Voice of Bruck News Service

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bruck's (belated) Christmas Letter

We haven't sent out our Christmas cards yet. So for you VOB readers who are on our Christmas card list, keep checking your mailboxes - any day now! Not there today? Maybe tomorrow!


The father of Bruck's maternal grandmother (MGOFOB) and mother (MOFOB) were wonderful southern cooks, as I've noted in at least one prior column. I could list the typical contents (fried chicken, various greens, cornbread with cracklins, green beans cooked with bacon, sugar cookies with about a pound of sugar per, etc. etc.), but that wouldn't do it justice. You'll just have to take my word for it. The closest thing to it that we northerners might experience is the Cracker Barrel restaurants, which adequately capture the content but not the style. So if you know the Cracker Barrel cuisine (I'm not going to tell you what my kids call the CB, as I'm trying to keep this column rated G), try to picture it with a bit less salt and grease, and without the chain restaurant taste (is there some kind of chemical that all chain restaurants use to make their food taste alike?). That would get you in the ballpark. At any rate, Great-Grandma passed away in the late 70's, and her traditions were carried on by Grandma until not long before her death in the late 80's. I do miss them, but you can't live forever, and I think God put them on the Earth at the right time and for the proper duration. To this day, I still indulge in fried chicken when I can, although I realize that trying to find "the good stuff" anywhere besides Grandma's old dining room table in Warren, MI is at best a fool's errand. But that doesn't stop me from trying.

And for the benefit of my dear readers whose only source of news is the objective and unbiased Voice of Bruck News Service, the fine state of Michigan is presently in serious economic straits. We used to say that when the American economy gets a cold, Michigan's economy gets pneumonia. Lately I think it would be more accurate to call it economic pneumonia complicated by jock itch, kidney failure, halitosis, hepatitis, psoriasis-induced heartbreak, AIDS, and cancer. The reality of this situation has been made all the more clear during my recent visit to the Great Lake State over the holidays. The statistics don't lie (9.6% seasonally adjusted unemployment as of November, 113,000 jobs lost so far in 2008, over 14,000 foreclosures in November alone, Lions 0-16, mayor of Detroit in jail), but they tell only part of the story.

We arrived in the Detroit area on the Saturday evening before Christmas. As most normal people do when they return to their hometown, I put out my callsign on the local VHF repeater (the DART, 146.640/040, 100hz PL). Since it's wintertime in MI, I didn't hear crickets, but if there were crickets, that's all I would have heard. After plowing slush for a few miles on the Southfield Freeway, I tried again. This time I got Mark from Royal Oak. His callsign is in the mid KD8's, indicating that he's a relatively recently licensed radio amateur, as I'm sure you're aware. Mark informed me that the repeater has been pretty quiet lately, as just about everybody who used to use it is now laid off. Actually this isn't completely true - most of the people who used to use it are retired, but nonetheless, the normally active repeater has been uncharacteristically quiet.

It was good to see the old crowd at church Sunday. The economy was not a big topic of conversation - I get the feeling they'd rather focus on more upbeat topics during the holiday season - but the lunch they served for the homeless did attract in a large crowd.

I had lunch with my friend PW, who I know from that church, on Monday. We went to a basic family restaurant in Centerline, MI, near his office. PW expressed his hope that that particular restaurant survive the rough economic climate in SE MI. I thought this was a peculiar sentiment, but the twinge of doubt in his voice indicated his real meaning, clarified by his later revelation that the automotive supplier's offices where he worked were going to be consolidating and moving to another city in '09, and all of the local businesses were going to suffer, and many likely fail. PW ordered the cheeseburger; I ordered the fish and chips. This wasn't my first choice; I originally ordered fried chicken but was informed, some time after ordering, that they were out of fried chicken. "We're out of fried chicken," the waitress exclaimed abruptly.
"OK.. then could I have a menu again, please?"
"Oh, yes… let me get you one…"
But I wasn't really there for the quality of the food, nor the service or atmosphere; I was there to catch up on things with PW, one of the few remaining employees of the American automotive industry. PW kind of puts a face on the automotive bailout for me. If the president hadn't overridden congress and guaranteed some loans, PW would have almost certainly lost his contract, and as for 2010, ...?

