Today I did something that I have never done before - I had a professional shoeshine. A shame really, that in the 20+ years I worked downtown, I never stopped to have a shoeshine at one various stations around the downtown. Today (February 24) was different. Having gotten an unexpected lift downtown (instead of walking) from my neighbour (who was shoveling the snow off my back patio), so I ended up being about an hour early for my coffee meeting.
I thought I’d wander Calgary’s a-mazing +15 system and see what I could find to amuse myself. Within the first minute, I happened upon a shoeshine station at Western Canadian Place office tower beckoning me. On the spur of the moment I decided, “Yes, I should have a shoeshine.” Indeed, my shoes were looking pretty ratty after months of walking in snow and slush along city streets and in dog parks, never once (I am embarrassed to say) having been polished. One of the ten commandments of an everyday tourist is “thou shalt try new things.”
Though the sign said “Jeronimo’s Shoe Shine,” I quickly found out “Jeronimo” leases the station to Enrique, my shoe shiner from San Salvador who moved to Canada in 2002. Carefully rolling up my pant leg and untying my shoe laces he got right at it - first cleaning the shoes, then polishing, them before buffing with a brush and then a final cloth buffing. When they were done, fourteen minutes later, I could almost seem my face in them.
As Enrique and I were chatting, Rick jumped up into the chair beside me and gave me a quizzical look as I was taking photos and asking strange questions. Explaining I was a blogger, we soon got chatting. Turns out Rick gets his shoes shined every 2 or 3 days, as he rotates through several pairs and has been doing this for over 30 years. Not only might Rick have the best shined shoes in downtown, but he says his shoes last longer because they are shined regularly.
I learned the average shoeshine takes 10 to 15 minutes and the cost is $6 (for shoes) and $8 (for boots). Enrique, on a good day, polishes 15 pairs of footwear from walk ups, as well as 5 pairs that are dropped off (with his record being 12 pairs dropped off in one day). There are seven shoeshine stations strategically located along the 20 km of downtown’s +15 walkway.
I immediately had a strange feeling (in a nice way), as I walked away. My feet and shoes did feel different, kind of like the feeling one gets after a hair cut. Isn’t there a saying “the shoes make the man?” Even while walking home (5 km) in the snow three hours later, I kept looking down at my nicely polished shoes and feeling good.
As I wandered home, I recalled our 10-day stay many years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico. One of my lasting images is that of a quiet plaza where a dozen or so shoeshine stations positioned around the periphery. There were always one or two people getting their shoes shined. It seemed so civilized.
By Richard White, February 26, 2015