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by Andreea Varga, staff writer

An elevator is an elevator. For the most of us. An elevator is a little home for Javier Fombellida. Nostalgic music drifts out of the palm-size cassette player in Jave’s gilded cage in the Blaisdell Hotel at 1154 Fort Street. Many of the passengers who daily use the elevator with golden framed mirrors and a crystal chandelier, feel as if they have traveled back to the early 20th century. The feeling persists even if they take the stairs, where black-iron grilles wrap around the elevator.

An 80-year-old elevator in a 100-year-old building, hand-operated by a 70-year-young man originally from Cuba. This is unique in Honolulu. Unique in Hawai’i. Maybe unique everywhere but in Cuba.

“ This is my real home,” jokes Jave, who has run the elevator Monday through Friday for the last three years. It’s a four-square-meter workplace, but “This is no work. This is waiting,” laughs Jave in his friendly way.

One day in Jave’s elevator is not actually as monotonous as some might imagine. The important things happen by the way. For example, HPU held Intercultural Day on the Mall April 20th, but inside Jave’s elevator, every day is an Intercultural Day. Swedish, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Romanians, and Africans regularly journey up and down with Javier.

“ A lot of them are far, far away from their families,” Jave said. “I try to speak to them, try to make them feel happy, be like a second family for them. I try to help everybody. I am here for them. And I let them know. Sometimes I feel like in a big family. I’m here, and every time they need help, they can come to me. Therefore, I’m here,” explained Jave.

The third-floor lamp blinks red. Its signal, reflected in the mirror in the corner of the elevator, tells Jave, who is sitting on the bench in front of the elevator, that someone wants to be picked up from the third floor. Jave steps into his vertical taxi, closes the iron gate, and turns the golden hand-gear to the right.

Jave surely knows the man or woman he is about to pick up. Jave knows the whole building. He always notices when someone accidentally loses their way, and he filters out any one who is not supposed to be in the building.

“ I have a proper knowledge of humans. I like to talk with people, to laugh with them, and to watch carefully how they are and what they are doing,” Javier said. The buildings fourth floor psychologist has asked him, if he wants to work with her. He feels flattered.

It’s noon. People come, people go. Jave stays. People greet him, talk with him, then go away again. Jave stays.

“ I’m retired, but I’m happy to work here. I need to do something. I cannot simply vegetate along, stay at home and do nothing. This work is perfect for me. I work with people. They are so nice and happy. That’s why I like to work here, because the people keep me so alive.”

Minutes pass, hours pass by. Jave stays. He doesn’t get bored either. Waiting has become one of his hobbies. When you’re riding with him, you know this is right.

The lamp blinks red again, this time for the second floor. He folds one arm on his back, like a real gentleman and an elevator chauffeur. One minute later, he sits again on his bench in front of the elevator.

A man comes to him and begins to wrangle with him in Chinese. Javier shoots back in Spanish. The two are used to getting confused looks from all the people around them when they have their daily conversation.

Javier and Henry, the proprietor of the BonBon kiosk that shares the lobby with the elevator, have become good friends in the last three years.

“ In the waiting hours we try to communicate in Chinese and Spanish,” Jave said. “I know what he tell me, even if I don’t understand one word of Chinese,” he added with a grin.

The late afternoon sun shines through the lobby right into the elevator. Girls stop by to talk to Javier. Boys high-five him, as they do with their fellows.

“ I like everyone, boys or girls, young or old, I don’t care. They also help me, because they make me feel happy every day. They are all so nice. They give me so much, which I try to give them back.”
Javier Fombellida is Hawai‘i’s one and only elevator chauffeur as well as a guard, listener, and antidepressant. Although his presence involves only a few seconds in every elevator-user’s day, nobody gets out without a nice talk.

“ I’d rather go to work than to the movies,” he added as we said goodbye. And I realized that this elevator has to work forever.

 


Jaqueline Mitala, 25, HPU business major

“If you want to find Aloha in Honolulu, drive with Jave! He is Aloha! He has the real Aloha-spirit. For me, he is my elevator grandpa.”

I’amafana Tnimalealiifano, alias “fish,” 21, HPU MBA graduate student

“I know him, since he worked here and since I’m here. He’s a cool guy for an old guy. Even though he is older, he’s so comfortable with young people.”

Gloria Ito, office manager, Blaisdell management

“He is great. He has such a big and special personalitiy that he always draws people to him.”

Dr. Antonio Gino, 58, clinical psychologist

“I only know him from driving with his elevator, but I recognize that he is a very gentle, courteous, and nice man. Almost every day my patients tell me about him.”

Haweya Egal, 24, HPU sociology major

“He puts a smile to everybody’s face!”


 
 

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