Wow, you think to yourself–that was a heck of a crash. And now you're stuck.

From the vantage point of your delivery truck, you look down the highway to where the wreck occurred. At first it was hard to figure out why it happened. Sure, people were going fast–faster than ever, in fact, no matter what the speed limit says–but huge volumes of traffic were moving. Everyone was focused on moving ahead fast.

Craig Webb Photo: James Kegley Ultimately you realize this chain collision began with nothing exceptional. Perhaps a tire blew out, or a groggy driver swerved. Regardless of the cause, when you combine too much traffic, too much speed, and too many big trucks, you get the kind of event that leads the evening news. And still you're stuck in it.

The police cruisers and EMT vans arrived quickly, but it's the kind of wreck where people and vehicles are strewn on the road; the whole highway is blocked. You want to unhook the forklift and do some clearing of your own, but this is one time you'll have to wait for the big tow trucks to arrive.

Time passes, and you start to sense some order to the cleanup is going on. Wreckers are pulling away vehicles that once retailed for $50,000, now barely worth their weight in scrap iron. The emergency crews are leaving, but the police so far have managed to open up only one twisting lane through the wreckage. Anybody who is moving now is going slowly and–with so much twisted metal to gawk at, and be inspired by–very tentatively. Gauging the flow, you can tell it's still going to be quite a while before you can put your truck back into gear.

And then it occurs to you: This wreck is a lot like the housing market.

Before the housing crash, you were working faster than you ever had before–crazy fast, it turned out. Then oil prices went up, the stock market went down, and before you knew it, you could hear crunching sounds all over. No problem, you thought at first; you'll make adjustments, wait a bit and soon things will clear up. But this time it wasn't just a few small cars but also the big rigs–Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers–that were strewn all over the road. In this case, you definitely weren't in control of your destiny.

Ultimately, the wreckage will get cleared. At the crash site, it's vehicles. In America's housing crunch, it's the backlog of foreclosed homes and spec houses that now sell for a quarter their original asking price. There are plenty of signs this spring that the oversupply is easing, but it's obvious the process will be painfully slow.

So you wait for the wreckage to clear and for normal life–normal residential construction–to resume. The one good thought you can take from all this is that, as you sit, a whole lot of people are even further behind. Once the road clears, they'll be eager to get moving again.

ProSales staffers strive to deliver memorable work every issue, but some efforts merit special praise. That's the case with this month's annual report on the ProSales 100. Senior editor Andy Carlo spent months cajoling often-reluctant dealers and collecting data to compile the industry's best report on the state of affairs at America's biggest LBM operations. And art director Brian Walker found a great way to illustrate dealers' struggle to climb out of the housing recession. Kudos to both.

Craig Webb, editor 202.736.3307
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