Tales from my Childhood
As a poor kid in Detroit, there were several ways to earn a little pocket change. If you had a bicycle, you could try to get a paper route. Another was to shine shoes. My local barber shop had a chair set up where you could shine the shoes of the customers after they got their hair cut. Then there was the Greyhound bus station and the Michigan Central railroad train terminal. Competition was high at these two sites, however, it was first come, first served, or who was the tougher to get a spot on the sidewalk just outside of the terminal. Sometimes, we’d pack our boxes and just set up on a corner of a busy street near the local bar.
In those days, adult men were very conscious of how they looked in public. Trousers had to have razor sharp creases, and shoes had to be polished. Men were extremely proud of their shoes that were genuine leather and probably Italian or brands like Florsheims.
Over time, however, adults started getting into the shoeshine business and prices increased. As the price increased, more adult men suddenly got into the shoe shining business. Men working the railroad terminal became unionized and wouldn’t even allow us to set up outside of the terminal. I can remember when the unionized shoe shiners even began wearing their own style of uniforms. Whereas before, the shoe shine stand was a place to extend friendly conversation about world affairs or sports, it was now just a place to get a quick shine. Many adults started using special shine fluids that ruined your shoes when they got wet. Then, someone invented Corfam.
When Santa finally answered my requests and delivered a brand new J. C. Higgins bicycle one Christmas, I chucked my shoe shine box and signed up to deliver newspapers.
Joining the navy many years later, I was able to put my shoe shining skills to use, always having the best shined shoes in my recruit company.
Fredric Durrette served one tour in Vietnam, retired as E8 in the navy submarine service after 23 years. Major hobbies are collecting old stuff from the 20s and restoring old racing bicycles. Worked as a commercial photographer at JL Hudsons in Detroit and continue photography as a hobby. Love Sade, sixties soul, seventies rock, and all jazz. Attended Woodstock in 69!