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Returning to my first love - part 5: Signs II

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

Everything is a two-edged sword.

This is one of those examples of what I am convinced is the providential hand of God. I never would have been able to do this on my own. So some background info... Back in high school during my late freshman to junior year, I was in a rock band which played semi-regularly at school functions/dances/weddings/festivals etc... It was an incredible amount of fun, the most social I have ever been in my life, and full of lessons about human nature, egos, and just how weird the untempered right side of the brain can be. Since we needed to keep a running list of 50+ songs at any time we practiced 2-3 times a week, taking turns at several member's homes for the sake of the host parent's sanity. I think my house was the most popular because my mom always fed us tacos. She made good tacos! So one day in my garage I decided to paint the band's name large on the wall taking up most of it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that was the planted seed that would grow the rest of my career.

Sadly, not long after graduating high school my parents split up. My dad moved to the next town over and my mom stayed in the house until it was sold. I was starting college and just married at the time and suffering the dread of the architectural experience (see previous article) and looking for something to do that I could live with. After the house went up for sale I received a call from my mom that the buyer (Roger) worked in the sign industry and noticed the logo on the wall and wanted to talk to me. Instantly, I called him and he took me to the shop he began working at in Valparaiso (Hawkeye signs). That shop had 2 separate parts. Commercial and electric signs. Roger was starting the electric side and thought I'd be perfect for the commercial side to begin with due to the artistic aspects. The first time they didn't need anyone in either side so it was mostly a visit of disappointment but at least I knew where to focus efforts for future employment!

A month or two later Roger calls back and this time I start my first day in the sign business, albeit on the electric sign side. I like commercial better, but wanted to learn both anyway so all was good. I am so glad I did. My first day on the job was trim-capping 12" serif letters - manually (there were no automated machines then) for the Broadmoor cafe in Merrillville. If you're a sign person you understand what a pain that is, but I think it was a test and I passed with flying colors and from that point knew this was my career industry and rest as they say, is history.

After 2 years there due to poor management issues, I went on to another shop in Portage called Ri-Co signs. This particular shop was smaller and did a lot of industrial signage (steel mill stuiff), painting, silk screening, and the owner Chuck was an older gentleman and one of the last in the area who still did hand-lettering with paint instead of the new-fangled vinyl and cutters that were just emerging onto the market. (remember the Gerber 4B?) It was a really awesome symbiotic relationship as I wanted Chuck to teach me hand-lettering and he wanted me to teach him the 'newfangled computer stuff'. Chuck was one of my most favorite people in the world and was a huge influence on me both to the craft as well as an inspiration to one day be an owner of a sign shop when I got older. He was funny as hell! Wise as a fox, and resourceful to a fault. You can tell the difference between someone who is just in the sign business and someone who has the sign business within them. He was the latter. He wanted me to take over the business as he was planning on retiring soon but my home life situation was the complete opposite of his which made that impossible to even consider. However, the image of what it could be remained in my mind even until this day. You see, Chuck and his wife Gail had a really neat system and to me was an agent of bonding between people that I've rarely seen. They were a team in love with their work and each other. Chuck came in early and did his 'phone stuff' to get out of the way so we could get the production going when I got in. After a little while Gail would come in and start on lettering hard-hats and office work, and we'd be working and often laughing at the same time. Chuck would leave for a few hours in the afternoon for a nap (best idea ever!) and when back Gail would go out and do her thing for awhile. And in the evening the two of them would be working in the shop - watching TV and conversing while doing so the whole time. I liked working late there! That seemed much more appealing to me than merely entertaining one's self to death in front of the TV every evening. So for quite a while it was just the 3 of us, and it was a great time indeed.

So what happened? Well, that's for the next article.

Be well, and love much.

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