During most of the 1980’s, I lived in Los Angeles, California. When I left Hammond, Indiana from the Howard Johnson’s Motel on the airport bus back in January of 1978, I thought of leaving as a simple trade. My life would move from on metropolitan center, Chicagoland, to another, Southern California. The trade, it turned out, was far more complicated. More exactly, I had given up the steel mills of my childhood, with its trades and union rules, for the technological and creative frontiers of California.
At the time, I had no knowledge that, as I’ve been told several times by friends, the year of my departure from Indiana, 1978, was the height of the steel industry in Northwest Indiana. That year, Calumet Region mills shipped more tons of steel than they had in any previous year, and more than they ever would again. By 1984, the flight home had become sad. Friends were out-of-work. My hometown, Hammond, Indiana, shrank. Mills shed workers, turned down the fires of production, and all the associated businesses closed; they were acquired, RIF’d, and shuttered until, finally, the steel belt along Lake Michigan was a ghost town.
Some other friend once told me that, for some years in the 1950’s, South Chicago, which included Northwest Indiana in the same way that greater New York City includes New Jersey, made up 40% of the gross national product. We were production. I believed the statistic. It didn’t seem unreasonable. So how did my homeland miss the turn from steel production to the “information economy,” the “service economy,” and the idea festival that occurred in California in the 1980’s?