So the 18-wheeler pulled up in front of the office about 5 p.m. – the beginning of rush hour, especially these days on Ga. 9 going north. The traffic was heavy and getting heavier. Inside the truck were three months’ worth of newspaper bags – about 1.2 million.
A young driver, who happened to be African-American, gets out of the truck – floppy hat, white shirt, pleasant look on his face – and we talked for a few minutes about how in the heck he is going to back up that big truck into our parking lot with all this traffic. He is not too concerned, though.
“I mean, once I am blocking all four lanes, what are they going to do? Not stop?”
He had a point and, yes, I thought that is about the drill every three months. So I stood out on the road and signaled traffic to stop while he maneuvered the truck back and forth a few times and finally got into the parking lot and to the back where we proceeded to unload the bags.
He asked me what in the heck the boxes were and I explained that we publish newspapers and those were bags to deliver the papers. He nodded his head but I could tell he didn’t really understand exactly what I did.
“All those boxes?” he asked. I nodded my head and he thought a minute. “You must make a lot of money,” he said with a quizzical look in his eyes.
I smiled and then told him that newspapers used to be very profitable and that a lot of newspaper owners used to make a lot of money. Then I told him that the business is still an OK business but you just have to work three times harder than ever and, unfortunately, it is not as profitable as it used to be.
“How long you been doing this business?” he asked.
I looked at him – he was barely as old as my youngest kid. “Since before you were born,” I replied. He looked like he didn’t believe me.
“What year?” he asked.
I replied, “1990,” and he grinned.
“Yep, you were doing it two years before I was born," he said. Then it looked like he had an idea and said, “You got any advice for me? I want to buy a truck this year and then buy another one next year and hire someone to drive it and then buy another. I want to retire by the time I am 32 – in 10 years.”
I told him I would need to think about it and we unloaded the rest of the boxes. “So, I guess I do have a couple of ideas for you,” I told him after the last pallet was unloaded. “I’ll give you two things that no one ever gave me. The first one is that everything goes in cycles – work, weather, the economy, friends, good times, bad times, luck, love – you name it.
“So you may be just killing it,” I told him, “and buying one truck after another one, but you need to remember that the days of great business never last and at some point you will hit a downturn.” His expression said he didn’t understand what I was talking about.
“You know, like in 2008 when the world banking system collapsed and the country came within an inch or two of going into a depression worse than 1929,” I told him. “I am sure that truck owners had a hard time finding cargo to transport for a while.” His face registered exactly zero perception of the events of 2008 – nothing. I started to tell him that a whole group of people in this country had forgotten that, too, but I thought better of it. So I just told him that he needed to trust me on this one and that the second piece of advice I had for him was that, after he bought the third truck, he needed to stop buying any more trucks until he had saved enough money to pay all his business and personal bills for at least a year. That is, he needed to have a reserve to fall back on in the event his business hit a down cycle – one full year.
Finally, I saw the glimmer of perception in his eyes. We connected. I gave him a $30 tip and wished him luck then headed back to my office.
About halfway there I stopped, turned around and walked back to him and asked him his name.
"Anthony," he said with surprise. I reached back into my pocket and handed him my business card. He had a curious look.
"I want you to call me when you buy your third truck."
The grin on his face was instant, then confidant. He didn't have to say anything. I got a feeling I'll get that call.