This is Chapter Four – “The Foundry” – of “The Nine Nations of North America” by Joel Garreau, as published by Houghton Mifflin in May, 1981.
“New Stuff” regarding Nine Nations can be found at http://garreau.com/main.cfm?action=book&id=3
"Oh-ho, say can you see . . ."
Dull green with yellow tips, the hefty cranes up on towers cluster, sporting the markings of Bethlehem Steel. Amid them, incongruously, are nestled the white-tipped black yardarms of a three-masted sailing ship, the U.S.S. Constellation.
"By the dawn's early light . . ."
From the top of a rise in the lush park, the eye slowly pans the horizon. The park is on a sharp point of land guarding the harbor, which surrounds it on all sides. The view is of brick smokestacks and white and black water towers. Across the harbor over to the left, a tall, blocky gray tower with the look of a grain elevator is actually a storage place for concrete. LEHIGH CEMENT, it says on the side. A real grain elevator, its tall cylinders bound together like a monstrous six-pack, looms in the other direction, dwarfing the crab apple trees of Fort McHenry.
"What so proudly we hailed . . ."
Actually, dozens of cranes spike the horizon, a closer examination reveals. The Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock yard over to the right has its collection, as does the Dundalk Marine Terminal, and many more belong to industries even lifelong residents can't readily identify from this perspective. The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a businesslike crisscross of steel, carries the Baltimore Beltway over the wide water. The smoky black, coal-dust-covered pier, much the worse for wear, belongs to Consolidated Coal. It had once helped fuel the industrial behemoth that was the envy of the world - the gritty cities of North America's industrial Northeast. Now, the pier needs a lot of work.
“At the twilight's last gleaming . . .”
The Continental soldiers march with great precision, in their blue swallowtailed coats with red trim and gold buttons. Their pants and leggings are as white as the George Washington wigs under their three-cornered hats. Pennants are layered as thick as palm fronds over one of the flags they carry. The pennants say things like CENTRAL BURMA, 1945. Where and why, exactly, was the battle for central Burma? The wool costumes look hot in the bright June sun. The fireboat for the inner harbor fires tall jets of high-pressure water into the cloudless sky. Tarnished red and silver trailer boxes lie nearby like so many building blocks for a colossus, stacked and waiting for the containerized ocean freighter that is riding high in the water of the Chesapeake Bay as it heaves to.
"Oh say does tha-hat Star Spangled . . ."
The crowd in the park listening to the contralto belt it out is an extremely diverse lot. Orientals. Blacks. Surprising number of redheads. Uncommon quantities of adults under five and a half feet tall, with pinched smiles and gnarled hands. Virtually the entire history of the migrations that have made up North America is written on their faces. The neighborhood just behind Fort McHenry is Locust Point. Surrounding the Locust Point Marine Terminal, it is the classic northeastern ethnic enclave. The front stoops of the row houses are polished white, gleaming from repeated scrubbings on hands and knees with soapy water and a stiff brush. "These Germans and Polacks here in Locust Point," the mayor of Baltimore had said earlier, "they think they're independent of the city. They're not poor. They have a lot of pride. You don't do anything down here without asking them. It's a pain in the ass."
“Ba-NER-her ye-het wa-ha-ha-have . . . “
Over the star-shaped old squat brick fort, a replica of an old flag was being raised. In the Indian summer of 1814, in retaliation for North Americans torching Toronto, British imperial forces had burned the White House in Washington, forty miles south of here, and were then zeroing in on the crucial fledgling industry of the port city of Baltimore. The commandant of the fort that stood between the fleet and the city was casting about for a very specific symbol of defiance. "It is my desire," he wrote, archly, "to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance." So he ordered a banner sewn thirty feet hoist by forty-two feet fly, spangled with fifteen five-pointed stars, each two feet across, and fifteen stripes. Its exact duplicate, being raised this day, is one huge flag.
"O'er the la-hand of the FREE . . ."
The p.a. system screeches on the word "free." It always does. There doesn't seem to be a p.a. system made that can deal with that high E flat. The British today are having no difficulty seeing this Star Spangled Banner. Nor are the Hungarians, the French, the Vietnamese, the Italians, the Jamaicans, the Lithuanians, the Ecuadorians . . . The British, as a matter of fact, are out in force this fine Flag Day. In a park on the shores farther into the harbor, they are holding a Celtic-Scandinavian ethnic festival. Other flags are flying there - from the yellow cross on the blue field of Sweden, to the fierce red dragon of Wales. In fact, the harbor was again being invaded, but this time it was by forty-foot serpent-headed long boats, their Viking crews brandishing padded swords. Swedes, Norwegians, and ethnic Finns attacked; Scots, Welsh, and Irish defended. When the warriors got thirsty, they drank a sweet, cold, potent pear wine imported from England.
"And the home . . . of the . . . BRAAAAAVE."
Bravery, as it happens, was the topic of discussion later in the day, as William Donald Schaefer toured his city in the long green Fleetwood with the license plates that simply said MAYOR. In addition to his driver, he traveled with Gary Mitchell, a double-knit aide who looked like an administrative assistant and sometimes functioned as one, but who really was there on special detachment from Baltimore's Tac Squad - the equivalent of a SWAT team. Formerly with the elite police helicopter branch, in which he had thrown spotlights into bleak alleys from the safety of the air, he now traveled with a .38 under his plaid-jacketed shoulder, and the knowledge that the mayor of a northeastern city wades into some fairly strange crowds.
Actually, the conversation was not about bravery per se. It was about windows.
In the Union Square neighborhood, where H. L. Mencken, "the sage of Baltimore," once lived, there is a "shopsteading" program. Shopsteading is a spin-off of Baltimore's "homesteading" plan. In northeastern urban homesteading, gutted aged town-houses, which are in no condition to support decent human life but whose sturdy brick walls are still so structurally sound that it seems a shame just to bulldoze them, are sold by the city for a dollar and some promises. The homesteaders who acquire these charming old shells, which today would cost a fortune to build from scratch, agree to fix the houses up - they frequently have to replace the plumbing and heating systems, the plaster, and sometimes even the roof - and then actually live in them for at least a few years.
The houses are available for a dollar because their previous owners have abandoned them - been scared off - and they've fallen into the hands of the city in a tax sale.
The deal, when it works right, usually boils down to this:
The city marks out a neighborhood that it thinks ripe for resuscitation. It attempts to stretch its overtaxed social services so that the entire neighborhood can be turned around by these homesteaders. It knows from bitter experience that only one or two rehabbed houses in a block won't do the trick. The whole block has to be attacked for critical social change to occur. So the designated neighborhood, at least in Baltimore, gets an extra dose of police protection, and the city code inspectors make a special effort to lean on property owners who are not bringing their places up to the new standards. Street fairs and ethnic festivals are encouraged, with the city providing bandstands and roping off streets to automobile traffic so that pedestrians can wander.
In exchange, a young couple with no chance of being able to afford a more conventional first home in a tight, spiraling real estate market, promise to invest their sweat, and possibly risk their personal safety, rehabilitating a row house in a tough, but presumably not hopeless, part of a city that suburbanites and people who have moved to Oregon have generally written off as irrevocably declining.
There is no question that the neighborhoods involved are tough. The edge of the rehabbed areas, where they fade off into hard-core slums, is commonly referred to as the "frontier." If the neighborhood once again becomes livable, and an adjacent area becomes newly attractive to homesteaders, the process is referred to as "pushing back the frontier." The nastier inhabitants on the wrong side of the frontier are called "the Indians."
Obviously, a certain number of these phrases are blatantly racist code words. But by no means is that the whole story. A good number of the people who get these $1.00 houses and fix them up are themselves black. Furthermore, since the people who homestead have committed themselves actually to living in these neighborhoods, they're betting their bodies that a pluralistic, northeastern urban society can be attractive, profitable, possible, and fun.
Now, in the Union Square shopsteading program, for $100 folk get not just a row house, but a two- or three-story building, the top floors of which offer lavish living area as well as the ground floor for some mom-and-pop retail establishment. When the work on the structure is completed, theoretically the couple wind up with both a place to live and a place in which to earn their living.
On West Baltimore Street, holes have been drilled in the middle of the sidewalk, with steel posts firmly cemented into them. From the posts are hung chain-link fencing, mean-looking barbed wire, and a sign saying all this is the work of William Donald Schaefer, mayor, and the city of Baltimore. Behind this makeshift fort, offering night protection from the Indians, dozens of shopsteaders hammer and buzz-saw away, hauling out wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of rotted timber and powdered plaster.
A word about Schaefer: A bachelor in his fifties, Schaefer lives with his mother, Tulula, although "lives with" is somewhat misleading, since his city hall office includes a much-used cot, and he spends inordinate amounts of time, nights and weekends included, personally seeing after his city. Schaefer is a blond, freckled teetotaler of German extraction with almost transparent green-blue eyes. He has a permanent battle with his waistline, made infinitely more difficult by the ethnic festivals his city sponsors at which he finds pressed on him endless crepes, perogies, and lasagna.
Schaefer is an upfront admirer of the late Richard J. Daley and of Frank Rizzo, the former bosses of Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively. As he indefatigably prowls through the city in the back seat of his limousine, he whips out multisheet forms that are labeled "Executive Action Memos." At the top of each sheet is printed the list of the perhaps thirty people at the heights of the city's administration. There is a little box next to each name. Whenever Schaefer sees anything in his city that frosts him, he checks off the name of the department head who will soon wish that he had seen it first, and then scrawls in longhand, as the car tools on, a description of, for example, the grafitti on an overpass that Schaefer wants to see painted over, and yesterday. He then checks off how long the department head has to respond to the memo. The longest period is two weeks, and frequently he checks the box next to "Immediately." When he gets back to city hall, these memos are logged, numbered, and shipped to the offending executive. A copy is retained by an old Prussian, who is a retired utility engineer. His job, for which he is paid next to nothing, is largely to make sure that if an action memo demands a response in two days, by the beard of St. Nicholas, a response is produced in two days. The habits this kind of system instills in city workers can be awesome to behold. At ten o'clock one Saturday morning, a mayor's aide received a call from the organizers of a dedication ceremony at a neighborhood "multiservice" center. More people were showing up at the festivities than had been anticipated, and there were not enough folding chairs. The aide made one call. At 10:56, one yellow truck, number 2737, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Operations, showed up at that center on North Dukeland Street, two miles west of city hall, in the predominantly black Rosemont neighborhood. It had two workers in orange and yellow reflector vests, who worked with a will to unload and set up a hundred more blue folding chairs.
In some northeastern cities on a weekend morning, you can't call 911 and get the police to show up in fifty-six minutes flat, much less get a hundred folding chairs and a work crew. And, unlike some of the old-line mayors and Maryland politicians he admires, Schaefer has never been accused of corruption; more-over, he seems to exercise his capacity for repressive totalitarianism only on political allies, opponents, and newspaper reporters - all of whom probably can be considered fair game. Across the pillars of the rehabbed Rosemont neighborhood center marked by clean new plate glass, sandblasted and repointed turn-of-the-century brick, and marvelous old turrets, hung a banner whose message seemed to be heartfelt (in 1979, Schaefer ran without significant opposition). In the city's colors of black and yellow (not very different from the black and orange of the city's beloved baseball team, the Orioles), it read: WELCOME MAYOR SCHAEFER.
Anyway, this Saturday afternoon - after attending the neighborhood multipurpose center dedication, the Celtic-Scandinavian festival, the Flag Day ceremonies at Fort McHenry, and yet other activities, such as the French ethnic festival, a rummage sale at the 125-year-old Light Street Presbyterian Church, and a south Baltimore street fair in which he responded to a man who wanted to help keep the city clean by issuing an Executive Action Memo directing a city department to deliver the fellow a broom - Schaefer had thoroughly exhausted the men twenty years his junior who had tried to keep up with his pace. Now, the mayor, a nondrinker, found himself on West Baltimore Street in the Union Square neighborhood inside the New Deal Bar.
"My goodness," he said. "I never thought I'd live to see the day that I'd find myself inside the New Deal Bar."
