How I Became a Painter
Sorry in Advance for the length of this post.
How I became a painter
My parents were typical American parents who wanted their children to grow up to have the American dream. They thought that was only possible by obtaining a 4 year degree. I remember them telling me "if you want to make it in this world you need to go to college". Unfortunately I was brought up in a lower middle class household, where my parents made just enough money to preclude us from receiving grants, but not enough to fully fund a full time college program. So after high school I joined the Marine Corps in hopes that I would be able to tap into the GI Bill and the $30k for college promised in all the commercials that I remember watching. While my time in the military taught me discipline, a work ethic and many other useful lessons and skills, the one thing it did not do was pay for my college. I learned the hard way when I got out, that there are some strings attached to the GI bill and the $30k was not offered in the USMC… at that time it was $15k and you had to pay into the program, which was either not explained to me when I enlisted, or more likely I didn’t hear it. Regardless I found myself once again trying to figure out how to pay for the keys to my future success, a sheepskin to hang on the wall.
I did what I never realized would change the course of my life. I called a friend of mine from High School whose father owned a Painting Company. I figured I could paint during the day and go to college at night. It was a Union company so I had to go down to the local union hall and join their apprenticeship program. I signed on to working full time with 16 hours of class each month. All of this in addition to my night classes in college, in pursuit of my Computer Science degree. It was HARD WORK. I never looked at Painting as a career, just a means to an end. I was focused on getting my degree and getting out of “manual labor”. I never gave it a second thought, I worked, I went to class, I went to school. It took 3 years to finish my apprenticeship program, along the way I got married, bought a house, bought a car and a truck, and paid for school. I never got “rich” but I always had money. Then the day finally came when I finished my degree. I was so proud of myself, and my parents were so proud of me. Finally the day was here when I could say good bye to manual labor. I could hang up my painter’s whites, buy a suit and a tie and go make my millions.
I started working for an IT company doing tech support. I made $12.00 an hour. I had to take a big pay cut (from $21.60 per hour + benefits), but I just knew that I would be making big money soon with my degree and my new corporate wardrobe. I knew from experience that you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. I just thought I would have to tighten my belt a bit. I hated it from day one. I didn’t like the suit and tie, I didn’t really like working in the office, and I learned a lesson in one of the difference in “White Collar” and “Blue Collar”.
I was to share two stories that really helped open my eyes in life.
Back when I was painting there was a guy on the job who didn’t like me… and the feeling was more than mutual (let’s just call him Roy). Call it bad chemistry, difference of opinion or whatever you like; we just did NOT get along. He would go his way and I would go mine. We never really fought or anything we just stayed away from each other. Then one fine December day as I was getting ready to head home, I heard a pop and felt the brake pedal of my truck go to the floor. Apparently I broke a brake line. I had no idea what to do… I was a painter and not a mechanic. I jumped out of the truck and grabbed a 2x4 out of the back of the truck and shoved it under the wheels so I wouldn’t roll backwards down the hill I was “parked” on. I then did what anyone who had no idea how to work on a vehicle does… I opened the hood and stood there staring at it like I knew what I was doing. Just then “my buddy” pulled up behind me. He got out of his truck and asked what the problem was. I told him what happened and he crawled under the truck and diagnosed the problem, “you blew your brake line kid, get in my truck and let’s go get you fixed up”. I didn’t really know what to say so I jumped in and off we went to the auto parts store. Roy told me to wait in the truck so he could keep the engine running and the heater on, while he ran into the store. He bought some brake line and refused my offer to pay him for it, and we drove back to my truck. Roy crawled under the tuck on the wet ground, in December at about 6:00 PM on a Friday and fixed my break line for me. Then he pulled a couple of beers out of the bed of his truck, “winter time is nature’s refrigerator” he remarked… (which oddly makes some sort of sense) and we drank them in almost complete silence. I really didn’t know what to say to him other than “Thank you”, and I think he felt the same way. We didn’t really have anything in common other than work. After the beer I thanked him again and asked him what I owed him, and he said, “Nothing kid. Be careful on your way home… see you on Monday.” I wish I could say we became lifelong friends after that, but we didn’t. He still went his way and I went mine, but I will never forget the helping hand he gave me. He didn’t like me, but he wanted to make sure I made it home to my family, safely that night. And a thank you was good enough in return for his assistance.
