Newly minted San Luis Obispo City Councilman AARON GOMEZ stopped by the office the other day for a wide-ranging conversation that touched on a variety of subjects spanning from jewelry-making to environmental policy, tattoo sleeves to Buddhist philosophies. Here is what he had to say…
Aaron, let’s start with a little background. Okay, sure. I was born and raised here in San Luis Obispo. My family, on my mom’s side, goes back four or five generations here in SLO County. After high school, I went to Cuesta for a bit, then pursued a wakeboarding career, which took me to Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Then, after a few years, I blew out my knee and came back here and got into woodworking. So, I pursued a career in furniture building, which eventually led me back into the family business, which is jewelry. I mean, I was born and raised around my dad’s jewelry store downtown and furniture building is fairly similar as far as craftsmanship goes, so I ended up going to an art school up in San Francisco to literally just study jewelry making. That got me into the family business and I have been there ever since.
You probably have more tattoos than the average city councilmember… Yes, that’s true. [laughter] I got my first tattoo when I was 16. My brother got one when he turned 18, so I wanted one, too. That first one, a friend of mine did that one. He wasn’t very skilled at the time—he’s gotten far better since—but it was early on for him, so it’s pretty scarred. It’s a Native American art-style fish. I found it in one of my mom’s books, and I altered parts of it. I can’t say that it was very well thought out. It’s not like I have this great connection to that particular tribe or anything; I just thought it looked cool. I’ve been getting tattooed ever since that time. They all kind of tell a story from different points of my life. This one over here that says “In Memory of Lindsay,” well, pretty much my whole left arm is dedicated to her.
Can you share that story? So, I was 19 and I went to work as a counselor at a wakeboarding school back in Texas. Lindsay was my girlfriend, but it was kind of a secret relationship because her brother ran the camp, so we didn’t want to appear to be unprofessional or disrespectful. Everyone loved her and all of us were super close. Anyway, it was a day off and I was away from camp, but a bunch of the counselors took the opportunity to go wakeboarding together. Lindsay was sitting on the back ski step near the boat’s exhaust. She apparently inhaled a lot of carbon monoxide and passed out and fell into the water. Someone heard it happen and everyone jumped in the water frantically looking for her. Because it was so murky it took them 45 minutes. By then it was too late.
Wow, how did you handle it? I went through grief. I went through that survivor’s guilt. I went through a ton of different aspects—depression. And then there was the flip side of it. I started looking at life in a different way. I started looking to Buddhist philosophies and Eastern philosophies and different things to help reconcile those feelings of loss, and I really started pondering the meaning of life at that point. That all led down the path of becoming a vegetarian, and compelled me to get really involved with environmental issues. That whole thing, the grieving process, and all that followed, was one of those pinnacle experiences that basically made me who I am today. It made me not want to take life for granted as I had done previously. And, also I think when you’re young you don’t understand the responsibility that you have to create your own life versus just letting things come along.
How does that manifest now in your role in city government? You have to start with awareness; you have to start with the conversation. I think that’s the one thing that I do enjoy about being on the council, because it does give me a broader audience that I would not have otherwise. That allows for more conversations and the more conversations we have, the more of these topics come up. And, I’m often pleasantly surprised by how often these topics, these bigger questions, do come up, actually, especially with younger generations. No matter what sort of craziness happens to be going on around the country, around the world, locally we have the opportunity to ask ourselves: Where do we want to be in the future? Because it’s going to be our children and our children’s children that have to deal with what we’re leaving.
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