Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Passing of Generous Motors

The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.
David Russell

In 1980, my husband and I lived near Detroit in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He worked on the line at a General Motors plant. Twelve hour night shifts. Sometimes seven days a week. Newly married, I taught school and whenever we had time off or a few dollars saved, we'd load up our Chevette for an adventure up north, to Chicago, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Ontario, where ever the road took us.

My husband is a pretty smart guy (don't tell him I said that.) Doing the same task, over and over, sixty times an hour, twelve hours a day, wasn't working for him. After two years, we decided to chuck that job and have him return to school full-time for an engineering degree. I would support us.

Shock waves wafted through my husband's family. Generations had made their living through the plants and offices of the motor car maker. Landing a job at General Motors assured 40 or 45 years of a steady paycheck, generous pension, and a second home -- up north. Once a GM job had been secured, never, ever did giving it up laud consideration.

An engineering degree earned at General Motors Institute or the universities of Michigan or Michigan State, and then a return to the car industry, might have redeemed us. But, no, we headed west to Colorado - and a degree in chemical rather than mechanical engineering.

How we chose that path, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps we didn't want the same life as those in past generations. Perhaps we saw into the future and knew that opportunity may not garner the same results generation upon generation. Or perhaps it was simply dumb luck. A young couple choosing a different route.

At present, we worry for our family members and friends who depend on the pensions they earned so diligently. Also for the thousands of current GM and Chrysler employees who join the ranks of the unemployed, not to mention the trickle down effect that will have on many industries. I will not be lonely in the Midlife Jobhunter quest.

Although I do believe GM squandered their chances to remain competitive in this world and that the years they made gobs of money and gave everyone, union and non-union alike, healthy packages and salaries, and made poor car choices, I do hope for their rebound. Any trip to the Midwest does not find a BMW, Toyota, or Nissan in front of one on the freeway. The true believers in the Rust Belt drive their Pontiacs, Buicks, Chevys, Dodge, Ford, and Chrysler vehicles, and of course the ultimate sign of success in the GM automotive industry, the Cadillac. They are a people who support the American life in a way they know best.

Long ago, my husband and I burned the bridge to the GM legacy. Instead of the car business, we chose the precarious semiconductor industry. True to the form of their parents, our children have chosen their own bridges. The journeys continue.


  1. My husband followed his family's tradition of being a carpenter, building a 35 year career on quality woodworking. We all know what has happened to that industry! It's been a very scarey time for him and tens of thousands of others as he had to re-route. Yes, you are not alone on your midlife jobhunter quest.

  2. It's hard to know where each path will lead. Just having the courage to try something different because your intuition sees something others did not is a true test of bravery.

    May your family continue to open to new opportunities, and may these opprtunities shower you with blessings.

  3. It takes a lot of courage to step out of the mold followed by one's family for generations. And I see how hard it is with my kids watching them develop into adults that differ from what I would have thought or chosen. But, that's what we each need to do. Find our own way and let those we love find theirs. It's not always easy, but it's always right. And courageous.

  4. I worry about so many people now too. I think we will come out of this a stronger country, but the road may be a long one.

  5. I too am a child of the American auto industry. GM to be specific. My father is worried sick about what will happen and how it will affect him.

  6. Wow, this was a powerful, first, person account of the impacts of the auto industry. In my speechwriting career, we used to talk all the time about how the agricultural revolution gave way to the industrial revolution...which gave way to the technological revolution. We wrote about the scores of people who had to be retrained and adapt to a new way of thinking; how natural that is and was. It's true, it was. But reading your piece, and looking at the economy from the perspective of REAL people gives me pause about those platitudes.

  7. It is so difficult to burn your own path! I live in "Ford Country" up here in Canada. Generations of families are just like you and your Hubby. They have all worked for Ford. Once you land a job there you are expected to Love it and stay forever. Glad you went your own way. Hope things turn around for all the car company people out there!

