Much of what I write about is focused on a particular subject or topic that I find interesting but every once in awhile life has a way of making you look at the bigger picture. This week I was passing through the Las Vegas airport when I saw a gentlemen in his sixties at a shoe shine stand. My shoes were in desperate need of a shine and I had a few minutes to spare before my flight took off. The gentlemen running the shoe shine stand invited me up on the chair. At this point in my trip I had been gone for ten days and met with dozens of people so my mind was racing trying to keep up with all the thoughts and ideas. I am very blessed to have the opportunity to work with very smart and driven people that are constantly pushing the fringes of whatever they do. This focus and determination is very impressive and has driven America to great feats for many years but it also has its down side. I am as guilty as anyone of being overly focused which causes me to see the world in a very linear manner at times.
As the man started to shine my shoes he struck up a conversation with me about the world. This was not the typical conversation of exchanging pleasantries to fill the time we were together. He immediately started talking to me about how the world has changed and people are different now than he remembers. He was not negative about it nor positive, he was indifferent. He was not an individual that was focused and driven but an individual who watched and interacted on a daily basis with all of us focused and driven people. He told me that over the years he could see a shift in that focus and drive, a shift that he said had changed the world. It was now a world that was focused on “money, money, money” and less time for the finer things in life. About that time in my shoe shine a gentlemen was looking around as if he was lost but would not make eye contact with the man shining my shoes. The man shining my shoes clearly noticed the mans dilemma and looked at the man and asked, “are you looking for the bathroom?” The gentlemen acknowledged him and the man shining my shoes pointed him in the right direction. He looked up at me and said, “you can tell a lot about a mans character in a short amount of time these days.” He no doubt had to deal with this everyday with thousands of people from around the world. “All the man had to do is ask me where can I take a piss?” But, he was too concerned that he would obligated to come have a shoe shine.” You could see the frustration with the change he was seeing in the world.
For the rest of my shine the man told me how his home in South Central LA had changed over the years to the point where he cannot go into the neighborhoods he once felt safe in as a child. He used to drive through his old neighborhood slowly to see if his friends were still living in their homes which quickly turned bad when the new locals thought he was a drive by shooter. You could tell that he felt displaced in the world and had moved back and forth between Las Vegas and South California in hope to find where he belonged. He was a simple man that was content on living a simple life but the world had changed and no longer has places for people who want to live simple lives.
I found this unassuming man so interesting due to his unique grasp of humanity. The shoe shine man saw thousands of people come and go everyday, he had the chance to study people and take note on how they have changed as his years passed by. This gave him a genuine wisdom I have not been around in quite some time. The shoe shine man probably could not tell you much about socioeconomic trends or financial markets but his words were more powerful than any analyst or expert. It made me realize that we need to slow down and look around at what is happening around us and how we interact with one another on a daily basis. If we do not take careful consideration of such subtleties we might also be looking displaced in a world that keeps changing.
It is not often you meet someone like the shoe shine man and I have a feeling I will think about him often. He now serves as a reminder of a culture in America now surpassed in a changing world. The world will continue to change and we will continue to adapt but there will always be those individuals like the shoe shine man who do not adapt and serve as reminders of what we left behind. Reminders that we all came from somewhere and holding true to where we come from is as vital as where we are going.