Fidel and Miss Green, till death do they part
Sagua La Grande, Cuba
By Desmond Boylan
I know a Cuban man named Fidel who is tall, well-built and hardworking. He is known to have had several wives and many girlfriends during his life, and now has a pregnant daughter who will soon make him a grandfather, but those details of his life are diffuse. What he does admit is that the undisputed love of his life is Señorita Verde, or Miss Green.
Fidel gets on well with his neighbors, likes telling jokes, and is always in a good mood. At times he looks a bit nostalgic or sad as his house badly needs repair, and he worries the whole house will fall down on him and Miss Green during the heavy rains and strong winds of the new hurricane season.
People have offered to buy Miss Green from him so he can repair his crumbling 100-year-old wooden house, but he remains defiant. “I will never sell Miss Green. Just the idea of selling her makes me shiver,” he said. “People have no feelings.”
Miss Green is Fidel’s 1952 green Chevy, parked in his living room for the last 23 years.
Fidel, now 53 years old, bought the car in 1990 when the Cuban economy was heavily dependent on the USSR. The Berlin Wall had fallen a few months before and little did he know what would happen next – the Soviet Union disintegrated and as a consequence, Cuba plunged into the “special period,” a ten-year era of extreme lack of everything. Life for Cubans became a real struggle, but even so Fidel never budged when potential buyers would make an offer.
Fidel´s current salary as a driver for the Cuban public health system is extremely low, around 220 Cuban pesos, just under 10 dollars per month, so he has more than enough trouble to make ends meet every month. “I could easily get around 7,000 dollars for her right now, but the problem is I like eating well and I would eat what I made from her in no time, and the result is I would put on even more weight and I would then be very sad without her. I can’t conceive of life without Miss Green.”
Fidel lives with Miss Green inside his house as he does not have a garage, so she occupies the greater part of his living room. She is the first thing you see when you step inside.
Things are gradually changing in Cuba. The economic situation is far better than the “special period” times of the 90’s but there are still two stinging issues that many Cubans have to endure – poor housing conditions and precarious transportation. Fidel is struggling with both of these issues the best he can.
To get around he has a Soviet-era bicycle from the 1970’s, bought when he was 20. It is another of his well-guarded possessions, and his main means of day-to-day transport. Miss Green is only for special occasions or longer distances, petrol permitting of course.
“I have had this bicycle for 33 years. It was in the first shipment of bikes that came to Cuba from the Soviet Union. It is rock solid. Imagine, the front tire lasted until last year when I had to replace it. I could not manage without my bicycle,” he explained proudly.
I asked Fidel if it would not be better to have the car in the street near his door, so then he would have more space in his living room. “No way would I leave Miss Green outside in the street. Someone could crash into her, kids playing could break one of her windows, or a thief could steal her. There are too many chances of something terrible happening. I would not be able to sleep at night with the worry, so she is inside the house with me at all times.”
Fidel can see the car parked in the living room as he lies in bed watching TV in his bedroom.
He keeps Miss Green clean and in working condition, caresses her curves, speaks to her, keeps her polished and never stops looking at her.
“I am planning to put a diesel engine in her. She already has a Soviet Lada carburetor, which reduces her petrol consumption so I could drive her more and even make a living from her doing trips to Havana and all over Cuba,” he explained.”Petrol costs one dollar for a liter, and I can do around eight kilometers per liter, so I cannot take her out her so often.”
As I was there a friend of Fidel’s gave him a present of a couple of gallons of gasoline, so he was excited to be able to take Miss Green for a ride. With the petrol tank rusted and in repair, Fidel attached the engine’s gasoline tube to the plastic jug containing the precious fuel. He drove first to buy a few more liters worth $6.80, to be on the safe side.
I rode with him as he drove to visit friends 18 kms (11 miles) away in Sagua La Grande, central Cuba, during which he got Miss Green up to 80 kms (50 miles) per hour without a problem. He was overjoyed. “It’s very good for her to go for a spin now and then, otherwise the engine could suffer and the pistons clog up. Sometimes I turn on the engine in the living room for a few minutes, and other times I just ride around the block once or twice. When I have petrol then I go for a spin, but not too far.
When asked about politics Fidel made faces and tried to change the subject, but when I insisted he said, “I like my country a lot and I’m very proud to be Cuban, but let’s face it, things are bad now, but they have been much worse and other countries are suffering a lot due to the global economic crisis. We aren’t as much since we are used to surviving, and we notice there is a gradual improvement. I feel safe and happy here and people always help each other, and even though my salary is low this country is not as bad as foreigners portray it.”
He continued by saying, “But I prefer to talk about things that interest me more. I heard soon they are going to change the license plates of all cars in Cuba…”