SHORTAGES: A Time of Learning to Live with Less

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The first snow fell last week on the slopes at Vail, Colo., but spirits were chilled when a big service station posted what is becoming a familiar sign: TEMPORARILY OUT OF GAS. New Hampshire ski operators complain that the 50-m.p.h. limits will add 25% to the driving time from the New York City market. Fully 60% of Florida's winter visitors arrive by car.

Recently, 17% fewer cars than last year have been registering at the welcome stations along the state border.

The situation is baffling for millions of Americans. Says one Massachusetts school superintendent: "The energy crisis is like Watergate. We know something is wrong, but we don't know quite what it is." Still, people are trying to cope, not always without incident. When hall lights were darkened at Oregon's Blue Mountain Community College, men students caused a minor stir at least twice by bumbling into the ladies' room. A sign over the elevator in Tallahassee's pollution-control office reads "Is this trip necessary? Are you injured or handicapped? If not, the stairs are behind you." Now the elevator sits idle most of the day. Columbia, S.C., has done more than switch to smaller cars for its officials; last week it bought three bicycles for the city's councilmen to use on short trips.

Mrs. Alfred Pauly of Belle Plaine, Minn., has found a way to retain heat in her concrete-block home; she wrapped it in transparent plastic, like a sandwich. Joe Conforte, proprietor of a licensed house of prostitution outside Reno, turned the reception-room thermostats down from 75° to 68° and ordered his 30 girls to wear pantsuits and gowns instead of bikinis. Seattle City Light Co., which is conducting a conservation drive among its customers, got some advice from a nursing-home resident in her 90s: "Tell the people to turn off their electric blankets and cuddle. It's a lot more fun."

Business Hurt. Last week, as the popularity of big cars skidded, General Motors took an extraordinary step. It ordered 16 of its assembly plants in the U.S. and Canada to shut down for the week beginning Dec. 17 to cut scheduled production by 79,000 cars, mainly large and intermediate models. It was the first time that G.M. has closed plants to reduce production since February 1970, when car sales were slumping badly. Normally G.M. turns out 120,000 to 130,000 units a week.

The market for large used cars is softening. Jerrold M. Axelrod, president of California's Southwest Leasing Corp., reports that wholesale prices of used Cadillacs and other large models have dropped as much as 25% in recent weeks while prices of small used foreign cars and U.S. compacts have risen nearly 20%. G.M. and Ford are converting some assembly plants to the manufacture of smaller cars, and Chrysler is increasing its production of economical six-cylinder engines.

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