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Shoe Shine Made Me Walk on Air

From Toronto to San Antonio, L. A. to Seattle, conventions look remarkably alike. Wherever I travel, I pass through gray concrete airports to same-same hotels to even grayer, stony-floored exhibit halls.

On a recent business trip to Richmond, I survived days of talking with clients and potential clients, thumbing through books, assisting in presentations, and sharing ideas with teachers.

By the third morning, my sparkle had dulled to a grim determination to wind it up early and pack for home.
At the crossover point that ties the Marriott to the convention hall, I spotted a bright-eyed somebody alive with enthusiasm and ready for the morning's trade.

Brushes in hand, Charlie Squire, the Marriott's shiner of shoes, was sprucing his stand.

I checked my feet. Yes, my aged tassel loafers could use an uplift. "OK, Charlie," I said, "you've got a customer."

No ordinary shoe shiner, Mr. Squire kept a filing cabinet of polishes, brushes, cloths, soaps, and other secret pots and tubes, from which he extracted a worn buffer.

Intently, he smoothed away the street soil from heels and soles, selected a tin of foamy liquid and spraddled brush, and began scouring.

Gradually, a man-type fact of life dawned on me-shoe shining may do wonders for leather, but Oh!, what it does for the soul.

Steady, firm rubbing and scrubbing eased away hours of standing on brick-hard floors. My spirits did a 180.

Then came the ebony polish, gently applied and professionally massaged onto scuffed toes and crotchety arches.

The process, worked out over many years of brightening people's footwear, proceeded with detailed precision: brush followed by cloth followed by shine rag.

As I dug into my wallet, Charlie smiled, "Not yet. Just sit back and let me put on the final touch."

Another perusal of the filing cabinet produced his magic elixir, a weatherizer to seal out moisture and preserve the shine.

"Three dollars," Charlie concluded.

No, I couldn't let those skilled fingers settle for so little. I handed him a five.

Like Dorothy, I gathered up Toto and skipped down the yellow brick road to the opening session.

As the day took shape, I found moments to glance down at my glittering tootsies, which surpassed even ruby slippers.

I think my Virginia convention experience taught me more about self-esteem than about selling books.

Little things, especially the ones that affect the body, can resurrect a flagging outlook.

Making contact with earth via clean, reconditioned loafers put me in a "We're dealing" mood.

Like Clark Kent emerging from the phone booth, like Popeye gulping a can of spinach, I was revved up for the chase.

My advice, readers, comes cheap-three bucks plus tip. If you're ever dragging bottom in Richmond, look up Charlie at the Marriott. He'll put a shine on your day.

Charlotte Observer
"Catawba Valley Neighbors"
April 4, 1993




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Mary Ellen Snodgrass Tel/Fax: (828) 324-0155