“El Senor de las Ranas”: A Buford Highway Legend
Fabio Cebollas, known to his to community, unknown outside of it, and integral to the city.
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Part of what I love about this job is meeting so many people who make a real difference. For years I worked as a guest booker, and I chased down people with big titles to secure five minutes of their time for a TV interview. Now, I get to find people who don't get prizes or fancy titles, and have no headlines written about them - but who actually help people. These people, some of whom I’ve written about before like Daniela Racines and Omar Shekhey, are the glue that hold their communities together.
A few weeks ago - I met another - Fabio Ceballos. He was outside the Mexican consulate off of I-85 at a food drive for people living along Buford Highway.
He was in a hurry. He was picking up boxes stuffed with produce, tortillas, and dry foods to deliver to three families who had fallen ill. He walked to his taxi to finish loading up the boxes in the trunk, but stopped when he spotted a young girl, no older than 8 years old, crying. He patted her head, and stayed with her until he could finally get her to crack a smile.
“He’s like that...he helps everyone,” said Aceli Zenil, Director of Fair Housing for the grassroots group Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, who was standing by him. Several people at the food drive echoed what Aceli had said - Fabio - known as “El Senor de las Ranas,” Man of the Frogs, could always be counted on to show up for those around him.
“El Senor de las Ranas,” has been Fabio’s name since he moved to Atlanta from New York, 23 years ago. A little boy gifted him a small toy frog, and he’s been collecting them ever since. “He used to have a lot more...his taxi was full of them,” said Aceli. At one point, he even threw a party for kids with live frogs. He says it's “para que ellos recuerdan” - so that they remember him.
Here are some of the friendly frogs inside Fabio's taxi.
The dashboard of his taxi is still lined with toy frogs and a sign across the windshield reads “El Senor De Las Ranas.” He drives his taxi along Buford Highway, 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. “Todo el año trabajo,” all year I work, he says.
Fabio’s taxi, named “Siempre Contigo, Sin fronteras," Always With You, Without Borders, reflects the life he had before moving to Atlanta. He was born in Colombia, and later lived in Venezuela to work in construction and then moved to Puerto Rico where he sold bottles of water on the beach. When he had the opportunity to go to New York, he took it. He lived and worked in Queens, where he sold flowers on the street and managed traffic stops.
He then went on to work at a company that imported produce from all over Latin America. He left the company when he learned that it was involved with the drug trade and was under investigation.
Fabio moved to Atlanta in 1998 for a fresh start. Four years later, he met Flora Perez, a young single mom from Mexico, when she was waiting for a taxi on Buford Highway. Six months later they got married. “He’s a good guy,” says Flora. “You can trust him.”
Fabio and Flora in the parking lot of a Buford Highway shopping center in Brookhaven.
Fabio’s days are full. Between taxi rides, he cares for Flora who undergoes dialysis three times a week, and manages to deliver food to anyone who’s in need. And yet - he feels there’s still more he can do.
For years he helped coach soccer to kids living along Buford Highway. He says he wanted to do whatever he could to keep local kids from getting involved in drugs, gangs, and alcohol.
His plans for next year are bigger. Kids have been stuck at home for over a year, he says, and they need to get off the screens, and be diverted from drugs and gangs. He hopes, with the help of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, to help build a league of soccer teams - one team representing each apartment complex along Buford Highway.
Until then, he continues to drive up and down the highway, giving a helping hand or drive to the vecinos, neighbors, in the place he now calls home.
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