And I’ll do your right shoe for free

Back when control of busy , street corners meant money-and food on his mother’s table-Larry Adams made his shoe rag talk loudest and fastest. “I bet my boy can make his rag talk louder than your boy can,” the neighborhood money men boasted about young Adams.

For [5 cents a shine in the late Fifties, the seven-year-old boy earned his living toting his worn wooden box into the corner cafes where black men sat, chewing cigars. There, among the tables in the smoke-filled rooms, the money men seldom bet against him; the boogie-woogie shoeshine boy shined their shoes faster, better, and with more style than the other boys who came to steal his business. Adams shook his hips to the jukebox rhythms and raced his faded rag back and forth over the leather tops. At short intervals, he pulled the rag taut and snapped it in the air. The louder the snap, (he deeper the men dug into their pockets. On good days, he made as much as $100.

Today, among the few surviv- ing “old-time” shiners in downtown Dallas, Adams is considered a youngster, even with thirty years of shining behind him. Adams makes a “good living” now, he says, shining in The Downtown Barber Shop in the 500 South Ervay office building. His childhood tale is like those many of the shiners can tell: for them, shoeshining was a low overhead business and easy to get going, particularly when food and money were scarce. The trick though, was-and still is-to make a living.

Miller Morgan shined his first shoe for a nickel in the Adolphus Hotel in 1939. A soft, easygoing approach quickly won him a reputation as a hard-working shine man who pampered his regular customers. Like most shiners though, he turned to odd jobs-doing yardwork and busing tables-to help him through lean times.

“It’s just like gettin’ a haircut,” says Morgan, whose snow-white hair is cut in tight, curly locks. “You like the way someone cuts your hair, and you like the way someone shines your shoes. The key in this business is to keep your regular customers.”

Morgan shares his double-chair stand inside the Shoe Doctor at the SPG Mall on Main Street with his thirty-eight-year-old nephew. John Pitts.

“A good shoe5hiner is a sociologist, a psychologist, a hard | worker, and a good con artist,” Pitts says with a laugh. “You’ve got to be able to read people and talk if they want to, and shut up if they don’t want to.”

In downtown Dallas, the sales pitch can be as important as the promise of a good shine, at least when luring new customers.

“Look, I’ll shine your right shoe for free,” Pitts says. Sounds good. And after he’s got you in his chair and rubbed a mirror-like shine into your shoe, he’ll offer to do the left shoe-at double the cost. “My uncle taught me that one.” Pitts says. miling at Morgan.

Morgan’s Tips for the Spit-Polish Perfect Shoeshine:

1) Apply saddle soap with a brush and water to remove dirt.

2) Apply a coat of polishand go over it with a brush.

3) Apply a second coat ofpolish and buff with a damp,soft rag. A gloss shouldemerge.

4) Continue buffing, and “let your rag talk.”

5) Apply dressing to edges of soles.


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