We’ve written before about the rare pleasures of a shoe shine, and having dropped off a book at the library (and paid our $1.75 fine for returning it a few days late) and scarfed down a veggie burrito, we were making our way back to the office during our lunch hour today when we spied a giant beach umbrella mounted upright in a stand right there on 19th street, near Fifth Avenue.
As we wandered by, we piped that it was a shoe shine stand. Immediately striking all other potential noon-time tasks off our mental to-do list, we planted ourselves in the empty chair and sat back while the amiable gentleman with the brushes in his hand did his thing.
We think our man might have been named Byron (we’re not certain of it, though). He was a pleasant chap who has, he said, been shining shoes for 39 years. He admired our ca. 1950s blue summer-weight suit and the straw fedora we wore with it.
“My father was a hat man,” he told us. “We lived in Harlem, and he used to work in the bar right next to the Apollo Theatre. He wore hats, mink, chinchilla.” We admitted that his father was a braver man than were we, that we couldn’t see ourselves sporting fur coats, but he went on to compliment our attire, insisting we was doing all right by ourselves.
Realizing we had just four dollars on us, we asked, before sitting down, what he charged for a shine.
“One dollar,” came the answer. A rare bargain, indeed, but we usually tip shine men extravagantly, given the low fees they usually garner, and even a 300% tip seemed miserly, given the low, low price he was charging.
So we admitted our relative lack of funds to him and asked if we might be able to both walk away feeling fairly treated if we were to hand him our four bucks at the end of his efforts.
“That’s just fine,” he assured us. “Two dollars would do it.”
“Not as far as we’re concerned, it wouldn’t,” we countered. “You’ll get all four of those dollars.”
He said that he’d been charging the same price since his earliest days shining shoes and had never seen the need to raise his price. “People appreciate the bargain,” he said, “and they take care of me.”
All in all, it was a delightful, day-(not to mention shoe-)brightening, encounter, as getting a shoe shine almost always is. If you’re in NYC as you read this, you’re encouraged to pay the gentleman a visit. He said he’d be at that spot—19th Street, just west of Fifth Avenue—for the foreseeable future, and we’re of the opinion that this kind of personal service—backed, as it is, by 39 years of experience, and at these prices—is well worth the trip from uptown or down.