Reflections on 2020
December 13 - It’s hard to believe 2020 is coming to an end. In Decembers past I sometimes assembled photos of places I’d visited. Prior to the pandemic, I spent a dozen years on the road, sometimes traveling 120,000 air miles in a year. This January started like many others. We spoke at some events in Florida, and Cubby came along to visit the alligators at Wakulla and my aunt and uncle from Cairo, GA:
This year, it all came to a stop.
It was early March when I took my last trip. Covid was in the news every day, and borders were closing. But there was no sense of trouble when I flew to Florida for the Amelia Island car show. I had a job to do – @RobisonService had a Ferrari and a Corvette entered in the Bonham’s auction, and I went to represent them.
In the few days before the show, everything changed. Amelia is a big show and a lot of people fly in to attend it. Our borders closed, and Europe was already locked down. Hotel rooms were suddenly empty. At the show field, some people eyed each other warily, wondering who might carry a deadly infection. Others were happy to see their friends. Here I am with Ferrari expert Marcel Massini:
The front rows of seats at the auction are generally reserved for the big bidders, and many of the seats lay empty. You could sense the uncertainty in the air as the auction started. Bids for most cars were far below projections. Many people walked out with the sense that markets were in free fall. The stock market certainly gave that impression.
In a matter of days, airports all over America fell silent. The crowds vanished and planes sat idle or flew empty. We were consumed by worry and fear for the future. Two weeks later, the governor of Massachusetts ordered a statewide shutdown and our company’s parking lot emptied out, almost as quickly as the airports. Almost as an aside, the phones stopped ringing and our stock portfolios were down almost 40%.
Anyone who was around in 2008-9 has seen this play out before. Over 33 years in business we’ve seen a few downturns. One thing I’d learned is that most of us don’t live or die by the markets or the auctions. It does not matter what your assets are worth as long as they continue making you a living. I wasn’t planning to sell my stock or my company; what mattered was getting through a down time.
As a seller's agent it felt like the spring auctions were awful, but there are always two sides. Other clients have been buyers, and they have been sending a stream of jobs our way.
I write about the unusual cars we restore and take to shows because those are what interest me, but we do other things at my workplace. Robison Service is part of the Springfield Automotive Complex, which is home to a state inspection facility, a general car repair shop, a detailing shop, an undercar and alignment shop, and an ambulance garage for Springfield and surrounding towns.
With all those activities we were one of the businesses designated essential, and we never closed. We did furlough some workers, and I worked from home for a time, but we were lucky. By summer businesses were re-opening and work returned to the complex.
It has still been a hard year. Quite a few of our clients got sick, and a few died. Several workers in our complex became ill, but all recovered. My neighbor at work was diagnosed on a Wednesday, and died the following Monday. With 5,000 new cases being called every day in Massachusetts, we are in the thick of it.
Every day I am grateful for our staff, who have stuck together and kept the place going. I am grateful for our clients, some of whom saw we were slow, and sent more work to keep going. I am grateful for our bankers and our suppliers who ensured a flow of funds and materials to keep operations running as smoothly as possible. The work photos are from better days, when we didn't have masks, social distancing, and more . . .
It has been a year of many challenges, but we are still standing as we near the end.
One thing this pandemic has shown me is that a part of me will always be here at the car complex. I’ve had the great honor of traveling the world to speak about autism and neurodiversity, and I have been able to play a role in establishing policies to help our community. I’ve even followed in my parent’s footsteps teaching neurodiversity in college.
But in what seems like the blink of an eye, beginning in March, all those activities shut down or transformed. A dozen speaking engagements just evaporated. Autism conferences like INSAR were all cancelled. College went online, and I found myself struggling with Zoom to engage with students. I am forever grateful to the Arnow and Olitsky foundations for keeping neurodiversity programs going in this challenging time.
My college teaching appointments are something I am proud of, but they don’t pay enough to live on. It is the car complex that has sustained me – and everyone else who works there – through this most challenging of years.
I’m doing some online neurodiversity work, and I hope to travel again in 2021, but this pandemic has shown me the great value of being right here in Springfield with the cars and the people that have been part of my life, since long before I knew anything of autism.
2020 has certainly made me rethink my priorities. I’m sure many of you feel the same
As we go into the holidays I wish all of you well and hope for a better years for us in 2021.
Meanwhile, here are some photos that show 2020 through my eyes.
John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison
Sights from Wakulla:
Sights from Wakulla: