A few months ago when I was back to visit relatives, I took a drive around, and saw the vast empty field that used to be A.C. Spark Plug, where my father and later my brother (and, during summers in college, I) worked. And when I flew in, I saw from the air the ruins of what used to be Buick City, along the Flint River. It was surreal.
For years, Gordon Young, a Flint native living in San Francisco, has been running a blog that’s become sort of a water cooler for people who are from Flint, Michigan, but not necessarily any longer residents.
As a result of a lot of time spent back there over the past few years, he’s written a new book about his experience in buying and restoring a dilapidated house. I don’t think you have to be from Flint, or even Michigan (similar deindustrialization stories could be told about Pontiac, Saginaw and of course Detroit itself), to appreciate the theme of how you can’t go home again, but sometimes you can come close.
And I hope that with the new right-to-work law in Michigan, some of the companies like Honda and Mercedes and others will now consider setting up shop on the old industrial sites, and there can be some semblance of a return to the former glory, even if the new jobs won’t provide the middle-class incomes on unskilled labor that they did in the fifties and sixties. Those days are simply gone, never to return.
[Update a couple minutes later]
Here’s an example post from the blog. 1973 was the year I graduated from High School, into a recession that in Flint was a depression (unemployment was more than twenty percent). The suckitude of the economy, and getting laid off from a job as a mechanic at the VW dealer, inspired me to go back to school, at Mott Community College (named after Charles Stewart Mott, on whose property it was built, and who did die that year, as Gordon notes). In retrospect, that probably was the high point. I moved away three years later, to go to Ann Arbor, and never moved back.
[Update a few minutes later]
Here’s the book’s web site. That reminds me that I should build one for mine.