The Auto-Maker Bailout
Think you’re sick of hearing about the auto-maker bailouts–try living where I do!
-Candace Cavanaugh Buehner
By the time that you read this, one of the infamous Big 3 U.S. car companies, probably Chrysler, is likely to have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Now, to those of you who don’t live in the immediate environs of Detroit, on the heels of the auto-maker bailout, this is just another annoying blip on your Google News and/or Drudge Report, depending on your political persuasion.
“Chrysler? Bankruptcy? Didn’t that happen a long time ago? And is Detroit still THERE? Isn’t it, like, a ghost town, full of Mad Max-ish hordes of people trying to get the last bit of gasoline for their irresponsible, petroleum-guzzling SUVs?!”
The answer is a) yes, many–if not most–of us are still here, despite the fact that b) many–if not most–of the people who live in this region are linked in some way to the auto industry; and c) the bankruptcy of Chrysler–not to mention the woes of its cross-town cousins GM and Ford (although Ford, by some miracle of God, had a ‘not so bad’ first quarter in 2009)–is just the latest thundercloud in an ever-present dark specter of gloom that we are reminded of every day we hear of another friend, another mom-at-the-daycare, another person whose everyday existence has become undone by the loss of not only a job, but a way of life. [Breath.]
In Detroit, people are having to reinvent themselves every day. Buyouts (if you’re lucky) or layoffs (still better than nothing), have inspired people to new heights of self-initiative (Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, anyone?) or even more profound depths of despair (we won’t go there, but suffice to say, mental health care is the one growth industry in Michigan). “It’s their own fault”, we hear the pundits say, “It’s the unions not wanting to take cuts, and it’s the auto companies’ management not wanting to do what is necessary to make the corporations profitable.”
First disclaimer: I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments. Second disclaimer: As a resident of metropolitan Detroit, I’m not real keen on being part of the country’s disaster-in-the-making, car-crash spectacle sort of “what’s going to happen NEXT?” topic at the next Manhattan cocktail party. Please know that although 12 percent of my state may be unemployed, 88 percent of us are not, and of that 88 percent, most of us are doing well-ish enough to pay the mortgages on our (ever-decreasing-in-value) homes.
I endure the Detroit jokes at every out-of-town meeting I attend. I also find myself indignantly responding to inquiries like the one that I had the other day, when a non-Michigander asked me, quite seriously, whether “the City is still keeping UP the ZOO?!”
I was tempted to advise this person that “the riot over the Siberian tiger steaks was nothing compared to the gang-fights over the gas siphoned from tool sheds,” but no, I took the high road, secure in the knowledge that even in Detroit–the poster child for the current American economic state of woe–people are going on with their lives, albeit with a healthier sense of “what could happen.”
It is the very fact that Detroit is still, in spite of all outward appearances and media coverage, alive and willing to give it all another shot should be an inspiration for the rest of the country. Detroiters are cognizant of what got us where we are, we want/are being forced to make the changes necessary to succeed, and we know it’s not going to be a fun journey.
But guess what? We are already on the path that lots of other cities are just finding themselves near, whether they like it or not. And although Detroiters might be awkwardly feeling our way forward in a manner that’s not often pretty, there are a lot of other cities whose journeys are going to be even more difficult than ours.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
Candace Cavanaugh Buehner lives and works outside of Detroit, Michigan, where the Detroit Zoo’s 2009 Bunnyville Easter extravaganza was even BETTER than last year’s, thank you very much.