One thing this book was sorely lacking was a dramatic arc. John just sprang from one good time to another. "No wonder this guy's so goddamned optimistic," I thought more than once. "Everything he touches turns to gold."
Fortunately—for the book if nothing else—Crean's life butted head-to-head with gray corporate reality last year. He had retired from Fleetwood but was still chairman emeritus of its board. After he opposed a risky merger, management ousted him from the company he'd founded and headed for a half-century.
It was a very interesting time to know and observe John. He devoted less than a day to being furious. Then he spent a few days seeing if the damage could be rectified. (It couldn't. Fleetwood shares, incidentally, have plummeted from $48.50 when he retired in 1998 to around $12 today.) Within a week, he was already busy designing a new motor home with the intent of starting over.
Then his wife pointed out that he'd already been No. 1 at that and maybe should try something new. So he's now addressing America's lack of low-cost housing. Using new construction methods, he has designed a house he says is safer, better-made and more comfortable than conventional homes, and he intends to sell them for tens of thousands of dollars less. His first tract is already under construction in Hemet, and he says there'll be no goddamned community association to tell people what to do with their homes.
The lesson I infer from that is very similar to what John Lennon was saying in his final interviews: don't count on the president or anyone one else to create the world you want to live in. If, as Calvin Coolidge said, the business of the American people is business, then play the game better than the greedheads and start a business that envisions the future you want. Sure, the world has changed immensely since Crean got his start: megacorporations and, yes, government red tape may make it harder to succeed, but you'll never know if you don't try, right?
The Wheel & I is available for $25 (postpaid) from, of all people: Jim Washburn, P.O. Box 11168, Costa Mesa, CA 92627.