Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Masters of illusion

Who needs Vegas? I think David Copperfield has been working some illusionary magic in the state of Alabama.

It seems that someone has kept a 300-mile toll road project hidden from public view for some time. Only a master of illusion like the guy who made the Statue of Liberty disappear and then reappear could perform a trick like that.

But a company called Ameri-Metro came forward this week, claiming to have been awarded a contract to begin building the $7 billion toll road as soon as next year. It would stretch from Orange Beach on the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee state line and include a railroad, an airport, an inland port, and industrial parks to boot.

Trouble is, the Alabama Department of Transportation knows nothing about the project or the company. Nada. Zilch. Never heard of it.

Ameri-Metro’s announcement hit everyone like a Copperfield reveal this week. Their trade secret of how they did it remains a mystery. The York, PA, company claims to have inked the deal with a quasi-governmental agency called Alabama Toll Facilities.

The state Legislature created Alabama Toll Facilities in 1993 to administer the Huntsville Toll Bridge and Highway Project. The agency’s duties are limited in scope. Ameri-Metro claims that a 2007 state law signed by Gov. Bob Riley gives Alabama Toll Facilities the right to sign the toll road deal in question.

It’s anyone’s guess how Ameri-Metro got this far without anyone picking up on their plan. After all, it would be one of the largest and most ambitious toll roads in North American history. To get a job like that done requires a lot more than smoke and mirrors.

Land Line Now called the company but reached an answering machine and was asked to leave a message at the beep. Another act of stealth, perhaps?

We do know this. If this project does somehow advance, toll opponents and landowners are going to wish it was just an illusion.

If the road builders do indeed have Copperfield on their side, perhaps the opponents could counter with Criss Angel to try and make this thing disappear for good.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Creative thinking, aka left-handed logic

If you are going to be an owner-operator in the trucking world, that is a true o/o who becomes the one who makes business decisions, is responsible for repairs, maintenance, etc. If you are the one who spends your money as opposed to having escrow accounts, settlement deductions, and someone else making those decisions and then doling out whatever is left – then being able to think outside the box can be a handy skill.

I call this “left-handed logic.”

You are going to have things happen that make you want scream. Maybe it’s an outrageous repair bill, getting stiffed by a broker, or doing something really stupid yourself that costs you a bundle (been there, done that many times). It won’t help any to come factory-unglued. 

That’s when I get that left-handed logic out, go around, and at look at it from the other side.

What worked for me in a lot of these types of situations was “well, at least it’s a tax write-off.” That logic was kind of like a pressure relief valve. After all, that’s part of the game – sleep inside, eat every day, take care of your family, pay your bills, and try to pay as little income tax as possible.

We are taxed to death everywhere else big time, and income tax is about only one you can influence. Get a good, honest accountant that will get out there in the gray areas and butt heads with those IRS guys and come out on top.

Several years ago when I was pulling tankers, three or four of us were sitting in a company terminal in Philadelphia on a Friday and this young driver had a problem. He was in a lease-purchase arrangement with the company, and part of his deal was that he was charged 30 cents per mile for all miles.

His dilemma was he wanted to deadhead to his home terminal 300 miles away. He could then be home with the family for the weekend and could load there on Monday instead of waiting until Monday to load in Philly. He figured with mileage charge and fuel it would cost him $160 to go home.

Enter left-handed logic. I asked him what he expected to gross per mile at the end of the year. He said “ a dollar a mile.” I said, “If you drive those 300 miles home today, they will be included in that dollar a mile figure. It looks to me like you will be making a buck a mile going to the house.”

I don’t really know if this really makes any sense, but he was off the yard in 20 minutes headed for mama’s house.

One time when I was doing tow away, seven or eight of us were in Phoenix, AZ. On one of those occasions there just wasn’t any freight. We were all together in a truck stop and the only thing being offered was a loaded trailer in Fresno going to Houston – which had a very good rate on it, but the company wasn’t offering any money to bobtail the 600 miles to Fresno. I was down near the bottom on the first-in first-out list.

The first driver turned it down. And as dispatch called each driver, everyone in turn passed. By the time they called me I already knew the details and had a chance to apply my logic. I figured the amount the load paid, decided how much I should have for bobtailing 600 miles, and what was left over. It still made for a decent line haul, Fresno to Houston … “I’ll take it.”

You don’t have to take everything at face value. Sometimes just getting a sideways look at a situation can justify your decision.

Baseball legend Casey Stengel, a man who founded his own form of logic, once said, “I’ve made my decision but I made it both ways.”

I could always relate to that.