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"Best shoe shiner in town"

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Author's Note: This is a significant revision of my previous piece. However, the title remains the same.

It's got people walking into walls, getting caught in revolving doors and becoming the subjects of police traffic reports of downed pedestrians. The "it" to which I am referring is the apparent universality of what are currently called "smart phones" often held in the owner or thief's left hand if being used as a phone while fashionably strutting down Michigan Avenue or in between both hands while the "texter" (typist?) composes the message with his/her thumbs. Even more astonishing is the rapidity with which they compose. Then again, I'd hate to see the original text before the "automatic" spell checking "mazikim" have done their job.

There is another "spin-off" phenomenon of current cell phone usage not entirely unrelated to what I mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Yes, I suppose one could convincingly argue there is a direct cause/effect relationship between "text walkers" and recent spikes in the number of reported cases of badly bruised or broken noses. Seriously, don't you agree that the nicest part about "texting" is the freedom to be oblivious to everything and everyone around us.

"Hey! Careful! You nearly walked on that guy's spare change coffee cup!"

And that, I guess, brings us to the problem.

Even though electronic cellular technology affords us access to global networking and face to face communication faster than you can say "Jiminy Cricket", we require nothing more than our eyes to see what has become a growing presence in our own backyard. There is one catch though. In order to see, you "gotta look".

I've been using "The Loop", Chicago's famed downtown business district, as my sociological laboratory in recent weeks, and I acknowledge that the "text walkers"-many good and decent people among them-simply do not care to see, and so they choose not to look at the homeless, jobless and often hopeless folks who "camp out" on every corner as well as along the bustling shopping section of State Street between Jackson and Lake Streets. In defense of those "many good and decent people", I ask, 'Well, okay, that's fair enough. After all, their eyes, their choice, right?'

Well, not entirely because this "sociological reality" makes you look, forces you to look by crossing over the line into your comfort zone.

Sounds odd, I know, but it's easier to simply not look at them at all than it is to avoid their scrawled messages to all of us.Try avoiding it, but sooner or later-you're going to read one of their hand-written cardboard signs.

The most invasive is the one that says "WILL WORK FOR FOOD!" Have you seen that? It seizes your sanguine view of the world by the neck as if it were a rag doll, kind of like what happens with "shaken baby syndrome". Women, men, old, young, old that really isn't old. I hear homelessness does that to a person, but, hey, Starbucks anybody?

Oh wait. I didn't finish my list: black, white, those off their "meds", those of "seasonal" importance found by city crews in the early morning hours dead from exposure to extreme cold.

PAGE 2, as the late Paul Harvey used to say ...

So, who is this "best shoe shiner in town"?

For starters, he's a worthy fellow it was my good fortune to meet last Tuesday afternoon, May 27th. And you know what? He has two handwritten signs that look like the other ones but the similarity ends there.

Whereas the others are distress calls, those of fifty-one year old Gary, Indiana resident Richard Holston are really like, well uh, business cards, I suppose-here's a man who's been shining shoes for forty-five years.

Truthfully, I felt uneasy about it, you know, the whole shoe shine thing, at first. I even offered to pay him for NOT doing the job. Okay so I suffered a tiny embarrassment. Lasted for about one minute after which the initial unease faded and my shoes were looking noticeably better.

Around noon when I was there lots of hungry folks hit the pavement for lunch, and there I was, having my shoes shined by "the best shoe shiner in town".

Yea, okay, I remember what you told me and I get it. You got a text message and you couldn't look up. Well, for the record, it's your loss because he's very real and a pleasure to chat with while he does his job. And yes, he has your color of shoe shine. Was the first thing I asked him; he pointed to his color inventory on display to my left.

" 'The best shoe shiner in town, huh?' "

Well, that's what his sign says. Folks stopped and stared, many nodding and smiling approvingly. Perhaps next time, when they look down to check a text message they allegedly received at precisely the same moment they walk by the intersection of Madison and Wabash, they'll hopefully discover just how lackluster their shoes have become.

Mr. Richard L. Holston does not want a handout. He ask for nothing more than a chance to sell his service and do his job.

The cost?

"Whatever it's worth to you," he said.

No, I will not reveal how much I paid.

Simply pay an honest man his fair wages and be on your way, but secure in the knowledge that 1) your shoes look a "hell-of-a lot" better, and 2) feels good being a "grown-up", finally! Am I right?

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