Octavio Delgado packs paletas, or Mexican popsicles, into his cart in the back of Paletería Chihuahua in Denver, Colorado.

El Paletero

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 better opportunities. 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. Each day is a gamble, but a necessity for his survival.

I pitched, photographed and contributed reporting to this story for Denverite.

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

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 the Cole neighborhood to start his day of selling paletas. Some days, he walks up to 20 miles.

The ring of bells, synonymous with ice cream in many Latinx neighborhoods, brings business by alerting people that Delgado 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.

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 passes through the 16th Street Mall, watching out for security guards. 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.

Delgado guzzles water while taking a break, 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.

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 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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