An Elderly Cuban: Workaholic or Needy?

Feliz at his afternoon job as a parking  attendant.
Felix at his afternoon job as a parking attendant.

Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES — At five thirty in the morning, the shrill, loud noise of an obsolete lawn-mower wakes me up.

At first, I am irritated, annoyed. It’s Saturday and I should be able to get a bit more sleep. On weekdays, I have to get up early to get my kid ready for school (he’s in junior high).

Then I look out the window and see Felix, the gardener who works at the parking lot surrounding my building. He’s doing his daily chores: mowing the lawn, cleaning the rows of plants, picking up garbage, etc.

He works even on Saturdays. He follows the same routine every day: when he’s done, he goes over to the Sierra Maestra building (belonging to Cuba’s CIMEX corporation), where he does more gardening work.

The feeling of irritation quickly goes away. Felix is a hard-working man who is over sixty.

In the afternoon, he puts away his chattels and wipes his dark complexioned face with a moist cloth. He then walks over to another parking lot, the one in front of a shopping complex called La Puntilla, wearing a red and black vest with the words “State Parking Official” printed on the back.

Felix takes a drink of water.
Felix takes a drink of water.

He wears high rubber boots, a pair of jeans and a thatched hat. He works there until six in the afternoon.

Whenever I walk past him, I say hello and ask him why he works so hard. He replies with a half-smile and tells me he likes keeping busy, because he lives alone in a tiny room in a tenement building, that he has no family. He doesn’t even watch television. The television set he had was too old and no one had the pieces needed to fix it.

All he does at night is listen to the radio. He prefers classical and instrumental music programs, says they help him relax and sleep better.

His gardening salary isn’t enough to live on, which is why he decided to become a parking attendant (many people in this upscale part of the city drive to the shopping complex).

Parking officials pay a moderate State tax. Car owners usually pay them a dime (in Cuban Convertible Pesos). Tourists and some Cubans sometimes pay him as much as 25 cents. The more cars that park, the more money they make. On some days, however, Felix has walked away with less than 1 CUC.

At the end of the working day, he walks away, without his vest and hat, his tool case slung over his shoulder, his bald head exposed. He doesn’t seem to be at all tired. Quite the contrary, he seems to be in a hurry.

He walks over to the bus stop to catch the P5 (he lives in the old town). It’s quite a ways from Havana’s posh residential neighborhood of Miramar.

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

One thought on “An Elderly Cuban: Workaholic or Needy?

  • Juan, the father of my friend franco franco, ran a ponchero out of his carport on Ave. 51 in San Agustin until quite recently when, at age 94, he finally retired. Monday through Saturday he’d be up before dawn, ready for work at 6:00 a.m. Although he closed around 3:30 p.m., he’d always reopen if somone’s moto had blown a tire, or if a kid wheeled in his bicicyle with a flat tire. He even gave the kids some leftover innertube scraps, with which they promptly constructed sling-shots! (Don’t ask me for what use they put these instruments! “Don’t ask! Don’t tell!” As I child I put such weapons to some unsavory uses!) During the day a group of his friends would gather benneath the shade of his carport and, as he vulcanized tires or refitted them to rims, they’d converse. Listening to them helped me to gradually improve my Spanish.

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