Saturday, December 13, 2008

Melvin and The Auto Industry Bailout

I can't read an article about the auto industry bailout crisis without thinking about Melvin.

My first job out of college was organizing "a-thons" for a national nonprofit. Walk-a-thons, bike-a-thons, jail-a-thons - our special events department did it all. Along the way, we met some interesting, inspiring people who fundraised their hearts out for these events.

People like Melvin.

Melvin wasn't a bicyclist, but there was something about our bike-a-thon event that gave him a way to keep his mother's memory alive. He didn't want any other son or daughter to go through what he went through in caring for his mother. The man was driven to find a cure. So driven that he pedalled his bike in the 65-mile bike-a-thon every year for 18 years. He was always one of our top fundraisers; the total amount he raised was close to $100,000 but I am guessing it was much, much more.

Melvin worked the night shift at the Ford Assembly Plant. I think he was an assembly-line worker making pickup trucks. My boss and I arranged to present Melvin with an award at the plant, and I remember half-heartedly making the long trip up the NJ Turnpike to Edison. I had a lot to do in the office, and at first I saw it as being a waste of a day.

At the Ford Assembly Plant, we were treated to the grand tour. I can honestly say that it was absolutely fascinating. While I don't remember the details of what cars we were watching being manufactured before our very eyes on the assembly line, what I still remember more than 14 years since then are the workers - workers with photos of their families at their stations, newlyweds, newborns, grandkids. Workers with American flag posters and pins. The work they were doing was not easy, but they were proud as hell to be doing it. And the fact that we corporate types would drive such a distance just to recognize and thank one of their own was A Big, Big Deal.

There was something about the acknowledgement that we gave Melvin, the very fact that we showed up and said your hard work matters, you're making a difference and we noticed. I'm glad we took the time to recognize him because a few years afterwards, Melvin was killed in a car accident. He was 49 years old.

So this talk of the auto industry bailout inevitably makes me think of people like Melvin and his coworkers at the Ford Assembly Plant in Edison.

Which also isn't there anymore, having been closed and demolished in 2004 to make way for a shopping center.

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