Rick Exhibitionist

Episode #794

April 20, 2924

When the Disneyland Fantasyland project ends, we are all laid off.



I spend the beginning of summer on unemployment doing projects at my home in Santa Ana.

Bob looks for work and finds the Exhibit Place. He calls me up.
“I found this great company, the Exhibit Place, in a great industry. They build trade show exhibits. You get to be a cabinetmaker, electrician and plumber. They are hiring and they pay three times the carpenter union rate. Get down here right away.”

When I arrive for my interview, my other old coworkers, Roger and Terry, are already in the lobby. The foreman hires us all on the spot.

The first job I am given is to wire up a bunch of light fixtures. I have no electrical experience but am paired with an experienced exhibit builder who shows me the ropes. Learning to build modular exhibits is fun. The days fly by.

There is a low skilled troublemaker at the Exhibit Place. He has years of experience, but a history of bouncing from shop to shop. The Sign, Scene, Pictorial Painters AFLCIO union has strict seniority rules about layoffs. Management has just given pink slips to ten of us which go all the way back to our troublemaker.

The next day I am at the Anaheim Convention Center for the setup of a weekend show. The cattle call on the loading dock is not organized. The only requirement is membership in the SSPP union. The foreman calls out, “Who can drive a forklift?”

I have never driven a forklift in my life, so I raise my hand. “OK. You, you and you, over there.”
I sit in one of the forklifts and am fiddling with the levers.
The fellow in the lift next to me says, “You’ve never driven one of these, have you?”
“Nope, but I need this job.”
“It’s really not that hard. Just move that lever forward or back to drive. The other levelers control the forks.”
With a little practice I am shuttling crates from the loading dock to the booth spaces.

Monday, I look for work at a shop. Exhibitree is hiring. Fred T, the foreman, likes my experience with the Exhibit Place and hires me to start tomorrow.

Tuesday, I get a call from the Exhibit Place. The troublemaker has found a different job so they want the rest of us back. I explain that I have found another job and respectfully decline the call back.

Months of good performance on the bench has culminated in a meeting with Fred in his office.
“I need a purchasing agent, Rick. One of our clients, Apple Computer, has given us a Lisa computer. Do you think you can figure out how to use it for purchasing parts and materials.”
“Yes I can,” I say.

I am in my office, which is just a desk in a dusty loft. The Lisa glows blue. There is no Internet, but I use the graphic file and foldering system to record material requests and purchases. Everything is sorted by project. I use a spread sheet to track my activities. Little do I know that the Lisa will become one of the most influential products in my life, the Macintosh.

The purchasing job at Exhibitree was a dead end. I have switched shops and am back on the bench at Grondorf Field exhibit house. After two months I have bought my own Macintosh computer. It uses the same basic operating system as the Lisa, so I am up to speed quickly. While walking past the foreman’s office I notice that all the project planning is done on a large white board. It is common to see scribbled and erased sections of the board with dead ends and delays noted throughout.

I bring my Mac into work and walk into Mr. Grondorf’s office.
“Have you ever seen one of these?” I ask, showing him the computer.
“Yes. That is one of those new Macintosh computers.”
“There is a program on here called MacProject. It manages PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) charts. It will dynamically identify the most critical and efficient path of a project through any obstacles or changes it may encounter.”
“Can you do that?” asked Herb.
“Yes I can.”

I am now project manager for all shop projects, have an office and use my Mac to guide the shop to its highest efficiency ever. Now on salary, I am no longer a union member. It will be my responsibility to negotiate employment terms and manage my retirement without union representation or pension. I can do this.

Here, in the new facilities, the company has a new partner. The company name is now Grondorf, Field and Black (GFB). Because of the greater volume of sales brought by Mr. Black, I have been promoted to Estimator. My job is to be the liaison between the Sales, Design, Shop and Accounting departments. I am more of an ombudsman than I am an estimator. When Design draws and renders an exhibit for Sales to pitch, I work closely to be sure we can build what they propose. I estimate the project cost so there is a sale price to pitch. FileMaker database program on my Mac is a layered database whose templates allow me to write a proposal which turns into a work order and then is converted to an invoice for billing.

With the rise of the Internet, my boss instructs me to spend a couple hours every day finding out what this World Wide Web thing is and if it can benefit our company. I think that WWW must stand for Wild, Wild, West as it is a raw and unorganized place.

I also help the design and graphics departments specify Macintosh computers and the rendering software that runs on them. These computers are transitioning proposal renderings from marker drawings to electronic fly-throughs. Design argues that the newer and more powerful computers will make them more efficient. Ironically, the computers allow designers to create more “what ifs” and they are ultimately not more productive.

Running my own department leaves me to answer only to Mr. Field. He subscribes to Steve Jobs’ famous policy: “The management philosophy here really is to give people enough rope to hang themselves. We hire people to tell us what to do. That’s what we pay them for.” So far, I have not hung myself.

I have worked for GFB for 15 years. It is a full and gratifying career, but as with life, all things end.

Folio is a partnership of two investors whose goal is to acquire and roll boutique trade show exhibit houses into a national name brand. Grondorf, Field and Black have decided to sell. Not six months after buying GFB, Folio begins to pare down in preparation to sell the brand to an investment bank. Folio places a continuous improvement guru as GFB company president. I assist Perry with his reorganization techniques, also known as Toyota Production Process and Just in Time. The secret agenda is to reduce employees and make the operation attractive to sell off to a competitor. Ultimately, GFB is gutted and closed.

I am now faced with moving sideways in the Trade Show Exhibit business. There are opportunities to work for competing shops, but I choose to reinvent myself as an Apple computer consultant, the iMentor.


“Skydivers Know Why Birds Sing” by Ricki T Thues is now available on Amazon.
It is a Love story of Rick and Paula Thues and their 35 years of Skydiving.

Click HERE to buy the paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon.

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“Technically Human” by Ricki T Thues, the iMentor, is available on Amazon.
It is a compilation of selected episodes from this bLog which tell the story of Humanity through the eyes of the iMentor.

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