Some consumers hear a call to duty

The Beatles tune "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da" recently landed on an odd list - distributed by a Texas-based group of radio stations - of songs that could be deemed inappropriate for airplay in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

But its refrain, "life goes on," now appears increasingly apt.

One sign of Americans' bid to "return to normalcy" after the world-altering attacks: Consumers may be flipping open their wallets. (Charitable givers are, too.)

Last week's sobering consumer-confidence numbers (story, opposite page) showed the biggest one-month drop in about a decade.

Recession worries were growing before last month's catastrophe.

But those numbers don't tell the whole story. They measure, in large part, individuals' perceptions of how the overall economy might be faring six months off. So they're rocked by uncertainty, which may just be at an all-time high.

Can that doubt be overridden? Anecdotal evidence suggests it can.

Go out and try finding a parking spot at the mall. Americans are buying goods - and not just bright new renderings of Old Glory.

Patriotism is one driver. But Americans are conditioned to buy. And after years of being scolded by financial planners for carrying too much debt, many may respond willingly to encouragement by some officials to spend for the short term (and work to cut debt thereafter).

One group rushing to meet them: auto retailers. At a time when next year's models are rolling in, the best incentives are typically thrown at buyers of last year's lot.

This year, worried about creating a product glut in a murky economy, and lacking time to really slow manufacturing, car dealers appear set to extend those great deals to buyers of the very latest wheels.

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