California is without a doubt the land of opportunity for those with creativity and guts. In Southern California, 1963, my dad noticed there were no shoe shine boys in the town we had moved to. In all the big cities there were plenty of shoe shine boys, usually black kids standing out on a busy corner hawking their trade next to the paper boys. My dad put me up to my first job, shoe shine. He told me how to build a box to carry my waxes, brushes and snap towel. He also instructed me the right price to ask to ensure I would always get tips.
I started one beautiful Saturday morning riding my bike into town with my shine box hanging over my shoulder. I stood on a corner and didn’t have to call out or anything, men just started lining up for their shoe shine. Then I went to the car lot where my dad worked and about a dozen salesmen, including the owner, all had their shoes shined. One thing my father had neglected to instruct me on was the finer aspects of the art of shoe shining. My problem as a novice was that I would get wax above the shoes onto the people’s socks. It didn’t show much on dark socks but boy if a guy had white sox it was a mess! After a short day of work I rode my bike over to the bank and opened my first bank account. The friendly tellers seemed quite amused, but gladly made my deposit. This was really an incredible day for a ten year old boy.
I continued this Saturday job until we moved to another city a few months later. There is one thing my mother said that I will never forget. She said that one of our relatives had commented that they thought it was shameful that I would be doing that kind of job.