Thursday, March 19, 2009

“Project: Bel Air”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is a one-act play. After repeated attempts to save the domestic automobile industry, President Barack Obama has embraced a new sort of ‘change’ by sending leaders of the three major companies to a clandestine rendezvous with his friend and supporter, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

THE SETTING – A secret boardroom in northeastern Ohio.

THE PARTICIPANTS – Mayor Frank Jackson; WTAM radio host Mike Trivisonno; Corporal (formerly General) Motors; Henry Ford XVI; Walter Cerberus Chrysler.

Folders and notebooks are shuffled as the group assembles around a long conference table. Their mood is strained. No one seems happy about attending the brainstorming exercise. But the government has demanded their participation.

MAYOR JACKSON – “Welcome, everybody. I’m glad to have you all here on the shore of Lake Erie. I won’t surprise anybody by saying that your situation is desperate. But Mr. Obama wanted me to arrange one more meeting where everyone could talk out their problems. And I understand ‘problems’ very well. So let me begin by saying… welcome to Cleveland!”

Polite applause echoes around the room.

WALTER CERBERUS CHRYSLER – “At least this was less of a drive than going to Washington, D.C.”

HENRY FORD XVI – “Yeah, even one of your ‘K-Cars’ could run this far!”

W. CHRYSLER – “Shut up, Pinto boy!!”

MAYOR J. – “Gentlemen! Let’s get ourselves back to the subject at hand. I want to introduce you to someone who really understands how folks feel about the bailout… and American cars… the blue-collar king of Cleveland, ‘TRIV!’”

EVERYONE – (In unison) “Who??”

MIKE TRVISONNO – (Grumbling) “Okay, okay, gimmie a break, will you? This is the first hour of our discussion. We’re here to help you’se guys figure out your mess, so bada-bing! Let’s get started. But first, help yourself to the calamari from my son’s Italian restaurant.”

CORPORAL M. – “Ten hut! Never mind the grub. This industry is in trouble. Let’s get down to business, men.”

FORD XVI – (Filling a plate with delicious edibles) “Say, what happened to your rank, General? Uhhh… I mean, Corporal?”

W. CHRYSLER – (As his mouth waters) “Yeah, did you finally get demoted, old soldier?”

CORPORAL M. – “At ease, Pilgrim! I took a hit after we burned through the first ration of bailout money. Uncle Sam wasn’t too happy with that. But I’ll bounce back before you can say ‘howitzer’ - trust me!”

FORD XVI – (With a grin) “So… the president ran out of patience with you?”

C. MOTORS – “Not even a little bit! He loved that Cadillac limousine we spec’d out for him. That thing is built like a tank. And we darn well know our tanks!”

FORD XVI – “Not to mention how to hold out your hand for corporate welfare…”

W. CHRYSLER – “Pipe down, Ford! Quit being so high and mighty!”

FORD XVI – “Wally, you’re no better than the Corporal. In six months, you’ll be building toy Matchbox cars. Or Hot Wheels. Give it up!”

M. TRIVISONNO – “Hey, cool it, will you’se guys? I’m trying to help!”

MAYOR J. – “Gentlemen. We know we have a problem. We just need to do something about it…”

M. TRIVISONNO – (Laughing) “The Mayor is right. Cleveland has been through a tough run of luck in the last few years. National City was bought out by PNC Bank, our Browns self-destructed again, and the Medical Mart project is bogged down. But we’ve stayed on the air by believin’ in ourselves. We are gonna do whatever it takes to be a winner. That’s how you need to think.”

CORPORAL M. – “You make it sound easy, grunt!”

W. CHRYSLER – “Yeah! Talk is cheap, unlike our UAW contract!”

M. TRIVISONNO – “Hey, your executives don’t work for minimum wage. Ain’t it their fault, too? Everybody can share the blame.”

FORD XVI – “Triv is right, Wally. You’ve got to quit complaining and get on the team! Win or lose, we do it together.”

MAYOR J. – “That’s it. When we win, everybody’s happy. When we lose, everybody’s sad…it’s time to get happy again!”

M. TRIVISONNO – “You guys gotta quit feelin’ sorry for yourselves. So the market took a dump on you… fuggedaboutit! I’ve had weeks like that. But on Monday, I always went back to the fundamentals of radio. That’s worked every time. It’s how I got 432 number-one ratings books.”

W. CHRYSLER – “Look, Mr. Triveysano… you’re a good talker. But we need more than words to cover our corporate budget.”

CORPORAL M. – “Sir, yes sir! We need a Hummer full of cash, not more chin music!”

MAYOR J. – “You’re worse than the city council. Give Trivisonno a chance!”

M. TRIVISONNO – “A wise man once said ‘give the people what they want.’ So think about it… why did people like your cars so much in the Golden Era?”

W. CHRYSLER – “Well, the Japanese weren’t over here, for one thing…”

M. TRIVISONNO – “You are missin’ the point! Think about it!!”

CORPORAL M. – “Ummm… well, soldier, my cars had style in those days. Chrome, tailfins, dual exhausts, racing stripes, all the bells and whistles. Nobody ever got a ’57 Bel Air confused with a Volkswagen!”

FORD XVI – “Cars were like rolling sculptures in those days. Now everything looks like an egg on steroids.”

M. TRIVISONNO – “Right!! That’s it. Cars today look like blobs of mozzarella. Nothing is distinctive. But show any paisano your ’57 Bel Air, and they’ll still be impressed. Ba-da-BING! You’re ready to cruise through Vegas! Even Joe or Judy Whatchamacallit could feel like a star driving one of those things!”

CORPORAL M. – “So, what are you saying, grunt?”

W. CHRYSLER – “Quit building blobs of mozzarella?”

M. TRIVISONNO – “Trust me when I tell you. The Koreans can sell boring cars. The Japanese can sell generic cars. The Germans can sell stuff from the wind tunnel. But American car buyers want an AMERICAN car. A Monte Carlo. A Grand Prix. An Eldorado. Heyy, look at how the throwback Ford Mustang is selling. And the Dodge Challenger. Now you’ve got a Camaro comin’ out that looks like the old days. Wake up, people! If you built fun cars again, the government wouldn’t have to bail your butts out of bankruptcy!”

The group falls silent.

FORD XVI – “You’re making a lot of sense.”

CORPORAL M. – “Thunderation! The battle plan was right under our noses. We need to build ‘classic cars’ again!”

W. CHRYSLER – “Triveysano, I think you really are the King of Cleveland after all!”

MAYOR J. – “Congratulations, Triv. You’ve won them over!”

FORD XVI – “When we make our next trip to Washington D.C., we’ll lay out our plan for the leaders in Congress. It’s time to build American cars again… REAL American cars!”

C. MOTORS – “Call it ‘Project: Bel Air’ and I’m on board, troops!”

EVERYONE – “Agreed! Let’s hit the ground running!”

POSTSCRIPT – Project: Bel Air was launched shortly after the meeting in Cleveland. Sales for the ‘Big Three’ experienced a dramatic rise once these new models were introduced. Meanwhile, Honda, Toyota, and the rest began to disappear into a black hole of post-recession oblivion. Once again, tailfins were all the rage in Detroit!

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