Maria Matienzo Puerto

Havana Street.

HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday I had the botella (hitchhiking experience) of my life. I left my boss’s house (she lives near the heavily trafficked corner of 23rd and 26th streets in the Vedado district), and proceeded to ask a Cubataxi driver for a free lift.

As soon as I got in, the conversation began. His first few questions were the usual ones: How far was I going? Was I just getting off work? …and so on.

My initially terse responses were transformed into fluent conversation thanks to his talkativeness.

He began commenting about how we women were swamped with work (at the office and then at home), and then went on talking about his work and the number of people he was able to help daily from behind the wheel.

He continued on like this until he asked me what I did for a living.

So as not to give him too many details, I confined my answer to saying that I wrote things for the Internet.

That’s where the comedy began.

Frightened, he was almost jumped out the window.

At first he started telling me that “you guys” (those of us who write for the Internet) don’t care about anything, that we’re a bunch of crazies and that we’re the ones who are “heating things up.”

Between laughter, joking and half seriousness, he called me a “gusana” (a counterrevolutionary, literally a “worm”).

I responded to all of that with a question: “So let’s see who the real worms are?” Unflinching in my position, I turned my head and started looking out the window, waiting anxiously to reach my destination.

After a few minutes of silence, to my surprise he responded to me with: “It’s true. We should see who the worms are!”

He then started telling me stories of corruption, ones which he must have been a part of, even if just as a witness. I figured that he must have done that because otherwise he would have found himself out of a job, and his kids needed to be fed.

Among those stories was that of Armando, the only person on his job who ended up becoming what’s officially termed “available for work” (meaning he was fired). After almost fifteen years of impeccable service he was kicked to the curb for being only person who didn’t kickback money to the boss.

What happened was that after becoming “available,” Armando was then re-contracted but without the right to vacations or sick days.

The story ended up pretty ugly because Armando couldn’t take the pressure. He died after two heart attacks, which — according to what was told to me by my new traveling companion — were the fault of those same managers who were putting the squeeze on to see what they could get out of him.

Our encounter ended with a handshake, an exchange of phone numbers and the promise — if I wanted — that he would give me all the details.

His “it’s nice to meet people like you” is still ringing in my mind.

That’s what happens sometimes when people find out that you write for the Internet.

 


Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

4 thoughts on “If You Want to Talk About ‘Worms’

  • For the record, taxi drivers in Havana are among the more ¨well-off¨Cubans. They have access to CUC and they can control the time and effort they expend to work. Rising fuel costs are lessening their advantages but they remain among the better-paid Cubans. Also, if this was a ¨maquina¨ taxi or private taxi, he was traveling along a set route so allowing a free rider does not costs him anymore than the forgone 10 pesos he would have collected. Giving pretty girls free rides is widely practiced. As Cuban corruption goes, this is hardly a blip on the radar.

  • Not unless you are refering to the fact I limit my urge to take advantage of, or steeal, to the abuse of corporations and the wealthy [not that I actually know any really wealthy people]. That is what set my teeth on edge – This was a cab driver!

  • Okasis,
    do you detect a hint of self-righteousness?

  • I did not carefully read this article, or pay much attention to the corruption the poor cab driver witnessed. I call him poor, because what you refer to as ‘hitchhiking’, would be considered common theft in the grand capitalist world you dream of. Hitchhiking is plodding along with your thumb out hoping for a generous driver to give you a ride. Common theft is stiffing the driver of a commercial vehicle – and I do think the Cubataxis are private vehicles whose owners pay heavy fees for the privilege if operating a private business. If the driver is not the owner, he is dependent on paying passengers to pay his wages. No passengers, no pay.

    The theft involves the loss of business while he ferries you home for nothing, and of course the cost of gasoline and oil and upkeep on the auto. But I guess that is meaningless to you.

    We would define it as corruption if you expected the driver of a public transit vehicle to let you ride free, while the rest of us paid. But, dining and dashing, or stiffing a cab driver are common thefts, usually a misdemeanor, and if you do it often enough to get caught, you can do some jail time, and or pay a fine. The cabby, or waiter, or small business just eats the loss. If it gets bad enough, they raise prices, and the rest of us pay for your ‘free’ ride.

    Guess what I am trying to say is that the Cabby was right when he called you a ‘gusano’, because only a worm steals from a working guy trying to do his job.

    No wonder your economy is in trouble. If many people think they deserve a free ride, it will collapse from the weight of supporting all the free loaders. Ours is in trouble because the people with all the money think they should get a free pass because they are obviously better than people who work for a living. Same-same, no economic or political system can thrive when when people refuse to work together for the good of all, and demand rights they have not earned or paid for.

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