Sunday, June 7, 2009

The cheese stands alone

Back in 1975 I was working at the donut shop day shift. Working days gave me the dubious pleasure of working with the patriarch of Arlenes Donuts.....the old man himself. Even though technically it was his son who really ran the place, the old man came in for a few hours some days to instill some dicipline to the newer employees , like myself. One day I was cutting onions to be used for the many hamburgers served to all the police and drunks that would come in on graveyard future . As I was cutting my way through a 50 lb. bag of the San Juaquin's finest, I accidently knocked a few chunks on the floor, to which the old man screamed at me:" Don't drop those onions, Paul...onions are expensive !" . Actually, these onions cost 50 cents a bag....a 50 lb. bag , to be exact. I had the knife in my hand...I could have cut the old bastards head off right then , but I didn't. My point here is that I hate hypocritical tyrants....probably why I work for myself. I may on occasion be a hypocrite, but I am not tyrant....ask anybody who currently works for me. Hmmm, right now that's nobody so there is no argument to the contrary. Seriously, though-there are some bosses who might be better off not being bosses as they make the workday a living hell for the whole crew. I did a stint at a company, and I use that term in the loosest sense. The boss was a visionary, a guy with a lot of ideas and a great intellect. One thing he didn't have was any people skills at all. I was brought in to do production brazing-it seemed that nobody in his crew had the knowhow and the guy who came by occasionally to do the work was pretty much unreliable, another way of saying that maybe he had another life that was more important to him than working the torch at ********* bicycles. So there I was, brazing all afternoon, trying to please this boss as I admired him and considered him a good friend. After brazing dropouts into forkblades for about 3 hours I almost jumped out of my shoes....somebody had hit the bench with a large rubber mallet and had hit it really hard. I had my goggles on and a lit torch in my hand, I could have burned myself and/or somebody else....including the boss. Shaken , I turned off the torch and pulled off my goggles to see the boss standing next to me. He said : "I needed to get your attention.". I asked what the problem was. The boss said that I was burning too much flux and causing more cleanup work than necessary. I handed him the torch and asked for a demo on the way to avoid burning flux. The boss took up the torch, deftly lit it and began to braze in a dropout. When he was done with his demo there was every bit as much burned flux on his work as there was on mine. Upon finishing he said : " I'm out of practice....there would have been no burnt flux if I had been brazing recently." That was enough for me to decide that this particular employer was not my cup of tea and the next day I announced my intention to never again darken his door , which I believe I haven't. I really set out to be a good employee and a good asset to this boss , even though I had a lot of my own work at my shop building my own frames for my own customers. Just like the donut shop I was put in my supposed place by a petty tyrant, a person who was lacking in people skills but was not lacking in the hot air department. Framebuiding is a trade that is attracting a lot of folks as of late and I for one am glad of it, inspite of what I see as some misled enthusiasm. It is my great hope that the companies that hire these new excited and inspired folks do not abuse them and cultivate them to become valuable to the industry and the customers. Without a supportive industry for these new folks our craft will die with us and all the bikes that people ride will come from a country where labor is cheap, abused and treated as expendable. Much as I may stand here on my virtual soapbox and decry what I don't like in current trends in framebuilding, it isn't because I want folks to fail.....I want everyone to flourish. I put out there what I know has worked to keep me employed as a fulltime framebuilder for over 21 years. What I say might sound like a bunch of opinions to some but it is undisputable that I'm still here, still busy and very happy to keep at my job as long as people want what I build. Hobbyists can do this craft for themselves-I was a hobby builder for 9 years. Fulltimers have a greater responsability.....we have to make other folks happy, not just ourselves. Figure that out and you might have a future in this crazy job.

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