Driving by, you just might miss “Jack’s Polished Act”… a tiny shack floating in the middle of a busy and enormous car wash parking lot on Pico and Beverly Glen in Los Angeles. The shop consists of just two chairs on top of a big drawer full of tools, and the owner ain’t Jack… his name’s Billy.
Billy started shining shoes at 9 years old on a street corner in Oklahoma. Billy knew exactly what Boot Black was when I mentioned my Boot Black project to him, and he agreed that it’s an interesting profession rich in history that would make for a great photo book. Then Billy educated me a bit: he said you can call him a Boot Black or a Shine Man, but if he were still shining shoes at a barbershop, then you’d call him a Porter. Sometimes he’s also referred to as a Dye Man.
Two customers came for a shine the few minutes I was there. Billy works fast, and he used old socks for shine cloths.
Apparently a shoe shine today at Jack’s Polished Act will set you back six bucks.
After his last shine, we sat down to take a break and share some shoe-shining stories. He told me about his family of 7 kids and 14 grandkids – one son was a photographer but sadly passed away. We talked about the old days, the hot weather, the kindness of people, and staying active into your older years. All the while, the nearby car wash employee’s are watching us and yelling at him: “don’t break the camera!”
As I was leaving, Billy said “you’re very kind.” I said that I would be back, wearing my boots…
…and expecting a great shine and good stories :)