at the scrapyard

This post is in honor of Labor Day 2009.

U.S. Auto Supply, Inc., a nondescript white building on Warren Avenue in Detroit’s Westside, has seen a boom in business in a town where other businesses are closing their doors and anything to do with the auto industry is in danger of falling by the wayside.

But thanks to the Cash for Clunkers program, this local business has seen a jump in work. Car after car is being scrapped here, where a giant hydraulic press flattens up to seventy cars a day. They are stacked in the back yard, ten or fifteen cars to a pile, each pile a relatively stout 15-feet high.

The auto carcasses, deemed out-of-date due to their low gas mileage, are the leftovers of a $3bn government incentive program. Every crushed car represents up to $4,500 in government rebates and another, more fuel-efficient car on the road in its place.

The workers here are a mix of all different types from the region. Some have wives and kids and travel from suburban Sterling Heights to work at the yard. Others live blocks away in neighborhoods devastated by urban decay. They provide a kind of sampling of the people who find themselves working in Detroit, for one reason or another, during the worst economic recession in seventy years.

But this does not mean they are safe from the effects of the recession. Despite the jump in work lately, overall the numbers of cars being scrapped has gone down. And sales of spare parts, the business’ main source of income, is also down.

It remains to be seen if businesses like U.S. Auto Supply will stick around, and what will happen to the men & women who work there. But for now their spirits are up and they’re hoping for the best during the winter. Indeed it is not the happiest of places, and everything from the cars to the building to the workers themselves seem to be coated in a fine layer of oil & dust.

“This is like a big playground, this place,” one worker tells me. “We take our jobs seriously, but you can’t help but smile and have some fun when you’re crushing one of these cars.”

3 thoughts on “at the scrapyard

  1. This touched my heart. As an out-of-work teacher I understand and appreciate the impermanent nature of work, the suffering it brings and the honest humor of enjoying it while it lasts.


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