Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The numbers

This little ray of sunshine just fell across the Euro Like Me city desk. Holy shit, I've never seen US economic figures like this. (Like I ever look at US economic figures.) 26 Thousand jobs lost every day in December? Three thousand families losing their homes to foreclosure every day?

I'm reminded of the tossed-off last line of that great movie about American politics, The Candidate: "What are we gonna do now?"

Save us, Obi Wan Obama!

From my safe (?) European home, I can only guess what it's like in the trenches over there in my homeland. Maybe I better get on the phone with some of you. I'm certain that most, if not all, of my former colleagues in the magazine bizness are working less, working freelance, or not working in that bizness at all anymore. (Like me.) But that's also part of something that started years ago when magazines and newspapers started to bit-i-fy themselves--shrinking cover stories to 500 words, downsizing feature articles to 200-word sidebars, dialing sidebars down to photo captions--all in an attempt to compete with the Web. The publishing industry just doesn't need as many writers as it used to. Funny, huh?

But what about my friend Dan, who works at a record company? What about Su, who works for public television? What about Scott, that funny queen who lived on our block on the Lower East Side and was trying to get started as a fashion designer?

When I read about 26 thousand jobs lost per day, it sounds like a tear in the fabric of space and time. Like a change to things we don't even notice anymore, because we're so used to the Big Mac, I'ma Get Mine U S of A. Take car dealerships. A colleague of mine told me a story about her brother, who owns a piece of a car dealership in Colorado. He made much money a few years back when SUV sales were peaking, so he's not exactly a sympathetic character in my book, but she tells me he's also worked very hard all his life. So there. Anyway, her brother explained something to her which I never knew: those three or four dozen cars on the lot of any American car dealer are always, mostly, owned by some local bank. It's hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory, just sitting there. Two weeks ago, his bank calls him up and says, 'Hey, we're getting out of the car business--it sucks. You've got two months to sell our cars, then we want the money for 'em.' My colleague's brother was almost in tears as he told her this. Long story short: he's gonna go bust.

My friend asked her brother, "Can't you sell your share of the business?"

He just laughed. "Who wants to buy a car dealership right now? Besides a vulture?"

No comments: