My Hemingway Moment

I spent Christmas in the year 2000 in Hemingway Marina, just west of Havana along the north coast of Cuba. My friend Douglas and I were helping a lady take her slow boat to China (long story). While waiting out the weather, we explored Havana and the surrounding area. I had a little tape recorder with me at the time so I could preserve the chats we had with locals.

One day, we chat up a guy at the bar, and this old man informs us that he was Hemingway’s boat captain. He took the old man to the sea all the time to fish. It was crazy to sit there, getting high on their version of coffee (laced with cocaine, I tell you), and having a connection to one of the masters.

Sitting in Cafe Havana in New York stirred up some of these memories. Strong coffee was being served, as well as the best Cuban food north of Key West. And as usual, I was eating at the bar and chatting up strangers. You never know what you’ll find out about a person until you strike up a conversation. The bartender, for instance, is 11-0 in her professional fighting career. She had a fight the next day, which meant cutting weight and picturing herself bloodying another human being. Pretty intense. The guy sitting beside me pulled up a picture of her championship belt. And then a picture of her having her hand raised while ringside doctors tended to her unfortunate foe.

My neighbor at the bar had stopped by to see how she was doing, check on her weight (I found this offensive for a nanosecond, then guessed she was a fighter. They were both suitably impressed). A bit later, we started talking about how you never know what a person does or who they are unless you chat them up. Kinda like that old man in Hemingway Marina all those years ago. At which point, the gentleman asked me what I do. When I told him I was a writer, he said one of his employees was a writer, got up every morning at 5 am and wrote, wrote on his lunch breaks, wrote all the time. I laughed and told him that I did the same thing for years. He asked how things were going, and I told him.

After checking the bestseller list on Amazon, this guy calls his employee and tells him to drop what he’s doing and hurry over (their business was on the block, hence the inter-employee connection to the bartender). When the aspiring author shows up, we get to chatting. I congratulate him on his work ethic and tell him how excited I am for him, what a great thing to pursue and be addicted to. And I hand him a card.

The guy knows of me. He has been following my story online. How weird is that? I’m geeking out over the bartender being undefeated, and this guy is geeking out over meeting me, and we’re all geeking out over the awesome shit you learn about people if you just chat them up.

8 responses to “My Hemingway Moment”

  1. This is a great post. We all can learn so much just by being open to learning about others. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Very true. Too bad I’m not a people person. Opening up to others can be frightening, at least it is for me. But I’m glad to say that things are getting better.

      1. I keep to burned-out abandoned silos…

  2. Awesome, Hugh. Your friendliness is one of the keys to your success. Never lose it, my friend.


  3. Charla Arabie Avatar


  4. And the chatty geeks shall inherit the earth.

  5. Oh, and PS, you and I spent time in Havana just a couple of months apart in the same year. We coulda almost met. I’m sure we would have chatted.

  6. I spent five weeks in Havana with a crew from App State. It was after 9/11 and we were there to study history. Well, some of us were there to study. Others just wanted to party.

    It’s a very interesting, inspiring, yet also sad place.

    I was in a pretty weird head-space at the time. I felt very much alone. Wandering Havana and people watching took up most of my time. I didn’t speak to many people, though. Kinda wish I had.

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