Cash-strapped drivers grease their palms

Because of the high price of oil, there have been a string of unusual robberies across the country. Manhole covers are disappearing from city streets because the high price of scrap metal, all of which is going to China and India because the people are getting richer and buying cars. Guess where a lot of cities get their manhole covers made? That’s right, India.

Talk about the perfect crime, what could be an easier way to make $15 than to lug a 150-pound manhole cover 10 miles to the closest scrap-metal dealer who might not even take it? It sure beats working – that’s for suckers.

Since it can cost the city up to $500 to replace a manhole cover, maybe the best plan would be for the city to open a scrap-metal company that only takes manhole covers. Pay the thieves $15 for each manhole cover they steal, and save the city $485 a pop. We could arrest them, too. But then we’d have to pay for their lawyers, which would cost more than $15.

Now, lots of restaurants are reporting that their used cooking oil is being stolen from their waste-storage tanks – stolen by motorists who have modified their cars to run on lard. If you’re smart enough to change your car from a gas guzzler to a grease guzzler, you’re smart enough to get a good job. Maybe you could get a job in the service department of my car dealer. They seem to have a hard time getting my car to run on gas, and you can get your car to run on cooking oil? How is that possible?

As unpleasant as it is to pay more than $4 for gas, it’s got to beat sneaking around to the back of restaurants in the middle of the night and siphoning off last night’s leftovers. If you think gasoline tastes bad....

The other problem with grease is – it’s greasy! There’s no way you can steal large quantities of used grease and get away clean. If you’ve ever eaten fried chicken with your fingers or if you’ve ever cleaned up after frying bacon, you know what I’m talking about. Sure, you might save $4 a gallon by stealing grease, but it will cost you $300 to get the big grease stain out of the front seat of your car.

It wasn’t long ago that restaurants had to pay people to haul away their used cooking oil. When prices went up, recovery companies paid the restaurants to take away the oil. At the place where I eat, they’ve always charged people to take away their old, used grease. They call it the breakfast special.

Victimized restaurants say the grease bandits are motorists. But how do they know? Maybe some other restaurant is stealing it to save money on making their French fries? And what is the penalty for stealing grease? Even the world’s worst public defender could probably win that case.

“Members of the jury, my client, in attempting to prevent his money from going to Saudi Arabia, and keep it right here where it belongs, thought he was being a good citizen, not a scofflaw.” How fast can you say “Not Guilty”?

Besides, isn’t stealing grease its own punishment? It seems to me that if you’re stealing grease for a living, prison would be a step up the social scale. You’d be hanging out with a better class of people.

But don’t worry, some day justice will come. One day you will open the paper and read that a guy who just stole a load of grease hit an open manhole in the dark during his escape and wrecked his grease-covered car.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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