Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Shoe Shine

Life in Manhattan is not easy. I learned this lesson over and over again during my nearly eight years in the city. Between the lightning fast pace, crowded subways, tiny apartment living, and hugely inflated prices, city living is not for the faint of heart.

But there are things that the city offers that make the life just a little less difficult.

Take 24 hour delivery for example. And I'm not just talking about from the hundreds of restaurants all around the island. For a price, you can get literally anything delivered to the door of your apartment at any hour of the day or night. From prescriptions, to clothes, to movies and popcorn, there is a service for that.

Or 24 hour grocery stores on every corner. I tend to do my cooking and baking later at night, and also forget ingredients with a startling frequency. No big deal though when all I had to do is throw a coat over my sweatpants and dirty t-shirt and run down the street.

Or winter weather gear. In some places, forgetting your hat or gloves at home in frigid temperatures means that you will walk around for the rest of the day with red ears and frozen fingers. Not so in Manhattan. Just stop at one of the street vendors that line Manhattan's avenues, and for a mere five dollars your extremities will be warm once more.

I, myself took advantage of these offerings many times during my tenure in this city. And now that I no longer live here, when I find myself out of vanilla at ten o'clock at night or when I forget to pick up my dry cleaning, I miss some of those conveniences of city life.

But there is one convenience of Manhattan living that I never availed myself of during my time here in the city.

The Shoe Shine.

The Shoe Shine first came to my attention during my first week at my first job out of law school.

At eleven o'clock every morning a girl walked through the office with a rolling suitcase, and stopped at each open door asking the men if they would like a shoe shine. And the men would remove their shoes, hand them to the girl along with a twenty dollar bill, and sit for the next 20 minutes in their socks as she opened her suitcase, and proceeded to shine the shoes right there on the floor while the men waited. And for the next hour, the smell of show polish permeated the entire office.

I have had a couple of jobs since then, and they have all been in different buildings. But the one common thread running through them all is the existence of the shoe shine girl.

It seems that men who work in Manhattan have really dull shoes.

Well. I don't live in Manhattan anymore, but I still work here. And every morning I take the train into the city and arrive at Grand Central Station to start my workday. And on the very first day of my commute when I got to Grand Central, what do I see, but a shoe shine station, that one up there, right in the middle of the walkway to the 47th Street exit for people who aren't lucky enough to have a shoe shine girl in the office. It was 8:30 in the morning, and five banker-types were sitting in the chairs and reading some financial paper or another as men scurried around shining their shoes.

And I guess it just strikes me as funny that in this era of technological superiority where there is an app for everything and we spend half our lives immersed in one screen or another, men still sit up in high chairs, reading newspapers, having their shoes shined as the world rushes by them.

Kind of dreamy and old fashioned, right?


  1. I love this! Shoe shining sounds so old fashioned.

  2. They have shoe shine stations in the SeaTac airport and I've always wondered why. Are dull shoes a huge fashion faux pas? Who are these people who need immediate post- or pre- flight shininess?

  3. I think that's awesome! And I want vanilla deliveries!

  4. Very dreamy and old-fashioned! Makes me want to go to New York again, maybe even buy a pair of shoes worthy of being shined. . . :)