With his steely blue eyes and token, seemingly endless, cigar in hand, Manuel (or “El Viejito” as we affectionately refer to him), is a fixture in the neighborhood.
It’s nice to say that -- “neighborhood” -- in Miami which has been evolving into a different kind of place almost rapidly. In the blink of an eye our Magic City has evolved from a “town” to a bustling metropolis as condos sprout like weeds growing out of the cracks of nameless construction sites. I’m already almost nostalgic for our ducks living east of Biscayne Blvd by the bay and for the character-filled houses that now inhabit the shadows of their daunting concrete behemoth luxury tower “neighbors” that will inevitably also one day replace them.
Speaking of neighbors, I’m pleasantly reminded that it’s the people that make a “neighborhood” and that’s why I’m happy to talk more about Manuel. “El Viejito”, originally from Cuba, has weathered many years in Miami and he has the stories to prove it. Like clockwork, he is always patiently waiting for L&R Grocery on the northeast corner of 25th and Biscayne to open so that his day can begin. As he puffs on what should be his first, but is most likely his second cigar of the day, he’s ready to work. Manuel is the kind of guy that will probably never retire; not from the store nor from making you smile.
You’ve probably seen Manuel as you cruise down Miami’s main artery, Biscayne Blvd, but you may or may not have noticed him. In between sweeping the stoop of L&R and keeping the store in impeccable order, shelves fully stocked, he makes time to share a "chisme" or crack a joke if you’re lucky enough to make his acquaintance. It is truly something admirable and there is a comfort in the regularity of his routine that makes Miami my “home sweet home.”
It would do no justice to carry on further about El Viejito, as the picture truly speaks for itself. But alas, I hope that others will be inspired to notice the often unrecognized characters that define a neighborhood, before the face and the faces of that neighborhood disappear. That is what the “Real Miami” is all about.
© Los Bandidos del Arte, LLC. 2016.