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Monday, May 15, 2006

The Truth About Cars - General Motors Death Watch 72: Circumspice

Growing up near Flint, everyone’s dad worked for GM. Not all of our fathers brought home a GM paycheck, but we all lived on GM money. If your dad was a plumber, a shopkeeper or a mortgage broker, GM’s wages paid the bills. If your dad was a dentist, GM’s health plan paid his patients’ bills. That’s just how it was. GM was one of your parents, the UAW was the other. We had no idea we were destined to become orphans.
My dad taught shop at Flint Central High School. Since everyone’s dad worked for GM, everyone took shop. It was the ideal time and place for teaching drafting, auto repair, woodworking, metallurgy, welding and other productive skills. People believed in those fields. People respected those talents. In the beginning, his classroom was a shrine to hard work and craftsmanship. His students knew they were opening the door to a comfortable life. By the time Dad retired in 1991 the promise had become an empty shell. The excitement and the discipline had simply drained away.
The GM era officially ended for my family in 1980. That was the year Dad brought home a new Volkswagen diesel, even though all his previous cars had been Detroit steel. Buying a Rabbit was the kind of radical move that could get you branded a traitor in Flint. Even so, it was a car town. People were intrigued by the German import. Their interest was a sign of things to come. You still find more American autos on the road in Michigan than you do in most other states, but their supremacy has faded even here.


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