By Harry C. González Rivera
Around 11:00 p.m. a white van with yellow and blue stripes arrives to Martinez Nadal Street at Mayagüez, parking between the Exygon Health and Fitness Gym and Los Próceres Park. The van is an old ice cream truck looking van with a power generator on the front, a Gas tank on the back, with paint that is faded and it clearly has some bumps and rust is clearly starting to show up. In the inside it are some 90’s theme counter-tops and irons fences on the windows, and on its side big logos with the name Chori’s Cafe.
Out of the van comes a guy in his mid-30’s and starts to unpack a grill, some plastic tables and bunch of chairs, under a street light that seems to turn on and off every five minutes or so. He turns on the small generator that he uses as a power source for his van, it’s so small it hardly makes any loud sounds and it’s easy to talk right beside it, he then goes inside the van to prepare some goods before people arrive.
Around 12:30 a.m. people start to arrive to the van to eat, but out of every five persons or so one stick around for a while to talk with Chori, mostly there are small talks, always been polite and friendly.
Chori treats everyone nicely as if every customer was a close friend that came to talk about their pains, joys and life problems. If anyone uses fool language, he politely asks them to watch their languages because all kinds of person’s young and old people come to his van.
Rubén Vázquez, Chori’s real name, has worked in his van making sandwiches for the last 14 years in Mayagüez. He was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, 38 years ago. He grew up between Caguas and the state of Florida where he received his High School Diploma.
“Where did my nickname came from? A Cuban friend back in Orlando gave it to me. Florida used to mock me calling me “Chori-so Prieto” and the nickname sticked, people started calling me Chori … I got used to it … nowhere days if people call me Rubén I usually don’t response to it.” said Chori as he served a kabob to a customer.
For the last 14 years he seen a lot of people come and go to his van, mostly students since his van is located really close to the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus. He has even seen students collapse in front of his van because of alcohol poisoning and has had to help them on his own either because they came alone to the van or their friends are so drunk that they believe it just a joke and just laugh at person that collapsed instead of helping them.
“ The most powerful thing I have seen in this 14 years is seen people who are really in need … specially students that come from a really poor family background, overcoming their obstacles and graduate with better accomplishment that those come from wealthy family” says Chori as he prepares a sandwich for one of his customers.
Chori’s works 5 days a week from around 11:30a.m till 5:00 a.m. depending on the night. Although he rethinks for a second, admits some days he does take the day off, if he is too tired or simply feel the day does not a have a good vibe.
Depending on the day Chori’s night shift ends, he goes back to his house to get some sleep and wakeup between 12:00p.m. and 2:00p.m. to help his wife with her cake making business and also do his daily shores or appointments. He does not have kids, instead has two dogs, a Cockle Spaniels couple that he treats as if they were his kids. He repeats the same routine every day at 11:30p.m. and waits for his customers to arrive and treat them with the same friendly attitude and kindness only found on people that do their job with passion no matter how much sweet or how little it pays them.