Diesel Love Stories

20 years of tales, triumphs, tidbits and tragedy, as shared by you.

The Original Diesel Love Story – Meeting Jennifer Park

Prelude: My Diesel Love Story is impossible to put to words.  Diesel has meant everything to me in my adult life.  Not only has it been a dream job, it has brought me most of things that mean something to me.  For example, I met my totally dreamy wife behind these counters in 2003.  Without Diesel I wouldn’t be a Mom to my two beautiful sons.  I have made lifelong friendships and met the most interesting, creative and kind people that I could ever dream of meeting. Without Diesel, there would be no Bloc and all of the wonderful people there.  Without Diesel, there would be no Forge and all of the wonderful people there.  Without Diesel, I wouldn’t be reliving my teenage dream by serving up the best ice cream in Somerville at Forge Ice Cream.  This list of Diesel related things that I am thankful for is without limit.  I am in love with Diesel Cafe.  Diesel is my love story.  However, my “official Diesel Love Story” is about meeting Jen, because without her, there would be no Diesel.  I wrote it 13 years ago, when I tried to introduce the Diesel Love Story concept for the first time…in a zine…social media has made this launch of Diesel Love Stories much easier!

The Original Diesel Love Story- Meeting Jennifer Park

I guess it started with coincidence, a lot of it. Perhaps a different way to see it is as a tale of impeccable timing.  Some may look towards something larger, but I tend to lean into the theory of good, old fashioned luck.  I could suspend my disbelief a bit further to accommodate a more scientific approach. Newton’s Law of Gravity states that every particle on the planet is attracted to every other particle and that each attracts at a force that is determined by their proportionate masses and is inversely proportional to their proximity.  It stands to reason that she and I were almost bound to intersect, she being an arguable inch shy of five feet and a few pounds under one hundred and me standing not one hair taller nor one pound heavier.  Gravity had us moving towards each other with a relative pull, complimented by the fact that we had been sharing the same general radius for the better part of our individual lives.  

The history of a single intersection will never cease to amaze.  I know enough to know that the odds are against it.  It doesn’t simply begin with the events that unfolded on that fifth day in December a decade prior.  You can forget about those.  Forget about the fact that I hit snooze an extra time that morning, or hit three greens on my way to work, followed by five long reds.  And forget about the school bus picking up children on the opposite side of Concord Ave, forcing me to stop the requisite fifteen feet back for what seemed like fifteen minutes too long.  Forget that I arrived at my destination on Dunster Street that day some 22 minutes later that I should have.  And similarly, we can forget everything that happened to her that same brisk, winter day – everything that landed her on that Harvard Square corner at the exact moment that I was frantically running by.  We can forget it all because it is simply too big to consider. We can purge the thought of every detail, not only on that day, but for each that came prior.  Each moment had to go just the way it did, from the time that sperm greeted egg in order to facilitate the navigation of our collective gravitation.  And it gets exponentially bigger because each detail matters in the lives that came first and worked to bring us here.  If my Grandfather Ralph’s elementary school teacher hadn’t decided to do the seating assignment in reverse alphabetical order on that first day of forth grade in 1916, who knows what other girl might have sat in front of him and tantalized him with mesmerizing braids of molasses.  Without them I am nothing.  And without their parents they are nothing and on backwards as far as we can conceive. Every last effin’ moment exactly the same, otherwise, it’s all effin’ different.  So, automatically our story begins with more luck than I can conceive, with an infinite (and I do mean absolutely countless) number of details dictating our intersection.  But, for the sake of the story, lets take it from where it faux-begins…Mass Ave and Dunster, we intersect.  

Mass Ave and Dunster, we intersect.

In a single moment, it is near impossible to recognize the ones that someday you will choose to sew together and re-tell your story with.  This love story was one of those moments.  A meeting of chance, that at the time seemed not distinctly different that any other coincidental point of greeting.  And although the fast friendship and four-year love affair that followed were admittedly profound on their own merits, they are still accompanied by a sense of misunderstanding for their significance.  It isn’t every day that you intersect with someone with whom there is unquestionable connect.  This alone should dance somersaults off the pages.  Yet, sometimes you need the benefit of time to reveal the picture fuller.  Sometimes it is impossible to grasp the impact of a single detail until you are allowed distance to understand how something so big could arrive from something so seemingly small.  Without that improbable intersection at Mass Ave and Dunster, there would stand no Diesel at the corners of Chester and Elm, that much I am sure.  It’s unfathomable to imagine that Diesel could have remained a massive mass of potential energy, instead of the heap of kinetic it became, had I not hit snooze and extra time that December morning, one decade prior.

