you think you know…

I have been in coffee for the last 7-8 years. Time flies really. I have been heavily involved in the specialty coffee industry for 6. When I mean “heavily” what I mean is that I haven’t looked at making/brewing/serving/roasting/buying as just a way to pay the rent. I have realized that I do know a whole lotta people when it comes to the industry, as in, some of my closest friends I have met through working in coffee. Some of these friends know me, and some of my history as a person and some know very little but know the quality of my character (which I guess ultimately is what matters most right?).
Anyway, thinking about this I thought that maybe, for the little number of folks who still read my blog, I would write a short and concise version of my history. Many people know many other folks in coffee, but don’t REALLY know them and I think this is a shame. We only have but a short time here on earth, get to KNOW a brother, a sister and enjoy them as much as you can.
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I was born in Puerto Rico. Born to a school teacher and a banker who eventually lost his job due to his severe alcoholism. Turned so bad he eventually left the country when I was 6 years old, and moved to of upstate New York, mostly to avoid paying his alimony and child support from a previous marriage. When I was 8, we moved to Rochester, NY to start again. My family in Puerto Rico was straight up working class, we had JUST enough money to eat and have clothing. Our vacations were spent going to the local beach and eating street food and fresh coconut. All of our cars were held together mostly by wire and ropes and tape. But we loved our island, and my hardworking family. The move was not easy. My younger sister and my mom struggled to deal with the new climate. The four of us lived in a 550 square foot one bedroom apartment and my parents slept on a pull out couch every night. I always smelled of cigarette smoke from my father’s terrible habit and the constricted space. I struggled fitting in in school. I had ratty-ass clothes, I smelled (cigs) and was incredibly shy. I picked up English very quickly though and eventually excelled in school. My schooling was my salvation, getting me away from a pretty shitty home life (my father was truly, a deadbeat dad) and it made my mother proud. Let me preface all of this by saying, I was in no way a mama’s boy. In fact, she was a tough mother, and a loving one, and wanted nothing more than happiness for me, but she taught me to work hard and to roll with the punches and fight back when I had to in order to be successful. She wanted a better life for me than what she was currently providing and school was the only way to do this.
Fast forward. I took a year off before going to college, moved to LA with a friend for a year to “experience” something totally different in my life. I was 18. This was my first step into a love affair with California. My father was still at home, drinkin’ not contributing so I made a deal with my mother. My mother was on disability due to her Polycystic Kidney Disease and on dialysis 3-4 hours/3 times a week. She was in less than ideal shape to work. I had $400 in my checking account and I told her that if she wanted me home for Christmas she would buy him a one way ticket back to Puerto Rico and file for divorce. I sent her the check with the last of my money at the time.
She did it. She actually did it. And this was the beginning of a long, long journey to some type of liberation for her. It was hard, but she did it.
I kept my promise and came home for Christmas, I was accepted at Ithaca College and started the following fall. I moved back home for the remainder of the spring and worked three jobs to help support us. Ithaca College was an expensive, private school but I was determined to make it work. Family contribution= $0 because we had no money. My mother was supporting two kids on less than $18,000/year. I worked 40+ hours a week, got a few grants and scholarships and although it wasn’t TRULY affordable I knew that an education was the only way I would be able to make it out here. I bought myself my first car for $1K, a 1984 brown Volvo Wagon 240DL and for the same price I bought my mother a 240 Sedan, same year. I didn’t think much if it, she was my mother, but I think that changed our relationship forever. She KNEW, deeply, that she would always be able to count on me.
Fast Fwd again…
Not having much of a social life due to all the time I spent working to pay for school, rent, gas, insurance meant that my interactions with people were limited to class time. I studied sociology, not art as I wanted to, because I needed to understand my place in the world. I still sort of don’t, but I now understand what it means to be a short, Puerto Rican man, from working class roots in the US going to a private school made up of mostly wealthy white kids in an ex-hippie, “progressive” mostly white liberal and highly educated town (Cornell U. reigns supreme). Meanwhile, all of my family is back in PR.
There was one class though “The Working Class and Unions” , where I met a woman, who I am still friends with. She had a roommate who picked her up after class to take them back home. We were chillin’ outside of class one day when her roommate rolled up in a little red Honda Civic…
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to be continued…

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~ by Me on August 2, 2009.

3 Responses to “you think you know…”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing. Can’t wait for part 2!

    But the red Civic had a euro license plate?

  2. This is wonderful, because you are wonderful. It’s an absolute pleasure to know you, Gabe, and an honor to get to know more about you.

  3. You are a very interesting person to know in reality. I have been reading your blog for ages now. You have been a part of my daily readings. Wishing you all the best.

    – Markos

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