El Paletero

Photographed and contributed reporting for Denverite.

Octavio Delgado, a 58-year-old paletero or popsicle vendor new on the job, is a kind, quiet man. He's had, by most measures, a hard life. He's now working a high risk job during the pandemic to survive and eventually, make it out of the state for a better life. Each day, he walks up to 20 miles, searching for potential customers to buy the tasty, refreshing Mexican treats. As an older Mexican man, he's at a higher risk for contracting the virus and having a severe case, so each day is a gamble.

Paletas come in many favors, like watermelon, coconut, spicy mango, bubble gum and chocolate, seen here.

Paletería Chihuahua employees recorded the amount of each flavor taken by Delgado and other paleteros in a notebook at the beginning of the day.

Delgado walks along Bruce Randolph Avenue in Cole to start his day of selling paletas. Some days, he walks up to 20 miles.

Delgado walks through a construction site in RiNo. He often purposefully plans his route along construction site because the workers, working in the sun all day, commonly buy paletas.

Delgado makes a sale and shares a laugh with a man taking a break from work in his truck in RiNo. Each popsicle costs $2.00, which he splits 50/50 with the paletería, but he often gets tips from people which lead to a significant increase in his income.

Delgado is reflected in the bells as they ring on his cart while walking. The ring, synonymous with ice cream in many Latinx neighborhoods, brings business by alerting people that Octavio is around.

The contents of Delgado’s cart are still cold and colorful after a half day of work in the heat. The carts can hold around 300 paletas.

Delgado passes through the 16th Street Mall, watching out for security guards, while walking to a convenience store to buy lunch and water. Since he’s not allowed to sell on the mall and has been kicked out by security before, he feels on edge when in the area.

A waitress stops Delgado and picks out a paleta while he’s on his way to a nearby convenience store for refreshments and a break in Downtown Denver. He sometimes worries about meeting so many people throughout the day during the coronavirus pandemic, but knows he must take the risk and make money to survive.

Delgado guzzles water while taking a break before beginning his sales route again, already on mile five after a half-day's work.

As the day winds down, Delgado walks back into Paletería Chihuahua to tally up his sales.

Delgado unties his bag, filled with snacks, water and a change of clothes, in the back of Paletería Chihuahua.

Delgado maneuvers his cart into the back of Paletería Chihuahua.

Leonor Gonzalez Romero, a Paletería Chihuahua employee, records the number of paletas Delgado sold. The day was a very slow one, with around 15 paletas sold. The paletería gets half of the sales, so he took home about $25 including tips.

Delgado buys a bag of Funyuns at the dollar store to eat while he waits for his bus in Cole.

Delgado waits to ride the bus home after a more than 10 mile day of selling paletas. He usually showers and turns in early every evening, exhausted by each day’s grueling physical work.

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