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I Am Lordstown
By betraying the loyalty of the workers in Lordstown, GM has betrayed my loyalty to them as a customer. After three consecutive Cruzes in my garage, now I have to find a new car... and a new brand.
I have never been to Lordstown, Ohio, but Lordstown, Ohio has been in my home for a long time. Almost seven years, to my best reckoning, but probably a lot longer than that given my history behind the wheel.
You see, I’m what you’d call a “Chevy Guy.” There were exceptions. My first car was the Buick version of the Monza, and I went through brief phases with an Escort and an Accord. But other than that, my eyes have zoned in on the road through the glass of a Chevrolet, my peripheral vision grabbing shadows of that iconic “bowtie” etched into the middle of my steering wheel.
The 1980 Camaro I drove through college is still my personal favorite. My dad, my uncle, and I rebuilt the motor together with engine block from a ’78 Malibu. My 2000 S-10 was my most practical purchase and given the number of times I’ve had to bum a truck off a neighbor, it shouldn’t have been the only one of those I’ve owned. My ’89 Cavalier, the first “grown up” car I bought after getting married, got me through dozens of trips up and down Indiana from my first job to my hometown. And that ’06 Cobalt… Well, okay… That one I was happy to get rid of.
Something changed, however, when I rolled home in my first Cruze. It was a 2013. Dark grey. Stick shift. I loved that car. Of all the Chevy’s I’ve owned, I never possessed one that felt quite as much like a child of mine than that ride. I took every chance available to hop in the seat and spin it around town. My fiancée needed milk? Got it. A trip to Indy? No problem.
One of my favorite routes to the Circle City was an 11-mile stretch on a winding, narrow “highway” dubbed 240. With a pair of long soft turns, my favorite moments of the entire day were the combined 30 seconds spent dropping into 5th gear and accelerating through the curves. When I timed the shifts perfectly, winding out the motor and slipping back into 6th gear felt almost like the time I hit a hole-in-one with a solid 9-iron.
I’m driving my third consecutive Cruze, now. It’s going to be my last.
When I think about the devastation in Lordstown, so many things upset me, that I often struggle to sort them out.
Firstly, is the Cruze itself. They’re not selling as well. Okay. I get it. Gas is cheap, and humans are stupid. The entire country is ignoring the obvious fact that cheaper gasoline isn’t going to last forever. But since it’s cheaper right now, everyone wants to go back to the late ‘90s and hop into armored SUV’s sitting four feet off the ground. The short-sighted imbecility of the whole thing is maddening. And because of that short-sightedness, GM is shuttering an entire plant and the community attached to it.
Secondly is the politics behind it. Lordstown is one of those places that flipped from Obama to Trump. As I listened to Brian Milo talk to Sabrina Tavernise, I didn’t agree with him, but I understood him… and respected him. In his mind, Trump was the only one talking about the plight of eroding middle-class workers such himself. And he was right. When I talk to any of my friends on the left, I beg them to tune into Tavernise’s podcast and listen to Milo’s words. Or I plead with them to watch the video version on Hulu where Rick Marsh tells Tavernise that, “Nobody had our backs in office, not Democrats or Republicans. I'm tired of being sugarcoated and being robbed in the process. I really don't care if [the president who saves us is] a Democrat, Republican, male, female, black, white, I don't care."
The 2013 Chevy Cruze became my favorite car ever. Creative Commons credits detailed below.I grew up in the small town, working class worlds Marsh and Milo inhabit. Even though I went to college and work most of the time behind a desk, I’ve never really left those places. I still hear the voices of the men who raised me—blue collar, FDR types. Some went with Reagan. Others stayed on top of the Donkey. None of them feel like they’ve benefitted. But rather than look for ways to connect with the likes of Marsh and Milo, too many on the left see the “red” in their votes, dismiss them as back-woods racists and misogynists, and keep demanding all the free stuff that’s only going to lose an election.
In Tavernise’s podcast, Milo talks with pride about his time at the Cruze plant, working mostly on the car’s interior. Since listening to it, I think about Milo, and people like him, who installed the airbag in front me, or the fancy readout screen in the middle of my radio. These cars that I have loved, these extensions of my identity and personality were products of others’ labor. I know, beyond a doubt, that the folks who put my Cruze together were people who didn’t just clock in for a day. They were craftspeople, who viewed the machines that rolled out the door with the same mixtures of pride and self-criticism that Dali must have felt when he stepped back from all those melted clocks on his canvas.
In two years, my lease will end. There will be no 2021 Cruze waiting for me. Lordstown, however, has changed something in me. My affinity for Chevy has proven a textbook example of brand marketing, to be sure. That doesn’t diminish the emotional attachment I had to those cars nor to the peace of mind I felt knowing that I didn’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time shopping around for the “right” vehicle.
But next time, I will have to do that, and I won’t just be looking for a good car. I’ll be looking for something that means as much to me as that red-white-and-blue sticker of Ohio meant every time I opened the driver’s door. In my way of thinking, I must do right by Milo and Marsh.
But I have no idea how. That leaves me sad… and angry… and tired—sick and tired of living in an economy that repeatedly stomps on the backs of the people who make it hum, all for the sake of short-term gains and ginned up windfalls.
Wheeler proudly teaches AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He also contributes to the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for other publications. He started learning to play guitar last fall, but he remains terrible at it.
“2011 Chevrolet Cruze LT” by Ryananddenny is licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY 3.0.