By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
OffBeat has had a number of memorable shoeshines over the years, including an encounter with a deranged shoe-polishing machine at the Café La Coupole in Paris that damn near took our foot off. Since then, we have made it a policy to have our shoes shined only by humans.
It is a guilty pleasure. Getting a shoeshine is, unavoidably, an aristocratic business. The platform chair one sits in is a kind of throne, and the man crouching at one’s feet something like a supplicant. Once, at a shoe-repair place in New York, OffBeat’s shoes were shined by a man so wizened and frail we were afraid we’d be hearing ambulance sirens before the procedure was over. A happier memory is of a wildly grinning shoeshine boy in El-Jadida, Morocco, who kept shoe polish and brushes on one side of his shoeshine box and contraband cigarettes on the other. His own shoes were falling apart, but he laughed and told jokes as he polished ours.
Here in Los Angeles, we take our beat-up foot leather to Mr. Adrian Serrano. As with so many local landmarks, his stand at La Brea Avenue and Ninth Street is an offshoot of car culture, in this case, the Expert Car Wash. Mr. Serrano, 32, a friendly, well-dressed man with black hair and a mustache, worked as a shoemaker in his native Mexico, but learned the art of polishing shoes in L.A. He learned it well. These days, OffBeat’s black leather lace-ups glitter like freshly drilled oil. We have never had a better shoeshine.
So how does Mr. Serrano do it? During a recent visit, OffBeat took notes.
First, Mr. Serrano rolled up the cuffs of OffBeat’s trousers. Then, wrapping a white rag around the middle fingers of his right hand, he lightly rubbed our shoes with a transparent cleaning fluid that he said was "something like gasoline" and which he invited us to smell. (We couldn’t smell anything.) Taking up an implement with a small, cone-shaped sponge at the end of a long wire handle, he next applied a dye to the sides of the soles and heels, an action that produced a mild tickling sensation in OffBeat’s feet.
Just as Mr. Serrano was bringing out a bottle of Propert’s "Crème des Bottes" (black boot cream), two pretty Latinas arrived on the scene, wanting to know if Mr. Serrano also repaired shoes. (He does, along with belts and other leather items.) Then it was back to the shoes. The Crème des Bottes, which Mr. Serrano applied liberally with a small sponge, paying particular attention to the scuffed toes and nicks in the leather, was followed by a coat of regular polish from a tub large enough to last the average person a lifetime. OffBeat’s shoes were now thickly covered in wax, but dull, dull, dull. Allowing the polish to settle for a moment, Mr. Serrano took up a tiny brush and lavished more attention on the edges of OffBeat’s soles and heels. OffBeat wasn’t sure what this accomplished exactly, but it’s the small gestures that feel most gratifying. This done, Mr. Serrano produced a big wooden shoe brush and proceeded, with a few dexterous strokes, to produce a rich, lustrous shine.
Most people would have stopped there, but Mr. Serrano was not yet finished. A third layer of polish was applied, this time mixed with water from a spray bottle, producing a luster of a different magnitude altogether. OffBeat’s shoes were now agleam. Mr. Serrano then proceeded to polish, with the outer edges of a brush, the "creases" in the shoes.
Finally, lightly spraying a clean white rag with water, he gave the shoes a last, dazzling polish. The job, which took about 10 minutes, was done. (Price: $4, plus tip.) Looking down at one of our shoes, OffBeat decided it no longer looked like a shoe so much as a kind of shimmering, shoe-shaped liquid.
By comparison, however, the rest of OffBeat looked pretty shabby. Better visit a tailor, we thought, as Mr. Serrano gently rolled down our trouser cuffs.—Brendan Bernhard
OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY PARK
Memo to self: Have garage sale, invite L.A. City Council. Members of that august body clearly are willing to pony up plenty for white elephants, as they demonstrated last week with their 11-4 vote pledging $3 million for a park in Mandeville Canyon.
The council’s stated purpose was to save 239 acres of open space in the aeries of the Santa Monica Mountains — and who could argue? The purchase is also a windfall for Bert Boeckmann — San Fernando Valley millionaire (Galpin Motors), police commissioner, Mayor Rior dan compadre and one of L.A.’s top 20 political contributors. Boeckman, his company and employees donated more than $40,000 in the last two city elections.
Boeckmann bought the hillside land in 1978 for $300,000, intending to build 30 mansions. But potential mudslide problems surfaced. And they haven’t gone away. In April, a legal liaison from the city Engineering Department cited geologic problems in opposing purchase of Boeckmann’s property. The city has never issued Boeckmann a subdivision tract map, also because of geologic complications — and building officials say that the cost of excavating and shoring up the land would be prohibitive.