When we stepped into his house, we were greeted by a Coke gnome.
From that point on, I knew this was a guy I would get along with. Not because I have a secret obsession with gnomes or even Coke (Dr. Pepper is my preference for anyone taking notes), but because he was a collector of unique items. The gnome was simply the greeter for his vast collection of unique items.
I thought I had an exciting collection of unique items, but I fail in comparison to what he has compiled over the years. In a strange way, he fell into this line of work as a way to keep his home. He has the unique privilege of having lived in the same house his entire life. He was born in the very bedroom that he now sleeps in. Not many people can say that.
He ushered us around the corner into a room to show off his collection of unique items. Stepping into this area was like visiting a collection of items that should only be seen on a television special. The walls were lined with Cuban government items from the revolution, American baseball memorabilia from the 1950's, and random items that should be housed in a museum for all to see.
This does not happen often, but I was literally speechless. I had never seen a collection of rare and unique items such as this. The guys from American Pickers would have gone crazy to get their hands on some of these items.
In his collection were three complete sets of 1955 baseball cards. The set included rookie cards from Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, and other all-time greats. Shockingly, the cards were in like new condition. I am not sure of the real value, but I know these cannot be cheap.
Numerous photos of Fidel from back in the day are sitting in photo albums stacked around the rooms of his house. He would gladly pull out album after album to show off the different pictures and explain the stories behind them. Where was my voice recorder when I needed it?
In his basement sat old signs from Coke, Ford, Shell, and many other companies. Some were metal signs, while others were the original glass pieces from gas stations. This house was unlike anything I have ever seen.
Back up the stairs, he pulled out a first edition For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway. Only 75,000 of these were ever printed, and this piece was in fantastic condition. Last week he sold an autographed copy of a similar book. What is rare to normal people is common place for him.
Sitting against the wall was a chess set given to the Cuban winner from the XVII World Chess Olympiad held in 1966 in Havana. This was the first major sporting event held in Cuba after the Revolution. The piece was made completely by hand and is the only one like it in the world. It was acquired after the Cuban representative passed away. His son inherited it and called my friend to see if he would be interested in purchasing it. He was.
As we were talking, he heard that I wanted a Cuban license plate, so he went into his back room and got one for me. Now it sits on my wall in my office.