July '22

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1 0 G R A P H I C S P R O J U L Y 2 0 2 2 G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M CALIFORNIA WONDER IN THE TRENCHES R I C K W I L L I A M S I t was way back in the '80s. My young family and I drove to Big D and crashed at Sharon's aunt's house. We had gotten there in time for a visit, but I went to bed early because the next day would be a big one for me. I was going to California, and I had never been there before. It would be a whirlwind trip starting way before the crack of dawn: driving to DFW, getting in the skies about breakfast time and on the West Coast by lunch. For a very young sign maker from East Texas, this was an adventure, and I was going there to see something truly amazing and unheard of in the his- tory of sign making. Still dark, I kissed my wife awake, said my goodbye, and headed to the airport. It was magic to me just to be flying in the reliable Boeing 727 fresh from the factory. What a bird! I noticed in the back of the seat in front of me was a telephone. I asked the attendant, "You mean for five bucks you can call any where in the country while zooming along at 500 miles an hour at this alti- tude?" She answered, "Yes, sir. You sure can." I decided right then to call my grandfather and let him now he had relatives in high places, and he barely believed me when I told him where I was calling from. "Yep, Pepaw, I'm headed to California. But, from 40,000 feet we're still con- nected." Amazing how communication had changed in my grandfather's lifetime. By contrast, the sign business (at least how lettering was done) had not changed since the pyramids. We landed in Ontario mid-morning, and not too long after that, I had a rental car and hit the road. It was green in the winter in California, beautifully green and lush. I loved those freeways — in the middle of the morning, any way. Even without GPS, I had little trouble navigat- ing my way all the way across LA, barely missed a turn, and knew exactly where I wanted to go and could not believe how quickly I got there. The destination was the Disneyland Hotel, another special place near the Magic Kingdom, and magic was in the air. I had to go through registration, get the badge and the whole routine, then headed to see what everyone was talking about. I wanted to see where the special wiz- ardry was being shown, but people were surrounding the area. Eventually I inched my way through and made it to where the little humming noises were coming from. Humming noises and the sign business — now that was new. And amid all the com- motion, the representatives from this new company were taking order after order for their unique invention. It was a small blue box with a small basic plotter and a keyboard which connected to a computer inside the box. is little piece of "wonder" was a way to make per- fect vinyl letters up to about a foot tall, but once you were done with what you plotted out, you would erase everything to start the next job. is was a computer/plotter with no memory, no screen, and one font built in. is little magic box was not cheap, and at $300 a piece per font, an actual font library could cost as much as a new car. But, like everyone else, I placed my order for the venerable Gerber Scientific 4 B, the blue box with a brain but no mem- ory… about like me today! en I drove out to the Pacific Ocean and found a place to eat right on the water. e freeways whizzed along, until I headed back across town around 4:30 or 5 p.m., and then everything stopped. By the skin of my teeth, I made my flight and was soon rushing across the sky, against the sun, going east to Texas. In the early morning, still dark, I made it to my sleeping wife. Twenty hours after leaving, I kissed her awake and said, "I bought the magic box — the little blue wonder. It's everything they said it was, and it will be here next week." And as I slipped into the covers, I knew, we all knew, the sign and graphics world would never ever be the same. RICK WILLIAMS owns Rick's Sign Company, a com- mercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business and Sign & Digital Graphics since 1986. Contact Rick via email at Courtesy J. Bryan Vincent.

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