Maykel González

On Cuba - - AUTHORS - Maykel González

Of Almendrones and Men

I stud­ied jour­nal­ism be­cause I was aim­lessly wan­der­ing, still in­de­ci­sive be­tween be­com­ing a com­puter sci­en­tist or a graphic de­signer. Be­fore that I was an ac­coun­tant. Since ob­vi­ously there is noth­ing of con­gru­ence in my plans, I con­tinue in jour­nal­ism.

Os­mel Sánchez, cov­ered in grease, thin but sinewy, ex­plains that the almendrones re­quire care, in­vest­ing in them once in a while. He him­self only takes fares to José Martí In­ter­na­tional Air­port when some­one is go­ing to travel and prefers pay­ing less than the 25 CUC for the trip, the al­most stan­dard rate charged by pri­vate taxi driv­ers for that trip.

If he has to make re­pairs, Os­mel trav­els to Playa mu­nic­i­pal­ity to a work­shop in the Man­tilla bar­rio, where he has a con­nec­tion to bring spare parts from Mex­ico, and that way he saves hav­ing to pay the high prices for other of­fers on the na­tional black mar­ket, the only one that is good for the main­te­nance of that type of cars.

He has a 1954 Chevro­let, of which what’s only orig­i­nal is the chas­sis or the body­work. His name is Regino González and he man­ages a re­pair work­shop in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of La Lisa, where more than half of the cases he sees to are almendrones.

In the work­shops the parts have to be man­u­ally adapted to the old body­work so that they fit. At times they im­pro­vise in the work­shop mak­ing them with parts from dif­fer­ent cars. Regino’s Chevro­let, for ex­am­ple, is run­ning thanks to a Toy­ota en­gine and a Ford Ex­plorer dif­fer­en­tial.

“If you have the nec­es­sary cap­i­tal, ev­ery­thing is changed at the same time; on the con­trary it is done lit­tle by lit­tle. I started with springs and af­ter­wards I was able to fi­nance the sus­pen­sion. There are few cars with the orig­i­nal parts, I be­lieve that 80 per­cent of those seen in the streets have had to be mod­i­fied,” he says.

Sev­eral Cubans are cur­rently trav­el­ing to Panama or Rus­sia and bring back the car parts they can to sell. The driv­ers have to re­sort to them or any­one; they are cars that break down rather fre­quently be­cause of how old they are and es­pe­cially be­cause of the bad state of the streets. So much weld­ing and in­no­va­tion can­not with­stand much the ex­ploita­tion and the pot­holes. Due to the lack of parts you can’t trust their func­tion­ing. Ev­ery two weeks the own­ers of almendrones stop and have to re­vise them.

Plaza de la Revolu­ción is full of almendrones with va­ca­tion­ing tourists. Around here a Cuban 15-year-old girl ex­hibits her­self dressed as a princess on a 1957 Bel Air Con­vert­ible Chevro­let. Barely a block away, in the in­ter­provin­cial bus ter­mi­nal, va­ca­tions take on a dif­fer­ent look. Be­cause of a deficit in state-run means Cubans trav­el­ing to other prov­inces at times re­sort to the taxi driv­ers and “buquen­ques.” A taxi driver has a dis­cus­sion with one of his clients be­cause he or she closed the door too hard. That is re­ally one of the almendrones’ dilem­mas. You close with a yank or del­i­cately. You open by push­ing the han­dle up­wards or down­wards, while push­ing or not the door to­ward the in­side or out­side. Even with so many years of trans­porta­tion one never gets to ab­so­lutely know the most ef­fi­ca­cious method.

Dur­ing the early morn­ing hours, when pub­lic trans­porta­tion reaches its sum­mit of de­fi­ciency, the driv­ers of almendrones charge what­ever they want. You have to watch out to pay a rea­son­able price, like in many other cities in the world, and if you’re a for­eigner even more so. Like it or not, they are the ones who de­cide on the rate. Or you get in the car or you swal­low the mock­ing cloud of dust from the ex­haust pipe. On the streets, the taxi driver is the boss, he is the king; the al­men­drón is his noble and in­domitable steer.

Ha­vana’s Malecón sea­side drive, 2018 | Photo: Jorge Luis Borges

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cuba

© PressReader. All rights reserved.