Skip to main content

See also:

Sequel, sociology and shoeshine

"Business card" of the "best shoe shiner in town"
"Business card" of the "best shoe shiner in town"
busch gallery

It's got people walking into walls. Recent spikes in the number of reported cases of badly bruised and broken noses have led some pundits to recommend that the laws currently forbidding the use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle be extended to pedestrians. How authorities would issue thousands of tickets to masses of offenders within a densely populated area such as Chicago's Loop at lunch hour without causing civil disorder ... well, your guess is as good as mine. Nonetheless, incidents of "text walkers" getting caught in revolving doors and reports of "downed pedestrians" whom moments before had been "text walking" against traffic, have been on the rise.

Some opine that the near universality of "smart phone" ownership is to blame for what has, in effect, given birth to a new criminal category-"strong arm robbers specializing in the theft of smart phones and I-Pads".

“Seriously though, the freedom to be oblivious to everything and everyone around us-isn’t that the best part of "texting"? All that the reasonable man expects is that you not step on that fellow'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 only our eyes to see a glaring problem in our own backyard if we care enough to look.

"The Loop", Chicago's famed downtown business district, is the place where much of the Chicago tourism trade spends its dollar. It also attracts many of the city’s homeless, jobless and hopeless folk who are out for some of those same dollars. They squat on every busy corner as well as along the bustling shopping stretch of State Street between Lake and Jackson streets.

Reenter the "text walkers". Among them are many good and decent people who simply do not care to see what they know they are going to dislike, and so they go about their business without even sneeking a peak or batting an eyelash.

What should our response be when this reality crosses the line of our comfort zone?

You can cling to your refusal to look at them even as they walk toward you between the lanes of traffic, and suddenly you find yourself stuck in traffic praying the light turns green before you have to face the "face". Then again you may be ready to concede ‘But there for the grace of God go I.'

There really isn't very much difference between him and you, is there?

If you have come this far, keep on going. Read the messages they scrawl on scraps of dirty cardboard. Have you seen the one that says "WILL WORK FOR FOOD!" It seizes upon your sanguine view of the world by the neck as if you were a rag doll. Women, men, old, young, old that really isn't old. I am told homelessness does that to a person. Black, white, those off their "meds" and 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 individual whose claim to be the "best shoe shiner in town" caught my attention?

For starters, let me be perfectly clear. I was not texting nor do I, except to respond to my wife when she wants to learn of my whereabouts.

You were asking about this fellow who claims to be the "best shoe shiner in town"?

I had just left what was once the iconic Iwan Ries & Company-Chicago's Premiere Tobacconist-19 S. Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL (312) 372-1306 when I spotted him and he me-no more than twenty feet from where he had set up shop.

At first, I thought him one of the many folks who take up residence on the streets of Chicago, but it turns out he's a rather noteworthy fellow who has not one but two handwritten signs that look like the other ones but the similarity ends there. Whereas the other signs are distress calls, those of fifty-one year old Gary, Indiana resident Richard L. Holston are really like business cards.

He is the proverbial book whom many, including myself, misjudged due to his appearance.

Truthfully, I felt uneasy about the whole shoe shine thing. I even offered to pay him for NOT doing the job. He refused. That’s when I learned Mr. Richard L. Holston, a glib and charming character, does not want a handout. Although his second sign says the shines are “complimentary, he is really a business entrepreneur with low overhead who asks for nothing more than a chance to sell his service and do his job.

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 and proudly smiled.

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

Well, that's what his sign says. Folks stopped and stared, many nodding and smiling approvingly. Perhaps the next time they receive a text message at the intersection of Madison and Wabash, they'll hopefully discover just how lackluster their shoes have become.

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, feeling better about yourself because 1) your shoes look a "hell-of-a lot" better, and 2) a Mr. Richard L. Holston from Gary, Indiana-the "best shoe shiner in town" enabled you (me) to finally and clearly see the liberal nincompoop you (I) had been for too long in the reflection of your (my) own shoes.