thelma says is too high. "She wants me to work at BP or Shell, where I can get $7.00 an hour after two years," he says wistfully. "But they probably won't let me swipe a couple Budweisers for lunch like they do at the Valu-Rite."
Delbert also has bigger dreams than just controlling gas prices. He wants to use his gas pricing expertise to devise a method to control the price of "something really important, like pot or hookers". He claims to have some good ideas, but wants to do further research before he goes public. He believes his research may take several years to complete.
For now, Delbert is content to have a liquid lunch and toy with the American consumer on a daily basis. "I just hope some SUV owner doesn't wring my neck," he said.