Christmas is almost here, after a bruising year which may have been the worst ever for General Motors and Chrysler.
Chrysler, the smallest of what used to be the Big Three, had perhaps the toughest time. Not only did it go through bankruptcy, it was pretty much ordered by the government to sell itself to Fiat.
How much of a Chrysler identity will remain in a few years is a real question. Whether any of our car companies will be around in a generation is also a question. But we sometimes forget how much they made the world a better place. Not just America, the world. And at Christmas, I often think of one of the most unlikely of these stories.
Twenty-two years ago, I was reporting in Bulgaria, back when it was still a Communist dictatorship. Late one afternoon, with the help of an interpreter, I found a cab. The driver was burly, prematurely aged, with a flushed face and a fisherman's cap slouched on his head. But he was boomed out a big hello.
"You are from America," he asked.
Yes, I said. Detroit. He swiveled sharply and stared at me. His eyes filled with tears. "All my life, I have wanted to meet someone from Detroit. Because of Detroit, I am alive today." His name was Dimitar Assenov Dimolianov, and he took me back to 1939, when his father, Asen Mitsev, a sturdy farmer, realized his life's dream. A truck.
The best truck he could possibly find. So he took all the money he had saved in his life, went to Sofia, found a representative of the Dodge Motor Car company, and ordered a truck.
When it arrived months later, it was the best truck anyone had ever seen. Soon after, war arrived too. The Dimolianovs survived because of the truck, hauling food and firewood long distances. It got so battered the Germans didn't take it.
When Communism came after the war, it was so worn out they were allowed to keep it. Asen Mitsev told his boy: Everything depends on the truck. It has to be kept running, no matter what.
They used chicken wire, twine, anything. They kept it running. When the old man died, Dimi took the job over. He kept it going for twenty-four years and half a million miles. "No one else had such a truck. Without that truck, we might not be alive today."
We got to my hotel. He wouldn't let me pay. I insisted. "I could not possibly accept money. It is an honor to give a ride to someone from the city of the Dodge Motor Car Co."
But he did have a request. If I ever met anybody from Dodge, he wanted me to thank them. I wrote about this that Christmas.
Chrysler saw the story, and wanted to give Dimi another truck. They contacted me, and then the Bulgarian embassy. But nothing ever came of it. The new spirit of openness hadn't spread to Bulgaria yet. I have no idea whether the cabbie is still alive; he was a battered man with a bottle of spirits shoved under his parking brake.
But I do know this. He would be happy that the Dodge Motor Car Company didn't die this year. He felt he owed his and his family's life to Dodge, and that magical land called Detroit.
Let's hope that a little of that magic is left.