brief interview with a paleta salesman in charlotte

Paletas are basically popsicles. All over Mexico you will see people pushing carts selling them. Here is a picture of a typical paleta cart from the flickr user Made in Mississippi..

They are all very similar looking, like a small freezer on two big tires. It's strange, I've driven in very rural parts of the Yucatan of Mexico, two hours from anywhere really, and somebody will be pushing one of these things down the side of the road with not a customer in sight forever and ever.

It doesn't surprise me to see them all over Charlotte where I worked all this week.

This past Wednesday, I was returning to my hotel from work and noticed a classic paleta cart with salesman near the front of the hotel. After relaxing in the room for awhile and doing a little net surfing, I went to the restaurant across the street for dinner and could see the guy with his cart from there as I ate. I spent a long time in the restaurant. From the time I first saw the paleta guy, about three hours had elapsed and it was getting dark. As far as I could tell, nobody had talked to the guy and he had sold no paletas, though I did see him eat one. I was getting curious and decided I was going to go talk to him as soon as I finished eating.

It had been hot and humid that day, and the guy looked really withered as I approached him. I'd guess his age to be in the range of 18 to 20. He was *dirty*, bad dirty, and his clothes were so filthy that they had a sheen to them. He was very sweet, personality-wise, and chatted readily. His name was Rodrigo and he came from the state of Chiapas, Mexico, which is right next to Guatemala.

I asked Rodrigo if he spoke English:
–un poquito (which means "a little", but in reality means next to none).

So there he was for three hours that I knew of, dirty, tired, sun-baked, and not able to talk to anybody.

I asked him what was going on. He said, "they were supposed to come pick me up, but I think I've been forgotten". Apparently some of these popsicle guys are dropped off and picked up by somebody each day, but they were way late in coming for Rodrigo.

Then he confessed that he was very nervous. He was worried that he might get bothered by the police for standing there so long. He asked me if I thought the hotel owners, who were sitting nearby, were angry at him. I told him they didn't seem to be, in fact they didn't seem to be aware of him at all.

He then moved close to me and let it all out:

"What do you do for work?"
"Is there a job for me there?"
"Can you help me get a job there?"
"Do you know of any jobs anywhere?"
"I need a job, man."
"I'm not eating all that well."

I kind of freaked out at the gravity of his situation and wanted to bolt. I told him that I was going back to my room, but if somebody bothered him, to come get me, and I gave him my room number and pointed to the distant door. We said "que te vaya bien" to each other ("bye" in other words), and I split.

I sat down on the sofa in the room and promptly fell asleep. Over an hour later I woke up, and said, "Rodrigo!" I ran out there and he was gone. They came for him, I suppose.

What a situation young Rodrigo was in. I then thought I should have offered to get him something to eat or drink, to use the bathroom, chatted with him more, whatever. I wasn't thinking.

2 responses to “brief interview with a paleta salesman in charlotte

  1. You did the best you could. Imm sure the assurance of someone backing him if he got into cop troble was a great comfort in itself.

  2. A poignant story, dave.Those illegal immigrants are so often worse of. They are being abused by a lot of people and live in constant fear of getting caught. On top of that they get exploited and regarded at as dirt or simply replaceable.

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