Sunday, August 14, 2011

So who's next ?

I realized something the other day. It appears that all single-man shops in any craft breed a few traits in the proprietor eventually. One of them is isn't the overriding theme of most crafts peoples lives but it is there and I can pretty much tell you where I think it comes from-building stuff by yourself. Maybe it is because so much stuff that people buy is made far away by people they don't know....people who generally do not use the product they are making every day and know little about it , other than what it takes to manufacture it. Maybe we who are one-man shops are bitter as we have to know what it takes to not only build things but also what one endures when there isn't anybody else to pick up the slack.
Essentially, we live in a life without slack. But wait-when you work for yourself you can set your own hours, right ? can work as much as you need to , which could be 16 hours a day if there's lots of work and lots of bills to pay. It really isn't like what most people who work regular jobs think-idyllic shop with a pot of coffee on all the time, pleasant classical music wafting through the immaculate and serene little olde shoppe with all the lovely pampered tools , each in it's own hallowed place always sharp, always clean and always at the ready. That is total bullshit. That's a mental picture of a shop where nothing happens and nothing gets built- It's a myth.
What isn't a myth is the reality of scraping out a living by taking steel, titanium, aluminum, carbon, bamboo, wood or whatever and building something that really works well. Heck, it could even be an artistic statement that works long as it works.
As of the last four years I have been teaching an annual class in framebuilding at United Bicycle Institute. I do this because I not only have to convey the skills that I have learned , I also have to tear down the myth about being in business for yourself, particularly the business of building custom bicycle frames. What it is is hard work-showing up when you would rather be riding. Showing up when the unheated shop is colder than a well-diggers ass. Showing up to fix all the stuff you botched the day before.......and liking it just about all the time. Essentially, you have to like more than the process of building frames-you have to be able to make the whole chaotic swirling mass of shit that is a small business work , and you must do it without getting too bitter. You might think to yourself : " Hey, how the heck did I get into this mess ?" Just look in the mirror and laugh at the fool who suckered you into this crap. That in itself is a reason to be bitter, that you have succeded in taking your life and making it into a situation where all the responsibility is in yours and you have to be present and accounted for all the time. No calling in making excuses, it's all on you.
This is what I go over with students on the last day of class. United Bicycle Institute does not sugar coat the whole job-search or the 'new framebuilder on the block' story at all. What is presented is a realistic picture of what is possible and what is unlikely-Education without honesty is a total waste of time.
So......armed with the information that I have just imparted here, who will be the next generation of framebuilders ?