After nearly a year of tuning in to Buses & Beer on her computer, Connie Giddens was looking forward to taking part in its first in-person session.
“I’m excited to see how this will play out,” Giddens said before the event that capped the first day of the 2021 UMA Motorcoach EXPO on Wednesday.
Through the weekly Zoom call, Giddens says she developed new or deeper friendships with several UMA Members, including Trisha Fridrich, of The L&W Team; Jack Kaufman, of Timi’s Tours; and John Hall, of John Hall’s Alaska Cruises & Tours.
Goldwasser says he’s heard of scores of new friendships that were forged during the weekly calls.
‘Something we look forward to’
Giddens says she isn’t sure what she and husband Tom, co-owners of Pacific Coachways, would have done without their weekly Buses & Beer calls on Wednesday.
“It’s something we look forward to each week because we can get together with our peers and talk about things that other people don’t understand,” said Giddens. “Industry people understand what other industry people are going through.”
She likes the mix of professional and personal questions asked by Jeff Goldwasser, East Coast Sales Rep for Amaya-Astron Seating and Vice President of the Bus Association of New York (BANY).
Some of the longest conversations involved people weighing in on bidets and pizza toppings.
“Especially early on during COVID, it was the only time I would see Tom laugh during the week because things were really stressful,” Giddens said. “They are still really stressful, but back then we needed that Wednesday night to help us get through the week.”
Not knowing what Goldwasser was going to ask kept the couple coming back nearly every week. While his after-9 p.m. questions may have seemed too personal for some, others saw them as icebreakers that helped them get to know each other better.
Giddens joined the call for emotional support the day after her sister died and after she and Tom were diagnosed with COVID-19. Unlike other industry calls, attendees often describe Buses & Beer as group therapy.
During the year, attendees have showered Goldwasser with mementos, including a neon Buses & Beer sign, bobblehead, New Jersey license plated and a beer mug.
A week before EXPO, Buses & Beer marked its first anniversary with giveaways for operators. And even more, prizes were handed out to operators in attendance Wednesday evening.
Virtually at EXPO
Scott Riccio, Chair of the EXPO committee, says the virtual aspect of the Buses & Beer event provided a way to bring more people to EXPO — even if just for an evening.
“There were a lot of people who wanted to come to EXPO but they couldn’t for a variety of reasons — and all of those reasons are OK,” said Riccio. “This gives a way to connect with EXPO, ironically, on a Wednesday night, which is normally Buses & Beer anyway. They’re not here, but they are here, and I think there’s a value in that for UMA and the industry.”
Among the 60 people connecting virtually on Wednesday evening were Prevost General Manager Francois Tremblay in Canada; Lancer Insurance Vice President Bob Crescenzo in New York; and Donovan Albarran, Vice President Export Sales of Amaya-Astron Seating, in Mexico.
Out of the call that attracts upward of 60 people, small groups have spun off.
Kaufman says he has done movie nights over Zoom with other millennials, including Fridrich, Great Canadian Holidays & Coaches’ Michelle Tupman and Distinctive Systems Inc.’s Eric Elliott.
“We don’t end up watching a movie. We normally end up talking,” said Kaufman, who spent Wednesday evening finally talking in person with people who spent so many hours on Zoom with over the last year. “It’s cool to meet people I haven’t met in person.”
Tupman, like other Canadians, didn’t attend EXPO this year because she would have been required to quarantine for two weeks before returning home. Since she couldn’t be in Orlando, Kaufman brought “Flat Michelle,” a large photo of Tupman, to EXPO.
Surprises and support
One of the highlights of the year was when operator Jasmine Sayah, of Best Tours & Travel in Fresno, California, surprised everyone with the birth of her second child. No one realized she was pregnant. She missed a week and, when she returned, she’d had her daughter, who is now also a regular on the call.
Morgan Brown, the owner of Magic Carpet Tours Bus Service Inc. in Richmond, Virginia, often joined the call — which began at 7:30 p.m. EST and could run to 1:30 a.m. — in the last hour or two, after his roller skating workout.
“During the pandemic, it’s been an outlet where we can interact with each other. It’s almost like a family gathering on a weekly basis. It’s been a support group for everyone,” Brown said Wednesday night, after collecting a Buses & Beer T-shirt. “It’s been a fun get-together but also informative. It went away from being a Zoom meeting to being a nice get-together.”