On Tuesday, I had lunch with CF ("Honey Bunny") and his wife DF, both from my old radio club. CF, DF, and their daughter are all currently on the wrong side of the employment statistics, but at least CF hopes to get back on the job early next year. We dined at one of the Greek-owned family restaurants so prevalent in SE MI. I ordered the fried chicken, having been denied this self-indulgence the day before. No such luck here, either, but at least the waitress was polite about it. I got the chicken strips instead. Should have gone for the salad.

On Wednesday, Christmas Eve, I met DB, a fellow refugee of the failing US automotive industry. DB is gainfully employed by what seems like a viable if somewhat small software company. DB's observations resonated with what I've been thinking. DB is not a native Michigander, but has spent most of his life there, and of course I'm from there myself. Bottom line: DB and I know the people of MI. They will survive.
DB's position: maybe this recession/depression isn't such a bad thing. People need to be shaken up in order to bring out the best in them.
Bruck's position: you can transfer wealth, jobs, and tax base, but you can't transfer inner strength.
Two sides of the same coin I would say.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago with GC, a young man from Chicago who moved to Detroit in 2001 and moved back to Chicago in '06 or so. One of his contracts placed him near my place of business for a few months, during which we did lunch a few times. As a technical financial type (whose instinctive honesty should have landed him in the engineering profession), he paid close attention to, and expressed consternation over, the state of the economy in Detroit. Mind you, this was a couple of years before the current meltdown. Very logically he explained how the fundamentals don't add up, and how economic disaster was looming. I replied that yes, he was correct, disaster was right around the corner, but I had lived most of 40+ years in the Detroit area and could not remember economic disaster ever not being further away than right around the corner, and yet Detroit and the state of MI still plugged away.

Thursday - Merry Christmas!

Friday young David, son of Bruck, and I got our White Castle fix. I thought maybe, just maybe, I could also pick up some fried chicken there, killing two birds with one stone so to speak, as the White Castle restaurants have some kind of partnership going with Church's Chicken, and sometimes peddle their wares from the same grease pits. But not this time - the branch we visited on the corner of 13 Mile and Coolidge was sliders-only.

Saturday, I took the opportunity to shoot some skeet with JB, one of the numerous brothers-in-law of Bruck (BILOBs), and his father-in-law (FILOBILOB) DN. Actually it would be more accurate to say the in-laws were shooting skeet. I was just shooting little lead pellets into thin air, presumably somewhere near the skeet. Afterwards, I polled them as to their thoughts about the auto company bailout. Against the backdrop of the shuttered Wixom plant (where Ford assembled Lincolns and Jaguars) their sentiments resonated with those of a lot of people who are not directly employed by the US auto industry. Namely, the bailout won't do any good without some major restructuring; otherwise, all it's going to do is postpone the inevitable. I asked them if they thought Detroit will recover, and their unequivocal answer was yes. It might take a while, but certainly yes.

Bruck's perspective: this is what happens. I used to have a desk at the Wixom plant, as I oversaw several quality-improvement projects going on there, just a few short years ago, so believe me when I say, the cold emptiness of the closed plant is something I feel deep in my solar plexus. It used to be a beehive of activity, a very exciting place to work. But... this is what happens when people lose sight of the big picture, take their eye off the ball as it were. There's plenty of blame to go around: greedy unions, short-sighted management, congress, the Sloan School of Management, etc. etc. The various analyses I've read on the current economy add up to a whole lot of tiresome bloviating and finger-pointing. But one thing I've yet to hear is, "I screwed up." Seriously, have you heard anyone, anywhere admit any degree of personal culpability? Even more unlikely: "I'm sorry."

Meanwhile, I did my part to stimulate the MI economy - we did most of our Christmas shopping there, and wore the numbers off our credit cards at the various shooting facilities and restaurants. We're back in VA now, where things aren't quite so desperate economically.

I managed to get some fried chicken from KFC on New Year's Day. According to the mother of Bruck, it's good luck to have fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and stewed tomatoes on NYD. We got the chicken part covered anyway. I hope the good luck cancels out some of the Colonel's starch, grease, and salt. Happy New Year!

So what's the bottom line for MI? Well, there's only one way to go from here. But seriously, I know that MI will recover, and thrive. Might not be next week, or even next year, but MI will bounce back as strong as ever. I can't say how, or by what means, but it will happen. One thing I do know is that things will be different - to paraphrase Albert Einstein, you can't get out of trouble by doing the same things that got you into trouble. Bruck's suggestion: everybody in MI should go have a nice big plate of southern fried chicken. It may not fix the economy, but it's a good start!


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