Joann Whitely, a thirty-six-year-old with dark hair and dirt smudges on her face, showed the mayor the work she, her husband, and their renovation crew had done on the bar they'd recently bought. She nearly burst with pride. Here were the murals they were preserving. "During the forties," she explained later, "a man came into the bar and could not pay, and in lieu of funds, he painted the murals. It took him almost a year. Apparently he'd run up an extremely high bill."
The long-forgotten alcoholic genius had painted what he saw around the bar, and what he saw was so raunchy that Whitely carefully steered the mayor away from some of the more colorful paeans to pimps and whores. Baltimore magazine in the late seventies, before Whitely took it over, conferred on the New Deal Bar the awesome title "The Worst Bar in Baltimore."
"During the war," Whitely said, "the servicemen were barred from going on the premises. It was really that bad. It was the place where narcotics were trafficked. There were some murders in the New Deal. There were rapes. Yes, within the last few years this all happened. In fact, when we first bought it, one day I walked toward the back of the bar and these two guys were firing up right outside the bathroom. Yes, shooting up. Heroin. In fact, the liquor- board would not allow us to use the name New Deal Two. They just wanted the name New Deal completely gone from the memory of everyone in Baltimore. So we're going to call it Heathen Days, after one of Mencken's books."
Whitely proudly showed the mayor the long oak bar she and her husband had discovered and moved in, and the fine brass rails on which the future would place its feet. She discussed the oak ice box with beveled mirrors and ornate brass trim that was coming in next. She mentioned that the couple will have sunk $105,000 into the bar by the time it reopens. She pointed out the "amenities," like the fireplace halfway up the wall, and the carefully carved wooden detail along the roofline. "Where else could you get detail like that?" she asked.
I looked out at West Baltimore Street. I was glad I was traveling not alone, but with the mayor and Mitchell, with his concealed .38. There was a faded arrow labeled "Eddie's Lunch." An old barber shop sign hung half off its hinges, its twirling glass completely smashed. Al's Billiard Supply was boarded up, its sign flaking. Citywide TV Sales & Service sat there with its front covered by grilles of steel. M. Hess Luncheonette was abandoned. Drifters ambled past with no particular place to go.
"Doesn't this neighborhood ever scare you?" I later asked Whitely.
"Aren't you afraid of being raped?"
"No. I can't explain it, but I feel a closeness to this entire neighborhood. Union Square is very special to me, because when I was growing up I saw a neighborhood - West Fayette Street - die, and I think within me there was a psychological need. We saw a neighborhood go from a solid one to a ghetto. A lot of the families moved out after the war. It became a tenant area. It integrated too quickly; then the state and the city started condemning properties for the expansion of the University of Maryland. Buildings began to be boarded up. And once that started there was no return.
"The crime rate increased. Everything started to fall apart. My father died on West Fayette Street, the six hundred block, in nineteen sixty-six. The day my father died, it was unbelievable, because here was this little house that was set back with fig trees and roses in the front yard. And then the state came in and took over, and today the new dental school stands where my home was."
And now Whitely is in the middle of the West Baltimore Street shopsteading area, attacking the worst bar in Baltimore with a crowbar. She paid considerably more than the token $100 to the city for her building, because, as much as the cops might have wished it, the New Deal had not been abandoned. But all around her, up and down the block, carpenters and masons who had made such a deal were at work restoring storefronts that would soon become an ice cream parlor, a unisex hair salon, a quickie printing shop, a self-service laundry, a silk-screen shop, an upholsterer's operation, a delicatessen, an architect's office, a tax consultant's, a constructions firm's.
In the course of conversation, Whitely casually mentioned the burglaries, robberies, muggings, and lootings that occur from time to time on West Baltimore Street. "I'm not afraid to live here," she said. "A lot of people can't understand that, but Baltimore Street is the last frontier to be conquered out here. Until Baltimore Street is turned around in terms of physical appearance and being a viable business corridor, we'll never make it." She really wanted to tell the mayor about the piece de resistance of the new bar, and this is how the subject of windows and bravery came up. "They say windows are dead in Baltimore," she told Schaefer. "They're wrong." And she went on about the ultimate architectural statement she and her husband intended to make with the newly christened Heathen Days.
They were going to tear out the bricked-up front of the building and replace it with glass. Plate glass. Not even rockproof. And without steel bars.
Several weeks later, I found myself in Hamtramck, Michigan, talking about Whitely to David Olko. Olko is the part-owner of the Second Precinct Lounge there, and we'd been talking about Amori's Party Store on East Jefferson in Detroit, several miles south. Amori's is across the street from Renaissance Ford, a dealership that is, in turn, practically in the shadow of the new downtown Renaissance Center, which is supposed to typify the resurgence of downtown Detroit. Amori's has a lot of glass, too, only the glass is an inch and a half thick and bulletproof and inside the liquor store, separating the operators from the customers. Olko agreed that he'd never seen a bank with that kind of security, although he allowed that he'd seen a bar outfitted similarly. His Second Precinct Lounge had been burglarized just the week before, and they'd gotten not only his cash but the guns he keeps handy. The day before that, his cottage up by the lake had been burned. Arson. And a lot of bars were closing around him in Hamtramck, now that the Chrysler Dodge Main plant next door had been shut down permanently, throwing thousands out of work. But Olko wasn't pessimistic about his future, and he said he felt he knew where Whitely was coming from. "Yeah," he said. "You just gotta be tough."
And tough is what defines North America's nation of northeastern gritty cities in a multitude of ways.
Gary. South Bend. Flint. Toledo. Cleveland. Akron. Canton. Youngstown. Wheeling. Sudbury. London. Hamilton. Buffalo. Syracuse. Schenectady. Pittsburgh. Bethlehem. Harrisburg. Wilkes-Barre. Wilmington. Camden. Trenton. Newark.
The litany of names bring clear associations even to the most insulated residents of other regions. These names mean one thing: heavy work with heavy machines. Hard work for those with jobs; hard times for those without.
When columnists speak of managing decline, this is the region they mean. When they speak of the seminal battles of trade unionism, they place their markers here. When they write of the disappearing Democratic city political juggernauts, not for nothing do they call them machines, for this is where they hummed, then rusted.
When television presents the concept "Archie Bunker," it locates his neighborhood here, for the four boroughs of New York that are not Manhattan are part of this nation.
In an ironic way, this place is the real New South, for it received the vast internal migration of job-hungry blacks fleeing the once-overworked land of Dixie, and now it is the warehouse of their discontent. North America's Gulag Archipelago, it's been called; the continent's chain of urban prison camps.
Its capital must be Detroit, the birthplace of the assembly line, but its spiritual center is bankrupt Cleveland. Its hope may be Baltimore, but its shame is Cicero, the northern town whose hatred broke the heart of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is the nation of the Foundry.
A foundry, in which molten metal is cast into forms, historically represents one of the most basic and ancient technologies known to man. "If you want to use your imagination a bit," says Sheldon Wesson, of the American Iron and Steel Institute, "one would guess that the first foundry was born when primitive man saw this reddish crud melting around his campfire, and this hot stuff trickled down into the sand, and when it cooled, it assumed the shape of the area in the sand where it had trickled. It didn't take much of a leap for him to realize that he could produce a form to his own specifications. I've seen foundries today so primitive that you wouldn't believe it. Just wet sand on the floor of the factory. A guy comes along with a hand ladle and pours hot metal pretty much as it was done a million years ago."
Well, not a million years ago, but in the case of copper, at least three millennia before the birth of Christ. Iron is mentioned in the Old Testament eighty-six times, and steel, three.
And historically, the nation of the Foundry served as basic and time-honored a role in the development of North America as the facilities after which it is named. In fact, especially for the hundred years ending during World War II, North American industrial history and the history of the Foundry were close to being the same thing. But even before that, during the 1770s, around the eastern Pennsylvania iron deposits, "iron plantations" were formed, the largest at Hopewell, Pennsylvania, with twelve hundred inhabitants, casting and forging arms, shot, and cannon for the Revolution. The most famous of these plantations, among the many destroyed by British troops trying to weaken George Washington's armies, is Valley Forge.
Early in the 1800s, water power, which had driven the air bellows to create the high temperatures necessary to melt metal, was replaced by steam power. This was an important advance for several reasons, not the least of which was its timeliness, as the demand for boilers, locomotives, rails, and bridges surged with the accelerated western movement of a rapidly growing continent.
But it was also important because it freed the industry geographically from its dependence on locations next to East Coast rivers, flowing rapidly down from the Appalachians, and facilitated its move closer to its supplies of raw materials, most of which were in, or west of, the mountains.
It was in the mid 1800s that a system was invented that would make the production of steel so cheap that the much stronger material could compete with iron - the Bessemer process. In 1864, at Wyandotte, Michigan, on the Detroit River less than ten miles from the Dearborn that Henry Ford would put on the map half a century later, the first North American commercial pour of Bessemer steel was made. From these ingots, North America's first steel railroad track was made in 1865, at the North Chicago Rolling Mill.
Steel from the nation of the Foundry changed the face of the continent. Barbed wire allowed the building of fences in the tree-less Breadbasket, transforming it from rangeland into farmland and promoting the creation of towns. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, steel rails linked the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads, and thus the coasts. The "Chicago school" of architecture changed the ways cities would look and function by pioneering the steel skyscraper in the 1880s and 1890s.
Meanwhile, steel was changing the geography of the Foundry itself, the interior of which found itself ideally situated in the middle of a triangle of the three resources basic to both iron and steel:
- High-quality iron ore from northern Michigan and, after the completion of the Sault Sainte Marie locks linking Lake Superior and Lake Huron in 1855, the Mesabi Range of Minnesota.
- Bituminous coal, to be baked into the high-heat-value coke of almost pure carbon, found in virtually the entire eastern mountain range, but mainly in the valleys of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
- Limestone, which is the shells of prehistoric crustaceans squeezed into rock, used to remove impurities in the iron and steel. It can be found in deposits miles long and thousands of feet deep all over the Northeast, especially in New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario.
But best of all, the water-rich Foundry was laced with navigable waterways ranging from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River to the Erie Canal, and, to this day, water is still the cheapest way to move heavy, bulky items.
So industrial towns grew next to ports. Pittsburgh, the home of United States Steel and Pittsburgh Plate Glass, and the third greatest headquarters city in the United States, is located where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers merge to create the Ohio River. (It's no accident that the football Steelers play in Three Rivers Stadium.)
Cleveland is located where the Cuyahoga River - famous for once being so polluted that it burst into flames - meets Lake Erie - also famous for once being so polluted that it was incapable of sustaining marine life.
Detroit is on the western edge of Lake Erie, as is Toledo. Buffalo is on its eastern edge.
You can still get from Buffalo to Albany via the 1825 Erie Canal, and from there to New York City on the Hudson River. It was that barge canal, linking New York City and the Great Lakes, and along which the cities of Utica, Syracuse, and Rochester were built, which was the beginning of the end for Boston and New England as the primary industrial region. It transformed New York City from a second-class seaport to the East Coast's commercial center. It helped make New York the Empire State. Today's Interstate 90 roughly parallels that canal.
Chicago, Gary, and Milwaukee are on Lake Michigan.
Toronto is on Lake Ontario, and as recently as 1959, that was making an enormous political and economic difference in North America. Nineteen fifty-nine was the year that the St. Lawrence Seaway was completed. As noted above, it's not that the Seaway connected the Lakes and the Atlantic for the first time. What the Seaway did was allow all but the largest oceangoing traffic (for example, supertankers) into the Lakes. Prior to 1959, Québec's Montréal was functionally the end of the line for large craft, and, not coincidentally, Montréal was the financial and commercial hub of Canada. In the last twenty years, that title has passed. over to inland Foundry Toronto, and to this day you can find presumably paranoid Québécois who view the Seaway as nothing but an elaborate Anglo plot to screw the French-speakers once again.
Be that as it may, the point is that these cities would not have evolved, or at least evolved the way they did, had they not been strategically located to wrest wealth efficiently from the very dirt of the planet. These cities were well positioned to have the various earths shipped inexpensively, via the abundant waterways, to central locations. There, they would be thrown together at high heat to make metal and other extremely basic nineteenth-century industrial products. In this process, they attracted wave after wave of cheap immigrant labor-first the wave of Europeans, then the wave of southern blacks, recently the Hispanics. Not for nothing did they call it the Melting Pot. How many people have "melting pots" in their kitchen? That's a Foundry term and concept.
