As the COVID-19 crisis has brought the industry to a standstill, Jeff Goldwasser has stayed connected to his clients with a weekly Wednesday call, Buses & Beer. During this virtual bar night, he hears what’s on the minds of motorcoach operators and vendors.
“I realized that people were going to their office and doing absolutely nothing and then they went home and would sit and worry,” the Amaya-Astron Seating sales rep said. “Wednesday evening is helping to soften the week.”
He gives credit to UMA’s weekly online Town Hall sessions for providing some of the inspiration. Goldwasser saw there was a need for vendors and operators to come together for conversations on lighter subjects that weren’t centered around understanding PPP and EIDL loans, and other nuts-and-bolts survival issues covered during the Town Hall sessions.
Blowing off steam
This weekly virtual bar night lets people blow off steam, tell stories and let down their guard. There are lots of laughs and bonding.
What began as roughly 15 people during the first session in April has more than doubled. The Zoom calls — which bring together people across four time zones — have grown from two- to five-hour sessions. There’s now a Facebook group and a logo is being developed that will go on a T-shirt. He’s working with vendors on the costs so everyone who has participated can get one.
He hasn’t turned down anyone who has asked to join the group, although a few have been put on a waiting list first because there has been so much interest. He tries to keep attendance to about 30.
Goldwasser grew up in the motorcoach industry, working in his family’s coach and tour company in New York. He is board vice president of the Bus Association of New York and a board member of the American Bus Association Foundation.
He recently invited me to join the women-only call on the 14th session. It began with a 7:30 p.m. roll call. He conducted a second roll call about halfway through to ask everyone what they were drinking. With this particular group, the drinks were more wine and cocktails than beer.
As the sessions have grown longer, Goldwasser has instituted a short 9 p.m. intermission so everyone can take a bathroom break without feeling like they were going to miss something.
“It’s a social industry, and we miss the interaction with everyone,” he said, trying to explain the success. Still, even he is surprised by the response. “It’s like a phenomenon.”
He usually asks a mix of business and personal questions. On this night, the questions include: Who still uses print brochures? Who has a CDL? What’s your next tattoo? What have you always wanted to do on a bus? (And yes, it went there.)
People have told him that his weekly calls are saving their sanity during a time their lives feel upside down.
A distributor for Amaya-Astron Seating and other products, Goldwasser says the sessions are not a marketing ploy but he’s not afraid to throw in a question about the product.
“I’m not there selling anything. It’s there to build relationships,” said Goldwasser. “There are people that have forged friendships from these calls that never knew each other, and they now talk to each other all the time now, because they met on these calls.”
Some say his attentive and fun hosting skills remind them of the former talk show host Merv Griffin, a TV staple during the 1960s-1980s.
“You ask some tough questions and then you ask some light stuff, and you get people to loosen up,” Goldwasser said. “Like I said, there’s been a lot of stuff done on an Amaya seat that I thought was never done before.”
He added to the fun, sharing his own revelations. There are rumors he was conceived on a bus, but his parents aren’t around to confirm it.
And he admits to religiously watching TLC reality show Say Yes To The Dress. One reason is that cast member Lisa Fuhrman is a high school friend. They ate lunch together every day.
“I enjoy watching Say Yes To The Dress; don’t judge me,” he said.
The all-female session was different from the rest, partly because the women were an easy crowd, according to Goldwasser.
“You get from-the-heart answers. Women do show the feelings more than men,” Goldwasser said, adding that they also liked “edginess, and they wanted me to go there a few times.”
He hopes to continue the sessions once life returns to normal.
Guests have included UMA CEO Larry Killingsworth and Greyhound Lines COO Bill Blankenship.
Among the frequent guests are The Starline Collection CEO Gladys Gillis, California Bus Association Treasurer Kevin Creighton, Kim Grzywacz, co-owner of CIT Signature Transportation, and Connie Giddens, co-owner of Pacific Coachways Trailways.
West Coast operators have learned to multitask when on the call since it starts in the late afternoon. Giddens once called in while driving to a family vacation in Lake Powell, while Gillis can be seen walking her dog while on the calls.
Sandy Borowsky, vice president of Starr, compares the online gatherings to a trip to Las Vegas, noting during the women-only call, “What happens on Buses & Beers stays on Buses & Beer.”