A Cuba Cutting-in-Line Hustle

Osmel Almaguer

Waiting in line at Havana’s Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor.

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 8 — In a rigid but also chaotic system in which there are too many people experiencing unmet needs, things that begin as curious can turn into the pitiful.

“Coppelia,” the popular ice cream parlor complex in the Vedado district is — perhaps along with Havana’s east side beaches — the largest and one of the few centers of relaxation for the capital’s population of nearly three million people, those who in one way or another live or pass through the city.

Therefore it’s not difficult to imagine the lines that are formed there. But it is indeed difficult to anticipate the absolutely screwy ideas that people will come up with to take advantage of a situation.

On Saturday, I showed up at the Coppelia and asked to find out who was the last in line (thereby “marking” my position in the queue, as we say). Shortly after, some guy stepped up to me offering to let me cut in his place at the front of the line for five pesos.

At first I figured that this character had to be working in cahoots with somebody employed at the complex. But no, the idea seemed to be solely his own, as he blatantly obstructed the line that was barely moving.

It seems he had arrived hours earlier, when he had “marked” his own position in the queue. He made sure that the person behind him was a relatively non-assertive person, someone who he could intimidate if it got to that point.

Then he waited until he was at the point of going in, but instead of entering he would go to the back of the line and began proposing to the newcomers to cut in up front…for five pesos a head.

By the time I arrived, he had already “slipped in” a dozen or so people, though the teenagers behind his spot in line were starting to get upset and had begun protesting.

Then, as planned, he began gesturing and yelling in a routine known here as “guaperia,” which consists of intimidating other people.

I’m not sure how things ended. I gave up on eating ice cream, just as I did any intention of getting into that dispute.

As I was leaving the mess was still going on. But there was no police presence to deal with any of it, even though that is one of the most centrally located blocks in all of Havana.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

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