Hours pass. Stop to eat outside of Erie and the snow is so deep that cars are getting bogged down in intersections. A while later the unpleasant discovery that the Ohio roads budget apparently doesn’t cover salt. Even the parallel lines of tire tracks are covered in the white stuff. Thick slush. The driven wheels feel like Arctic icebreakers now as forward progress slows to 40, 35, 30 mph. Audi Quattros sail past in the left lane, followed by Escapes and Escalades. The SUVs will be passed again in due time, idling in the median to stay warm, awaiting rescue. The Saab soldiers on, impervious, dutiful.
Entering Cleveland the road improves, and on the other side the weather does too. I’m able to make up enough time that I’m only half an hour late rolling into Detroit, through downtown, under the Renaissance Center, and into the parking lot where, for the first and likely only time in my life, I am applauded for driving a 1988 Saab 900 Turbo SPG. Literally applauded. Pulling to a stop, I am instructed not to get out as the car is quickly surrounded by photographers kneeling and standing, guys with HD camcorders and microphones, flashbulbs and clicking shutters, people waving signs. Because? Well, because I’m a guy who just drove a 22-year-old Saab from Rochester, New York. Should this elicit some other reaction?
The funny thing is, I don’t have much in common with most of the people here, as friendly and good-natured as they are. For one thing, all but one of them—a dude in a totally sweet four-door 900 beater—are driving GM-era Saabs, about which my opinions are already on the record.
And unlike some of them, I’m not petitioning my elected representatives to intervene on behalf of an insolvent car company. Kinda for the same reason I’m not praying to God that the Green Bay Packers beat Arizona this weekend. My senators and congressmen get enough shit from me about healthcare, stupid wars, and corporate criminals getting rich off the backs of the poor and middle class that you know what? I’m not going to bother them about something that ultimately doesn’t affect anyone but a few thousand people who have the good fortune of living in fucking Sweden, where getting laid off from your job does not necessarily mean losing your home or dying of a curable but untreated illness because you can’t afford to go to the doctor.
But I keep my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself, as someone secures a “Save Saab” placard to my windshield. Because at the end of the day, I am here, just like them. Not in the hopes that it will make a difference—it won’t—or to express any sort of outrage or even indignation, particularly.
After all, if we’re talking Shameful Episodes in General Motors history, what they’ve done to Saab probably doesn’t even crack the top 100; in the context of American Corporate Malfeasance, it’s gotta fall somewhere outside of, oh, the top ten thousand. But there’s something symbolic about this that speaks to issues larger, I think, than the ones immediately at hand. You’ve got a wealthy, powerful, arrogant entity that decides it knows what’s best for a tiny, modest, troubled entity, and carelessly imposes its will, consequences be damned; a decade or two worth of incompetence, neglect, and hubristic denial later, the former is bankrupt and the latter is in ruins. Huh. Remind you of anything?
There are those who would have us believe that terrorists, those all-purpose boogeymen of the 21st century, “hate our freedom.” I disagree. I think it’s the entire rest of the world that hates us, and I think it’s less our freedom they hate than it is our arrogance and tendency to fuck shit up wherever we go. And here we have a perfect example: a giant American corporation—the giant American corporation—preparing to snuff out of existence no less of a national institution than itself, one from a country that never did anything to the world except give it some awesomely depressing movies and turn out a lot of well-designed furniture. Why, guys? Shouldn’t we be giving the world fewer reasons to hate us, and not more? Isn’t that what we’re all about now, with our new and thoughtful president, the one who, by the way, bailed out your asses with our fucking money, which is the only reason you still exist?
Of course, at this point, nothing is going to stop the General from doing what it’s going to do. That’s kill Saab, because selling it is too much hassle and ultimately GM just doesn’t give a shit. Me spending a day driving through blizzards isn’t going to change that, nor are any of the well-intentioned, sign-waving, GM-Saab-driving folks assembled in the shadow of GM’s corporate headquarters on this cold, gray afternoon. But I’m glad they came, and I’m glad I did too. It may seem a small and inconsequential and even pathetic thing, but I think it’s important that when the history books are written, the record will reflect that somebody—anybody—was there to say bullshit. This is wrong. We bear witness.