Friday, May 15, 2009

'Exhibit A'

It's a sterile, black-and-white document, 40 pages in length. Released yesterday and headed "Exhibit A," it bears the names of nearly 800 American businesses which, as of next month, no longer will be Chrysler dealers.

On the list are four dealerships in this area, two in my hometown and another from which I bought three vehicles when I lived in New England. The small Dodge dealer where I last did business, 15 miles south of here, was spared.

More bad news came this morning when GM slashed 1,100 of its own franchises. Combined with the euthanasia of Pontiac and the hoped-for divestitures of Hummer, Saturn and Saab, GM's network will contract from 6,200 dealerships to 3,600 or so. Toyota, Honda and other automakers are eyeing cutbacks as well.

It has to happen and we saw it coming, but nothing softens the gut-punch to communities where dealers will be shuttered.

Beyond all of the soon to-be-unemployed mechanics, salespersons and the like -- an estimated 40,000 from those Chrysler dealers alone -- ripples will swell into waves. We tend to forget how many tire shops, car washes, hot-rod clubs and tee-ball leagues depend on even the dumpiest little dealerships. It'll be many years, I think, before we see the full sweep of the damage done.

As I said, this painful pullback, like so many others, was inevitable. It's maddening, but I'm not sure that being angry about it helps. We should be clear, at least, about what it represents.

If we mark progress by the markets' irrelevant gyrations or experts' optimistic predictions, then our national economic crisis is nearing its end. If we go to the eviscerated American middle class, we find out that nothing could be more divorced from their reality.

Perhaps the best thing we can do right now is to renew our commitment to channeling our energy -- and our commerce -- into our communities. Like buying a used car and having it serviced locally. Getting together with neighbors and supporting a pee-wee football team that just lost its business sponsor.

Driving past the golden arches and grabbing a burger at a family-owned diner or dairy-ette. Buying produce from farmers' markets and roadside stands.

Buy American? Sure, but let's get a grip, People -- if we're going to pull out of this, we have to pull much closer to Home.