Letting GM go, finally

I'm writing this post on Monday afternoon while sitting in downtown Detroit looking out my hotel window at the humongous GM building. Hours ago I drove in from the airport and listened to President Obama on the radio announce GM's bankruptcy. The situation felt surreal; the unbelievable was now reality. Truth is, maybe now, Detroit and the rest of us can move on. Something as big as the GM bankruptcy is hard to imagine, and even harder to take in. How could this be? Is it real? GM isn't just any company. And it wasn't the product of some wacky Wall Street merger or acquisition the likes of which create behemoth companies overnight. Instead, many of us grew up with GM as a fixture in our lives -- with their ubiquitous cars, dealerships, and television ads. GM was part of American history, and had come to represent American strength and power.

But we all know the story: GM had become complacent, resting on its laurels. I won't repeat here the oft-heard litany of mistakes the company, its workers, and communities made. There is much blame to go around.

Earlier today I stood in front of the GM building to tape a video about my time here. I can't fully describe just how imposing this building is. In NYC or Chicago there are collections of towering buildings of all shapes and sizes; in Detroit, the cylindrical GM building stands apart, branded with a huge blue GM badge for everyone to see. In its glass enclosed lobby sits a brand spanking new red Camaro -- a muscle car from yesteryear, intended now I suppose to demonstrate the company's bold prowess and market position.

But on this day the building felt less like a symbol of ingenuity and innovation and more like a isolated fortress under siege, belonging to a defeated cause. Near the Camaro, security guards scurried about anxiously watching bystanders and conspicuously speaking into their walkie-talkies. The scene had the feel of an upscale store hawking its once expensive wares during its close-out sale.

So much time and psychic energy has been put into trying to keep GM alive. But, overtime there was something about the ambiguity of GM's fate that had frozen us in place, even if time marched on. It was as if we had been holding our collective breath waiting for a new solution, hoping that somehow someone would fix this mess of a situation.

With the bankruptcy we must finally face what already knew would come to pass: pain and sorrow and loss. There's no way around it anymore. Indeed in recent years, people across the nation have been expressing the desire for change; well, here it is. This is the face of change, which isn't pretty, or neat and tidy, or necessarily easy to deal with.

I met two guys at the Ham Diner across the street from my hotel this morning at breakfast. Both in their mid-fifties, they told me that GM's demise was a long time in coming. But they were hopeful. So am I, so long as we recognize that the response will take time too.