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Monday, October 26, 2009

Adios mi amigo Juan

Well, the day finally came and it doesn't matter that the guy gave me a two year notice. It's not the fact that the guy was talented and hardworking. It's not the fact that the guy was loyal and tireless. What I will miss most is the guy always had my back - I mean I trusted him totally - and when you have experienced as much disappointment, misdirection, and screw-ups, patch-ups. fix-ups, success, and victory laps as we have here at Catskill Farms as we have contributed $22,750,000 into a tiny depressed community, a guy who has your back is worth its weight in gold.

For 8 years, from soon after he arrived from Guatemala, Juan was my go to guy - a guy that would do what I needed, when I needed it, how I needed it done. And I'm sure there are people reading this who have never run a business, so what I describe sounds more like a puppy than an employee - but for anyone who has ever experienced pure respect and loyalty in the face of diverse and continuous challenges, then I really don't need to explain his value to you.

I mean when Juan joined up with me I had nothing - I had a business by name only. And we built the Baillie's farm, and Farm 1, and Juan a couple of years later said I looked like I was crying every night, and while I don't know if I would go that far, I do remember living in my 400 sq ft shack in Cochecton pretty certain this new old house idea was certainly a stroke of brilliance, but I was equally sure that I probably would run out of time, going down in the flames of debt, inexperience and the shear difficulty of running a business in area like this with a scarcity of labor and talent.

And the thing about Juan is he watched my business grow, contributed to my business's growth, watch me go from struggling to barely build 2 homes a year, to 4, to 6, to 12, and he watched me buy my office building, watched me buy trucks, watched me buy land, watched me invest in the business, and move my house 5 times to stay ahead of the game - and never was his response to hold it against me, to leverage my success in some sort of ransom play - he thought I earned everything I gained, felt I had risked it, played it smart, maneuvered quickly and correctly, and I could always feel the respect he had for what we had done. And as the readers can see from some of the posts on this blog, the reality of the business's growth has been brutal - financially and psychologically - especially when we didn't have the skill or experience to know if we were really doing right and good.

I mean - the guy respected me enough to enjoy seeing me grow and make money. How many employees (or actually people) have enough respect not to look into someone elses pocket?

Pre-party in my kitchen as Lisa, Kelsey and me get ready for the party, post keg tapping.

And the frickin' guy Juan - I mean he did everything right for someone who is trying to get ahead. He kept his vices to a minimum, he repaired things instead of disposing of them, he worked a lot and he worked hard, and he choose an employer who could keep him busy - not just some days, but everyday. For 8 years, I expected him to show up and he expected to have work - and a guy like Juan, lots of people wanted him, recruited him. Now he goes home, having sent enough money back to build a 5 unit apartment house, and a cargo container full of trucks, tools, and other important accumulations. He wasn't a frivolous guy, for sure.

A b/w of Lisa and her 6th grade helper cutting out a lot of Juan photos that we posted everywhere.

Kelsey in high speed. Lisa had some balloons heliumed up for the occasion and lost control of them in the parking lot of the local grocery, Pecks, and off they flew. So she had to get more.

I mean, Juan and I did a lot of shit together. Everytime I would buy some land we would go out with his machete and hike the land with the survey and a 300' tape measure and figure out where the new property lines should be, where the house might go, looking for natural features like stone walls and big rocks and views that we could accent and use accordingly. When I was thinking about buying the 50 acres we subsequently called Eldred Farms, we went out in February and hiked that damn thing - up the hills, through the thickets, across snow 2' deep. Then went and got some wings and beer at the Carriage House in Barryville.

Good picture of the architecture of the house as well as few of the early guests. Lisa's saw collection on the right, duel grills burning on the front porch, balloons, babies, and that's Brad talking to the man of the hour.

Then when I got my old red plow truck, he and I would cruise around shoveling and plowing, ending up at the same old Carriage House for drinks and wings. He was around when Bella was here, and when she passed away.

There's Joe and Randolpho, two proteges of Juan.

I mean, I asked Juan to do crazy shit. Cut those huge trees down (sure I know our newly finished house is 4' away), build that stone patio, trim out that house, put on that roof boot (even though 2' of snow is on the roof), - the guy was like an action-hero you would buy for your child.

He had this 1998 Nissan from the day I met him - the same truck he still has today even though he hit every imaginable animal with it over the years, finally getting a turkey just last year. I one point he had bungee cords holding a few vital pieces together. Juan liked to save his money because at one point he had his tires slashed and Curtis and I didn't feel bad for him because he should have got new tires 2 years before - but interestingly, Juan saw some of that same insane hatred I experience - for the only reason that he did well for himself, and year after year elevated himself a little closer to his goals, and those that made the wrong choices, had a vice too many, chose the wrong employer, bought pricey trucks, stayed home when it rained fell a little bit further behind - so they slash his tires on multiple occasions. With me, it's just mean-spiritness (or as the spell check suggested - 'spiritless') and pettiness, but with Juan it got scary at times.

But that guy could fit more into that pick up than you could imagine. Every possible tool, clamp, rope, lift, wrench, jumper cables, lubricant, -somewhere in that truck it could be found. It was amazing for sure.

Lisa with the tuneage and cake.

James K. in the flesh.

My main Tito, Carlo and Carlo's hot tamale.
There's Nancy and Richard from the Barryville Cottage they bought from us back in June or so. And that's Beth, Juan's "english teacher" for 5 years. That's a great example - I tell Juan back in 2004 that, you know, he's a great worker and I think I will have work for him but he's got to improve his english - that it's the most important thing he can do for himself and for me - and the guy proceeded without fail to find a teacher and go to class twice a week, everyweek, for next 5 years.

Looking into the kitchen where Pablo and Ana from Cottage 7, Jeanne and Deb from Cottage 14, and Gayle and Lane from Cottage 15 were doing tequila shots (actually they weren't, but it sure would have been great).

And our little 11 week old chocolate lab who just 2 weeks ago was the same size as Lucas and now looks like a small dog. He's growing like crazy and just last week when Lisa had Jake the pup and Lucas the child out for a walk and they were pulling her in different directions and an old guy stopped by and said 'look in there' and when she did she saw a 105 lb lab just slobbering back at her - I mean a big dog.

Pretty easy to predict where this ends up - with pinched fingers and all 4 chairs on top of him, tears, recriminations, and promises to take pictures later, act first next time.

He is literally days away from walking and the amazing thing about it is that he gets it, he knows something new is just around the corner.

Well, that's about it. I feel like I'm experiencing a death - because although we are prepared for the change, it won't be the same. It may be worse, it may even be better (it won't be the first time someone has left us only to find the other players have been holding back their best talents), but one thing is for sure -my friend Juan won't be replaced anytime soon and the guy has everything to be proud about the way he lived his 8 years in America. It's a truly American tale of step by step achievement.


  1. I would like to sign up for english lessons!

  2. None of that low brow humor here please.