I have this friend named Eddie who used to shine shoes over on 5th and Hill — and I realize I’ve been called out for this before. While he is not the type of friend I would have over to my place, when you talk to someone nearly every day while walking to work you start to get to know them well enough that using ‘friend’ seems right. For more than a year, rarely a day went by that I didn’t see Eddie. Most days I would stop and chat for a bit before heading on my way to the office. He was doing pretty well for himself, all things considered. After awhile, someone bought him a shoe shine box to help his business. A little while later he had his own sign advertising his services. Not bad.
About four months ago (give or take) Eddie was moved out of his regular business location and pushed back to 5th and Broadway by the DTLA’s District Safety. When I asked about the change, he said he was told the sidewalks needed to be kept clear over at his original spot, because of the buses. I asked him if his business was suffering and he said “Yeah, I’m starting to struggle a bit more, but I still get people coming to visit me.”
Unfortunately, our morning chats became few and far between. After his move, our paths didn’t cross nearly as much. When we saw each other, we still waved hello. He always had a big smile and would often yell out “you look beautiful today, as always” or “make sure you’re not working too hard.”
One day about two months ago, Eddie didn’t show up to work. I noticed he wasn’t in his usual spot on 5th and Broadway, but I thought maybe he had changed locations again or something. A couple of weeks later, he was still nowhere to be found. I had run into him in the past over on Main St. and Los Angeles St. a couple of times, and so I kept thinking “well, he’ll be back soon.”
About two weeks ago I had an awful thought. What if something happened to Eddie. I would never know. I was saddened to realize this, and sent a quick prayer in a somewhat upwards-like direction asking whoever might be listening to watch over him.
Now, yesterday was an extremely busy morning for me. I think I traversed a 3 mile radius within DTLA about 4 times for different things. By the end it was only noon, I had already been awake for 7 hours, and I was beyond exhausted. I was finally heading towards my office walking along 5th street across from Pershing Square when I saw this man in a wheelchair. He looked a lot like Eddie, but about 30 pounds lighter.
“You know I was ready to post flyers and start asking people around here if they’d seen you. Where the hell have you been!” I asked Eddie as I approached him.
“Hello! I know, I’ve been in the hospital, can you believe that?”
“All this time?” I asked. “Are you doing OK now?”
“Well I had to get surgery on my stomach,” Eddie said while raising his shirt a little to show me a substantial scar that ran from around his belly button up several inches.
“Damn, Eddie, how long you been out?” I asked him.
Laughing Eddie said, “What you mean. I got out today.”
I have to admit I was shocked by this statement a little, though I probably shouldn’t have been. “Well, what’s going on with the shoe shine business? Are you getting that started again?”
“Wouldn’t you know it, someone stole my shoe shine box. But I got all my stuff,” he said pointing to two trash bags full of his things, “and I’m ready to get started again. I’m waiting on some friends I know who are in the Gas Company building to come out. I’m hoping they can help me get a new shoe shine box.”
It was at this point that I realized, in all this time I’ve known Eddie he’s only asked me for one thing. I was late to work one day about 8 months ago and he asked me for a favor. He handed me $5 and asked if I could go into the Gas Company cafeteria and get him a chili dog. He was rather particular about his order, so much so I had to write it down. I, of course, took his order and went inside to make the purchase bringing him back his chili dog and change.
I said goodbye and promised to visit him again soon.
Welcome back, Eddie. It’s good to see you again, my friend.