last post of 2009

This has been probably the worst year of my life, and among the best. I don’t even know where to start. This blog was originally for documenting my thoughts on the coffee industry, my work within that industry and a general place for contemplations on the subject of greens, brewing, conventions, inventions and concepts. It has moved from that as of late, and I think I am ok with that. I used to be consumed by coffee and the coffee industry, but lately I am more consumed with my family and friends and life outside of my job. I happen to think this is a healthy move, and actually makes me a more effective coffee professional. Nothing should ever consume you so much you blind yourself to everything else.
So let’s run down some of the things that happened in 2009 for me. Some good, some bad, some ugly but all true.

The worst thing of all, was the death of my mother. It has been a few days more than 7 months since she passed away. I cannot effectively explain this awful, terrible pain. It’s in here, every single moment of every single day. I think about her constantly, especially whenever something fantastic has happened in my life, she’s there with me. It kills me that she cannot be here physically to share it with me and Mae. Christmas and Thanksgiving were brutal. My in-laws made it out here, and I am so grateful for that. They are my family, and I love them for all of there support. I miss her every day, every second…I know, I have already said that. I have never in my life felt this much sadness and grief over anything. I wish she were still here, so that I could have at least given her a proper goodbye. A hug, a kiss on the cheek and another embrace. Not much I can do about that, so let’s move on to other things that happened in 2009, in no tidy order.

I quit my job at Ritual. I have so much to thank Ritual for in regards to really catapulting a career in coffee for me by being such an active member in the coffee community at such an early stage in their brand. It was also a very young company in a very hip/cool city and that has it’s own problems built in. I started at Ritual a few weeks after they opened, and left a roaster and a better person for it. I knew what I wanted to do with my life in coffee because of Duane Sorenson and his relationship with Ritual. I am grateful for that experience. Stumptown Coffee made me feel like a career in coffee was a reality, and something to be proud of. My leaving Ritual for good was a great thing, as it was time to move on and take care of family matters back in upstate NY.

I started working for Gimme Coffee in Ithaca, my alma mater, my coffee “homebase”. I started with Gimme as a barista about 7.5 years ago. Then I managed the original store. I came back having no idea what my job would be, and sort of shaping it as I went along and as was needed which was actually fantastic, and terrible at the same time. I loved it. I learned more within this year at Gimme than at any other job hands down. I learned more about myself, my needs and desires and my limitations and I learned about what I loved to do the most and what I was great at. I learned a great deal about the importance of people and communication and how this trumps ANY green coffee purchase/company mantra/specialty coffee innovation. If you don’t have communication skills or respect for diplomacy and open policy and on top of that LOVE for people…you won’t make it out here. You just won’t. It’s no secret formula. You gotta b willing to trust people, and believe in them and support them, and great things will happen. Its all anyone ever wants really.
I learned a ton on green sourcing and buying, sample roasting, air roasting, drum roasting, profiling, espresso research and development, labeling, training, barista communication, customer relations, people relations…the list goes on. I came back east to take care of and be closer to my mother. She waited for me. She passed away 9 months after I moved back. She was waiting for me to come back to her, to take care of her and to take care of her things when she would eventually pass away. At this point, I knew I no longer needed to be in NY. Not upstate anyway. Ithaca was not the place I remembered it to be, and i was not the same person I was when I went to college there either. Now the place felt like a tomb, as the drives up to Rochester to clean my mothers estate became unbearable. Too many memories remain in that area of the country and to many of the same people still live in Ithaca. Just couldn’t cut it anymore. It became painful to be there. Ithaca is a place that believes is progressive, except they were progressive 20 years ago and have gotten stuck in that mentality. It became emotionally unbearable to never be anonymous in any given space. I like space from people sometimes, in fact I need it. And every time I would run into someone it was apparent I needed to be in a bigger city. Though admittedly, I would miss a few very special people there. No worries, I am sure I can sway them to move west.
Mae came to Puerto Rico for the first time, unfortunately to attend my mother’s funeral. She met my family in PR which was amazing. She got to know me at a much deeper level, and from that experience I can safely say she is the love of my life. Puerto Rico is an amazing place. And a strange place, but I have never felt so much cultural pride as I felt when I was down there. I cannot wait to go back.
I received my Q Grader certificate. Paid for out of my own pocket. Did all the work myself with a dramatic “defend your thesis” moment with Marty Curtis and Jaymin Haddox of Cafe Imports. Whew. I did it though.
Got to experience a few trips to NYC. Enough to know how much I love it, and how much I did not ever want to live there. However, made some lifetime friends there, the kind of folks I want my kids around.
Got to get closer to my sister than I have ever been since the age of ten. The passing of my mother weirdly enough brought us closer. She is a severe paranoid schizophrenic who is living in a supervised environment, needless to say she has a worrisome and seriously fucked up relationship with my mom and since her passing…there has been some serious internal turmoil for her. But we are getting through it. One step at a time, and I am getting to know my sister all over again for better or for worse. It hast been easy, but at least I can now be a positive force in her life. She’s all I have left of my blood relatives. and I am the only thing she has left in the States.
I was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease. The very thing that killed my mother after 19 years of dialysis. Bummer. The only thing I can do at this point is change my diet, drink lots and lots of water, low protein, low caloric numbers and avoid all animal products in my diet. Never thought I would become a vegan and it turns out it is the best thing I have done in a long long long time. Although it didn’t start as a consciously ethical move, it has become one, and I am really happy and according to my Cleveland Clinic doctor I am super healthy. score. I became a vegan (along with Mae) the day after my diagnosis. Cold Turkey yo. that’s the way I roll! I have never felt better. Cut down the salt, sugar, grains and bad fat from my diet. Lost about 15 pounds and feel really great. The only other options are dialysis (once kidneys fall below 15% function) then a transplant. I am not even close to that point, thank god.
Went to the extremely respected Cleveland Clinic to get assessed by the best in the country. Holy shit. I wish every single clinic was like the CC. Amazing Battle Star Galactica type facility. I feel lucky to have been able to go there to make sure I was taking the right steps in my life. I am, and will continue to do so forever. I’m a tough little shit and stubborn too (thanks ma), and obsessive, which is good when it comes to sticking with stuff.
Got a job with Ecco/Intelligentsia. Best move I have ever made. Mae got an amazing job in the yoga studio she managed before we moved, and was offered a percentage of the studio in Oakland. We both felt incredibly grateful and fortunate to have found great jobs in such a shitty economy. So we packed up and moved back to California, where we are supposed to be. California, the bay area has always felt like home to us and we were thrilled to move back. I did my duty as a son for my mother, and now it was time to go home. I have always had great respect for Doug and his company, and for Andrew and his coffees/palate and I was getting to work with both of them and my best buddy Drew and Keith. Amazing opportunities in the horizon that I could not look past. I was in, head first, deep end, eyes closed.
Family has become increasingly important, and wanting children is a new development. My greatest regret is not having been able to give my mother grandchildren earlier, and thus it remains our goal for the near future. We don’t want to make the same mistake twice with Mae’s folks. I take my job very very seriously, and I am a professional at heart, but family and people come first. I think it is dangerous to have your job/career consume you, because family is who motivates you, holds you up and catches you when you fall. This was a lesson I have learned the hard way, but in a beautiful poetic way too. I love my job. and I love it even more when I can be in the moment at home with my wife and pets and not worry about work, and I love that I can go to work and focus and get things done in a healthy way. Coffee is not my life, it’s my career. Theres a whole world out there, and because of my fantastic job and great support network at Ecco/Intelligentsia I can finally start to see it. I am getting older and with that comes more contemplation about real issues and goals. Intelligentsia gets that, so much. There is a future here, and fantastic possibilities and I believe them to be true and attainable. I am in this for the long haul and I have honestly NEVER felt this way about a job before. I’m excited about the possibility of my kids coming to see me at work, beside the roaster, roasting and cupping coffee. I never thought those words would escape my lips. I (not so long ago) saw myself pulling shots behind a bar at 40 with no kids and still in the Mission partying with PBRs in hand and no benefits or financial plans for the future and struggling to pay the rent for a tiny 1 bedroom apartment. It’s not how I see things any more. Cheers to getting older and wearing clean shirts!

