I am not someone who is fixated on the amount of shine on my shoes. I probably should be, but I'm not. I guess that's the country boy in me.
Still, I prefer that my shoes not look like they just came through a hike in the Florida Everglades, either -- all muddy and scuffed and generally looking like something the dog dragged out from under the back porch.
Given normal circumstances, I'd be OK with a shoe shine once a month. Maybe once every other month. In some circles, I guess that wouldn't be considered civilized. But I can live with it.
For a couple years -- since the shine parlor on South George Street closed -- I'd been shining my own shoes. I can do it. I don't mind doing it. I even have the
Still, there's something pretty special about sitting there and having someone else shine my shoes while they are still on my feet. Plus, the shine always seems brighter and lasts longer than when I shine my shoes at home.
Anyway, about eight months ago, I noticed a fellow setting up his shoe-shine equipment along one wall in the York Central Market. I'm a curious sort, so I checked it out. In 10 seconds, I found myself sitting down and propping up my feet. And five minutes later, my shoes looked like new. It was the best $3 shine I ever had. Well worth the money and well worth my time.
But I did wonder how long it would last. Shining shoes is a tough way to make a buck after all.
Yet there it was every time I went to the downtown market -- usually twice a week. And I frequently stopped for a shine. It became part of my lunch routine.
And over the months, I engaged the fellow shining my shoes in enough conversation to have learned something about him. His is an interesting story, which I'll share with you now.
DeCarlo Fleming is a 43-year-old transplant to York City -- he moved here about 18 months ago from Philadelphia. He's a trained chef, but he couldn't find a job here. He's also a former professional boxer -- a middleweight with a 12-1 record, he said -- before he was hit in the back of the head and a knot the size of a golf ball rose up and never went away. That ended his boxing career, but an occasional migraine still serves as a reminder of those times.
Anyway, he was living in York, and he needed to find work. As he was going around putting in resumes all over the place, he started to notice that lots of well-dressed men didn't always have well-shined shoes on their feet.
Then he discovered there was no shoe-shine parlor to be found in York City.
It was then he remembered a lesson learned from his father 35 years ago. "My dad was in the Army," Fleming said. "And every night he'd come home tired and take off his boots. When I got old enough -- about 7 or 8 -- he showed me how to shine them. Then it became my job."
But it was a job that had to be done well, he said. "If I didn't do it right, I'd have to do it again. And again. And again. And again. I learned to do it right the first time."
Finally, his father gave DeCarlo his shine box. "Hold onto this," he said, "you never know when it might come in handy."
For 24 years, DeCarlo dragged that box from one living arrangement to another. When he got to York, he remembered what his father told him: "There's no shame in honest work."
So he got out the old shine box and set up on Continental Square. He immediately had customers. A few days of that convinced him he could survive -- maybe even better than survive -- by shining shoes. "People could use a good shine, and that's what I can do," Fleming said.
He couldn't help but notice all the lawyers and courthouse workers who went to the Central Market for lunch. He told himself it might be a good place to set up shop on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And on off days, he'd set up at the Susquehanna Commerce Center, at 221 W. Philadelphia St.
It's called Pearl's Shoe Shining -- "Pearl's" because "it means 'shiny,' " Fleming said.
So five days a week, five or six hours a day, he's shining shoes somewhere in downtown York.
"I'm not getting rich," Fleming said, "but I'm doing OK. And it's getting better every week. Besides, the food tastes better on the table when it comes from an honest day's work."
Most of his customers, he said, are those in the over-35 crowd. They seem to appreciate a nice shoe shine -- women, too -- more than the younger generation.
I wondered out loud why that might be.
"I don't know," he said, "but I do know it's darned hard to shine a sneaker. And that's about all the younger folks wear these days."
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhick firstname.lastname@example.org.