Cuba – The View from a ’55 Bel Air

By Dan Travers, Crooked Trails Board President

cuba classic carReflecting on my last 2 weeks in Cuba as I ride from the southern coast back to Havana in Orlando’s 1955 Bel Air with wood interior door handles and side panels and frightening rack & pinion steering, but powered by a new Toyota motor which, due to crappy gas, sounds like an old Chevy motor, and, with the fresh taste of crocodile meat in my mouth, I stare ahead past the dramatic space-age jet plane hood ornament to the 6 lane highway devoid of almost all traffic.

Orlando brings me back to the present with a request to hand him the one window crank shared between all 4 windows.  Yet, this beat up Chevrolet beauty has a Thumbdrive slot in it’s new Pioneer stereo.  Still, the speedometer is dead and the left blinker blinks incessantly.

cuba hood ornamentThis being my first visit here, Cuba has surprised me in some ways, but not dramatically.  I have romanticized it for so long that I was sure I’d be disappointed.  I am not.  It’s people are all friendly, there is little overt machismo, and black and white mix, mingle and act independent of stereotypes.  The economy is weak, but improving.  No one is in a hurry.  There is almost no evidence of Communism and as one host put it, “Cubans are too into music, dancing, and women to be good Communists.  Russia was very disappointed!”

We are told it is safe to go anywhere at any time.  Even the drunks at the local festival were well behaved. (I had never before seen a drunk manage his beer in one hand and cock-fighting rooster in the other at the same time) Simple crime is rare. We see almost no unsavory characters, beggars, show-offs or delinquents.  The coastal snorkeling park we went to had a ‘free drinks all day’ policy that was not being abused by anyone except maybe a bit by the two American tourists with the mulatto kid.  We also see almost no food stores, no internet cafes or other churches, few televisions, dogs, bicycles or motorcycles, but lots of horse drawn carts, horseback riders and so many old American cars, really old cars.

cuba street musicThe food is good, almost no spices, mostly seafood, rice and refried beans on the side, and Buccanero beer, Mojitos and Daiquiris.  And music is an integral part of Cuban culture.  In fact, for whatever reason, the Beatles are enjoying huge resurgence in popularity.  Or maybe they never went out of style. Cuba has 8 Beatles themed clubs!  Musicians abound in nearly every restaurant and are generally quite good.  They play with beat up trumpets, maracas with peeling paint and manage their guitars extremely well despite the lack of a G-string. One musician, named Elvis, asked If I could send him some nylon strings when I got home.  I’m glad he was specific.

The most displeasing thing I experienced in Cuba was the growing popularity of American urban music videos and with their attitude, display of wealth, denigration of women and angry posturing.  With the beneficial economic, political and other freedoms that will come with the imminent end to US sanctions against Cuba, I dread the other inevitable;  the American diseases that come with it.  The infestation of the rat-race, the addiction to money, the racism and materialism, and the frustration and violence that festers between all of these.  But my only regret on this trip was teaching my 6 year old traveling companion how to play BlackJack.  I created a monster.

Perhaps with the coming changes, Cubans will gain the ability to more fully express themselves, but the more they choose to express themselves by what they do  have than by what they don’t  have, the more rewarding these expressions will be.

Cuba is certainly much how I had thought it would be, yet much more colorful and vibrant….. And yes, crocodile meat tastes much like chicken, but chicken not quite like any chicken I’ve actually eaten before.  Still, I will be back for more.
Ps. The Bel-Air blinker was not stuck on “blink.” It turns out even Cuban men share the freedom to leave their blinker on whenever they want!

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