Even in the age of smartphones, the pamphlets remain a vital source of information for many Metro users, including the tourists who visit the nation’s capital.
And for decades, Bello, who at 87 is almost certainly Metro’s oldest employee, has been instrumental in ensuring that travelers have the information they need at their fingertips.
The monotony of the job might have long ago driven off someone else. But not Bello, who fills his days with verse, singing songs and writing poetry.
“The inspiration comes at unexpected times,” Bello said in Spanish. “When I am working, I often think of a nice verse, so I pick a piece of paper and write it down.”
When the machines take a break and silence returns to the warehouse, he often pulls one of those songs he has written.
“Voy a cantar.”
He is going to sing.
First in Spanish, then in English, and again in Spanish.
By 10 a.m., amid the occasional singing and writing, Bello has already packed a few thousand pocket guides. In his more than 30 years at the printing plant, Bello has folded and packed at least 100 million of them, co-worker Mike Schulz estimates.
“And that’s a conservative number,” said Schulz, 53, who has worked with Bello for more than two decades. “At his age, he outworks everybody in the shop.”
After three decades, Bello knows how to operate each piece of equipment in the bindery. And to the amazement of his colleagues, he still works like a man in his 30s, supervisor Tim McGowan said.
He walks slower and is not the strong 54-year-old who started as a bindery helper in 1979, just a couple of months after he emigrated from Cuba. But his productivity has not decreased, McGowan said.
“Not too many people are irreplaceable, but . . . he is irreplaceable,” said McGowan, 53, who has also worked at the print shop since 1979. “The younger generation just doesn’t work as long and hard as that man does.”
Colleagues describe Bello as tireless, hardworking and frugal. When a machine jams, they said, he removes the paper then flattens and reuses it. When an order of pocket guides is done — usually half a million — he works on bus schedules. On holidays, if no one reminds him not to show up at work, chances are he will.
Ask Bello whether he wants to retire and he gives no hint of such a plan.
“I plan to be here as long as my body is strong and I can do the job,” he said, wearing the transit system’s navy blue uniform and a Metro cap on his hairless head.
Before he came to the United States, Bello worked in a print shop in Havana.
He moved to Washington on Sept. 23, 1979, reuniting with his wife, Oria, and their only daughter, Ana Maria, who had left the island 11 years earlier.