Friday, April 11, 2008

Flint Portraits: Gerry Godin

Gerry Godin racked up more than 16 years at Buick before retiring in 1997, so he has a lot of stories to tell on his amazing blog All Things Buick.

"It's hard to believe that 52 years ago, fresh out of High School I started there at $1.47 per hour and worked the 5:30 PM till 7:00 AM shift in the Cleaning Room inspecting Castings. Thirteen hours, 7 days a week was big money then. I bought a 1955 Chevy Belair hardtop fully loaded for $2358."

If Ben Hamper captured the big-picture insanity and hilarity of factory life in Rivethead, Gerry captures the fascinating details with humor and insight. How else would you know where one horticulturally inclined shop rat grew pot in the '70s? (It was on the mezzanine to the right of the big Buick logo visible from Hamilton Avenue.)
Or discover one of the few fringe benefits of working with the searing industrial ovens in the paint department?

"This was the oven where I would heat my ham and cheese sandwich. Hot lunch was about the only good thing about working the third floor paint. Some people liked it but I think the heat and fumes got to there brains. I even think I got some Dain Bramage."

Gerry's got one-of-a-kind photos and the stories behind them, including the sad tale of this ill-fated 1980 Regal:

"This was entirely my fault because I didn't have my forks through the sturups on the basket. The baskets were rectangled with the shorter side facing forward for loading in the semi trailer. I should have rotated the basket before moving but I was out of practice and just gotten back on the job. Due to a cutback I was placed back on my old axle press after an eight year hiatus. Like an elephant Buick never forgets. So when there was a cutback you went back to the lowest position inline with your senority. I did not get a reprimand for this accident because the pictures showed the car was parked over the yellow line at the time. I was so nervous that I went home after cleaning this mess up. The final insult was this car sitting for about a month on the second floor of factory #94 as if on exhibit for all to see."

But some of the most powerful images are the before-and-after photos of Buick City, a precise reminder that a way of life disappeared along with the actual factory buildings.

And you can take it all in while listening to Gerry on guitar singing the Buick City Blues:

up all night/just couldn't sleep
must go to work/gives me the creeps
management, the union, too
they’re for themselves/not me and you

Buick City, Flint, Michigan
hell on earth and here I go again

speed up the line/add work to me
they’ll drive us nuts/but don’t you see?
profits soar/now they get rich
just pile it on/ain’t life a bitch?

Buick City, Flint, Michigan
Hell on earth and here I go again

we work all day/we work at night
we break our backs/it’s quite a sight
whip us like dogs/but can it be?
we will survive/just wait and see

Buick City, Flint, Michigan
Hell on earth and here I go again

now life goes on/and day by day
must go to work/or I don’t get paid
it’ll never change/this life I know
the rich get richer/just rollin’ in the dough

Buick City, Flint, Michigan
Hell on earth and here I go again
Buick City

1 comment:

  1. Hi Gerry, just wondering if you know what ever happened to Tim Dillingham. He was a good friend back in the early eighties. We had a class together in Marxist political thought and common friends. He was playing in a band then, but I can't remember the name of it. My nickname is Mo and I used to go out with an old housemate of his. He was always into things civic, and it wouldn't surprise me if that's still the case! If you're in contact with him, let him know about geewhy's blog - he'd be interested anyway - and that redgirl is Mo! Thanks Gerry :)


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at