I drive a lot. More than the average person.
I bought my latest car in July 2007. I had a relatively short commute for a short time, and with an ice-storm freeway accident that left my rig in the body shop for a month, I’ve still put 22,000 miles on my car in just under seventeen months. Due to an ill-considered lifestyle choice following my divorce and God evening things out after my cushy five years working out of my home (following another five years where I had the luxury of walking to work most days), I now drive from Earth to Neptune and back at least six times a week. And given the chokepoint I have to endure entering and leaving my atmosphere, there are apparently a lot of other people doing the same.
God bless my handsome and dependable 1992 Honda Accord LX, but it’s a 1992 car with 173,271 miles on it. If it were a human, it would be attaining that venerability that Studs Terkel began confronting a decade or so ago. That’s not bad, because Studs Terkel at 90 could have tossed the salads of men forty years his junior. But even Studs knew his chassis only had so many miles on it (“Hey, you know that old Ivory Soap slogan–’99 and 44/100% pure?’” he asked an interviewer several years ago. “Well, I’m 99 and 44/100% dead.”), and he finally blew his last gasket just a few months ago.
So, I’ve been seeing a car loan in my future. Except the word on the street is that they don’t offer such things anymore.
The chiefs at Ford, GM, and Chrysler came to Congress a few weeks ago, tittering at the possibility that they could get an enormous ladle or two from the kind of no-questions-asked gravy trough that Hank Paulson negotiated on his way out the door, shaking the death rattle that the American economy would die like a gutshot dog if we didn’t give him three-quarters of a trillion dollars to slap the paddles on the chest of the most high-profile money train in the free world. He was mostly correct, but that didn’t stop him from unilaterally deciding that the first $350 billion should go to banks so they could vacuum up dying smaller banks, and taking their newly fattened balance sheet into the cold, cold winter that is descending upon us.
(Vegas money is on Hank Paulson being hired by a prominent investment bank by 12:01 PM on January 20, and no one is taking the over.)
They didn’t do much to win sympathy for their cause, especially with their politically retarded decision to fly into Washington, to plead corporate poverty, on their private corporate jets. The poorest of the three–GM CEO Rick Wagoner–winged in on an elegantly appointed Gulfstream IV, which retails at something in the neighborhood of $30 million (roughly the equivalent of 734 2009 GMC Acadias). They were sent away with empty cups, ordered to go back home and figure out precisely how much they needed; why, in essay form with appropriate bullet points, they needed it; and how they were going to justify the American taxpayer’s investment in their rescue, other than a headshake, a hand through their hair, and a shrugging, “…Well, otherwise, we’re fucked.”
They came back with numbers today–and they came in hybrids, having flown coach from Detroit. Better form, but 61% of Americans would still prefer to see these men carpooling for the rest of their days in a ’93 GEO Metro–and they would have been better off if they’d done that for their trip to Washington. What is escaping the angry masses–understandably, granted–is that three million lost jobs down the chain would have most of us running around in public parks looking for food to kill. Perspective, people. Please.
But their constituents are still angry, and it’s not certain which way Congress is going to go.
I’ve got a car to buy sometime in the next six or eight months, though. There is nothing that would give me more joy than to see Rick Wagoner buying house-label green beans and a 40-pack of Jenny-O turkey franks at WinCo, but if the parents have sullied the bathwater, it’s neither prudent nor Christian to dispose of the wailing infant when we drain the tub.
Besides satisfying my baseline imperative of getting to work everyday (I checked GoogleMaps–it’s going to take me 2 hours and 16 minutes to get there via public transit, and 2 days and 4 hours walking [seriously–granted the pedestrian routes are sketchy after you get across the I-5 Interstate Bridge, but they’ve routed me around Hood River and Mount Hood, via the Hood River Oregon-Washington Bridge, which not only doesn’t allow pedestrians, but is precisely two Citroens wide–and it’s a two-lane bridge–and is equally as terrifying to drive across as walk. But that’s another blog), it keeps good Americans working, even if I buy another Honda.
If I have to go into the unnecessary extrapolation, when good Americans work, my tax dollars and yours don’t have to pay for them to collect unemployment and sit home and watch Montel (not that all of them will do that, but it’s far too easy to do, and you know what they say about the Devil and idle hands). Even better, if they’re at their jobs every day, they’re not only paying taxes (which now don’t have to go for people to sit home and watch Montel), but they’re earning money that they will pour back into the economy.
If it helps, let’s say we’re thinking of the children here. In this metaphor, the children are the autoworkers (and if you’re drinking the right-wing Kool-Aid, they aren’t making $70 an hour or anything close to it). Granted, there have been few parents in history who have deserved to be Mendendezed as much as the American car CEOs who presided over the renaissance of the SUV and the Hummer. The autoworkers are neither Eric nor Lyle, though, and not a jury in the United States would convict them if they unloaded a shotgun into the backs of their unsuspecting corporate parents.
When their industry dies, Ramen sales will skyrocket, and you and I will be fighting over those $5 48-count packs of Spicy Shrimp amidst the denuded shelves of what used to be our plentiful supermarkets.
Let’s give this some honest thought before we call our Congresspersons and tell them to let the auto industry perish. This is our last real industry that makes anything. We’re still in for some scary straits even if our befuddled, subpar American auto industry survives, but if it doesn’t, we ratchet up from scary to terrifying. Even Paul Krugman is scared. So, if we’re going to wind up living in these things, wouldn’t it be nice to come home every night to that new car smell?