As I was approaching the northeast corner of Bloor Street West and Bellair at 5 o'clock, I saw a shoeshine man in action, busioly polishing a client's shoes. I looked down at the shoes I had on, moccasin-style shoes almost two years old, with fraying leather and patches where the polish had worn off entirely. A quick retreat to the nearest ATM to get some cash, and there I was.
It was an experience. The actual shoeshine was superlative, once the laces extracted for safety's sake and the cuffs of my pants rolled up. Peter set to work, rubbing the polish on with a toothbrush, burning the frayed threads away with the lighter and using the lighter to heat the leather so that it absorbed the polish, covering the shoes with some sort of sealant wax once he was done. They looked worn; now, they look almost new. He sets up shop at that streetcorner only after 2:30, when that north side of Bloor comes into shade and he can work without overheating himself. He takes whatever payment he gets, but I felt guilty giving him only $C10.
Peter, the shoeshine man, himself is a character. Turning 46 this 18th, he took up his current profession a decade ago while panhandling in Vancouver. After asking a young man for some change and being rudely told to get a job, he rhetorically asked him for one. The young man went on to go into the department store next door and buy him the polish and toothbrushes that he needed to start out. "This is the best job I ever had," he proclaimed. "It lets me be my own boss." He then went on to recount his stories about his encounters with customers, his attendance at parties, and his brushes with Fantino and Brian Mulroney
If you're ever on that street corner, look him up for a shoeshine. You could hardly come out the loser.