We Were Friends

I was going over some of my old notes and I found the following — and I thought I would share it with you. It’s a long one, so I’m letting you know in advance.

I went to Miami in 1953 to see if there was work available in my trade, photoengraving. In those days, if you went to Cuba for at least three days you didn’t need a visa. So I flew to Cuba and, after shrugging off the many guides at the airline office, I walked down the Prado, the Main Street in Havana, and checked into a small hotel there.

After dinner that night, I was strolling down the Prado when I recognized one of the guides from the airline office. I introduced myself, said I didn’t know a soul in town and invited him to have a drink with me. His name was Orlando Ordineta and his nickname was “El Moro.”

Later that night he introduced me to all of the other guides at a small cafe and I soon learned that they knew more about American baseball and baseball players than I will ever know — and when it came to the Cubans who were playing in the big leagues in America, they could probably tell you what they had for lunch the previous day.

The next few days I spent exploring Havana and the nearby beaches, but at night I was back with “the boys,” discussing baseball and showing them the new dance steps from America, at their request, and laughing.

They had very little in the way of creature comforts that we take for granted, but their outlook always seemed upbeat and positive, as though the next day would bring something good.
They all drove cars that were at least 10 years old and, because there were only 13 traffic lights in the city of Havana at that time, I was told, the car that had its bumper ahead of another car had the right of way.

I adopted their attitude and after my three days were up I called my bank in Philadelphia, withdrew my meager savings, which they express mailed to me, and I was able to spend the rest of that month in Havana.

It was at that point that Orlando took me to where he lived, a big stone building that looked like a barracks with a long line of beds on each side of the room and one bathroom for everyone.
Orlando had a room to himself, which was about 10 by 10, with a bed, a table, a bowl for water to wash and shave with, and a cup. That’s it, as best I remember. I knew that taking me there was his way of letting me know we were friends and he could share that with me.

When my money was gone, it was time to leave Havana. When I boarded the bus that would take me back to the airport, I found that I didn’t have the money (about half a dollar) for the fare. Orlando gave the bus driver the money, and asked him to wait a minute and he ran off down the Prado. He was back in a few minutes with a big paper bag filled with bottles of rum and cordials. “For your father,” he said. He knew I had already bought a gift for my mother.

I had a lump the size of a baseball in my throat as I hugged him and said goodbye.

How could a man who had so little give so much? The answer was we were friends.