Detroit is a very sad place, reminding me of movies about cities that have been devastated by war. That is what happened to Detroit. It has been devastated by the war in the auto plants. I went to Detroit the day prior to the GM announcement to interview on Chinese television about my book “A Savage Factory.”
I interviewed in the Courtyard Motel, across the street from GM headquarters. Reporters from all over the world were swarming like bees around a honey pot, waiting for the big announcement. Of course it did not come until the next day, Monday, June1.
I felt like I was attending a funeral. The mighty General Motors, largest, most powerful corporation in recorded history was laid out like a corpse. A building a short distance from RenCen was vacant, with a “for sale or lease” sign in the window. One of the Chinese interviewers stated that when communism was collapsing in the Soviet Union reporters from all over the world were there to report the event. Was this the collapse of capitalism? I had no answer. All I had was feelings knotted up in my gut, remembering a similar time in a place where I grew up – Western Pennsylvania.
First I saw the coal mines die. All the coal towns shriveled up like weeds sprayed with Roundup. Old men who gave their lives to mining coal for America sat on porches, hollow cheeked, with blank stares, subsisting on welfare, waiting to die. Many of these men fought for America, worked for America, and that was there reward.
Then Big Steel died. 100,000 jobs in the Mon Valley disappeared. Towns died. Young people left. All that was left were welfare people, retirees too old to suck it up and move on, and armies of blacks subsisting on….what? I do not know. Houses with broken windows. Roofs caved in. Streets with weeds growing up through the tarmac. No money for police, fire, road repairs.
And now we come to Detroit. I drove all over the city. It was the same everywhere. Boarded up houses. Closed businesses. Beggers on street corners with “will work for food” scrawled on pieces of cardboard. I stopped for gas. A guy was sitting in a beat up mini van. Blankets and pillows were in the back. He had two little boys, my guess 8 or 10. Each time a car pulled in he sent one of the boys to the car to hand him a piece of paper. Written on the paper was “discount work. Any kind. Will paint, clean up, carpentry. Anything you got for anything you are willing to pay.” I asked another guy directions to get back to I75. He gave them to me. Said can you spare a dollar? Fifty cents? I ain’t had nothing to eat today. I gave him five dollars. I remembered when I was hungary as my world collapsed around me near Pittsburgh. Some people cared. Some people helped. Most did not.
As I left the devastation of Detroit I remembered my years at Ford. Building cars that were junk. Bowing to UAW demands for more money, less work. And I wondered why the Japanese can build quality cars in this country, at a profit, hire American workers, and the Big Three cannot. What happened to us? The world used to look up to America. Now the world laughs at a stumbling, bumbling America starting wars where we don’t belong, mismanaging our businesses, everything controlled by greed. Sad. Very sad.