Thursday, July 16th, 2009
We drove north just before the 4th via a route that would take us past an archaeological site on the Ohio River near where Indiana meets Illinois, and that would get us up directly through Chicago to suburban Milwaukee to celebrate the graduation of the older brother of the godson, who will go off to change the world via the University of Wisconsin in the fall.
Great visit, great sociality, but the day and evening before we got there was devoted to travel along US 41 through rural Kentucky and Indiana. We stopped and looked at mounds left for us to ponder by folks many hundreds of years ago, we drove around a large floodplain that forms a teardrop-shaped bend in the Ohio just west of Evansville, IN, we dined at an Amish buffet (how many kinds of egg noodles does one need?), and then we spent the night in a small town that seemed to be weathering the global economic whatever-the-heck-it-is better than most. We parked the Prius for the night in Princeton, Indiana.
It didn’t take long to figure out why—billboards deep in this heartland town kept referring to a Japanese car company: Toyota had come to town to build pickup trucks and SUVs. (That explains the Japanese magazines in the lobby and the rice and miso at the breakfast bar at the Hampton Inn.) We saw many examples of the kind of small businesses that spring up around big ones around Gibson County and when we took a walk through the Princeton town park at sunset, the town seemed, well, fairly alive with optimism and energy on a warm summer night. The residents swam, played baseball, and the teenagers (a bit more lower middle class than Atlanta’s constantly-texting youth) socialized IRL (in real life!) by getting together at the pool.
As I skim headlines concerning Toyota’s American operations, it sure sounds like they have a lot of the same challenges as the Big Three do in Michigan (oh, now they want fewer SUVs. Wait, maybe they want more. Maybe the Prius should be built in Missouri…no, make that Mississippi.) There’s talk of furloughs here, retooling there. It’s just plain hard to do manufacturing well in a fickle, changing economy…but the feeling in small towns where folks make things is way different than the vibe in the places where they make things no longer.
So we need to make things, somehow. And although I’m not particularly concerned that the impetus here is coming from a Japanese-owned company, I’m certainly hoping a broader swath of American business figures out how to make things here, in a lot more places like Princeton, Indiana, again.