As I noted in today’s column (read it here if you’re a subscriber), I hadn’t bought gas for three weeks. My pandemic-induced personal petroleum embargo ended this afternoon. 

I buy my Marlboros at a drive-through smoke shop in South Scranton. Window business is limited to cigarettes, cigars and rolling papers. If you’re looking for lottery tickets, a bottle of soda, a bag of chips or bath salts, you have to go inside. 

The window is worked by a nice young man in a face mask and plastic gloves. He sees me coming and has two packs ready when I pull up. The whole process takes less than 30 seconds. I don’t know the nice young man’s name, but I’m pretty sure I’m his favorite customer.  

Unfortunately, driving to the drive-through smoke shop requires gas. The tank was bone dry, but I went out of my way to fill up at the Sunoco on West Seventh Avenue, which I reference in today’s column (a digital subscription is $4.96. Get one here.) as one of the stations where city officials and employees used taxpayer-funded gas cards.

The abuse of the cards — and the corrupt system that allowed it — was uncovered last fall by community journalists at The Times-Tribune. The newspaper’s work has since been validated by an outside auditor hired by the city, but the scandal would never have surfaced with the watchdog work of local reporters. The gas card system is being changed to prioritize and promote the public good. Our subscribers make the work we do possible. You are an essential part of our team. Let’s all take a victory lap. 

I felt like taking one when I saw the price per gallon — $1.75 for regular unleaded. I haven’t seen pump prices that low since Donald Trump was an obscure, gaudy loudmouth who periodically appeared in the tabloids and extra-obscene episodes of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” 

When you pay for things with your own money, every substantial bargain feels like hitting the lottery. “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” indeed. 

I used a card and paid at the pump long before the pandemic made social distancing necessary, but I still lathered my hands with sanitizer before starting the car. No telling who handled that nozzle before me. (In hindsight, this is a good practice to continue after the pandemic.)  

With my coronavirus discount, a fill-up that would normally cost me around $40 was $27. With nearly 15 gallons of fresh fuel to burn, I idled at the drive-through and shared the story of my good fortune at the pumps with the masked man in the window.  

“That’s great!” he said as handed me my smokes and credit card.

“Now please move on. The line is very long.” 

I took the long way home.  

Today’s Times-Tribune is pumped up with community journalism at bargain prices. Get the latest COVID-19 news here. The state reported a huge spike in coronavirus deaths, including 32 in six local counties. Staff Writer Borys Krawczeniuk has the story here. At least 25 residents at Mountain View Care and Rehabilitation Center on Stafford Avenue have tested positive for COVID-19. The home has a history of citations over poor care. A concerned daughter of a resident at the home reached out to the newspaper for help. Staff Writer Terrie Morgan-Besecker got answers. Read her story here

Former Lackawanna County Commissioner and Federal Inmate Bob Cordaro believes the pandemic is a compelling reason to spring him from prison. The Feds say he should stay where he is. Borys has the story here. Staff Writer Jeff Horvath has the latest on the gas card scandal, which auditor Arthur Moretti described as a “dumpster fire” at Tuesday’s council meeting. Read it here, and my related column here. Subscribe to The Times-Tribune here, if getting premium value at a reasonable price is as rewarding to you as it is for me.    

The Times-Tribune is still here, and so are you. We will get through this together, one day at a time. Hang in there, hunker down and wash your hands. And don’t idle when the line behind you is long.