Good Time Then, More to Come
-I moved here in late 2000, and in the spring of 2001 I asked my cousin for good places to sit and draw and people watch. She suggested this cafe in Davis Square. Some people like bars. I don’t. They’re loud and dark, I don’t drink beer, and standing around in a crowded space filled with noise and booze is unappealing. But a cafe, where I can sit, and eat, and draw, and where good music is playing, that’s my speed. Diesel had great food and an unusual interior décor, like exposed pipes, an actual motorcycle, and that crosswalk light. Certainly customers varied in age, but the place had a youthful energy that well matched how I felt in this new city. With a sketchbook and markers I’d head over at 9 or 10pm — Diesel was open until midnight or 1am, depending on the day, and felt lively even up until closing time. I drank a lot of hot chocolate, and drew, and thought about my place in Greater Boston. Davis Square felt lively in a different way than it does now. There were fewer restaurants and more small retail stores. The Someday Café had a similar vibe to Diesel (although more hippy and ratty), while across the street a book liquidator offered deals on remainders, next door McIntyre & Moore stocked a wealth of used books, and across the intersection the Somerville Theatre played second run movies. I didn’t have to be at work until 9 or 10 in the morning, so hitting a cafe late wasn’t a big deal. I developed a crush on a barista or two, and I became friendly with several employees, and was even invited to and attended Diesel Prom twice!
-When Tucker and Jen knocked down the rear wall and expanded, I was impressed. If you never saw the original footprint, Diesel used to stop where the crosswalk light is. I’m trying to recall – only one bathroom? That renovation and the improvements along the way have impressed me. The registers have moved, the napkin/utensils/milk bar has as well, a few tables plus a narrow bar with stools have vanished to make room for signage and that bench where folks wait for their to-go orders, and the entire cash wrap was replaced with a gorgeous, custom piece. These improvements planted a seed such that when I started a business nearby, I had it in mind that every few years if an idea presented itself to change something in our physical space, a bookcase or a sign or a fixture or a layout, we could and should. The high efficiency hand driers in the restroom, too. I’ve got one of those in my small business as well. Along the way, Tucker and Jen even opened two additional establishments! That’s not an idea I can copy – not enough time. My wife used to work in food service and retail, and noted when her managers were incompetent or the owners were absent. Sometimes we’ve remarked that Diesel employees stick around for years, and my wife observed that Tucker and Jen must be doing something right. I’ve kept that in mind concerning my own employees, the occasional bonus or outing on top of trying to be present, communicative, positive, and fair. I see the owners less often at Diesel than I did those first few years, but truthfully I’m not there as often, so I could just be missing a morning shift, but I also see they’ve started families. I’m 8 years into my own business, and that first one it felt like I was there every day. I wonder how my relationship with my store will be when it turns 20.
-My three pals and I had a two-month long art show at Diesel in the summer of 2006. It was great. There was more wall space then (a bunch of it has since been given over to permanent fixtures and, for example, the white hand-lettered diesel engine history text). We started hanging at 11pm and finished at 6am, just after the morning shift arrived to turn on the coffee machines. We took a photo in the photo booth to capture our fatigue, trudged home, slept, and then came back for the opening that evening. While our show was up, I felt like I owned the place. I’d never had a “gallery” show before, and I brought friends and family in to eat, see the art, and marvel at this funky café interior with its bold wall colors, cool pool tables, and license plates over the next several weeks. I published a comic all about coffee and cafes, mostly inspired by Diesel, as a companion to our show.
-I can’t let a meditation on Diesel pass without mentioning my friends’ collective pet peeve, the lone person who takes up a whole booth with seating for four, long finished with food and drink, on their laptop, and not thinking to surrender the space to a hovering, table-less party. We’ve complained to each other about this, we’ve drawn comics about it, we’ve run it by our employee-friends. I like the hand-drawn signs that went up a few years ago discouraging this practice during certain hours.
-I also can’t let this pass without remarking on the untimely demise of the photo booth. (Which DigBostononce told me is named Omar?) I love physical and analog media, and am never far from the nostalgic. I love the photo booth for what it symbolically represents (modern photo booths with digital camera and printing tech aren’t quite the same), and also for the memories it has cemented for me and others. Honorable mention goes to the working typewriter that used to sit across from the food-making station, where customers could write suggestions. Analog, old-fashioned, and charming.
-Today, on Diesel Cafe’s 20th anniversary, I got a coupon for a free coffee. Somewhere in this messy room at home I still have the analogous cards for Diesel’s 8th and 9th anniversaries. Good times then, and more to come, I’m certain.
EDITORS NOTE: Tim Finn is the owner of Hub Comics in the heart of Union Square Somerville. Go visit!! Tim, we are actively working on a photo booth fix! Sadly, nobody fixes them anymore and the suggestion is unanimously digital. We will continue to stay strong on the print photography. Keep you posted, and yes, its name is Omar.