Dr. Shine: Extraordinary service at a fair price

Todd Van Beck's picture

When I was a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, my Saturdays were most often a day just for me.  I would sleep in, get up and go to Blue Ash Chili for a high cholesterol breakfast, then I would mosey downtown, park my car and sit on a bench at Fountain Square and people watch.  Cincinnati was, and is, a gem of a city. 

There were three major department stores close by, three major hotels, and an old F. W. Woolworth’s on 5th Street next to the Elder-Beerman Department Store.  I would mosey down to Woolworth’s and have a BLT.  Sometimes I could see a cockroach scrambling across the counter to safety, but that really never bothered me. It surely freaked some people out, but not TVB.

This BLT lunch combined with my totally unhealthy breakfast meant I had probably devoured a side of bacon, but no matter; I enjoyed it and worried about the health consequences for a later day.  

After my lunch I would mosey down to the new Hyatt Hotel, which was a marvel when it was newly built. This I believe was the highlight of my Saturday, and the reason was simple.  In the Hyatt lobby there was a gentleman who was the only shoe shiner for the entire hotel.  I never, ever, found out his real name but that did not make much difference for he had given himself a name and an impressive title – DR. SHINE.

Behind his shoe shining stand he had a framed diploma (which he obviously had designed himself) which boldly gave testament to Dr. Shine having received the degree of MASTER OF DELIVERY (M.D.) FROM “SHOE U.”

Next to his M.D. degree he had another prominent sign which read “DR. SHINE IS IN RESIDENCY AND IS PREPARED TO TREAT PATIENTS – CHARITY CASES NEED TO WALK ACROSS THE STREET TO THE HILTON HOTEL.”  It was absolutely grand!!

Dr. Shine was resplendent with a perfectly white doctor’s smock, and he even wore a stethoscope around his neck, and when he rolled into his routine – watch out!

Dr. Shine had more energy that any person I can think of.  He was constantly dancing, laughing, talking, and hawking his expert M.D. services.

People would simply and innocently walk by and Dr. Shine would start yelling “Emergency, emergency, we have a shoe emergency, youreshoes are in a life and death situation, and I can save them, I studied shoeectomy at Shoe U.  I know how to perform them quickly and painlessly and I passed the course with an “A+!” and you need a shoeectomy stat!”  People in the lobby at first were startled by this man and the site and stir he created, but when they caught on, he had a totally captivated audience.

Performing a "shoeectomy"

Shoeectomy?  Who ever heard of that?  But folks, it worked, and worked in a big way.

When you got into his seat the real fireworks began.  First Dr. Shine would place his stethoscope on the top of your shoe.  He would listen intently, ask you to tap your foot three times and do it slowly, he would look at you with the stethoscope in his ears and look lost and forlorn and take a big dramatic sigh and just shake his head – just like real doctors do.

Then he would look up and give you the preliminary diagnosis which was always connected with the type of shoe you were wearing, and always the prognosis was not good.  Things looked bad.  Doom and gloom.  We have a deathly serious situation here.  Dr. Shine would look at you mournfully and announce in solemn, reverent terms things such as, “Sir, I have to inform you that you have a severe case of ‘deck shoeitis.’”  Or it could have been running shoeitis, track shoeitis, tap shoeitis, skateshoeitis, Oxfordshoeitis, wing tipitis, moccasinitis, loaferitis, golf shoeitis, flip-flopsitis, deck shoeitis, clogitis, bowling shoeitis, beach shoeitis, and climbing shoeitis.

Every shoe was infected and inflamed, and Dr. Shine knew precisely how to treat the condition.

Sometimes he advised that the person’s shoes really needed to die and be donated to the – now get this, folks – Shoe Zoo Museum for Lost Causes. 

Often times he would call out loud and clear for the hospital chaplain to come quick because in his words “this shoe needs sole” (soul, get it?).  When Dr. Shine would toss that one out the person getting their shoes shined would just howl with laughter.  Then off and on Dr. Shine would look around and lament and say “Oh, I wish I had my trusty nurse Sue to help with your shoe.”  Then he might come up with “I seriously doubt if I can undo the trauma to your shoe.”  Everything rhymed – everything.  “You and your shoe are in a serious health crisis.”  “You have no clue how to take care of your shoe.” “You need to shampoo your shoe regularly.”

Every shoe shine included a high level, dramatic “Code Blue” emergency.  You never knew when it was going to happen, but out of nowhere Dr. Shine would start yelling “Code Blue, Code Blue, bring the shoe crash cart - stat!!!!!!!”  His crash cart consisted of his drawer in the bottom of his stand where he stored all his stuff, and he would open the drawer, grab a polishing rag and yell “Stand back, stand back, I can’t find a heartbeat” and he would start doing his own version of Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation on your shoes.  Dr. Shine would be slapping your shoes with his rag and saying, like they do in real CPR, “One, two, three, four, five – breathe, damn you!”  Each time he slapped your shoe was akin to another heart compression in CPR.  Then he would stop, take his stethoscope, check for a “heartbeat” and start all over again.  “One, two, three, four, five – breathe, damn you!”  Then suddenly Dr. Shine would, with stethoscope in his ears, look up and dramatically announce, “I think I have a heartbeat.”  Then under his breath you could hear him say (he wanted you to hear), “Damn, I am good.”  

To top off this comedy routine, Dr. Shine actually had fake prescription pads and everybody walked away with a “shoe review” as he called it prescription.  Dr. Shine’s prescriptions usually had something like this to say:  “I hope you enjoyed this shoe shine.”  “I certainly thank you for coming in.”  “Without people like you I would be out a job.”  “I hope I gave you a laugh or two.”  Dr. Shine always complimented, he always thanked, AND he was always the consummate gentleman.

He had one more sign he required that you read.  It said, “THE ETHICS OF MY PROFESSION (M.D.) DO NOT ALLOW ME TO ACCEPT TIPS – PLEASE RESPECT THIS ETHICAL STANDARD IN MY PROFESSION.”  Then Dr. Shine would wink at you with a Cheshire cat smile.

Dr. Shine charged $3.00 for a shoe shine.  I always gave him a $20 bill.  My shoes have never looked so good!

Oh, by the way – there was a line of people at Dr. Shine’s Shoe Clinic patiently waiting for his M.D. services.  Dr. Shine had a lucrative M.D. practice saving the lives of shoes.

Lessons for us from the "doctor"

I have thought about Dr. Shine many times over the years, and a couple of weeks ago I was in the Queen City to do a couple of seminars at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science and the world famous Spring Grove funeral home, cemetery and arboretum.  I stopped by the Hyatt and was informed that Dr. Shine had been tragically killed a few years before in an automobile accident on I-75 on the West Side.

I felt mighty sad when I walked back out on 5th Street. I thought of my Saturdays and what utter joy and happiness my Shoe Doctor gave me.  

After those shoe shines I would mosey over to Arnold’s Bar and Grill and start on my Canadian Club drinks, I would eat their Dover sole, and by 8 p.m. I was sitting in the marvelous and grand “Music Hall” listening to the near perfect Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.  I was in a good mood, and Dr. Shine set that psychological stage.

Naturally no one in our profession would behave the way Dr. Shine behaved, but can we find ways to be more memorable? Can we leave a greater impression on the people we serve? Can we WOW our clients with those little things of service that Dr. Shine had so expertly discovered in his profession of shining shoes?  I believe this is a real possibility, and something that in these stressful funeral service/cemetery times deserves discussion and further exploration.

Anyway that’s one old undertaker’s opinion.  TVB