Shoe Shine Mister?

It is hard to imagine how I could have been so young and had such a job. Saturday mornings at the local, four-chair barber ship in the Colonial Village shopping center in Arlington Virginia. It wasn’t far from home or school where I was in second grade. Not remembering my first haircut, or for that matter, anyone else in our family at the barbershop, I’m still wondering how does an eight-year-old boy get a job?


The barber shop was only open from 8 until 1 on Saturdays. A haircut was $1.25 and a shine was a quarter. I shined your shoes… sometimes, your socks. I always made what felt like a lot of money, probably close to five dollars every Saturday.

You sure can learn a lot around a barber shop. Hot tips on the ponies and regular get rich schemes… these men cut hair by day, and made “money at the stroke of a pen” at night… well, that’s what they said. They never fully explained any details though.

My first car would come in four years, a 1932 Plymouth, four-door sedan. Penn-Jersey auto parts was in the same shopping center, so my presence was, well, persistent.

The barber shop afforded opportunities. At eight, I had a key and would enter on Sunday to strip the wax off the floors and re-wax them. I learned how to cut hair reasonably well. On one of those Sundays, I cut my friend’s hair… gave him a flat-top. He said it looked so simple that he wanted to try. What a mistake!

Not nearly as big as the mistake on Washington’s birthday when I went to “Red the Barber” up on Wilson at Court House Road. “George Washington Half Off Sale” … I bit. He cut half my hair off… skinned.  I remember him saying “it’s free. Your mom would kill me for taking your money.”

My photo made the Northern Virginia Sun, the local paper in Arlington. It might have been called the Daily Sun in those days. After we all had a good laugh, the other half of my head got shaved off, too, two days later. In those days, if always grew back. Not so much today. I do still shave it today.

That same year, I started serving the Sun. I had 18 customers on the two block route around our home, six days a week. Arlington Towers was the first high-rise building complex in Rosslyn. It consisted of four buildings: Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Tyler. My oldest brother served the Post in one building. My other brother served the Post in another. His nylon-wheeled roller-skate delivery had a very short life.

Within a few years, I would be serving the Evening Star in three buildings at Arlington Towers, and the Post in the other. At some point, the Star was an afternoon paper with two-editions, and a morning paper on Sundays.

Once I started delivering the Washington Post, it was first to the same two blocks where I had delivered the Northern Virginia Sun. Over the course of a year, I took on additional routes eventually covering from Wilson Blvd to Arlington Blvd, from Oak Street to Court House Road.

I remember being told that I could sell anything. I guess that’s always been the case. It was one of those lessons, about selling, vs. doing. I find it much easier to sell others than sell myself. This is definitely part of who I am today.

Started delivering papers with a sack strapped around my neck. Both the Washington Post and The Evening Star sold paperboys wagons and wheels. I’m not sure what anyone was thinking with those steel wheels. I know there was at least one person who started their day when my wagon flew down the hill at 5 AM.

Come to think of it, those wheels were replaced with rubber very quickly.

In the map (below) there were at least eight individual routes. At the largest size, it amounted to about 350 daily customers and 400 on Sunday. Sunday was the only day with inserts, so was always the biggest. Monthly collections were face-to-face, door-to-door… nothing “online” in those days.

Mother sewed a huge canvas bag into the frame of a baby-carriage. It had a weatherproof top, and quiet wheels. It worked just fine. My dog, Snowball, and I were very well known in the neighborhood. Snowball was known to once have waited 24 hours for me when I went in a front door and left out a back. I don’t remember missing her at dinner; but, I know for a fact she was there the next day.

Anyway, this carriage could easily carry six bundles of newspapers.

Here is an outline of my routes. Our home was in the center of the red lines. Everything within was mine, seven days a week. Arlington Towers is off to the right. I served the Post in one building there, and the Star in three others.

