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by Ricardo Alberto Pérez

No question about it. Visitors to Cuba enjoy watching the unique old cars, motor bikes and other vehicles on our roads, and they are amazed that they are still functioning and providing as well a living for some and vital mobility for others. For these vehicles to continue moving around, the talents and creativity of many people are needed on a daily basis.

One such person is a remarkable 30-year-old named Alberto Rubio Rodríguez who has been repairing shock absorbers for the last eight years. He tells me that after he finished his military service he took a job as a mechanic’s assistant. He soon realized that of all car parts, it was the shock absorber that was most frequently in need of repair. A practical man, Alberto came to the conclusion that if he specialized in that area he would end up with a steady job and therefore, economic stability.

Like many Cuban mechanics, Alberto carries out the repairs using spare parts he manufactures by hand on a lathe. Up to now he hasn’t met a shock absorber he couldn’t fix. Because of the shape some of them are in, though, they really ought to be thrown out. Strangely enough, this happens more in modern cars. He adjusts them and creates adaptations in order to fix them. The best of it all is that, afterwards, they can be repaired as many times as necessary.

Alberto “operates” on an average of eight to ten pairs of shocks each day. Each job depends on the degree of damage they have. All the work takes place “live” in front of his clients. He thinks that this adds to the trust factor.

In spite of his natural shyness, he has had to overcome that barrier and learn how to communicate better with the public. Over the years his workshop has gained quite a reputation for excellence and people come to see him from provinces other than La Habana such as Matanzas, Pinar del Río, Artemisa and Isla de la Juventud. Day in and day out, a line starts forming at his front door, often starting before dawn.

He explains that when your shocks are in poor shape the stability of your vehicle is at risk and so road safety is compromised. Not only that, other car parts may also become damaged by the faulty shocks.

He admits that his job is exhausting. He is on his feet from eight in the morning until six in the afternoon, stopping only for ten or fifteen minutes to grab a quick lunch. Sometimes clients arrive outside of these hours, urgently pleading with him to fix their cars and Alberto tries to resolve the situation so that they can go home satisfied.

He firmly believes that necessity has made Cubans very creative. In the case of shock absorbers, as with other spare parts, you can’t just go to a store to buy what you need, like brand new shocks. He also says that every day he learns something new about his specialty. Lately he has had to repair more modern shock absorbers and he finds that the more recent the model of car, the more complicated his job becomes because they have a greater number of parts, often parts that he has never seen before.

His work fills him with satisfaction; until now not one client has returned to complain about something he did. His aim is to have cars leave his workshop ready to be driven along Cuban roads for many kilometers and many years to come.

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