Tag Archives: Midwinter 2009

Shoe shine

(I thought I had posted about this already, but it seems I hadn’t.)

The Chicago Day-Hiker Buffing.

Sit back.  Relax.  Grab a cup of tea and some Maria biscuits.  Listen as I tell you my not-quite-macabre tale.  Music, night, bamboozling and some clean looking day-hikers.  It’s all there.

See these shoes?

Buffed Shoes

Ordinary shoes, right?  They’re day-hikers or approach hikers or something like that. They have rubber toes and the rest is a rough, suede-like leather.  I’ve had them for years.  Ordinary shoes.  Never shiny.

I had them buffed in Chicago.

On the Wednesday of Midwinter Conference in Chicago, Randall and I took the El into downtown Chicago to hit a few stores and sights.  After supper, we walked up to Andy’s Jazz Club for an evening of  jazz by the Mike Smith Quintet.  It was a good evening: mellow, relaxing.

I believe it was about 10p.m. when we left the club.  It was dark and the streets were deserted.  After making out way through some side streets, we made our way south on State Street to catch the Blue Line back to our hotel.  Things were somewhat busy in front of the House of Blues.  A couple of hucksters trying to sell their wares and services to people coming out of the venue.  They were turned down by everyone.  When we passed them, one of them turned and started walking in stride behind us.

“Just keep walking,” said Randall.  Randall is old hat at this sort of thing.  He knew what was going on.  Plus, he’s an imposing figure: tall, long black coat.

They guy kept following us.  We stopped on the bridge over the Chicago River to take some pictures of the Chicago skyline at night.  As it happens, Google Maps has a street view of almost the exact spot we stopped:

View Larger Map
(Make sure the view is just west of north, facing those corn cob towers).

We stopped and as The Guy who had followed us passed by he remarked that my shoes were rather scuffy.

“I see those shoes!” he said.

I tried to ignore him.  He kept talking and then approached me.

“I don’t mean no disrespect, sir.  I ain’t gonna rob you or anything.  I don’t mean no harm.  I just want to show you something.”

As I’ve already said, the type of shoes I had on didn’t need shining.  Those are not shoes that are shined.  But he bent down and put some white goo from a bottle on the toes of one of my shoes.  Randall was behind me, taking some pictures and watching me with one eye, I presume.

“Just put your foot on my knee.  I don’t mean no disrespect, sir.  Just put your foot on my knee.  I’ll shine your shoes.  Four dollars, plus tip–but that’s up to you.”

I don’t think fast on my feet at the best of times, but this is downtown Chicago in the middle of the night.  I’m in a huge (but seemingly deserted) city in a foreign country where people talk different–just like they do in the movies.  In the movies.  Where Chicago is the setting for gangsters and gangs and murderers and…well…murders.  I don’t know if this guy has a knife.

So I put my foot on his knee.  This must have been the clincher for The Guy, because I heard Randall groan behind me, “Oh no.”

So he buffed the rubber toes and the sides of of the soles on those old hikers, rattling off all the while.  I’m not sure of everything he said–he was talking fast–I just remember him repeating the same thing, “I don’t mean you no disrespect, sir; I don’t mean you no harm.”

He finished buffing the hikers, quite pleased at the result.  And they were certainly cleaner (and remained clean until very recently).  

“That’s four dollars per shoe, plus tip, sir.  That’s eight dollars, plus tip, but it’s up to you.”

Four dollars per shoe!

“No, no, no,” Randall interjects, “You said four dollars!”

“Four dollar per shoe, plus tip.”

I’m fumbling through my wallet.  It’s American money so it’s all essentially the same colour and I don’t have the bills in order.  The Guy is hovering over my wallet as I’m thumbing through my bills, all of my spending cash for the week in plain view.  Randall’s gesturing at my from behind The Guy’s back, trying to tell me not to give him more than…something.  But I’m trying to keep an eye on my wallet and The Guy hovering over it, so I can’t make out what Randall’s trying to tell me.

It’s taking too long to sort things out, so I take out some cash and hand it to him.


“This is only seven dollars, sir.”

Randall jumps to my defense again.

“It’s okay,” I say to Randall, “It’s okay.  Give me that money back.”

He gives it back.  I pull out a ten.

“Here.  Take it.”

“Thank you, sir.”

And off we all go.  Me in my buffed hikers.  Along the way we passed by a couple other hucksters, but we ignored them.

I’ll admit it shook me up and kind of put a damper on the evening.  Randall felt bad about the whole thing, but it wasn’t in any way his fault.  I wasn’t bothered by the ten dollar shoe shine–I just didn’t like getting bullied into it.

By the time we got back to the hotel forty-five minutes later, we were joking about it.

Later that night–or maybe later that week–we were watching the news.  It featured a couple of stories about assaults on the transit system and in other places in the city.  It was probably the right thing to do, to give him the money.  No reason to risk anything for a couple of dollars.

And that’s the Chicago Day-Hiker Buffing.