Diego Rivera, the celebrated Mexican muralist, made this point explicitly in the Garden Court of the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1932.
An idealistic Marxist and champion of the working class who believed in individuals laboring for the good of all, Rivera was fascinated by economic and industrial development. When, in California in 1930, he met Dr. William Valentiner, then the curator of that art institute, "he wanted to hear all that I knew about industry in Detroit," Valentiner wrote. The staggering capitalist achievement of "the Rouge" - the Rouge River industrial complex of Henry Ford - intrigued him. Here, within one two-thousand-acre industrial "city," raw iron-laden earth came in one end, and Model As came out the other, with virtually every other industrial process associated with the automobile (the making of glass, for example) integrated in between. "In all the constructions of man's past," wrote Rivera, "pyramids, Roman roads and aqueducts, cathedrals and palaces, there is nothing to equal these [skyscrapers, superhighways, and machines] . . . the best modern architects of our age are finding their aesthetic and functional inspiration in [North American] industrial buildings, machine-design, and engineering, the greatest expressions of the . . . genius of this New World."
Charging $100 per square yard, which ended up costing Detroit art patron Edsel Ford $20,889 - a handsome sum during the Depression - Rivera painted twenty-seven panels on the four walls of the museum's skylit, bungalow-sized Garden Court, in the ancient Roman water-color-on-fresh-plaster fresco technique.
In striking, bold colors, lines, and metaphors, Rivera impressionistically but accurately depicted over fifty major operations of the Rouge, from Power House No.1, to the blast furnace, foundry operations, and open-hearth steel mill, through the stamping operations, welding, painting, and final assembly. The end result - the automobile - was of less interest to Rivera than the process. The only completed car that appears in the murals is a tiny speck, way in the distance at the end of the final assembly line.
Of far more concern to Rivera were the basic raw materials - men and earth. Looming over the busy north and south panels that depict the guts of the plants are four quiet, reclining nudes - Caucasian, Oriental, American Indian, and Negro. In their hands, they offer, respectively, lumps of limestone, sand, iron ore, and coal, the races and substances Rivera saw as analogous "in their . . . quality of color and form, as well as by their historic [North American] functions."
Conventional thinking about the Foundry today combines an odd combination of memory and amnesia concerning what the Foundry once meant to North Americans.
On the one hand, it's possible to forget that to artists like Rivera and Charlie Chaplin, who, in the film Modern Times (1936), showed man becoming merely a cog in a societal machine, the Foundry was a metaphor of the future. A world in which everything that moved was measured in tons, and humans were dwarfed by their inventions, was the ultimate statement of both hope and despair. Detroit and the cities like it were to their time what Houston, Los Angeles, and the cities of the MexAmerican Southwest are to this generation - visions of wonder that both amaze and appall.
On the other hand, especially to residents of the Foundry itself, who, like all North Americans, are capable of their own parochialism, sometimes memories of what was are confused with what is. In the days of Rivera, the Foundry was the linchpin of North American development. In fact, to most, the Foundry - "back east" - was North America. The United States portion of the Foundry was the United States. It is of Baltimore that the United States national anthem sings. Henry Ford, who had his own air force of Ford Trimotors, his own navy of Great Lakes freighters, and certainly his own army of tens of thousands of workers, was as towering a figure as any president or premier. The same was true of Morgan of U.S. Steel and Rockefeller of Standard Oil. The problem with this memory, if you look at North America today from the perspective of Nine Nations, is that it has become a misleading metaphor.
The Foundry is still the most populous of the Nine Nations. It has approximately ninety million people of the perhaps three hundred million living in the area described by this volume, or 30 percent.
It still controls the majority of the continent's basic - in the sense of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century - industry. It's difficult to quantify the Foundry's gross national product precisely, as it obviously does not have customs barriers around its borders, and thus statistics are not usually gathered along the lines this chapter describes.
But, for example, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York produced sixty-four million tons of pig iron in 1977, which was 70 percent of the United States-Canadian total. And that's not even counting the production of Ontario, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland, whose total production the iron industry's statistics perversely make difficult to assess.
Similarly, if you take the above six states and this time throw in Ontario, you discover that that portion of the Foundry produced 106 million tons of raw steel in 1977, which was 75 percent of the United States-Canadian total. And that's again not counting leviathans like the Sparrow's Point plant in Maryland, whose production is considered something of a trade secret. Nor does that include New Jersey's Roebling Works, producer of the steel rope used in building the Brooklyn Bridge.
If you examine the automobile assembly numbers for the appropriate portions of these twelve states and provinces, you discover that in 1978, 9,288,527 cars and trucks were finished there, for 64 percent of the United States-Canadian total. And, of course, that doesn't reflect the component industries - the factories that produce the parts that Motown and Company bolts together.
In a walk along the vast assembly line at the Rouge Works in the summer of 1980, just before destitute Ford shut down public tours for the first time in fifty years in order to save the $2 million they cost, I watched barely recognizable hunks of gray metal come together in a stately waltz that ultimately resulted in gleaming, strongly hued Mustangs and Capris being spit out once every forty-eight seconds. And I got a lesson in industrial geography.
For sure, the car doors hung in racks labeled "Return to Ford Bordeaux." France. The piece of cardboard hanging from the transmissions was labeled "Lanfkarte. Pallet Tag. Carte Suiveuse." And carpets were labeled "Troy Mills, Troy, N.H."
But the overwhelming majority of the curiously shaped pieces of metal and plastic that sat in wire bins, waiting to be precisely placed on the slowly passing hulks, had clues to their origin like these:
"Return to Warner Gear Division, Muncie, Indiana."
"Kalamazoo Stamping and Die Co., Kalamazoo, Michigan, Producers of quality dies and metal stampings."
"The Akro Corp., Canton, Ohio."
"Midwest Rubber, Deckerville, Michigan."
"Federal Screw Works, Romulus, Michigan."
"Yale Rubber Manufacturing Co., Sandusky, Michigan."
"RB & W Metal Forming Division, Mentor, Ohio."
"Jim Robbins Co., Black Cowl Panel, Troy, Michigan."
"Manchester Plastics, Manchester, Michigan."
"Rockwell International, Chelsea, Michigan."
"Rockwell International, Logansport, Indiana."
"S&S Products, Wheel Cover Assembly, Wyandotte, Michigan."
"American Hose Corp., Winchester, Indiana."
"Huron Plastics, St. Clair, Michigan."
"Sashaban Products, Clarkston, Michigan."
"Stant, a Purolator Co., Connersville, Indiana."
"Huron Tool & Manufacturing, a U.S. Industries company, and that makes a world of difference, Lexington, Michigan."
Unquestionably, the Foundry is still a formidable place, one that can make a world of difference. The danger lies in our continuing to view it as a metaphor of the future - seeing it as the only place in which North America's tomorrows are being hammered out. By the turn of the century, it may not even be the most important segment of North America. That role may well be assumed by the MexAmerican Southwest, all by itself. Already, the continental population is shifting to a southern and western majority, from northern and eastern. The largest bank in North America is not in New York. It's in California - the Bank of America. If energy deposits are destiny, the Foundry's future is by no means assured. Although its coal reserves are fantastic, they are deep beneath the mountains, and are mined by men still scarred by battles with exploiters that occurred half a century ago. Being a United Mine Worker is an emotional allegiance, as is being a United Auto Worker, a Rubber Worker, a Steel Worker.
The problem with the Foundry is that it is failing. Its cities are old and creaking, as is much of its industry. It is still struggling with its historic role as the integrator of wildly different personalities and cultures and ethnic groups, and there is no assurance that the sociological battles that it has been assigned will end in victory.
But, the Foundry is not North America, despite what the continental news media - most of which are headquartered there - may lead you to believe. The Foundry is the only one of the Nine Nations that can be said to be on the decline. The other eight are, at worst, economically stable (for example, Québec and New England), in the sense that a plausible balance between quality of life and modest growth rate make for stability. And others are generating wealth and growth so fast that their biggest problem is controlling the boom.
This is not to say that other nations do not have problems. They do. Water is as crucial to Tucson's future as race relations are to Baltimore's. It is not even to say that the rest of the continent does not share some of the Foundry's problems. Many of Dixie's cities are at least as old as the Foundry's. Refitting steel mills and assembly lines to meet the challenges of Japan are concerns in the Breadbasket - even in Ecotopia - not just in the Foundry.
The error, as this continent matures, is in our unquestioningly equating the inevitable decline in the Foundry's dominance with an inevitable decline in the world position of the United States or Canada. What's happening in the Foundry today is perhaps comparable to the wrenching realizations Europeans were subjected to over the last five centuries: not only does the sun not revolve around the earth; the earth does not revolve around London. Yet, somehow, Western civilization survives - even prospers.
Defining the borders of the Foundry is an exercise in human, rather than geophysical distinctions. Each of the nations of the Breadbasket, the Foundry, and Dixie is a mixture of agriculture and industry. There is significant corn production in Ohio, just as there is significant automobile production in Oklahoma. The view along the New Jersey Turnpike is so appalling that Dixie planners specifically mention that state as what they don't want to see their world become. Yet the largest stretch of wilderness in the East is in New Jersey - the Pine Barrens of the southern part of the state. The Delaware River, along its west, is the biggest wild river in the East. The rural scenery twenty minutes north of Trenton is breathtaking, and, by the same token, there are portions of Kansas City, the capital of the Breadbasket, that are pretty wretched.
But this hardly means these nations are the same. There are sharp differences in history, attitudes toward the land, prejudices, economics, and futures among these nations, and it's how these differences come together that defines their boundaries. Thus, the Foundry, for example, is a place that is thoroughly described by man and what he's done to the mountains and rivers and plains in the course of trying to get ahead, more than it is by mountains or rivers themselves.
Cities are the Foundry's dominant physical characteristic. There are lots of them. They're not terribly far apart, by the standards of most of the continent, and they are crowded places. As a result, there is no trouble pointing to the Foundry's heartland - its megalopolises. The boundaries are less distinct where the area is less urban. A tour around the border of the Foundry helps explain.
As noted in the chapter on New England, the southwestern third of Connecticut is part of the Foundry, because it is tied by television stations, commuting highways, and suburban values to New York.
Manhattan itself is so unusual on this continent that it is dealt with separately in the next chapter. But its suburbs are not, and thus the border town between the Foundry and New England is New Haven.
To the west of New Haven is Fairfield County, with its bedroom communities like Greenwich, Darien, and New Canaan, which would shrivel up and die without New York. To its east is New London, which is clearly part of New England. An important part of the New London-Groton-Mystic area is its relationship to the open Atlantic. Nuclear submarines, built at the Electric Boatworks, the Coast Guard's training vessels attached to its academy, and historic whaling tall ships all call eastern Connecticut home.
The line, therefore, must be drawn between these two different worlds, and New Haven is inviting. On the one hand, it has a distinguished institution, Yale, on which to base its claim as a civilized place. On the other hand, it has very little else on which to base a claim as a civilized place. Providence is more charming than New Haven.
New Haven's politics also demonstrate the predictable confusion of a town straddling two nations. It has all sorts of anomalies, not the least of which is its enormous ethnic Italian-American population, which votes Republican because, years ago, the Irish had locked up the Democratic Party.
New Haven is also where the East Coast megalopolis kicks north up toward Hartford, rather than continuing along Long Island Sound. This is important to the way a Foundry-New England border is perceived by a casual visitor. A tourist driving up to New England from anywhere south of New York, for example, starts tensing up at about the intersection of the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, well below New York City.
That's the point at which one starts shushing the kids, because daddy needs to pay close attention to his driving lest everybody get lost or the car gets stacked up on the southbound. The tension doesn't end until New Haven. After New Haven, the traffic thins out, it's possible to start admiring the scenery, and you can start feeling as if you're on vacation.
Down along the Foundry-Dixie line, Annapolis is a border town. To its north is Baltimore. But across and below the long Chesapeake Bay Bridge is the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which, with its chicken farms and insulated, isolated rural poverty, is clearly old-line Dixie. Annapolis itself is a graceful place, a good place to walk around in, a town even someone accustomed to the beauty of Charleston, South Carolina, or Savannah, Georgia, could love. But it's also the state capital of Maryland, and has seen so much good old big-city political corruption that it makes Trenton look clean by contrast.
