In the Trenches: Alright, Good Night

I never planned to be a sign man, but neither have I determined what else I should have done. But it is possible I could have been a teacher, and I’ve done a lot of it. Seminars and workshops I’ve taught by the dozens, but especially I’ve taught a lot of classes at church, both for kids and for adults, and I’ve enjoyed doing it.

Right now, and for nearly a decade, I’ve been the leader of a large class of mostly seniors, and I’ve cultivated many good friendships with people who are older and wiser than I am. I’ve grown to love and respect many of them, but Mr. Pinson is one of my favorites. He is well up into his 80s, Ph.D. smart, and still sharp as a tack.

One Sunday morning just before class I asked him how he was doing. When he responded with a less than convincing, “Well, I’m alright,” I knelt down by his chair, looked him straight in the eye,  and asked him once more. His face brightened a bit, and he said, “Oh, I really am alright. But ‘alright’ doesn’t mean what it used to mean.”

Yep, I’ll bet when you’re nearly 90, “alright” is a subjective term. And just this past Sunday, it was a subjective term for me too.

At Rick’s Sign Co., Rick still works. A lot. And it had been one of those memorable weeks that extended way beyond quitting time on Friday. In fact, on Friday around 6 p.m., I picked up my helper and nephew Jeremy, and started out on an install that could easily have been an all-day affair, and the day, or at least the “daylight” part, was just about over.

A few weeks before, after sitting on a bid for a year, Travonda Satterwhite, half owner of Satterwhite Log Homes, and wife of my good friend, Sammy, gave me the go ahead to make a large and very custom sign to go up on the wide porch roof of one of their buildings. This log building would be involved in their annual subcontractor homecoming and training session held on a Saturday and attended by a couple of hundred folks important to them.

I was concerned that making and installing this attractive but complex sign would come down to the wire, and at 10 p.m. Friday night, Jeremy and I — and my little bucket truck — were up on that job, working by LED lights hung around our necks when Sammy Satterwhite showed up.

He got out of his truck, smiled, and said, “Rick Williams, you are crazy!”

“Takes one to know one,” I responded. “Besides, I’m just doing what you’ve been doing for the last 40 years or so, working like mad man just trying to keep Travonda happy!” He laughed and said he would volunteer to help but his days of climbing around on roofs were over. Mine weren’t, and it was a little after 2 a.m. when the old Ford 1-ton delivered me to my house, almost on auto pilot, as I was nearly asleep.

Bright and early the next morning, Saturday, I was back at work on a major project around the shop, and didn’t get out on the road to my next install until after 4 p.m., and this one was further out of town and would take a while too. The project was putting up a nice set of powder coated aluminum letters on the front of a rural church building, which I’d promised to have up before Sunday service. This one I would do alone out of my one-man bucket truck.

That project was delayed by my leaving four of the glossy brown letters back at the shop, requiring an unplanned break and an impromptu trip to meet Sharon half way home, and then driving back and working non-stop to finish a bit before midnight. But, later I was told that the next morning the  little church was all abuzz over their lovely new letters, the completion of which accenting a previously un-accented building, and put another of my deadlines to rest.

There was little rest for this old sign maker/bible school teacher when I showed up on time to teach my class that same Sunday morning. And this time, when Mr. Pinson asked me how I was doing, I told him.

I said that I was doing alright… but “alright” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

Some days are like that, here “in the trenches.”


Rick Williams

Rick Williams owns Rick's Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business, Sign & Digital Graphics, and GRAPHICS PRO since 1986. Contact Rick via email at ricksignco@aol.com.

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