Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Allez Le Rouge!

I saw a Canadian national soccer team game one time where the fans had signs that said "Allez Les Rouge!", in response to the French "Allez Les Bleus!" apparently. I said it to my Canadian cousins this past weekend as we were touring the Ford Motor Company's River Rouge Plant in Detroit (Dearborn). The one who lives in Toronto replied, "what the fuck are you saying? I speak English." The one who lives in Montreal knew what I was saying, but seemed equally confused as to why I would say it. I explained the Canadian soccer reference and he explained that Canadians hate soccer. Hockey, Dan. Hockey.

So, there's your title. Why were my Canadian cousins and I touring the old Ford plant in Detroit? Well, I was in Detroit for Family Holiday Part Deux and we were at the Ford plant to see where the old patriarch of the Harrington family, my grandfather "Pop", worked the steel furnaces in the Ford Plant. Pop is something of a legend in my family. He's everyone's touchstone to our Irish immigrant blue collar roots. He grew up on a tiny island just off the coast of West Cork and used to row a boat to school and back every day. He claimed to have met Babe Ruth on the boat when he came over from Ireland in the late Twenties (the English people were on the upper decks and the Irish were down below. Babe had money by then so he had a ticket up top, but preferred to hang out down below and drink with the Irish and one Patrick Pop Harrington. I've got Yankee Pride in my blood). After a couple years of trying to work on the East Coast (in the days of INNA - "Irish Need Not Apply"), he made his way over to Detroit where Henry Ford had a reputation for hiring Irish, Southern Blacks, and anyone else without discrimination. Getting a job as an Irishman in the US was tough enough in those days; getting a job as an Irishman in the Great Depression must have been like hitting the jackpot, even if it was pre-UAW. Also in the legend of Pop, is the story that he used to sweep the floor at the local pub to work off his tab.

My mom used to tell the story about the time that Pop met Henry Ford. He was working the furnace that heated all the elements and produced the steel for the cars, when Henry Ford, famous for his early industrialist, hands-on, man-of-the-people attitude, went down to inspect what was going on on the floor. He got too close to the furnace that Pop was working and Pop told him to get the hell out of the way. (For years, I credited this interaction as the root of my problem with authority. I even told that story to my manager at Applebee's when he was in my way as I was trying to cook my way through the Friday dinner rush. I told him the story out of the blue, said "and then my grandfather told Henry Ford to get the hell out of the way", put down my knife and tongs, and looked at him until he shook his head and walked away.) My uncle was with us on the tour and he told me a little more of the story which I hadn't heard. After that incident, Henry Ford used to come down to the furnaces on a semi-regular basis to talk to Pop and ask him how things were going. He skipped past the middle managers in the offices up above on the catwalks around the plant and talked to Pop. And when he left, the middle managers would come down and ask Pop what he said.

Unfortunately, the building that he worked in is closed now, but it was cool to get a look at the old plant anyways.

1 comment:

Dan said...

a bonus related Ford story:

Henry Ford II liked to think of himself as a man of the workers, like the elder Ford. According to Lee Iacocca, Hank the Deuce was once asked what his favorite meal was and he said that he'd take a hamburger from the Ford factory cafeteria any day. What he didn't know was that whenever he went to the cafeteria, they ground up a filet mignon and made a patty for his burger. Yeah. That's my favorite meal too.