Liberal paleteros makes approximately $200 every two weeks. Their earnings are based off of what they sell.
As the 94-degree heat (and rising) takes its toll, Solis heads for the shade of a tree and leans against the cart. The 10-minute break leaves much to be desired but that doesn’t seem to slow down this paletero. The retiree takes off walking again, all the while telling stories of his life in Mexico as a policeman to anyone who will listen. He proudly states that he “never took a bribe. Not once!”
The stories are interrupted only by the demands of excited kids trying to choose what ice cream they want. He waits patiently for the little ones to decide, offering an opinion every now and then.
The route Solis chose for today goes past a popular food truck. He stops, jingles the iconic bells and waits.
A young man greets him warmly and says, “Nice to see you, let me get some money.”
As Solis waits for the man’s return, he says, “These are good people. They always offer me food and drinks.”
The chef steps out of the truck and spends the next five minutes catching up with Solis and sharing stories. The young man returns and buys a stack of ice cream bars. Before the old paletero can leave, the young man hands him water, a soft drink and a $5 tip.
He thanks him, waves goodbye and his fingers immediately return to the bells. He makes his way toward a water park in the center of town. An hour of walking passes and no customers are in sight, so Solis pushes the cart onto a residential street with a goal in mind. He is going to a regular customer’s house, hoping to make a sale.
When he reaches the house, he jingles the bells and waits for a response.
“I come here everyday and they always buy two or three ice cream bars,” he explains. “Last time, I was here they had no money but his girls were begging for an ice cream bar, so I said I would come back for the money another day.”
He parks his cart under the shade and waits. When no one comes to greet him he grabs his cart, smiles and says, “Well, I guess they’re not home, maybe I’ll catch them tomorrow.”
His positive attitude never seems to waiver. Solis continues on his route for another hour with no sell. He makes his way back to the ice cream shop and pushes through the shop doors.
He takes the remaining ice cream bars out of the cart. As he counts what was leftover he tallies it up on a piece of paper. He sold 67 bars.
The amount wasn’t what he hoped but he’s grateful that the lack of variety didn’t stop customers from buying or from visiting. After all, being a paletero is as much about the relationships as it is about the paleta.
Solis pushes the cart into a corner and takes a deep breath before falling into a chair. He looks around, nods and says to no one in particular, “Today was a good day!”
Editor’s Note: This story was also published on Humanities Kansas as part of a partnership between HK and Crusader.