Lately I've been seeing mixed signals. I drive to work at around 10 to 11 pm, both weekdays and weekends. Driving past the busy suburban intersection of State Road and Lansdowne Avenue in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, I'm not seeing much decrease in traffic. Weekend nights are hectic, sidewalks and shopping center lots are full of teenagers. They're lined up ten deep in front of the water ice shops, and the parking lot is full around Casey's Restaurant & Saloon. I can't tell how much money they have in their pockets, but people are out doing their usual thing on the weekend. No one is reluctant to spend on gasoline. If anyone is staying home in their 'man cave', playing old video games, it's not apparent.
On the other hand... I drive by a Nissan dealership in Drexel Hill on Route 1 every night. It's annoying, because the dealership off-loads new cars from the car-carrier truck at the same time I'm driving in to work. The Nissan lot is small (the old inner-ring suburbs of Philly are tightly packed, no county-sized parking lots), and they have to park the car-carrier in one lane of Route 1. So I'm coming around the corner, suddenly I'm blocked by the damn truck, and I (and everyone in my lane) has to brake and try to squeeze between the cars in the remaining lane. Annoying.
I haven't been annoyed like that for at least six months.
It's been that long since I've come upon that car carrier parked in the highway. The Japanese automakers are doing better than the American ones, and still that Nissan dealership hasn't had any deliveries that I've seen since 2008. I'm sure they've had new cars in. I haven't driven by every single night, and for all I know they've gotten shipments of cars during the day. But for years, that damned car carrier would stop me at least once or twice a week.
My conclusion? This isn't another Great Depression. People still have enough spare change to run about on weekends, have treats, get a steak and beer. But big purchases, like a new cars? They're putting them off.
There have been a few signs lately that we may be bottoming, and the recession may be ending. I'll know we're on the mend for sure when I start cursing the car carrier again.