Guy Ellis

I guess everyone has heard that the auto industry, at least the American auto industry, is in some bad shape right now. Don’t look to this column for answers or explanations. Half of the things I read about the Detroit debacle claim the fault lies with the auto unions while the other half claims inept leadership brought things to how they stand today. It’s times like this when I simply heed good old Dad’s advice: Don’t believe anything you hear and only believe half of what you see.

Besides, I have pressing problems of my own, at least as I write this. Chief among them is how in the world I am going to get all of the “Santa” gifts put together for my kids on Christmas Eve.

Back to the car situation for a moment, I knew things were looking bad for Detroit when my in-laws bought a new Toyota last year. My wife’s parents were much like my grandparents when it came to cars. In other words, if it doesn’t say Lincoln on the grill, forget about it. Still, until my granddad trades in one of his Ford or Chevy pick-up trucks for a Tundra I guess there’s still hope for Detroit.

I remember the Detroit cars from my high school days. I knew a guy who had something called a Ford Escort GT. It was supposed to be comparable to my VW GTI, but it wasn’t even close. Of course, neither car could cut the mustard compared to my friend’s Honda Civic Si.

Yet, we have two ‘Merican cars in the garage at the house today. Never mind that my Pontiac was built in California as a re-badged Toyota Corolla and that my wife’s Chevy was built in Canada.

It’s not just the American auto industry that is feeling the crunch these days. Honda has pulled the plug on its $300 million dollar a year Formula 1 racing team. Yes, $300 million a year. In an interesting twist, however, the company plans to continue its presence in the Indy 500 as they happen to turn a profit on that deal. Score one for the American series over the globe-trotting international wine and cheese set that is F1.

So it’s a fight for survival in Detroit.

And fighting for survival, or adapting to change, was the main theme in a couple of movies I watched this week. As some of you may know I’m a Western Channel junkie. The movies they show, aw, I’ve seen ‘em all a million times but I watch them over and over again. The play list resembles that of a “classic rock-n-roll” radio station, you know, the kinds that play the same 300 songs over and over. (Play “Freebird!” Again! No, seriously, please don’t!)

I get a touch of nostalgia watching the westerns. My granddad and I used to watch them together on Sundays after lunch and quote the lines back and forth to each other before the character would speak them.

Anyway, the two flicks I caught this week were “Junior Bonner,” starring Steve McQueen, and “The Electric Horseman,” starring Robert Redford. Two stories about cowboys having some difficulty adjusting to the changin’ times.  It’s a compelling and evergreen theme, and each character has to go about adjusting in their own way: A way that will work on their terms. A classic bit of foreshadowing in the dialogue of one of the movies between the protagonist and a friend:

“Loan me $15?”

“I already gave you $25.”

“Well, that makes $40.”

“You got change?”

“Nope. But I will have.”

It’s enough to make me want to go out and buy a beat-up Cadillac convertible and pull a single horse trailer on a tour of the Southwest. Never mind that the only time I ever rode a horse in my life was when my dad put me on the back of a Shetland pony when I was a kid. Danged horse took off as fast as he could for the nearest low hanging branch and knocked me right out of the saddle. Everyone gathered thought it was pretty funny but I wasn’t so impressed.

Of course, not all westerns delve so deeply into realism. The TV variety can be very lighthearted and fun. Of the countless that were released, back when gas was thirty cents a gallon, my favorite is “Bonanza.” You have to get your head around a few issues for the show to work, a truism for everything on TV. Poor Ben Cartwright. Married three times, widowed three times. With a son from each engagement. Ladies, don’t even look his way.

While “Bonanza” will always be my favorite I mourn for “The Big Valley.” The premise of that show holds the most promise of all my favorite western TV series. And while Lorne Greene was a great man, and sold tons of Alpo in his day, Barbara Stanwyck was a certified movie star. But most of the plots and storylines of “The Big Valley” are thin and weak, even for the time they were made and the genre. A shame.