The Airport Shoeshine: A Tradition Worth Supporting

I’ve been dimly aware that it’s possible to get one’s shoes shined at airports the world over for many years. That said, I’m a chick, and despite my boot obsession, I usually travel in Chuck Taylors. I don’t know from shoeshine, other than my love of Johnny Cash (“Get Rhythm,” anyone?).

A couple of months ago, however, I found myself with time to kill at Denver International Airport (DIA), en route to work a trade show. A deep, syrupy voice called out, “Shine your boots, ma’am?” I looked down. I was wearing my favorites, a pair of motorcycle boots I’d scored on Ebay. They looked like hell after tromping around in the mud and snow.

“How much?” I asked the kindly-looking black gentleman wielding a clean rag. “Whatever you feel like contributing,” he answered.

Seconds later, I was perched atop the adult version of a booster chair, observing the frenetic energy of the airport. I learned the gentleman in question’s name was Leonard, and he’d lived in Denver for over 30 years. As we talked about how the city had changed, and waxed poetic about why we’d both chosen to relocate to Colorado, he brushed, polished, massaged and buffed my boots until they glowed. He sealed the seams along the soles, and meticulously attended to the areas beneath the buckles and straps.

Ten minutes later, I was boarding my flight with glossy, weatherproofed boots (my version of business casual), and a vivid mental picture of early ’70s Denver. Leonard had some cash in his pocket, and I like to think that he, too, came away from the encounter richer not just financially, but emotionally.

Having a genuine, non-self-absorbed conversation with another human being at an airport is all too uncommon these days. Let’s face it: most of our exchanges consist of requesting a specific size of latte, or bitching about our lack of upgrade.

Now, whenever I’m at DIA, I get my motorcycle boots shined, both to extend their life, as well as for the connection, however fleeting, to another human being. And yes, I like that I’m supporting hard-working people earning an honest living. I haven’t seen Leonard again, but I never fail to have an interesting conversation, and learn a little something (many of the people working for this particular company, Executive Shine, are immigrants). If only I could travel in my high-heeled boots more often.

[Photo credit: Flickr user jag9889]