General Murders Sponsors Eco-Breakfast


By P. Coyle

The email was enticing: “Join General Motors Western Region General Manager Susan E. Docherty January 30th in San Francisco for a lively chat about helping the environment”. Seems like a (t)oxymoron.

How could I miss it?

I she-mailed the host of the event (a local businesswomen’s group) and arranged to work off the fifty dollar fee. It ain’t cheap to eat even a ‘continental breakfast’ at a swank hotel (Hyatt Regency, right on Justin Herman Plaza where all the Critical Massers gather on the last Friday of every month).

Here was my chance to hear about ‘exciting’ (the #1 Most Boring Business Adjective) solutions GM is offering to solve the global climate change. Funnily enough, fifty years ago, (with help from Chevron, Firestone , and Goodyear) a dummy corporation was formed to purchase (=privatize), then dismantle the municipal railways clattering efficently through the bigger American urban centers. Thus Kansas City, Phillly, Los Angeles, Chicago lost their (built and paid for!) transit systems…


I readied myself by packing fine clothing and makeup, and some grains of salt for good luck.
As I pedaled into town (in the dark) I tried to think of a suitable question. One that wouldn’t seem confrontational, yet zing the guest speaker before she’d realized she’d been zung. I longed to have Lesley Riddoch the highly accomplished Scots (or Irish?) radio broadcaster–and bike advocate & author— along. She’d know what to ask. She has a weekly show called Riddoch Questions.

” Miss Docherty, how much would you need to woo you over to the bicycle industry?”
Nah, that implies that she’s doing this for the money…
As a woman in a macho culture there’s gotta significant reward in beating boys at their own game.. she’d never trade teams.
Unless it was only about money (cue daydream featuring check-writing Bill Gates sponsoring her transition to human transpo goddess.)

Jump cut to the B-movie “Attack of the 50 foot Woman’, destroying the cars on a freeway of the future.
(See right margin, scroll down a bit…)
Cut back to the five-foot nine inch woman pedaling toward the sunrise.
Hid my bike in the staff entrance, doffed the damp bike gear and pulled on my faux work-garb, fauxny makeup, fought with hair.
Five of us worked the reg table: one put out the ‘goody bags’ (full of eco-brochures plus lots of GM propaganda and a semi-fancy pen with their logo which comes off easily if you hate car logos) two took the coats and two registered the attendees–among eighty women it’s easy to get help with every little detail.
We are so good to one another!!!

Except when we write poison blogs about corporate hypocrisy.

We were instructed to push the raffle tickets hard, using the script “HOW MANY raffle tickets will you be buying this morning?”

I was not willing to utter that phrase, so I let my co-registrette do it. I seem to be allergic to selling (unless it’s my Rockshox boastcard )

There were about a dozen tables nd each table had a theme. I chose the “Zero Waste” table. I didn’t like the sound of ‘get in touch with your inner greenness’, or “it’s not easy being green”… I met Robin, a young city of SF employee who works on commercial recycling projects…she did her best to be heard over the general din, and we all listened intently.
“(noise)…shifting subsidies…(unintelligible)”
(Point to flyer..) “Designing for the environment” (unintellligible…blah blah)
“Changing Legislation” (note to self: DREAM ON!!)
“Producer responsibility” (people here don’t know that in Germany, automobile shoppers pre-pay the price of demolition of the car)
“More informed consumers”

But wait!

Each table where ‘going green’ was being disgust. Sorry, discussed… featured a card-stock GM stand-alone brochure showing their huge gas guzzlers with new names, and how they’re in the “30 and up crowd” (great, 30 miles per gallon ). Don’t get a foreign car… we’re doing our VERY BEST TO HELP clean up the planet! Why does this rhyme (in my head) with the tell a lie loud enough?
What do they think we are? Idiots?
Hmm. Bad mood=hunger knock.
Lookit those pastries going to waste under my nose. Ate about three, then discreetly (do you believe me?) stuffed the left d’oeuvres into my waiting messenger bag .
Suddenly an alarm went off. Emergency message Leave the hotel.
No pandemonium, (bet there were some panicky heads though) just a general shuffling out, getting of coats , file off one direction nope, wrong way come back… Then, suddenly the loudspeaker comes back on: no problem.
Lost about twenty minutes…
Susan D’s came to the podium..she was polished in her red leather jacket, blonde helmet-like coiffure. A forty-something almost babe with car-industry tire(d) marks around her eyes.
What a life. She ‘d lived in four countries and a dozen cities in the last ten years. Stanford biz grad later in life (paid by GM?)

Come time for the ‘movie’ there were some minutes of nothing, while we squirmed, but finally…the COMMERCIAL FOR SOME DAMN SUV rolled onto the screen…under Chevrolet’s brand they’re pushing the ‘Volt’ (electric car). Because they don’t smell bad, and are relatively quiet (beward o cyclists) they’re presumed green.
Sorry lady, but dammed up rivers and screamin’ power generators isn’t so very “clean”.
It’s just moving the mess upstream.

When we’d seen a few more commercials –all featuring the laughter of little children, ( you know the statistics ?) Then twas time for Questions and Answers. I opened my eyes, having had ’em tightly shut, couldn’t shut out the glowing report on the new Hummer 3. A bit smaller so you can park it somewhere, while still keeping your family safe from ….the attackers?

Q’s were innocuous, all about What Cars Would Be Available When..
I raised my hand. God, my heart was racing! Would I get my chance?
“I think this’ll be the last question” she said pointing at me.

“What’s GM’s investment in the future of municipal transit?”

From the GM table a woman piped up that electric busses were being developed “and we have far more orders than we can fill!”
How nice. They made three? And we need thirty thousand? Who will pay for them?

After the meeting, the tables were cleared and I saw my chance to pounce on all that high-quality butter.
Had brought a plastic tub for just such an opportunity…there might have been an appalled waiter (or disappointed meeting-organizer) but I was in my full-on scavenge mode, which deflects any disapproving stares.

When I emerged from the hotel, I had at least a pound in butter spheres.
I had to take a picture.
Piled em up; they stick nicely together…took a picture (see over there, or up above, God knows where my errant typefingers will assign it and of course it’s oriented wrong) and then thought, hey, this Jean Dubuffet sculpture is nice but what about the Ferry Clock tower, gotta get that in there too…
Moved the cup piled high with butter cannnon-balls…turned to get my camera, and in oh, ten seconds, the gulls and pigeons had knocked it over and completely devoured all but the couple of balls.
I ran back, but the pigeons really didn’t want to move, and fluttered toward my croissants. The gulls seemed a menacing three feet tall. My hands were filthy greasy and the camera was one big smudge.

I was going to go without butter for another month or three because I was out-smarted by feathered desperados…

~ by jacquiephelan on February 1, 2008.

One Response to “General Murders Sponsors Eco-Breakfast”

  1. Hi Jacquie. This is fascinating. And such an incongruous juxtaposition. You, there, them. So, did I ever tell you you’re my hero?

    Here: I’m taking a step from passive to proactive with my own book project. I hope I can stay motivated. Sometimes it’s hard. As you know.

    Hope all is well, and thanks for sharing.

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