My routes 1954 to 1960

My routes 1954 to 1960

Serving newspapers and collecting for the product, face-to-face, in-person, monthly is no longer a kid’s game. I’m not sure which came first, adult paperboys or automated bill collection. The story on newspapers isn’t completely written. This might be a case of “those” being “the days”.

The Virginian apartments were in a direct line from National Airport over our house, so I had seen it from our backyard as planes came over, once even having to pull up in a snowstorm. Serving papers at The Virginian was one of my first trips alone across a major highway. Sort of a big deal going across… nothing like earlier crossings in the drainage ditch below.

Where we were on January 13, 1982, the day the Air Florida plane hit the 14th Street Bridge must get woven into some episode of this story. I was in the Pentagon, one of my brothers, a nurse, was on the bridge, caught in traffic, as it was happening. The Pentagon, flying and some aspects of nursing must also be brought into this tale.

Having lived in three different geographic areas in my life, airports have always been important for me to establish location and direction. Someday I will tie that point, about Air Florida and all, to the big picture. For now, it’s just out there.

What am I writing this for?

I wanted to make a simple point about lessons learned. In order to do that, it was necessary to paint a backdrop. Unlike today, there aren’t as many pictures, even the ones we took haven’t survived.

My brothers were four and six years older than me, this story roughly covers 1954 to 1960, Eisenhower to Kennedy in presidential terms. Two things they did, that I know they did, that I wanted to do and could never, stick in my mind today. When the Iwo Jima Memorial was being built the and soldier’s hats where upside down on the ground, my brothers crawled inside them. That would have had to have been between September and November of 1954.

The other thing they did, and I’m jealous, was to ride their bikes in the Pentagon. Those halls are so long, and those ramps so wide and smooth. There was no barrier at the entrance… just a door. Security wasn’t much of an issue back then.

Professing that you do not have to tell me who you are more than once for me to believe you was not always my way. Fifty-years of practicing Christianity required many cheek turns. No more. My brothers and I do not speak today.

Several parts of this story will come into focus, possibly, only if I complete all the chapters. I have no intention on elaborating on that relationship. For now, it is blog posts, and you’ll have to excuse the dis-joints if I decide not to continue writing. Sort of liking all ten episodes of “The Returned” even with knowledge after the pilot that it was cancelled. If I don’t write the epilogue, this particular one just won’t get written.

My father took 8mm movies for as long as I can remember. These movies were 3 minutes a piece, at best, and often included scenes of sky, ground or water. They were consolidated around 1974 into 5 two-hour VHS VCR tapes, and later, converted to a digital format. There is an original paper index that does not point to the right places today; but, everyone is potentially identifiable.

Somewhere is a picture of those hats at the Iwo Jima Memorial. Another picture that I hope to find is of me covered in money. Here’s that story….

My father was from Missouri. My mother was from Tennessee. Two of my cousins came to Washington at different times for six-month terms as senate pages from Al Gore, Sr. After a night of collecting, counting my dough, validating payment, depositing checks, my cousin from Tennessee, John Patterson, took a picture of me on the floor absolutely covered in money like Scrooge McDuck in his vault, or something. His younger brother, Jim, came later. We’ve all lost connection with each other; but, there’s a story in there about Al Gore, Jr., when he bought his first personal computer at ComputerLand… you know, that was before he “invented the internet”.

Growing up in Arlington, living in Rosslyn, the neighborhood was “mine” as a kid. Fort Myer, Arlington National Cemetery, the Kennedy Center, Watergate, everything that came with all that… How was in mine? I knew the shortcuts, the trips through basements, over roofs, through woods, in the garages. All of the elevators were mine, too. I always managed to have keys, and knew the access-ways out the top, stopped between floors, wherever.

We do learn by other people’s mistakes sometimes. One of my brother’s got in trouble setting off a fire alarm and ended up going to military school for 10th grade. This event is in the category of “one of the things your mother would never tell anyone… including you”. Her children could do no wrong. None of them. This extended to her family. There were things that always should have been discussed that never were. Then there were the discreet ways of addressing issues, in lieu of discussion of the issue.

