Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Anniversary ramble

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of a good decision.

It will have been 365 days since a personal financial squeeze forced my choice to unload two high-performance cars, both of which I loved dearly, in favor of a used SUV. In the bargain, I skittered out from under a pair of payments and pocketed a bit of cash.

The move didn't prevent demise -- perhaps it didn't even postpone the inevitable -- but in hindsight it still was the wisest thing I could've done.

I've now spent a year with my positively ordinary white 2005 Chevy TrailBlazer LS. It's been (knock wood) virtually trouble-free over 8,000 miles, achieved respectable (if not stellar)
fuel economy, proved remarkably capable in winter weather and was invaluable during our household move. In other words, it's a keeper.

Aside from adding a
CB radio and antenna, plus a K&N air-filter element, I've made no modifications. The rest of the tweaks that I proposed in an earlier post have been deferred due to lack of funds more than anything else, but eventually I hope to make a few more changes. We'll see what the next year brings -- as it sits today, though, I'm more than satisfied with the vehicle.

Yesterday, taking final advantage of a bumper-to-bumper warranty that expires tomorrow, I brought the TrailBlazer to my local Chevy dealer. The parts required to fix a balky HVAC fan switch were in stock (wonder of wonders), so I ended up drinking bad coffee and wandering around for two hours while repairs were made.

It's a big dealership, by the way, founded in the 1950s, with two showrooms and a 24-bay service department. A row of pole buildings at the back of the property houses the owner's stunning collection of classic and noteworthy GM vehicles, along with related ephemera.

Impressive as the place is, everywhere are signs that the faltering American auto industry has had a brutal impact close to home.

Along the windows in the front of the main showroom are a dozen sales desks -- eight of them were bare, dust-covered and unoccupied yesterday. I looked into the financing office, a bullpen of cubicles once abuzz with deals in the making, to find it empty and dark.

Strolling over to the other side of the dealership, I ran into the guy who sold me the TrailBlazer. Ever the optimist, he told me that he'd had a good summer. His tone grew softer and less positive, however, when he revealed that twenty days into this month his entire showroom had delivered only one vehicle -- and a used one, at that.

We shook hands and I walked back toward the service department to claim my TrailBlazer, remembering that the
plant that built it closed last December.

I can't be dispassionate about this. It may be the expected residue of capitalism, the natural ebb and flow of business, but the images in my head tear at my heart.

These are my neighbors.

As a consumer, there's nothing I can do to change what's happening. Engaging in isolationism or boycotts or symbolic gestures, whether individually or collectively, can't save an industry. It certainly won't repair an economic system that's fundamentally broken.

All I can do, really, is make good decisions -- yes, like the one I made when I bought that TrailBlazer -- and be aware of the effects.

It's not a zero-sum game, not by a long shot, but I am guided by this principle: My family comes first, my community second.

The balance, it seems to me, is beyond both my grasp and my control. I'll continue to keep my focus -- and my business, as much as I possibly can -- close to home.