"If you're out there wondering . . . what your life is going to be like and you're looking at $4 a gallon, that's uncertain," Bush said. "And when you couple with the idea that taxes may be going up in a couple of years, that's double uncertainty."
Roy Persinco, who filled up his Ford 250 pickup truck for $3.25 a gallon at a Santa Monica Shell station Thursday, said he spent $125 a week on gas.
"I can't believe that an ex-oilman could be so unaware and ignorant of what is going on around him in the real world, but I'm sure his old buddies in the oil industry can tell him they're doing just fine," Persinco said.
Another motorist, Grant Reese of West Los Angeles, volunteered to help the president keep in touch during his remaining days in office, lest he be caught off guard by the Washington press corps again.
"I'd be happy to send him all my credit card receipts for gasoline from now on," Reese said, watching the pump top $40 as he filled the tank of his Nissan Altima at a Sam's Club station in Long Beach.
Energy analysts have offered motorists little solace, saying that the rules of supply and demand for gasoline and other fuels are apparently being overridden, and commodity prices are continuing their run.
The Energy Department's most recent weekly petroleum report said gasoline inventories were more than 8% above their five-year average. Gasoline demand is about 1% shy of its level of a year ago.
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey, said the situation was likely to get worse. He expects retail gasoline prices to hit record highs between $3.50 and $3.75 a gallon nationally and that $4 gasoline in California won't be considered a rogue price.
"I can't see [the average] hitting $4, but then I also couldn't see oil hitting $103 a barrel," he said.
Reynolds reported from Washington, Quinn from San Mateo, Calif., and White from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Peter G. Gosselin in Washington, Mark Z. Barabak in Beaumont, Texas, and Scott Wilson in Los Angeles contributed to this report.