Certain Something Special Had Begun
May 28, 1999, the day before diesel first opened its doors was my 23rd birthday. I spent it helping to tackle the endless to-do list Tucker had carefully written out on a massive sheet of butcher paper. As I tightened bolts on the small round tables and arranged cups in the service area, my stomach churned. I’d lived with Parky and Tucker for a year. I knew they were uniquely creative, smart and determined, but with 12 hours before they were supposed to open the door, the list seemed impossibly long and threatened to call into question the entire enterprise. My anxiety was inspired by that neatly written list, but also by my own circumstances. Eight weeks earlier my dad had died of a rare blood disease. In August, I was planning on moving to Oakland to do Teach for America, and a few weeks after diesel opened, I was heading to Houston for the Teach for America training program. As I’d watched the progress at 257 Elm Street over the past few months, I’d been grappling with solid evidence that things don’t always work out the way you plan and wondering what the future would hold. If my seemingly healthy father could up and die in a matter of months, could my friends really create a cafe out of thin air?
The idea that would become diesel was first introduced to me as I finished mopping the floor of the service area at Herrell’s Ice Cream in Harvard Square. My manager told me at the end of my shift that I was welcome to deposit my hard earned $5.25 in tips in a 5-gallon plastic bucket. In fact she strongly encouraged me to contribute to “the bucket fund” which when filled with change and crumpled dollar bills would be enough for Tucker and another Herrell’s manager to move to San Francisco and open an ice cream store. While a fan of outlandish dreams and entrepreneurial schemes, I was immediately suspicious of this bucket and its designs on taking two people I adored so far away. I listened enthusiastically to descriptions of this imagined ice cream shop, but held on to my tips out of principle. By the time the bucket was half filled with change they were no longer headed to San Francisco, instead they would open some sort of local business. One day the plan was to open an arcade, a scheme that only Tucker could make sound enticing. Other days they were planning a local ice cream shop. Eventually, I was hearing about a coffee shop named diesel complete with pool tables and an antique gas pump and after a few weeks it was clear that diesel was a plan with sticking power. I watched as they wrote a business plan, bought used equipment from the Liberty Cafe, convinced Somerville city officials to bring pool tables back to Davis Square and signed a lease on the Optical Factory space.
After they had access to the space, Tucker and Parky went to diesel every day. Most evenings I joined them after I finished my job as an after-school teacher. I helped hang the huge sheet of metal that would be the back of the menu board, painted walls, swept up sawdust and asked endless questions. Tucker’s ex-girlfriend, Debbie, was there most evenings as well. One Saturday afternoon, in between wall painting stints, she put money in my tiny truck’s parking meter. I was struck by her thoughtfulness, thoroughness and pragmatism, and wondered if this behavior qualified as flirting. (Lucky for me it did.)
It was an exciting time. Tucker was full of vivid descriptions of what diesel would be and Parky was bursting with the energy and determination necessary to get things done. It was an exciting time, but May 28th, 1999 was my 23rd birthday and for me, full of uncertainty. Parky and Tucker were already testing the power of caffeine to offset sleep deprivation. They were determined to open the next day even if it was only for a few hours. They were exhausted, but focused and their demeanor betrayed none of the anxiety I felt. A parade of well wishers came by that evening: Tucker and Parky’s parents, my mom, Debbie, Gus Rancatore, but there was no time for birthday festivities. We ate M&M’s, drank coffee and kept working. I left diesel at two, the menu board wasn’t entirely finished, Tucker and Parky were still hard at work. I wasn’t sure what time they came home that night, but early the next morning we were all behind a bakery case half filled with elephant ears and bagels. The doors were opened and diesel slowly filled with friends, family and genuine customers. I served drinks in pint glasses and diesel mugs decorated with a tiny construction vehicle. Sunlight streamed through the garage door, I sipped my coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk, an early diesel standard and I felt certain that something special had begun.
I’m grateful to diesel for so many tangible aspects of my life including my family and favorite friends, but everyday since May 29th, 1999 I’m also grateful to diesel for showing me that the post-Dave Branch world would be full of risk-taking, adventure, joy and dreams being realized. And, for showing me that sometimes things work out even better than you imagined.
Love you diesel!
EDITORS NOTE: The Branch Trio was named in loving memory of David Branch. Dave was a big believer that we [Diesel] would succeed, even at a time when most doubted. There have been many iterations on the menu since to celebrate the Dave and the Branch-Tomsho family, for whom our gratitude is bottomless.
All 4 members of the Branch-Tomsho family wrote Diesel Love Stories. Read them all!