Wasted Time Blues (and Pinks)

It was back during the cold war, when I was a boy growing up in the sixties, that I remember sitting on our concrete porch beating some grains of sand with a brick. My mother happened by, and spying my strange behavior asked, “Ricky Williams, what in the world are you doing?”

Without any hesitation, I replied, “I’m going to smash me an atom an’ blow this place to bits!”

Now, after all the paranoia about atomic bomb attacks that we all grew up with, I assume it was just some fleeting fatalistic fantasy that caused me act in such a strange way, and to my surprise, my mother did not appear to be worried about me or the impending explosion. I can’t imagine I was actually dealing with an overload of juvenile frustration.

But, though I hate to complain when I have much to be thankful for, I have to admit that I seem to have plenty of frustration now. This chronic level of frustration has come from the same source for just about all of my adult life, and year after year the root cause of it for me is the inescapable inefficiency of running a commercial sign shop.

Since I like the work we do at Rick’s Sign Co., and the work I do personally each week, I put up with this constant level of irritation, but stay annoyed at my “seasoned veteran” self for having no real solution to it.

I remember Kelly Shadox, a sign maker several years ahead of me, from just over in Gladewater, Texas, stopping in my modest little sign-shop-shack early on and telling me that his daily challenge was working at actually making signs more than 50 percent of the time, since the rest of the time he was being interrupted in a variety of ways. Just starting out I could not relate. But within a few years I knew all too well what he was talking about.

And that, fellow sign makers, was back around 10 B.C. — that is “before computers,” which was before emails, even before faxes, cell phones, texts, or anything like that. Nowadays, people from all directions, using multiple devices, can pile stuff into my workday, which will shoot to you-know-where any schedule or plan that I might have.

Why not just let it all wait until the next day? And then have twice as much to follow up on then, and three times as much the day after that? That does not seem to work for me.

Even though each day I say I will not be distracted and led down the yellow brick road of wasted shop time, here are some of the ways it happens from just the last day or two. Like, the sweet lady at a local school district’s non-profit organization, who directs their two or three fundraisers each year, signs provided and charged for by us, adding one more sponsor’s logo to the dozen she sent last week, half of which were junk.

And this one today tied the previous shop record for lowest resolution .jpg file ever been tossed our way at 7kb in size. Take an image like that into PhotoShop, and you can try whatever you want with it. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a dad-blamed pig.

And no, I did not fix it for free (like the last six), but wasted precious time explaining why it was not going to be used, and asking her to send me something, anything, at least marginally better than that.

Or Fred, the Harley-riding ex-Marine, who decorates his black cruiser with art relating to his battalion’s long history of courage and sacrifice, which we do as cheap as we can, but trying to configure a hundred names and ranks his unit’s casualties and M.I.A.s and make it readable and artistic and not spend the entire day on it, is totally beyond me.

And, Sofie, who’s teenage daughter is rather suddenly having her first baby, came in needing a custom and oversized Coroplast sign, in floral pinks and pastel purples, for the baby shower coming up this Saturday, something really pretty and baby girlish, and on a very tight budget you understand. Happy to do it, don’t go anywhere else, but Sharon don’t hold supper for me, sweetie, it’s going to be another long night.

Oh, after 44 years I am still up to it, and, as I said, actually enjoy the work (except for this feeling stupid part). So, take this “Trenches” as light as you can, since I really am thankful. Any of us should be, since Nakita Khrushchev could have brought it all to an end, in one big bang way back in ’63.

I hope your career is as long and eventful as mine, but with a bit less stress, shorter hours and higher profits. And since you probably have the time, send me an email and tell me how you do it. I always have time for emails like that. Have a great month.


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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