Opinion: Keep planning to succeed — with or without CERTS

Dick was in trouble. 

Dropped off at the Grand Island, Nebraska, Union truck stop several days earlier, he’d been told to get some sleep, wait to be picked up and drive relief in a bus headed west. 

We were back and forth on Interstate 80 between the Midwest and Colorado all summer, hauling kids to camps in the Rockies. We’d stage relief drivers at truck stops that had sleeping rooms.

While Dick was watching, one of our westbound Scenicruisers sailed by without stopping. He called our boss, and Joe assured him that he would be picked up the next day as that same bus rebounded off the Rockies and headed east.

Sadly, history repeated, and the coach roared past without stopping. Now short of food money and terminally bored ((truck-stops were not celebrated for their entertainment options), Dick called Joe and begged for help, because it had become apparent that he was waiting for a bus that might never pick him up.

A pay hiccup

There was a hiccup in the way we paid drivers — 10 cents for every mile you were in the driver’s seat. If you didn’t pick up your relief, you made ALL the money. Chicago to Colorado Springs was 1,000 miles, a hundred 1970 dollars.

We were manly men (Latin for “stupid”), exempt from hours of service regulations and willing to risk starving Dick.

Was he doomed to waste away in America’s heartland, surrounded by corn?

Joe changed the pay structure, and Dick was saved.

A similar situation

Our situation is similar to Dick’s. We’re watching hopefully for the CERTS Act to become law, expecting it will pick us up. To their credit, in addition to UMA, ABA and other motorcoach associations’ legislative efforts, industry folks have mounted a huge letter-writing campaign to lawmakers and created some remarkable internet videos.  

We don’t yet know precisely what CERTS will look like if passed, and though it’s gained momentum, there is no assurance it will become law.

If enacted, it doesn’t mean trucks are going to pull into your garage and drop bags of money. Uncle Sam has learned a bit from initial relief efforts and likely will be a bit picky, assisting only companies that demonstrate practices and history that indicate they have a decent chance of surviving. He can’t save every puppy in the pound.

The same ‘stuff’

One bit of good news is that a great deal of the “stuff” involved in planning to hang on if CERTS fails is substantially the same “stuff” that the government will require if we get the opportunity to apply for grants and/or loans. 

We need to walk and chew gum at the same time. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best — two MAJOR cliches in one paragraph. Work on how you’re going to survive without government assistance in case that’s your only option. “Hope” is not a plan.

Other than remaining visible, supporting industry associations, pushing legislators and a bit of prayer, there isn’t much more we can do regarding CERTS. It will pass, or not. In the meantime, most efforts we make to plan for surviving without assistance will help in applications, and make us a better-run business in the future.

Sucker mission

Joe called me one night in my Colorado Springs room and asked if I had a business suit because he had a confidential mission for me. 

“Get a haircut, put on your suit, take a briefcase, and fly to Kansas City. Call me when you get there.” My 23-year-old chest was so puffed with pride at being selected, that suit coat seemed tight.

I called him from the KC airport, and he told me to take a cab to an address near the highway, and call again.

It was a truck stop, and, when I got Joe on the phone, he said that a 4104 would be arriving in moments, and they needed a relief driver. “Climb into that sucker and drive it to Colorado Springs wearing your big boy suit.”

The bus wasn’t the real sucker, I was. 

It would be folly to base all our hopes on the government. If it works,  great, but if it doesn’t, we’re going to need to pull up our big boy pants and get ’er done on our own.

Whether I was wearing a suit, or my normal cutoffs and a T-shirt, the bus needed to get to Colorado Springs.

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