I pulled into a gas station recently to inflate my car's tires — something I last did during the Reagan administration.

I won't mention the name of the station because that wouldn't be fair since all stations are the same (it rhymes with Shevron). I pushed the button of the machine that dispenses air, and nothing happened.

I pushed it again. Still nothing.

That's when I noticed the sign: 75 cents for air.

Seventy-five cents? For the stuff you put in volleyballs?

It turns out that it costs 75 cents for a couple of minutes' worth. If you need to inflate all four tires, you'd better be fast. I suggest you bring along Danica Patrick's pit crew. Ready, set, go.

Look, we swallowed real hard when gas hit $3.

We almost dry-heaved when we started paying $4, but we moved on.

Now they're charging us for the air we breathe. Talk about a slap in the face. Talk about adding insult to injury. First they run you over with a car, metaphorically speaking, then they kick you in the groin and ask for your cooperation in doing it (please see taxpayer subsidies).

Next time the gas people deny their greed and claim they are merely responding to market conditions, OPEC, production, blah, blah, blah, ask them if OPEC raised the price of air? Or maybe OPEC cut the production, and we missed the news.

Carmen, a Texaco station cashier, has heard it before. "Yeah," she begins, "every time someone gets air they say, 'How can you charge for air when you charge so much for gas?"'

Last week Exxon Mobil reported record-breaking second-quarter earnings of $11.7 billion — that's BILLLLION, with a "B."

Chevron, the nation's second-largest oil company, reported record earnings of $4.9 billion.

The top five oil companies posted profits of $123 billion last year. They could buy Australia.

The profits of the five biggest international oil companies have tripled since 2002.

But their stations charge you for air.

They would charge you for sunshine if they could find a way.

What next, a rental fee to park at the gas pump?

Coin-operated toilets?

A charge to use their squeegee?

Makes you glad that Congress continues to give Big Oil $18 billion in tax subsidies, doesn't it. The return on our investment is we can't afford gas anymore.

Gas prices have hit everybody hard, and you get the feeling that Big Oil is giddy about it. Sure, OPEC raised its price for crude oil, but Exxon, Chevron and the rest of the gang didn't merely raise prices to cover the difference, they raised prices to reap record profits.

"You'd be amazed at how many people are paying (for gas) with change," says Jen, a Texaco station employee. "Maybe they broke open the piggybank or cleaned out the ashtrays in their cars, I don't know. And these are adults as well as kids."

Henry Cohen, Exxon Mobil's vice president for public affairs, said the obscene revenues were needed for exploration costs and remote oil costs to meet "the massive scale of the energy challenge before us."

If that's the case, then why did they spend $7 billion on exploration for new oil sources, which could control prices, compared to $8 billion to buy back stock?

As usual, Americans are taking all this in stride. Ask gas station employees if customers are venting their frustrations on them, they say no. "They just deal with it," says Stacy, manager of a Chevron station. "Besides, our prices are no different than everybody else."

"They know it's not our fault," says Jen.

Meanwhile, they're buying air and breaking into piggybanks.

Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please e-mail [email protected].