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The Importance of Tipping

Photographer: Mark Perry

                                                                      Photo by Mark Perry

The Importance of Tipping

Ever since I read the small advertisement in the February 1980 issue of TRAINS, where Rail Study Tours-International was offering guided tours to the island of Cuba to see the long unknown and forgotten railways, I really wanted to go see the action on the small Caribbean paradise.  The weeklong tour back then cost $659 USD but for some reason or another, I never made it but I always thinking about ways to go see the steam powdered sugar cane trains and early 1st generation US built diesels, prowling the island.

Speed ahead 31 years to the year 2011; I had finally made it to the island paradise.  Excitedly, I had arranged to hire an English speaking local driver to take me out for a day to see what was left of the railways of Cuba.  At 0900 on Tuesday morning, Luis Altez Linares was at the front lobby of my Varadero hotel in a dress shirt, tie and black slacks, ready to take me out railfanning in his Czech built Skoda car.

Later on, after the long hot and muggy day of shooting various Cuban railway subjects, I finally end the gauntlet, photographing a well preserved narrow gauge 2-8-0 displayed at the entrance to the old Jose Smith Comas sugar mill in Cardenas.  Down the road at bit from the pithed tea kettle, I spot a middle aged Cuban lady standing on the side of the road and wonder how long she has been waiting for a ride out here, virtually in the middle of nowhere? I ask Luis if we can give her a ride and how much it will cost me?  Nothing he says, it is MY TAXI until we get back to the hotel. So we pick her up and I play “Mr. Nice Guy” and offer her the front seat.  An gentlemanly gesture that might come back and bite me in the ass!  We drop her off a short distance later but I elect to stay in the back seat as we head for my hotel, pool, drinks and my girlfriend. Pulling into the hotel’s driveway, I pay him his agreed upon fare as well as a very generous tip.  We say our good byes and off he goes but not before he gives me his business card. 

Finally back in the room, imagine my horror when I find out that I had left my Nikon D300 in the front seat of the taxi!!!!!! Good thing he had given me his business card.  Right away I had the front desk phone him and hoped for the best.  Luckily he was at home eating and had not picked up another fare since dropping me off at the hotel. He brought it back over after a very nervous l-o-n-g hour wait in the hotel’s lobby and it cost me another tip.  But I learned so much about Cuba in general from him, had such a great time driving around with him for 8 hours that the amount of money I spent on him for the day was certainly well worth its weight in gold, in more ways than one…


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