A Southerner’s Take: Shoeshines Are Good for the Soul

August 19, 2011 / By

This morning, I got my shoes shined for the first time ever.  In celebration, I did what every good southern boy would do…I called my mamma. 

She didn’t answer, but I’m pretty sure I left her a jumbled mess of a message about how awesome it was and how my shoes looked better than they did when I first bought them.  I may have even made some awful comparisons to mirrors, placid bodies of water and freshly minted pennies.

You see, for a kid who spent his summers on chicken farms in rural Alabama, I’m far more accustomed to shitkickers than shoeshines, so this was a pretty big deal for me.  In my mind, shoeshines exist in the movies and on the pages of GQ – not for dudes like me.  So naturally, I didn’t really understand their appeal. 

But, sitting in the airport on a throne held together by polish and elbow grease, it was actually quite easy to understand.  My shoeshiner’s name was Ramona and she carried herself with a quiet confidence reserved for people who know they’re really damned good at what they do. 

She invited me into her chair with a wave of her hand and I obediently jumped up onto the stand, desperately trying to avoid letting her know I had no clue what was going on.  

“You okay with Tarrago?” she asks.

“Absolutely,” I say, my words dripping with ignorance as I have no idea what Tarrago is and thus, no idea if I’m okay with it or not.  Luckily a guy with far nicer shoes than me sits in the throne next to me and says yes as well, so I figure I’m in the clear.

Ramona begins to brush and rub my shoes with a fluid motion that was oddly beautiful.  Not beautiful in a Jennifer Anniston, Claude Monet or BC Powder-after-a-few-too-many-cocktails kind of way, but beautiful in a simple, ‘This is my job and I intend to do it well’ kind of way.  She massages the laces of my shoes with a ferocity that actually hurts the top of my feet momentarily, but then melts into a respite of relaxation akin to a good shoulder rub shortly thereafter. 

“They’re good, eh?” nice-shoes-dude asks me with a gentle elbow nudge as Ramona switches polishes.

“Yes, they sure are,” I reply unequivocally.  In fact, I think I may have even agreed with him before he finished asking his question and I can’t help but silently hope that my clients feel the same about the work done by my teams as well.

Various brushes and rags emerge from Ramona’s storage drawer as her magic continues.  The air is filled with new scents and sounds that intrigue my senses – the pop of a rag, the woosh of a brush and a smell that reminds me of bubble gum smushed on the bottom of a rubber soled shoe. 

Then, out of nowhere, Ramona pulls out a blowtorch. 

Now, I like to think of myself as a guy’s guy who enjoys any toy involving fire, nails or other dangerous substances, but I won’t lie – Ramona was really freaking me out with this one.  I braced for something between singed hairs and third degree burns, but it turns out the blowtorch is actually a pretty neat way to make your kicks all nice and shiny.  I think I’ll put one on my next Christmas list and really weird my girlfriend out.

Ramona pops her rag one last time to signify my reign of Terminal A is over and I exit the chair feeling like a new man.  I expect this superior consumer experience to cost me at least a twenty spot and am amazed when it’s only five bucks.  I tip her an extra five and promptly begin thinking about how Ramona and her shoeshining prowess are a microcosm for what we should strive for every day.

Take lessons from a shoeshiner you ask? 

Damn straight.

I mean, think about it – Ramona accomplished several goals that we PR and marketing professionals strive for every day:  an incredible bang for my buck, top shelf client service and an experience so engaging that I let half my airport pancakes get cold because I was so stoked to pull out my computer and share it with you all.  And if you’ve read this blog before or eaten with me at IHOP, you know I don’t let anything come between me and syrupy flapjacks.  

And you know what’s even cooler?  The whole thing was so incredibly simple.  Ramona didn’t outfit her station with strobe lights or offer me a wine spritzer.  She just took a really good idea, executed it flawlessly and let her work speak for itself. 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not knocking innovation, unbridled creativity or the genius of technology.  I’m merely arguing that sometimes there’s something refreshing about a simple idea – be it shoeshining or strategic marketing counsel – so sound that all it takes is a little hard work to make it sing. 

So today, my goal is to speak plainly, not use two words when one will do and thank those in my life who remind me that little things, especially a good shoe shine, can be good for the soul.

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