Moving west along the Foundry-Dixie line, we come to Washington, D.C., which, like Manhattan, is so consumed by itself that it is dealt with separately in the next chapter. It should be noted, however, that its wealthy suburbs, like New York's, are definitely part of the Foundry. They're certainly not Dixie. In the Virginia state capital, Richmond, suburbs like Fairfax are viewed with awe and disbelief. The voters up there have all manner of reprehensible Yankee notions. You can find people in northern Virginia who are not only actually in favor of the government subsidizing mass transit and abortion, but in favor of controlling handguns. The majority of Virginians look at anything that goes on north of the Rappahannock River with suspicion.
Out past the Blue Ridge Mountains (you know why they look blue from a distance? They're so covered with trees that, in the course of photosynthesis, they exhale resinous hydrocarbons that create their own natural haze) is the Shenandoah Valley.
Songwriter John Denver has it wrong when he sings about the Shenandoah Valley being in West Virginia, rather than Virginia, but he was right about its being almost heaven, and it is not part of the Foundry. The pace of affairs at the Southern States Farmers Co-op is the tip-off: if you wish to buy a screwdriver, for example, you first pause, mention the weather, remark on the price of seed, joke with the girl behind the counter, and then ask for the tool. Brusquely and impersonally attempting to slap down money and leave with your merchandise marks you as an outsider. Even the industrialization is not what you'll find in the Foundry. This picturesque sheep-and-orchard valley is the sort of place that is offered clean, lucrative factories, like the Adolph Coors Company's eastern beer-brewing plant. This is the sort of job creation that planners will kill for, and it is a plum that is reserved only for places with a high quality of life. But this happened in far northern Dixie, and was received by the valley people with a skepticism unusual for the South. Being near the border of the Foundry, they have seen so much industrial devastation in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia that even the value of jobs like these are questioned, because of the change they'd bring.
Northern West Virginia - Morgantown, Parkersburg, Wheeling - especially its northern panhandle, which follows the Ohio River south from Pittsburgh, is clearly part of the Foundry. The Monongahela and the Ohio are loaded with industry that turns water strange colors and brings texture to the air. Coal-fired electric plants split the hills with high-tension lines. Steel, glass, and industrial chemical plants bring worrisome jobs - jobs that are not only dangerous and difficult, but are hit first in a slackening economy.
Southeastern West Virginia is problematic. It is at all times isolated by its mountains. Similar terrain in the Empty Quarter at least has the good grace not to be populated. Charleston, West Virginia, is by no means the most rugged part, yet its airport can inspire respect in good weather. In search of enough horizontal space for a runway, its planners sheared off the peaks of two mountains. That leaves no margin for pilot error. The grandly named West Virginia Turnpike, meanwhile, is two lanes, undivided. West Virginians typically have a very limited spacial horizon. It's common to find some who have never been to a town fifty miles away. They consider that a long drive, and they're right. The roads in Alaska have fewer twists and more guard rails. Some folk here especially avoid driving on holidays, like the Fourth of July. These roads are hard enough without a driver's having to cope with traffic. It's uncanny, the way smashed cars decorate West Virginia front yards like lawn ornaments. In good times, southeastern West Virginia can be considered an isolated part of the Foundry. In bad times, it is an isolated part of Dixie.
The good times are when coal is running strong. This has not been recently. The coal is high in sulfur, which makes it difficult and expensive to burn without causing pollution. It is often in deep mines, which requires the work of a lot of high-priced men operating in conditions in which they can, and frequently do, die. Deep-mining coal is still the world's most dangerous industrial occupation. Where the coal is near the surface, and can be strip-mined, it's generally on a slope so steep that the operation destroys the environment. There's a theory that holds that an increase in the severity of spring floods in these parts is connected to strip-mining practices. The hills just can't hold the rain as well as they used to. With Washington pushing coal as an export item to Europe, coal may soon again be king here, despite all this. But if it is, it will almost undoubtedly be accompanied by an increase in labor unrest. The UMW started off as a cause, dissolved into a racket offering its leaders cushy lives, and now, pathetically, the union's reformers seem incapable of leadership.
So much bad blood was built up during this process, and so much good blood spilled, that unionization is a fiercely polarizing topic here yet, long after labor and management in other parts of North America have managed to confront the issues with other than a quasi-religious, gunfire-punctuated fanaticism. This is why in "good" times this area is part of the Foundry.
In really bad times, when there isn't much work at all, the way folk hunker down in their hollows for the long haul is pure Dixie. After all the years of infusion of antipoverty money, the opportunities for education, health care, adequate diet, and having one's horizons expanded are better than they were. But it's still not something that has caused abandonment of a century-old pessimism about the inevitability of progress. There is still a devotion to the land here, no matter how unyielding it is (and there is virtually no commercial farming in West Virginia).
From Huntington, West Virginia, to Cincinnati, the border follows the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. Some scholars have contended that U.S. Route 40 - the old "national road" - is the dividing line between Dixie and the Foundry. It runs from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Ohio's capital, Columbus, and on to Richmond, Indiana. They traced substantial differences in food, architecture, the layout of towns, and music to either side of that highway.
That probably was once a useful distinction. There is still a taste of the culture of old Dixie in southern Ohio. But the fact that it is referred to as the U.S. 40 line, instead of the Interstate 70 line (70 now parallels 40), tells you how old the idea is. Both the Foundry and Dixie have gone through a lot of changes in the last fifty years.
Be that as it may, the Ruhr-like industrialization and pollution of the upper Ohio River Valley now is the fact that controls. Cincinnati and Dayton are definitely part of the Foundry.
Dayton, in fact, was referred to in Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg's The Real Majority as "the typical American city." While this chapter contends that the Foundry is typical of nothing except itself, it's interesting to note that The Almanac of American Politics tells us that Dayton is the home of Richard Nixon's vision of the typical United States voter: a housewife whose husband works in a factory and whose brother-in-law is a cop. Dayton is middle-sized and middle class. It is losing population and has a black mayor. The substantial growth has been in the suburbs. And it has given birth to such phenomena as the Wright brothers, Erma Bombeck (the suburban muse), and "The Phil Donahue Show."
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is so Germanic that it is beyond imagination that some fan would become so undisciplined at a Reds game that he might throw a beer cup into the outfield. Cincinnati is the home of Procter and Gamble, which is certainly next to Teutonic godliness. Cincinnati is so straight that you used to have to cross the river into Kentucky to have a good time. The Beverly Hills Supper Club, until it burned in a tragic fire in 1977, attracted first-rate Las Vegas talent. It was in, of all places, Covington, Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati. In fact, that part of Kentucky had long been considered a mini-Vegas, in which thoroughly illegal prostitution, gambling, and vice had also flourished.
As the Ohio River flows into Indiana, the national boundaries get complicated. Here are the facts: Northern Indiana - Fort Wayne, Elkhart, Gary - are unquestionably part of the Foundry. Notre Dame football teams are full of hulking Slavic Pennsylvanians who did not wish to spend the rest of their lives in a steel mill, but who nonetheless feel right at home under South Bend's cold, yellowish-gray clouds.
Southern Indiana - the scenic hills that start below Indianapolis and tread through the Hoosier National Forest toward Evansville - is definitely part of Dixie, and has been ever since the Copperheads (those Northerners who sympathized with the Confederacy in the 1860s).
As you move on to western Indiana, you find it impossible to ignore the corn, in more ways than one. Big-acreage, big-dollar, full-time farms influence politics and culture so strongly that that area is neither Foundry nor Dixie. It's the start of the Breadbasket.
Smack in the middle of this is Indianapolis, the largest city in North America with so few natural advantages. It is not on a river of any moment. It is not on a sea. It is not in an area of compelling beauty. It's not warm in the winter or cool in the summer. It is not near great mineral wealth. In fact, it's not near much of anything. Its detractors refer to it as Indian-no-place, and decry its lack of character. Cincinnati, such people cruelly claim, is veritably awash with character by contrast.
But these critics are ignoring Indianapolis' great strength. It is a border town. It is the crossroads town where three nations meet: the Breadbasket, Dixie, and the Foundry. No city in North America, save the far vaster border town of Chicago, is the intersection of more interstate highways. The compromise view might be to call it a place to be in on your way to someplace else.
Where, then, does one draw the line through Indiana between the Foundry and Dixie? Perhaps Interstate 74 from Cincinnati to Indianapolis. And the line between the Foundry and the Breadbasket? Interstate 65 between Indianapolis and Gary.
Especially in the area surrounding Indianapolis, it is important never to underestimate the regional significance of a major highway. Don't think of it as a road. Think of it as something like $30 million a mile transferred from the taxpayers to the construction and land companies. Think of it as a spectacular accelerator of real estate values, especially in a rural area, where the plopping of an exit on this man's land, versus that man's, is often a fairly arbitrary (and hence easily influenced) exercise. Think of it not as a link, but as a divider. To the left of the highway, back when it was proposed, were interests who wished to gain, and on the right were other interests with similar, if conflicting, ideas. The final location of the highway was an extraordinarily political decision that balanced forces like this against each other and also against the forces that wished to get a direct route from city to city. An interstate can be an eloquent statement of political balances.
In northwestern Indiana, the spoor of the Foundry is not subtle. The Montréal-to-Milwaukee megalopolis, far longer than the one from Boston to Washington, takes the corner around Lake Michigan wide and outside, lit by the otherworldly flares of the refineries of Gary. The smell is the same as that of Elizabeth, New Jersey. The particulate matter belched from the stacks of its steel mills was once so great that it affected the weather. Moisture-laden clouds coming in from the west would pick up this stuff over Gary and become so heavy that they would precipitate out whatever they held a few dozen miles east, which is roughly where LaPorte lies. LaPorte was regularly the rainiest or snowiest place in Indiana.
Welcome to Chicago. Richard J. Daley, Mayor. I know. He's gone. But it will be a generation before the billboards equating the city with his pug face fade from the mind. Its slogans about itself - the City of Broad Shoulders, the Windy City - stress Foundry themes, like toughness.
Chicago, "The Second City," a fundamentally eastern city compared to the real West, like Salt Lake City, is, in its relationship to New York, the Foundry model for the urban competitions one sees all over North America. Tulsa-Oklahoma City, for example. Dallas-Houston. Anchorage-Fairbanks. Montréal-Toronto. The first city claims to be the "New York" of wherever it is, the more glamorous pacesetter. The other, peeved, but not capable of dismissing the claim, responds by suggesting it is more down to earth, more "real." More into making money than making trends, perhaps. It will be a long time before Chicago lives down its fame as the "city that works."
West of "Chicagoland," as the radio stations like to call it, as if it were a theme park, is the Breadbasket, where distances between major population centers begin to get excessive. Conveniently, and not coincidentally, Chicago is North America's greatest transportation hub, linking the great "Out There" to its west with the industrial heartland to its east, and both to the world by rail, road, pipeline, ship, and air (Chicago's O'Hare Airport is the busiest in the world). The spider webs of trade routes ending in Chicago are dense and impressive.
North of the city, the Foundry continues past Milwaukee to Green Bay. There's a fast-food plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike named after the late Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi. Green Bay is definitely Foundry. It shares patron saints.
This far north, with all due apologies to the folk in western Ontario, cultural boundaries become a little thin, since there are too few people to make cultural distinctions about. But we press on across Lake Superior. Sault Sainte Marie is Foundry both because of its grittiness and its iron interests. Thunder Bay, the eastern shipping terminal for Canadian wheat, is Breadbasket. Sudbury is the staggeringly ugly, bombed-out portion of the globe where the astronauts were brought so that they could get an advance idea of what the moon looked like.
