Walking out the door of an office building Friday about noon – my mind elsewhere.
Something makes me stop. And look.
I hardly believe what I see: A faded blue 1996 Toyota Tercel – covered from front to back, bottom to top, inside and out with U.S. pennies. The car’s owner, Aldo, inside. Flanked by his sidekick, Gigo (“JEE-jo”), the dog.
“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Aldo, 85, thanks me and patiently answers questions.
He left Cuba for the United States in 1959 – the year Fidel Castro and his ragtag rebel band seized power. Aldo was 30. He hasn’t been back.
More than a half-century later, a replica of the Statue of Liberty rides the front of Aldo’s hood, waving an American flag. A miniature Cuban flag dangles from the inside mirror. A sign in the rear windows displays more patriotism for his adoptive country.
Aldo glued his first penny on his Tercel about six years ago. Now it’s mostly maintenance. A few Canadian and Cuban. Almost all from the United States. Aldo shows me the Cuban penny and a 1901 Indian head penny I thought might be worth some real money. However, a pristine copy sells on Ebay for less than $100.
More than 1,700 pennies. Pennies everywhere. Tires. Mirrors. Windshield wipers. Steering wheel.
Another thing; Aldo and Gigo ride around on seat covers sporting the likeness of 1970s-era southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyd (“Sweet Home Alabama”).
“You were a fan?”
A loose penny rolls under my fingers – in the railing above the passenger door. I can’t help myself. “Can I have this?” A souvenir.
Gripping a tube of Loctite adhesive Aldo prepares to fill a hole. I dig in my pocket to find a penny. Aldo thanks me. Adds it to his rolling collection. You can see it in the photo – stuck bright and shiney in a sea of darkened copper.
A new penny.
Loose pennies fill jars in the back of the car. He has more at home. I don’t ask how many.
I cannot stop my mouth. “So given the recent attempts to make friends with Cuba blah blah blah do you think you’ll go back?”
“No,” Aldo says with a soft chuckle. “I still have problems there.”
With that, I finally shut it. I thank Aldo and say goodbye.
Whatever his politics – whatever he did in Cuba or whatever Castro thinks he did – Aldo is one of the few Cuban-Americans whose dislike for Cuba post-January 1, 1959 is, at least, genuine. Not something he learned about second hand. Not some way to make a political career – like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, beating a drum from a band in which he never marched.
In a world increasingly filled with insta-everything and pseudo experience, Aldo, I sense, is the real deal.
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All photos and editorial content copyrighted 2015 by The People’s Republic Of Freedonia.