Chapter 35 - He dreamt of a better life for himself and his family...
We get back to Philadelphia, which seems tame and innocent after what we just experienced in NYC. We have a few hours to rest and regroup before Guapo’s final surprise. I’m excited to give him his grand finale gift, and I’m even more excited to redeem myself.
When Guapo was a late teen/early 20’s kid in Cuba he dreamt of creating a better life for himself and his family. Although he was well-educated, his opportunities in Cuba were extremely limited. He knew he had to find a way to the United States if he was ever going to have a shot at following his dreams, making real money, and experiencing true freedom.
Throughout his time in Cuba, Guapo would get glimpses of what life in America could be like. Although not legally permitted by the Cuban government, occasionally he would get his hands on some American music. He and his friends would listen to the lyrics that came straight out of the land of opportunity and they would hang on every word. He would close his eyes, hold his heart, and let the sound of American rock music speak to his soul. The music was his joy, the beat his inspiration, and the lyrics - a portal to the far off land of opportunity.
Every part of him knew that he must find a way to The United States, but of course, that took money, and making extra money in Cuba was near impossible…unless you went underground. One day while illegally soaking in the vocals of Stevie Nicks, Guapo had a lightbulb moment. What if he burned CDs of American music to make extra money? Could this be enough for him to be able to immigrate? Suddenly the music he loved so much became not only his life soundtrack but also his way out.
Fast forward to one night in Philadelphia while Guapo and I cuddled on the couch. With a glass of Malbec in hand, Guapo nonchalantly shared this story with me. He described how he and his friends in Cuba had a full underground CD operation as part of his grand plan to come to the U.S. He explained their system from start to finish - how they would get the music, how they would find the artwork for the covers and how they would print the labels for the jewel cases. After several years of dedicated burning and selling, this gave him enough cash to be able to buy his necessary travel visas.
As he told me this story, I couldn’t help but remember my teenage years where I would use my allowance (probably for making my bed, I don’t even know) to buy 10 CDs for a $1 from a catalog. Just another reminder of how different our upbringings were, and another realization of the profound respect I have for how he has navigated the cards he was dealt. I asked him if he’d ever been able to see Stevie Nicks live - he said no. I was shocked considering she was the voice, the soundtrack, the moving force, and inspiration behind his freedom trek. I felt an ache in my heart that after all he went through, he hadn’t yet been able to experience her in concert and allow the magic of her vocals to melt over him like a candy coating to chocolate. I could so clearly see it, I could perfectly imagine him basking in the mesmerizing sound of Stevie.
We jokingly named his Cuban side hustle: Operation ‘Nix’ Cuba.
It’s possible Guapo told me this conversation in passing and then forgot about it. I did not. In fact, it got me thinking…
I started to do some research on Stevie Nicks. Honestly, I know most of the Fleetwood Mac songs, but I wouldn’t call myself a real fan. I never had a poster of Stevie, I hadn’t been to a concert, but the more I researched her, the more I also began to fall in love with Stevie as a woman and as an artist. I thought about Guapo’s story, incessantly. I realized that I must do whatever it takes to get him to one of her concerts. It was as if hearing Stevie Nicks live was not just a concert, but rather a profound celebration of freedom and gratitude. This was not a want, but a need. He had been in the U.S. over twenty years, he had created the American Dream-Life that was inspired by her music, it was in fact time for him to let that music fill his body, heart, mind, and soul as an American citizen. He needed to hear the vocals of Stevie Nicks directly from the lips of Stevie Nicks herself. I was now officially a girl on a mission.
Truth be told, the mission wasn’t that hard. In life, there are moments that flow with beautiful synchronicity. This was one of them:
I looked up the concert schedule for Fleetwood Mac and at first glance, it seemed we missed their worldwide concert tour. I wasn’t discouraged, I was just beginning my quest to get him to a concert. I’m not sure why, but I scrolled all the way to the bottom of the page and I saw that for some reason the Philadelphia concert had been canceled and there was a make-up date set for exactly the weekend I needed. What is this, I thought? Is this my Grandma orchestrating wonderful, serendipitous events again? Was this real? It seemed too good to be true that out of every concert on their worldwide tour, the Philadelphia one was the only one left. But it was right there in black and white, staring me in the face.
As I investigated further, it seemed that their original Philadelphia show date had gotten canceled because Stevie ended up sick and had to spend several days at Penn Hospital instead of singing her heart out at the Wells Fargo Center. The make-up date was the weekend Guapo was in town and there were just a few tickets left from people who couldn’t attend the new show date. My eyes began to read as fast as they could, I scanned the page for tickets left to right, up and down. My hand jumped on the mouse and soon I was sifting through ticket websites trying to find something…anything. The band website clearly said there were a few tickets remaining…where are they?
OMG - bingo! I found two tickets. I am elated. I’m pacing around the room, I can’t even believe this is going to work out. I click to purchase the tickets and I see that they are in THE LAST ROW of the entire stadium. I think about it for about 2 seconds, then I - click - purchase - omg - we’re going. We are going to be in the nosebleed section, but my G-D, we’re going!!
The day has come. I have kept this secret for too long. I call the Lyft to pick us up. He still doesn’t know. We get in the car and he is smiling…I am smiling. We take the short ride to the Wells Fargo Center and the car drops us off out front. He reads the marquee - Fleetwood Mac - He looks at me, grabs both of my hands. ‘NO WAY…? No way,’ he repeats. I nod yes and he pulls me in for a heart to heart embrace.
We make our way into the arena. I show him the tickets and we laugh at our seats. He says, ‘I don’t care where we sit. I can’t even believe we’re here.’ Whew, I think to myself. We start our ascent. Up one escalator, to the next escalator, to a flight of stairs, to a platform. I turn around to look at the stage and it makes me dizzy, vertigo-inducing really. Big mistake…don’t look down. We continue on to the last flight of stairs until we literally reach the top row of the entire arena. The ceiling feels low, I am claustrophobic and nervous being this high at such a steep angle. We take our seats by the aisle, which actually gave us a beautiful view of the stage. I try to focus just on the stage and not the angle at which we are positioned and my palms begin to sweat from fear. He grabs my hand and I say, ‘I’m nervous.’ He says, ‘Nah, I got you…this is going to be amazing!’
The stage lights come up. Guapo is on the edge of his seat. I’m leaning as far back into mine as possible. Fleetwood walks on stage. The crowd goes crazy. The concert begins. I recognize every song, and I enjoy the music, but for Guapo, these sounds are resonating on a different level. His life journey is being played out right before his eyes.
Three songs in, the lights go down. There is utter silence. Thousands of fans wait with anticipation as a spotlight appears on a blank stage. Just then a gorgeous woman, an angelic figure, with the most fabulous Rapunzel hair and an ethereal presence appears. She walks slowly and methodically, step by step, until she reaches the lone microphone at the front of the stage. She stops, lifts her head, then her arms, and the crowd - loses -their - minds. Guapo throws his hands over his forehead in utter disbelief. THE Stevie Nicks is right before his very eyes. She opens her mouth and her first husky, velvety, warm sound bathes the arena. Guapo physically collapses in his chair, grapples at his heart with passion, and looks up to the sky. He just experienced a moment of completion and I just witnessed true, raw gratitude swirled with disbelief and elation tied up in the most beautifully patriotic bow. I began to tear up, and it was now clear to me that for the next two hours I would not be watching this concert. I would be watching Guapo, heal, breathe, connect, and bask in the glory of the sounds which represent the true heartbeat of his American Dream.