The line of the Foundry curves east to include the Lake Huron provincial parks, which are the playgrounds for Toronto and Ottawa workers. There is no question that southern Ontario is Foundry. It is the most densely populated, most industrialized, and, until recently, the dominant part of Canada. Its primacy is undergoing major challenge from the Canadian portion of the other northern five of the Nine Nations. In fact, because Canada is the most loosely confederated Western democracy, Ottawa having nothing like the internal power Washington does, the distinctions among North America's nations can be seen with the greatest clarity north of the 49th parallel. Not only does Ottawa face a separatist Québec, but the energy-rich environs of Alberta in the Empty Quarter show repeated determination to set their own course, refusing to be treated like a colony with oil reserves to be exploited. These provinces are separated by the Breadbasket nation, which includes much of Saskatchewan and all of Manitoba, and which resents being victimized by high-priced energy and industrial goods from its partners to the east and west. And Ecotopian British Columbia, like the New England-ish Maritime Provinces, are so different from the central provinces that they periodically and seriously debate whether confederation was a good idea, after all. This is the implied threat behind Québec separatism: Why stop there?
Meanwhile, southern Ontario is so commingled with the United States portion of the Foundry that Windsor, for example, is actually south of Detroit. The most direct route between Detroit and Buffalo is really through this portion of Canada, over the north shore of Lake Erie, not the long way around, by way of Cleveland. Canada's auto industry, which is centered in southern Ontario, is inextricably linked to that of Detroit via the Autopact, which is, in effect, a common market agreement that makes the United States-Canadian boundary transparent to the movement of components and finished products in exchange for an allocation of jobs.
Despite extensive Canadian attempts to exert sovereignty over its economy, according to The Financial Post in 1978 the number one corporation in sales in Canada was General Motors of Canada, Ltd., headquartered in Oshawa, an hour east of Toronto, and perhaps eighty miles across Lake Ontario from Buffalo as the snow flies. One hundred percent of it is owned by GM in Detroit. (As much as 80 percent of some Canadian auto-factory production is destined for the U.S. market.) Canada's number two corporation was Ford Motor Company of Canada, in Oakville, less than an hour west of Toronto and even closer to the United States. Eighty-eight percent of it is owned by Ford in Dearborn. Number three was Imperial Oil, Ltd., Toronto. Seventy percent owned by Exxon in New York.
Conversely, Canadian firms are the largest foreign investors in U.S. metals and machine manufacturing. Canadian investment in the United States overall is higher, per capita, than the other way around. The New York Times estimated the 1979 total, direct and indirect, to be $20 billion.
The Foundry, then, finally ends north of Ottawa, at the Ottawa River, on the other side of which is another industrialized nation, but one that is unique in North America, in that most of its population does not speak English: the emerging and defiant nation of Québec.
The central issues in the Foundry, both in human and financial terms, revolve around questions of investment. Enormous quantities of time, sweat, and money have been invested in making this region what it is, and the Foundry's future will be determined by the extent to which North Americans decide they should, or will, walk away from that.
Questions of reindustrializing aged facilities, revitalizing crumbled cities, and recommitting political will to ease the results of racism, are all intertwined.
For openers, the whole point of living in the Foundry is work. It has been argued that the Protestant work ethic never really caught on in North America to the extent that its p.r. would suggest.
"The work ethic," Daniel T. Rodgers, a University of Wisconsin professor, has written, "has always been a minority phenomenon in American life.
“The idea that hard, self-denying labor is the summum bonum of life never cut deeply in the South. It was violated in scores of 19th-century frontier settlements and in rich men's ballrooms . . . ”
But it's tough to maintain that position in the Foundry. No one, for example, ever lived in Buffalo for the climate. Or in Gary for the scenic vistas. Or in Camden for the recreational opportunities. Or in Wheeling for the beach. Blue-collar workers may drink to oblivion, or load up their Winnebagos for a weekend in northern Michigan, but they do so in response to their work. Welfare is an emotional issue in these highly taxed Foundry cities because its recipients don't work.
Work is so central to this experience that when people are thrown out of it, they literally go crazy.
M. Harvey Brenner made a detailed study of the effects of unemployment under the auspices of Congress's Joint Economic Committee. His professionally well-regarded calculations are that, historically, for each 1 percent increase in joblessness in the United States economy, the direct result has been 38,886 deaths, 20,240 cardiovascular failures, 494 cases of death from cirrhosis of the liver attendant to alcoholism, 920 suicides, and 648 homicides.
In May 1980, the state of Michigan was suffering from automobile-industry layoffs that yielded an unemployment rate of 14.4 percent, the highest rate reported since the records started being kept. Six hundred and twenty-five thousand people were out of work. (And the unemployment numbers went even higher in succeeding months.) But on the basis of those May figures, which accounted for 0.5 percent of the 7.5 percent U.S. unemployment rate, Michigan used Brenner's study to arrive at the conclusion that shortly the state was going to see 460 more suicides, 324 more murders, and so on.
And sure enough, as Oscar Paskal said to me in Solidarity House, the Detroit headquarters of the United Auto Workers, "Watch television tonight. See what's on the news." What was on the news was a horrifying report about snipers who were driving around and, apparently, taking random pot shots at children. "It won't be long before you get the standard man-goes-berserk, barricades-self-inside-house, opens-fire-with-deer-rifle," Paskal said. "In fact, it's already started."
Right again. The day before, on the front page of the Detroit News, an article appeared headlined SLUMP BREEDS MENTAL ILLS.
"Some stare silently for hours at walls," it read. "Others overeat or drink heavily. Some feel tired constantly, even though they may sleep hours. All of these are common symptoms of the depression among Michigan's growing number of unemployed . . .
"In recent weeks, several newly unemployed persons have barricaded themselves with shotguns inside their homes. One east side Detroiter, who lost his job and his wife within the last two years, shot at two of his neighbors and then killed himself . . .
" 'These are not mild cases of the blues,' " said Mel Ravitz, director of the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Board in a colossal understatement. " 'Unemployment for a prolonged period of time attacks the very core of a person's identity and self-perception. Their frustration and feelings of worthless-ness in turn threaten the entire fabric of the family. These people can't deal with all the problems and complications ….’”
The very core of a person's identity and self-perception.
Ask these people who they are, and before they say man, woman, Methodist, Catholic, American, Canadian, Democrat, Republican, black, white, or brown, they'll say, for example: steel-worker.
It's this which brings the dry abstractions of the steel industry's bleats about foreign competition down to human scale. At the end of World War II, North America produced the majority of the world's steel. The United States' share alone was 48 percent in the 1948-1952 period, and its share of exports was 25 percent. By the mid-seventies, the U.S. share of world production was down to a mere 18 percent, and its exports down to less than 5 percent.
What was happening during that period was that every part of the world was recognizing steel production as basic to its development. Today, one of the first things an emerging nation does is go looking for an international loan to build a steel mill. It's an even more basic drive than that toward energy independence. And appropriate, too. The world's second largest iron-ore reserves, for example, after the Soviet Union, are in Brazil.
Furthermore, war-ravaged industrialized countries, notably Japan, were creating a vast internal market for new steel needed to rebuild themselves. And they met that demand with the latest, most efficient technology. There are obvious advantages to being forced to start again from scratch.
In 1948-1952, Japan produced less than 3 percent of the world's steel. By 1975, that had grown to 16 percent. But more important, Japan increased its share of exports from less than 5 percent in 1950 to become the world's leading exporter, shipping over 35 percent by the mid-seventies.
Meanwhile, by the mid-seventies, the United States had begun to import as much as 12 percent of its steel - more than Europe, more than the Communist bloc. In many ways, what had happened to New England's textile industry decades earlier has been happening to the Foundry's steel. It was being transferred to other parts of the world, where the costs were lower. Steel-making is no longer an awesome technology. It doesn't begin to compare in complexity with the manufacture and assembly of semi-conductor computer devices. And that manufacture, in turn. will someday be eclipsed by the now-fledgling genetic-engineering industry, with its industrial creation of new forms of life - little microbes, for instance, that are custom-designed to eat copper ore and spit out refined copper.
It's going to be a while before the technology of 256K semiconductor memory chips and genetically altered microbes are commonplace in Bulgaria, but the manufacturing of steel is no mystery there now. The point is that some of the Foundry's steel industry's overseas markets were drying up - being better served by home-grown industry. And those newly industrializing nations had an advantage over the older steel centers, in that they frequently started from scratch, so they could invest in the most efficient new methods then developed. The Foundry, meanwhile, had an enormous investment in, for example, antiquated open-hearth furnaces that perhaps should have been rapidly scraped but weren't.
Moreover, a Foundry location was becoming less important for steel. Steel today is made in thirty-five U.S. states. Some of the largest post-World War lI steel facilities built in the United States, such as the Fairless Works of U.S. Steel, built in 1953, were not built inside the Great Lakes resources triangle. Fairless is in the Foundry, but it is north of Philadelphia, with a straight shot at the Atlantic. At Fairless, you can see why: great mounds of various portions of the planet lie about, in their characteristic colors. Venezuelan iron-laden dirt is more reddish-brown than iron-laden Québec dirt, which is more a glinting metallic gray. As the global reach of the steel industry has grown, it has responded by rethinking its locations.
The only new steel mill to open in North America in more than a decade, the $1.2 billion job at Nanticoke, Ontario, eighty miles west of Toronto, is owned by the Steel Company of Canada. Ironically, even its Lake Erie location, directly across from aging steel towns like Youngstown, Ohio, reflects the new realities. Apart from the traditional reasons for locating in the heart of the Foundry, Stelco had new, more sophisticated imperatives. A spokesman for the company admitted it didn't see a location in the dirt-poor, thinly populated Atlantic Maritimes market as much of a bet. Neither was it eager to further its investment in nationalistic, French-speaking Québec. But at the same time, its growth market, according to company executives, is seen as the Empty Quarter environs of Alberta, which will need everything from high-rise steel buildings to Stelco's wide-gauge steel pipe-lines. If one assumes that a competitive steel mill must be built with access to cheap water transportation, then it comes down to the Great Lakes or the Pacific coast. Cheaper to ship west, across the flatlands of the Breadbasket, than try to lift this stuff east over the mountains from British Columbia, Stelco feels.
The North American steel industry today says it has been dealt dirty by the governments of the United States, Canada, and Japan. The United States and Canada, the industry says, have slowed revitalization by forcing the corporations to invest billions of dollars in environmental equipment to clean the water and air of the Foundry - billions that, they say, should have been spent on increasing productivity. The Japanese industry, by contrast, they say, is in bed with its government, which is true. But the more serious charge is that Japanese and other exporters are dumping - shipping steel across the Pacific for less than they can afford to make it in order to keep their furnaces blasting at full capacity and to retain advantages of scale and penetration of market.
There are enormous arguments over this. Critics of North American steel companies say that they have simply made tremendous blunders in not modernizing more quickly. These complacent old leviathans, the critics charge, were more interested in maintaining profit margins than in plowing back the billions of dollars that would have been necessary to maintain technological parity with Japan.
But some part of this argument is moot. One steel mill after another has been shut down. Plans to build new ones have been indefinitely delayed, because the offending company concluded that steel is simply no longer a growth industry in North America.
When, in 1979, U.S. Steel shut down facilities it called "marginal," throwing one Foundry town after another into turmoil and depression, the corporation averred that it was simply doing what it had to do in order to avoid the near-bankruptcy that plagues Chrysler. If Chrysler had backed out of the product it had been traditionally associated with - big cars - as quickly as U.S. Steel was backing out of steel, it wouldn't have been so troubled, the corporation argued.
And there is a certain merciless logic to that, from the market perspective. A corporation naturally wants to make money, not necessarily steel. If there's more money in making chemicals . . .
And it's true. North America is a maturing continent. The Foundry itself is a mature region. That limits how much steel the continent needs. It's not like the turn of the century. A lot of sky-scrapers are already built, for instance. Furthermore, the biggest market North American steel has - the automobile industry - is backing out of steel as quickly as it can in order to lower the weight of its cars. Aluminum, graphite, and plastics are performing all manner of structural and decorative functions that used to be performed by steel. The cars are getting better gas mileage as a result. Meanwhile, the automobile industry itself is, as of this writing, in a terrible slump, as high interest rates, toughened credit availability, soaring costs, and unpredictable fuel supplies not only end North America's proverbial "love affair" with the car, but threaten even to end the marriage. And all this continues to drive down the demand for steel.
It would perhaps warm the hearts of free-market Adam Smiths. But the problem is the enormous social cost the shift entails. Youngstown is the classic example of what has been invested in a steel town.
