One of the great things about my little job at Automotive News is my workspace faces a window that looks out on downtown Detroit. Ford Field is just across the road, GM headquarters looms to the left and I have views of Comerica Park, Little Caesars Arena, Greektown Casino and Hotel, the historic Penobscot Building, and even the Wayne County Jail and a glimpse of Canada, just across the Detroit River. It’s a wonderful view but doesn’t show one of the key reasons I think Amazon should decide to locate its second headquarters here.
There’s been talk about the need for rapid transit, access to a ready labor force and adequate housing. But to me, what Amazon needs the most…are boxes. Millions and millions of boxes. I’ve researched this and discovered that Amazon, of course, has several suppliers for those boxes that get us giddy when they appear on our doorsteps or in our mailboxes. But let’s look to the future. The more Amazon’s business grows, so will its appetite… for cardboard boxes.
Guess what? I found more than a dozen cardboard box companies in Michigan. In fact, Michigan Box Company is smack in downtown Detroit. You gotta love the image on its website’s home page. A nice, friendly, happy, eager dog just ready to please and play…and yes…deliver!
There’s a company in the Downriver area called ThePackline Co. You know how many different boxes they can come up with? Their website claims 1,500 different kinds of cardboard boxes in their catalog. Hell, Amazon could ship everything from prosthetic elf ears…
To a scale to weigh your dog, goat, pig, sheep or calf …
So sure, mass transit is nice for moving people, but Amazon’s bread and butter is moving stuff to its gazillion customers…in cardboard boxes! It’s hard to imagine Amazon ever having enough cardboard boxes since at some point brick and mortar merchants will run up the white flag in surrender to the online sales behemoth…after ordering one from Amazon and having it delivered in..a cardboard box!
So Amazon, please look past the folderol other communities may be passing your way such as pretty pictures, smiling people and promises of a fun and stimulating lifestyle. Oh yeah..we have all that…recreation, culture, technology, hardworking and ready labor force, amazing suburbs, major league sports and an international border. That’s all great. But we also have plenty of what you need the most. Yup…Detroit not only shapes up…but we have the boxes so you can ship out. Can’t wait till you land on our doorstep.
I gave a guy a buck on Friday and what I got in return was a little bit of quiet shock, a plaintive question and some sincere words of thanks.
No, it wasn’t a panhandler or even anyone who asked for a handout, or actually, anything at all.
Here’s what happened. I was attending, for work, the Autorama show at Cobo Hall and pulled into a nearby parking garage. It was one of those where you needed to park two-deep. There was an attendant on each level to direct you to the next spot and take your keys in your vehicle needed to be moved if it was blocking in someone wanting to leave.
The attendant on Level 5, where I parked, took my key and placed it on hook #5. “Five on five, is you…that’ll make it easier to remember,” he said. He seemed very serious about his work. When I returned I noticed my Jeep Wrangler had been moved, and moved to a better spot, right in front of me. “Five on five,” I said to him and he smiled and gave me my key. At the last second, I decided to stick a buck in his hand. Wasn’t really sure that’s what you do, but it happened.
At first he looked shocked, then quietly asked me, “what’s this for?” I told him I appreciated him taking care of my car and it was just a small token to show it. “Besides,” I added, “I just want to. I’ve had a good day. So should you.”
“That’s really nice,” he said, “thank you so much. No one does this.”
I tell you this story not as a means of self-aggrandizement. It was only a buck, which is what I had in my pocket at the time. I tell you this story to put the thought out there that amid the anger, frustration, disappointment and dismay ruining the national morale, if we think more about helping each other through even the smallest gestures, we can pull through together. The fact is that even a simple gesture of appreciation has a long shelf life in the recipient’s psyche. It might be just enough emotional fuel to get them through a bad day, or run of tough luck. Makes the benefactor feel pretty good too. I’m so glad that on a cold Friday in Detroit, my buck stopped into the right hands.
I had a friend in high school named Neil. He owned a brand new light green Pontiac TransAm, while I drove a ’62 Pontiac Tempest my dad bought for $25. No one loved my Tempest. Everyone loved Neil’s TransAm. One night, a bunch of us who were admitted “Neil’s TransAm Disciples,” gathered in his driveway and watched him install a set of Thrush mufflers that gave the car at least 5 extra sets of balls when Neil nailed the accelerator. Only Neil was allowed to nail the accelerator, or touch the steering wheel or deem to sit within the holy walls of of Neil’s TransAm…without Neil’s permission, of course. Besides, it had a white almost-leather interior and who needed the mortification of marring the chemically-produced cloud?
Honestly, I never gave much thought about cars after the gang scattered to universities across the country.
My first new car was a groovy red, 1974 Chevy Vega, which went through three transmissions in the three miserable years I owned it. Many years later, as the GM beat reporter for The Detroit News, I interviewed a union officer at the Lordstown, Ohio plant that produced my red lemon. He said to me “You owned a Vega? Well on behalf of all the men and women here at Lordstown, we sincerely apologize!”
As you can plainly see, I was less than an automotive aficionado…otherwise I might have settled on a Gremlin or Pacer, the Vega’s partners in the 1970’s Triad of Dreck.
My automotive ambivalence changed drastically when CNN transferred me from Atlanta to Detroit to be the bureau chief and correspondent there. Back then the bureau was in the basement of the PBS station, WTVS, two blocks from the former General Motors headquarters. I was told Ted Turner directed the bureau be located there because he wanted to be close to the biggest company in the biggest, most important industry in the country.
My education into the auto industry was swift and brutal. I was sent to interview Ford’s chief numbers cruncher for a sales story. He was three months from retirement and didn’t suffer newbies lightly.
“Sit your ass down, listen to what I say, learn from it and don’t ask any stupid questions. Got that?” How could I not?
I actually found the men and women of this great industry to be very understanding about my learning curve and as long as I didn’t act like a cocky dipshit, they were happy to help my learn the ropes.
Indeed, there I was, in a conference room with the great Lee Iacocca at Chrysler’s old Highland Park, MI headquarters. He strided into the room with a big cigar, handed the big, wet thing to his PR guy, shook my hand, smiled and asked “what’s on your mind?”
Yeah, I was starstruck because I had just read his memoirs before moving up north.
I told him I was new, and apologized if my questions seemed simple or naiive.
He gave me another big smile and said, “don’t shit your pants, ask me anything you like and I’ll make it easy for you…and welcome to Detroit.”
That was 1989. This is now. Detroit’s always been welcome to me and my family and I can’t think of a reason to hop in my jet black Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition and leave.