Shelter(ed) Day 13 – Back to Havana

Shelter(ed) Day 13 – Back to Havana

Chapter 13 – 100+ mph. Midnight. Havana

Illustration- The final turn at Presidente- Ermitas Blanco, Havana.

Vinnie was nearly the first casualty: McQueen had a rear view mirror on the driver side that hit him squarely in the nuts and Fangio’s bumper banged him onto his ass as the drivers exploded off the starting line. Ralph was there with his new beau, helping Vinnie to his feet and ready to escort Fangio and the car back to the garage after the race. A few of the Maserati and Ferrari guys were there as well, probably wondering where Nina went.

The race was due to last just over a minute: 2.16 miles, up to 150 mph, only two turns. Still, it would seem like eternity for anyone in town that knew it was happening. Police had most of the traffic blocked, but pedestrians had no idea what was going on and were in constant (if unknown) danger. The bettors at the Riviera, the Trop and other books further out of town were out of the loop until after the race. The Presidente Hotel crowd had a partial view of the action, especially the last turn at the monument — not bad at all,  if you’d heard of the race just two hours ago.

The people at the Nacionale Gardens would see the start and the finish, but as far as the action in between, were in the dark. Nevertheless, the gardens were packed with partiers, race fans, gamblers, dancers and anyone out for a night of great people-watching. Sal was among them; he’d just watched from the Gardens with the press-man, expecting Nina to eventually come sell her pictures and give Sal a peek at what had happened upstairs. 

Pablo was downstairs as well, choosing to hang out with the other cabbies, hoping to gather information and perhaps to catch up to Nina.

But it was the best crowd in Havana who had the best view of the race: the hundred or so lucky people upstairs on the Nacionale Suite balcony. They’d also placed the heaviest bets.  Everyone followed Lefty as he went outside with his giant torch; they wouldn’t have long to wait for the action to begin. 

Nina was done with pictures by then, looking to choose someone to take her for the night. She probably wouldn’t be crashing at the Riviera Suite anyways, although Finn wouldn’t care.

Jorge actually had binoculars and planned on watching every moment of the race. He hardly noticed Ol’ Blue Eyes briefly approach Genetta and Finn, and offer her a duet while he was in town. Genetta was shy to accept, considering who was doing the asking. Finn stepped in to confirm that she’d be delighted, that he’d be there in the front row to support her. Just in case Frank thought she’d do more than sing with him. 

Frank got the nuance. Genetta loved the gallantry. Finn had won his girl.

Before the race began, Fangio and Ralph had hatched a plan;  Fangio confirmed it once he felt the power of the super-charger at the starting line. It didn’t sound much different, thanks to Ralph’s tinkering, but he only needed 3/4th to keep pace with “Esteban,” on the uphill straight. He only needed not to get killed on the two turns, or kill any pedestrians that could slow him up. With that, it would be a sprint to the finish.

The Crowd at the Nacionale rooftop moved to the west balcony for a view of the ride up 23rd. 

As Fangio and Esteban moved up Las Rampas, they got into [5th] gear and hit 100mph… the top of the hill at where Rampas becomes 23rd became a blur… N-M-L-J-I-H blocks whizzed by at 150 mph and then Park Riviera… downshift… 

Avenida Presidente! Right Turn! No brake. Accelerate!!!

Fangio gave way to McQueen in the first turn, and McQ felt like he had a big advantage in the race if a Maserati could out-turn a Ferrari. 

The crowd at the Nacionale rooftop moved to the south balcony for a view of the ride down Avenida Presidente. Others took the opportunity to pass by the bar for champagne refills on their way back to the North Balcony for the finish.

As the racers barreled down Presidente, Esteban lost half his lead swerving to miss a pedestrian couple on their way to a Salsa club who were clueless that there was a Grand Prix race going on at Midnight in Havana. Fangio clipped a horse-drawn carriage filled with sugar cane, but didn’t bother to redirect, or look back. No sugar in someone’s coffee tomorrow.

McQueen took a moment to think on the downhill straight. While they had been neck and neck up 23rd, he took his Maserati on the inside line, mostly to test the Ferrari in the corners. There were only two turns on the course, and the first was a big indicator. He reasoned that if they were “even Steven” (jaja) in the turns, the Maserati would edge the Ferrari in the final stretch.

21-19-17-15-13 Linea… bottom of the hill… 9-Calzada- 5 Downshift! Hard right, the blur of light blue leading the blur of red by a nose. Both cars skidded as tires hopped through the downhill turn near the Malecon wall and almost took each other out, straight into the sea. The crowd at the Presidente Hotel balcony saw the mad dash down the Avenida, the pedestrian near-misses, and the turn at the [Monument], thinking for sure that McQueen had him and the fix the mob had promised was going to deliver, no matter the long odds.

They both came out of the turn, barreling the final 1.2 miles at full gear. Vinnie was just barely getting to his feet when he heard the roar coming down the Malecon. He was there to judge the finish for the Boss if it was close. Based on the start, he decided it would be better to watch from the Malecon sidewalk, not between the racers.

As they passed the [second monument roundabout], they were a mere ¼ mile from the finish. Esteban had at least a two car lead. They were both in top gear. The engines were screaming mightily, the Maserati straining a little more than the Ferrari. Esteban took another moment in the straight

away. He’d had plenty of races under his belt, but none with these type of cars, against these type of drivers, with these type of crowds watching every shift. Even his payday, with $10,000 on the line with Fangio and another $5,000 with the Ferarri drivers and their bookies, would be a huge night for a young actor like him. Imagine what one would do with $15,000 in a town like Havana…

Which is a great lesson for any driver who expects to win, any actor who expects a part, any gambler who expects a fix to work out, and any person dumb enough to spend their winnings before the race is won. 

With a two-car lead and a few hundred yards to go, the Nacionale crowd were cheering their man in powder blue like a steel horse in the Derby. Those with the longshot, and in the minority began to bow their eyes. That was, except Finn and Jorge, who had his field glasses trained on Fangio and saw pretty much what he expected.

Fangio drifted to the inside, squeezed the last ¼ on the pedal, and let the [forced air induction super-charged 1957 cum 2017 Ferrari [860] take the fuck over.] Esteban saw the red flash from his side window, and thought at first … just…. fireworks from the Nacionale, celebrating the win? 


By the time Esteban reached the finish, he was hurtling through the line at a perfectly respectable 155mph. But all he saw were the tail lights of the Ferarri as Fangio accelerated at 178mph, all the way to El Morro. Red wins, by a mile. Vinnie’s hands were  on his head.

Finn and Jorge melted into the crowd, knowing they could collect at their leisure. The band picked up to try to lighten the mood, as most of the bettors had just lost millions in the space of a minute. 

And Lefty’s phone was ringing off the hook. Only one guy had that number. The man with the golden phone from AT&T.

What. The. F*ck.


Prefer to read the whole Book One? Here is the Table of Contents, with links.

I mentor two kids and several entrepreneurs. Similarities are coincidental.