Today I sent an email I’ve been composing in my head for quite a while, telling the members of the NWImports car club that I’m officially disbanding the club. It’s something I’ve known was inevitable but still dreaded doing, and which I’ve discussed laboriously with my trusted advisors at what has surely been agonizing frequency. Even as I’ve been attempting to motivate the dwindling membership, speaking (perhaps aspirationally) of the club to interested potentials, and trying to build a new type of club that was more difficult to outgrow I’ve also been carrying on an internal dialogue wherein I slowly admit to myself that it’s ok to throw in the towel.
When I took over the role of Team President three years ago, it was an act of desperate resurrection. The outgoing leader had exhausted his willingness to battle the apathy, resistance to change and general malaise that eventually sweep through any stagnant organization, even one as informal and self-organized as ours. The group had devolved from ambitious event planners to infrequent attendees, and from a circle of tightly-knit and loyal comrades to a room full of old friends fighting over money. I didn’t then and still don’t blame anyone for choosing other things in their lives, for wanting to save their money for things other than intercoolers and spend their Saturdays elsewhere besides in a parking lot looking under each other’s hoods. I may not have been starting a family or diving into a new career at the time but I fully understand prioritizing precious time and resources for the things and people that matter most. My own job has often been full of tough prioritization decisions and I have learned to evaluate as objectively as I can, choose resolutely and proceed with confidence, trying never to look back and give the ugly monster that is regret a chance to see my face. I do think it’s unfortunate, though, that the group did not persist the way I first encountered it – close friends, constantly together, building and driving their cars, supportive of each other in their common hobby, promoting their team and the local tuner community with ambition, passion and generosity. At its peak, the NWNismo group had begun to earn local fame for being exclusive, respected, organized and well-managed, with members that had well-kept cars and who were respected, experienced members of the local tuner community. Membership was granted with solemnity and great consideration, often after a trial period lasting a full year’s season, and the matching shirts, hats and car-mounted vinyl graphics were a proud advertisement of inclusion in something special, something elite. I arrived to the group late enough to have missed that peak of prosperity, but still early enough to witness sufficient glimpses of it that I shared the group’s anguish at its decline.
The group of friends – split across lines of conflicting loyalties and separated by geography, stages of life and increasingly diverse interests – were in general agreement only that the group’s original mission was no longer being fulfilled. The team name (NWNismo) was an homage to Nissan’s Nismo racing division, and yet less than half the members still owned or had plans to build a Nissan. In my disappointment to see a good thing end – and perhaps my naÃ¯vetÃ© to the challenges faced by the outgoing leader – I was determined to adapt the structure of the NWNismo team into a less-formal aficionados club that I hoped would be more resilient to the members’ life changes and at the same time more appealing to new recruits, especially ones facing the same perpetuity challenges in their car clubs that we were facing in ours. After many intense evening discussions over mozzarella sticks and Long Island Iced Teas at an Applebees in Lynnwood and with support from a few other determined-not-to-be-former members, I won a consensus from the group and diverted the resources of NWNismo into a new club, NWImports.
On April 8th, 2007, I registered the domain nwimports.org, and soon after called the first meeting of NWImports. With a new charter open to any make of imported car, truck or motorcycle, stylish new logos and promo materials courtesy of an equally-motivated former NWNismo member who is a talented designer by day, and a new camaraderie created by welcoming several non-Nissan members in from the perpetual fringe, we had a new club with what was hopefully all the best from NWNismo and enough newness to rise phoenix-style from the ashes.
It might be that the spirit of NWNismo was not the best foundation on which to build a new club, as perhaps its slowly-deflating end poisoned the new group with skepticism. Where I had hoped the memories of good times past would be a motivational cornerstone around which to build something new, perhaps the disappointing reality of what NWNismo became at the end provided a sandy foundation rather than a granite one. For three summer seasons I fought to find a sustainable balance – between exclusivity and membership growth, between affordable dues and sufficient budget to offer “free” benefits, between planning frequent events and still allowing members to have other priorities without seeming left out.
It wasn’t a balance the group was able to find, as by the third season even my own determination was waning, my ambitions clouded by drudgery and frustration. I knew I didn’t want NWImports to end the way NWNismo had, in a fizzling arc of disagreements and lost friends. The hard work, pride and fond memories of NWNismo had deserved an honorable burial when the club finally met its demise, so it was important to me that the end of NWImports at least be recognized with some degree of formality as a way to also give NWNismo some closure.
It became apparent after a few months of circular discussion that agreeing on the way to end the club would be as difficult as agreeing on the way to operate it. The remainder of the team’s bank account was enough to rent a cabin for a weekend, but planning a weekend event for a group that couldn’t manage to meet in person for an hour per month was too discouraging for any of us to seriously consider. Aside from a half-serious suggestion to triumphantly throw our team shirts into a bonfire, nothing arose that led to a consensus. Finally, somewhat on a whim, we pooled the remains of the team fund with money of our own and filled two overflowing carts in an epic Toys R Us shopping spree for the annual NW Toy Run supporting Toys For Tots. It may not have been a 21-gun salute but I felt satisfied that my final duty as Team President had been fulfilled. This pair of organizations that had nurtured our common hobby, that had been incubators for lifetime friendships, and that had played a role in defining who we have all grown up to be would leave their unspoken legacy at one last parking lot meetup and be one final source of pride for anyone lucky enough to once wear the colors.