How I Became a San Diego House Painter
The Road Not Taken is America’s most popular and beloved poems of all time. We love it because it describes a forked path in the woods that symbolize the freedom we have to choose whatever path we want to take in life.
When I was a young 19 year old, just out of high school, I was faced with such a choice that would change my life. I didn’t know it at the time. I had just started out in the world, making my very first full time salary—as a gas station attendant!
In the early 1970’s, gas attendants did it all. We filled your car, polished your windshield, and were “at your service” as soon as you drove in. I loved the routine, the money, the customers and the warm and fuzzies of belonging that typically come from a first job.
On a sun-drenched summer day in 1971, a high school buddy came to visit me at the gas station—a visit that would change my life forever.
His name was Rodney and he was more excited than I had ever seen him in our four years of high school together. He told me that he was going into the painting business and he wanted me to join him. There were even 2 customers he had lined up and who were anxious for us to start painting their homes.
Rodney painted a stunning picture of our future together and how we could show off our enterprising skills to the world:
- Restoring a home to its original beauty through the art of painting
- Becoming an expert and making customers happy in their new beautifully painted surroundings
- Learning the art of faux painting and painting techniques used by the finest craftsmen
Dreaming about aesthetics and all things beautiful!
He won me over by the opportunity we would have to paint and restore elegant old homes in the picturesque towns outside of Boston. I loved the idea of earning money for hard work and the chance to tackle the art of perfection.
I also imagined all the gorgeous and timeless paint colors that the paint manufacturers were introducing. It would be a natural fit for my right brain creative side and a chance to learn about faux applications and feng shui.
Thrilled but scared!
I was both scared and excited. The thoughts of safety and comfort of a predictable job and the chance to be adventurous, resourceful, and master of my own destiny played with my mind. For two straight weeks, I was up until 4:00 in the morning!
I’m sure you’ve experienced your own “road not taken moment”. This was mine.
Should I risk giving up the 9 to 5 work at a predictable job? Or should I take a leap of faith and go into business with Rodney? (Did I mention that Rodney had a daredevil reputation in high school?) The urban legend of our school was that he jumped off the roof of a house once after being attacked by bees! At least he was not afraid of heights, I thought.
If you are on my website, you know the outcome! And, when I count up my 45 years as a professional painter I am 100% sure I made the winning choice.
The early days were difficult beyond comprehension, but our business gave us tons of experience. We drove to our jobs in my ridiculously small 1958 Volvo P444, a car we soon replaced with a long black 1960 Cadillac limo to hold all of our painting gear. This turned out to be an innovative marketing tool and got us noticed about town. We earned over $2000 in our first year—it was just like striking gold!
We loved our new profession
Our community started to recognize us a Painting Maestros. They had no idea how much trial and error went into it! As you can imagine, we started our business as two teenagers who didn’t know anything except for how to be resourceful in a strange new world.
Rodney was the engineer type. He was the technical one who created sophisticated scaffolding and moveable platforms. We needed to reach the extreme heights of the old and elegant homes of our customers in Lincoln, Massachusetts (an old established town similar to Rancho Santa Fe).
I became the artisan who knew how to practice the art of painting perfection. I also used my communication skills (that Rodney was missing) to speak with our customers. Soon into the partnership, I was the one who was the best at understanding our customers’ vision and decided what we needed to do deliver the results we all were after.
We survived our first year by our constant state of learning and building upon our strengths!
It’s all about the prepping!
Our proximity to historic and lovely homes gave us the ability to experiment with proper prepping techniques. The homes we typically worked on had very detailed architecture with many facets and surfaces.
These were complex structures requiring painstaking efforts to peel off generations of old paint. By properly prepping their surfaces, and taking them down to the bare wood, we transformed them into Painted Ladies found in San Francisco.
Know your paints!
Our fledgling business was all about oil-based paint. Latex (water-based) paint had just started to become mainstream and our customers wanted to know all about it.
Customers and painters alike were attracted to Latex paint, especially because it was washable and not as messy as oil paint. It was a breakthrough product and our customers were entranced with its ability to endure the ever-changing and extreme elements of the Northeast.
We soon became the “go-to-guys” when customers wanted to know how to make the decision on what type of paint to choose. I loved talking to our customers, as I do today, giving them all the right information they need to make informed decisions about their homes.
The next adventure
This career has been the highlight of my life! And I wouldn’t trade it for a 500 million dollar lotto ticket. I’ve met so many wonderful people and have had the chance to do stunning painting jobs all over the world.
Rodney and I went our separate ways eventually. But what we learned together as two green horned kids in 1971 will be forever coded into my brain.
I’m grateful for having my painting business in sunny San Diego, moving it here in 1991. I want to keep on doing what I’m doing—delighting customers and seeing the looks on their faces at the end of each job.
I’m ecstatic that I took the path I took and can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend. When you read Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, I hope it has meaning for you, too!