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One thing is for sure, as a hat person, it can prove as a challenge to decide on what hat to take when traveling. What hat will go with every outfit? What will the weather be like? And perhaps a little neurotic but, what if the hat doesn’t make it back? Ultimately, a decision will be made and the adventure will unfold. What if ‘that’ hat doesn’t make it back? Our Shopkeeper, Manny Ochoa of Old Town-Pasadena, just returned from traveling to Cuba with his girlfriend. Take us away Manny.

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There we were, the three of us sitting on the tarmac at José Marti International Airport, in Havana, Cuba. My girlfriend Michelle, Ruben Gonzalez, and I. What better place to be wearing my favorite straw hat than in Cuba? The compliments from the locals began as soon as we exited the airport confirming that the Ruben Gonzalez was a great choice for this trip.

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Believe it or not, the majority of the connections that we managed to forge began with conversation around my hat. One in particular was extra special, and once again, we had Ruben to thank for it. We had found ourselves stranded late one evening, and it was during a brief moment of panic, where we all met. A figure wearing a straw fedora stepped out of the shadows, complimenting me on my hat, and asked us if we needed a taxi. Was it obvious? Given the time and area, we hesitated, but before I could decline, he pointed and politely said, “that’s my car over there. No pressure, I’m here if you need me.” We took one look at his car and introduced ourselves, as did he, “my name is Yasumil but my friends call me Capone. You can too.” We’re coming from a land of Uber, Lyft and the Prius, but this didn’t look like any taxi that we’d ever experienced. We accepted Capone’s offer and hopped in. Our lift back to something more familiar and less stranded would turn into an unexpected, late night ride through Havana.

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Naturally, I was curious about his hat. I asked him where he had gotten it and if he knew anything about its origin. Capone’s hat was made locally and apparently, a quality straw fedora isn’t easy to come by. He said that he had heard of Panama hats but had never seen one in person. We went on to discuss hat history, styles, quality, etc. I know, I’m supposed to be on vacation right? It comes with the territory. As he was dropping us off I encouraged him to try on my hat. After all, he had never even seen a genuine Panama hat before. He jumped at the opportunity and what do you know, it fit perfectly! Our evening turned out amazing. Capone seemed just as amazed about hat culture and the value of what he was wearing, as we were towards Cuban culture. “How would you like to own one?” I asked. Capone quickly replied, “That would be incredible!” I nodded my head and responded, “Now you do my friend.” The shock on his face was priceless.

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His gratitude was genuine and unlike any that I have ever encountered. My favorite hat was comfortable, but I was more comfortable giving it up as the connection that we made felt far better. The next day Capone insisted on repaying the gesture and returned in the morning to take us on a private tour of all of Havana. It’s amazing to experience the connections that a hat can bring, first hand. Now, Ruben Gonzalez, is on a journey unlike any other Goorin. Showing of its style, in the oldest car in Cuba accompanied by the man himself, Capone.