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Jimmy van Blaricom
Geboren10 juli 1958teTucson, Pima County AZ (US)
Overleden3 oktober 2014teCarson City, NV (US)
VaderDon van Blaricom

Shining Example of Working Man
'The Shoeshine Guy' of Santa Ana starts his days at 7 a.m., ready to 'make shoes smile.'
August 23, 2004|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer
It seems the ideal location for a shoeshine stand: across the street from Orange County's main courthouse, within spitting distance of legions of loafers that have lost their luster. A crosswalk leads right into the wooden shack Jimmy Van Blaricom built with a handsaw and hammer 15 years ago for someone else; he took over soon after. With no assistants, he shines every shoe himself for customers looking for the clothed-foot equivalent of a pedicure. For $5, men and the very occasional woman plop themselves on the cushy plastic-sheathed blue seats and set their feet on the metal plates. Van Blaricom then kneels before his customers wielding a tin of polish, a thin piece of cloth and a rusting coffee can filled with saddle soap. Polish blackens his fingers as he works, his yellow T-shirt and black jeans hugging his gaunt frame. "I make shoes smile," he says as another customer walks away, his black oxfords gleaming in the summer sun.
Then starts another of Van Blaricom's seemingly interminable breaks in a nine-hour day that starts at 6:30 a.m., when he begins his half-hour bike ride from a cheap motel to the courthouse. He's dubbed himself "The Shoeshine Guy," but more often than not he's "The Newspaper-Reading Guy" or "The Guy Who Smokes a Lot."
You see, that ideal location isn't really that great. When the family-law attorneys took their business to the newly built Lamoreaux Justice Center in Orange in 1992, Van Blaricom said, his weekly sales plunged from $600 to $300. The ebbing stream of customers means Van Blaricom has a lot of time for himself. When he's not reading newspapers, he's puttering around his shack.
The burgundy structure is painted to coordinate with the brick office building in the same parking lot, per the lot owner's wishes. But Van Blaricom dreams of coating the place in red, white and blue, or at least planting a bunch of American flags around it. For now, he keeps a drill and some other tools on hand, moving around the lattices at the back of the stand and retraining some of the ivy that shrouds it and is starting to tickle the backs of customers' heads. He likes to add whimsical touches, such as the happy-face sticker plastered to the middle of a clock facing his customers and a miniature version of his stand constructed with balsa wood and toothpicks.
Standing by his newspapers is a stuffed animal named Underdog, a cartoon superhero from the 1960s whose alter ego was -- take a wild guess here -- a humble, lovable shoeshine boy. Underdog drew his power from popping energy pills, but Van Blaricom's drug of choice is his customers. When they duck their head to enter the shack, he swings into action.
One summer morning, Anthony Callari broke three hours of do-nothing monotony for the stand's owner when he stopped by after seeing his brother graduate from a drug-court program. When Callari sat down, his black lace-up shoes were scuffed and dull. He hadn't had time to shine them himself for a while, he said, and it wasn't until he put them on that morning that he realized how bad they looked. "They're kind of embarrassing," he said, wincing. But when the 27-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita man stood up five minutes later, his shoes sparkled. The visit from Callari was the start of a busy half-hour for Van Blaricom. Next up was a tall man in a gray suit who spent his shoeshine yammering on his cellphone. Next was county employee Mark Finley, 54, whose brown shoes didn't look so bad -- until he explained that underneath the dust and grime was a pair of black oxfords. Construction at the auditor's home had made his shoes filthy, he said, and finally he had found a day in which he could spare his lunch break to get them cleaned. Years ago he had a job that required a lot of travel, he explained, wistfully recalling time spent in shoeshine chairs at airports and fine hotels.
The best shines, customers agreed, are in Las Vegas. But the Santa Ana stand helps maintain their look in the meantime. "Shoeshine guys are just not easy to find," said Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce official John Crippen, who happened to be passing by that balmy summer morning. As soft pop wafted from a radio on a high shelf inside the stand, Crippen stared down at his black tasseled loafers as Van Blaricom bustled around them. With his office just a few blocks away, Crippen said, he'd seen the stand "a couple hundred times" and always wanted to stop by. A glance at his shoes in the morning convinced him that that day was the day. "It's a dying trade," Crippen said, rattling off half a dozen now-defunct places he used to go for a shine.
Van Blaricom knows it. Society doesn't look too well on those who shine shoes, he said, assuming they're "about one step higher than a homeless guy on the street." For him, finding a protege is about as likely as paying the stand's rent on time. His 19-year-old son is "too good" to shine shoes, Van Blaricom says gruffly, his pursed lips making his scruffy beard tighten. He's not sure what will happen to the stand when he's gone. Until then, the wooden shack anchors his days. As long as it draws shoes, he said, he'll be there every morning at 7, his blue eyes studying the busy street as he waits for the next pair to come his way.

Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2004

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