Front page of the New York Times today, the leading photo was of a bundled up worker waving an American flag at what is presumably the last of a line of SUVs parading out from a closing plant in Wisconsin. The city-sized plant facility off in the background, the image illicits remorse and pity, a little bit of grief even, as the black, 17 ft long Chevy Tahoe mumurs by under the windy banner, the stars and stripes.
Plant closes, people lose their jobs, town loses its identity, its motor. It is tragic, sad, life will not be the same for thousands of people in these kinds of towns. But SUVs, they’re a ranch on wheels, have surely seen their day. 1999: John wanted one, so badly. Two kids, two dogs, more kids predicted - more, more, more. I always scoffed, the shape those cars take on the road to me is just gross, over-consumptive, everything non-European about us reflected in a car. So American. Now, with our new awareness of gas and its tolls, that grossness takes the shape of needless expense even to those who a little bit shamefully still drive them; the car in the category of fleets of roaring snowmobiles and plates so full of food they edge the salt, pepper and white vase of carnations off the table.
Explain my definition of ”gross” to the people who live in Janesville Wisconsin and I’ll wager they’d throw back a few more examples to make me avert my eyes, here in my suburban east coast kitchen. I love a Prius, they laugh at Priuses, no traction in the snow, nowhere to put the garbage barrel when you have to get to the dump. I was in line for a souped-up Highlander hybrid before John lost his job. Now, $600 a month for a car? We put snowtires on my 2000 station wagon for $542 and agree that it navigates the weather just fine. Our economic decisions not only don’t help the environment, they don’t help the folks out in Motor City either. But we’re taking steps that bring us closer to the other. Snow tires resonate for all of us, neither a Prius nor a bevy of snowmobiles ever will.
It’s almost the end of the year and my strange American survival mechanism, the one led by Hope, says that it’ll all be different once we have a 9 at the end of our xx/xx/xxxx. Obama and his dream team are on the way, and just the Hope factor will change everything for the better. I pray it will.
But - What what about me and my dream of a hybrid? What will become of the snowmobile driver in Janesville? What’s in store for that town, that vast and eery facility once vibrating with vast and eery motor cars? We will continue speaking a different language. We want sophisticated, high level answers to this global problem, I’m picturing a Janesvillean will want answers that put parts and pieces back in their hands. How will we take care of eachother, who will get the attention, who will get the jobs? When?