So far it has been great to be back. Never doubted making the move back home. It has been awesome to work alongside Intelligentsia and the crew at Ecco in Santa Rosa, and I am looking forward to an amazing 2010.

so though there were some pretty deep potholes in the road this year, looks like the road smoothes out a bit up ahead.

happy new year everyone.


~ by Me on December 31, 2009.

7 Responses to “last post of 2009”

  1. happy new year sir.

  2. Glad and proud to have you as a friend and colleague. Happy new year! Best of luck to us all.

  3. Gabe,

    I am honored to work alongside of you. 2009 was trying on many fronts. Into the light of 2010! May it be a great, prosperous, and healthy year for you and your family.

  4. gabriel lucas,
    i love you and am honored to have your friendship.

    thank you for this amazing, lovely post, your openness and willingness to share so freely is just one of the amazing ways you lead by example as a human being.

    happy new year. i am so happy to see you end it in such an optimistic, upward direction. you were in the right place when you were in new york state, and you and mae are in the right place now. as sad as i was to see you leave. may things only get better…and i know they will.


  5. Though I saw how all these events unfolded this past year, it is pretty staggering to read them all together and realize what an earthquake has happened in your life. But you (being you) have moved through it all with grace and chutzpah. Not to be too sappy but you are–and have always been–my hero and one of my favorite people on the planet.

  6. Gabriel,
    I just stumbled across your blog while looking through Daniel Humphries blog. I took a cupping and roasting course from him this week.
    I was drawn to your site as I have come into my current passion for coffee through my travels to my mother’s ancestral home of Puerto Rico. I have visited Puerto Rico three times this past year. The last trip I visited with three small coffee farmers trying to produce specialty grade sustainably grown coffee. I have spent the past year researching and learning as much as I can about coffee from seed to cup. I studied agriculture at S.U.N.Y. Morrisville. Lived in Cortland and other areas close to Ithica back in the late 1970’s. I have lived in the bay area since 1980 (currently San Anselmo) and have had a landscape design/build/maintenance business for 22 years. I’m looking to move into some aspect of the coffee business. What my first inspiration centered around was the desire to see a healthy and prosperous specialty coffee industry emerge from Puerto Rico. I’m still refining my search for my place in this business. Finding your writings on line made me think that it would be great if we could meet sometime and talk about Puerto Rico and coffee.
    What do you think?

  7. Man, what a loaded year. Sorry to hear about your loss, happy for your triumphs and glad that I stumbled across your blog… I hope to continue to read more as it becomes available.

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