August 24, 2021

THE PHOTO THAT DOESN’T TELL THE STORY!

The real story the photo reminds me of was going to the first Saturn Homecoming in the summer of 1994—and this unrelated picture from that trip is the only one I could find.  Here I’m shopping (just bought some Tennessee honey) at The Produce Place on Murphy Road in Nashville. This popular local market featuring fresh local produce, coffees, nuts, cheeses and prepared foods has long been a family favorite.  Heather worked there intermittently and the owner Barry has remained a great friend.  Today she and I still enjoy shopping there.

The real reason I was in Nashville for this photo was to attend the summer Homecoming for Saturn car owners at the manufacturing plant site in Spring Hill.  Surely there are photos of my red SL1 and of the Homecoming madness—but none is to be found.  And my Saturn isn’t one of the cars parked outside in the photo.

So without any documentation, take my word for it!  When I heard the innovative story of GM’s daring vision to create a different kind of automobile, I joined many others in hoping their Saturn would be different.  When I learned they were building a Saturn plant in little Spring Hill, Tennessee, I became even more interested.  

My little dark brown Honda Civic was over ten years old and I thought a Tennessee-made car would be the ticket. Saturn also promised a unique experience for the buyer. Dealers offered a completely “pressure free” sales experience—and when you drove your new Saturn out of the showroom, you were given a sendoff with cheers and balloons from all the dealership staff. I chose a bright red Saturn SL1 and enjoyed the festive atmosphere at my Columbia dealership.

By 1994, Saturn was the third bestselling car manufactured in the United States. Their customer and owner satisfaction ratings were off the charts. To celebrate, they planned a huge Homecoming event that summer. Owners who bought tickets received a box of swag, including items to display on your Saturn for your drive to Spring Hill.  My friend Earleen came along for the fun.  As we drove across the mountains, we saw other Saturns displaying their Homecoming swag and we waved. When we arrived, the free parking was in a large field next to the plant—and thousands of Saturns were lined up in rows. Over a two-day period, 28,000 Saturn owners came to the party—about three times the town’s population!

Everything was beautifully organized, with a free picnic lunch and exhibits with giveaways in several huge white tents. A highlight was a tour of the Saturn plant, where workers had posted butcher paper to write welcoming greetings and where owners could write their thanks to the workers who’d made their Saturn. The big finale was to be an outdoor concert by Wynonna Judd followed by fireworks.  Several hours before that, ominous clouds began rolling through.  Knowing the force of Tennessee storms, I asked Earleen if she thought we should head back to Nashville or take our chances on the weather.  We decided to leave.

I was disappointed and unsure we’d made the right choice.  Then we heard a bulletin on the car radio saying a huge storm had hit the area, blowing down one of the tents.  Se teveral people were injured and had to be transported to the hospital. They cancelled the concert and fireworks because of lightning and rain.  And the field with thousands of parked Saturns was one huge mud pit.  Good choice after all!

There was one more Saturn Homecoming in 1999 but I didn’t go.  In 2001, I got a Honda Accord and by 2009 GM pulled the plug on its Saturn line.  The Saturn was a great concept—but unfortunately the traditional GM manufacturing model prevailed.  

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