I do get why they promoted Christianity for their children. It is an easy way out at times with regard to the conscious. Before she died in 2005 I told her a story about me repaying a past debt for an article stolen many years earlier, and she was horrified that I would ever do such a thing… to repay when I had not been caught stealing.

So, yeah, I screwed around with a mess of elevators; but, I never set off fire alarms. Over the years, I played in the Kennedy Center foundation, explored Roosevelt Island when it still was an island, took dates to Arlington Cemetery and the Netherland’s bell tower, raced motorcycles through the streets at night, attended drag races on “H Road” near the Pentagon.

Oh, the list goes on… I hope I can actually make it a story worth reading.

I put pictures out there like I’m sharing when in reality, my pictures mean more to me than anyone else. Someday, perhaps, they will be treasured by others; but, for now, they are my memories… and it’s good to remember memories.

They are a measure of my sanity, as I should remember virtually everything I’ve ever photographed. They are the highlights of my life. I don’t have to wait until I am dying for my life to flash past my eyes. Life flashes past every day.

So, pictures are mine. This story may remain mine, too. We’ll see.

My oldest brother attended VPI in the sixties. I was eight the first time I flew alone in an airplane. From Washington to Philadelphia. I was closer to twelve when I flew with my brother and 15 as a student, and later, private pilot.

I have done touch and go (landing & takeoff) at National and Dulles International airports. As PIC, have landed to both, flown over Washington, over the Potomac River, in both directions… although, I will admit, doing so on a simulator is much more fun.

When I completed my most recent experience at National, sitting back afterwards with beer and pizza, my friend opened up about all the things he’d seen… the Washington Monument, The Capitol, The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the reflection pools…

All I had seen was the Masonic Temple, runway 1, short of the intersection… where a huge jet was taking off. We stopped, got a coke, peed, and departed. The departure was uneventful.

So many stories to tie in here somewhere. Worked for Grumman with an office overlooking Dulles Airport runways from eight or nine stories up.  As a member of the Civil Air Patrol, a subsidiary of the USAF, with a radio license, and an expensive hand-held bought through the squadron, I watched and listened daily.

I have watched the Concord take off and land 100s of times. I have listened in on the frequencies and could have communicated with; but, of course, with no reason, did not.

We did drive from Herndon to Manassas one workday to get an airplane back to Dulles for lunch, return to Manassas, return to work by car. It was a long lunch and on that trip, we encountered the Concord in the air. Nothing dangerous, or scary or anything. Close enough to appreciate her beauty. On reflection, definitely within the normal 5-mile separation. More like a mile.

Nobody wet their pants at the time, so I’m sure we were all right.

The Civil Air Patrol needs discussing, too. The missions we flew and the whys and hows of flying them… got to tie some of that in…

Then, there are several different threads I want to draw.

Why do we write?

Sometimes, we write to find out where we are in a bigger plan. We all have things we do “for a reason” which might not make sense. A psychology major might more quickly take things apart, and almost know how to predict an outcome.

There’s always the fear that going too far with reality could be so dangerous, on so many levels, that fiction, imaginary events and people might be expected. I have no intention of doing that and will leave out names… whether I remember them, or not.

Recently read an article comparing the lies of Trump vs. Clinton. With Trump, it’s whatever you want to hear. With Clinton, it’s very specific based on what you asked.

I do not mean to create any suspicion as to my place in any of this… I know what I might have to write is at times not necessarily believable. To a blank mind come several different threads that maybe I shouldn’t write about.

Stay tuned for more.

30 year career in data, analysis, architecture, transformations, migrations, replication, using Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server, DB/2, XDB, Informix, Ingres, Seed, SQL DB/4381, and others. Nobody buys a database. People buy solutions. AWS is my network.

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