On the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, about seventy miles south of Lake Erie and halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Youngstown is a grimy and cheerless burg where well-meaning would-be gourmets point a visitor in the direction of the Italian dishes at the Holiday Inn. It has a city population of 140,000 and dropping, and a metropolitan area population of about half a million.
If it were located elsewhere, those numbers would put Youngstown in most other nations' lists of their ten largest cities. But in the Foundry, it's only number five in Ohio.
The point of Youngstown, traditionally, has been the making of iron and steel, much of which has been consumed by nearby associated industries, such as the modern, automated GM plant at Lordstown, a few miles west. (Lordstown once achieved a degree of notoriety as a result of studies that demonstrated extreme levels of boredom and alienation among its young workers. Lordstown also served as the model for Fernwood in TV's "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman." But I digress.)
Starting in 1977, three major steel mills in a row folded in Youngstown, starting with the Campbell Works of Youngstown Sheet and Tube, followed by U.S. Steel's Ohio Works, and its McDonald Works.
They were just a few of the hundreds of major plants that have closed in the Foundry in the past decade as industries moved south or west, or were unable to meet foreign competition, or phased out obsolete facilities.
Shortly before Youngstown's Black Monday, September 17, 1977, when the first mill closed, throwing four thousand out of work, Bethlehem Steel laid off thirty-five hundred workers in Lackawanna, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, and another thirty-five hundred in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Bethlehem also halted work on a new steel mill in Johnstown. Three thousand workers were out of a job in Conshohocken, New York, when another steel company declared bankruptcy. In Akron, Ohio, twenty-one thou-sand jobs in the rubber industry have disappeared since 1950, twenty-five hundred of them in 1978 alone. New York state lost three hundred and twenty-seven thousand jobs in the first seven years of the seventies. Michigan figured that plant relocations alone cost thirty thousand jobs in that state between 1970 and 1974, and Ohio figures that plant closings alone cost it fifty thousand jobs between 1970 and 1977.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, gathering numbers that cover what is basically the United States portions of the Foundry and New England, says 1.4 million industrial jobs have been lost there in the thirteen years from 1966 to 1979, and clearly, the bulk of that impact has to have been in the Foundry.
Youngstown's triple closings - the elimination of nearly ten thousand high-skill, high-pay, high-status jobs, the holders of which have known no other life - alone produced a ripple effect that has ended up costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
The closings, in effect, were a manmade disaster equivalent to a killer hurricane or a tornado. The "ripples," in fact, were monstrous waves, touching every resident, from the department store clerk to the gas station attendant.
Youngstown was special. Unlike the citizens of other communities that quietly accepted their fate, Youngstown's civic, religious, and union leaders banded together to investigate the revival of the mills as worker-owned enterprises. David Smith and Patrick McGuigan of the Technological Development Corporation in Boston gathered these studies together in a tract called "Towards a Public Balance Sheet: Calculating the costs and benefits of community stabilization."
In the first three years after the closing of the Campbell Works, it was estimated that the tax-supported public sector would bear costs of $60-70 million in adjustment assistance, unemployment compensation, revenue reduction and increased government expenditures. These costs are imposed by the Lykes Corporations decision to close its facility, but they do not show up on Lykes' balance sheet. Reducing these public costs to $50 million or even to zero would bring no additional return to Lykes, or reduce its loss. However, it would represent a significant gain for the taxpayers' balance sheet. Put another way, had this $60-70 million in public funds been invested prior to the Campbell Works' closing in a successful effort to keep the mill open, taxpayers might well have ended up with a positive rather than negative return.
Actually, it can be argued that the figures in "Balance Sheet" are conservative. For one thing, they were gathered after the first mill went under, before the second and third followed suit. Then, too, there are the medical costs associated with Brenner's estimates of an attendant rise in heart attacks, suicides, and the like. What do a thousand heart attacks cost?
And apart from these human costs, there is the investment in urban facilities that Youngstown represents. No one has ever calculated exactly what a city that size embodies in terms of capital investment. But Youngstown has dozens of schools, endless miles of sewers, roads and street lamps, municipal buildings, art museums and sports fields - not to mention hundreds of thousands of housing units. What did they cost?
Conventional analysis says that in a free market, firms act to maximize profits; mobile capital seeks the highest rate of return; steel mills, like Youngstown's, that are less efficient go out of business; and there is a competition among regions for investment capital such that a plant reduction or closing reflects an area's basic inability to cut it.
The theory goes, then, that the Foundry has priced itself out of the market, with high-priced unionized labor, high land costs, high energy costs, high pollution-control costs, and so forth.
The liberal National Center for Economic Alternatives in effect asks certain questions, however: Are we really going to do this? Are we really going to walk away from these Foundry cities? Are we really going to try to build them all over again in MexAmerica and Dixie? Do you have any idea of what that's going to cost?
The center and its ideological soulmates have carried out yet more extensive studies that show that Youngstown, for example, should be an excellent place for heavy investment in certain kinds of steel facilities. In order to gain support for the granting of government seed money for the revitalization of Youngstown's steel industry, they've trotted out analyses purporting to show that Youngstown's location is an advantage, not a disadvantage. One of the more technologically sophisticated ways of making steel - the electric-furnace method - requires enormous quantities of scrap as a basic item. Where would be a better place to put an electric-furnace mill, this argument goes, than on a rail line in the middle of more junkyards than any in the dreams of a mean dog: Youngstown? This analysis states that relatively cheap power can be generated from the region's coal, and that a savings of perhaps $40 a ton could ensue.
Yet the reports have done little save give rise to a few headlines and then gather dust. One analyst cynically suggested that Youngstown will have to wait until the Japanese read these figures and locate a North American plant there.
Meanwhile, the Foundry continues to decline.
In Hamtramck, Michigan, an incorporated city completely surrounded by Detroit, United Auto Workers Local 3 is preparing to shut down.
In 1910, Hamtramck was a sleepy, German-American village of less than four thousand. But Chrysler changed all that. Dodge began car production in Hamtramck in 1914, and thousands of workers moved into the sparsely settled town. Many were young men without families, living in overcrowded rooming houses and dingy hotels, where each bed did twenty-four hour service. By 1920, Hamtramck's population had bulged to forty-five thousand, making it the state's fastest-growing boom town. It became the Polish "capital" of Michigan, absorbing wave after wave of eastern Europeans and Ukrainians hungry for work. By 1930, 58 percent of Hamtramck's population was Polish-speaking.
Ethnic pride found expression in organizations like the Polish Workers Local 187, one of the earliest UAW bodies in the city. To this day, on Chene Street a little south of Hamtramck, there's a wonderful Polish restaurant called The Round Bar, formerly Zosia's. It has a massive bar on the first floor that can seat a hundred people, although it happens to be rectangular rather than round. Shots of 100-proof Wyborowa vodka line up next to water tumblers full of Stroh's draft beer. Above the rows of liquor bottles are bowling trophies. The ceiling over the bar - gilt-painted Stamped tin - is two stories up, and the bar is ringed overhead by a second-level balcony displaying proud white-on-red Polish eagles and tinsel rope left over from Christmas. The restaurant on this second-level balcony has plain wooden chairs and white tablecloths covered by clear plastic. Near the cash register, elaborately crocheted and taffetaed dolls are on display. On the back wall, a poster advertises the St. Hyancinth parish picnic, in Warsaw Park, featuring polka dancing. A Wayne County Community College poster announces UCZMY SIE! That's pronounced Uchimi che, it was explained to me, and means We're learning! The menu offers pierogiz miesem - perogis, tasty fried meat dumplings - for $2.60. Pieczen wieprzowa, a roast pork dinner, costs $3.30, and is the most expensive thing on the menu. Nalesniki z powidlami turn out to be prune blintzes. Maslanka is buttermilk.
But The Round Bar is nearly empty. For on January 4, 1980, without much warning, after seventy years Chrysler shut down its Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck, with annual payroll and benefits of $120 million, throwing 2925 people out of work. A factory of five million Square feet, on eight floors, over 120 acres, which used to produce as many as 511,000 Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen automobiles a year, now stands derelict.
At the once-bustling union hall, there is now only a trickle of people walking in, keeping their unemployment and retraining benefits current. They are a subdued lot.
James S. Bryant, a heavyset black man in his early sixties, tells about coming to Detroit in 1946, right after the war.
I was born and raised in Alabama. In Birmingham. Tarrant City, really, just outside of Birmingham. When I got out of the service, all my folks had come up here. It was a question of better working conditions Back in Birmingham, I had a job in the steel mills. I quit. I didn't go back to it. I had a better opportunity here. I had a chance to advance myself. I couldn't advance in Birmingham, see? I could not, in them times, you know, because I was black. I was fixing the track for the switching engines. Maybe five or six years I could have gotten a better job down there, but I wasn't going to stay there, no way. Yeah, there were millions of us with the same idea, I'm sure. I figured I'd start out at anything up here and work my way up, which I did. I started off in the foundry. Really hot job. Shaking dust off the castings. Did that about three years. It was a bad job. I would say so, yeah, that was the kind of jobs black people would get. There weren't any white guys doing that job. Ninety-eight cents an hour, though, and that was good money back then. When the Dodge Main plant finally closed, I was a paint repairer. If a car came through the line and there was a scratch or something, I had to repair it before it went to final inspection. Paint repair, now, that's a good job. That's skilled. Almost top [pay] scale. In my department that's almost the top job. Ain't no discrimination now. I got that because I had thirty-three years' seniority. You get the job you want, you just got no problems. Repairing paint is a good job because you don't work on every car, the way I see it. Sometimes you only get every third car. You don't have to bust your butt. Good job. Good pay. About eight dollars and something an hour.
I've been out of work now six months. Longest I'd been out before was on strike, a hundred and five days. I been piddling around a lot. Painting, working around the house. Doing little odd jobs. The first month, it seemed like [model year plant] changeover. But after that, it gets on your nerves a bit. You just don't get used to it that quick. You work around hundreds and hundreds of friends, you don't get used to leaving them that quick. You can't just walk away from a group of friends of thirty years and you don't see them no more and you be happy about it. The mill is just like your home.
The United Auto Workers' contract has a "thirty and out" clause, which allows men to retire after thirty years of service. Men who start work at eighteen, then, are eligible for a pension at forty-eight. Bryant hadn't planned on retiring yet, but with Dodge Main shut down, he sees no choice for himself except to spend the rest of his days at home. "My wife," he adds with a grin, "what with me being retired, sometimes she says, 'I'll be glad when you go.' "
Dominick Roy, in his early fifties, a pudgy white man, doesn't have Bryant's option of retiring. He'd worked at Dodge Main only since 1953.
"I was a miscellaneous sprayer when I was laid off. Putting the black-out in the front and the back, and under the hood. The job wasn't too bad, but the paint can get to you. I was in the wheel room for twelve years until they shifted me into trim. I was lifting the wheels - not the tires, just the wheels - onto a conveyor belt.
"My hometown is Hazard, Kentucky," he said in an almost TV-parody hill twang that he still hasn't managed to shake. Hazard is a notoriously tough coal town, only one county away from "Bloody Harlan," the Kentucky coal center renowned for its pitched battles between workers and mine owners. "My father was a coal miner. He's been retired for twenty years. I didn't even think about staying in Hazard and becoming a coal miner. Just figured back then that there were a lot of jobs up here, and I came and just got established here."
Roy believed he had enough seniority to get a job at Chrysler's Jefferson Street assembly plant, which in a few months was to start building the small, fuel-efficient, front-wheel-drive "K" cars that Chrysler was betting its future on. "Don't know if I'll get the same job over there. Ain't never been inside Jefferson," he said, betraying a touch of anxiety. "Don't know if it works the same way. You ever been in there?"
Nagi Kaid also was worried. Kaid is from North Yemen, an Arab, like so many auto workers in Detroit. Detroit has the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the continent.
I came over in 'seventy-three and I've been working at Dodge Main since a month after I got here. I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't think there are any jobs here in Detroit. You can look for a job all day and you can't get one. Not even small things. I have a wife and children back in Yemen. I support them. I've been back there twice in the seven years. If the situation stays bad like it is now, maybe I go back to Yemen. I thought about bringing my family here, but if there is no job, how are you going to deal with your family here? If I go back to Yemen, I can be a farmer, I guess. But I left Yemen because my brothers were here. Five of them. They wrote, saying it was good. When I came, you could find a job if you looked. But now, maybe I go to the West Coast. I maybe go to California.
