in the trenches

In the Trenches: The Great Escape

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 since 1986. Contact Rick via e-mail at ricksignco@aol.com.

The way they flew, it was a more a gaggle of small aircraft than an actual formation. Some of the pilots were friends of mine, and most were flying airplanes they had built themselves. The trip they were on was from Crockett, Texas, out west to Kerrville, to spend the weekend swapping lies at a popular Texas fly-in/camp out.

To keep from leaving anyone behind, they put the slowest plane out front, which happened to be flown by the oldest member of their group, a man affectionately known as “Pop,” and he was flying a little one-seater parasol powered by a modified Volkswagen engine.

This was before GPS, and Pop was navigating by highways, and as they approached the east side of Athens, Texas, suddenly he banked hard right, turning north, and after a half-mile or so he started a very wide turn to the left for two or three miles. Then he banked right again making a 90-degree turn back to a westerly heading and kept flying along at a leisurely pace, the only pace the little craft could muster.

Few of the planes had radios, but even the ones that did have them said nothing. They were along for the ride, in no hurry at all and everyone was in a good mood. This was their great escape, a long weekend away from work, bosses, kids, wives, everything. Pop was retired, but most were not, and they’d have to be back at work on Monday morning. But a trip like this, as long as the weather and their little engines held up, was just pure fun.

When they reached their first fuel stop, and all had to take turns at the pump before continuing their trip, someone spoke up and asked, “Hey, Pop. What was that maneuvering you were doing back around Athens all about? For a few minutes, we thought you’d decided to head up to Dallas!”

“Oh, that didn’t mean anything, not anything at all. Just whenever I go through Athens, I always take the loop around town.”

That was told to me as a true story, about a man who couldn’t break his routine, even if what he was doing was anything but. One thing is for sure, we all need a great escape sometimes, to get away from our routines, even if the escape is a brief one. Those of us in the commercial sign business are certainly no exception.  

As self-employed, hands-on people, every day we’re dealing with multiple deadlines, annoying interruptions, challenging clients and sometimes challenging employees. And if we don’t get away from time to time the stress can add up. Like my friends in the previous story, for me getting away from the stress that’s adding up, very often means going up.

I’ve been flying since way back when I was young and good looking (yes, that far back), and I’ve owned three small planes over the years. None of these were Lear Jets, let me assure you. In fact, each one cost less than the truck I was driving at the time, and today I share the expenses of an older Piper Cherokee with my son Slade.

That’s what works for me, but the escape mechanism is different for each of us. For my dad, who ran two or three small businesses before finally working in mine, bass fishing was the thing that took him away from the daily grind. And he was diligent about it, once bragging to me that he went five years at a stretch without missing his Thursday fishing trip, except for one Thursday that happened to fall on Christmas, and he was none too happy about that.

For others, it may be biking, camping, gardening, or golfing. I considered being a golfer myself, but soon found I could afford the green fee, but not the cost of all the balls I hit into the water traps. For the kind of golf I played, I’d have to come to the country club wearing a polo shirt over my wetsuit!

The sign business, though it has plenty of challenges, is seldom boring. And that’s a good thing. But that does not mean a brief spell away from the shop isn’t worthwhile, and many of mine are pretty brief indeed. It may be a Saturday morning, a Thursday afternoon, or just part of an afternoon. Why, even an hour or two is long enough to view God’s green earth from high above for a little while, then drop in for a smooth landing at the Greater Morris County Regional Airport, a half-mile piece of grass growing asphalt in the middle of a cow pasture 10 miles from town… a two red light town… quiet and wonderful.

Well, that’s my kind of escape, and I hope you have one you like as much. Having a special activity that you get to enjoy from time to time is great for your mental health and mine, too. Actually, kind of like making love, having a great pastime you really enjoy may not be a part of every day, but just knowing that before too long you’ll get to do it again will keep a smile on your face, even when you’re hard at work.

By far, being hard at work is what I do the most of, and that’s probably the case with you, too. I hope your shop is doing well, and staying really busy, but not too busy for finding a little fun time, too. Have a great month