Fresh out of Monmouth College with an accounting degree, I’d been to enough interviews to know that’s not what I wanted to do for a living, and then I received a letter in the mail. A letter inviting me to a pro football combine. And I immediately knew that’s what I would do. So I put my office career on the back burner and started studying fitness and sport psychology and strength training in a big way. I’d heard rumor that a physical therapist in my small hometown was training athletes and getting 2-4% strength increases per workout. I’d created my own workout program with spreadsheet algorithms that predicted what my next weight workout should be (the result of an accountant designing a fitness regimen), and I knew those numbers were extremely difficult to achieve. So I went looking for him. Finding someone in a small town isn’t that hard, so before long I was standing in the reception area of his office, a bundle of nerves and muscles. “Do you have an appointment?”
No, Mr. Willis wasn’t expecting me. But he agreed to see me. I walked into his office and told him what I’d heard about him and let him know that I wanted to play professional football and I needed help with my training. He seemed to take me seriously, even though I had to admit that I was completely broke and had no way of paying him, and he knew the odds of making the pros were next to nothing. So he told me to come back the next day and we would start training.
Upon my prompt return, he explained to me that we were going to be doing something called Isokinetic strength training. And he put me on a large contraption built for rehabbing someone’s knee after a torn ACL or something. He put me through my paces, squatting, pressing, curling and extending, all while watching my peak muscle contractions appear as a graph on a screen. I was a beast in those days, a primal, driven animal inside the skin of a human. On the field I was a bound-up ball of explosive energy, as punishing as I was controlled. And I assume Mr. Willis could see the determination and relentlessness inside me. Over time, training me for free, teaching me about the importance of both work and recovery, Phil Willis and I became friends.
And all my friends kept asking me what I was going to do if I didn’t make the pros. I was single-minded and I wouldn’t have it. To stray mentally from the goal was to doubt my ability and doubt might as well have meant giving up. I had no backup plan.
Phil took me mountain biking and let me roll down hills with wild abandon, smashing into ditches and uncontrollably sliding out in the dirt like I’d done so many, many times on the field. He taught me that you always steer toward where your eyes are focused, and if you focus where you don’t want to go, you’ll end up where you didn’t want to be. So it’s wise to only focus on the 5 inches of singletrack that you want your knobby tires to roll on. Focus. And control. You pick your line and execute. No second-guessing, but wholeheartedly committing to the path before you. And you can see why I took to mountain biking. (Phil remarked, “This will either be really good or really bad.”)
Phil watched me fail. On the bike and at the combine. But not for lack of commitment, hard work, or desire. And then one day I decided to open a coffee shop.
It’s been almost nineteen years now since we opened and so much has changed that only a small fraction of our customers know the struggles I endured figuring out how to finance a coffee shop, how to run a coffee business, how to do customer service the right way, and how to manage staff. Many times in the couple of years preceding March 5, 2004, I gave myself an ultimatum that if I didn’t get any traction I had to go apply for a job at McDonald’s. I signed contracts with myself and then broke them. Because I left my first career as a personal trainer to embark on a career in coffee, and I didn’t have a backup plan. My friends, family, and eventually my customers watched me struggle. Struggle to learn and to survive. A lot of the original DoubleShot Folk were on the journey with me, as we were all growing up and trying to figure out how to do life.
Years passed and Phil came to visit in 2021. I walked down the stairs from my office and found him standing by the pourover bar, looking around in awe. And this old friend who taught me so much, who introduced me to a new sport that became a major part of my life, who gave freely of his time and energy and money and knowledge, had tears in his eyes. He said some things that embarrassed me because I didn’t feel like I deserved his accolades. But I know he was emotional because he watched a guy who had nothing and who had failed so much turn a fledgling, barely existent coffeeshop into a real, thriving business. There were years I had my head down and lost contact with everyone, lost in the daily grind, so the emergence of The Rookery had to have been a shock. Tear-inducing.
Tears are real. I know because I cry a lot. I cry because I’m sad, and because I’m in awe, and because someone else is sad, and because I just can’t bear the immensity of the life I’m building. I’ve even cried over a cup of coffee a few times. Joe Holsten cried at the bar at the DoubleShot in the original 1730B location on Boston. It was his first time and he sat near the wall, which I can remember painting with a color I thought resembled the color of crema on a delicious double espresso. He watched me work and I cajoled him a little, making drink after drink for a line of customers, until finally he ordered. A “doppio” probably. To which I probably reminded him that this is the DoubleShot, and English would suffice. Or maybe I asked him if he wanted a ristretto or lungo, or perhaps a cafe creme, though it didn’t really matter what he wanted because I only make espresso one way, and that’s in a demitasse, consumed quickly. Dose. Tamp. Tamp the hell out of it. Maybe I’ll take a photograph of it as it’s coursing out of the portafilter spouts. I served Joe and went back to my business. He was no stranger to espresso, but his choices prior to the DoubleShot were not ideal. And when I went back to check on him, he was sitting on the floor, leaned up against that crema-colored wall, crying. I guess he liked it.
I jokingly say, “There’s no crying at the DoubleShot.” Because there seems to be a lot of crying at the DoubleShot. It’s a place where people come for comfort in times of distress, and a place where a lot of important decisions are made, life-changing work is done, monumental events are celebrated and commemorated. The DoubleShot was built on foundations stained with tears.
The sad and lonely crying hurts but if you’re like me, so does the crying in awe. Because I know I’m experiencing something I’ll likely never see again with the same eyes or taste again with the same palate or love again with the same heart. To me, tears come with pain. And that’s ok, because if you didn’t care you wouldn’t cry. If you didn’t try you wouldn’t cry. It’s about letting things soak in. Way way in, to your soul.
I almost quit my first 100-mile foot race when I struggled into the aid station at mile sixty. My friend Tammy (I call her Tamu because she swims like a killer whale) was crewing at the aid station for another friend of mine, and she jumped my shit. She’s not the gentle type. Tammy forced me to eat a slice of meatloaf, which sounded like a terrible idea. But it wasn’t, and I grabbed a second ketchup-encrusted meat slice and headed back out on the trail. My legs felt refreshed for a time, and I struggled through another twenty miles. An older man passed me and he asked how I was doing. I told him I was hurting, to which he replied, “We are all hurting. There is not one who is not hurting.” That pain takes a long time to accumulate, and when I’m in the midst of suffering, sometimes it’s hard to see that the pain is essential to the subsequent joy. And with twenty miles left in the race, I plodded forward one step at a time until I passed mile marker ninety-nine and I knew I was going to make it. At that moment, the emotion began to well up inside me and tears streamed down my cheeks. I choked back my emotions and doubled-down in that last mile. And then I sat down and let the feeling wash over me.
You want to participate in things that make you cry. Whether it be at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. Crying out of relief or enjoyment or despair or awe. They’re all related to something aspirational, inspirational, and it means you care. Sometimes I look out at all the people sitting in The Rookery enjoying the DoubleShot, and I wonder how many tears will fall when this place is gone. And that’s all the more reason to intentionally enjoy each and every cup, every coffee, every experience. Let the coffee make you cry. But remember, "There's no crying at the DoubleShot."