When I was working at the IT Company I had a lot of friends. We would talk on break, we would go to lunch together, some of us would even hang out on the weekends once in a while. We all hated our jobs and loved to complain about them, every chance we got. I thought I was blessed to have so many people that cared about me. Then as I was leaving one Friday (they day I swear vehicles break down the most) I went to start my truck (different truck than the one with the bad brakes), and it didn’t start. By this time I knew a bit about vehicles, but I still did the standard routine, get out, open the hood, blank stare. I determined it was a bad battery (I had been down this particular road before). I grabbed my jumper cables and though “I’ll be on my way in no time”. I was wrong. I asked every “friend” I saw in the parking lot that afternoon. I had the cables in my hand and all I needed was someone to pull up next to my truck and pop their hood for a minute. They didn’t even need to get out of the car. I just needed “a jump” and that was all. Every one of my “friends” had somewhere else they had to be, they had to get on the road. I heard every excuse from “My car isn’t strong enough” and “I want to get on the road before rush hour” to “my car is under warranty and I can’t open the hood or it will be voided”. Every one told me the same thing, “Go ask security”. By this time I was mad. I tried to “go ask security” but apparently security was trying to get home too… they left at 4:30, and now at quarter to five I found myself standing in an almost empty parking lot while my “friends” tried to avoid eye contact as they sped off to start their weekend. I ended up walking to a gas station to call my dad from a pay phone, because by this time the building was locked and I could not get back to my desk to call. My dad had to drive an hour in heave traffic to jump my truck so I could drive home and put in a new battery. As I was waiting, back in my truck with no air conditioner or radio I had some time for reflection. I thought about almost two years earlier when Roy stayed after work and crawled under my truck in the middle of December under a setting sun to fix my breaks. A guy I didn’t really get along with. And here I sit in corporate America after having just been abandoned by the “friends” I went to lunch with earlier that day, waiting for a jump from my dad. I think I made my mind up that day. I was much happier in “Blue Collar America”. I enjoyed breaking a sweat, and going home with sore muscles, but with a sense of accomplishment. I missed the joking around and the good times we had while working our butts off. I missed the pay, and the benefits. And I really missed working with my hands. I was going to go back to painting, where I felt more like myself, where I didn’t have to pretend that I was someone more important than I was… where I could just be a guy on a crew working with the other guys to get the job done. I stayed at that company about another month.
So where did I go from there? My family and I moved to Florida. My wife had an opportunity to move with the hotel she was working at to a new property and be on the opening team. I was ready for a change and wanted to get back into the trades, so off we went. It is not easy to just pack up and start a new life somewhere else, but we faced it head on. I went to the Union hall in Orlando and asked if they were looking for painters and once again started at the bottom. I went to work at Disney World as a painter. My first day back in the trades was HARD. I used muscles that I hadn’t used in a couple of years and when I went home I went right to bed. But I LOVED the feeling. I soon became a foreman, and ran the nightshift at Epcot. I started volunteering at the Union Hall and shortly thereafter I was asked if I wanted to work part time in the training department, helping to train the next generation of painters. Fast-forward a couple of years and I am now the Training Director for the Florida Finishing Trades Institute. We train Painters, Glaziers, Drywall Finishers, Wall Coverers, Tradeshow and Convention Workers, Scenic Artists, Faux Finishers, Certified Industrial Coating Applicators, and Floor Covering Installers in our 5 training centers (soon to be 6) in the state.
The GREAT thing is I am still in the trade and I get to watch people who have never touched a can of paint in their lives develop into a craftsman that can earn into the 6 figure income bracket. I have always been able to pay my bills and provide for my family through painting. I am blessed that I am able to give back to the trade that has given me so much. This is an honorable trade and I truly owe so much to it. I am proud to be a painter, I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish and where I am in my life right now. I am happy the direction I’m going. I’m glad that I am on the right career path for me. And what makes me really proud is when my son and daughter are old enough to decide if they want to go to college or into the trades, I will be able to pay for their school should they choose that. And if they decide to choose the path I have taken in the trades, I will be just as proud as if they became doctors, lawyers or anything else. I will fully support their decision and let them know that trade work is as honorable and lucrative as almost any other.
Well, welcome here APR - welcome to mikeroweWORKS. My aunt always wanted to better her skills at faux finishes and mural work - this is an interesting read to be sure.
Thanks for spending all the time to share that with us. Hope to see y'all around here more!
Welcome to mrW!
Great account of how you got into the trades. We appreciate you posting about it and for joining us here at mrW.
Your story will inspire a lot of folks, sure did me.
Really appreciate it.
Welcome to mrW!
Great first post, Apruesing.
Hope you stick around and add more.
Interesting thing in the evolution of Faux Finishing… Everything used to be a slow process with lots of steps and dry time between each one. It literally could take days to “faux finish” a room or a project. With a lot of the new glazes that have come out everything is production based. Contractors can still charge about the same price per square foot and get it… but because of the MUCH higher production rates the jobs are worth a lot more and are quite a bit easier to complete. In turn applicators are easier to train and the do-it-yourselfer can come quite close to the quality that a contractor can. When I learned to marbleize I could literally spend days on a 10x10 wall. With the advancement in today’s products I can do a realistic marble finish on an entire room in a few hours. It is one of the few, higher end aspects of “Coatings Work” that has actually gotten easier and less technical.
Originally Posted by ModSammy