The first time I heard his whistle, I swore it was some manner of an exotic bird. A shrill piercing sound that drifted slowly up and out and gone. It happened pretty regularly once a month. I heard it while standing on the outside patio, and the sound resonated multiple times throughout the neighborhood before it drifted away. I recorded it on my phone and played it for Deb, so she might identify the bird. We couldn’t place it. Never heard it before. Unmistakable in its draw on your attention. A couple of months later, I was standing outside, when he peddled by on his bicycle blowing his whistle into the wind. Turns out Elias is his name. His whistle is his advertising and social media campaign. He wants you to know he’s in the neighborhood. The whistle lets you know. Elias rides a beat-up bicycle with no shocks, hour after hour over cobblestone roads, and for a small fee, he’ll stop and sharpen your knives with a grinding wheel he somehow engineered into the peddling system on his bike. He sharpens knives for a living - like no one you’ve ever paid to sharpen your knives. I mean I can cook. Maybe you cook too. As a function of cooking, we can sharpen a damn knife, but on our best days sharpening knives, we don’t belong on the same bicycle as Elias. On our best days sharpening knives, we don’t know nothin.
When I realized the guy sharpened knives, I gave him maybe six of our knives to work on. Random kitchen knives, filet knives from fishing. Stuff like that. No exotic Japanese sashimi steel here. Just the basics. I’ve never seen anything like this guy. He took a few garden variety kitchen knives and turned them into something that could cut a hair in half - lengthwise.
He doesn’t speak English at all, so we could not communicate well, other than he knew exactly what I wanted. Somehow, he rigged a couple of grinding wheels to his system. He took off the main bicycle chain and put it around a gear of some sort, and added a rubber strap fan belt like thingy, so when sat there and peddled, the grinding wheels turned instead of the bicycle wheels. I could not believe what I was seeing. I cautiously pointed to my camera and gestured if I could shoot a few simple photos. He nodded yes. A couple of months later I saw him again on the street by the house, and I gave him small print copies of these files I’m sharing here. I’m sure these are the only photos he has of himself working on knives, and I'm certain he doesn't own a computer. When he saw them, he smiled at me and laughed and said “gracias mi amigo”. Never in my life have I had a client pay better and be more respectful. It was a moment I won’t forget. Nope. I won't.
You know, it seems too often, even now, what we got is often not enough. Always something or someone better off in a better time or a better place. Life isn’t long enough or good enough or full enough or whatever the hell we use as an excuse for our bucket lists and our endless searches for something more than what we got or some experience we never had. I’ve used this Springsteen line before, but it fits better here. “Struck me kind of funny, funny yea to me. How at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe”.
The differences between the haves and the have nots can be really dramatic in Mexico. Elias is not young. He has only one eye. His hands are beat up and a finger tip is missing. He winces when he gets off his bike. He wears an almost new Audi baseball cap and jeans that don't fit he got at an almost free market of handout donations in San Miguel. He’s riding this old bike on bad cobblestone streets for miles every day. He rides by the haves, looking for a few pesos. He does not beg. He would not do that. Probably way too proud to do that. He works for a living, and he’s found some reason to believe. Like all the others in his situation, I believe he leads the way forward for the rest of us. We simply have to whistle as we go.