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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Haweya Egal, 24, HPU sociology major
“He puts a smile to everybody’s face!”