  8. I moved from the sub burbs of Detroit just 5 years ago and settled out west because I felt things were shaky back then. My kids chose to stay behind and are now really feeling the domino effect of the failing economy. You were wise to march to the beat of your own drum. One must possess a strong character to take on a new challenge in life. Reach around and give yourself a good pat on the back cause you deserve the kudos. I wish you continued happiness and success.

  9. Sometimes a little instinct goes a long way :)

    My sociology professor brought up GM and how the government and therefore we personally (taxes) own the company more than private funding. Apparently Canada owns a bit of the company as well? I forget. Don't quote me on any of this. The dear man has the most soothing Irish drawl. I tend to fall asleep easily.

    Anyway, I wish your kids the best on their new paths

    Shawna's Study Abroad

  10. I can't believe this is all really happening.. it is really scary! I am glad you went your own way!

  11. You've just made a daily news story incredibly personal.

    What a writer you are!

  12. Very interesting post from an insider's point of view. The closures are affecting so many people in so many different walks of life. The railroad company a family member of mine works for has all but shut down because they used to ship cars in so many of their trains. *sigh*

  13. I love the personal touch you put in all your writing. I, too, cannot believe they're gone.

    An invitation for you:

    I am participating in Harriet’s comment challenge , and urge your to come join the fun!

    I’m also signing up to follow everyone whose blog I’m commenting on in order to stay connected with the bloggers who have impressed me greatly. :o)

    If you have a button code, I’ll grab it. A twitter link? Facebook? Or any other social gadget, I’ll follow there, too.

    You’re one of these impressive people, so I'm following you, now.

    Please come visit my blog, and feel free to do the same. Mom’s Fortress of Solitude

    My hope is to connect with some awesome bloggers out there, and to spread the word for each of us by linking through different social sites, and exchanging buttons to post on each of our blogs.

    I look forward to reading more.


  14. Julie, I don't mean this in a negative way, but I've always wondered why people (or their families) hitch their entire lives to a single company, generation after generation. The same with coal mining families. I'm glad for you that you and your husband chose a different path. Not that there are no risks to diversifying, but I feel that one we step off the merry-go-round we're better able to deal with the knocks.

  15. Every path carries its own risks. Both the car-making and semiconductor industry's ups and downs bear that out. I think it's a matter of timing as to how we will all fair with our respective paths.

    Right now there's a glut of good writers (who aren't getting published) and not enough successful publishing houses. Even when we do get our novels published, we are not likely to make the paychecks that our forebears made 20-30 years ago. Still, I would not veer from the writer's path (although in hindsight, I'd have worked harder at it 30 years ago) because I get so much joy and fulfillment from it. Now, those other paths I chose . . . what was I thinking?

  16. Hi. I'm not sure what genre you write, but I wanted to invite you to check out my writing contest on my blog. It's at: http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

    Love that cat widget. I can't believe it "breathes"!

    Lynnette Labelle

  17. Angie, Thanks. Semiconductors have been a weary route also, but much better choice.

    Wayside: Such a same to see the talents of a woodworking not appreciated.

    Mermaid: Thank you for your kind words.

    Pam: Courage - what a lovely word that is.

    Debbie: I agree. I think the road will be long.

    SMB: We will add your dad to our list.

    Scobberlotcher: Yes, things do take on a different flavor when faces are put to history or things of matter. Thanks for the comments.

    Modern Mom: I hope so too! Thanks for stopping by.

  18. Domestic Goddess: Thank you and sounds like you deserve that same blessing.

    Shawna: Ha! Would probably put me to sleep, too. Yes, Canada does own a share as well.

    Jill: Thanks. Hope all is going much better for you.

    Jocelyn: Thank you. Means a lot coming from the writing teacher.

    Cairo: Most interesting stuff in your part of the world the past few days also.

    Mom's Fortress of Solitude: I'm not sure what a "button" is? Twitter and Facebook - I'm sorry. I can barely keep up on blogger. Will visit you soon to answer on your site.

    Sujatha: I found this a thought provoking question. Tradition? Complacency? Parochial living? I love your responses.

    Liar: Some of the paths we chose - oh, yes. What were we thinking?

    Lynette: I'll check it out.

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