More difficult are having to tell her 11-year-old son that he cannot go to the movies, and swearing off Sunday visits to her sister in Pembroke Pines or to her brother in Miami Lakes. These are the sacrifices required now that it costs $60 to fill her aging Toyota 4Runner.
Ms. Lopez, 48, who lives in the outlying suburb of West Kendall, must conserve every gallon possible for the 60-mile round trip to and from her job as the housekeeping manager at the Bentley Hotel in Miami Beach. "There is not enough money to spend for gas," she said. "You have to think about it: If I go to see my friend, I won't have enough gas to work tomorrow."
As many drivers struggle to cope with soaring fuel prices, working-class people like Ms. Lopez who commute long distances to their jobs are suffering the most. In many cases, they had moved far away from major metropolitan areas to be able to afford decent houses. Now, paradoxically, the cost of gas is making the distance prohibitively expensive.
"If you're poor, you're forced to make choices," said Stephen Cecchetti, a professor of economics at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. "All of a sudden, when the price of something that you can't give up skyrockets, you still have to go from one place to another."
The increase in gas prices comes at a time when many Americans of modest means are already finding themselves squeezed by increased insurance costs, wages that have not kept pace with inflation, and the rising pressure of adjustable rate mortgages. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 63 percent of respondents had cut back on their driving because of the gas price increase, and 56 percent had cut back on other household spending. Nearly half said they expected to change their summer vacation plans as a result.
Aline Lacombe, who travels from Palm Beach County to her job as a legal assistant at the Justice Department in downtown Miami, has stopped driving altogether. As a result, her commute now includes two train rides and a shuttle, and takes close to two hours each way, at least twice what it used to.
"It's a nightmare," said Ms. Lacombe, a 39-year-old mother of three children under 10. She is also losing sleep because of the longer commute: wake-up time is 5:20 a.m. now; it used to be 7.
For Ms. Lacombe, gasoline costs used to be about $100 a week, about 11 percent of her $45,000 annual salary; that figure is closer to $200 a week now.
For Ms. Lopez, driving to and from work used to cost $30 a week; now it costs $80. With an annual income of $32,000, that means nearly 13 percent of her income goes for gas, instead of about 5 percent, as in the past.
Myah Christian, 18, drives her Honda Accord an hour and a half every day from her home near Miami Gardens to her job as a hostess at the DeLido Beach Club at the Ritz-Carlton here. She also commutes to Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, where she studies nursing. Though she lives at home with her mother, Ms. Christian wants to contribute to the household, and fuel prices are making that harder. "You have to minimize what you usually spend, put aside gas money every week," she said.
Christina Cordovez, 22, commutes across town to Carlos Albizu University, west of Miami International Airport, where she is studying psychology, and to her job as a bartender at the Doubletree Hotel here. She said her friends who drive eight-cylinder vehicles have it the worst. "It's like having another home," she said. "Mine is a four-cylinder, so I can deal with it."
Many workers with long commutes are trying to come up with alternatives. Dean Mitchell, 37, who works with Ms. Cordovez at the Doubletree, got rid of his car, but he lives close enough to walk to work and otherwise takes the bus now. "I want to get an alternative-fuel car," he said. "I'm not interested in paying for gas anymore."
"I don't want to fund the Arabs," he added. "I want to spend my money on ethanol."
Roberto Alviarez, 49, a bellman at the Bentley Hotel, has begun using his bicycle for errands near his home in Coral Gables. Mr. Alviarez said he was looking for an affordable place to live closer to work.
"I want to move someplace nice," he said.
Some Floridians said they were considering moving to lower-cost areas.
Ms. Lopez whose trip home to her West Kendall ranch-style house can take as long as two hours and 45 minutes has her eye on Dallas, where she heard that utilities are cheaper than they are here, where she pays a $350 water bill every three months. Her husband, Ubardo Rondon, has yet to agree to move, though he has a long commute, too.
Mr. Rondon, 52, works two room-service jobs every day one from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables and another from 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel in Coconut Grove. In between, he rushes to pick up his son from school and drop him with the baby sitter.
Ms. Lopez could try to car-pool. But she values her autonomy. "I don't want to depend on nobody," she said. "I'm not that kind of person." So she continues to rise early and set out on her morning commute, taking the Don Shula Expressway to the Palmetto Expressway to the Dolphin Expressway.
She watches television now instead of going to the movies, and spends more time visiting friends within walking distance. She no longer contemplates luxuries like a manicure or a trip to the beauty salon. And Ms. Lopez looks for weekly specials at the supermarket. Salmon, her favorite fish, is $7 a pound these days. So she buys the tilapia for $2.99 instead.