Millhouser: We need to win the battle and the war

More than 150 Confederate artillery pieces thundered for hours, a bombardment heard 70 miles away in Washington, DC.

It was July 3, 1863 in Gettysburg PA, and while the South had won most of the Civil War battles, they were losing the war. General Lee headed north to fix that.

The guns quit, and General George Pickett led thousands of men into history… and defeat.

A major factor was that, unseen in the smoke, many of the artillery shells landed long, behind Union lines. The Yankee troops were alerted to the impending charge, AND they were mightily irritated.

It’s not a stretch to characterize our coronavirus economy as being a battlefield obscured by smoke. There’s a ton of noise, real pain, and lots of sketchy information floating about.

In a recent columns I’ve said our industry has not gotten the regard we deserve. It was meant as a morale builder, not a road map. Now might not be the time to agitate.

If General Lee knew the barrage had overshot, he’d have rescheduled. It might be wise to delay the quest for respect.

We’ve grumbled about airlines getting targeted help, with little mention of the motorcoach industry. Not only are we being pummeled financially, our feelings are hurt.

A couple of things to consider.

First, help IS out there, and it’s better in many ways than what is being offered the airlines (or the BIG bus lines). We can apply for loans that become grants if they’re properly spent. That’s free money…. It just doesn’t have the picture of a bus on the check. It may go a long way towards retaining your best employees.

Now isn’t the time to try to play catch-up on the PR front. Now is the time to explore options and apply for stuff. UMA, ABA and other trade associations are there to help.

In the current environment posturing will either be a self-defeating distraction… or (ouch) ignored.

Second, we ARE important, and perform heroically whenever we’re needed. Sadly, we aren’t needed right now. It’s critical to the country that we survive and remain available for catastrophes, but frankly most people are looking at other heroes in this crisis.

In addition to the (deservedly) lauded medical profession and first responders, the real heroes this time are grocery clerks and cashiers, pizza delivery people, fast food workers and tons of other low wage/low profile folks who are usually invisible. Without them there’d be no semblance of normal life. Full disclosure… my first job was as a grocery clerk.

They risk their health so we can hang on. It’s their time to shine… good on them.

A huge percentage of businesses are suffering right now. Not only are we not alone… every single one of them thinks that THEY are special. In some ways they’re right, none would exist long absent a real need for the product or service they provide.

Businesses don’t survive if they don’t offer something useful. We’re one part of a complex, diverse economic system that’s ruled by Darwin.

Who’d a thunk a McDonald’s cook would evolve into a critical worker?

Short term, we need to ignore the slight and grab the help that’s being offered.

A wizened bus executive told me “The government is offering what is essentially grants to our industry beginning this Friday and you need to be ready to make your submission. In the past industry grant submissions lingered for months and large fleet operators got the lion’s share. Not so with this process.”

We must do our best to survive so that when we’re needed we can be present. Tell our story when appropriate, but now’s not the time to chest thump.

Long term, we need to do a better job of letting both the market and the government know how important we are to American travel. It’s unfair that we are perceived as passenger transportation’s lowest common denominator… but we are.

During the depths of WWII, when the outcome was uncertain, allied leaders were already planning for how they’d handle victory. Turned out to be a good idea, because our former foes became staunch allies, and those feisty Europeans haven’t had a war in decades.

At the same time we struggle to just survive, we need to plan a process of gaining the respect we’ve earned. We’re going to emerge smaller (sorry, but that’s how it is). Now may be the time to pivot, and hope that there will be more business than buses, and we can sell quality.

There’s a finite amount of money dedicated for this program, and it will be quickly gone. We need to be first in line or risk missing out, staggering home empty handed.

Confederate troops stumbled back through the battlefield’s smoke, defeated.

They were met by a tearful Robert E Lee who told them that it was his fault. Great display of character, but the battle was lost.

We’re in a battle and a war. Those who survive the battle need to be planning to win the war. When the smoke clears, are we going to find a way to project our real worth to the market and to the country?




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