Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sidetracked by my Güiro

Michael Sedano

Let yourself be sidetracked by your güiro
Carnal let yourself be free
To do your music when your heart pounds
In the melody of your ringing ears

No one can pick up a güiro and not play it, not once, twice, but rhythmically, tra trrra trrrra trrrrrra, tra trrra trrrra trrrrrra, and after a few swipes across the raspa many people get carried away, sidetracked by a güiro.

Bamboo, Timber Bamboo, Plastic pipe güiros

I make güiros. My Dad grew a stand of timber bamboo at our house in Redlands and that was my first source of raw material. Fast forward fifty years and I learn Alfredo de Batuc lives on a property with a timber bamboo property line!

De Batuc’s landlord assented to my cutting unlimited stalks so I took ten, enough to half-fill the back of a Toyota pickup when I halved the ten- and twelve-foot poles. This was cute. I stopped on Fig at a light in front of Staples Center when a motor officer pulls alongside to ask what that stuff is? I laughed that it wasn’t weed, I was transporting bamboo to make güiros. I didn’t recite Alurista’s poem but the cop was cool about it and we laughed.

This Saturday, February 23, 2019, I’m conducting a workshop where artists will make güiro blanks that they will turn into twenty-dollar bills this December.

There’s more. The workshop equips the artists with a technology for creating a business turning “free” bamboo into capital. The workshop, at Los Angeles’ Plaza de la Raza, is the first in a series launched by Margaret Garcia and Amy Inouye, Creating Cultural Currency.
Raw Timber bamboo

The Güiro workshop promises to be fun for me, and useful to people. Artists possess unlimited capacity to create and earn money from their work. Actually converting output to income is a missing link in creative capacity. Garcia/Inouye’s project harnesses that capacity in a series of product-focused workshops.

I’ve designed the Güiro workshop as a role play based on my old career in manufacturing and sales.

We are an artist collective committed to deliver an order in December for 20 Güiros priced to sell at $20 each. This workshop will convert raw bamboo to 20 güiro bodies for the artist to finish by December 1.

A blank güiro is a cut-to-length bamboo tube, perforated with sound holes and etched on one side for rasping. Strikers for rasping are an affiliated topic.

The artist installs twenty dollars worth of value into the blank güiro by drawing or engraving or burning designs onto the bamboo and finishing the wood surface. Part of the business model is pricing and working the table selling face-to-face. If it all works out, the artists will replicate the workshop and produce supplies to meet demand from two thousand holiday shoppers. Product quality ensures ongoing orders and wider markets.

I once did this for a living, selling and making things. A highlight came when the company sold General Motors and Toyota on our ability to produce windows for trucks they made in the Western U.S. We’d made automotive windows for years, in the dog-eat-dog aftermarket where price not quality was the objection, and our “OEM-quality” prices cost us lots of sales.

Our stuff was good. A protracted process requiring years produced a contract shipping directly to the truck factories. Selling to the Original Equipment Manufacturer, OEM, market was a phenomenal change from a decade earlier when the company assembled Italian sunroofs that leaked.

For our contract with GM and Toyota-NUMMI, I wrote manufacturing standards and procedures, then converted those to training manuals. Our engineers and their engineers laid out the line, a progression of machines and tables for people to work at. Raw materials hit the line in the morning and shrink-wrapped skids of 20 windows fill a 40-footer at the end of the day.

Assembly lines are designed to produce identical assemblies hundreds of times a day, so every truck that comes off a line at some GM plant, or up at Fremont in NUMMI, has a sliding window that meets form, fit, and function standards recognized by the OEMs and the International Standards Organization, ISO9001.

The OEM project for me starts in the factory shell in Gardena, acres of bare cement floor stretching into dark open space toward the pure white light of the receiving bay door. Heavy amp power cables and limber air hoses dangle above painted lines where cutting, bending, and assembly stations shall appear in the blink of a week.

My job was to hire Mexicans and train them to fill those work stations and make those windows. None of the Help Wanted ads said that, but that’s how it turned out. La Opinion did better than the Times. Word of mouth brought in relatives, friends, neighbors of people already working for the company, and those are always better people.

My standards were simple. Can you read, follow written instructions, and fill out forms? En Inglés? Ni modo. Our work instructions come in English and Spanish, which manuals do you want? In those days if a “problem with papers” arose, I instructed the employee to remember to bring in some other documentation pretty soon.

Gente teemed at the entry gate on interview day. “No experience necessary. Training and benefits” made up for minimum wage. I hired people who proved they could read and understand text, and who spoke up for themselves. We didn’t make many mistakes.

I had an assistant who would take the GM line, I’d take the Toyota line. The procedures were mas o menos identical, so we did a week’s classroom training together and provided lonche. On Monday, it really started.

The team enters the factory floor from the front offices. I make a big deal of putting on the lentes. Making a beeline to Station One far away, I allude to staying inside the yellow lines and safety all the time. Other production lines are in production where the noise from high RPM blades sawing into aluminum and beeping forklifts sounds dangerous. It is.

I drop off “my” two saw operators, and Josefa the helper who does feed and take-off. The foreman follows the plan and explains, does, watches, discusses, watches. The dual mitre saw roars powerfully spraying aluminum chips away from the two-handed switches. The trainees flinch, envious of the saw, or glad they don’t have to do that.

Within a few motions, the saw operators get a feel for the process and the supply of sills and header pieces builds. I move the training group down the line, peeling off people to stand on their mats and wait for the in-process assemblies headed their way. The foremen conform to their written procedures, just like training. The worker learns to marry corners, drill and rivet mitres, handle the pneumatic rivet gun while holding a rivet in place. We move on to the next station and peel off the jamb people, the vinyl installers, glass installers, latch station, weatherstrippers, sealers, water testers, final inspection and cleanup.

An hour after I begin I say good-bye to the last trainee, the guy making the boxes at the packaging station. He waits most of the morning to pack his first window.

At the end of the first day we’d produced 13 windows, a lucky number. Fifty, 180, 400, followed Tuesday Wednesday Thursday. On Friday the line put out 680 windows.

A year later, I was touring a concessionario from el DF. He would order 300 units after observing the quality we were installing into every window. He sold OEM trucks and outfitted them with aftermarket parts and made money hand over fist. The assembly line made him feel all welcome.

We’d stop at busy workers and I’d chat them up then introduce them. The customer and the worker would touch bases, where you from? What are you doing? Let’s move along, gracias. At the end of the tour the rich Mexican had one question after I summarized what he’d seen, mira Fredi, you’re buying windows hechos en los estados unidos por Mexicanos.

The guy looks at me appreciating the irony with one more question about his paisanos, “How do you get them to work so hard?”

Making güiros isn’t hard. No registration fee, no RSVP, just show up at Plaza this Saturday before 9.

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