Kaid's situation is similar to that of many recent Arab immigrants in Detroit. "They worked hard," said one union official. "Never turned down a minute of overtime. Maybe sent seventy-five percent of their salary back home." Now, unfortunately, there are many who do not speak English well and feel very reluctant to leave the security of Detroit's Arab community, striking out anew in a strange continent. Kaid himself said that the only place in North America he'd been to other than Detroit was New York, and then only for a week.
When I asked him whether he'd thought of looking for work in Houston or some other town much better off economically than depressed Detroit, he answered the question vaguely, with an unmistakable lack of clarity about where Houston was. It was outside his world, at any rate.
Douglas Gulock, twenty-five, however, had discovered Huntsville; he had already spent some time there. He was born and had grown up in Detroit, but he and. his wife were gearing up to move to Alabama.
We build all the electrical parts for the Chrysler Corporation down there. Electrical ignition, the [computer-controlled] lean-burn engines, starting right from scratch. When I go down there, they're going to send me to school for soldering. I figured in the Detroit area. I wasn't going anywhere. I figure, you know, they're all going to move south. And to be in a newer plant there'd be more chance of the plant sticking around. I don't know a soul in Alabama. But after the first week, I really started liking it, and that was the turning point. The people are friendly. The work is a lot more interesting. There's more to it. More of a challenge. If you go to school you can really make a career down there. Move yourself up. They got a few trouble-shooter jobs there. and you gotta have two years of electronics. As soon as I get settled down there. I want to get into school, and, because it's job related, Chrysler will pay for part of it. I'll go to college at night . . . Couple more years and I'll at least be eligible for some kind of pension. I can just go down there and wait for the right job to open up. I don't think I'm going to miss Detroit. The only hard part is like my parents and my in-laws maybe. My whole family is up here. But when it comes down to missing Detroit….
Gulock said that the Chrysler Corporation had offered much of the Dodge Main work force the opportunity to move out of state to other Chrysler plants, but that many of his buddies hadn't even signed up for transfer. They were looking for other jobs in the Detroit area, "in steel mills, in meat-packing plants, whatever," and some had taken big pay cuts - "five, six dollars an hour."
"Everybody gets set in their old ways," Gulock said. "Even the young guys, although for some, it may have been their wives saying no. They got family here, and they don't want to uproot their kids. But I think I've been thinking about the future more than they have. I have to make a living for myself. I figure that if Chrysler makes it, they're going to shut down a lot of the old plants up here and move south."
Gulock said that of the twelve people in his group whom Chrysler flew down to Alabama to show the opportunity there, only five finally ended up taking Dixie jobs. "The guys who didn't take it were more or less black. I guess they were content here, all their friends and everything." But he allowed as how he thought that most of them just saw no way they were going to move to a small town in Alabama. with all the historical and emotional baggage that entails. Actually, there's some irony in that. A lot of the young southern blacks I talked to when I was preparing the Dixie chapter saw no way that they ever wanted to go north. They saw the North as a worse place for blacks than the South.
Yeah, the blacks who were educated down there now have a different way of thinking than the guys who were educated up here [said Ernest Carmack, a muscular black man who had taken retirement from Dodge Main]. I came to Detroit from Alabama when I was ten years old, so I know both sides. The guys in the South get a better education than the ones up here, I think. It's the New South. A lot f people still don't believe that. The guy who's really in trouble is the guy between the ages of thirty-five and forty. Maybe he's been buying a home for ten years. Not enough seniority to stay in a plant up here.
But he's assumed responsibility. Has a family. two or three kids, maybe. It would be a b***buster for him to start all over again in electronics. The longer he's been out of school, the harder it is for him to pick it up. This is what I'm thinking.
Carmack said he'd been planning his retirement for twelve years, ever since his kids grew up, and that he'd wound up buying; two four-flat apartment buildings. He figures he'll spend his time maintaining them. "And I have personal things that I do every day. It's not illegal," he explained, in refusing to divulge what that is, "but it's personal, and it keeps me occupied.'"'
Said Joseph P. Elliott, the financial secretary of the soon-to-be defunct local:
Yeah, all a guy has to do is, when he's retired, go somewhere for eight or nine hours and do something each day. Just like you punching a time card. Go do something interesting for eight or nine hours. Then come home. At least you keep active. Even if it's voluntary work. As long as you go somewhere five days a week. What happens to a guy who retires. His wife don't want him home. She's got her way of doing things during the day, and he's following her around. They get on each other's nerves, two people in a house.
I've seen cases down here when the wife doesn't even want to see her husband retire at sixty-two, sixty-five. They don't want them home. They call, see if we can't keep the old man in the plant longer. The real problem is with the poor guy who had to retire when Dodge Main closed who had had a lot of kids, a lot of sickness, and never was able to save anything up. He doesn't have a pot to piss in, and now he's retired. Well, he can't do nothing. Health probably gone. Soon he starts boozing too much.
Elliott himself wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He'd thought about writing a book about the union. "The politics, you know; just putting down my thoughts." He also mentioned, dreamily, that he still had his papers as an able-bodied seaman, from when he worked on freighters, starting at the age of sixteen. "Freshwater and saltwater. They're almost forty years old now, but I like the sea. I used to go San Francisco to the [Hawaiian] Islands on the freighters. That's not hard work. Four hours on, four hours off." But he thought he was probably getting too old for that life. He wouldn't want long voyages away from his family.
Meanwhile, across the street, David Olko, the part-owner of the Second Precinct Lounge mentioned earlier in this chapter, was surveying the traffic.
"Last Friday night, we played ball outside. And at eleven o'clock on a Friday night, there were two cars that went by in fifteen minutes. Two cars in that period of time. It's like a ghost town. Then a bus went by with only two people in it. Listen now. You can hear what traffic there is. None. There used to be traffic all the time, and there were people walking by. It's a scary feeling."
At some point in working on this chapter, I began to wonder how much of the Foundry's decline was strictly logical, as opposed to emotional. One premise I start from is that historical trends are finally realized by millions of small, individual decisions taken over time. No corporation wakes up one morning and says, okay, we're going to abandon South Bend; San Diego, here we come. Instead, individual decisions are made as questions come up concerning markets, replacement costs, and new opportunities. Studies are made of possible answers to narrow questions, and presumably a logical decision is made as to where the corporation's self-interest lies. Individuals operate the same way. There may be a few people who just decide that they are not going to live through one more Cleveland winter, pick up the kids, and head south, without any idea of where they're going to live, or how. But they are in the extreme minority.
The far more typical dynamic is for a person to arrive at some natural breaking point - like losing a job, retiring, graduating from school, getting out of the service, getting married, getting divorced, or having the kids grow up - and then examining one's options. It's at that point that one starts calling around, talking to friends, to figure out what to do next. And it is then that one entertains thoughts about getting out of wherever he or she is and moving on. It is these individual decisions that form the flow of a future, a flow of money, people, and power - a flow of history.
It is in this context that it seems important to look at the emotional baggage the Foundry carries with it. Sixties-style northeastern urban renewal, which concentrated on bulldozing whole city blocks and starting all over again, often produced disastrous results. The problems didn't go away; they just moved to a different, previously healthy neighborhood.
It has been suggested, however, that the war-on-poverty, gung-ho approach to incipient decline represents more than an unsophisticated economic analysis that refused to recognize the investment in money and energy even a dilapidated neighborhood of brick row houses represents. It may have been an emotional response to stubborn, interrelated problems that confronted would-be saviors of the Foundry. Rather than grapple with complex issues, and possibly be defeated by them, the planners simply decided to try to obliterate them.
In Trenton, New Jersey, in the early seventies, a group of young architects facetiously came up with an elaborate plan for that venerable city; it involved setting bonfires on its borders to serve as markers for precision bombardiers inside B-52s. The idea was that this would be Trenton's share of the "war bonus," which was supposed to be forthcoming when Washington finally stopped spending money on Vietnam and instead turned to the "problems of the cities," that is, the Foundry.
What would be left after the prolonged air raid, these architects suggested, would be a new Trenton, restored to the way George Washington knew it when he defeated the Hessians there on Christmas Eve, 1776.
Of course, as Freud pointed out, there is no such thing as a joke, and the interesting thing about the architects' idea is the level of frustration it reflects. In saner moments, these men were the ones who labored mightily to restore beautiful old Victorian homes that had seen better days, and tried to revive the state capital's weary downtown. What does this "plan" tell you about depression?
There are frequent newspaper headlines that suggest strongly that the Foundry has had first crack at some of the great North American mistakes - but the question is whether an analysis of this news would help shed any light on the decline of population and investment in the region.
There are almost a hundred nuclear reactors on this continent, for example, but only one went haywire, raising a profoundly emotional response from the world, and it was in the Foundry: Metropolitan Edison's Three Mile Island, just outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
There are an estimated fifty thousand chemical dump sites in North America, and some of the worst of them are in Dixie, but the continental symbol of the revolt of the mutants is in the Foundry: Hooker Chemical's Love Canal, near Buffalo.
There are an untold number of flashy, "stunt" architecture high-rise buildings in North America, but the most telling examples of fortress architecture, with no windows, or windows that are mere slits, are in the Foundry. Even Detroit's Renaissance Center, with its all-glass cylindrical and hexagonal towers, is built behind thirty-foot-tall medieval earth embankments. It's not easy to walk to the Renaissance Center. It clearly was meant to be arrived at by car, through checkpoints.
All of North America has pollution problems, the Houston Ship Channel among the worst. But only the Cuyahoga River actually burst into flames; only Lake Erie toyed with dying; it is mainly in the Foundry that acid rain has made dramatic inroads, killing off mountain-stream fish populations.
All of North America is confronting the energy crisis, but some of the most trenchant continental memories of deprivation came in the winters of '77 and '78, when much of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York was immobilized by cold; the Ohio River was clogged by ice, thwarting coal-barge shipments; and, on top of that, factories closed for lack of natural gas. How many people are there who wouldn't respond in a thought-association quiz to the challenge "snow," with the city "Buffalo"?
And, of course, if racism is bred of fear, with what part of the continent does North America associate black ghettos? The question is how much of this is in the slightest rational? In pursuit of an answer, I started calling journalistic colleagues, asking them for suggestions as to the worst ghettos in North America in order that I might pick one to take a closer look at. I ended up with an interesting suggestion from Warren Brown, who works for the Washington Post, is black, and has been around. "Academy Street in Trenton," he insisted. "There are a lot of slums that are bigger, and some that are more bombed out, but Academy Street is not only poor; it doesn't have any life. You can go to North Philadelphia, and if you're reasonably careful, you're safe. In fact, you can have a pretty good time. Somebody might come up to you and warn you that hey man, you're in the wrong neighborhood, but if you're cool, you're okay. I mean, look at Harlem. But I've never seen anything like Academy Street. It's the most depressing slum I've ever been in."
"Oh Warren's full of crap," replied Bob Joffee, of the Trenton Times, who is white and who, as part of investigations, has lived on Academy Street for extended periods. "Academy Street's not that bad. It's just the human condition. Come on up. I'll show you Academy Street."
Over excellent prime steak, pasta, and good wine at Lorenzo's - to my mind, one of the East Coast's superior restaurants - across the street from the Trenton train station, and perhaps eight blocks from Academy Street, Joffee explained his view of Academy Street.
What interested me, what I wanted to do, was look at urban poverty as if it were a foreign country, expose myself to it, and see what I learned about it. I think the reason I've been able to persuade the paper to let me do this is that the issues I deal with on that beat are the central issues of liberalism today. What does the government do to intervene in the lives of the poor, and does it work from a strictly humanistic point of view? How are individuals. lots of them, affected by what government does? What I think I've found is that the liberal intention notwithstanding, liberal government programs tend to have, by and large, a harmful impact on the people they are trying to help. Social workers are people who, with some sort of academic training, are believed to be equipped to intervene somehow in the lives of the poor and make them not quite so bad. Do the feds hand out three-thousand-dollar-a-year day-care slots to the children of working women? Yes, they do. And yet the child care of choice for most working women turns out to be the extended family. And so it turns out that the feds, to my way of seeing, are handing out this money without any compelling argument that this is a useful social service with a broad impact on society.
