Saturday, October 01, 2005

Ypsilanti 1971

Whilst in junior high, the author of CC had the nickname, Moose.  

Moose was fond of reading, thus visited the Ypsilanti public library often.  He rode his bicycle there, leaving it unlocked at the bike rack behind the building.  Nobody ever bothered it.  

In 1971, the library got its first coin-operated Xerox machine.  Moose made a copy of a picture of a Nike missile, from a book about military history.  It cost 10 cents: real money, back then.  It took about thirty seconds to make one copy, then the paper had to be left in the rack while hot air dried the toner.  Truly, a marvel of modern technology.  

In 1971, no one could have imagined how many trees ultimately would be felled, to satiate the hunger of the Xerox machines churned out by American industry.  We did know, however, that American industry knew no bounds.  We'd gone to the moon, and back, several times.  The National Aeronautics and Space Act had been passed in 1958, the year Moose was born.  By 1969, the astronauts of Apollo 11 bounded upon the Moon.  In 1971, the Apollo program was winding down, but teenage boys were chattering excitedly about the plans for a space station.  

Every teenage boy wanted to be an astronaut.  Moose had wispy stands of facial hair on his chin.  He could not wait to get old enough to be an astronaut.  By then, surely, we would be building cities on Mars.

James Taylor's song, You've Got a Friend, won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.  The song had captured the preeminent emotion of the Nation, for that period of time.  An upstart pizza chain, Dominoes, was flourishing after having been started in Ypsilanti.  The explosive growth of Dominoes was due to a simple innovation: quick home delivery, using -- of course -- the automobile.

In 1973, there was a little group of upstarts, known mostly to policy wonks. They went by the acronym OPEC.  The Average Citizen of our Great Nation had little reason to know about OPEC, much less worry about them.  On so they thought.  From Wikipedia:
The 1973 oil crisis began in earnest on October 17, 1973, when Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), during the Yom Kippur War, announced that they would no longer ship petroleum to nations that had supported Israel in its conflict with Egypt—that is, to the United States and its allies in Western Europe.

At around the same time, OPEC members agreed to use their leverage over the world price-setting mechanism for oil in order to quadruple world oil prices. The complete dependence of the industrialized world on oil, much of which was produced by Middle Eastern countries, became painfully clear to the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan, requiring Western policymakers to respond to international economic constraints that were qualitatively different from those faced by their predecessors.
During the middle third of the twentieth century, the I-94 corridor, running west from Detroit, had been populated with factories serving the automobile industry.  Ypsilanti was no exception.  If I recall correctly, about one-third of economic activity in Ypsilanti was related directly to the automobile industry.  OPEC changed that.  By the end of 1973, auto plants and storefronts were closing, as unemployment lines were growing.

Moose and his family moved out of Ypsilanti.  It was no longer possible to leave a bicycle unlocked downtown.  The nickname Moose was nearly forgotten.  In fact, it was no longer appropriate.  Moose was shaving pretty much daily by then.

Ypsilanti did recover, eventually.  EMU built a business school in the downtown area, boosting the revitalization efforts.  Later, they erected a fountain on their central campus: a memorial to the influential labor leader, Cesar Chavez.  

New Dominoes pizzerias sprouted like mushrooms, each one standing as a memorial to American ingenuity and the centrality of the automobile in American life.  

Fast forward to 2005.  The Nike missile on the old Xerox copy has long since faded, having been printed on flimsy facsimile paper with first-generation toner.  And the headlines tell us that the Visteon plant in Ypsilanti is closing.  The article answers some of our questions.  The good news is that the employees will be transferred to the Rawsonville plant, so the impact on the city will not be so great as what was seen in 1973.  The bad news is that the tax base in the city will shrink, and the businesses that provided goods and services to the plant and its employees will be affected.  

The unanswered question: is this when the dominoes start to fall?

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