I visited a guy's shop today, and was impressed enough to tell y'all about it. Sorry, I took no pics, but you'll have to trust me on this one...
I had a couple of benchtop drill presses listed for sale last week on Craigslist, and among the various inquiries, one was from a guy who wanted to buy both drill presses, and was willing to pay me an extra $10 to deliver them to him. He told me he was a student who also worked full time, so was unable to come pick them up. He also said he had a small machine shop in his garage, and the drill presses would be a great addition. For some reason, I liked his story, and I liked the idea of keeping my shop's location unknown to strangers, so I agreed to sell them to him and deliver them this weekend. The only downside was his location. He is in Compton. Not only is it about 35 miles of some of the worst freeways in the world between here and there, it was in Compton. Pretty well-known for its inner-city gangs, drugs, violence, racial issues, and poverty. The sort of place long-haired blonde guys like me tend to be wary of. The buyer, Andres, assured me he was in a relatively decent, mostly-hispanic neighborhood, living with his dad and brothers in a duplex his dad owned. I tend to get along OK pretty much everywhere I go, so I was game.
Saturday afternoon I drove (or should I say crawled on the freeways) to Compton, and thanks to the navigation system I found the house pretty easily. (Not a good area to be pulling over to get out the street map.) The neighborhood was not rich by any means, but clean, with houses that showed their owners' pride, and kids playing outside at the end of the street (which was a dead-end). Dad answered the door, and when I told him I was the guy with the drill presses, he had a younger brother take me back to the detached garage to meet Andres. As we approached, Andres came out and introduced himself, then waved towards the garage saying "Sorry, I was running a part in there." He's young (23), but he was dressed nicely (not in the baggy "costumes" a lot of other 23-year-olds in the neighbor wear) and looked like a decent kid.
We went to my SUV and he checked out the drill presses as I assembled the heads back onto the columns, then we carried them into his shop.
The Shop Tour
I wasn't really prepared for what I saw when I stepped into his little detached garage/shop. the first thing I noticed was the computer. Then, to the right, was the machine I'd heard running when I was outside the shop. It was a large Haas CNC vertical milling machine, making the last few passes over an aluminum Toyota emblem. This is not your typical hobbyist machine shop. He also had a full-sized Harbor Freight metal lathe, but the CNC mill was the centerpiece of the shop. Still, he was very happy to be adding my two little drill presses to his tool collection.
As it turns out, Andres works full time as a machinist at Northrup. He's also going to school full time working on an engineering degree, and on the side, he's machining car emblems and other accessories (like custom steering wheels) and selling them on eBay. His "business" has been so brisk he's hired a cousin to run the machine in his absence while he's at school and work. It's gotten to the point where he's trying to decide if he should finish getting the degree, or take some time off to expand his business. He's a busy kid, but he seems to have his head on straight and is willing to put in the hard work necessary to get ahead. He seemed to be doing pretty well, too. That Haas machine was not cheap, and I noticed as I left that he had a dressed-up BMW 325i parked behind the house.
Not only was I impressed with what this kid had accomplished, I was surprised to discover it in one of the worst neighborhoods in town. It showed pretty clearly that our preconceived notions are just that -- notions. You really can't judge a book by its cover.