by Eduardo J. Carlo
It’s almost 6 p.m. on one of the hottest days of November. As the sun almost hides completely, with bullets of sweat dripping from his face through his whole body, Calanco is still wandering around his usual streetlight.
With his brown worn-out cap, dusty and ripped blue jeans and seemingly old red shirt almost completely wet from the sweat of an entire day caused by the heat of the sun, Alexis Javier Muñoz Rivera, commonly known around the urban area of Cabo Rojo as Calanco, asks for money to the drivers who for a brief minute stop at his streetlight.
“A glass with water please,” he asks one of the cashiers with a noticeable fatigue controlling his every breath a couple of minutes before we take seat to begin our interview in a crowded Cabo Rojo McDonalds.
Muñoz Rivera is known by almost every citizen of Cabo Rojo. In order to make a living, he has been asking for money in the same streetlight for almost 10 years. “The McDonalds streetlight is mine; Every homeless person that asks for money in Cabo Rojo knows that for sure,” said Calanco with an strong tone of voice referring to the streetlight in front of the only McDonalds on Cabo Rojo.
His curly long black hair along with his unshaved beard and mustache don’t give him the appearance of an 33 year old guy, although that’s Calanco’s age. As a result of dropping out from school at the ninth grade, Muñoz Rivera has spent his last 8 years wandering the McDonalds streetlight for money.
“This streetlight is lucky because the people that leave McDonalds very often have some change as a result of their purchase and most of them spare it; If taking the heat of the sun for six, seven or eight hours is the way of making a few bucks then that’s what I have to do in order to eat,” said Calanco with his eyeballs not paying any source of attention to me while he counts the total amount of change he has compiled so far today.
His wrinkled and toasted skin is a visible proof of the damage the sunlight has done to him through the years. Although wandering for money for almost an entire day can be an exhausting and brutal task, he prefers to take the punishment the sunny days give him, rather than earning money illegally.
Ricardo Cruz Delgado, general manager of Cabo Rojo’s McDonalds, has never encounter a problem with Muñoz Rivera. “I’ve been general manager of the store for the past five years and ever since my first day, he has been wandering on that streetlight. He has never tried to steal from the store nor our clients. He usually enters the store to count how much money he has collected at certain points of the day and sometimes asks permission to use our restroom’s facilities,” said Cruz about Calanco.
When asked if he knew about Muñoz Rivera’s nickname, Cruz said ” Honestly I didn’t knew his personal name nor his nickname.” “Many times per week a car passes by screaming Calanco but only now I know its towards him,” he added as a couple a laughs escaped his mouth before going back to attend the rush the night customers create on Cabo Rojo’s McDonalds.
Almost every day from Monday to Sunday, one can see Calanco asking for money on the McDonalds streetlight. Very seldom does he sell newspapers or other stuff, almost always he’s just straight up without a sign or poster, asking for money to eat with his signature small backpack on. He may sometimes arrive a little late than usual to his streetlight but most of the days he’s already asking for money before the sun has fully come up, through the whole day and sometimes even the whole night.
“The earlier I get here means more money I will make. Most days I even arrive to the streetlight earlier than the newspaper sellers,” said Calanco when asked about his daily wandering schedule.
Even though the McDonalds streetlight is the only light he asks for money and despite the fact Calanco is homeless, he doesn’t sleep at nights near the McDonalds area. Every morning he walks an approximate 25 to 30 minute journey from a bench in the Cabo Rojo plaza, where he sleeps almost every night, to the McDonalds streetlight.
When asked the reason of this he quickly answered, “Out there we are all more or less the same, we all know how hard it can be to find money so we don’t rob each other, if anything we sort of look after each other.”
The owner of a bakery near the bench where Muñoz Rivera spends most of his night, sometimes lets him rent an old very small one bed apartment next to his bakery for 150 dollars a week. This is a luxury that Calanco rarely enjoys because of the high amount of money he has to pay but sometimes he’s left with no choice because of the physiological necessities of a human being, mainly taking a bath.
Although things may look bad, to Muñoz Rivera things could be much worse. “It has now been almost 10 years living this life and I’m still standing on my two feet. Who knows for how long I will continue to ask money at this streetlight all I know is that until a miracle happens, the people that enter or simply pass by this McDonalds will always see Calanco,” he added while putting his backpack on getting ready to go back to the streetlight in order to make some money for dinner as we finished our interview.