On May 29, 1999, Jen and I gave birth to a two-ton baby, the spawn of our connection.  Our offspring, or what I like to jokingly refer to as our giant love child, we affectionately named Diesel.  And through this child came all of this.  Four walls with boundless space between.  Four walls inside which tell at least four million stories and harbor four million more.  Four walls that seem to connect pretty much everything that means anything to me. 

I often ponder all of the other connections that were made possible indirectly through a meeting of chance – Mass Ave and Dunster Street.  Luck or something larger, it matters not, because I couldn’t feel any more thankful than I do for this big story of my big, big love.  My coffee cup runneth over.

Tucker and Jen – 1997(ish)

A Good Luck Charm

It was more than 20 years ago that I walked into my architectural firm in Davis Square to find Jen and Tucker in our conference room talking to Anne Daw. I was in a suit and tie, having come from a meeting with clients at the Bank of Boston. Everyone there was in a suit. There had not been a tattoo or a person under 5’-4” or 54 years of age in sight. To say that Tucker and Jen were different would be understating it. I was curious why they had sought my company out. My curiosity rapidly bloomed into love for these two fellow entrepreneurs who, to my great good fortune, have become long-time friends.

Jen and Tucker were opening a coffee shop. Their aesthetic matched mine. Their love of their employees matched mine. I wanted them to do more than succeed. I wanted their creativity, their humor, their openness to others, their simplicity and caring and kindness and intelligence to radiate throughout their space. They did that and more at Diesel Café with very little help from me. It turned out that they both had pretty keenly developed artistic sensibilities. And business savvy.

So it has been no wonder then that they have created something much better than a business. They have created a loving family around themselves. A family where every server is an individual, and as interesting as the founding pair at the center. The family there inspires me to learn their names, to greet them by first name when I hand over my orange Mini Cooper travel mug, to feel a part of the art exhibits, proms, and camaraderie that make Diesel unique. It goes without saying that they would do something as interesting as gather love stories for their 20th anniversary.

They have created a loving family around themselves. A family where every server is an individual, and as interesting as the founding pair at the center.

It has been an honor for me as an architect to have been able to help them plan all of their locations. It has been a special honor that they have allowed me to be their first customer at each. Of all my clients in 43 years of practice, I speak the truth when I say they are my favorites, that I love them, and I will always remember them with great warmth and smiles.

Happy 20th anniversary, Tucker, Jen, and Diesel! May you have much continued happiness.

Certain Something Special Had Begun

May 28th, Abby’s 23rd birthday and the night before Diesel opened.

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?

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.

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!

Marriage Meetings

For fourteen years — 2002 through 2016 – I was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for the City of Somerville and over those years officiated just over 400 weddings. I was lucky enough to have been a JP in those particularly joyous days when same sex marriage was approved in Massachusetts. That first week I hosted a “get married” event at Somerville City Hall with catering from local businesses and about a dozen couples joining me in the Aldermanic Chambers. 

In preparation for many of the weddings I officiated I would first meet with the couples at Diesel. It was over coffees there I was first able to hear the stories of how they’d met, what led each of them to fall in love, their visions for their wedding day and for their marriage.  These partnerships were endlessly varied and the space at Diesel was a welcoming one for all people.

These partnerships were endlessly varied and the space at Diesel was a welcoming one for all people. 

  For me, my role as a Justice of the Peace was foremost to be a trusted witness to the vows of these couples. In those many introduction meetings Diesel served as a kind of witness too, a place I trusted to safely hold these conversations that were both intimate and professional, ones to prepare our trio for public declaration of deep and heartfelt experiences. 

Stories With Data

When I first walked into Diesel in 2006, y’all had already been going strong for years. When I moved to Somerville full-time in 2008, it became a refuge and has stayed one ever since, through life changes I couldn’t have even begun to imagine 12 or 13 years ago.

I like telling stories with data, so here are some numbers:

17: the number of text message threads in my phone that result from a search for “diesel”

6: minimum number of times the Diesel logo appears on items in my apartment right now

0: the number of games of pool I’ve won at Diesel (out of…. not zero)
Infinity: the number of times I think of Diesel’s remake when I hear “Call Me Maybe”

1: number of times I’ve had a stress dream involving being a substitute barista at Diesel (I couldn’t find the espresso)

4: number of friends I met at/brought to Diesel who I wish were here to celebrate this anniversary with us. love you Claire, Steve, Amanda, and Al.

4: number of friends I met at/brought to Diesel who I wish were here to celebrate this anniversary with us. love you Claire, Steve, Amanda, and Al.

21: days it took me to figure out that even though lots of my Diesel love story isn’t mine alone to tell, I still gotta tell you I love you, team!

I Would Walk With My People If I Could Find Them

I’d like to say working at Diesel Cafe was my first real job out of college. That makes a tidier story. But it was actually my second.

After undergrad, I’d just got out of a serious relationship (that neither of us really wanted to end), and failed to get into the grad school I wanted. I figured I would take a year off and reapply with my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I moved to Somerville and started looking for new work. I found a job at a call center. I sat in a cube for eight to eleven hours, speaking to people who were, by and large, not very happy to be on the phone with me.

It paid well, but it was very lonely work. I worried I would be stuck in that job forever, working next to people I would never really know.  And what if I didn’t get into grad school again the next year? What if I had missed my shot–not just at the career I wanted, but my shot at being happy?

Work doesn’t need to be lonely. Life
doesn’t have to be a call center where no one knows your name.

I was listening to a lot of Third Eye Blind at the time, and this line stood out to me: “I would walk with my people if I could find them.” But what if I never found them?

I started looking for new work almost immediately.

After four months at the call center, I interviewed to work at Diesel Cafe. When Parky and Tucker offered me a job, I was delighted; I remember being impressed by how energetic all my new coworkers were, and how friendly.

I knew still hoped I’d be starting grad school the next year, so I asked for the opening shift as soon I could. My thought was that I just had to survive another year, send out another round of applications, and survive.

But I did a lot more than survive. Working at Diesel wasn’t just better than sitting in a call center. It was a lot fun.

Some of my fondest memories are from this time. I’d get to work before the sun was up and set out the pastries. Julia, my manager, would put on “Hold On” by The Alabama Shakes most mornings as the early-morning regulars came in. She taught me how to test the espresso–a process that involved, if the grind wasn’t set right at first, drinking quitea bit of espresso. (Needless to say, my tolerance for caffeine developed pretty quickly.)

I learned a lot about coffee, it’s true, but what I really learned about was work. After a year that seemed to be full of failure—a failed relationship, failed applications–I was with a community of people who were all working on something. We supported each other.

Parky and Tucker themselves were working to open another location (which would become Forge). Tim was working to become a nurse. Plenty of my coworkers were working artists, or working their way through school.

The thing was, we all knew what everyone else was working on, the successes and the failures we endured. And we cared. And I don’t think it was simple dumb luck that the cafe was full of interested, compassionate people who got along with each other. I think it’s something about Diesel Cafe itself, the place and the community, that fosters that kind of caring. I can’t say what that thing is, but I know the world could use a whole lot more of it.

What I learned from Diesel was this: work doesn’t have to be lonely.  If you’re with the right people, and you know them and they know you,  it can even be fun. Even when you’re not at your best.

Maybe that sounds obvious, but when I was twenty-one and full of fear that I’d somehow exploded any hope of my future, and that I was a complete fuck-up, it was important for me to see that you could be a work in progress and people wouldn’t throw you out because of it.

I didn’t work at Diesel very long. I got into grad school, and shortly after that I started teaching. Around three years after I started at Diesel, I switched to teaching full time.

But most days, I still work in Diesel. Between lessons, when I have essays to grade or lesson plans to write, I’ll get a cup of coffee and a Monkey Wrench with mustard, and I’ll set down to get some work done.

Now I’m thirty, and I’m still a work in progress. But I don’t worry about that the way I did in my twenties. I see the folks working at Diesel–both behind the bar and out in the café–all with, one assumes, their own hopes and dreams and ambitions, and their own people. And I feel a little better about our world.

Because of Diesel, I know that work doesn’t need to be lonely. Life doesn’t have to be a call center where no one knows your name. Even when you’re not succeeding, when you’re hurting and afraid, you can walk with your people. You can find them. And sometimes, you find them when you aren’t even looking.