Or, for example, look at foster care. Foster care is what purports to be temporary round-the-clock care for otherwise homeless children in private homes, subsidized by the government. It has evolved as the principal means by which government intercedes to protect children it perceives to be in danger, because they've been abandoned, beaten, neglected, or abused.
But what's commonly perceived as neglect is simply some middle-class social worker labeling poverty as somehow a manifestation of parental irresponsibility.
Okay, say I'm a social worker. I walk into a home because there's a kid in the hospital who's severely injured. The doctor says there may have been parental abuse. I go to the apartment. It turns out the kid fell out the window. I call it parental neglect, because I'm the hypothetical social worker. After all, a decent parent wouldn't allow his kid to be exposed to the incredible danger of a rusted-through iron railing five stories above the pavement, or whatever. But any practical person would say, "That's simply what slum housing is like, you stupid m**********r."
What the social-welfare industry likes to call parental neglect is just a fancy new way of justifying intervention by the state in the lives of the poor. What happens is that it is a way for a bunch of middle-class people with degrees in the social sciences to end up finding work.
What happens to the poor? Their families live under the additional stress of having their families divided, and children shipped off to foster homes. What my examination of abuse and neglect in New Jersey has led me to, politically, is that it's turned me into an anarchist. I think that if we shut down the state agencies that intervene in cases of alleged abuse and neglect, infant-mortality rates in New Jersey would not be perceptibly worse. The problem would be that the social workers would be out of work.
I mean, I've been looking at specific cases. There's this one woman I met on Academy Street, when I was trying to see what life was like in the slums. Over a period of some three years, I saw how her life and the lives of her children were really affected or unaffected by the intervention of all these agencies. And on balance I can see no change whatever. They're still living in a lousy slum apartment; the children are still doing poorly in school, are still subject to the dangers of sexual molestation that accompany any situation where children are unsupervised in a lumpenproletariat neighborhood. The prognosis for improved stability or self-sufficiency is just as bad as it ever was. I mean. one cannot find any tangible improvement in the life of this family as a result of all this. One can see that intervention has led the woman to be completely distrustful of these people who purport to be trying to help her. The bottom-line threat to her has been all along that if you don't cooperate with us interveners, we will ship your kids off to foster homes. And what happens? Sometimes these kids end up in foster care for the rest of their minority. It can be argued that growing up in a slum is fraught with danger, but so is growing up in a state-supported private home with people who are told to love the kids - but not too much, because we can take them away from you at any time. And these people are convinced they can raise kids on two hundred dollars a month from the state. Maybe even have a little left over. By contrast, momma may be drunk, but at least it's momma. I guess, actually, I'm not persuaded that the kid is necessarily worse off because of the intervention of the state; just that I can't see where the kid and the family are better off. Intervention by the state in their lives has not been on the balance beneficial, other than that it employs a lot of middle-class people, and these middle-class people are allowed the delusion that they are not completely neglecting the poor.
On Academy Street, the next day, my inclination was to agree instantly with Warren Brown's assessment of the place. The only thing worse than the smell of urine in a hallway, it turns out, is the smell of urine and Lysol in a hallway. Abandoned row houses, with all their windows broken and their doors blown off, are littered with the broken glass from bottles of cheap, sweet Swiss-Up wine, which methadone users reportedly are partial to. A group of street people stand just outside the Urban League office, smoking and jiving, and one lady yells out at me, "Oh, you've got such pretty red hair! I just love red hair!" I try my best not to make my smile look queasy. In the Urban League office, they laugh at the attention I've attracted. Right; they giggle. It must be your beard. Couldn't be your freckled white skin. The Urban League has been trying to convince homesteaders to move into Academy Street but, so far, hasn't had much luck. Under government programs, they've tried to use street people to fix up abandoned homes, but there are complications, like their plumbing trainee getting taken up on murder-one charges after a fight with a buddy. And the copper plumbing keeps disappearing, taken off in a professional manner, they say, by people who clearly know what copper is worth. We get into a cynical discussion of slums that goes into the well, what the hell, hookers, addicts, and boosters (thieves) have to live somewhere, don't they? A direction that is markedly unproductive.
Joffee, meanwhile, is enjoying himself. He knocks on a door and drags me into the tidy apartment of a Puerto Rican family. They show me the velvet map of Vietnam, where one relative served, and the citizenship awards from grade school of another son, and they pull out slightly-out-of-focus snapshots of the fine-looking home they are building back in Puerto Rico with the money they're making working in the States, and show me the cap and gown another kid will be wearing to fifth-grade graduation in the afternoon.
Joffee drags me out of that apartment and down the street, where a barefoot man with gnarled black toenails insists on bringing us into his apartment to show us the improvements he's been making. Brand-new bright red checked linoleum is on the floor of the room that serves as his kitchen, living room, and dining room. It doesn't quite match the bright, and equally fresh, rose and brown paint on the wall, but it's a nice try. He climbs over the couch with the hole spewing stuffing and beckons me to follow him. It's blocking the door to the cramped bedroom and bath. They are, he says, with great pride, what he wants to attack next.
A white-haired woman, with a perky blue scarf and pants that are dirty and frayed at the cuff., latches on to us and says that she wants to write a book about all the experiences she has had running rooming houses on Academy Street, and Joffee assures her that there are nothing but interesting stories on Academy Street.
We pass a bunch of older men, in the center of which is a body stretched out on a mattress, unconscious, asleep perhaps, oblivious of what's going on around him.
Joffee clearly loves Academy Street. It is not clear that it loves him back. He gives the big hello to one little white girl, and she withdraws, refusing to speak. "She's mad at me for something," he muses.
At the vestpocket park, which used to have an inflated dome over the basketball courts, until the vandals put a fifteen-foot, irreparable hole into its side, another crowd surrounds a small building scarred by arson. They're painting it. It's a group of neighborhood people who, they say, went from door to door, begging half-empty cans of paint to try to make the park into something. No, the city had nothing to do with it, they tell us. What can the city do? It is too poor to replace the nylon dome. As the salsa music plays, they show us the big Puerto Rican flag they have painted on one wall, and the map they've made with paint and stones in the circle where a tree tried to grow and failed. It is clearly labeled: ARECIBO. GERONIMO. PUERTO RICO.
We stop by La Larena cafe, which, Joffee is delighted to see, someone is rebuilding. It used to produce terrific pork, roasted right out back on a spit, until the fire spread from the pig to the back of the building one night.
I ask who lives in the white-haired lady's rooming house, and Joffee says, "Let's go find out," and charges up some steps into a hallway and starts banging on doors at random. Nobody answers. "I guess nobody's home," he says, as I encourage him to get back out on the street.
We end up in the apartment of a woman whose young son Joffee has become fond of. He takes the kid out for ice cream, or to a quarry to swim, along with some of the kid's friends. "I guess I just like kids," he says. The kid is supposed to be in that fifth-grade graduation at one-thirty. Joffee asks the woman if she wants a ride to the school. The woman is drunk. It's eleven in the morning. Joffee gives her a hard time, saying he'll bring coffee when he comes around to pick her up, and until then she's to lay off the sauce. Out the open window over the fire escape in this third-floor walkup, you can see backyards of trampled dirt, without even any weeds. Broken windows. Houses that need paint. Brick chimneys leaning at a precarious angle, garbage in the street, and people in their finest clothes leaving for the graduation ceremonies.
We repair to Speckle Red's Soulfood Restaurant for lunch. "Nobody ever leaves Speckle Red's hungry," Red boasts, and is that ever the truth. The menu offers stewed chicken, fried chicken, pork chops and fish (together), roast spare ribs, lima beans, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, corn bread with margarine, and yams. And that's for lunch. Breakfast includes fish, grits, and eggs. One plateful of all the above.
And over lunch, Joffee confronts me with my own racism. "You were scared out there, weren't you?" he asks.
"Yes," I say, meaning it, "I was scared."
"Would you have been as scared if you were in a white Appalachian slum? They're just as capable of violence there as anybody on Academy Street."
"Well, hell," I bluster. "I mean, look, how often does a white man show up on Academy Street? And when he does, who is he? He's a cop or a social worker or a college kid trying to deal dope. Whoever he is, he doesn't mean any good to the people who live there. They'd be completely justified in doing a number on my head first, and asking questions later. "It's the reverse fruits of racism. It's perfectly reasonable for me to be afraid."
But the short answer is: No.
Forty feet long, and weighing four tons, the skelp slab rumbled by on rollers, beneath our feet. Late on this warm summer afternoon, this orange-hot hunk of metal, being shaped and formed by huge blocks and cylinders at the Fairless Works of U.S. Steel on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, was on its way to becoming continuous-weld pipe, as small as half an inch in diameter. It would wind up as plumbing in someone's house. A humble end result for this industrial colossus covering two thousand acres and employing seventeen thousand people.
Earlier in the day, Dave Hankins and Jack Thompson had started trying to educate an ignorant reporter on the basics of making steel. They were good teachers. They still held their subject in awe, and rightly so. At the coke ovens, these mighty barns full of roaring hot coal being purified, they pointed out what they called "Fairless rain." The coke is so hot that when it is quenched in a valley of water, a cloud of steam erupts; as it cools, several thousand yards downwind, it turns into droplets on a car windshield. It creates small ponds. The guides say they're clean. They are, in fact, being enjoyed by a host of wild water birds. A woman stands by the business end of the coke oven. At least, Hankins says it's a woman. There was enough roll to the hips of the worker's walk to make his statement plausible. But with the worker's helmet, face mask, heavy heat-resistant jacket and pants, and Li'l Abner steel-lined safety boots, it's an open question. Streams of yellow sulfur escape before the refractory bricks expand to seal the coke oven doors tight.
At the blast furnace, where manmade winds of four-hundred miles an hour hold the ore, coke, and limestone being worked in midair, in defiance of gravity, flaming red molten iron pours out of the bottom constantly, like milk from a jug.
The soul of the primitive open-hearth steel-making furnace can be viewed only through dark green smoked glass, Hankins and Thompson say, as they hand over a rectangle of it. It's like looking into the sun. You'll sear your eyes from a hundred feet away if you glance at it directly. As overhead cranes maneuver giant hooks the size of battleship anchors, which hold the ladles carrying hundreds of tons of the molten stuff of the core of the earth, they give a machine operator a hand signal, and the doors swing, and there, an eerie green, through the looking glass, are flames so intense that there should be another word for them. If Dante could have only seen this . . .
Much farther down the line is the forty-inch mill part of the roll shop, where the aforementioned skelp slab is being elongated like an angular squeeze of toothpaste. Inside a steel mill, one sees remarkably few humans. In fact, from the catwalk over the unearthly large rollers and binders, we could see only one. He stood with a sledgehammer, on the business end of which were raised numerals. As the slabs came by him, cooled to gravy but still soft enough to take an impression, he tensed and wanged them a resounding blow. And they were thus branded with a code that would later tell a metallurgical engineer the precise characteristics of this piece of steel. Late sunlight streamed through the open sides of this structure, which, if one called it a hangar, wouldn't convey how big it really is. A steel mill is actually a very beautiful place, in its own way. Even the pale red plumes of particulate matter coming out of the stacks, having managed to escape the environment-mandated scrubbers, are a lovely color against the blue sky. The shadows and lines are cubist. The workers are all hidden inside air-conditioned control blocks sprinkled along the lines.
"Jesus, it's hot!" exclaims the reporter, with sweat pouring off his safety helmet, into his goggled eyes, his torso dripping inside the heavy green safety jacket, as he stands a few dozen feet above the radiating 2100 degree Fahrenheit slab.
Jack Thompson, who has worked for U.S. Steel for twenty-seven years, twenty-two of them as a roll grinder, turns to the piece of steel and smiles. He throws back his head, eyes half-closed, spreads his arms, as if basking in a tropical sun and stands there on the catwalk, in cruciform pose.
"I love this heat," he says. "I love it. It's where my paycheck comes from."